August 20, 2014

Heaven Help Our Roads

As I write this post we have passed 3,500 miles on our trip. I have felt almost every one of those three thousand five hundred miles. The RV has shaken enough to loosen dozens of screws and make things rattle that I didn't even know could rattle. Why? Because too many of America's roads are falling part.

If you have plans to motor through the Midwest, hold on to your hat (and anything else that might be loose): I-70 through eastern Colorado, I-90 through southern Minnesota, I-35 in Iowa and Minnesota, I-39 in Wisconsin.....the list is endless. Have you noticed that the major offenders are part of our Interstate highway system. Certainly we encountered some terrible state and county roads, but the worst have been parts of the national system. 


Being summer, every few dozen miles or so a lane is closed while crews replace a bridge, or patch the worst holes and cracks. But, all they are doing is placing a bandage on a gaping wound. I would guess hundreds of billions of dollars and years of repairs are required to restore our broken down, decrepit highway system. 

80% of American communities are totally dependent on trucks to bring them fuel, food, and supplies. How those trucks navigate over the busted road system is a mystery to me. Obviously the extra costs in repair and upkeep for the tens of thousands of trucks that supply our daily needs is passed on to us.

In its wisdom Congress cuts the Highway Trust Fund as wasteful expenses or takes the money for other purposes. As of today, the Highway Trust Fund is out of money. If our roads and bridges are failing our daily life will be directly effected. We know how to build and maintain our highways - we just have to have the will (both political and budgetary)  to do so.


A  good example of short-sighted decision making is the tendency to take money from the HTF to pay for mass transit. Sounds good, until you realize 17 percent of total federal user fees (gas taxes which are supposed to fund the Highway Trust Fund) go to mass transit in only six cities (Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco), even though mass transit's share of the nation’s surface travel amounted to roughly 1 percent and transit users pay nothing into the HTF.

Mass transit is good, but not if it guts the fund designed to keep our Interstate system functioning. That makes no sense.

  I am spoiled: the roads, freeways, and Interstate system in the Phoenix area are in fabulous shape. I have become used to smooth, quiet, well-repaired roads. This trip has made it abundantly clear much of the rest of America isn't so lucky.

Our highways are essential in keeping our country and way of life intact. After the last six weeks driving on some of those vital links, I must report we are facing a serious problem.


August 12, 2014

Making The Turn Toward Home

The RV’s nose has turned west. After 5 weeks of putting 2,500 miles between us and home, we have begun the return trip. Though not rushing back, we are feeling the pull of family and friends and implementing some of what we have learned about each other and what makes our individual retirement journey so satisfying.

One of the joys of this type of travel is the ability to make changes when we feel like it so, we are adding two states to our itinerary. Realizing that we aren’t likely to be back this way anytime soon, our return will include some time in North Dakota and Montana. That will give us 14 states for this adventure – not bad for 70 days.

Because Betty’s photos always generate such supportive comments, this post is really just an excuse to show you some of the 9,000 photos (yes, 9,000 in 5 weeks!) she has taken. These are from the Wisconsin Dells area, Egg Harbor and Door County, Wisconsin.


We hope you see a few you like!

A typical campsite on this trip

A small scale railroad takes us deep into the woods






The Wisconsin River by boat



Door County, Wisconsin (the peninsula north of Green Bay)

Gulls were everywhere











Here's a sign I don't see often in Phoenix!

Another well-shaded place for us to spend several days


Eggs like this are all over Egg Harbor, WI



We picked our own cherries

Then Betty made them into an incredible cherry crisp


The photographer in a rare moment without her camera

August 2, 2014

RV Travel: Looking For Hidden Treasure

As I write this Betty, Bailey, and I are packing up to leave Wisconsin Dells, about 2,220 miles into our RV journey. Billed as the Water Park Capitol of the World, this town does seem an odd place to build so many of them. After all, the swimming season is not even four months long this far north. 

But, no matter, the Dells (the shortened name is preferred by locals) loves water and amusement parks, roller coasters, magic and ski shows, and boat tours of the Wisconsin River. With daytime temperatures in the 70s (and nights around 60) we passed on the chance to jump into very chilly water. Our campground is a few miles out of town, so we can avoid the tourist traffic and still enjoy the cool weather and beautiful woods all around us.

One of the real treats of RV travel is the likelihood of stumbling upon both hidden gems and some of the oddities of roadside Americana.  So far, we have managed to find several of each. I thought you might enjoy a little about a few of them, along with Betty’s photos.
One week into our trip found us in Grand Junction, Colorado. As luck would have it, the RV park was next to the Mesa County Fairgrounds and the festivities began while we were there. It has been forever since we have been to a small county fair so this was something we didn’t want to miss. Everything from sheep judging, horses pulling thousands of pounds of cinder blocks, two bands, and an oddly amusing lumberjack show kept us entertained. I had my first ever corn dog while Betty enjoyed a big wad of cotton candy. The midway had all the small rides you might expect.
To cap off the perfect day, there was an amazingly vivid sunset as storm clouds raced across the mountains. Betty snapped dozens of photos, each more spectacular than the next. Here are some of what we saw during the fair.
A corn dog? My first ever!

Betty loves cotton candy








Perfect end to a perfect day
Grand Junction has a way of naming streets that I have never encountered before: the use of fractions. You are familiar with a 29th street, but how about 29 ¾ Road, or B ½ Street? This was a first for us. Funny at first, after a few days it seemed downright logical.
Several hundred miles down the road two very pleasant surprises greeted us in the small Nebraska town of Ogallala: A beautiful lake and picnic area and a tiny church with a story to tell, and a few local folks to tell it to us.
Lake Ogallala is an absolute gem. Complete with large RV park, picnic areas, fishing, and hiking trails galore, it is a green oasis in the semi-arid western part of the state.






 About a dozen miles from the lake, the small hamlet of Keystone is home to a few hundred folks – and a tiny church. Though no longer in regular use, we happened upon it when a young man was doing some repairs to the front steps as part of a Boy Scout merit badge project. His father, brother, and mom were there with him. When Betty and I pulled up to take some pictures, the mom offered to drive home to pick up the key to the building and let us inside. We accepted and soon were inside a church that couldn't be more than 30 feet long and maybe 15 feet wide. For many decades, it had served two different faith communities. There was a Catholic alter at one end and the Protestant version at the other. Reversible pews allowed the worshipers to face the proper way each Sunday.
Hard at work supervising the project

The Protestant side

The Catholic side



We have managed to find a few of those strange sights that are so typically American: a buffalo made out of chrome car bumpers in Grand Junction, a lighthouse in Nebraska (at least 1,100 miles from the nearest ocean),  and a pink elephant in Marquette, Iowa.

 



As a special treat, we stopped by the baseball field in the middle of a corn field: the setting for the 1989 Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams near Dyersville, Iowa. 65,000 folks stop by every year to see and dream.




Oh, and in Ashland, Nebraska, we attended a local community theater presentation of an old style melodrama, complete with cheering for the hero and booing and throwing popcorn whenever the villain come on stage. What fun!
Yes, that is popcorn all over the stage: boo the villain!
The road stretches before us for another five or six weeks and 2,300 miles. Who knows what lies ahead.
Space and time: what blessings