Saturday, June 29, 2019

Trip Planning (part 2)

Location: New Rockdale RV Park; Mansfield, Louisiana

I've been planning, on and off, my next trip since I posted the preliminary route in the last post. One important thing I determined is the date of hitting the road. That date will be Thursday, July 11th, 2019. Thursday is a strange day to start a trip because that is when a lot of the campgrounds begin to fill up with early weekend campers. There are basically four types of people who are campers; weekenders, temporary workers, long term campers and travelers/short term campers. Each group comes with their own pluses and minuses. I have met many wonderful people from each category and the following paragraphs are generalizations only and not meant to put anyone down.  

Weekenders usually arrive in the afternoon or evening on Fridays and leave on Sunday. You can spot their campsites because they will usually have kids and dogs running around having fun while the adults sit in their lawn chairs with the BBQ grill putting off enough smoke to set off smoke alarms in the adjacent RV's. There will be a few ice chests scattered around with a large outdoor rug. You can count on some outdoor lighting attached to their awning or RV. During football season, they will have a TV set up with the volume loud enough for everyone to know the score of the game. During half time and after the game, they will turn their boombox up louder because surely everyone in the park wants to hear the music. As the evening wears on, the adults that have been drinking adult beverages all day will get louder and louder. You just have to put up with it for Friday and Saturday until they leave. The weekenders prefer the state and federal parks which is a shame since those are my preferences too. They create a problem when they make reservations online for every weekend for months in advance. If something comes up and they can't make it that weekend, they cancel their reservation in enough time so they aren't access a fee or charge. This process works good for them but it sure is bad for other campers who are planning trips several weeks in advance. We look at the available sites online and see every campsite is reserved for every weekend. Some campgrounds have started charging a non-refundable reservation fee that will prevent a lot of this from happening. 

Long term campers are those people who have chosen to live in their RV, at a private campground, instead of a house or apartment. Some of them have been sitting in the same campsite for so long their tires have dry rotted and they must place blocks under their frame to keep it upright. If their A/C unit breaks, they will sometimes mount a residential window unit in their RV. Some long termers keep their RV's and campsites neat and tidy but most of them don't. Campgrounds will usually place the long termers in a separate part of campground from other campers. If a campground gets too many long term campers it will begin to have trouble attracting other types of campers.  

Temporary workers travel and live in their RV as they move from job to job. Most work six days a week so you don't see them except in the evenings and Sundays. They are usually very quiet during the week because they get back from work late in the evening and turn in early because they have to get up early to go back to work. They are also the ones that will politely tell the weekenders to quiet down around 9:00 pm on Friday's. Saturday nights are their usual night to howl, but even then you can count on them wearing out before 10:00 pm. You can usually spot their campsites because they will have work related items such as tool boxes, large propane tanks, BBG grills, etc around their campsite. They usually only stay in privately owned campgrounds. 

Travelers are those campers who only stay in the campground for a few days or maybe a week or two. Some of them you never see because they will pull in late in the evening and leave early the next morning while they go about their explorations of the area. You can usually recognize their campsites by the lack of any accessories in the campsite. Most of the time they won't put out many things because it become troublesome to pack it back up when they are traveling so often. You won't see them around the campground during the day since they are usually off exploring some place. Part of that exploring is trying local eating places so you may not see them cooking or bbq'ing. These campers are also the ones you will see walking around the campground in the evening and will stop and visit with anyone. Travelers also become short term campers when they are in between trips. They will find a campground to stop for a month or more while they visit family, check in with doctors and plan their next trip. 

I fall into the traveler category and am just finishing up my stay as a short term camper. I've been here about three months and it's time to move on before the temperatures get much hotter. So far, the hottest day has been in the mid 90's with the average being in the mid to upper 80's. My two A/C units can keep Liberty about 15 degrees cooler than the outside temperature. If the sun is on the door side of Liberty and her awning is out, the A/C's can keep the temperature about 20 degrees cooler than outside. But around here, July and August will usually have several days in the upper 90's with a few 100+ days thrown in just to keep people thankful for the upper 90's. So, with that in mind, I will change over to "traveler" mode on July 11th. The preliminary route I chose in the last post was the following:    
Preliminary route
 I have reservations at the campgrounds listed on the following map. This gets me up to Gunnison, Colorado.

The last campground shown on the map is Elk Creek which is a National Forest Service campground. I was very lucky in being able to get four days in this place. I was hoping for a week but very happy with the four. I will use it to explore the area and maybe visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park although it will be a longer exploration drive than I like. There is a campground in the National Park, but all of the electric campsites were reserved for a couple of months in advance. I thought about making reservations for late August and visiting the park on my return trip, but once I was able to secure the four days at Elk Creek, I decided to pass through this area on my way north. I'll probably make a reservation for a couple days at a campground in the Montrose, Colorado area so I can make sure to have enough time to visit the National Park.

I used a new "trip planner" program this time. It is called "RV Parky" and is free, but it isn't working today. Like most trip planners, it lists most campgrounds along your proposed route, but not all of them. The trip planner I usually use is Good Sam Trip Planner, but they are in the process of updating it, and until it is finished and de-bugged, it is just about useless. I also use Passport America (PA) to find campgrounds that are part of the PA program. The PA campgrounds offer 1/2 off their usually campground rate. But you have to be careful because PA does not guarantee the condition of the campground like Good Sam does with their campground rating system. I use Google Earth to zoom in on the campground from above and also the street view. Usually I can tell from the way it is laid out, the campsite spacing, cleanliness of the site, etc if it is a decent place to stay. PA campgrounds also place restrictions on the 1/2 off PA price. They are able to restrict the days of week, months, holidays, etc. You have to read their restrictions on the PA home page to see if you will get the discount. Only one of my reserved campgrounds on this trip is a PA campground. It is Comanche Campground in Stinnett, Texas. The other very useful program is "Allstays". It has shown itself to be the most accurate and complete program, but they don't have a "trip planner" on their site. So while using another trip planner I will go back and forth to Allstays, Passport America, Good Sam, Google Earth, Google Maps, other people's blogs and whatever other source may indicate good campsites. 

Of the six campgrounds I have reserved, one is Corps of Engineers, one is National Forest Service, one is a Texas State Park, one is Passport America and two are private campgrounds. I'm satisfied with that breakdown. 

My federal annual pass has expired but I'll get a new one at my first campground which is Holiday Park (Corps of Engineers) campground near Fort Worth, Texas. That pass ($20.00) allows me free access to National Parks, Monuments, etc. It also saves me 1/2 price for Federal Campgrounds. It is money well spent and I'll recoup the issue price of the pass from the saving at the first campground.

The Texas State Park I'll stay at is Copper Breaks State Park. It is off the beaten path a little but I've stayed there before and it is a comfortable campground and I will probably use it to rest up. I won't be buying a Texas Park pass since I don't plan to stay in any other Texas parks until maybe my return trip. 

I'm still in the process of finding things to explore at each of the stops. Some of the stops will just be rest-up campgrounds without much exploration. But I have found that even without a planned exploration, there are many things that just happen. Those are the unexpected "wow" moments. 

I'll try to make another post before I hit the road which will list some of the exploration things I'll be shooting to do along the way. 

Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.

Monday, June 3, 2019

What to Do?, Where to Go? and When????

Location: New Rockdale RV Park; Mansfield, Louisiana

I've been back in Mansfield, for a little over two months. During that time, I've visited with my family, had two new A/C units installed in Liberty (one because it broke and the other just to teach it a lesson) and been sick for about half of those two months. This sickness hung around for almost five weeks which surprised me since any sickness I've had in the past usually ran its course in two weeks at most. Now that I'm just about 100% recovered from my sickness, I have set up an appointment with my General Practitioner for my annual checkup. Like most reasonable people (see what I almost did there,,,, if you don't agree with what I was about to say, I declared you "unreasonable". lol). Now that wasn't fair for me to do that, so I'll start that sentence over. Unless you're crazy like me, you normally go to the doctor when you're sick. My thoughts over the years has been if I have a touch of the cold or flu or sinus or whatever minor thing I may catch, it will run its normal course in a week or two with the help of just a few over the counter meds. If I would happen to go to the doctor, I may get better quicker, but there is a trade off. Some people say, the more antibiotics you use, the less effective they become, so maybe I'm saving up their "effectiveness" for something really big. The sickness this time was a low grade fever for a few days with a ticklish type of cough. After the first week or ten days, one of my sinuses started acting up. But I'm much better now and will see my GP tomorrow. I will probably tell him about my sickness, but maybe not. 

The weather around here is getting hotter and more humid by the day. One of the things I used to say about my plans of retiring and hitting the road was, with an RV, I could follow the 70 degree temperature line on the weather maps. Now-a-days when ever I think of following that line, I'm reminded of my friend, Joe Debusk, who used to laugh each time I mentioned it. He also had plans for his retirement, but a lot of them went unfulfilled when he passed away a little more than a year ago. His passing was one of the many reminders to me of "don't wait too long". 

I figure the weather will be OK through June but somewhere around the first of July, I need to be traveling in search of that 70 degree line. 

So, that means I need to pick a destination, plan a route and find some things to explore along the way. Several readers of this blog are planning to become Full Time RV Travelers in the future, so I thought it might be interesting for them to see how I plan a trip. This will also document my thought process for my grandchildren when they read the blog decades from now. Planning the trip has become necessary only within the last couple of years. With the dramatic increase in RV's on the road, campgrounds are filling up faster than they have in the past. It used to be you could pull into a campground in the middle of the afternoon and have a pick of half the campsites. Not anymore. You better have a reservation unless you plan to dry camp in a Walmart parking lot. 

Picking a destination: The trip will be during July, August and September. Three very hot summer months. This means the cooler temperatures will be north. 

Choices are the northeast which is the more expensive area for RV'ing. I wouldn't mind seeing Washington D.C. again since I certainly didn't see everything during my last trip. Maybe some other time. The northeast is out of the running. 

The north central part of the country would be Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin. I was in that area not long ago, so it is still fresh in my mind and I don't want to re-trace my steps so soon. The north central is out. 

The great plains area is out of the running due to a crazy tornado season this year, plus it would be almost as hot as down here. 

The Rocky Mountains would be a good choice and maybe even a little farther west to the Pacific Coast. Now we're cooking with gas (younger readers may need to ask a seasoned citizen the meaning of that phrase). 

The way I travel is I pick a destination which is basically as far as I plan to travel during that trip. I then plan my trip to that destination by picking exploration stops along the way and on the return trip. As an example, my first destination when I left Louisiana on my first RV trip was Bangor, Maine. It was a crazy route to get there, but I kept heading in that direction. 

I think I'll chose Coeur d'Alene, Idaho as my destination. I know very little about the place except my father was stationed there when he was in the Air Force back in the 40's. He never talked much about his service but he did say Idaho was a pretty state. I've been in parts of Southern Idaho but not as far north as Coeur d'Alene. So, the destination is set. 

Now, a couple preliminary routes to get there. Some of the places I'm interested in stopping at along the way would be the Big Bend area of Texas, Death Valley, Yosemite, Angel Lake in Nevada, revisit parts of the Oregon coast, Shoshone Falls and other waterfalls, Black Canyons of the Gunnison in Colorado and other places yet unknown to me. 

This route is the quickest route north. It also passes through North Dakota which is one of the states I haven't been to. Some of my cousins are working in North Dakota so it would be a combined family visit. I would be retracing an old route of mine between here and South Dakota which is the route I took after being notified that my youngest son had a stroke. I've been in Montana and there isn't anything I really want to re-see. The return route looks really good and hits many of the places on my list. I'll think about this route some more, but initially, I think I'll pass on this one. 

This is a figure eight route and is about 6,200 miles in length. It stays out of California except for exploration trips. That means lower prices on everything. Although it would be nice to pass through the California central valley when all the fruit would be getting ripe. But, not sure it's worth it. This route works in both direction, either Colorado leg going or returning. The weather would dictate which way would be first. There is a campground I want to stay at located in Colorado with no vacancies until mid-August. It may be too hot in the Big Bend part of Texas for a July stopover, so that may have to be on the return trip. Otherwise, this route hits most of the places that interest me, so it is Very Possibly the route. 

This route is similar to the one above but is 500 miles shorter, goes through parts of California but sadly skips parts of the Columbia River area. This one has the same beginning and ending legs as the trip above. This one is definitely in the running as well. 
Those are three preliminary routes and will definitely be modified before I hit the road and will be modified more while traveling. The main part to take away from those two routes is the distance. It will be about a 6,000 mile round trip. That is 6,000 miles of towing and based on past experience, that means another 6,000 miles of exploring. 12,000 miles of total travel. Those mileages help give me some more information. With a distance between campground of about 200 miles, this means about 30 campgrounds. If I stay, on average, 3 days per campground, then the trip will be about 90 days long. That means if I leave the first week of July, sometime after the 4th, I should be back in Louisiana about the first week of October.

The next post will firm up some of the preliminary routes, look at some campgrounds and find things to explore along the route. 

A couple of pictures to round out the post.

Grandson Nathan asleep in his Pa's arms while attending Olivia's T-ball game.

Olivia returning my wink while she was on stage with the rest of her Pre-Kindergarten graduating class. She not only knew all of the words to her part, which was several sentences long, but also all of the other speaking parts. She calmly winked without causing a distraction or losing her place within the program. Very nice. 
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.