Sunday, February 11, 2018

2018 January - New Year, New Adventures Await

Blog January 2018

Last year was wonderful... but this year we shall make it even better.  We returned to Florida in November and took care of all our doctors’ appointments and visited with many of our friends. Thanksgiving Dinner with Larry and Becky Ermer, Christmas Eve grilling at our motor home with Gill and Merry Sanchez, for Christmas Dinner Bill cooked a Standing Rib Roast, then a Christmas and New Year gathering with the Ermers, Skip and Karen Sandru and their children Casey and Doug, drinks and dinner with Tom and Patty Taylor, a retirement celebratory lunch at the Cheesecake Factory with Linda Schou. Unfortunately we missed seeing and visiting with many others, as there was just not enough time for it, before we were scheduled to leave on January 17,  2018 to an appointment at REV Group (Fleetwood RV factory service) in Alvarado TX, to address a few issues on the motor home.

 Some scenes during our stay in Florida...

A tropical Edith2 before her retrofit into a Camper

 The infamous Gator
Our campsite at the Encore Southern Palms Campground in Eustis, FL
Mary, hand feeding the sand hill cranes
In August last year, while in Sheridan, WY, we had traded our previous ‘Edith’ (2015 Ford Explorer) with ‘Edith 2’, a 2017 Ford F150 Super Crew 4x4 truck with a 6.5 foot bed, also in silver to match the motor home. There was nothing really wrong with Edith 1, except that she was not really conducive to do a lot of camping off the beaten path, where the motor home could not go. During our Florida stay we added a ‘Decked’ decking system (see photos), which elevates the bed deck to above the wheel wells (with a weight capacity of 2,000 lbs), and has two (2) full-length drawers and four ammo cans at the corners, between the bed of the truck and the decking for camping gear, clothing, food, generator, guns/rifles, ammunition, etc. We also added an A.R.E. high-top bed topper with large side windows that allow rain-protected ventilation through large screens. Bill added a gas-strut for the tailgate which will allow us to open the tailgate from inside without it dropping with a thud. Now it opens gently. The truck already came with a step-up and handle-post on the tailgate, which allows easy entry and exit from the bed section. We will also keep a blow-up mattress that auto-inflates/deflates, solar lanterns, a thermal electric cooler (which connects to the truck’s inverter and/or backup batteries.  We kept the separate 9’x9’ tent that used to attach to Edith 1, to take with us and use as an alternate camping space or as a screened enclosure to socialize in when mosquitoes and bugs are prevalent. So now we can ‘Rough It Gently’ in the truck, where the motor home can’t go, and ‘Rough It Even Gentler’ in the motor home. It is not designed to be a long-term camper, but more a viable weekender (2-3 days) so we can leave the motor home safely in a campground and take the truck to camp in areas where the motor home cannot go. Truly, last year was wonderful, but this year is promising to be even better. More important than anything else, however, we are enjoying life together and happy with each other. 

Out of the tailgate there is a step and a pull-up or step-down handle that is very convenient.
 These are the two drawers, on the right (above) and on the left (below)
Inside there are clothes hangers, lights and large windows that open either 'center only' or the 'full window' held up by struts. A Velcro screen will be fitted to keep bugs out. 
            The center slide window for screened ventilation without opening the full window.
One of the carpet corners lifted showing all the room they hold for storage. 
 Triple 12V outlets for USB chargers. There is also a 400-watt inverter in the truck for when 120V use is required. An 'ammo can' can carry two propane bottles for a camp light or stove for making coffee in the mornings.  
In the back seat of the Super Crew cab there is plenty of space for added passengers or for carrying added gear. 
From REV in Alvarado TX, we went on to the Thousand Trails Lake Conroe RV Resort in Willis TX where we planned to empty out all the storage compartments to clean them out as well as the things within them, and reorganize them to spread out the axle weight of the coach; however, the cold temperatures have delayed that plan and will probably be rescheduled for Arizona, when the weather and temperatures we hope will be more favorable. Our arrival at the Lake Conroe resort was a bit precarious as we arrived after dark and there were very few open campsites that could handle our size rig and were level enough not to elevate our wheels off the ground with the hydraulic jacks. We found one that seemed pretty good, but had to back the rig in, in the dark, with deep drops on the sides of the roadway, but Bill managed to get us in safely. The next day we found out that the neighbors on our passenger side were in the habit of letting their two large dogs without a leash, and they liked to come over to our side patio area and poop all over the place, so we opted to move to another site which became available upon someone leaving that morning.  See... good things do happen to good people.

On January 30-31 the moon presented three natural events not seen together in over 150 years, and won't be seen again for another 150 years, so it is safe to say that this was the only chance we would get to see it. A Blue Moon, a Blood Moon and a Total Lunar Eclipse, ALL on the same night.  Unfortunately, although we were located in Texas which was a perfect location to see the eclipse in its entirety, and that the sky was totally clear for optimal viewing, three things worked against us, 1) the total eclipse duration was 5 hours and 17 minutes, 2) it happened between 4:51am and 10:08am (with total eclipse at around 7:29am, just before sunrise, and 3) and perhaps more significant as to the hardship of witnessing this even is that the temperature in Willis Tx where we were located, was only 31 degrees. As it turned out, after setting our alarms for 4:30am, when the alarm went off Mary looked out her window right next to her pillow and lo and behold the moon was in full view from right there, so she opted to stay tucked in and see it from that vantage point. Bill deliberated for about 30 minutes thinking of how cold it was outside, but eventually realized that he had to go out to take better photos with his new Nikon P900 83x optical zoom camera, so he did so and those are the photos we include here.  So, within the last 12 months we have now we have witnessed both the Total Solar Eclipse (Aug 21, 2017) and the Total Lunar Eclipse (along with Full Blue and Blood Moon, on January 31, 2018) The next full lunar eclipse (by itself) is scheduled for July 20-21, but it will only be visible if you are either in the southern part of Africa or in the southern hemisphere of the Atlantic ocean.




There won’t be much about our TT Lake Conroe stay to write about, and for the next few weeks until the end of March when we will make our way over to Arizona, to explore different places for future winter stays. Most of our time will be spent on preparation for our future travels to Oregon and Washington, later on this year as the temperatures begin to warm for northern travel. However, as some friends have asked us to keep the blog up, we’re inputting this information, as well as letting you know what our future travel plans are:
January 24 – February 10, 2018:  Thousand Trails Lake Conroe Campground, Willis, TX
February 10 – March 3, 2018: Thousand Trails Colorado River RV Resort in Columbus TX
March 3 – March 24, 2018: Thousand Trails Lake Medina Campground in Lakehills TX
March 24 - 27 In transit to Benson, AZ
March 27 - April 3: Valley Vista (Encore and RPI) Campground in Benson, AZ
April 3-10: Fiesta Grande campground, in Casa Grande, AZ   
April 10 -19: Unknown as of yet campground in Apache Junction, AZ
April 19 - May 10: TT Verde Valley in Cottonwood, AZ
Hopefully by then the weather will be more cooperative for us to start heading Northward to ward Oregon and Washington states. 
However, we are currently (as of February 11) in the TT Colorado River campground and have been most impressed by this small campground. It is surprisingly UNLIKE most THOUSAND TRAILS campgrounds, (and definitely a reversal of TT Lake Conroe), as most of its roads are in pretty good condition, the park is well maintained, they will actually accept USPS Packages, the staff are all very friendly and identified as to each staff position along with their phone contact, and many campsites (such as ours - C27) are spacious and include a large concrete pad well located for sitting under the awnings, there is good water pressure and for animal lovers, there are lots of deer wandering around the property. It is a small park (125 sites minus 7 50Amp sites wiped out by the river during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
By contrast these are some of the issues that we had to put up with in TT Lake Conroe, not to mention the non-visual but just as stressful issues as having to deal with a Resort Manager in her 20's who makes up her own rules and enforces them discriminately (as she feels like it) and will not accept even packages delivered by USPS, which makes it very difficult and more expensive to have to send our forwarded mail by FedEx instead. Of the visual issues, the campground is going to pot. The roads are full of potholes and ruts made by people getting stuck in the mud that have been reported many times, by many people, but remain unrepaired. As there is no rule against anyone crossing through other people's occupied camp site, there was an imminent danger of someone falling into one of these ruts capable of twisting an ankle, or breaking a leg, or worse. So we took photos to management and asked that they be repaired or at the very least marked these holes to prevent an accident, but our request was never answered following stupid reasons for why they had not fixed it already. The campsites are also composed of construction rocks (rock and concrete chunks measuring up to 3" which made it impossible to put out a mat without tearing up the mat, or to be able to use our rocker chairs and made it even difficult to walk on. Our neighbor had to go buy a rake to clear his campsite enough for his disabled wife to be able to step outside of their coach.


Unfortunately, we can only show you the following photos of our new campground, TT Colorado River, as all the photos taken on Bill's iPhone 7 of the new  campground are now non-viewable, thanks to Apple. APPLE (in its infinite stupidity) has seen to it that our JPEG photos got changed to an HEIC formats, which Windows does not recognize. HEIC stands for 'High Efficiency Image File" format. Admittedly Apple is too dumb to understand that File starts with an "F" not a "C" and should have called it HEIF instead of HEIC. No matter, in any case they have left the Apple owners at a loss, needing a Converter, which they say they offer for Free, yet only has a "Buy Me" button to access it. Bill is just about ready to give up his iPhone 7 and go back to a 'Dumb Phone' which works better for non-techies (like Bill), than an Apple iPhone.

However, you can see that it is very spacious, well maintained, with a concrete pad in line with where the awning is, with small tight gravel base and clean, manicured surroundings, contrasted by the muddy, rutted roads and large rocky pads of TT Lake Conroe in Willis, TX. Morning condensation on the inside of glass surfaces due to the cold outside (39 degrees F and inside the coach (in the 70's.)


Condensation inside from the temperature difference with 36 degrees outside and 75 or so degrees inside (above) 



As a side note, we will soon be adding another BLOG called "Campground Evaluations" or "Campground Reviews" and possibly contacting other RV bloggers who also have such a segment on their blogs, to try to put together a consolidated list (nationwide), with compliments and complaints of things that are important to RVers, so that others planning future stays can get a better idea as to what is positive and negative as to each of the campgrounds that we have visited. It may also remind us if we plan to return to the same campground again.  Also we will make notes of their office and ranger phone contacts and the general staff friendliness; mailing address for packages and what mailing services are accepted; good and bad campsites (based on a 41ft class A such as ours) as to ability to become level, campfire or grilling restrictions, local groceries availability, restaurants in the area and distance to a Costco, BJ's or Sam's Club. This addition is based on the blog of fellow RVer and friends, Ryan and Kim and their dog 'Jet' ( who also evaluate the campgrounds they visit, for the benefit of other RVers. Thank you Kim and Ryan for the idea. Perhaps we can combine our evaluations and offer a more comprehensive option to others seeking information on campgrounds in the areas they want to visit.

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