Thursday, April 29, 2010

Houston - First Major Stop

We’ve been here in Houston for a several days now, having a very pleasant and relaxing time. Lynda has been able to spend some time with her aunt Janet and cousin Nicole and we’ve been staying with my sister Catherine and her family in the Cypress area, north west of Houston.

We arrived this past Friday after a harrowing drive through Houston on I-10 and I-610 North. If it’s not enough that Houston drivers are pretty aggressive, these major roadways are under construction with very narrow lanes and concrete barriers. It would be a stretch for me to say I was not stressed about driving the 28 foot Trek-with-scooter-on-the-back in that kind of traffic, although Lynda seemed quite comfortable. She has developed considerable confidence in my RV driving abilities – I hope to never let her down!

Anyway, we made it in one piece, dropped Sydney and Barley off at the Longwood Animal Hospital & Pet Resort and then coordinated with the manager of Safe Harbor Boat & RV Storage to arrange for a great storage spot for the Trek – a fully enclosed RV garage in a secured area only 5 minutes from Catherine’s house! And the price was right also: only $5 a day. What more could a girl ask for?

My family gathered at Catherine’s place on Saturday and then we all went over to Charles and Donna Davis’ (longtime friends from Barbados) for a wonderful West Indian curry roti dinner. Their son Brad was there also, as was Noreen and Ronald Branch… and so old friends and family got together and a good time was had by all.

On Wednesday, Catherine, Lynda, Donna, and myself spent a few hours in Old Town Spring.  If you enjoy shopping and/or browsing in a quaint setting, then you will enjoy this place.  It was nice for the four of us to just hang out together.

My oldest niece, Rachel will be celebrating her 13th birthday this coming Sunday, May 2nd. This is not only a milestone birthday for her, but is also the first birthday I will actually get to spend with her in person! It’s hard to believe Rachel is becoming so grown up… it seems just a couple years ago that she was a baby! Catherine and husband Roger, with some help from the rest of the family, have been shopping and planning and we’re all looking forward to Sunday. We will get together at our other sister’s (Pilar) house in Beach City for dinner on Saturday, spend the night, and then have Rachel’s birthday celebration the next day.

On Monday morning, we'll retrieve the Trek, and Sydney and Barley and depart the Houston area to head west towards Big Bend National Park. This is a 600 mile drive and so we’ll go about half way and spend the night at the FamCamp at Laughlin Air Force Base (Del Rio), finishing the drive to Big Bend on Tuesday.  I don't think we'll have Internet connectivity while at Big Bend... if not, we'll catch up later.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Heading to Houston!

It’s day two of our travel to Houston, and we’ve settled into a pretty good routine with Consuelo driving and me in the “co-pilot” seat… Consuelo is a very good and conscientious driver – I feel absolutely safe with her at the wheel – the only time her attention drifts is when she starts punching information into the GPS (we try to avoid her having to do that while we’re driving).  And she does wake me up if I’m napping when she starts to feel drowsy. We chit chat and talk about the other RVs we see on the road or the flowers we see growing on the sides of the highway.

Consuelo’s taken to talking to the other drivers… especially the people who don’t accelerate on the entrance ramps and dilly-dally merging onto the interstate. Today, she invited a truck driver to play a game of Scrabble because he was taking so long to pass us on the left.

The dogs have also settled in very well. Sydney spends most of her time lying on the “dog house” between the driver and passenger seats… sometimes with her chin propped up on the dashboard, but usually staring balefully up at Consuelo as if to say " Are we there yet?" Barley’s happy stretched out on the floor in the living area.

We boondocked last night at a Wal-Mart in Meridian, Mississippi. We were a little bit nervous because this particular Wal-Mart was quite a distance from the interstate and we were the only RV in the parking lot. I did a little shopping when we arrived; Consuelo did some cleaning inside the Trek; we ate a sandwich and settled in for the night. The dogs enjoyed a nice long walk around the mostly empty parking lot this morning before we got back on the road.

We made such good time yesterday and today, we decided to drive as far as the Lake Charles area in Louisiana and find a state park for the night instead of boondocking. This way, we can hook up to water, take some nice leisurely showers, walk the dogs somewhere besides a parking lot, and dump our tanks before we get to Houston. We located Sam Houston Jones State Park in Lake Charles and stopped at a Wal-Mart on the way to the park for gas and groceries… Consuelo ran in to pick up some fried chicken for dinner. She bought a bag that was labeled “fried chicken dinner” but when we got set up in our site and opened the bag we discovered a giant burnt turkey leg! I made some rice and Consuelo warmed up some vegetables and we sat down to enjoy our “fried chicken” dinner! We tried our hardest to make the best of the meal and realized the best thing we could do was laugh… As we peeled the skin off the turkey leg, we uncovered turkey meat that was an unnatural pink color - lesson learned today: unless you can stomach bright pink turkey, always check inside the bag – don’t believe the label that says fried chicken: 2 breasts, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs”.

Click here to view some photos of our drive through Louisiana.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Townsend, Tennessee

Our stay in Townsend has been very nice - we've used these past few days to relax and catch our breath and verify that all systems are "go".  Chip and Carolyn visited this evening for an early dinner and to pick up my Mazda Tribute... from this point on, we do not have a car - just the Trek and the scooter.  From time to time during our Great RV Escape, we'll rent a car if needed.

Finally, Lynda rode on the back of the Tank and she did great!  We buzzed around Townsend and then scootered over to the Cades Cove riding stable (which is actually located in Townsend).  We took a horse back ride up to nearby waterfalls and enjoyed the beautiful countryside. 

We also took a drive along the scenic Foothills Parkway, and Barley and Sydney came with us.  Truly, East Tennessee is a beautiful area and she is at her absolute finest in the spring! 

We've been staying at the Mountaineer campground which is very nice... fairly small but with good amenities and very helpful owners. Highly recommended!

Except for a little trouble with the RV awning, which was easily sorted out, the Trek and her systems are working great and we are ready to hit the road tomorrow!  First major stop will be Houston, Texas to spend some time with family and friends. 

Click here to view more photos, and stay tuned for more about our travels!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Leaving Home

Well, we left home yesterday!  Our housesitter Mary arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and we spent a few hours going over house systems and some paperwork.  Later that evening we hosted a smallish spaghetti dinner gathering to introduce Mary to our good neighborhood friends (including Lynda's parents, Chip and Carolyn) and spend some time together before we left on our Great RV Escape.  I am SO pleased to have found Mary - I'm sure she will take wonderful care of the house and cats!

We drove Mary around the local area on Saturday, showing her some shopping areas and the general lay of the land.  Then, we loaded up the scooter and left town around 2:30 PM.  What a great feeling to have everything coming together after all our hard work and planning.  Very cool!

Our first stop is just an hour from home: the Smoky Mountains foothill town of Townsend.  This is a beautiful area! We will spend a total of 4 nights here to "burn in" the RV systems and see what, if anything, we forgot to pack. Carolyn, Chip, Judi and Gary are coming over later today to have an early dinner with us and just hang out for a while. 

The weather is cool but gorgeous and life is good!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

RV'ing Cheetahs

Safari Treks were sold brand new with an option for painted artwork to be airbrushed on the rear panel. From what I've been able to gather, the proud new owner could chose from several themes and then a professional artist would paint the scene onto the RV.  I've seen photos of several Treks with various artwork and the scenes are very attractive!  I have no idea how much this option cost in 1998, but the original owner of our Safari Trek elected to save his/her money for something else and so our back panel was bare.

I started thinking about that blank panel - a big blank space just looking for someone to brighten it up - and I decided we needed to do something. But what? Lynda nor I am talented enough to even consider airbrushing a scene, and I was sure that commissioning an artist to do this would require too much time, coordination, and money.  However, Lynda is a graphic artist and so we decided to design a layout in PhotoShop™ and have a sign shop output the scene on high quality vinyl and apply to the panel.  And so we did.... and that's how we got our RV'ing Cheetahs!
We purchased the photograph from an online photo source and FastSigns of Knoxville did the vinyl and lettering work for us
While we were working on the back panel artwork, we decided to also put some info about this blog on the Trek in the hope that folks would visit our web site and offer up suggestions for our Great RV Escape.  We'll see how that works out, but I'm looking forward to meeting and talking to people in campgrounds, parks, and other places we visit... this will make our trip even more interesting and fun!

So keep an eye out for us as we make our way around the US - click here to see our general route (we start in the Knoxville area and we're heading clockwise). If you spot us, let me know!!

Check out these photos:

Oh, and did you notice our new curtains match our Cheetahs?  I love it when things start coming together!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Home Economics 101 – Made Our Own Curtains!

Our December trip to Houston taught us much about the Trek and the realities of living in it from day to day. One of the big things we discovered was the difficulty with the windshield privacy curtains…I think they were the original ones when the Trek was brand new. Anyway, they were made of a stiff material and tightly pleated so they “accordion’ed” into the tie-back areas on the driver and passenger side windows. They were also just a tad bit too long which made it very difficult to smoothly pull them across the windshield.

Every night when we closed these curtains and every morning when we opened them, it was a struggle that quickly became fairly irritating. Consuelo and I agreed that fighting with them for 5 or 6 months would make one of us go insane, so we decided to replace the curtains.

We started looking into our options and soon learned we had a couple choices: we could order some custom-made curtains through numerous on-line vendors that would cost us over $350, or we could buy ready-to-hang curtains off the shelf at Camping World for about $140. So we tried the latter but discovered there were very limited colors to choose from and the standard length of 36 inches was about 3 inches too short for what we needed. So, we returned those curtains and scratched that approach. We really did not want to spend over $350 on custom curtains in colors we could only view online and so we decided to just make our own. How hard could that be, really? 

So we made a bunch of measurements and examined the hardware and construction of the existing curtains. And we asked my mother – who used to be a sewing instructor – for some advice, and she offered assistance if needed. So the three of us (Mom, Consuelo and I) headed off to Joanne’s Fabric Store to find material for our new curtains. As luck would have it (and as is often the case at Joanne’s – I suspect), they were having a sale and we found something we liked for less than $8 a yard! The fabric we chose is a light upholstery material with an ivory/cream background and dark brown cheetah spots - a perfect pattern and color scheme for our Safari Trek!

From Joanne’s we bought more than enough fabric, pleating tape, and thread to make the curtains. We also needed a small collection of hardware to hang them on the existing I-beam track. We got the curtain carriers from Camping World and Wright’s ceiling pleater drapery hooks from Create For Less.

Once we washed the new fabric, we headed over to Mom’s house to begin our project. Although I have a sewing machine, I keep it stored in a closet (like a trophy)… but my mother sews a lot so her machine is always set up, ready to go and she has a nice sewing room with a big sewing table. Mom helped us figure out how much to turn over for hems and showed us how to pin it up. Then, she took the material and sat down at the sewing machine and started sewing.  It just could not have gone better than that!

As the project evolved, and after examining the pleating tape, drapery hooks, and looking at the track the curtains would be hanging on, we realized we did not have enough clearance between the top of the curtain and the track. But, no problem! We headed to Home Depot to see if we could find some tiny S hooks to add between the drapery hooks and the curtain carrier hardware. They didn’t have S hooks small enough so we bought some small “J link” chain and then used 3 links from the chain on each drapery hook to add the needed space between the top of the drapery hook and the curtain carrier doo-dad. Actually, Consuelo sat with a pair of needle nose pliers and did this… it was a little too tedious for me but she didn't seem to mind!

Click here to see photos of our new curtains

All totaled, with fabric, pleating tape, thread, drapery hooks, curtain carrier hardware, and chain our new curtains cost us $210 - a $140 savings! And we got a fabric that matches the décor inside the Trek plus we had enough material left over for Mom to make three throw pillows for the couch!

We send a big THANK YOU and hug to Mom for her help!

Update on Preparations - We've Been Busy!

The last couple months have been very busy!  Here are the highlights -
  • cleaned out closets and drawers, and even the basement
  • sold lots of stuff on eBay and Craigslist, and had a yard sale that went very well
  • sold the camper van and the Mustang
  • sold the canoe
  • completed initial maintenance on the scooter and she's all ready to go!
  • I got my motorcycle license
  • went to Key West for a week
  • completed maintenance on the Trek: caulked the roof, painted the side mirrors and steps, sealed all plumbing entry points underneath, serviced the levelling jacks system, cleaned and lubricated the awnings, etc.
  • designed artwork and lettering for the Trek and had it applied
  • had tinting applied to the Trek's windshield and upper panes of the driver and passenger cockpit windows
  • with the help of Lynda's mother, Carolyn, we made new windshield curtains for the Trek (saved lots of $$ compared to buying custom curtains)
  • purchased items to put together a spare parts kit for the Trek and for the Onan generator
  • got the Trek serviced (oil change, etc)
We also bought and water-tested an inflatable Intex Challenger K1 Kayak and now have a second one on order - very portable and easy to set up!  We'll use these for floating around on calm lakes and rivers for wildlife spotting.

Whew - I am tired of chores!  We still need to finish getting the yard and gardens cleaned up, take Sydney and Barley to the vet for shots, etc., and pack up the Trek with clothes and groceries.  But we're almost ready to go and I have no doubt all our efforts will be more than worth it!