Friday, July 23, 2010

A little mountain music

On the Blue Ridge Parkway, a stop for a little bluegrass at the Blue Ridge Music Center..........Daisy had no opinion about the selections.

There's no drive more like a massage than the crest of the Appalachians.  From Front Royal, VA, not more than 60 miles from crazy busy bee DC, all the way to Great Smokies National Park, we are wending our way. In the distance the hazy blue ridges seem to say slow down, be calm, we've been here for billions of years, and there's no need to hurry.  So we don't.

The speed limit in the first section, Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, is 35 mph.  The park is less than two miles wide but over 100 miles long.  On either side, the valley is green, the river winds, and I can hear the song with the same name in my head.  "Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you.....and hear your rolling river...."

Little towns dot the landscape, but it is still largely agricultural.  It was food that made the valley so coveted a prize in the civil war.  In the town of Front Royal, markers describe the only urban battle in the civil war and  the cunning moves of Stonewall Jackson, outnumbered by the Union forces but not outfoxed.

In Shenandoah, I walked one mile on the Appalachian Trail, an uphill rocky switchback that taxed me to the max and rewarded me with a million dollar finish.  Imagine, 2,175 miles of rocky mountaintop hiking.  I am not sure the AT will stay on my lifelist, but just to re-inspire those thoughts, I am listening to Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" during the drive.  I'd read it years ago, but it is a perfect redo for this trip. In addition to a humorous account of his treks on the trail with his hapless college buddy Katz, Bryson treats me to a geological history of these mountains, the world's oldest, a third of their original size.  They took billions of years to get this soft and pillowy.  The haze that makes them blue is, unfortunately, pollution.
The Blue Ridge section of the Parkway has more elevation, including some 6,000 foot peaks,  and is over 400 miles long.  Sometimes there's even cool relief from the heat wave.  The speed limit increases to 45,  still a casual stroll along the ridge of the Appalachians.
Along the Blue Ridge, rhododendrons grow wild.  In the spring, the parkway is a pink cloud.  I think there are no bad seasons here on the parkway.  Summer is green with wildflowers.  Butterflies are abundant on the pink phlox, queen ann's lace and rudbeckia.  Here the native flora that botanists from England harvested when the land was still wild grows in abundance.  There's also wildlife, although it is harder to photograph.  I saw two black bears as they scuttled across the road and into the bushes, several wild turkies, and deer.  All of them were quite shy.

The park service has preserved split rail fences along the parkway....a delightful way to separate the picturesque farms from the highway.  At one waypoint, five styles of spit rail fence are on display.

The artisty and the beauty of the stonework, the winding, undulating highway, the waypoints, the overlooks,  all built during the Great Depression, convince me that the our current recession would be worth suffering through if one more Parkway were built with our tax dollars.  I find it sad that nothing permanent like this drive in the clouds will be left to show for our investment in bailouts and rescues. I'd rather have a scenic highway than AIG.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Christine!

For your birthday, Daisy has finally posted a blog.  Have a happy one!
And today's photo:  The James River on the Blue Ridge, sky and water.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Give us this day our daily maintenance

My cousin Brian asked me to write about daily life in the RV.  Here's the request answered, although I do think it sounds a little like whining.....

Recipe for maintenance: Put your house on wheels, drive it down the road and shake it all day. Follow this simple recipe and you are guaranteed to have daily maintenance.

For example, yesterday Carl re-installed the shade on the cabin door, then made the passenger seat belt re-tract again. This morning he cleaned the refrigerator drain so that ice stopped forming in the defrost tray. Then he changed filters in the a/c, a procedure that requires a screwdriver. Tonight, he re-caulked the exterior where the cab and the house meet. That's when he noticed the screws in the cabin door were loose.

So you might be thinking it looks like Carl does all the work? Well, maintenance wise, that's true. When I am on my own, I let the fix it list build higher than the deductible on our maintenance policy, and then I visit an RV center and get it all fixed at once. Last summer when the A/C went, the water pump went, and the kitchen faucet knobs all came off, I met the minimum on my policy and then some. The sticky part, after finding a repair center on my route, was making two trips to the same repair center two weeks apart so they could get the A/C unit ordered and delivered.

Little things seem like big things in the RV. Particularly if they are noisy things. Two nights ago an alarm started beeping. I crawled down from my bunk and disconnected the battery. Carl opened the window, in case we were dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. Just needed new batteries, it seems. Last night the satellite clock alarm went off at midnight. It's very easy to accidentally set the alarm when pushing the light to see what time it is as you go by in the middle of the night. Carl reset the clock alarm to noon in case it happens again.  And the smoke alarm goes off anytime I use the frying pan for beef.  Maybe it has a cholesterol sensor?

There's more to RV TV than using the remote. One night Carl thought the TV wasn't working, but next morning discovered there's a filter that accidentally got turned off.  When we got to Canada the TV stopped picking up signal entirely.  Carl slept on it, and then had an aha! moment.  Canada is still analogue.  The signal going through our digital converter box was the problem.  Not that Canadian TV was something we craved:  it was either in French or World Cup coverage, and if those buzzing horns bother you in your great room, try listening to them in 120 square feet.  We caught up on some movies, like Avatar on the small screen. It's all plot on a 17 inch display. Recently I drove off with the cable still attached, but it looks like I got away with it. TV cable still works fine.

Driving the house adds stress to other components as well. We have broken three bike racks now.  The problems started when we added a storage box behind the RV and the bikes are now farther back behind the box.  We also bought a bike cover, because the bikes get really dirty without one. The cover created a sail, and bike racks started failing, two last summer and one this summer.  Luckily, Carl discovered all the failures while parked and we haven't dropped the bikes on the freeway yet.  We're now going uncovered with dirty bikes.

Daily life in the RV involves conserving water and developing a pattern of electrical use.   All is cool if the microwave or hot water heater are not on at the same time as the A/C.  We've learned to remember this most of the time. And all RV'ers learn that hair dryers are verboten.

There's other daily jobs besides maintenance, and we've reached a routine on who does what.

Prefers to drive, except during sleepy time in the afternoon
Plans the route on his GPS ... he couldn't sleep if he didn't
Hooks up TV and finds all the channels
Fuels up, lubes up, pumps up the air shocks, all systems go
Hooks and unhooks, walks around to check before driveout
Makes a dinner salad, just like at home
Early morning Daisy pee - they are both early birds
Does his best to make me happy

Decide where we are going, what sights we are going to stop to see
Drive when I want to look at something at my pace and don't want to give directions,  want to listen to music (driver gets radio control), and when Carl needs a rest
Refill fresh water tank
Hand wash the dishes (I am a fan of Dawn Hand Renewal detergent, which makes my hands feel better than before I wash dishes)
Take out the trash every day (I am amazed how much trash we create every day... we have a large carbon footprint relative to the space we live in)
Wash clothes
Empty the grey and  black water (a very special job)
Take Daisy on morning and evening poop walks
Answer Daisy's middle of the night emergency walks...this is when I fantasize the bedroom door to the backyard at home

When you live in 120 square feet, relationships patterns require adjustments.  Foremost, only one butt can be in motion at a time.  While waiting for your turn to move about the cabin, you can work on your Buddhist patience practice. You can also practice patience while waiting for your turn to stretch out on the sofa or for your spouse to go to bed or wake up or be ready to go, and a list of other things that you can imagine for yourself.  And I haven't had a private thought all summer.  In that small space, nothing is private.

As for fashion,  I like my three changes of clothes very much.  (Actually, five changes, but two are for cool weather, wherever that is.)  When it comes to groceries, we live European style....never buy too much at once, and buy as much from roadside vegetable farms as possible. The homemade pies at the fruit stands help me get in five fruits and vegetables daily and the ice cream cones increase my calcium  intake.  Healthy eating rules in the RV are very flexible.

We're not very particular about washing the RV.  In fact, we haven't done it this summer.  Lots of rain has done the job to our satisfaction, although we have considered pulling in to a fundraiser and letting the cheerleaders wash it.  Some owners like to wash their RV every night, but I think the guys outside for hours waxing and buffing are simply finding a way to have a few private thoughts.

So, Cousin Brian, does this help you visualize the nitty gritty of life on the road? 

Today's photos:  sunset in Amish Country, Pennsylvania, with tobacco (yes, Amish tobacco) growing between the corn fields and a hot air balloon overhead. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Moose Rules

I don't always get a view like this from my campsite. But from time to time, the view makes all the inconveniences of living in 120 square feet worthwhile. The view tonight is from the Grand Isles in Lake Champlain. To one side the Green mountains of Vermont fade into a blue haze. On the other side, the Adironacks of New York beckon. Other views are burned in my memory: the sun setting on an Amish farmer still plowing the fields,  watching the tides rise and fall at St. Martens on Fundy Bay and the Atlantic from the  bluffs along the Cabot Trail.
But twice as often as a dreamy view I see the broadside of another RV. I shut my blinds and start writing about the places I have seen that day and the view improves. And once in a great while there's a campground without a view that stands out for other reasons. Such a camp can be found at Moose River in Vermont.

Most of the Moose River campground residents are long term, "seasonals". They rent their little plot of ground with a water hose and electric plug and park their rig next to Moose River for the summer. The Moose River seasonals are a happy bunch who take ownership of the campground and its rules to heart. And well they might. In addition to a spot by the river, the campground provides them with a long row of pastel rockers on a porch with a view of an eclectic collection of moose.
That's where the residents were when I checked in, rocking on the porch, except for the greeting committee on the road that gave me the universal motion for "keep the speed down." (I was speeding along at 10 mph, twice the suggested speed limit). Once I slowed down, I was welcomed warmly. The porch rocking group was disapointed I was staying only one night. I could see it was going to take longer than one night to appreciate the collection of moose statues scattered round the campground.
It was also going to take more than one night to get the rules memorized.  I received my check-in informational packet, with two pages on garbage procedures plus some very detailed information on restaurants where I was to say Moose River sent me. The owner said that since I had a pet, the poop rule applied. She would charge my credit card $25 if I didn't pick up after Daisy, and if another resident caught me, they would get a $25 reward. I too could profit from catching a dog owner not picking up the duty. The laundry had more rules. I broke two of them: I used powdered detergent and washed a rug. More rules about the shower curtain....I did okay with those.
Seasonals are a new experience for me this summer. The Northeast and Maritime Provinces are packed with summer RVers who park a few miles from home and settle in to life in the RV park. On Prince Edward Island, I met a woman who lived 20 minutes away. She liked to move to the RV park in the summer, she said. In Antigonish, Nova Scotia, I met a family that lived in the same town. There they were, a few blocks from home, living in the trailer, sitting under the awning a few feet from the next RV, grilling burgers, watching the children come and go. Young fry roamed the park from sunrise to sunset, riding bikes and skateboards non-stop. Is the attraction the confined area of the park so the parents don't worry when their children run free? The population in the Maritimes is so sparse, why not a spot on the beach, or a lake, rather than the middle of a town?

I don't understand the motivation for clustering so close together, but I find the seasonal residents a happy, helpful lot. They quickly offer to help, whether it's telling me which dryer works the best and giving me their leftover dryer minutes, or referring me to a Vet for Daisy. Everyone wants to pet my dog, and that's important too. They are good people living the good life, enjoying a perpetual summer picnic. That's the memory of RV park life that makes me smile when I lower my shade and dream of a view.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dear Readers

Today I finally left the Maritime Provinces and being back  in the USA is exhilarating.  So excited with the familiar! All we had to do to re-enter the USA was surrender our tomatoes and citrus.

I'm watching American TV as I write.

I have been thinking about writing some travel articles, and I would love feedback.  If you have been reading this summer, please let me know what your top three favorite blogs were.  I'd like to work on making them submittable as travel articles, which means I need to add more particulars so people can find the location, eat at restaurants, etc.  Submittable, is that a word?

You can refer to the index for the months of May, June and July.

You can post a comment below or email me at  Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Men in Plaid

The first few weeks of this road trip now two months duration, my mind was swimming with everything that was different. Then the rhythm of the road took over.  Change has become routine,  and my daily task is to redefine "normal."
On Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, bilingual road signs are "normal." And why not Gaelic? After all, Nova Scotia in Latin means New Scotland.  King James VI of Scotland gave New Scotland to Sir William Alexander in 1621. This was confusing to me, since the island had already been claimed by both England and France before James made his gift.  Then I learned that at the time of his bequest, the Scottish king had also succeeded to the thrown of England and become English King James I.

The French were the first to colonize Nova Scotia beginning in 1605.  (This makes it normal to have tourist brochures and informational videos in French as well as English.) The Scots, despite the wishes of James VI,  did not populate Nova Scotia until the next century, after the failed Jacobite revolution, when they sought political and religious asylum. More immigrants arrived after 1759, Highland farmers who had been forced off their rented land to make way for sheep grazing by the British.
I'm glad the Scots came, because this week it has been normal to listen to some Celtic fiddlin'.  My first Celtic fiddler owned a whale watching boat along the Cabot Trail.  He fiddled at the dock, and when we found whales, he fiddled again.   He fiddled up two Pilot whale pods with 'tweens and babies, sociably cruising the cove.
My next Celtic event was a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee).  In Antigonish, the Highland Games kickoff weekend featured a church luncheon with highland dancing, fiddlin' and square dancing.  St. Joseph's Social Action Committee prepared a fine tea of finger sandwiches, biscuits with jam, and unfamiliar deserts, including a pot of whipped cream with Irish oatmeal.  Lady pipers greeted the party-goers on arrival and young girls River Danced on the makeshift stage of the parish hall.  Then Michael Hall, locally renowned Celtic fiddler, took the stage with a heavily rosined bow.  The early crowd was predominantly ladies,  tapping their feet and nodding in time. Then the hall filled. Everyone was moving to the music, fingers, shoulders, heads and feet keeping a rhythm that was hypnotic.
As the fiddler warmed up, the crowd warmed up too, and soon a group of eight was square dancing.  This was no dosey-doe kind of square dance.  No, that would not be normal in Antigonish.  Their steps were Irish jig, a highlander step.  One couple took the lead, and a complete set included four sequences. I think I could have done it.  My mind said I could have.  It felt normal, a Scottish version of a Czech wedding dance.  Or maybe it is the MacIntosh name somewhere in my mother's family tree.

Over the summer, normal has come to include foot long lupines and naturalizing daylilies blooming in the ditches, blue waves pounding  at rocky shores and lapping in fishing coves with lighthouses round every corner, and fog that curls in on a whim. Normal landscaping includes an old lobster trap, lawn chairs in shades of rainbow sherbet, and a miniature lighthouse. Taco trucks sell fish and chips and I've become a fan of them.  But nonchalance about men in kilts? I'm not quite there yet.

Next weekend when the Highland Games fill the streets of Antigonish with men in kilts playing pipes and competing in tug of war, I could work on acquiring kilt entire weekend might innoculate me. I could watch the kirking of the tartans or attend the Clan MacGillivray/Clan Chattan gathering in the town where most street names and building names start with the preface Mac.

I could attend the Halifax Tatoo, an annual production of military precision drills, piping, dancing.... that might build up my kilt callouses. Certainly the ongoing re-creations at the Citadel, the fort high on a hill overlooking Halifax, helped acclimate me today.

Maybe with time a man with nine yards of tartan wrapped around him will look normal. Mel Gibson, Braveheart, I'll call you when I am ready for the big test.  We'll see if I notice you are wearing a kilt.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oh Canada

This lovely pair of ladies is celebrating Canada Day, Canada's birthday, and it seems the opportune time to clear a few things up.  First, what's with the Queen? If she's still  the Queen, why celebrate bloody independence, eh? Did somebody not tell the royalty?  This week the Queen's in Halifax, inspecting the Canadian navy, as well as reviewing a pageant of warships from other nations, on the occasion of the Canadian Navy's 100th anniversary  Then she'll buzz off to Ottowa and Toronto, where the newpapers will likewise report on her hat, her coat, her dress and the sapphire brooch from her Mum, along with proper etiquette should you meet her.

I asked the "What's with the Queen" question of waitresses and information centers for several days but got no further than "Well, because she's the Queen."  Then a Cape Breton local on my guided tour of Fort Louisbourg stepped up to the technical side of the Queen question.  Elizabeth is the Queen because Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  She's the nominal head of state, just like in England. 

So, if Canada is technically part of the British empire, albeit loosely, what's with all the French?  Simple. They were here before the British.  Here in Nova Scotia, French influence is abundant.  Fort Louisbourg is a great place to brush up on some Francophile facts.  The French wanted colonies here for the same reason as the Brits:  money.  There was even more money in cod fishing in Louisbourg than there was in the fur trade in Quebec.  The French built Fort Louisbourg to protect their territory.  Over the years, the Brits continued to lay siege to the Fort which guarded the St. Lawrence waterway to Quebec.  Eventually, the French lost all of North America.  The Brits did their best to expel the French settlers, the Acadians, giving Longfellow a story line for his poetic epic Evangeline and relocating some fine Cajun food to Louisiana.

Happy Birthday Canada, long live the Queen, and laissez les bon temps roulez!

Disclaimer:  All the facts in this blog are pure hearsay, opinions are just opinions and there's no distinction between them.  I have glossed over the latin name Nova Scotia, New Scotland, and perhaps I will get a heresay explanation for the bi-lingual Gaelic road signs sometime on my journey around Cape Breton Island. There's still more questions than answers.