Observations – Rv Trip 24

February 18th, 2015 by joe

Pulling out this morning from Pickwick Landing State Park and promptly crossing the Tennessee River brought into sharp relief the fact that we were almost done with this little adventure. The drive on curvy two lane after curvy two lane north through western TN and KY was fairly uneventful so I’d like to dedicate some time on this blog to some observations we’ve made in the nearly 7000 miles we’ve traveled the last 3 ½ weeks:
• NEVER buy an RV without having someone take the time to talk you through how everything works. Good intentions not only pave the road to the Lake of Fire, they also pave the road to the repair shop and the marriage counselor (just kidding, Honey! This trip was amazing). Really though, taking the “walk through” from the gentleman (hippie) you drove 9 hours and 3 states to purchase a behemoth on wheels from that has as many working parts as your 3 bedroom, 2 bath on 6 acres is really not sufficient. I genuinely regret not telling Darrell that his asking price included a weekend getaway with yours truly in some rustic little mobile home park so we could wake up together each morning, share some coffee and go through all the things you never think to ask if you’ve never owned one of these mammoth contraptions! And trust me, downloading the Owner’s Manual from www.oldascraprvs.com or some other corner of the web and pouring over it on your 3 inch cell phone screen when you are out of power/propane/water/anything else you might need and your kids are waking up in the middle of the night shivering is NOT the best option. So there; you’ve been warned!

• Drivers of other cars hate RVs. I get it. I really do understand. You don’t want to get stuck behind Uncle Vernal and Aunt Martha as they drive exactly 39 mph in a 65 mph zone with no passing lanes for the next hundred miles. No problem. But that doesn’t mean you need to be an absolute tool bag and cut off the poor schmuck you see with his turn signal on as he tries to get across 3 lanes of traffic to his exit he almost missed because of his stupid GPS/screaming kids/or any other number of reasons as he drives through a town he’s never even visited (I WILL shut this whole freeway down during rush hour just to get across the street and on my exit ramp so I don’t have to turn around in the parking lot of Church’s Chicken in the middle of Vegas!). So do me, and Vernal and Martha, a favor, and let us merge into your flipping lane of traffic!

• Dogs are giant, worthless, stinking piles of giant worthlessness. That is all.

• Wal-Mart is wonderful. Sorry all you “only buy local don’t kill the little man” folks. As a general rule, I like the little guys too. But not when I’m rollin’ in Bonnie. Give me a huge parking lot next to 6 over the road truckers with the 24 hour convenience of any stinking thing I need. By the way, Sam Walton, or whoever dreamed up the idea of letting RVers stay in the lot of any Wal-Mart for F-R-E-E was a GENIUS. I would never make it to my next paycheck if immediate access to any and every consumer item I could fathom was always available only 75 yds away through doors that never close!

• As much as I acted annoyed in this blog when things didn’t go as planned, the best stories, the best conversations, and the best memories almost always come from the unplanned, the “didn’t work out right” and the “can’t believe this is happening right now.” Were it not for things breaking or weather wrecking our plans, we would have missed out on more than half of the people, places, and experiences we will remember from this trip. How silly it is to think our plans are always the best plans.

• Petrified Forest National Park is something you should only go see if all other options (including dancing naked in a blizzard and poking sharp sticks in your eyes) have been exhausted.

• Be it ever so humble…and cold…and flat…and windy…and flat…snowy…and flat…there’s no place like home

• If you want to see the country and really know for sure, and I mean FOR SURE, if you love your kids, take an RV trip. Be prepared to wish you had never consummated your relationship with your spouse and put into motion the beginning of the process of starting a family. But also be prepared to laugh until you hurt, find strength you’ve never seen in your little smiling kiddos and wish like anything you could stop them from growing up. There really isn’t much better in life than sharing an adventure with the kids that are currently “our adventure!”

We’re almost back to Bedford by now, where we’ll be staying for the next few days with family. Aside from the Shoals “jug rock” and the Loretta Lynn cowboy camp, we didn’t pass a whole lot worth writing about today. I know for a fact I will regret the pound of 9 hours old chicken strips and pepper jack cheese bites I bought in Montgomery to keep me awake for the rest of the drive, but I’ve written about enough bathroom adventures on this trip! If you’re still reading this to the bitter end, thanks. I love to write and Melissa and I get a kick out of sharing our adventures. I hope it has been fun for you to ride along. Next time our paths cross, we will most likely be showering again with regularity and I will have probably shaved my disgusting neck beard. By the way, I have a 1993 Fleetwood Bounder for sale. Her name is Bonnie and she is one sexy beast!

Buffalo Paths and Baked Beans – RV trip post 23

February 14th, 2015 by joe

Ask me what my favorite part of this trip has been. Go ahead ask me (You didn’t, did you? You just kept right on reading hoping I wouldn’t call you out and make you feel bad). Well, okay, I’ll tell you anyway. I’ve loved being with my family and doing some really cool stuff together. I’ve also loved meeting some amazing people (I am wearing my Russel’s Auto & RV hat as I type) along the way. But, another piece that has to be near the top of the list is…driving. That’s right, driving. I LOVE seeing new places out of a windshield. This amazing world is too big to stop every mile and experience every little thing so I content myself by watching the miles tick off the odometer and knowing I’m seeing something new all the time (even if it is within the confines of a 32ft metal turd that smells suspiciously like peanut butter and diapers)! Today was a sweet compliment to my love for driving. I had heard my dad talk about the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail before but we had never laid wheels on it, until today. What a beautiful drive. Evidently it used to be a footpath traveled heavily by buffalo and the American Indians that hunted them. There were little historical markers every few miles to learn more, but we didn’t stop. We had places to be (and I knew my dad probably had pictures of every last one of them). BUT, in the big print I was able to make out as I drove by at the max Scenic Trail speed of 50 mph, it looked pretty cool. If you’ve never done the 444 mile drive between Nashville, TN and Natchez, MS, you really are missing out. Go sometime when you aren’t in a hurry and enjoy the views and laid back 2 lane attitude it has. We did a couple hundred miles today in the heart of the Trace as we wound our way north of Tupelo to the tiny town of Iuka, MS and Woodall Mountain. At 807 ft. above sea level Woodall is hardly the stuff short breaths are made of, but it is the highest point in the Magnolia State and therefore a required stop on our little odyssey. The plan had been to park and walk the mile or so of steep 4×4 roads to the top, but when Bonnie pulled her tired axles off the paved road, the twins were still asleep in the back with Melissa and I asked Jake, who has just woken up, if he was up for an adventure! I figured if I could make it to the top without sliding off the edge, getting stuck in a rut or mud hole, and before Melissa woke up to challenge my decision making (just wait for it, she was impressed) we might have a chance to make it back down in one piece. I put her (Bonnie that is) in low gear and started winding and grinding our way to the top. We scratched past a few low branches, spun our duals in a few tense spots, and finally made it to the top of what I would guess to be a 25% grade of gravel and red dirt just as the wife of my youth came stumbling out of the back and cried (in a voice that was half terror and half smile and want to make out with me), “Did you drive up here!?” She, of course, knew the answer and I simply grinned and patted Bonnie on her sun cracked leather dash. She might be large and unruly (again, Bonnie, not Melissa) but she has a lot of heart! We snapped a couple quick pictures at an otherwise really boring state high point, eased past the repair truck working on the radio tower at the summit (I still wonder what they thought of Bonnie and her heroics…jealousy is all I can fathom), and pumped our brakes for the slow and muddy slide back down, all while Wade snoozed happily on the pull out couch behind me.

Once back on terra firma, we made short work of the final stretch for the day in to Pickwick Landing State Park, on the south side of the Tennessee River and just shy of the TN/MS line. The park was really incredible (complete with a sweet playground and some great hiking and biking trails) and we called the front office to make our reservation. They don’t have anyone working the entrance to the campground this time of year but they assured me the ranger on duty would bring our receipt by later on. Jake and Wade were itching to get some dirt on their tires so, after rolling around the paved roads for a bit, we hit some trails. Hitting some trails with a not yet  4 year old on a bike with 12 inch tires is an exercise in patience I would come near to equating with the entire book of Job (all rolled into 30 minutes in the woods). Wade is an excellent rider and has been off of training wheels since his 3rd birthday. Balance and skill aren’t the issue. Keeping up with his father (who is happy to wait) and his brother (who wants to humiliate him at all costs) is the issue. If I got more than about 31 feet in front of him, Wade would break into hysterics on par with the sounds you no doubt would hear from a 13 year old girl just given a back stage pass to meet the Biebs! No amount of reminding him would convince him I wouldn’t leave him alone to fend for himself against the evil monsters in the state park woods. All that aside though, he did an excellent job for a boy with wheels 17 inches smaller than my own and legs that had to pump up and down like an old sewing machine to make it through the leaves! Once we made it back to the RV, he couldn’t stop talking about how cool it was and who he wanted to tell about his adventures.

The rest of the night included another fire, about 6 more miles in the woods for me (not going at the same pace as a 3 year old) lots of baked beans (a bad idea for such a small amount of square footage), and a Ranger who did stop by and tell us to expect some snow for the overnight. He was thankfully incorrect but that is for the next blog.

Jabba the Hutt – Rv post 22

February 13th, 2015 by joe

What a great day to visit some rednecks! We woke up this morning knowing we only had about 45 minutes left in the great state of Texas and then it was back into Louisiana and that sentimental “almost home” feeling. While Louisiana seems forever away as I sit in the basement of a friend’s house where we are currently staying and type this post, there is something about crossing the Texas border that makes it feel like we are closer to Converse and the life we love. In reality, we still have 3 days before we will make it to the Hoosier state, but it certainly feels like we are in the “home stretch.” The better part of the morning was spent trying to dodge potholes and committing to NEVER drive I-20 through Shreveport, LA again unless they finally make hovercrafts affordable for the common man! The roads there are TERRIBLE (or as they say in the highest French speaking state in the Union “terrible,” which is exactly the same thing but the snooty French language refuses to announce the “le!”). English or French, there are no words to describe the sinking feeling I had that Bonnie was literally going to fly apart at her riveted seams if we drove any faster than around 27 mph! I wish I could tell you the roads were better once we got off the highway but that would be a horrible lie. The 15 mile detour we took south of the Interstate to get to the highest point in LA, Driskill Mt, was wrought with washboarded asphalt 2 lanes, muddy ditches on either side, and grumpy log truck drivers. I saw my life flash before my eyes at least 7 times! We finally pulled into a little tiny country church parking lot with a cattle fence off the west side that marked the beginning of the “climb” to the top (535 ft above sea level). It was roughly 2 ½ miles round trip and the boys did great, even after we took an “unofficial” deer trail to the top instead of the easy walking path just because it seemed like it would be more of an adventure. Jake and Wade ran on ahead, just barely obeying the “stay within sight” rule and I walked with Wyatt while Melissa tended to Hank. How should I describe Hank in the woods? Hmmm. Ever seen Jabba the Hutt? That large slow moving slug-like monstrosity from Star Wars? That wouldn’t be a bad comparison, although Hank is much cuter and doesn’t seem to want to eat Princess Leia (which is a good thing). However, there are some similarities when it comes to him trying to navigate his 2 year old, and very chubby, legs over and around sticks, roots, and rocks. It also makes for a fun time when he spends every cursed breath whining like his world is coming to an end. I am certain he will grow out of this aversion to exercise, or he will live somewhere else! We are not a family that suffers slugs. Anywho, I finally switched with Melissa and Hank and Daddy had a heart to heart. I’ll spare you the details, but if children really do understand more than they can verbalize, Hank now knows I’m not above shipping him off to the Northern Dune Sea of Tatooine to live with the rest of the Hutts had he not decided to put the whiny voice away and don his big boys pants (that is apparently from whence Jabba hails, at least according to www.starwars.wikia.com… I’ve only seen the movie once!). He finished the rest of the hike to the top with no issue, except falling 847 times (he is sitting next to me as I type looking just about as cute as the law will allow), but was more than happy to head back down early with Melissa while I stayed up with the other 3 because Jake and Wade had found a “fort” they just had to claim as their own. We made it back down just as Melissa was finishing making some sandwiches and we headed back toward I-20, highpoint number 3 checked on with list. Now we were off to find some duck hunters!
After roughly 2 hours back on roads that would make a tank driver wince (but that the boys napped on as happy as could be) we finally downshifted onto our exit ramp and pulled Bonnie in to the town of West Monroe, LA, home of Duck Commander headquarters and the boys from Duck Dynasty! We pulled into the gravel lot across from the warehouse with our teeth still shaking from the quasi-road we had been driving on and jumped out to see what there was to see. To be honest, the highlight was taking a picture in front of the Duck and Buck Commander signs and their sweet looking RV! The only thing we got to see on the inside was the store/gift shop. We spent 30 minutes threatening the lives of our exercisestarvedwontstoprunningandtouchingeverything children and walked out with a hat and some BBQ sauce. The highlight for the rugrats was definitely running around the gravel parking lot before we left chasing each other with sticks! There was much growling, running, screaming, and a little bit of blood-letting. Just par for the course on a normal day with our 4 little ninjas (one of whom is currently trying to bite my big toe through the covers as I type)! AND, I’m not ashamed to admit, I pulled out my binoculars while they played and zoomed in on everything with a beard that darkened the doors of the warehouse. Might have caught a glimpse of one of the boys, but it might have been any of the other 1000 or so dudes walking around with hair on their face they would never have grown had they not watched the show!
The drive from there was an uneventful 3 hours to Holmes State Park in Central MS. We found it to be nearly deserted as well, and, for the first time in 3 weeks, we were able to excitedly collect some sticks and build a fire. The west is beautiful, but the lack of trees puts a definite damper on one of our favorite family past times – the campfire. Jake and Wade “helped” me get it started and we had a grand time sitting around talking about the trip, monsters in the woods, Jesus, and I’m sure farts or some other classy topic we are prone to discuss in our tribe! Off to bed (at least for the boys), and my beautiful wife and I sat by the fire until our backsides lost all feeling and we were ready for a good night of rest. Home is getting closer!

Cold Sand and Hot Showers – Rv Trip 21

February 10th, 2015 by joe

Some places are too cool to leave after one visit, and Monahans Sand Hills is one of those places. We decided we couldn’t put the boys back in Bonnie after such a long day yesterday and they were begging to play in the sand more anyway so we headed into Monahans , TX to find a laundromat and to get some gas before going back to the park to play. The laundromat looked like something off The Walking Dead and I felt like I needed to tell my wife I loved her before I dropped her off, just in case I didn’t ever get another chance! Speaking of never seeing someone again, this was the part in my day personally where I might have contemplated, for at least a split second, dropping each and every one of our children off at the Monahans courthouse and driving away! I CAN’T STAND whining and arguing, especially in the cramped confines of an RV, and all 4 of them seemed as determined as could be to annoy/irritate/anger/whine at/scream at/make life miserable for each other and for me. I finally lost my cool when we were parked in the courthouse parking lot trying to get some wifi to post the latest blog entry and I turned and saw Jake riding Wade like a cowboy through the “kitchen” while Wade screamed like a stuck pig and Jake just laughed at him while Wyatt dumped the cereal bag for the 143rd time this morning while crying for his mother who was risking her life to do our laundry and Hank just sat up front frantically screaming every time he saw a semi like it was the first and last of the blasted things he would ever see! Thankfully, I’m generally not one who stays mad very long and we soon shared hugs all the way around and I apologized for my outburst but explained how some of their behavior certainly needed to change (or I would leave them at the laundromat from hell)! I got a text from Mel before I was able to go get gas because it seems the dryers cost 75 cents for 10 minutes and she was out of money. We bounced back over to the pothole filled dirt parking lot, I gave her the necessary change, she came out 12 minutes later with clothes that were still wet, and we headed off to get some gas.

(A quick word on a gas station pet peeve: I detest when the little computer screen asks me if I want a receipt…OF COURSE I WANT A RECEIPT. I’m not keen on just spending all my money willy nilly and not keeping track of it. I detest even more when I click the “Yes” button and it beeps at me and tells me my receipt it has just asked if I want is located inside with the attendant, where I have generally just stood for 5 minutes prior to get my coffee/Rock Star Punch/nibblie dibblies to stay awake while the same lovely attendant chats away with all the locals who come in to chew the fat and doesn’t give a hoot about the fact that I am 2000 miles from home with 4 children and a flea bag – Max, not Melissa – waiting in the prison cell on wheels outside in the parking lot! I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to wait in line TWICE to get my snacks and then get my receipt. Okay, rant over…)

After waiting in line twice for our receipt, we headed back east to the park again and some fun in the sand. Before we drove back in I wanted to make sure we could still enjoy the park having only paid to stay the night. I went in to the Visitor’s Center to ask that simple question and came out 30 MINUTES LATER after a lovely (and creative profanity filled) conversation with the cool Hispanic Ranger named Arturo. He was as Texan as Texans can be and talked for half an hour without taking a breath about oil fields, raising kids, his hatred for Alabama (the state, not the band), and sand dunes. It was fascinating listening to him and I was thankful to not have had any place I had to get off to quickly. Finally though, since I knew the boys were anxious to play in the sand, I thanked him for showing me the map on the wall of all the state parks in Texas and telling me why I should visit each one, we shook hands, he tipped his cowboy hat, and we drove the 2 miles back to the dunes. It was sunny, but cold enough to keep the boys close to the RV so I ran to grab a quick shower before the chill drove them back inside.

(A quick word on state park showers: I am a fan. I like how most state parks use the taxpayer money and entrance fees they receive to make their places as nice as possible. I also like how most places take it as a matter of pride to be the nicest park in whichever state they are found. One of the areas I find this most evident is in the shower house. We have cleaned our smelly selves in some NICE shower houses. I think the one at Monahans was my all-time favorite though. Let me elaborate. Most shower houses have at least 2 regular showers and 1 handicap accessible shower. Ordinarily, it is much larger and easier to negotiate, by necessity. If it were peak camping season, I would never dream of using the handicap shower, but since we were literally 1 of 3 RVs in the park, I figured I was good to go. This particular one was all tiled and had a nice stand up area with a shower head, but right next to it was a sit down area. It had a very nice tiled (and shiny clean) bench and a shower head around standing belly button height that was just perfect for sitting under on the tiled bench and having it warm you on a cold day with nearly scalding hot water while your enjoyed your cup of coffee. That’s right: I took my Circle K mug from Converse IN into the handicap accessible shower in Monahans TX and enjoyed a nice hot cup o’Joe as I basked in the warmth of the propane heated water. Life is good, but sometimes it is REALLY GOOD!)

As I was leaving the bathhouse with my raisin shriveled hands, I bumped into my second “glad I don’t have to be anywhere, how does this guy keep talking and never take a breath” conversation of the day. This time it was a fellow named Scott, dressed in army fatigue pants and a gray Wal-Mart sweatshirt (I know because I was wearing the same one), smoking the stale end of a cheap cigar he couldn’t keep lit and living out of his 1980’s Ford Econoline van. His plates said Ohio but he had been here 5 years. He just kept the plates from out of state so if the cops stopped him for sleeping in his van he could make a case he was just passing through. His stream of consciousness conversation included all that was wrong with our government, a nearly complete history of Islam (I played dumb just cause he was fun to talk to), lots of insider info about the town and local scene, as well as anything else that came across his mind. One of the biggest blessings of this trip has been not being in a hurry and having the ability to hear peoples’ stories. After about a half hour, we parted ways, Mel and I got the boys as sand free as possible and loaded back up in Bonnie and drove to the bath house for Mel to take a turn. Sadly, she shared with me later she had not taken advantage of the bench/coffee combo. Her loss.

The rest of the day included nothing but high winds, jacked up trucks and oil wells. West central Texas is not a place I would choose to settle, but it does have its own appeal. We tooled past oil field after oil field all the way to Weatherford (a Dallas suburb) where we stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel (a Wisley vacation tradition) and pushed on through the city before we finally stopped in a Longview Wal-Mart parking lot for night. The boys were long asleep by the time we stopped and I took satisfaction in knowing the lion’s share of Texas was behind us and ole Bonnie had given us a solid 8.009 miles per gallon through the Texas wind. We faded off to sleep to the sound of big rigs pulling in next to us and rednecks racing their Powerstrokes and Cummins Turbo Diesels down the street by the all night Wal-Mart gas station.

 

What Makes Carl so Bad? Rv Trip 20

February 8th, 2015 by joe

The only tough part about staying at an amazing campground is you never really want to leave. The boys were up and riding their bikes earlier than any other day because, hey, boys and bikes are like peanut butter and jelly. They just go together! Jake has really impressed us with his riding. Last night he made it down a rock strewn trail that, had I not had a bike designed for stuff like that, I would have hesitated for a while before riding. Not only did he make it without a single crash, he promptly pushed his bike the 300 yds or so back up to the top just to ride it again. However, it was seriously gnarly enough I told him we would have to find another path since he didn’t have a helmet with him. I’m not one of those guys who always makes my kids wear a helmet either. This was just a really tough trail. He and I picked an alternate one to go on by ourselves and I spent some time pouring into him about how great of a young man and adventurer he was. I think his chest stuck out a bit farther on the way back. Every boy needs to know he has it in himself to be a man…and Jake has what it takes!

Anyway, back to this morning. We pulled out after the dense fog from last night had lifted with thoughts of coming back here to spend a second night. However, Carlsbad Caverns was farther away than we thought and we soon determined to get back east a bit before the end of the day. Once up on top of the windy curvy road to the Visitors Center in the park, we waited in the lobby area for the fiery red headed Park Ranger who had taken the boys shoes to return. Turns out something called White-Nose disease has been killing bats all over the country and they are trying to keep any dirt from other caves from making it into Carlsbad. That meant the shoes our kiddos wore on our tour with Billy Ray Cyrus back at Mammoth had to be cleaned. After waiting 15 minutes or so we were ushered into a nondescript elevator room and given a stern talking to by a freckly faced young lady about never letting our children out of arm’s reach and always whispering in the caverns (as well as not running, not eating, or having any fun). The boys were just happy to be out of Bonnie so they agreed to whatever demands she made and we jumped into our metal cage and dropped 750 below the surface in about 30 seconds (by the way, telling 4 little boys not to run in a ginormous underground playground and to always be within reach of their parents is like telling a tornado not to blow very hard and to always avoid trailer parks! Say it all you want, it ain’t gonna change anything)! However, our 4 little twisters did a remarkable job. Lots of people had good things to say and they all 4 walked the entire 1 ¼ loop staying very quiet and relatively close. The biggest issue we dealt with was Jake and Wade continuing to lick the hand rails. Yep, I said lick the hand rails. For some reason they think the world belongs to their tongue and they need to mark it all. I never thought I would be in public telling my children to keep their tongues off of so many things. Strange children.

Wade was in awe of the caverns and I must admit I thought they were some of the coolest things I had ever seen. Around every corner he would whisper/scream for one of us excitedly and point out something new. The joy of exploration in a 3 year old is a wonderful thing to witness! By the end though, all of the boys were tired and hungry so we made our way back to the elevator, across the crazy windy parking lot, and back to Bonnie, where our black and worthless bag of hair was wagging his tail, excited to see everyone. The next part of the story might be funny to hear, but it was not funny to experience. As I said earlier, the road to the top was windy and curvy, neither of which are conducive to “meal prep” as you are descending. The boys were anxious to eat though and their wonderful mother was making sandwiches when an entire jar of bread and butter pickles (they WILL have those is Heaven) came rolling out of the fridge and shattered on the floor. Mel screamed, the pickles flew everywhere, and the angle of our descent made all of the juice come rolling down the center aisle toward the front seats. Fortunately, my quick like a jungle cat wife ran to the bathroom, grabbed a towel, and threw it down on the juice moments before it soaked into the lone section of carpet in the whole place. I chuckled, she grumbled, and we all smelled the sweet smell of pickled cucumber for the next several hours!

With the scent of rapidly souring vegetables in our nostrils, we turned in to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, drove a quarter mile to where the road ends and realized it is basically just a hiking park. Since our young family isn’t equipped for long hikes, we turned right around, made a note to return and hike some sweet looking trails in the future, and were bouncing down a two lane for the next 2 hours until we made it back south to I-10, at precisely the same place we had left it over a week earlier. We had actually just done a big circle around the southwest and this meant we were officially headed home. We stayed east on I-10 until it split from I-20 and took I-20 all the way to a place called Monahans Sand Hills State Park. There was a little issue with the GPS, some non-existent roads and me breathing out murderous threats against the Google Maps folks for about 30 minutes as we looked for the entrance to the park, but once we found it, we were excitedly (at least for the boys) back in an area with nothing but sand dunes as far as you could see. I had fleeting hopes of watching the Super Bowl, but didn’t want to bike the 7 miles back in town after dark to find some little dive to watch it in so I contented myself with checking the score on my phone and getting in another bike ride before dark. After the Patriots made me hate the Patriots even more than I already hate the Patriots, we finished a movie (Lion King, I think) and were headed off to dreamland. 2 more National Parks checked off the list and nothing but 4 lanes to keep us occupied until Louisiana. I think we’re going to try and make a stopover in West Monroe, LA to check out the Duck Commander headquarters so I’m glad I’ve been working on the neck beard!

A Bullet Blog – Rv Trip 19

February 7th, 2015 by joe

Since you all have probably figured by now the blog is not being written in “real time” and I am thinking a few days back over the trip, I am going to take a risk that you will stay engaged if I offer the next two fairly uneventful days in bullet point:

  • Petrified Forest: A huge boring rainy 30 mile drive to forget! It was good to get another National Park checked off the list, but we probably won’t go back…ever…unless someone can convince us the only thing that made it less than life changing was the 40 degrees and rain that kept us warmly tucked in Bonnie’s bosom. From the rain soaked windows, we saw a bunch of dead trees that looked suspiciously like…hmmm…dead trees. I know they are super hard and all that jazz, but even the ones we braved the rain and whiny boys to look at more closely were not much to marvel at. The coolest part of the whole park was the visitors center where the boys got to “dig” for dinosaur bones in rubber chips and hear an entirely pagan viewpoint of Big-Bang-Pangea-Evolution-Original-Species mumbo jumbo we were thankful they weren’t big enough to need an explanation of what a “theory” is and how it shouldn’t just be accepted because lots of people don’t/won’t accept a Biblical creation view. Hmmm, I guess the coolest part was just the “digging” for bones. Oh, and the awesome ham and cheese tortilla wrap my lovely bride handed me as I strained to see the bumpy and broken 2 lane road through a butter knife wiped windshield!
  • Driving to southern NM: Federal Highway 60 is wide open and beautiful, even when covered with snow and requiring Bonnie to drop into 1st gear to avoid becoming a burned out blot on the desertscape. This was the second part of a very forgettable day.
  • Truth or Consequences: That is the name of the town where we stayed at another Wal-Mart and I changed the oil in the pouring rain. Not my idea of a perfect workshop, but at least the guy in the automotive department was still there when I returned the oil filter he had sold me and got the right one (he was actually very nice and helpful). This was also the Wal-Mart where I bought Melissa an emergency bag of black licorice and reminded her we were having an “adventure!” It was a long and dreadful day for us both but someone needed to play encourager and “positive spouse” and this time it was me.
  • Truth or Consequences: Truth is, the consequence of staying in the Wal-Mart parking lot and running our lights and heaters all night without turning on the generator was both batteries being dead in the morning and having to ask Bropherio (I think), a super nice Hispanic dude from Albuquerque, for a jump.
  • South and East: We had planned to make this a travel day as well and were hoping to get somewhere close to Carlsbad Caverns before the end of the day. We also wanted to swing past White Sands National Monument on the way to see what the fuss was all about. It seems every person we met talked about how we couldn’t miss White Sands. We headed up and out of Las Cruces (after passing the Lowe’s from several blogs back)on Federal Highway 70 and soon found ourselves back in the clouds. The drive was another wet one, but the storm cell was supposed to move past us as we traveled. We pulled into White Sands, a boring looking spot on the map, and wound our way to the back. The sand there is very…white…and there is a crap ton of it! The boys LOVED it, as they have loved every place with sand, we played for a couple hours, and it was incredibly therapeutic to just get out of Bonnie and run around for a bit. Once the need for a nap overcame the excitement of the place, we climbed in, grabbed some lunch, and were back on the road.
  • A Mighty Motor: Some might think that a 22 year old motor in a 22 year old RV might have 22 year old issues going through the mountains. You would be WRONG in the case of Bonnie. After driving through Alamogordo (in the rain again), we gassed up and headed into the Lincoln National Forest on Highway 82. We climbed over 4600ft in about 15 miles, and even though she was slow, Bonnie didn’t miss a beat. We got some more snow on top (we were almost to 9000ft by this time) but once we crossed to the other side of the mountain range, the precip stopped, the sun came out, and the day got downright gorgeous!
  • A Great Campground: Sandwiched between Artesia and Carlsbad, on the banks of the Pecos River is Brantley Lake State Park, a little piece of heaven in an otherwise dull part of the state. The campground was nearly empty, they had a great playground, the showers were wonderful, and there were a ton of trails for the boys and me to ride our bikes on. We had about 4 hours of daylight once we arrived and we made the most of it. The boys climbed, rode, laughed, ran, jumped and screamed until they were good and tired. Then, once they were ready for dinner and some Bob the Builder, I jumped on my Specialized StumpJumper and made short work of 8 miles around the park. I have the new Thousand Foot Krutch album on my iPod and I can’t stop listening to it. There is a song on it called “Oxygen” that reminds us of every breath we take being a gift from our Creator and I rocked to it as I watched the sunset over the north end of the Brokeoff Mountains. Tough to beat an ending like that to what turned out to be a great day!

The Kings of Kingman – Rv Post 18

February 6th, 2015 by joe

When your only means of traveling the 2500 or so miles back to the Midwest is in the shop overnight and you are sleeping on a mattress that feels curiously like the cold hard floor of Chateau D’If, you don’t get a very restful night of sleep. We were also awakened around midnight to the sound of roughly half the state of Arizona having a heated conversation outside our motel room door as they attempted to move what sounded like several hundred gold bars down the narrow balcony and rickety stairs nearby! Whether or not this is true, we will never know, as I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep and my sweet bride didn’t have the guts to go outside and confront whomever it was making all the racket (she’s all talk!). Once we did wake up, the ravenous wolves we shared the room with were hungry and the sugar coated air in our off brand cereal bags just wasn’t going to cut it. We looked out the single pane window and saw the welcoming sign of a Denny’s just down the street. So, we got everyone in their winter coats (in Aizona…stupid polar vertex) and started walking. In less than a block, Wade was whining and trying to melt my heart into carrying him with his big crocodile tears. Well, my heart is colder than an Arizona sunrise in January so I just made him walk! In hindsight, his whining could have come from having had his shoes on the wrong feet for the 17th consecutive day because “they make me run faster than a cheetah.” Well, cheetahs don’t wear worn out green Nike tennis shoes and they certainly don’t put them on the wrong feet! FINALLY, we walked through the stale smoke smelling entryway into the griddle smoke filled interior of one of the nicest Denny’s I have seen (perhaps only slightly less nice than the one on the west side of Chicago where I asked my father-in-law, over a Grand Slam, for permission to marry his eldest daughter roughly 13 years ago…had he said no, you wouldn’t be reading this mildly amusing tale!).
The damage for a family of 6 (even with 4 of them 5 years or younger) to go out to breakfast at such a swanky place as Denny’s is generally at least $50 once you factor in a tip, but you really can’t put a price on 4 satisfied boys and compliments from every geriatric in town about “those cute kids!” Wyatt even walked down the bench to the booth on the end and started tapping a silver-haired woman on top of the head. She smiled and made him feel special for a couple minutes and we were out the door. It’s funny how we feel like celebrities leaving a room full of fans when we are in a place where 80% of the crowd starts their morning with Metamucil and ends the day by around 4:30pm! I hope I am as happy and friendly when I reach the discounted coffee age as so many of the people we have met seem to be!
Once back to the motel (after being stopped by a Korean War vet in an old minivan because he was worried we needed help – such a cool old dude!), we settled in for some cartoons and Mel headed across Airway Ave to grab some things at K-Mart. A few minutes later AJ, the shop manager at Russel’s, called and said Bonnie was ready and Russel was on his way to pick us up! He pulled in during the call and I scrambled to get all the boys, luggage, food, dog, and anything else that had exploded into the room packed up and down the stairs before Melissa got back (just to prove I could)! We were headed down the stairs when she walked up, but I had lost a twin somewhere on the balcony so we had to go find Wyatt (of course) and I didn’t get a “Dad of the year you don’t even need me around how could I be so lucky to have found you” kiss that I was hoping for! Losing a child tends to disqualify you for that prize. But it was Wyatt, who could get himself lost in a prison cell, so I could still tell she was impressed!
Bonnie was as good as new, there was fresh popcorn in the waiting area, and I convinced Russel to give a quick look into our water issue before we left. During this time, the boys climbed on every car in the lot, Sue loved on Max, Melissa hugged Sue for being so loving and kind to our family, and Sue gave all the boys (including me) a Russel’s shirt and hat to take with us! She also hooked the boys up with some red velvet cake cookies. I could tell she had done this grandma act before! Meanwhile, I was standing idly by as Russel pulled out the hot water heater, checked all the lines and muttered something about this being an “intriguing issue.” I was glad he hadn’t found the solution so quickly, as that validated my difficulties as well. Everything was going well (and by that I mean we were no closer to a solution but I was feeling good about not having been able to fix it) until Joel walked up. Joel is the guy from yesterday who diagnosed Bonnie as definitely having a bad alternator and he looked at the freshwater tank, had us turn on the pump, did a couple magic tricks, and water started flowing immediately out of all the faucets. After almost 2 weeks, we had water! What had he done, I had to know (as did Russel, who was elbow deep in the hot water heater compartment). Well, turns out he had simply turned one of the 3 open quarter turn valves near the pump back to the closed position. I had changed the other two last week and figured they all needed to be opened (since that is what you generally do when you want water). Not this time. When they are all open, it simply pushes water through the pump and creates a circle. Soooooo, all this time the pump was fine, it just needed a valve closed! Joel looked at us like a humble hero, and HE WAS. A white bearded, soft spoken, Bonnie fixing hero. Russel called him a name I won’t repeat here, Melissa caressed his beard (that might not be true), and I thanked him and might even have given him a hug! After that, I paid the bill, we all posed with Russel and Sue for a picture (we tried to find Joel but he had returned to Heaven from whence he had come), and we said “Thank you” about 1000 more times before we headed out! We wouldn’t have picked Kingman as a place to stay, and we didn’t want to spend any more money on Bonnie, but those were small issues compared to meeting some of the coolest people on the whole trip. If you’re ever through northwest AZ, stop at Russel’s Automotive. Even if you just get your oil changed, it will be time well spent!
Joel had suggested we head out of town on Route 66 (is there no end to his amazingness) and he was right on. The drive was wonderful and, even though it was a bit slower than I-40, it was much less stressful and we got to see some great country. Once back on the Interstate, we pushed through Flagstaff in another rainstorm but were thankful to avoid the snow that was coming. We found a Wal-Mart in Winslow AZ (“Well I’m standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” – Any Eagles fans out there) and celebrated a level parking lot with hot water for the first night of the trip! We actually turned on our furnace too since we could have the propane on to run the water heater. I think, for the first time since I picked her up in Georgia, all systems are go on Bonnie, and we couldn’t be happier. We feel like “official” RVers!

Vegas Baby…Don’t Bet On Bonnie – Rv post 17

February 6th, 2015 by joe

Sam is an IT guy and Jess, his wife, stays home and takes care of the kids. Sam and Jess Curren, our neighbors for the night in Death Valley, were wonderful people and their 3 kiddos were lovely to be around and had fun playing with our boys. Oh, did I mention he works from home and “home” for them is their Airstream camper they are pulling behind their Gray Dodge Ram 1500? That’s right; a real life “we sold everything and live on the road with our kids” family. They’ve been at it for just over a year and don’t have any plans to stop. We had a great chat with them this morning before we left and were happy to share some experiences from our AT trip that so closely mirror their own. They are very serious about their Mormon faith and we had some good chats about that as well. I walked away from being their neighbor with my very own highlighted copy of The Book of Mormon and plan to give it a read (Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not converting). I have been wanting to get a better understanding of that religion for a while now as it only seems to be becoming more and more mainstream. And now I even have a guy I can engage in a conversation about it. How cool is that? Thanks God!

Once we packed up and headed out of the Valley around 10, I began to notice the needle on Bonnie’s battery gauge was bouncing a bit lower than I would have liked. It continued its slow slide to the left all the way through Las Vegas, where the GPS let us down again, and where we had to turn all 32 feet around right in front of the Casino district. As we headed southeast to drive over the Hoover Dam, I was certain our alternator was about to give up the ghost. This was definitely the case and once we hit Highway 93 the needle was buried in the red and I was anxiously hoping to limp it all the way to Kingman, AZ before it died. We weren’t so lucky. 5 miles north of town all the systems shut down and Bonnie left us chugging to a stop on the side of the road. I was a bit perturbed but honestly got over it pretty quick because I had to figure out a solution. My mild mannered wife was another story. This was the point in the adventure she would have punched everyone who works for Fleetwood square in the throat! This was also the point (with the twins whining and screaming all over her, semis tearing past at 80 mph, refrigerator not working and milk spoiling as we sat) that she decided we were not going to live like the Currens and the Midwest sounded pretty good! My solution (thanks to the suggestion of our good friend Phil) was to call Good Sam, where we have a membership, and put their 24 hour roadside assistance to good use. I gave all the necessary info to the lovely lady on the other end of the phone and waited for her to call back with confirmation. It never came and I called back and cancelled. Why? Because wonder of all wonders, Bonnie was resurrected! I tried the key, like I had probably tried 50 times in the last 20 minutes, and she sprang to life! I threw it in gear, cut off a semi , and we were back on the road to find Russel’s Automotive (the highly recommended RV repair joint in town that Good Sam wouldn’t tow to because they weren’t the closest place in town. The Chevy dealer was, that doesn’t even work on RVs but since it has a 454 engine, that was their choice in order for me not to have to pay). We made it 5 miles and onto Route 66 before her resurrection sputtered. She was dead again, right next to the train tracks. This was fortunate, since Hank loves choo-choos and he was the co-pilot for the moment. About every 5 minutes he would smash his chubby cheeks against the side glass and grunt excitedly as another cargo train on the Santa Fe came rumbling past. I called Good Sam and got the same lady I had the first time. She made some comment about them needing to “resend” someone and I reminded her that since she never called me back I had no way of knowing anyone had been sent in the first place. She didn’t object to my logic and in 45 minutes, Jim, the friendliest tow truck driver in the west, came pulling up (That’s what I call him. He never referred to himself with such a pompous moniker). He got us hooked on, as the boys sat on the curb watching with glee, and we all piled into his sleeper cab (expect Max, who was probably wetting himself in the RV). The GPS was wrong AGAIN, but the sweet lady named Sue on the other end of the line at Russel’s (I convinced Good Sam to take us there this time) gave us great directions and Jim pulled us in like a pro. I would have hugged Phil (my friend with the good suggestions) had he been nearby when I got the tow bill for $470 that we didn’t have to pay! Once we were unhooked, Russel and Sue (his wife and the sweet lady from the phone) had us come in to the office where they had made popcorn for the boys, helped us get everything we needed into their vehicles, and they drove us to the Motel 6 in town. Actually, it was Sue and another employee named Joel since we needed to bring along our cooler in his truck (Joel is one of many heroes in the story tomorrow!). We felt like those awkward cousins no one really likes but knows they have to be nice to! Did I mention we have an enormous hair factory of a dog with us too? Sue said she would call in the morning once everything was squared away (Joel had confirmed it was the alternator) and they would come back to pick us up. Mel thanked them and unloaded while I went in to the lobby to get checked in. The lady behind the counter was high on life, or coffee, or something because she talked about a mile a minute about anything and everything under the sun! I didn’t care one bit. We had a roof over our heads, a place for our dog (although I forgot his food…he had a cold hotdog), the best RV mechanics in the area working on sweet Bonnie, and a great story to tell at the end, I was sure. In our haste to get out of the RV and not make Russel and Sue wait any longer, we had forgotten a good bit of our food so we ordered in for pizza and chicken nuggets, ate it on napkins and toilet paper, and watched some PBS show about penguins (which was lovely until 2 young penguins pecked and chewed a baby penguin to death…explain that to your kids while eating Dominoes!) Not the best day in the world, but certainly not the worst!

 

The Valley of Death – Rv post 16

February 5th, 2015 by joe

So, I may have mentioned it before, but the wiper blades on this beast we are currently calling home work about as well as attaching butter knives to the windshield and running them back and forth. I ended the drive last night in the blinding rain (any rain is blinding…refer to first sentence)and started the drive this morning much the same. We made a quick stop for gas on the way out of the LA area and it happened. It happens with astonishing regularity actually, and it sure happened this morning. Some dude, we’ll call him Jim, steps out of his car at the pump, gives Bonnie the once over, and starts talking. Generally about the Bonniesque vehicle he used to own and all the good times he had in it. I love these moments, and will probably do the same the thing once Bonnie finds her next good home (in about 2 weeks if you’re interested. Lots of new parts!). Today “Jim” told me all about the friends he travels out to the desert with (“Oh, headed to Death Valley huh? Had some great times out that way.”) and all the crazy places they ride their dirt bikes. He also told me about his family, how his wife ain’t never gonna tell him when he can and can’t go ride motorcycles, and a lot of other topics (Bonnie has a large tank). Once we finished, I asked him if he knew where I could get some propane, he explained some places that only a local would know, I smiled and nodded and wished him well. It was great chatting with Jim and I hope he takes his wife with him next time he goes to ride!

Once back in and headed out, we turned off the Eisenhower Interstate System and had nothing but wide open 2 lanes for a couple hundred miles. I am learning when people talk about the lovely, lush, and amazing parts of California they just mean the section roughly 10 miles or so from the coast. Anything east of there is more barren than Mordor and every bit as empty. We love the views, but man, there is NOTHING out here. The sun finally broke through the clouds enough for us to see some snow-capped peaks in Sequoia National Forest to our west. We wanted to visit the National Park by the same name, and King’s Canyon as well but most of their roads are impassable due to snow. I guess that just means a return trip sometime! The road in to Death Valley is a winding, twisting, turning, Bonnie brake burning drive and we were warned by multiple people not to “drive like we do back east” on these roads, especially when it comes to stopping. I don’t bother to tell those kind folks that stopping Bonnie takes at least the length of an aircraft carrier and at least one child falls every time I even hover my foot over the brake pedal. As such, I am used to using our gears to slow her down. After the initial climb, we found ourselves up in clouds so thick you literally couldn’t see more than one passing zone strip in front of you. Melissa was making deals with God in the passenger seat, the boys were strangely quiet, and I was just hoping for a bit more sunshine. That wouldn’t come until later in the day but we did get back below the clouds as we were dropping into the Valley. We passed a gas station and some old trailers, a road I wasn’t expecting, and slowed down for a minivan being circled by coyotes. No joke. I also saw a sign nearby that had our elevation listed well over 1000ft. Crap, there was another climb and another valley before we made it to the park.

We pulled off the road, I convinced Melissa I would fight to the death if they attacked me, and I climbed out to get our cooler from underneath (we are still having some issues with gas…I mean Bonnie is…with propane). The coyotes were skiddish, especially when I chucked rocks at them, and I got the food out without being maimed. I also climbed up on the roof to get some cool panoramic shots of the valley that was not Death Valley but was still pretty immense and deadly looking. I’ll call it Dismemberment Canyon (I just made that up. Clever, huh!?). We had peanut butter and jelly tortillas for the 173rd time for lunch and Mel put the twins down for an early nap so we could have everyone happy and rested once we got to the Park. Back we drove into the clouds and back we were to the nervous praying and hoping for sunshine. I spent most of the time gauging my speed based upon the lane markers. If there was a passing zone, I figured I could do at least 35 without falling off a cliff. If it was a double yellow, we dropped her down in to first gear and settled in. We finally made the park entrance around 1:00 pm, flashed our park pass and stopped at the first pull off in the park. There are amazing sand dunes right in the middle of the valley that we couldn’t pass up. There are few things more enjoyable than watching 2 year olds roll down sand dunes! Few things, that is, besides Asians with selfie sticks, which were all over the dunes. Now, don’t misunderstand, I have never used one, probably never will, but the idea of a telescoping golf club you can mount your cell phone on just to enable you to get the perfect selfie is just hilarious to me. It is, as I have come to find out, all the rage and all the norm in Asia (or at least in the US and Europe where I have seen them used many times and always and only by Asians). Later, I would actually have to swerve almost to the shoulder of the highway to avoid a young man (Asian) who was standing almost on the center line to get a shot, with his selfie stick, of the long straight road in front of him! If anyone reading this can shed more light on the selfie stick rage in Asia, please do!

After we got all the sand cleaned off the boys (Ha, like that will ever happen) we continued on east through the park and planned to head out to a state park a couple hours south for the night. Once we came to the campground at Furnace Creek though, we decided it would be a shame not to spend the night 190 feet below sea level and the boys were dying to ride their bikes anyway (as always). We pulled into the park, circled the RV sites 3 times, very slowly, to find the “perfect” spot (I told Melissa if we drove around one more time I was just going to drive off due to embarrassment), and settled in. The night consisted of countless bike rides around the campground, 3 trips to the little convenience store down the street, $10 spent on 11 pieces of wood so wet we could have watered Max with them, and some great times chatting with the lovely family who pulled in next to us BECAUSE (not in spite of) of the fact we had kids. They had 3, a bit older than ours, and were as concerned as we usually are about offending the neighbors. More on them tomorrow. It was a great day, Death Valley is our favorite National Park yet, and we are going to sleep under amazing stars after a smoky fire. What could be better?

 

A Great Day With Friends – Rv post 15

February 5th, 2015 by joe

Being 3 times zones away can mess with anyone’s sleep pattern and it certainly does for 4 little boys we shared our surprisingly nice Red Roof Inn motel room with last night. I think the last one was awake by shortly after 5, local time, and they were ready to go take on the world within a few minutes. We coaxed them into mediocrity for a couple hours with Crunch Berries and cartoons while I kept a sharp eye on the 110 Freeway right outside our room via Google Maps on my phone. I had heard horror stories of the traffic in LA, and they are all true (made even more so due to Bonnie’s ample size and unsportscarlike suspension). From about 5:20 until we left around 10, everything just kept getting slower and slower the entire distance from the Red Roof all the way to Simi Valley. We finally stumbled out of our room with all of our stuff for 6 people, 1 huge and annoying dog, and a cooler roughly the size of Delaware. We promptly ran into a mountain of an African American man who looked like he had stepped out of the UFC Octagon just before donning his Security Guard jacket and parking himself right outside our door. In the span of 30 seconds from first contact, Jake let Max go running across the parking lot, Wyatt dropped his nasty filthy little bear he sleeps with off the balcony, Wade ran out in front of a car, and Hank, I don’t know, surely did something obnoxious. All of this right in front of the ginormous man who had been tasked with keeping the riffraff off the motel property. I muttered something sheepishly about it being a zoo all around us and he laughed a gentle laugh and said not to worry, he had 5 of his own! That has happened so many times on this trip. The Good Lord has allowed us to cross paths with some of the nicest and most understanding people. It’s nice that others have lived in the same zoo we currently call home!

We merged onto the 110 (going the wrong way…my fault this time, not the GPS…and my wife told me I had to mention that in the blog since I take pride in always knowing where I am going…I guess she thinks it will humble me or something…I blame poor signage) and headed toward Simi Valley. Never having been out to LA, I wasn’t prepared for every road, even 50 miles from downtown, to be like the backstretch at Daytona (“Drive it in hard and fast and hope it sticks.” – Yes, that is a quote from Cars…yes, I am a father of little children…yes, I could quote the rest). We did 90 minutes of stop and go driving on roads that California certainly isn’t using tax dollars to fix and finally pulled into the quaint little town of Simi Valley. Josh and Tana were wonderful and gracious hosts, and aside from me flooding their garage while trying to do laundry, our time with them was wonderful. They made us dinner (Jake went back to get more 4 or 5 times), let the boys watch a Lego Movie, and didn’t complain when our monsters broke a couple of their toys. Josh even took me to Wal-Mart to get some stuff for s’mores, and it was a good time to visit, if not a little awkward. You see, we took their 2 year old son, Grayson, with us because he really loves his dad and always wants to be with him. Cool. My boys love me too. But, that left a bi-racial “couple” of two men to push a shopping cart with a cute little boy inside. I started off pushing with Grayson in the seat, but he didn’t know me, was scared of my beard, and started fussing. This left Josh to walk along beside me with his hand on the cart too, holding on to Grayson and consoling him. To make matters worse, the only marshmallows in the whole flippin’ store were Valentine Heart shaped marshmallows (pink and white, I might add). I finally told Josh he would have to push and I walked away! We had a good laugh as we were checking out (at the cash register, not one another) and headed back to the house, masculinity intact!

As our visit was drawing to a close, it started to cloud up and the forecast was for rain showers all night. Good for SoCal, bad for us. We almost opted to ditch going to the coast, but how do you drive all the way to Cali and not at least put your feet in the water?! So, we headed out to Ventura beach, helped all the boys scramble down over some jagged rocks just off of Highway 1 (We WILL come back and drive the whole thing sometime) and let Jake and Wade play in the freezing waves while Hank and Wyatt screamed like they were being frozen alive! After about 45 minutes of great fun and great views, we piled back in to Bonnie and drove off into the sunse…wait a minute, that would mean the ocean…drove off into the sunrise, in several hours, and finally stopped the wheels from rolling at another Wal-Mart, 90 minutes north, but surprisingly still not out of LA traffic. Tomorrow? Death Valley!