Full Time Blogs - May 2006

May 1, 2006

This has been an interesting day to say the least.

We started the day by leaving the Hendersonville campground and heading north 25 miles to Asheville to take the motor home in for it's first required service. Allison Transmission requires that our transmission filter and fluid be changed for the first time at 5,000 miles. I'm thinking that this service is Allison's way off getting the transmission off to a good start (and a long life) by ridding it of debris accumulated during the manufacturing and run-in processes.

Having 4,700+ miles on the coach, our first stop of the day was Carolina Truck & Body (1895 Old Haywood Road Asheville, NC 28816, Phone: 1-800-876-0660), where we had scheduled an appointment for this mandatory service. To be honest it was a little intimidating to pull into their large yard full of commercial trucks with our motor home and we had no idea what to expect in the way of a reception other than that the man we had talked to on the phone seemed like a nice guy.

We needn't have worried because two hours, 6 gallons of synthetic Allison transmission fluid, and one transmission filter later, we were on our way back down the road. Everyone at Carolina Truck was great and they even gave me lots of valuable information about the operation and maintenance of the Allison 3000MH 6-speed automatic transmission.

After leaving Carolina Truck, we headed back north on Highway 26 towards our goal for the day, Wytheville, Virginia. Without exaggerating things, the scenery between Asheville and Wytheville is just plain spectacular. We stopped for photos at a scenic outlook in Tennessee and the results can be viewed in our Photo Gallery. Of course pictures can't really capture the beauty of the area, these Appalachians look like something from out of a travel brochure.

Today was a short 200-mile run to the Fort Chiswell RV Campground located at Max Meadows (Wytheville), Virginia. This campground is located off of I-81 at exit 80 and is convenient to the highway and other services. At the end of the off-ramp is a Flying-J truck stop where we purchased diesel for $2.70 a gallon prior to checking into the RV park. One word of warning, this is a very tight station for RV's. We would have dragged the tail of the coach leaving the station if we hadn't gotten creative. Really, it's time that the RVer was taken into consideration at these "commercial" fueling stations.

The Fort Chiswell RV Campground is just down the road from the Flying-J and turned out to be a nice little park. It has pay ($5.95 a day) WiFi and a decent cable TV lineup. As luck would have it, we have a tree right next to our site, so I was forced to put out the portable satellite dish. Shades of the "old days" before we had the automatic satellite dome.

The pet area here is particularly nice. We were able to take Sparkie over there and let him off of his leash, which is a real treat for him. He got to run and have a good time in the grass away from the main body of the park.

As soon as Margo got the WiFi up and running and had checked the emails she excitedly came to me with the news that we had been chosen the "RVer's Of The Month" by the good folks at RV Resources (www.rvresources.com). Needless to say, this is quite an honor and we thank Mike at RV Resources for breaking the good news to us. RV Resources is chock full of good information and it's well worth visiting on a regular basis.

May 2, 2006

It was a short 263 mile driving day today but the scenery was fantastic. We took I-77 through Virginia, West Virginia and finally up into Ohio where we picked up I-70 west. Today's scenery was very much like yesterday's, heavily forested green mountains and rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. The nice thing about today's travels was that this was new territory for us. We've never driven through that country before which made it even more of an adventure.

That portion of I-77 through West Virginia was a toll road although it didn't have the feel of one. It appeared to us that the state took a chunk of interstate, put up toll booths and declared it a toll road even though it was never originally designed to be one. The surface of the highway was in poor condition in places, so maybe the tolls are there to help fund the repair of the road. I-77 through Virginia wasn't much better, but the wonderful scenery made up for any short comings of the highway system.

Sometime around noon we stopped at a truck stop and checked our Trailer Life Directory for places to spend the night. We always like to find a nice place where we can call ahead and make a reservation. This gives us a destination for the day as well as providing the RV park with a "heads up" that they will have a motor home coming in that afternoon. Having a reservation just makes us feel more secure too.

Pickings for RV parks are kind of slim in this part of the country but we found one off of I-70 in Cambridge, Ohio. The "Spring Valley Campground" (740-439-9291) is a basic little park with gravel roads and full hookups. We requested a space with a clear view for our satellite dish (American Idol tonight!) and one that was long enough where we wouldn't have to unhook the car. The park was able to accommodate us on both accounts. Tonight there will be traffic noise from nearby I-70 which Margo isn't to crazy about, but I love it. Puts me right to sleep every time.

May 3, 2006

The law of averages says that sooner or later a person is going to have a bad day despite their best efforts to the contrary. Today was that kind of day for us. Actually it didn't start out all that bad. We had decided to make our next overnight stop at a KOA we knew of on the other side of Dayton. We're only talking about 150 miles of highway driving. What could be easier?

Our first problem came when we left the RV park and headed down the frontage road to the main crossroad leading to I-70. When we got to the "T" intersection the traffic was so heavy that it was impossible to make the left turn towards the highway. No problem, we'd just turn right then make a left turn into a convenient K-Mart parking lot where we'd turn around and head back the way we had come. Once out of the parking lot and headed back towards the highway, we spotted a Pilot Travel Center with an empty spot at a pull-thru diesel pump. At about the same time that we committed to the pump island an F-150 pulled in before us and blocked the diesel pump. We stopped at the rear of the pickup to wait but it soon became obvious that we were now blocking the only entrance to the commercial truck island behind the station. Feeling the need to be courteous, we reluctantly pulled out of the station by weeding our way through the tight confines of the crowded pump islands. It was very tight but we made it okay. In a few minutes we were out on westbound I-70, but without having gotten fuel. Not to worry, there would be another travel center down the road and we'd fuel up there.

That travel center turned out to be a T/A Travel Center located on the south side of I-70 at Hebron, Ohio. At this location we had our choice between the T/A and another Pilot. We chose the T/A because of the problems we've had at Pilots. It turns out that we should have chosen the Pilot because when we pulled into the T/A, we entered a pump island that was so tight we needed to unhook the car to get back out.

It all started when we pulled in and started looking for the diesel pumps. This time (we thought) they were clearly marked because there was a sign at the end of one pump island saying "RVs". As soon as we committed to the RV pump island, we could see that there was no diesel pump and that no matter how we maneuvered, there would be no way we could get back out of that area without "backing and filling". For those who don't know, you can't back up a car attached to an RV tow bar system. The wheels of the towed vehicle immediately turn and that's it. So, here we were blocking one of the main exits and me out there unhooking the car. Luckily I can do it in just a minute or so but still, not only was it embarrassing for us, but it was totally uncalled for. The sad part is, not only did we have to unhook the car, but we didn't even get fuel. It turns out that getting fuel is becoming our biggest challenge. In all of our years of RVing with a travel trailer and a fifth-wheel, we've never had so many problems getting fuel until the motor home came along.

After the Mini was unhooked Margo jumped in and decided to follow me the short distance to Dayton. No sense hooking it back up only to have to unhook it in a few miles. So with her following in the car, I drove to the other side of the freeway and had no trouble accessing the diesel pumps at the Pilot Travel Center.

Once fueled up we took off towards Dayton, Sparkie and me in the motor home and Margo in the Mini.

That 150 mile trip ended up taking us about three and a half hours. I-70 through Columbus and past Dayton is almost totally under construction. Signs order that trucks and large vehicles have to stay in the left lane. The maximum posted speed limit is 55 mph but average speeds are more like 35-40 with constant slowing. The final straw was when we slowed to a crawl and finally got into stop-and-go mode because of a "wide load" vehicle that took up both lanes and was impossible for anyone to pass. That went on for many miles until a convoy of state troopers guided the wide-load vehicle to the side of the highway and came to a stop.

What a day. By the time we got off the highway at the Brookville, Ohio KOA, just past Dayton, I was mentally drained. I felt as though I'd driven 700 "normal" highway miles, but we'd only been on the road less than 4 hours.

Just a quick word about fuel: As most Rvers already know, finding the diesel pumps at a service station can be challenging. The diesel pumps usually have green handles, but not always. Sometimes stations have pumps with green handles that pump gasoline instead of diesel. Sometimes pumps are marked for RVs, but mostly they are not. The gas station chain that finally makes it easy for RVs to access the pumps and find the diesel, will corner the RV fuel market. Guaranteed.

May 4, 2006

We woke up early this morning to the sound of heavy rain hitting the roof of the RV. Great! Perfect excuse to stay in bed and be a slug. Of course a few minutes later it stopped which meant that we might as well get up and do something constructive. So we headed over to the park laundry room with our soiled clothes and a few small rugs.

I was too busy ranting (my apologies) yesterday to mention that this is a really nice KOA. The Dayton Tall Timbers Resort KOA (www.daytonkoa.com 1-800-562-3317) is located just west of Dayton at exit 24 off of I-70. The park features a pond, large swimming pool and other amenities too numerous to mention. The staff is courteous and helpful and be sure to check out the ice cream sold in the office. There is a Super Wal-Mart one exit east down I-70 which is convenient for those needing to stock up on provisions. Site selection is important here as there are a lot of trees that can interfere with satellite reception. We asked for a site with a clear view to the south and were directed to a perfect space. We stayed at this park last Fall and loved the way they had the park decorated with bales of hay and pumpkins and squash. Fall is a great season around these parts but come winter we prefer RV spaces with palm trees!

We plan to be here at Tall Timbers KOA until Saturday when we'll head west to Indianapolis. In the meantime, we expect a visit from our good friends the Metz's (see Camping Friends), who are in their motor home headed east to New York state. We haven't seen them in months, so we'll have a lot of catching up to do. We knew they were traveling east, so Margo and I grabbed up our maps and directories to search out a place to intercept them. This park will be a great place to visit with friends.

This morning we received a nice email from reader Ted Rodgers giving us some helpful hints about obtaining diesel fuel for the motor home and we appreciate hearing from him. One of his recommendations is that we fuel up at Flying J's whenever we can as they provide facilities with the RVer in mind. Funny thing is, we've fueled at Flying J's may times in the past, but never since we've owned the motor home. Our next fuel stop will be at a Flying J and we'll see how it goes. Thanks Ted!

For the most part our new coach has been pretty trouble free but recently the main awning has been starting to act up. To be honest, we've only had it out a couple of times and it worked just fine. But the last time we put it out, we couldn't get it to roll back up. The awning is an electric "Eclipse" series from Carefree Of Colorado. It has an electric motor and a gearbox assembly that lets the awning out and retracts it back in. When we went to retract it, it sounded like something in the gearbox was slipping. It was making a loud chattering noise. I ended up helping it to roll up by turning the reel manually while Margo operated the switch. We got it stowed eventually, but now we're afraid to open it back up.

So yesterday we called Carefree Of Colorado's help line and told the representative our story. The rep, a woman named "Rhonda", couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. She diagnosed the problem over the phone as a bad motor assembly and then went to the trouble of calling each warranty center on our projected route to try and get us an appointment to have it replaced. All of the dealerships were booked solid but she finally managed to get us in at a dealership in Indianapolis. They didn't have the motor in stock, but again Rhonda came to the rescue by shipping a motor assembly out by priority shipping so that it would be waiting for us at the dealership on Monday morning. This was really great service and it was very much appreciated. Our thanks to Rhonda and Carefree Of Colorado for really outstanding service!

May 5, 2006

Today was destined to be a good day for us. We were anticipating the arrival of our good friends, Gary and Terri Metz, who were scheduled to show up here later in the day. They're on their way to New York state to see family and will only be spending one night at the park. Tomorrow morning they will be heading east while we continue our journey west.

We wanted to have munchies and a nice dinner waiting for them when they arrived, so Margo and I decided to make a run over to the nearby Super Wal-Mart to stock up on supplies. As usual we had fun at the Wal-Mart going up and down the isles checking things out. This particular store is smack in the middle of farm country, so I wore my "Tractor Supply" ball cap over there. I was hoping to blend in.

Our friends showed up about mid-afternoon and it was great to see them again. After exchanging greetings and giving them a chance to get settled in, we adjourned to the patio by our coach for refreshments. After that it was time for dinner and finally more good conversation by the campfire. All too soon the evening was over and it was time to call it a night. Gary, being the superb breakfast cook that he is, offered to prepare breakfast for us so we'll be seeing them again in the morning.

May 6, 2006

We got up this morning wishing that we had another day to spend at the KOA with the Metz's, but they are on a three week vacation and needed to get back on the road towards upstate New York. Talking with them reminded us of what it was like to have limited time for travel and it sure made us appreciate our life without alarm clocks or schedules.

As promised, Gary prepared us all a delicious skillet breakfast, which was much appreciated, then it was time for the Metz's Kountry Star to point its nose east. We had one of the staff in the KOA office come out and take a few photos of the four of us together, then it was time for goodbyes. There were hugs all around, then they were in their coach and gone. It always feels kind of empty when good friends leave a campground, but we know we'll be seeing them again at some point in the not too distant future. We wish the Metz's a safe and enjoyable journey.

Our destination for today was the KOA Campground at Greenfield, Indiana (Exit 96 off of I-70, 317-894-1397). Greenfield is located roughly 10 miles to the east of downtown Indianapolis, thus the campground is called "KOA Indy". Our drive to Greenfield was an easy 86 miles. We plan to be in town until Monday morning at which point we'll continue our trip west.

Originally Margo and I had planned to spend this summer in the Northeast. Since neither of us have seen much of the area, we had planned to drive north to Maine then start working our way back down. It was to be a nice summer of entirely new sights and destinations. That was until we took our recent Caribbean cruise on Holland America. We got to talking to one of the onboard "Cruise Consultants", who offered us a deal on a 7-day Alaskan cruise that was just too good for us to pass up. We've always wanted to cruise Alaska so it was a done deal. The cruise departs out of Seattle on May 27th, so this summer we'll be RV'ing the Northwest instead of the Northeast. Since we've only been to Seattle once before, it will still be new country for us, but on the opposite coast. So this will be a brief stop in Indy. We'll be here just long enough for us to see my dad, sister and a few friends, then we'll be back out on the interstate.

Speaking of friends, we called our good friends in Indianapolis, Tom and Ruth Ann Stephenson, to see if they wanted to get together for dinner one night this weekend. Saturday was open for them so we agreed to call when we got into town. Margo and I lived in Indianapolis for a year and a half and while we were here the Stephenson's were our best friends. We spent lots of snowy winter weekend evenings playing board games and warming up by the fire. Summer saw us out on the water in their ski boat. It was fun and we always enjoy our time with them.

Wanting to see the motor home, they decided to drive out to the KOA, then we'd all decide where we wanted to go for a dinner out. Dinner was at an Outback Steak House, then we came back to the RV for drinks and conversation. It was great to see them again and get a chance to catch up on the local news.

Tomorrow we'll be catching the European Grand prix on Speed Channel, then we'll head over to the rest home where my dad lives.

May 7, 2006

This morning we got up early so that we could watch the European Grand Prix live on speed channel. Margo made us a coffee cake and we settled in to watch the race. After the race we spent a lazy morning doing small chores around the RV and getting ourselves ready to go visit my dad at his nursing home.

The main reason for our coming to Indianapolis was to see him, and to be honest the visits are never easy. The once vibrant U.S. Marine who made beach heads in the South Pacific during World War II, is now an 89 year old stroke victim who has trouble putting together his thoughts. It breaks our hearts to see him this way, but our semi-annual visits to see him are important to him and to us. Today's visit was a good one, as he seemed to be in good spirits and was having one of his good days. He seemed to enjoy the visit. The staff of the nursing home love him, and always make over him which is great. He seems to love the attention. The employees at that home are very special people and we always leave knowing that he's in good hands.

After our visit to the home, we made a run into downtown Indy to do a little shopping at the "Circle Center Mall". The mall is located right in the heart of downtown Indianapolis and has convenient underground parking. We strolled through the mall and Margo bought some earrings at Nordstrom's. By now we were getting hungry, so we stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at a sports bar called "Champs" located outside of the mall. After a filling meal we headed back out to the KOA and got ourselves ready to leave Indianapolis in the morning.

We'll be making a stop at an RV dealership that will be replacing the motor in our main awning. Our appointment is for 9:00 am and after that we will be hitting the road for points west.

May 8, 2006

Disapointment. That's what greeted us this morning when we pulled into an Indianapolis RV repair center called "RV Tech". We got there a little before our scheduled 9:00 am appointment, but the folks there couldn't find the replacement motor for our main awning. The motor was supposed to have been sent there last week by priority shipping from the Carefree Of Colorado shipping department. Based on my knowledge of shipping methods and times, the motor should have easily made it to Indy by this morning. After a long wait while the RV center looked for the part and an even longer wait while they tracked the part, plus calls to Carefree of Colorado, it was determined that the part was sent to an RV repair center in Ohio by mistake.

What bothered us was that it took much of the morning with us sitting around at RV Tech to determine that the part had been misdirected. Another thing that concerns us is that the awning isn't fully retracted and we're afraid that it might deploy while we're on the highway. I'm constantly keeping an eye on it. So what to do now?

Our question was answered by Rhonda, the Carefree Of Colorado representative. After many apologies for the shipping mistake, she told us that she would send another replacement part to any Carefree repair center along our projected route and even try to set up an appointment for us.

That brought us to the moment of truth, which route to take west to Seattle. Our original plan was to drop down to Tennessee to see our good friends Reid and Debbie Rucker (see "Camping Friends"), then head west on I-40 to the Southern California desert. We had been looking forward to spending a few days with the Rucker's, but time is running out as we need to be in Seattle on the 27th. The wild card is a stop we need to make in Tehachapi, California. That stop will be of undetermined duration. So right there in the RV center parking lot we got out the calendar and maps and recalculated our travel times and routes. We finally came to the conclusion that we won't be able to drop south to Tennessee as that would add another 3-4 days to our westward trek. Days that we're not sure we have at this point. Instead we decided to head directly west on I-70 towards St. Louis, where we'll pick up I-44. Ultimately we'll drop down and take I-40 all the way to California.

So tonight's stop was at a park where we had stopped once before, Pin Oak Creek RV Park (www.pinoakcreekrvpark.com 636-451-5656) in Villa Ridge, Missouri. Pin Oak Creek is a nice little park located on a small lake about a mile off of I-44. I think Sparkie may enjoy this park as much as we do, because this is one park where we can take him off of his leash and let him have a good time. The lake is surrounded by cut grass, and if we walk to the far side (and there are no other dogs around), we can safely let him off of his leash to have a run. He loves it which of course, makes us feel good too.

We ended the day on a positive note but we're still disappointed that we won't we heading south to Tennessee.

May 9, 2006

Last night before bed we set the alarm clock so that we could get an early start this morning. The idea was to try and make up some lost time between here and our next evening stop. The clock went off at 6:00 am and we dutifully got up with the intention of eating breakfast and hitting the road soon thereafter. We'd hoped to get going by 8:00 am, which would give us a good full day on the road, rain or shine.

But as soon as we got out of bed the skies opened up to a Missouri style monsoon rainfall. My first thought was to wait a little while to see if the foul weather would pass, but it looked really grim out. After waiting a while we checked weather.com and finally reconciled ourselves to the fact that the weather was here to stay, at least in this area. We could hit the road or spend the day watching the rain out the rv windows. We chose to go.

I took Sparkie out between rain showers, then quickly picked up our utilities so we could get moving.

Once on the road it dawned on us that this was our first drive in the rain with the new coach. Actually it was kind of fun to roll along with the rain beating on our windshield watching the green Missouri countryside passing by. That is, until we lost the windshield wipers.

They just stopped dead in the middle of a storm, parked in the "up" position. Here we were rolling along at 65 mph in the rain, semi's passing us in a cloud of road spray and the wipers just gave up the ghost. Keep in mind that this is an almost new coach and this was our first actual use of the wipers under fire. My first reaction was to slow slightly and concentrate on staying between the lines, while maintaining a safe space from the vehicle in front of us. Visibility was cut to be sure, but after slowing some I realized that I could still see enough to continue safely even without the wipers.

Then out of the blue they started working again. I tried alternating the switch between the "intermittent" position and the "slow" position hoping that the wipers would continue to work until we could have them looked at. Then they stopped again. At this point Margo grabbed our "panic sheet" listing the Monaco support phone numbers.

To their credit Monaco responded instantly and directed us to a Monaco dealer just ahead in Springfield, Missouri. The company is "Reliable Imports", which suggested to us that maybe we were heading toward an import car dealership. We needn't have worried as the dealership turned out to be a large "Automotive & RV Super Store" type of place with a very professional looking RV service department.

The service manager "Harold" had been alerted by Monaco that we were coming and was expecting us. It was clear that the dealership already had a full schedule, but every attempt was made to work us into their busy schedule. Soon our coach was in a service bay and being looked at.

Two technicians were put to work on the problem and it was quickly determined that the drivers side wiper arm was adjusted so that the arm was traveling too far to the left on it's "up" stroke. This caused the wiper blade to go around the curve in the windshield and become trapped so that it couldn't return back. The fix was to adjust the arm so that it halted its arc sooner. It hasn't rained since the adjustment was made so we don't know if it's going to work, but we hope it will. The main thing is that a reasoned and logical adjustment was made to the arm so now all we can do is hope that it works.

The forecast for the area between St Louis and Oklahoma City is for severe thunderstorms and "large" hail this evening, but so far it's been quiet. They don't say how big "large" is and all we can hope is that it misses us. We decided to stop in Tulsa at the Mingo RV Park (800-932-8824) to sit out whatever storms come our way during the night. At first blush, this park appears to be a little rough around the edges, but in reality it's not a bad park. The residents range from "full-timers" in travel trailers to transients in high-end motor homes. The staff is super nice and the spaces offer long pull-thrus with complimentary wireless Internet. We stayed here once before and had no problem with booking this evening's return stay.

If all goes well with the weather (and our windshield wipers), we'll set sail for Amarillo, TX first thing tomorrow morning.

May 10, 2006

About midnight the skies opened up and gave the city of Tulsa a good drenching. Thunder, lightening and super-sized raindrops filled the night skies. But to our relief, no hail. This show of Mom Nature's forces did a good job of waking us up and keeping us awake until she finally decided to back off of the fireworks around 3:00 am. Margo was soon back asleep, but I ended up tossing until around 4:00 am when I also drifted off.

We got up shortly after 6:00 am and looked outside to find that the skies were still gray and there was a light rain falling. Wanting to get out on the road early, we decided to forego our normal breakfast routine, preferring instead to get a coffee and danish at our first fuel stop.

Once out on I-44, things went well until we encountered a rain shower and needed to use the windshield wipers. I turned them on and all went well for about the first minute, then they exhibited the exact same behavior as yesterday. They stopped at the top of their arc and stayed that way until a gust of wind from a passing semi freed them, and they went into the "parked" position. So yesterday's fix didn't work and we were right back where we had started. Since we were told that the wiper mechanism had been adjusted as far as it could go, I was now starting to think that this might be a design flaw. But how could Monaco release a product with such an obvious safety defect? Or did they? We were soon to find out.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, Margo once again got on the phone to the factory support line to tell them that we were still having problems. Once on the phone with a tech rep (different one than yesterday), she outlined our situation and was told that the factory was well aware of the problem and that a "fix" was in the works by the company that Monaco sub-contracts it's wipers systems to. So it is a design flaw! Why didn't Monaco try to warn us of such a serious safety problem? We hate to point out the obvious, but there are serious liability issues involved with selling vehicles with known safety issues.

As described by the phone rep., the fix is to be a shorter arm linking the motor to the wiper arm on the driver's side. Supposedly this will shorten the arc of the wiper arm/blade assembly and limit it's movement enough that it won't allow the blade to go past the curve in the windshield and get stuck. Of course less of the windshield will be wiped with this mod, but it's a fair trade-off for operating windshield wipers.

To our relief we soon left the Tulsa area rain behind us so that wipers were no longer necessary. Margo ended up spending the rest of the day on the phone with Monaco trying to get the new updated wiper parts sent ahead to Albuquerque, where we would be arriving tomorrow afternoon. It was a simple matter of overnighting the parts to a Monaco dealer for installation, which they agreed to do. The problem came when the Monaco representative dropped the ball and didn't get a purchase order sent to the wiper company in time for them to send the parts out. Grrrrr. Now the best that they could do was to send them out tomorrow, so that they will arrive in Albuquerque on Friday. This will put us another day behind our schedule, but we have no choice, we need the wipers especially heading towards Seattle.

At this point we feel a quick word or two about the Monaco phone rep. is in order. The phone representative who Margo talked to yesterday was great. He was patient and professional as he went about the business of trying to help us. But not the man she talked to today. I was only privy to one side of the conversation, but I could see Margo growing more and more frustrated with him as the day went on. We're not demanding people and we understand how companies work. Margo herself has worked in customer service and I spent over fifteen years in manufacturing. We try to be understanding, but this person seemed to be going out of the way to make things hard on us. We explained that we were on a tight schedule and that this was a safety issue, but he really couldn't have cared less. Things were going to be done his way or not at all. Attempts to talk to his manager were met with refusals, and at the end of the day we were both frustrated and disgusted with Monaco service. Just the opposite of the day before when we had a more caring and helpful representative. So much for customer goodwill.

We ended our 378 mile day here in Amarillo at the "Fort Amarillo RV Resort" (www.fortamarillorvresort.com 866-431-7866). This is another park we've stayed at before and we like it. It's kind of a cute little place but he office/store is the high point of any visit to this park. The store is absolutely packed with stuff. If you like country accessories or collectables, this is your place. It's better than any store we've been in, and is really fun to browse around in. We were told that the shop has been voted Amarillo's #1 gift shop and it's best kept secret. Be sure to check it out if you're in the area. The rest of the park offers long pull-thrus and full hookups. They've added complimentary WiFi since we were here last, but the service has been spotty, at least at our site. I almost forgot, the park also offers a continental breakfast of coffee, donuts and the usual fruits and cereals.

We hope that there won't be rain in the forecast for tomorrow as we make our way to Albuquerque.

May 11, 2006

Early this morning we received a phone call from a Monaco factory representative giving us good news and bad news about our windshield wiper dilemma. The good news was that they had somehow managed to get some parts off to the Monaco dealer in Albuquerque and they should be waiting for us when we arrived. The bad news was that they might not be the right parts. The dealership we needed to stop at was "American RV & Marine" located off of I-40 on the west side of town. They would be checking the new parts against the old ones because apparently, Monaco doesn't document which parts they use against a build number or a VIN number.

We pulled into American RV early enough in the day so that if the parts that were sent were the wrong ones, Monaco would have time left in the day (East Coast time) to send the correct ones for installation tomorrow. Margo went into the service office while I stayed outside and unhooked the Mini. She came out a while later to say that our contact, a man named "Gary" was rude to her and had ignored her even though another advisor had announced her arrival. Since they were supposed to be expecting us, I don't know what his problem was. Anyway, another service advisor named "Joey" finally came out and took a look at the coach. He brought out the replacement parts, which consisted of a small kit containing a later revision under hood wiper arm assembly and some miscellaneous bits and pieces.

Once the old arm assembly was removed we could see that there was a very slight difference in their lengths. Maybe just enough to do the trick. A few minutes later, the new parts were installed by Joey and we were able to give the wipers a try. Right away we could see that the driver's side wiper blade was stopping shorter than it used to. Not enough to seriously affect the performance of the wipers, but maybe enough to cure our problem. To test the fix we took the coach out on a deserted road and ran it up to highway speed while I operated the wipers. I ran the windshield wiper squirter to simulate rain. There was no problem and the wipers worked properly. Time will tell if they work in a storm, but so far so good.

At that point we returned to American RV and dropped off Joey so that he could go process the warranty paperwork ("Give me 15 minutes"). American RV looks to be a brand new dealership and is attached to an equally new looking Camping World. So while waiting for the paperwork to be processed, Margo and I walked over to the CW for a look around. After killing some time there she went over to get the paperwork, but now the wait for it to be processed had grown to "30 minutes". Just to print out a work order. Enough is enough. We're staying here in Albuquerque tonight so we'll swing by and pick up the work order on the way out of town tomorrow.

Before we can do that though, we'll be stopping at yet another RV dealership on the opposite side of town to have our Carefree Of Colorado main awning repaired. Luckily, that dealership, "Meyers RV", is located only a few blocks from the KOA where we'll be spending the night. That would be the Albuquerque Central KOA (www.albuquerquekoa.com 800-562-7781). We haven't had much time to look it over, but it's clean and convenient which is about all we can ask for given how tired both of us are tonight.

May 12, 2006

Today we have good news to report. Meyers RV (www.myersrv.com) in Albuquerque is just great! Carefree Of Colorado had arranged for them to do a warranty repair on our main awning, and had even scheduled an appointment for us. Our appointment was for 8:00 am, and we arrived there about 10 minutes early. A service advisor greeted us and wrote up the repair order at which point Margo and I were directed to a comfortable waiting area where they offered us fresh coffee and satellite TV. They even invited us to bring Sparkie in. It appears that Meyers has a lot of dog lovers on the staff as Sparkie was a real hit. They provided him with a water bowl and even brought him out a dog cookie. He loved the attention and we appreciated their kindness.

It took about two hours to complete the awning repair, which involved replacing the electric motor and making some adjustments to the arm covers. We never did get to meet the technician who did the work, but he did a super job. Meyers is a Fleetwood and Country Coach dealership, and from our experience today, we give them two thumbs up for customer service and solid workmanship. Thanks Meyers!

Once our awning repair was completed we headed west to American RV so that we could fetch our paperwork that wasn't completed yesterday. The paperwork was ready for us upon arrival and soon we were on the road heading out of town.

Our destination for today was to be Flagstaff, AZ, but since we didn't leave Albuquerque until 11:00 am, we weren't sure that we could make it that far in a reasonable amount of time. Actually we ended up making really good time and made Flagstaff by about 4:00 pm. For some reason that I can't explain, I told Margo that we should forget Flagstaff and go the extra 30 miles to Williams, AZ, where we might be able to find an RV park with a view of the railroad.

Our Trailer Life Directory showed a park called "Grand Canyon Railway RV Park" (www.thetrain.com 1-800-the-train) at Williams. At this point I should point out that Margo has been to the Grand Canyon but I have not. She's been trying to talk me into going there since we first met in 1973, but for whatever reason we just haven't made the trip. We vowed that we would go one day and that when we did we would ride the Grand Canyon Railway to the canyon. So just the name of this park and its location was appealing to us. Due to our tight schedule we wouldn't be able to stay longer than one night but we would have to keep this park in mind for a future visit.

What we found when we got here is a nice new RV park located just one block from the Grand Canyon Railway depot. In fact the RV park is part of a hotel, RV park, railroad complex that is actually owned and operated by the Grand Canyon Railway itself. We went into the RV park office to check in for an overnight stay, but ended up signing up for a two night, three day stay at the park, including tickets to the canyon on the train. We didn't plan any of this, but I guess this is our time to go! We'll have to make a non-stop run to Tehachapi to make up for lost time, but we just couldn't turn down the package deal offered by the RV park and the railway.

For RV'ers wanting to visit the canyon by train, this park is the "must place" to stay. RV park admission includes access to all of the RV park amenities plus access to the facilities over at the hotel. They have a fitness room, spa and pool, all of which are available to folks at the RV park. They also run a local shuttle service which means you don't have to drive while in town unless you want to. All a person needs to do is call and they pick you up and return you back to the park.

The best part from our standpoint is that they run a kennel service ("Pet Resort") for people who are taking the train to the canyon. They have excellent facilities for those wanting to board a dog or cat for the day or for an overnight stay. We inspected the kennels and were very impressed. The dog side of the kennel has individual runs for dogs with access to the outside. Cat owners will love the cat side of the facility which has "cat condo's" that are sure to appeal to discriminating felines. The cost to board Sparkie for the day is a very reasonable $14.

The RV park itself appears to be brand new and has all of the usual amenities such as complimentary WiFi, long pull-thrus and full hookups with 50-amp service. There is also a basketball court, volleyball court, children's playground, horseshoes, picnic pavilion, fitness trail, laundry and showers, all of which are surrounded by beautiful forested mountains. For rail fans there is also a great view of both the Grand Canyon Railway and the BNSF mainline from the RV park. From our point of view this place is almost too good to be true.

Tomorrow we take the train to the Grand Canyon. Can't wait!

May 13, 2006

People always say that pictures can't capture the grandeur and beauty of the Grand Canyon and now I know exactly what they were talking about. It's just breathtaking but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The train that would take us up to the canyon was scheduled to depart at 10:00 am, but before boarding we needed to take Sparkie over to the Railway's pet resort to check him in. The kennel is really nice and state of the art, but he's so spoiled that he hates being left anywhere. We could hear him barking and making a fuss at his run as we walked the short distance over to the train depot.

When we arrived at the Grand Canyon Railway depot we noticed that there was a little pre-boarding "Wild West" show that was about set to begin. The railway has some guys dressed as cowpokes who put on a little skit, which involves a passenger chosen at random from the audience. It's very corny, but everybody enjoyed it and there were laughs all around. It actually set the tone for the rest of the day and helped to get people in the mood to have a fun filled day, both on the train and up at the canyon.

The show lasted only a few minutes then it was time to board the train. At the time we checked into the RV park and bought our package trip deal Margo and I had upgraded our basic coach seats to ones in "Luxury Parlor Class". This class of service includes comfortable assigned seats in the rear open platform observation car and includes many special touches such as access to the open rear platform. The car has private bar service and includes coffee, juice, fruit and pastries for the trip up, and champagne and snacks for the afternoon trip back down to Williams. Since this was to be a special trip for us and one that we had anticipated for years, we wanted to make it the best that it could be and the parlor car was it. There are other classes of service available. Consult the website (www.thetrain.com) for further details.

We showed up at the rear of the car at boarding time and had a brief wait while our car attendant put out the boarding steps. Our attendant "Lee" greeted us as we boarded the train and directed us to our seats. To our surprise, Margo and I found that our seats were at the extreme rear end of the car with a great view out of the rear facing windows to the tracks behind. We were also right by the exit door, so that access to the open rear platform would be a breeze. We love open platforms and couldn't wait for the train to get moving!

After a quick safety briefing, Lee directed us to the coffee and other goodies then invited us to enjoy the rear platform at will. The train wasn't even moving yet and Margo and I were out there all by ourselves. Soon the conductor climbed aboard and gave a "high ball!" through his radio, and our two hours, fifteen minute rail journey up to the Grand Canyon had begun. We stayed out on the platform as the train left the depot and stayed there as it climbed into the mountains surrounding the town of Williams. Now we had some idea of what it would be like to be private railcar owners.

We stayed out on the platform for quite a while, then decided to head in to our seats to enjoy some of the nice pastries and fresh cut fruit that was put out buffet style. The rest of the trip to the canyon alternated between us sitting inside and standing out on the platform enjoying the scenery as we climbed into the mountains. All too soon we reached the south rim of the canyon and the Grand Canyon Railway depot.

The famous El Tovar lodge is just up the hill from the train depot and the canyon viewing areas are just past the lodge. I have to say that upon reaching the viewing area I was speechless. The canyon is much larger and deeper than I had ever pictured it. It was just spectacular. There are few landmarks with which to gauge distance and it was almost as though the canyon were a giant false backdrop, but it was real. Those who have seen it know what I mean. Honestly, I don't have words to describe it except to say that it is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.

Lee, our car attendant, had given us some excellent advice on where to go and what to do with our three and a half hours at the canyon and we basically followed his advice. We walked along the rim, checking out the various viewing points, then stopped for a sandwich at the Bright Angel Lodge. Again we lucked out seating wise and got nice view seats by the window. Lunch consisted of sandwiches and cold Coronas, then it was time to go back out to explore the canyon a little more up close and personal. One recommendation Lee gave us was to take the trail just past the Bright Angel Lodge that goes down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. He thought that we might enjoy seeing the canyon from a different perspective.

He was right. The canyon takes on a different feel from below the rim. There are signs posted at the beginning and at points along the trail warning that it takes over 5 hours of continuous hiking to reach the river, and that it takes more than twice that long to climb back up to the starting point at the top. They recommend taking lots of water and being extremely careful on the hike. Heeding the advice of the signs, we only went a short distance down the trail, but far enough to appreciate the effort that the full hike down and back would entail.

We were on our way down when we made a sharp bend in the trail and came head to head with a grizzled old man heading up the trail sitting astride a mule. He was leading a second mule that appeared to be carrying his provisions. We stepped aside to give him room to pass, when he stopped his mule and climbed off. On closer inspection we could see that he was bearded and that his floppy hat cast a deep shadow across his face. He asked how far down the canyon we planned to go, and wanted to make sure that we had plenty of water with us. We assured him that we had plenty of water and that our decent would be a short one before turning back. We had a nice conversation with him, and it was obvious that he knew the Grand Canyon country like the back of his hand. We soon felt as though we'd known him for years. In fact there was something vaguely familiar about him, like we'd already met. Before going our separate ways, he introduced himself as "Cussler, Clive Cussler". As we departed, Margo and I looked at each other and smiled. "Strange name" I said. Margo nodded and replied that it was indeed a strange name, but that he seemed to be a very nice man and quite attractive for his age. We hoped we'd see him again.

(That last paragraph is complete fiction and a quick tribute to my favorite author, Clive Cussler, who often writes himself into his Dirk Pitt novels. I've always wanted the chance to meet him, even if it is in my own little piece of fiction. The rest of this web log post is real.)

Even though we had taken bottles of water down the trail with us, we found that we were somewhat dehydrated by the time we got back up to the top. We talked to other people who had gone further down the trail than us and were totally exhausted. Of course, the top of the canyon sits at 6,700 feet and the altitude alone would take a toll on any hiker.

We spent the rest of our time at the canyon browsing the gift shops and seeing the inside of the El Tovar Hotel. The hotel is of log construction and quite beautiful. We might have to come back and stay there one day, although it looks to be expensive.

Exhausted from our hiking and sightseeing, we finally made our way back down to the train depot to board the train for our return trip to Williams. We were looking forward to the munchies and liquid refreshment that was waiting for us on the train. The trip back to the depot at Williams was relaxing and wonderful. We once again spent time out on the rear platform and watched as the Arizona countryside passed by.

At the end of the day we came to the conclusion that the Grand Canyon is a "must see" for anyone. There were people up there from all walks of life and from around the world. The train ride was magnificent and we highly recommend it. The trains are pulled by either vintage diesels or, after Memorial Day, steam engines! The Grand Canyon Railway is a first class operation from top to bottom.

Our final act of the day was to go fetch Sparkie from the kennel. When we got there we walked around to the back, where the outside runs are, and called his name. It took about two seconds for his little mug to appear behind the wire enclosure. We went around front and sprung him, then the three of us walked back over to the RV park. We were tired, Sparkie was glad to be back home, and it was one of the most wonderful days we can remember. We'll be back for sure.

May 14, 2006

We had planned to leave Williams this morning, but we ended up extending our stay for another day. This will put us behind on our schedule to be in Seattle by the 27th, but we hope to make the time up as we go along. We had several reasons for wanting to extend our stay here, but the truth is we like Williams and wish that we could stay longer.

Once we paid for the extra day at the park office, we decided to get some chores out of the way before goofing off for the day. Our laundry bag was full so we took advantage of the nice laundry facilities here at the park and washed clothes. I took the Mini up to a local coin car wash and got rid of the majority of the road grime that seems to accumulate when towing.

Later we watched the Spanish Grand Prix, and Margo was delighted to receive Mother's Day phone calls from our daughters, Heather and Jennifer. We put out our awning and chairs and read for a while too.

Main Street Williams is a left over chunk of old Route 66 and is a genuine throwback to an earlier era. Original motels (motor courts!) line the streets and the shops and restaurants also appear to be from an earlier time. We ate dinner at a small diner along that main drag and had fun taking a little trip back in time. We hope that downtown Williams stays the same for a long time to come.

Tomorrow we'll need to get back on the road for sure. Our destination will be the southern California high desert town of Tehachapi. Our stay there will be brief as we take care of some business, then we'll be off to Seattle.

May 15, 2006

Originally we had planned on taking two days to go from Flagstaff (Williams, AZ) to Tehachapi, CA, but because of our Grand Canyon trip and the extra day at Williams, we decided to press on and make the trip in one day. So here we are, 410 miles later, back in our old stomping grounds of Tehachapi. We're back out at the RV Park at Mountain Valley Airport and to our surprise, they've installed WiFi since we were here just a few months ago. We thought that we'd be out of touch for our time here, but that's not the case. We've always loved this little RV Park and it's great view of the runway, and the wireless just makes it that much better.

Today's run through Arizona and part of the Southern California desert saw high temperatures of over 100 degrees outside, but our coach was cool and comfortable inside. I intentionally kept our highway speeds below 65 mph to protect our tires from the blistering temps. of the roadway, but we saw other RV'ers blow past us without a care.

We plan to be here in Tehachapi for at least three days as we talk to some home-builders about what it will take to build a house here. We have a two-acre view lot that we love, but whether or not we build on it will depend a lot on what we find out in the next few days. If we build here we don't anticipate the house being completed anytime within the next two years, which will give us plenty of time to get this full-time bug out of our system. We hope.

When we leave Tehachapi it's on to Seattle and our summer tour of the Northwest.

May 16, 2006

The early morning sunrises here at Mountain Valley Airport are really something special. I woke up early this morning to see day breaking across the nearby fields lining the airport runways. My eye was drawn to some ground squirrels that appeared to be up and about even earlier than I was. They seemed to be playing and interacting with each other in ways that humans can't comprehend. It dawned on me that they must have very little water to drink in this high-desert environment and I wonder how they make it from day to day. For them it must be a little like being stranded in a life raft with no fresh water.

Yesterday we'd made some phone calls to local building trades people and we were anxious to hear back from them today. Basically, there was little we could do except wait for them to call, so we spent the morning being productive around here. Margo worked inside the RV cleaning everything from top to bottom, and I worked outside ridding the windshield and nose of the motor home of bugs. The inside of the coach now looks spotless and I got carried away on the outside to the extent that I bucket washed most of the easy to reach areas.

The first person of the day to call was John, our "dirt guy". John is a life-long resident of Tehachapi and a master at preparing sites for home construction. John also knows every person involved in the local building trades and is more than willing to share his knowledge with us. I worked with John extensively last year when I was looking at local real estate and his opinions were invaluable in our site selection process.

We ended up meeting him over at our property and he quickly gave us several options on how we could build there. They ranged all the way from least expensive to more than we'd want to spend, but he was honest and creative in his assessment.

After our meeting with John we made a trip over to the headquarters of the local Homeowners Association. The visit was to pick up a copy of the "CC&Rs" and to get a copy of the "architectural guidelines" for our area, so that would know where we stand from a local government standpoint. The folks at the Association were nice enough, but they were quick to point out not only the building guidelines, but the fees involved with building here. To be honest, the fees that they spelled out feel more like admission fees to the neighborhood than monies that are necessary for the well being of the community. Something tells me this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Later we received another call from a builder who is interested in meeting with us to discuss building our home. We set up an appointment with him for tomorrow afternoon. It was a productive day and we learned a lot. The things we learned and the conversations we had would have been much harder if we'd tried to conduct them over the phone.

We watched "Idol" at 5:00 pm on the Eastern feed, then took an early evening walk through the local countryside. Our favorite walk takes us past the airport hangers and out into the surrounding farmland. The time to go is just after the sun sets behind the western mountains, but before it gets too dark to see. There are brilliant orange sunsets and finally the dark gray of nightfall. Walking past the airport always has a calming effect on me, as the planes stand silent and the airport operations cease for the day. This is a special place and we just love it.

May 17, 2006

We both got up early today and took a run into town for coffee and danish at a wonderful little bakery we know of. They offer several grades of coffee and the bake goods are prepared by a bakery chef who trained for three years in Germany. Really good stuff. If this place were in any major city, it would be swamped, but here in Tehachapi it was quiet with plenty of seating and no lines. The joys of small town life.

We discussed the events of the day over our coffee, then came back to the RV to wait for one of our homebuilders to get back to us. We finally heard from him around noon and made an appointment to meet with him out at our property to discuss some building options. We found out that we'll probably need a "grade engineering plan" for our building site depending upon where we want to situate the house. The engineering plan is expensive, but may be worth it to maximize our view.

One thing is for sure, this home planning and construction project is going to be much more involved than we ever thought it would be. We've had to extend our stay here in Tehachapi until at least Saturday, but we knew that might be the case. Eventually we'll run out of time and need to start towards Seattle as our cruise is only 10 days away.

May 18, 2006 to May 19, 2006

Thanks to everyone for enduring these recent Tehachapi web log posts. We know they must have been boring, but our Tehachapi visit has been a necessary one for us. Our visit here has been a blur of activity involving the mechanics of having a home built on our two-acre plot, and to be honest, it has been quite an eye-opener. We've never contracted to build a house before and from what we've learned lately, we probably never will. The local building establishment here (with the exception of the big national homebuilders), is about as unprofessional a group as we've ever seen. They don't return calls, have squabbles between each other, and generally act like a bunch of amateurs. Unfortunately we need to get moving towards Seattle for our cruise, but we'll be returning back here at some point. Hopefully there will be a new breed of custom homebuilder here in town by that time. Until then we'll just sit back and watch the property appreciate.

Here's a bit of humor for you. I'm a Levi's kind of guy. When I'm not in shorts, I'm in Levi's. I've been wearing them since I was in the fourth grade of school. Maybe earlier. That's over 50 years and a whole lot of blue jeans. When friends and family think of me, they probably picture me in Levi's. Anyway, I always buy the Levi's brand 501 "shrink-to-fit" style, the ones with the button fly. Over the years my waist has expanded and I've been adjusting the waist size of the Levi's appropriately. I won't go into what that waist size is (vanity and all), but I will say that I think the ongoing waist expansion has finally halted. At least I hope it has.

Since our move to Florida and now being retired, I've been wearing shorts a lot. In fact I've been wearing shorts so much, that I haven't needed to replenish my supply of 501s for about three or four years. But now we have an Alaskan cruise coming up and my current supply of jeans is looking less than presentable, to say the least. They say that jeans are good for Alaska cruising so I though that it was finally time to go buy some new Levi's!

Yesterday we decided to make a run 40 miles down to Bakersfield so that I could buy some new jeans for the cruise. We jumped into the Mini and headed on down to a mall with several department stores that sell the Levi brand. We pulled into the parking lot of the J.C. Penny's, and walked into the store thinking that we'd make it our first stop. That was when it dawned on me, I couldn't remember what size of shrink-to-fit Levi's I wore! UGH!! An 80-mile round trip for nothing. I felt like an idiot. I knew the length of jeans I needed, but not the waist size. It had been too long since I'd purchased any. I was wearing shorts at the time, so I couldn't even get the size off of what I was wearing. The jeans need to be shrunk to fit properly and are completely different than my shorts. Unless I made an educated guess as to the waist size, I couldn't buy the jeans. So back we went up Highway 58 to Tehachapi with no purchase. Tehachapi has no stores (except a K-Mart), so if I wanted to get the jeans, we'd need to make a return 80-mile round-trip back down to Bakersfield, which is exactly what we did. Only we waited a day and we had to work it in to our schedule before we could go back down.

That brings us to today. We got up early this morning then stopped for coffee and pastry at that cool little bakery in town, before heading back down to the J.C. Penny store. Once we got there, I started looking at the Levi's and I quickly noticed that something wasn't quite right about them. They looked way too long and the legs looked "baggy" for want of a better term. So I grabbed a pair of "Pre-shrunk" 501's and headed for the fitting room. Once I had them on I couldn't believe my eyes. They were completely different than my old button-fly 501's. To be blunt, I looked like a 62 year old gang-banger. The Levi's that I've worn for over 50 years have been redesigned! I was in shock. No wonder Levi Strauss is in financial trouble, they're alienating their core audience. I would not be buying any Levi products today.

Still needing to get some new jeans for the cruise, and not knowing which way to go, I headed over to Sears and ended up buying some "Lee" jeans (Regular cut), which when held up next to my old Levi 501's, are almost an exact duplicate in cut and fit. Thank goodness. The Lee jeans have a zipper fly, but at least they look like normal blue jeans and will fill the void left by my old faithful Levi's. Still, I'll miss my old faithful's.

I decided to tell this little Levi's story because it seems to me that no matter how familiar something may seem, it might change when you least expect it.

Tomorrow morning we'll be putting Tehachapi behind us as we head north to Seattle.

May 20, 2006

A 300+ miles-per-gallon Monaco motor home? You betcha! We saw that miles-per-gallon figure on our coaches information computer today as we descended the grade from Tehachapi down towards Bakersfield, California. The elevation drop is approximately 4,000 feet in just 30 miles and most of the route is steeply downhill. It's the kind of highway that makes a person value their RV's engine brake and makes for artificially high fuel mileage on the computer.

That 30 mile stretch was just the beginning of our 370 mile run north to the California town of Dunnigan where we stopped for the night. Our route today took us down Highway 58 to Bakersfield, where we picked up Highway 99. Then we took Highway 99 north to Sacramento where we switched to Interstate 5.

Highway 99 is an interesting route, as it runs through the Central Valley of California, one of the most fertile growing areas in the world. We love to travel through the areas of the country that contribute so much to the nations food production. It's fun passing the fields and trying to guess what kind of crop is growing there. The same thing applies to orchards or groves of trees. Neither of us are especially good at identifying these types of things, so each and every one is a challenge. The one disturbing aspect of travel through the valley is the speed at which the prime growing areas are being paved over and replaced by houses and strip malls. We know that people need to live somewhere but people also need to eat.

When on the road we like to limit our daily mileage to around 300 miles but today we wanted to get north of Sacramento before stopping. That meant a drive of closer to 400 miles. Margo whipped out our faithful Trailer Life Directory and selected the "Campers Inn" RV Park at Dunnigan, California as our stopping point for the day. Dunnigan is about 35 miles north of the State Capitol and is somewhat rural in appearance. The Campers Inn (www.campersinnrv.com 1-800-79-GOLF-3) is a homey little park that contains a pretty 9 hole, par 3 golf course. Neither Margo or I play golf, but we love golf courses as they make the world look just that much nicer. Our space was a nice pull-thru, which had full hookups, but unfortunately, no wireless Internet.

After dinner we took a walk over to a local farm, where we attempted to pet some cows. Being city slickers, we didn't realize that cows tend to be a little anti-social and don't really care to be petted. It was only after bribing a couple of them with some tasty looking weeds from our side of the fence that we got them to come within petting range. Even then, the best I could do at getting one close enough to pet was to let it sniff my hand. When I reached out to touch it, it quickly shied away. We had better luck at an adjacent corral containing some horses. There, Margo was able to pet the horses as they came to the fence out of curiosity. For country folks this type of interaction is just a normal part of life, but for us city people it's a lot of fun. Kind of like a petting zoo for adults.

The next leg of our trip north towards Seattle will be to Grants Pass, Oregon.

May 21, 2006

We departed the Campers Inn RV Park around 8:00 am this morning and continued our drive north towards Seattle. It was cloudy when we left Dunnigan so it came as no surprise when the skies opened up and it rained on and off for the rest of the day. This was the first time we were able to try out our windshield wiper modification and we are pleased to announce that for the first time our wipers were trouble free and worked perfectly.

Scenery wise this is a really beautiful part of the country. The mountains are steep and heavily forested. There are rivers and streams with mountain lakes all along the route. Unfortunately the rain clouds obscured famed Mt. Shasta, which was a disappointment to us, but the area was still beautiful never the less. We've traveled through this area once before when the mountain was visible and it's something to see.

Total miles traveled today were 302, which lead us to Grants Pass, Oregon and "Jack's Landing RV Resort" (1-866-785-2257). This is one of the prettiest RV parks we've ever seen. It has beautiful lawn and landscaping surrounding each terraced RV pad. The pads are fully paved and feature full hookups with 50-amp service. The park itself is surrounded by mountains and trees and only lacks wireless Internet to be perfect. As it is, we'll take the beautiful mountains and trees as a more than worthy substitute to the wireless. It's been raining since we arrived, but this is the kind of park where we would like to stay a few days and put out our chairs and awning. We've made a note of the park and plan to return at some point.

Once we got settled we headed for the downtown area of Grants Pass to replenish our food supply. The downtown is quite cute, and would be worth investigating if we were going to be staying here longer than just one night. As it is, we wanted to pick up some groceries, then come back to the RV and relax. We found a Safeway grocery store and loaded up on supplies. Our cart contained way too many goodies, but we always shop that way when we're hungry. We really do need to go shopping on a full stomach.

It's been sprinkling rain on-and-off since we've been here, but it hasn't dampened our spirits for Grants Pass or the Jack's Landing RV Resort.

May 22, 2006

It was raining when we woke up this morning and it would have been nice to have turned over and went back to sleep. To be honest the forecast called for rain today and the last thing I wanted to do was drive the motor home through the mountain passes in lousy weather. But our schedule called for us to be in Portland this afternoon so like it or not, we needed to get started.

The highway north to Portland from Grants Pass covers some really beautiful country. It was miles of mountains and forest as far as the eye could see. The highway seems to go from one mountain pass to another as the miles pass by. One minute we were climbing a grade, then the next we would be descending one with the engine brake on. It would have been a fantastic 262 mile run were it not for the rainy weather and slick roadway, but that's the luck of the draw in this part of the country.

Just south of Portland on I-5 we encountered what could best be described as a speed trap. The rain had stopped and we were driving along in the slow lane when we started seeing motorcycle officers with cars pulled over. We didn't count them, but there were at least 15-20 cops on bikes with cars pulled over in both the north and southbound lanes. There was also one marked police Mustang involved in this. Be very careful transiting this area.

We pulled into Portland's "Columbia River RV Park" (503-285-1515) in the early afternoon. The rain had backed off and there was actually some blue sky peeking through the dark rain clouds. Despite it's name, this park is located close to the Columbia River, but has no actual view of it. Margo went in to register and I did my usual waiting in the RV with Sparkie. A few minutes later she emerged from the office with a space assignment and we were soon parked and set up.

Our space is paved and long enough to accommodate both our coach and the Mini without unhooking. It has full hookups with 50-amp service, and pay WiFi is available. The only drawback we see to this park is their pet rules, which we'll get to in a minute.

Speaking of pets, we noticed that Sparkie has been favoring his right front paw all day, and by the time we stopped for the day, he wasn't able to walk on it. We did some checking and found a nearby vet, who was able to see him on short notice. She examined him and determined that there was a good chance that a sticker or burr of some type had buried itself in the paw, and had caused what was obviously a very painful sore. We check his feet and ears regularly, especially when he gets around weeds and such, but we must have missed something. Anyway, he got an injection of penicillin and some meds to take home, and at this writing, seems to be improving. He also got a new toy to help cheer him up but he ignored it, a sure sign that he's not feeling well.

That brings me to this park's pet rules and they are many. In fact they were circled in red by the office staff when we checked in, and some even have additional red check marks beside them on our rules sheet. It's obvious to us that the park owners don't like dogs, or have had serious problems with them in the past, but for some reason they don't flat out prohibit them. (Maybe because the park is more than half empty and they could use the twenty-eight bucks a night from dog owners?) The park has no designated pet areas, and dog owners are required to take their dogs outside of the park and across the street to the side yard of a private residence to do their business. The park must have an agreement of some kind with the homeowner. At any rate, given the rainy weather in this part of the country and the distance to the house from some areas of the park, we find this to be totally unacceptable.

Tonight when it was time for Sparkie to go out before bed, I had to carry him out of the park and across the street to the makeshift pet area, because of his sore paw. He might be a small dog, but he's no lightweight and he was starting to get heavy by the time we got there. Once there, I noticed a sign on a tree warning pet owners that they must pick up after their animals and that someone may be watching. Sure enough, there was a woman standing in the shadows by the house watching us! I couldn't believe it. In almost 30 years of RV'ing with dogs, we've never seen anything even remotely like this. For this reason, we CAN NOT recommend this park, especially if you are a dog owner. This is the first negative recommendation of this type we've made since we started this web log, but we feel that it's justified in this instance. There are too many other parks out there that welcome responsible pet owners and their pets.

May 23, 2006

We have one more day here at this park and then we're going to move the motor home to a new location across the river in Washington State. We have friends there who have graciously offered us a place to store our RV while we take our upcoming cruise. We met Gene and Kerrie when we were camping neighbors down at Oak Park in Simi Valley. We struck up a conversation and they told us to look them up if we ever got to their area. Their offer of a place to leave our coach was very much appreciated and took a load off of our minds. They even did some research on boarding kennels for us. RV'ers just may be the nicest people in the world!

Sparkie's paw is making slow progress as we work to get it back to normal. We wrap the paw with a material called "pet wrap" so that he can't lick it and slow the healing process. Unfortunately he knows how to remove the wrap and licks it when we're not looking. He's a lot like a kid. The paw was looking better this morning.

This morning and early afternoon saw a steady rainfall here in the Portland area. We had things to do that involved us being outside, but it was pouring rain and we were stuck inside. Finally, after spending the morning doing nothing, we started to get a bad case of cabin fever and decided to take a ride in the car.

We found a shopping mall nearby and thought we'd take a walk around just to get some exercise. The mall contains a two story Target store, which we had never seen before. The neat thing about it is the escalator system. There are the usual up and down human escalators, but in this store there are separate escalators for shopping carts. You roll your cart onto it's own escalator, then step on to an adjacent moving stairway for humans. It's was the coolest thing we've ever seen. I was hoping that someone would leave their kid in the cart when they sent it on its way, but there was a sign saying not to leave children in the carts while on the transporter. Too bad, it would be great to see a kid riding a cart on that thing.

On the way home we stopped for a late lunch at a funky waterfront restaurant on the Columbia River. The area is close to the RV park and has lots of marinas. We thought the restaurant might be a boaters hangout and we were right. It's the kind of place that makes us feel right at home. We enjoyed our lunch at a window table and watched as boats navigated the strong currents of the river.

Late afternoon and evening saw us back at the RV looking out the window at more rain.

May 24, 2006

When we took our Southern Caribbean cruise out of Tampa, it was a simple matter of leaving the motor home at our favorite storage facility, "Big Toy Storage" in Oakland, Florida. We've dealt with Big Toy Storage for a number of years and they do a fantastic job of caring for vehicles of any kind. The facility consists of a huge metal building that is climate controlled and secure plus the staff is first rate. In fact, "Mimi" our Miata is stored there now.

When we signed up for our upcoming Alaskan cruise the first thing we thought of was the RV and how we were going to store it while we were gone. We figured that we'd probably end up leaving it in an RV park or possibly at a storage lot somewhere in the Seattle area. Neither was a very good choice from our point of view, but we really had few options until our friends, Kerrie and Gene came to the rescue. They have a wonderful home located on 5 acres in southern Washington State. It has plenty of space to park an RV, so we jumped at their offer to leave the coach there.

Their home is located on the other side of the Columbia River from our RV park and they provided us with detailed driving instructions for how to get there. The total driving distance was only around 15 miles, so Margo led the way in the Mini while I followed in the RV. The drive over there was an easy one and soon we were at Kerrie and Gene's and had the motor home parked along side of their combination guesthouse and RV storage garage. The RV garage houses their fifth wheel trailer and is the type of setup that most RV'ers dream of. It has both water and 30-amp electrical service, which Gene suggested that we hook up to. The guesthouse is a one bedroom, two-story home that a couple could very easily live in. So, here sits our coach plugged into water and power with the slides out. The view out the window is of trees, green grass and horses. It's very pretty and we may not want to leave!

Once we were settled in they invited us over to the main house for a tour of their home, cocktails and dinner. During the course of the evening we discovered that Kerrie and Gene are close to retirement, and are considering spending some time on the road with their RV. After a wonderful evening talking RV's and other matters, it was time to say good night. It dawned on us that we had only spoken to these warm and generous folks for a few minutes beside our RVs at a campground months ago. Now here we are the recipients of their generosity and being welcomed into their home.

May 25, 2006

I spent some time today trying to clean some of the built up crud off of both the RV and the car. Both were covered in road grime from the miles of rain we've traveled, and the motor home even had bird droppings on the sides. We just couldn't leave on a cruise knowing that we left our home in such a deplorable state. My solution was a quick wash down with my soft boat brush and a quick rinse. It was raining on and off during this procedure, but it makes us feel better knowing that the majority of the damaging road grime and bird droppings have been removed.

The rest of the day was spent running errands and doing chores in preparation for the cruise. We leave for Seattle tomorrow and are really looking forward to it.

May 26, 2006

Before we left this morning we needed to take Sparkie over to the kennel where he will reside for the next week. Once at the kennel we got a chance to inspect the facilities and it looks to be a nice family ran operation. Each dog has a nice room to stay in and a doggie door leading out to a grassy run. The dogs also get playtime with other dogs of similar size. We left him with a toy, his blanket and a supply of food and treats. He should be fine while we're gone.

After taking Sparks to the kennel, we hit the road for Seattle in the Mini. We were told that the drive time should be roughly three hours and that was exactly how long it took us. It rained all the way up here, but the road was clear of accidents. We're spending the night in a hotel convenient to the pier where we'll be boarding the ship tomorrow morning.

The ship is Holland America's "MS Oosterdam" and our cruising destination will be Alaska. Neither Margo or I have ever been to Alaska and we're looking forward to seeing it for the first time. We're taking our laptop aboard with us and hope to be able to do an occasional web log post from the ship.

Until then we wish all of our family, friends and fellow RV'ers a very happy Memorial Day weekend!

May 27, 2006 Web log Special From The Decks Of The MS Oosterdam

Catching a ship out of a northwest port is a really different experience for us as this is to be our first Alaskan cruise. We can pack for a Caribbean cruise blindfolded, but this cruise finds our suitcases loaded with an entirely different wardrobe. Shorts have been replaced by jeans and tropical shirts have been replaced by sweatshirts. And we've brought coats! We literally find ourselves in unfamiliar waters here, pun intended. So it was with a great deal of excitement that we left our La Quinta hotel and headed for Seattle's pier 30 to board Holland America's new Vista Class ship, MS Oosterdam.

Our intention was to try and get there a little early, as longtime friends Olin and Kathy Souders were to be arriving from Alaska on another cruise ship, the Dawn Princess. We hoped to be able to visit with them briefly on the pier before they had to leave for their flight back to Northern California. Unfortunately we got tied up in a massive traffic jam and didn't make it to the pier until they were gone, which was disappointing. We would have loved to see them if even for a few minutes.

We finally pulled into Holland America's baggage unloading area around 11:45 am. Margo stayed with the bags while I went to park the Mini. We know from experience that Holland America would board us early, but that our cabin probably wouldn't be ready until around 1:00 pm. In this case, passengers usually go up to the Lido deck for lunch or visit a lounge while waiting for their cabins to become cleaned and made ready. This is a much-preferred scenario to waiting on a bench in the terminal.

At this point I should mention that our accommodation for this cruise is a "Deluxe Veranda Suite". It's the top cabin on the ship just under the ships two Penthouses. We've never had this level of accommodation before, but the price of the cabin was too good to pass up. We booked this cruise at a time when the line was trying to fill the ship and was making fantastic deals to previous Holland America cruisers. Along with our cabin comes a long list of special privileges and perks, the likes of which we've never before experienced.

So it came as no surprise when we entered the terminal and were directed to a special check-in line for suite passengers. This allowed us to avoid the masses (where we usually are) in the lower classes of cabins. The check-in was painless and soon we were aboard the MS Oosterdam and free to check out the ship. We knew that this would be the one time on the cruise when the Lido restaurant would be crowded, so we headed for a lounge, where we enjoyed a beverage while waiting for our cabin to be ready.

A little after 1:00 pm an announcement was made that the cabins were now available, so we made our way to deck 4, the "Upper Promenade" deck, where we were greeted by a white-gloved steward who showed us to our accommodation. Veranda Suite #4180 is located at the stern of the ship on the port (left) side and has a commanding view of the ships wake. It has a window facing aft and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open out to a large wrap-around private veranda. The veranda is the width of our cabin at the rear then wraps around the rear of the ship and goes up the portside a distance. The veranda is deep enough and long enough for two recliners with small table, a large table with four chairs and finally two other arm chairs on the portside of the veranda. I don't think that we'll have trouble finding a place to sit and the views from this vantage point should be breath taking once we hit Alaskan waters.

The room itself is quite large with a king bed, leather sofa, two leather armchairs and a coffee table. There is a dressing room just off of the main living area and beyond that is the head (bathroom). The head contains a double sink, separate glass shower stall and full size jacuzzi bathtub. There is also the usual TV, CD/DVD player and mini-bar as well as tons of closets and storage areas. This is the type of cabin just made for a world cruise.

After settling in, it was time for us to get under way, so we made our way to the aft Lido Deck, where the "Sail Away" party was in full swing. We purchased our traditional margaritas, then headed to the rail to watch the line handlers cast us off. It was gray and overcast, but there was no rain to spoil things as the ship slipped her lines and headed into Puget Sound. The Seattle skyline was impressive, particularly the signature Space Needle. We took a few photos then headed below to our cabin for warm coats.

Once there we were delighted to find an iced bottle of champagne waiting for us, compliments of Holland America. It was another of the suite perks. So we put on warm coats and headed out to the veranda with our champagne, to watch as we sailed through the beautiful Puget Sound area. We had heard that this area was a boater's paradise and now we believe it. It has mile after mile of beautiful bays and open water for every type of boating. As we neared late afternoon, with darkness approaching, we passed close by a tugboat named the "Brian S". She was towing a fuel barge and looked splendid in the failing light. Her amber deck lights were on and we could see her port running light glowing softly. At that point I could think of no better job in the world then to have been at the helm of the Brian S.

All too soon it was time to get cleaned up for supper and the evening's events. We had received a note in our room from the Captain, inviting us to the Neptune Lounge (a lounge for suite guests only) for a champagne reception. The time was listed as being 7:15 to 8:00 pm, which would dovetail well with our 8:00 pm dinner seating. We entered the Neptune Lounge to find a mix of other suite guests and ships officers already there. Stewards were circulating with wine and champagne, as well as tasty hot tidbits. As we stood sipping our champagne, we were approached by an officer who introduced himself as the ships Assistant Culinary Officer. We had a nice conversation with him and managed to get lots of wonderful insider information about Holland America. After a bit he excused himself so that he could mingle with other guests. A few minutes later we were approached by yet another ships officer, who introduced himself as the ships Guest Relations Officer. Another interesting conversation ensued, and then it was time for dinner in the ships main dining room.

We arrived at the Vista Dining Room promptly at 8:00 pm and a dining room steward seated us at a table for six. These tables for six are always a crapshoot as to what type of tablemates we might end up with, but we feel it's worth the risk to meet new and interesting people. In the past we've met some nice people this way. Unfortunately our tablemates for this cruise turned out to be some of the worst we've ever had. One man was pompous beyond belief, and the other man demanding of the wait staff to the point of embarrassing Margo and I. Tomorrow we'll we requesting a different table. This will be a first for us, but we'd rather cut our losses early and hopefully get some better tablemates.

After dinner we went for drinks at the Ocean Bar and watched people dance. We can't dance a lick, but we really enjoy watching others, especially the good dancers. On Holland America ships the Ocean Bar usually has the best dance band aboard and the best dancers always congregate there. Tonight was no different, but the first night out on any cruise is usually quiet, as many people are tired from traveling. Tomorrow night should be a little livelier time throughout the ship as guests become more rested.

We returned to the cabin just after midnight to find our bed turned down and the traditional chocolates on our pillows. Before turning in we filled out a request for breakfast room service then scheduled a wake up call for 6:00 am. Then it was sweet dreams as the vibration from the ships screws lulled us to sleep on the most comfortable beds at sea.

Oosterdam specs for those who might be interested:
Gross Tonnage: 82,000
Length: 935 feet
Beam: 106 feet
Passengers: 1,824
Crew: 800
Propellers: Azipods, 25,000 bhp each
Engines: 5 diesel, 1 gas turbine
Max Speed: 23 knots

May 28, 2006

We don't know about other cruise lines, but Holland America has these wonderful "Euro-top" mattresses, which simply make for the best nights sleep possible. Those mattresses combined with excellent pillows, lightweight but toasty comforters, and high thread count sheets put us to sleep in seconds. Last night was no exception. In fact when we received our wake-up call this morning I was dead to the world and actually forgot where I was. As I slowly came awake I finally figured out that we were on Oosterdam and that I had just had maybe the best nights sleep of my life. Knowing that our breakfast was soon to be delivered, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and throw on some clothes, but leaving that bed was hard to do.

Over our years of cruising, Margo and I have fallen into a routine of having breakfast in the Lido on our "in-port" days and enjoying the luxury of breakfast in our cabin on our "at-sea" days. Today was to be a lazy at-sea day as we headed north to our first Alaskan port, so breakfast in the room was our preference this morning. Promptly at 7:00 am there was a knock at the door, as a steward entered with the breakfast that we had ordered the night before. It was steaming hot and our order was filled exactly as we had requested.

After an excellent breakfast we made ourselves presentable and headed out to roam the ship and to check out the public spaces. We had cruised on Oosterdam's sister ship "Zuiderdam" several times in the past and it was fun going through the ship making comparisons and noting the differences. We found that Oosterdam is decorated in much more subdued patterns and colors, and that the designers have made many small and subtle changes throughout the ship. Both are beautiful vessels, but in slightly different ways. We'd take either and in fact, we already have.

Our stops for this morning included a visit to the ships shopping area, photo gallery, and dining room to speak with the head dining steward as we wanted to request a change in our table assignment. The ships main dining room is divided into two levels and it took a few minutes to find the proper person to talk to. Without giving a reason, we asked if there might be a chance that we could make a change in our table assignment for evening meals. Without hesitation, the steward checked his computer and quickly assigned us to another table. He informed us of the table number and asked us to go check and see if it was satisfactory. To our surprise the table was located at the rear of the ship right next to large picture windows, offering a wonderful view of the ships wake. What a nice surprise, of course we would take it.

The rest of the day was spent roaming the ship, reading and snoozing. There was land to starboard, but the weather was overcast and wet obscuring most of the details. We knew it was Canada but that was about it. The sip was making roughly 22 knots across the bottom so we were covering ground quickly. The water was a gray, murky color totally unlike the deep blue of our familiar Caribbean.

Dinner dress for tonight was "formal" and included the usual meeting with the ship's captain. We found Captain Mercer to be a wonderful, warm person who took the time to personally chat with each passenger. Captain Mercer is Holland America's first British captain and is a man of many years at sea. We liked him immediately.

After meeting the Captain, we were led to the ship's main lounge for a complimentary champagne reception. Wine and other libations were available there as well. The Captain took the stage and was quick to show off his excellent speaking ability as he introduced the ship's senior officers, and the "Employee Of The Month" who this month is an Able Seaman from the deck department.

After the reception it was time for dinner at our newly assigned table then a night out at our favorite lounge, the Ocean Bar. To our relief our new tablemates were much more to our liking and promise to be excellent replacements for the ones at our old table.

After dinner we stopped to have an after dinner drink (or two) at the Ocean Bar when it dawned on us that it was 10:00 pm, and still daylight out! We forgot that it stays light longer at the higher latitudes and we were fascinated to see it still light out until almost 11:00 pm.

We finally turned in about 1:00 am, but it had been a super day at sea. Tomorrow will be an in-port day with Oosterdam moored along side the pier at Juneau, Alaska. Our arrival time is scheduled for 11:00 am, with an evening departure time of 9:00 pm. Plenty of time to see the town and enjoy the sights.

May 29, 2006

Since this was another morning "at-sea", we planned to have breakfast brought to the cabin. Anticipating a steward arriving at our door with breakfast is all it takes to get us up and moving early. So we pulled ourselves out of bed and pulled the drapes open. We were immediately surprised to find that the ship was in a fairly narrow body of water, bordered by land on both sides. There were tall forested mountains with a rocky coastline as far as the eye could see. We looked at our map and saw that the ship had entered the Stephen's Passage leading to Juneau. The sea was dead calm with no swell or wave activity and felt more like a fresh water lake than a salt water inlet. From a scenery and water standpoint, it was a little like being on Lake Tahoe without the casinos or over development to spoil the view.

It was chilly and overcast out on the veranda, so we enjoyed our breakfast indoors as we watched one beautiful vista after another pass by our windows. Our room came equipped with a pair of high-powered binoculars, which we put to good use looking for bears on the shore. We saw a couple of shapes that we thought might be bears, but since they never moved, we ended up writing them off as just being bear shaped logs.

After breakfast we went outside to watch our approach into Gastineau Channel, where the City of Juneau is located. Captain Mercer did a fine job of bringing Oosterdam along side the southern most cruise ship pier, and soon we were secure and the gangway was set to disembark passengers. There were no other cruise ships in port when we arrived, but later we were to be joined by three other cruise ships, including one of Oosterdam's sisters, the MS Zuiderdam.

We had no plans for Juneau other than to go ashore and take the tram ride (1,800+ feet) up to the lookout point near the top of Mt. Roberts. The tram is conveniently located at the cruise ship docks and we had prepaid tickets for the ride up. There were many tours offered for Juneau and the Juneau area, but we elected to take the tram ride then stroll the local streets to try and get a feel for what an Alaskan city is really like.

Once ashore we headed for the base of the tram and were soon on our way up the mountain. The views from the tram and lookout station were just spectacular. The lookout station boasted a gift shop, restaurant, and nature center, but we only browsed the gift shop and nature center. Outside of the nature center was a large caged area containing a bald eagle. It had been injured and is no longer able to survive in the wild. We felt privileged to be able to see a real live eagle up close, but it made us sad to know that she will never fly again. We were surprised at how large and beautiful an eagle is, when seen up close.

We grabbed a coffee and wandered into the lookout point to enjoy the view. The visibility was excellent and we could see snow covered mountain ranges far in the distance. Juneau and Oosterdam lay far below us and we wondered what it would be like to have to hike back down that steep mountain. The thought made us appreciate the tram!

Once back down in Juneau we walked the streets and browsed a few of the local shops. Juneau is a small town and to our surprise has no roads or highways leading to it. Vehicles must come in by ferry. From the looks of some of the local cars and trucks, Alaska must be tough on vehicles.

Our walk through town eventually lead us to the city waterfront. Juneau's waterfront has piers for cruise ships and a seaplane facility among other things. We were standing at the seaplane dock watching float planes take off with tourists, when an old friend appeared. It was Holland America's Zuiderdam cruising slowly into the harbor. Margo and I have sailed on Zuiderdam three times before (all in the Caribbean), so seeing her again was like seeing a long lost friend. The port operation at Juneau is quite casual and Margo and I were surprised when we were able to be right next to the port line handlers as they took Zuiderdam's lines and made her fast. We've never been able to see the mooring operation so up close and personal before. I have to tell you, it made my day.

After a stop at a local smoked salmon factory, we made our way back to Oosterdam. It was a fantastic day in Juneau. Riding the tram (which we highly recommend), seeing the town, and watching Zuiderdam dock, made for one outstanding day ashore.

Tomorrow Oosterdam will transport us to the Hubbard Glacier. We've never been to a glacier before and have no idea what to expect. It should be fun and we're hoping for good weather.

May 30, 2006

I'll start right off by saying that today is my birthday. When Margo and I booked this cruise, we hadn't planned on it being a birthday cruise or having anything to do with celebrations. In fact we hadn't even looked to see what day my birthday fell on or where we might be at that time. Imagine our surprise when we found out that Tuesday, May 30th would see us at Alaska's famed Hubbard Glacier. Hubbard Glacier is located in a place called Yakutat Bay, which is to the north of Juneau.

After what seems like weeks of rain, we pulled our cabin drapes this morning to find bright sunshine! Wow, seeing the sun always picks up my spirits so the day was well on it's way to being special, birthday or not. In the past month we've seen two things that have absolutely blown us away from a scenery standpoint. The first was the Grand Canyon, and the second was Hubbard Glacier. The glacier is a natural flow of ice that starts up on Mt. Logan in the Yukon Territory, and flows 80 miles down to the sea at Yakutat Bay. The glacier ends up at the bay, as a towering wall of ice approximately 7 miles wide. As Oosterdam turned into the inlet heading to the bay, we could see the glacier sitting in the distance. It was miles away, but seemed much closer. As the ship neared the glacier, we could see huge chunks of ice floating on the surface of the bay. These were remnants of the glacier's "calving" process, the natural phenomenon of ice separating from the glacier, and floating free. The Captain came on the PA system and announced that the ship's crew would have to be very careful as to how they maneuvered the ship in the ice, because even though the bow was reinforced against the ice, the propellers were not. According to Captain Mercer, "in a duel against the ice, the ship's propellers would lose". So our speed dropped to bare steerageway, as we picked our way through the ice field.

Margo and I naturally thought that the ship would eventually edge in to a point, maybe two or three miles out, and then we'd all take a gander at the glacier, then the ship would move back out to sea. That was not to be the case as we proceeded on until we were just a few hundred feet from the glacier before we stopped. It was awesome.

We went out onto the ship's bow to watch, as we sailed toward the glacier, then switched back to our own private veranda, after the ship stopped. The Captain brought the ship in as close as possible, then using the ship's "dynamic positioning" capability, kept us in one spot. For over a half hour he kept the ship parallel to the glacier, with the port side facing the ice. Then he turned the ship 180 degrees, so that the starboard side had a prime view of the ice. I don't actually know how long we were up close to the glacier, but it must have been close to two hours total. During that time we were the only ship there. It was wonderful having the glacier all to ourselves. We half expected to see the Coca Cola polar bears go marching by.

When seen up close, some of the ice has a definite blue tinge to it, but mostly it's just brilliant white. And it's always making creaking and snapping noises. The noises are caused by the calving process, which takes place almost continually. Sometimes small chunks of ice break off, and other times a huge wall of ice will fall off throwing up giant spays of water and setting up waves large enough to surf on. It's really something to see.

When we booked our cruise we thought that the wraparound veranda would be nice, but until we got to Hubbard Glacier, we didn't know just how nice. We sat out in the sun watching the glacier from the veranda, just the two of us. Other parts of the ship had people lining the rails jockeying for good camera angles, but we had part of the port side of the ship and our portion of the stern all to ourselves. It was just fantastic.

Finally another cruise ship appeared on the horizon, and it was time for Oosterdam to give up her position. We'd been there long enough and it wouldn't be fair for us to hog that awesome glacier all to ourselves. So we slowly made our way away from the glacier and back out into the floating ice field. We hugged the southern coast for several miles on the way out of the bay, and at times we were only a few hundred feet from shore. The land must fall off very quickly for a large ship like Oosterdam to be able to sail so close in. At that point Margo and I grabbed the binoculars and downshifted back into bear watching mode. We never did see any bears, but we sure tried. Not to worry, seeing that brilliant white glacier sitting before snow-capped mountains under sparkling blue skies was enough for us. It was amazing and a day neither of us will ever forget.

A few days ago we received yet another invitation from the Captain requesting our presence at a before dinner private cocktail gathering. This time it was to be in the ship's "Explorers Lounge". We had no idea what to expect except that the drinks would be on Holland America. What we found was an intimate gathering of folks enjoying a string trio, hosted bar and hot tidbits. The Captain and many of the ship's senior officers were there to greet us, and as at the last gathering, engage us in pleasant conversation. We stayed until 8:00 pm, which was our scheduled dinnertime.

Dress code for tonight's dinner in the main dining room was listed as "informal", meaning that a jacket was required for men with a tie being optional. We came to the dining room only to find that all of our tablemates were absent. Maybe they were tired and ate in their rooms or maybe they decided to eat up on the Lido. Either way, we had the table (and the dining stewards) all to ourselves. Needless to say the service was excellent.

After dinner we retired back to our old hangout the Ocean Bar, to listen to the band, (which is excellent), watch folks dancing and to enjoy an after dinner beverage. I have to say that this was an amazing birthday, maybe my best ever. The ship's staff went out of their way to make my birthday special by decorating our stateroom door with balloons and a sign. Then the concierges at the Neptune Lounge got together and sent me a nice birthday card. The weather was perfect and seeing the glacier under blue skies was beyond amazing.

Tomorrow we will anchor in Sitka, Alaska. Margo and I have signed up for a morning of sea kayaking. That should be fun as long as we don't end up in the water.

May 31, 2006

Sea kayaking, just the name made us think of giant waves, salt spray and getting wet. Being realistic though, we realized that many first-time kayakers had probably signed up for our little adventure, so the trip would more than likely be an easy one. We ended up being right. Our tour group was set to meet in the ship's main show lounge at 9:00 am, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then got our gear together before heading up. Once there we met the rest of our tour group of around 20 people. Most were like us and had no prior kayaking experience.

Because there are no cruise ship piers in Sitka, passengers are required to ride their ship's tenders back and forth between the ships and the city small boat docks. Our group of kayakers boarded a tender as a group, then rode the short distance to shore where we were met by a representative of the kayak tour company. She then led us to a minibus, which took us to a pier where we would board a boat out to the kayaking area.

We all got life jackets, then hopped aboard a large inflatable boat for a ride that took us several miles back into a heavily forested remote inlet. Once in the inlet we split off into an even smaller inlet where the kayaks were moored. The facility there was little more than a small floating shed, with some small docks for the kayaks. It was a very rustic setting and made us want to spend a few days out there rather than just a few hours. We got a quick lesson on sea kayaking and the usual safety briefing, then we were assigned to a kayak.

All of the kayaks were in good condition, but had shown some wear from the ham-fisted beginners before us. Ours looked good to us though, so we climbed in and got a shove off from the dock. In a sea kayak both people paddle, but the rear seat person operates a small rudder with their feet. On this trip Margo sat in front and I was the rear seat rudder operator. I thought to myself that this was a perfect situation, I could steer but since Margo would be sitting up front, she would have a hard time being a back seat driver. It didn't work out that way though, because she still managed to shout commands from up front.

We paddled around by the docks getting a feel for the boat, then joined a group of several other kayaks for a guided tour of the main inlet. Our guide, a young guy named Wyatt, really knew the area and what wildlife we might see. Every few minutes he would call us into a group to pass around a starfish or a sea cucumber, or some other bit of sea life that he had managed to find. There were bald eagles everywhere, both overhead and sitting in trees. Of course Margo and I were looking for a bear, but we didn't see any.

Weather wise it was what I would call a rainy day. Not a hard rain but a gentle sprinkle. We had on raincoats but not rain pants. The result is that we stayed dry on top but got slightly damp on the bottom. Most of our bottom sides were under cover of the kayak, but there was a small area where rain could still hit us. To tell the truth we were having such a great time we didn't care.

Finally after a great tour we headed back to the dock at the kayak base, where one of the employees had steaming hot chowder and hot apple cider waiting for us. There was a fire in an old wood stove, which combined with the goodies, got us warmed up in record time. When everyone was finished, we boarded the inflatable for the ride back to downtown Sitka. We'd had a super time doing something completely new to us. The scenery was spectacular and the tour company, Alaska Tour Adventures, couldn't have been better. The staff was helpful, knowledgeable and very welcoming. They obviously enjoyed their jobs and wanted us to have the best time possible.

Looking back Margo and I thought we did pretty good as beginning kayakers. I think we were probably the oldest people in the group, but we managed to keep ourselves midpack, even when informal races sprung up between the kayaks. Of course we tried to be smooth and work together paddling, but it does require effort to maintain top speeds. All in all it was fun and we hope to kayak again sometime.

Once back in Sitka we did our usual walking tour of the town before heading back out to Oosterdam. Evening was equally routine with dinner (casual dress code) in the main dining room and after dinner drinks at the Ocean Bar.

We expect to be along side the cruise ship pier at Ketchikan early tomorrow morning. We have no plans for Ketchikan other than to roam around town sightseeing and browsing shops.