Forward, Not Backward

After we’d waved goodbye to Mexico and all it’s not so subtle ways to kill you we pointed our truck at the middle of Texas and drove like the wind. This stretch was a lot of little stays in a row. We were on a mission, and you’ll see why.

Every once in a while we come across a place that we didn’t know existed and truly wished we’d have hit the first three times we wandered by. Monahan’s Sandhill State Park is on that ever-growing list. The place is just a giant pile of sand – a sand hill, if you will.

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The view from the front door.

The kids LOVED this place! Really, truly loved it with a passion. Sometimes I think their whole outlook on life it to just exist until another pile of sand shows up. We were only scheduled here for one night and strongly considered extending a few more until we found out that high winds were on the way. The park ranger said that the sky was going to be brown and our precious faces would be sandblasted. Hint taken.

On we went, puddle jumping over to Dyess Air Force Base where they fly the B-1B Lancers. One of the things I like about the Air Force bases is that everybody flies a different set of planes. There’s always something new and interesting to learn about. Fifteen minutes after parking we made Nerf friends, of course.

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After a chilly few days at Dyess we landed in a good ol’ Thousand Trails park. Days in Texoma were spent fishing! Really. They fished the pond every single day we were there. I do not have a fishing pole currently, my time is usually spent baiting hooks and changing lures so no big deal. We found our way to Lake Texoma on one of the days, which is supposedly famous for it’s striped bass.

After a depressingly fishless hour or so, Wesson set his fishing pole down in defeat. I picked it up, dipped the line in next to the dock, and almost immediately pulled out a bluegill!

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We called it a team effort. *wink*

While we were here in Texoma Justin discovered a coolant leak!!! Extra !!! for good measure because if you remembered our last Spring in Oklahoma when our coolant/emissions system exploded you’d be extra !!! about it too. Thankfully this go ’round we have that extended warranty. A hundred bucks and a day later the local Ford dealership had a new radiator installed and we were back in business! Amazing! Buy the extended warranty, people. Just do it.

Our week was up, and we’d had our fill of sitting for the moment. Barksdale Air Force Base was calling our names. Barksdale is home to the B-52 Stratofortress, which is exactly as big as it sounds. These are bombers, so Barksdale is also home to a mile of munitions depots. I’m not sure why, but I always feel secure withing the confines of a military base – even though in reality it’s basically sleeping in a giant target.

They also have the Barksdale Global Power Museum. The planes line the street next to the air strip and there’s a building chock full of paraphernalia to gawk at.

They had a make your own WWII poster station:

And don’t forget Rowland the Riveter:

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He’s the best! ❤

Sticking with the pattern we made another hop, skip, jump to Little Rock Air Force Base. The Air Force runs a program called Frequent Camper that starts with five free nights of camping, and when we stay with them we are earning more free nights, basically. Look into it if you have base access, it’s a really good deal.

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Lake by the campground

Little Rock has the C-130’s and they buzzed right over the campground when they took off. If you haven’t seen a C-130, click the link and think BIG. You know what else was right over the campground? The speaker for the base. Reville at 0630, retreat and the National Anthem at 1630, and taps at 2200, all at maximum decibel. Two nights was enough.

Rolling out of the base we stopped to get milk and water at the exchange gas station and scored the deal of the century:

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Seven cents a bag for Cadbury Mini Eggs?!? The clerk was horrified when I retrieved an entire box of them but dutifully sold them to me with a judgy look on her face. Listen, you can’t sell the best candy on earth for seven cents without expecting someone to buy mass quantities. Can you imagine? “Oh, yes, I’ll take ONE.” PPTTHH!

The next hop got us all the way into Tennessee! Montgomery Bell State Park is just outside of Nashville. It’s another one of those beautiful little hidden gems. A bubbling creek and tall, waving trees. The very first people we met at this campground were from the tiny town of Dearborn Heights, Michigan! That’s where I grew up! It’s was so weird, but pleasant. Everyone we met here was pleasant, even the dogs.

Traveling further we made our way to and through Kentucky, and into Indiana where we spent one unremarkable night on a joint reserve military base which also housed a level one prison. No thanks!

UGH! FINALLY! We were in MICHIGAN! We spent a week visiting with family while staying at the best little campground in the Grand Rapids area: Steamboat Park! We stayed there last year and the owner had to forklift our camper back onto the truck, if you remember. In spite of that, he was happy to let us into the campground a week before they officially opened for the season. The river was a little flooded.

Supposedly the water was about three feet deep in the campground at the high point. I’m glad we missed it.

We ended up sharing our campsite with one of the residents:

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His name is Hogwarts.

After a week we moved to East Michigan and parked in the driveway at our legal residence, aka my parents house. Here, we’ve been schooling, unicycling, visiting the library, etc.

Oh, and looking for a house.

We have collectively decided that life on the road must come to a pause. Not an end, just a pause. The kids desperately want to see their grandparents more often, along with aunts, uncles, and cousins too. Wesson has it in his head that he needs snow this winter and it MUST be Michigan snow, although he’s never experienced a winter here so he may change his mind. This whole thing, this whole life, is about giving them new experiences, and this is all new for them. If we’re talking honestly, I’m in need of a break too. And Justin… he’d probably keep traveling forever, but he loves us (of course) and has realized that we all need to stop for a minute.

The tentative plan is to travel next summer into the northern snowy states and national parks that one cannot traverse with confidence in the winter. The camper will be sold this fall, and a new, smaller version will be procured in the spring. It’s a much better idea than trying to store it properly for the winter, and we can downsize just a bit if we aren’t using it as our primary residence. We can go camping actual!

Just a few days ago after a month of looking and being discouraged we found the house that has every single thing we scrawled onto our wish list. Seriously! All of them! It’s the unicorn we’ve been hoping to find. It’s in the city, it has acreage, it has a pole barn, it’s a ranch with a basement, it doesn’t have two regular bedrooms and one oddly tiny bedroom like every other damn house we’ve seen…

And it’s unique like us. 🙂

The wonderful people who currently own it have accepted our offer! Pending that the appraisal and inspection don’t come up with anything significant this week we’ll close next month and be in it by mid-July. Until then, we’ll be exploring like always. We’re hoping to get an in-state jaunt in before moving day, and the North American Unicycling Competition and Convention is coming up in July. We’ve got lots to keep us busy.

This is not an end to our journey, only a new set of experiences. By the time winter is over I’m sure we’ll be restless again and ready to wiggle, only this time we’ll have a home base to come back to.

Maybe you can come visit us this time! Five acres can hold a lot of campers…

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Six States and Two Planets Probably

April 23rd we finally managed to escape the borders of Oklahoma. We headed through Kansas for a hot minute then finally into Missouri! Our next target was a little campground near Steelville. I was just referencing google maps and discovered that the worlds second largest rocking chair is located nearby the campground in Cuba, MO. Dangit! What a missed opportunity!

Before we could get there and miss out on the rocker we had to pass through Uranus. Uranus has all sorts of things going on. It must take a lot of coaxing to get people to stop in Uranus because it seems like Uranus spends it’s entire budget on billboards. We saw Uranus for at least a hundred miles.

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We stopped in Springfield around lunch time so that we could visit the Grandaddy of all Bass Pro Shops. Justin has wanted to go there since he was a small child. We’re out here making dreams come true, people!

The store is AMAZING! There were water features everywhere with waterfalls, big and small tanks, and ponds outside. Some of the store looked like the underside of a lake complete with duck butts, the bottoms of boats, legs dangling off the dock, and lures in the water. In one corner of the ceiling lake they had a giant alligator snacking on big ol’ fish.

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They even had some LIVE critters mixed in with all the taxidermy. The biggest fish (an alligator gar) in the whole Bass Pro system lives here along with turtles, alligators, and even a few ducks. They also had some hall of fame type displays, sporting arms history museum, a few restaurants, and a feeding demonstration in one of the large fish tanks. The presenter’s name was Scuba Steve.

Justin’s boyhood dreams were met that day! There was almost too much to look at and I was completely unprepared for how involved it would be. I’m definitely adding it to the list of places I wouldn’t mind visiting again in the future.

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Get him, brother!

We rolled into our new campground with sugar plums dancing in our heads.

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The whole place was decked out in Christmas paraphernalia. Poor Rudolph’s head was mounted on the wall in the office. There was a Santa approved miniature golf course.

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We stayed here for two nights, and by the end of the second day we’d been adopted.

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Her name was Midnight and she was the best girl. She napped in front of our camper for most of the time we were there. When we sat outside she’d sit next to us just like the above photo, and if we stopped petting her she’d protest. I sneaked her some ground turkey when I was making dinner because she totally deserved it. The woman who helped run the park said that Midnight had been abandoned and was a stray that never left. Justin offered (read pleaded) to take her but the gentlemen who owned the place was too attached. How could he not be? She’s a great old pup. It was for the best because we really didn’t need a dog in that moment. We would have made an exception for her.

The 25th brought us three states and two time zones again! We started in Missouri, traversed Illinois, and landed in Indiana. We actually got into the campground in Indiana a day before it was officially open. When I called to make a reservation the manager initially said no. About an hour later she called me back and said she’d decided that it wouldn’t hurt anything to let us in early. Success!

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The spot we were in was actually a seasonal spot that someone had been kicked out of when he’d altered the post and installed his own 50amp outlet. He had a pretty sweet spot! We never had any neighbors while we were there, and one side of the camper looked out to the nothingness. We were there for a week, which was great because I got hit with a terrible stomach bug the first night and spent a few days rolling around in agony. It had gotten Wesson in Elk City, OK and Mara puked in the truck on the way to Candy Cane. At least it took us out one at a time. Justin, of course, never got it because he’s a jerk who never gets the sickness.

Indiana had the very worst weather that we’d encountered. It was storm after storm after storm, sometimes a tornado would pass by in the next town, other times it was soul clattering thunder and lightning. At one point we pulled the bedroom slides in because we couldn’t take the rain banging on the ceiling while we were sleeping. By the end of the week we couldn’t wait to get out of the weather.

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We spent one night at one of our favorite Bass Pro Shops in Rossford, Ohio. The people who work here are stellar and I highly recommend living in their parking lot.

We’ll talk about our arrival in Michigan tomorrow because I want to end on a high note (hint: there was lots of mud). Airbrushed murals on the back of RV’s are my not-so-secret favorite thing. Enjoy these majestic road warriors I collected on the way to the mitten state. Happy Camping!

The Pioneer Woman Never Showed Up But Vicki Did!

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Copan Lake was a good, central place to be for our next few activities. It was a decent stopping point as well, and it pointed us north a little so that we’d go through Missouri instead of Arkansas as we continued.

Do you KNOW who lives in that part of Oklahoma? The Pioneer Woman! One of my personal travel goals for the year was to make it over to The Mercantile, Ree Drummond’s fancy store. If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a blogger  and star of her own Food Network show. And she just started a magazine. Oh, and the store. I’ve been following her through her various endeavors for years and years, even dragging a friend (hi, Melissa!) with me to a food show that came to town just so I could see her live cooking demonstration, hear her sing like Ethel Merman, and stare at her like a stalkery weirdo while she signed autographs for other people. Now that I’ve made myself look obsessed I’ll show you the photos I took of the bathroom at The Merc. That… didn’t come out quite like I’d heard it in my head. It’s too late to pretend that I didn’t take a photo of the toilet, humor me and have a look anyway.

They had real house-looking toilets, subway tile, lil’ hooks for your bag, paper towels in baskets, and wood everything. Even the baby changing table was fancy, for cripes sake. Look at that thing! It looks like a fold down desk you’d see in… a place where they have fold down desks. I guess that they ARE for baby “business.”

Ree’s photography peppered the walls in the whole building, and the bathroom was no exception. I imagine that the giant black and white canvas portraits of everyday life are some of her favorite shots.

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The merchandise was as varied as a circus. You could buy a set of cast iron skillets, a wooden bowtie, and a stoneware wiener dog plate. Toys and sundries surrounded tools and decore.

They also sold Pioneer Woman brand jeans and those lovely flowing floral printed tops she always wears. All of this could be expertly wrapped at their gift wrapping station in the rear of the store.

There was also a cafe and candy shop upstairs. I had heard that the Pioneer Woman herself is found sometimes just hanging out up there at the cafe tables, chatting up fans and customers.

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I had also read that some of the kids worked in the various areas, and her husband Ladd’s father sometimes greeted people at the door. This day provided no members of the Drummond family. *womp womp*

Look at these neat little tables! Every inch of this place was a labor of love.

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There is also a restaurant inside The Merc. We weren’t interested in eating there, it was kind of early in the day and we have food allergies. When we left there at 10am the line just to get INTO the restaurant for lunch was all the way down the block. Grown people and small children were huddled together in blankets under giant propane heaters waiting for their turn to shuffle into the building. You’d have thought that Ree herself was in the kitchen cooking the food and hand feeding folks.

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Sorry, lady, you’ve been blogged.

I’m glad that we got to experience The Mercantile. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up in that part of town again some day.

That afternoon we headed into Kansas to meet someone near and dear, more so than that Pioneer lady. It was Vicki!!!

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I “met” Vicki about 15 years ago on a guinea pig forum called Cavies Galore. Once the forum dissolved we found each other as Facebook friends. She has the best status updates, by the way. Her long declarations of love on her children’s birthdays are some of my favorites. We’ve picked her homeschooling brain on several occasions (all FIVE of her kids are/were homeschooled). This was the first time we’d met in person and it was long overdue. She is just as wonderful as I’d always thought that she would be! We really need more visits – LONGER visits.

We met up at the Little House on the Prairie house just to make things interesting.

It’s actually just a collection of buildings on the site where the Ingalls family once lived. The current owner built a little cabin that may or may not look like the one Laura Ingalls Wilder had lived in when she was there. There was also an old post office and a little school house that had been moved to the property in an effort to save them from demolition.

It really was lovely! More new experiences and more new faces. I can only hope that we’ll recreate this wonderful day again soon.

The Day That The Truck Did Not Survive

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Mountains!

April 13th we headed down the road, high on all that sweet, sweet National Parks fun. We were finally going to experience something that we’d been talking about for an entire year: The Musical Highway!

“…the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT), along with the National Geographic Channel, had the idea to make a roadway that sings—literally. Enlisting the help of San Bar Construction Corp., a New Mexico-based company that designs and constructs traffic control devices and signs, NMDOT created a length of roadway between mile markers four and five that plays music whenever a vehicle drives over it.

But there’s a catch—the tune, in this case “America the Beautiful,” only works when cars are traveling at exactly 45 mph. The road’s purpose is twofold: to encourage drivers to stay the speed limit and to bring a little excitement to an otherwise monotonous highway.” – Source

You can hear our truck singing here. Pretty darn spiffy if you ask me!

That night we decided to boondock at another truck stop, this time it was a place called Russell’s. The building looked pretty ordinary from the outside. Once inside, though, you could tell someone had sunk their life into the place. There was a full 1950’s diner, complete with Coke memorabilia, black and white tile, and those awesome red and white seats. There were shelves all around the ceiling with model cars and trucks, and nestled in the back of the store was door to this:

 

A car museum half the size of the whole building! It had about twenty classic cars, a few motorcycles, TONS of memorabilia from lots and lots of different areas. NASCAR, I Love Lucy, cartoons, brands, cash registers… There were even a few collections that were donated by people who liked the place. It was a really neat find! The open road seems to always hold surprises.

The next day started like any other. Wake up, pack up, hit the road. We woke up in New Mexico, we’d be driving through Texas, and we’d be in Oklahoma by dinner. Three states and two time zones in one day! It was mostly uneventful and peaceful save a few tiffs from the back seat.

When we got into Oklahoma and stopped for fuel Justin noticed that the wheels were streaked with some kind of fluid. Thinking that we’d busted a hub seal again we headed for a Ford dealership because the previous repairs are warrantied for two years. When we got into the dealership though, they had a much, much worse diagnosis for us. The trucks emissions system (EGR) dumped all of the coolant, and the head gasket had blown. If there was ever a time where you’d use the phrase ‘catastrophic failure’ this would be it. The truck was basically dead. To have Ford work on the truck would cost about $13,000 and that would be replacing the horrid EGR system with exactly the same parts, a recipe for future disaster. Luckily one of the shop guys also owned his own shop. He came out to talk to Justin and after a lengthy discussion it was decided that we’d limp to a campground and he’d come pick up the truck that night on a trailer.

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We found a ridiculously affordable campground with a full hook-up in Elk City, Oklahoma called Elk Creek RV Park. You’ve heard of it, right? No? Neither had I until we were unceremoniously trapped there for a week. Their rate sheet was kind of comical. It was $35/night or $100 for the entire week. They cashed in on everybody who was just passing through, and that place was about full every night. Almost nothing exists in Elk City, there’s a Wal-Mart and a Bar-S hot dog factory. No problem, we surmised out loud to each other, we’ll just rent a car. This is how my conversation went with the townsfolk: “Well, Patty used to rent cars but she stopped doin’ it.” I called about four places who rented U-Haul trucks and no one had anything smaller than a 25 foot box truck. The nearest rental car place was 80 miles away and contrary to their well publicized slogan they will not “pick you up” when you are in the middle of nowhere. At least we still had our bicycles.

The second day in paradise I decided to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. For some reason I had it in my head that I was going to get everything we needed all in one trip. I set off on my new bike to save us all from starvation and had immediate regrets. 1) It was really windy, 2) There were hills, 3) The crank assembly on my bike started to come apart almost immediately. Any sane person would have turned around right here. NOT ME, THOUGH. 4) I had to ride in the road with the cars

And on the way back, I had all of these regrets PLUS: A) Looming threats of rain, B) A new bike basket that I had to hold up because it rubbed on my front tire, C) 80 pounds of groceries strapped to my back like I was a human pack mule

I walked some of this leg of the trip. I had bruises in my armpits from the backpack when I got back to the camper. I soothed my misery with the ice cream I had fat-assed all the way home. Justin was quick to point out that I had purchased expired bread. *SIGH*

Justin made several more bicycle trips to Wally World before the week was over – several more REASONABLY WEIGHTED trips.

Thankfully the Easter Bunny was able to find us while we were pretending to be Okies.

These bubble guns that the Easter Bunny left us were the BEST THING EVER. We’re still playing with them on a regular basis two months later.

The rest of the week was uneventful. The mechanic sent us naked chassis photos at one point.

So dirty! It took a whole week to get our chariot back in operational order but we had an incredible mechanic on the case. He was committed to the cause and did some things other mechanics wouldn’t have even attempted. We owe him our love and affection until the end of time.

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It LIVES!

We bid adieu to Elk City the next morning in what turned out to be tornado weather. We enjoyed quarter sized hail and no visibility, rivers up to the tree tops, and an interstate that looked more like a parking lot – and that was just through Oklahoma City! By day’s end we were nestled in at an Army Corps of Engineers site to the north on a pretty little watering hole called Copan Lake.

I know that every sunset is technically the same sunset that the Earth has seen for billions of years. It still makes me happy to witness the process. Being able to watch the horizon meet the fire in the sky is a gift, it means that we’ve survived another day. After the week we’d had this sunset was well deserved.

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