Be careful what you wish for. We had planned to head to Albuquerque from Branson, Missouri, for two reasons: to shorten the remaining distance to our planned stops in Arizona and to get to higher elevation for cooler weather.
Wanting to make the 868-mile drive in two days, we hit the road. Near the Oklahoma-Texas border, we started searching for an overnight stop near Amarillo and made a reservation. The warm weather prevented us from our original aim of spending the night at a rest area. We needed an electric hookup to run our air conditioner.
A few minutes later, our invaluable tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) started beeping, alerting us to a fast leak on one of the trailer tires — our fourth such instance this year. Not near any freeway exits, Bob safely pulled us to the side of Interstate 40. Fortunately, the leak was on the passenger side, and we had gotten really good at changing tires.
Vehicles whizzed by, shaking the trailer side to side. The faulty tire gave no clear evidence of the leak source. It didn’t appear to be the stem, and no obvious screw or nail caught our eyes. We secured the flat under the trailer where the spare normally goes and continued on our way.
This happened on a Saturday after 5 p.m. A quick Google search revealed the nearest Discount Tire shop — still hours away in Amarillo — closed at 6 and wouldn’t reopen until Monday morning. Bob called some truck stops to see if any of them could patch a tire. A gal at one said we could get in line, and they might get to it at midnight.
We kept driving and saw a billboard announcing another truck stop with a tire shop. Taking our chances, we found the shop open. A worker checked the tire to determine the location of the leak. As with the flat a month and a half earlier, this tire had started to come apart. Little wires from the steel belts protruded next to a small hole, too close to the edge of the tire for a patch job.
Because we had bought the tire at Discount Tire and paid for a warranty, we knew waiting until Monday would be our best and least expensive option for replacing it. But we had to find somewhere to stay until then. More research led us to an oasis in the prairie: Bobcat Creek RV Park in Sayre, Oklahoma.
After a peaceful, relaxing night there, we considered staying until we got the tire fixed, but that would mean a three-hour round trip for Bob to get to Amarillo and back. And the website for the closest Discount Tire store showed the tire we needed out of stock and unavailable until Thursday. We decided to move closer to Amarillo and found a private lot in Groom, Texas, with one of its four campsites available.
Camping with the Windmills
Having spent most of the summer in the East, we had forgotten about wind. Camping in Oklahoma included wind, and Bob’s allergies started acting up. Texas didn’t offer any relief. Navigating to the campsite felt like we were in the “Castaway” movie when Tom Hanks finds himself at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. The only difference was windmills surrounded us in all directions.
We settled into our spot in the shadow of a windmill. The next day, Bob drove about 50 miles to Amarillo to get the tire taken care of. The shop said it could get a replacement by late the next day. We wouldn’t have to wait until Thursday after all. We paid the campsite owner for another couple of nights and hunkered down.
The time in Groom gave us an opportunity to visit a homey little cafe on old Route 66 for breakfast one morning. It also made it possible for us to explore the Groom Cross — a 19-story steel structure you can see for miles in either direction on I-40. The land surrounding it features stations of the cross that tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and a gift shop showcases related souvenirs and decorations. It was worth the stop.
Bob drove back to Amarillo to pick up the new tire, and we replaced it successfully. Because of my work schedule, we decided to wait until later the next day to move on to Albuquerque. On the way, we watched our TPMS like hawks as the heat of the day and the friction of the road made the tires’ temperatures rise. Thankfully, we made it without incident.
This whole experience reminded us of Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Although our plans didn’t work out the way we had hoped, the flat turned out to be a blessing. It helped us realize that, rather than driving on these tires for another year of travel, we should upgrade them to ensure our safety. We’ll see if that new plan pans out.
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You may not realize it, but the city of Branson, Missouri, population 13,000, is a destination for live entertainment. It all started with the release of “The Shepherd of the Hills” novel by Harold Bell Wright in 1907, a portrayal of life in the Ozark Mountains.
The story became an outdoor drama in 1960 that, along with other variety shows, drew visitors to the area. The influx of people led to the development of amusement parks and other attractions, restaurants, and hotels. And the tourist destination was born.
The area offers something for everyone. If people-created venues aren’t your thing, you’ll find plenty of natural beauty as well: the White River, Table Rock Lake, the Ozarks, and caves. Known as the “Cave State,” Missouri is home to more than 6,000 caves. You can explore the region on boat, via zip line, or even by railway.
If you’re into theme parks, you have a number to choose from, including Silver Dollar City and Bigfoot Fun Park. Or, you can save your time and money for other entertainment options in the area and get the feel of a rollercoaster just by driving the hilly roads, like we did. Here are some other highlights from our stopover.
1. Live Theater
The Sight and Sound Theatre is what drew us to Branson. We had learned about it when we visited the original location in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2020. Impressed at the phenomenal way the theater and its hundreds of actors and crew bring Bible stories to life in epic proportion, we wanted to check out the second locale.
In Branson, we saw the life of Jesus on stage. The cast, the sets, the music, and the special effects all came together to present an extraordinary, immersive performance that helped us see more of the human side of Jesus. We walked away hungry to dig deeper into our Bibles and live more simply and lovingly, like Jesus did.
Since Branson is home to more than 45 theaters, it didn’t seem right to attend only one in our week there. So, we took in another, this one a murder mystery dinner show. After a buffet meal of baked chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and mac and cheese, we sat and watched a whodunnit where audience members got to participate in the show.
Starring a zany crew led by a husband and wife team, the Branson Murder Mystery kept us engaged and laughing all the way through — and trying to identify the murderer.
Along with theatrical shows, Branson offers more than 20 museums, from the alluring Titanic Museum and the World’s Largest Toy Museum to a tractor museum, dinosaur museum, and military museum.
Having visited Missouri last year with limited time, we opted to drive an hour to Springfield to explore Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium at the Bass Pro Shops national headquarters. What an experience!
After navigating through a maze of taxidermied game animals and birds, some of which we’d never heard of, we entered the aquarium, where live fish greeted us. The full route through both areas brought us to live penguins, tree frogs, turtles, snakes, sharks, and even an albino alligator. And, we got to pet stingrays.
3. Branson Landing
For a cheaper excursion, we toured Branson Landing. Stretching 1.5 miles along the White River, the alluring boardwalk features a collection of eclectic shops, kiosks, and restaurants. We dined at an Irish pub and then went on a treasure hunt to find the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, which had moved.
With ice cream in hand, we watched a water fountain show. It goes off every hour in front of a grassy amphitheater overlooking the river, imploring passersby to sit and enjoy.
No trip to Missouri would be complete without barbecue. We dropped into Smokin’ Bob’s BBQ to sample some. After explaining our nomadic living situation to the clerks, we asked what they would recommend for a couple who may never revisit their establishment and took them up on their suggestions.
Our mouths watered over smoked pork, brisket, sausage, ribs, and burnt ends nachos. Exclamations of “Yum!” and “So good” escaped in between bites. Delicious!
We’re glad we made the trek to Branson.
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Rows of red-dotted trees stand at attention, branches drooping under the weight of their fruit. Fields of corn sprout their cobs, only one or two per stalk (who knew?). A rooster crows, announcing its location as it roams the farmyard, protecting the hens under its watch.
A tractor pulls a double trailer showcasing stacks of 5-gallon buckets overflowing with freshly picked yellow squash. Workers stand in windowless buses tossing watermelons onto a conveyor belt for cleaning and packing. A forklift carries 23-bushel apple bins to fields to collect the day’s picks.
The greasy smell of fresh-baked donuts wafts through the air, beckoning passersby to the farm market and bakery. Retired farmers reminisce over coffee about their early days of farming.
These are some of the sights, sounds, and smells we’ve experienced while spending time on my brother’s 6-acre farm near Lansing, Michigan, and my cousin’s 300-acre farm in southwestern Michigan.
Small Town Life
Something about the small towns, friendly people, active workers, expansive greenery, and fresh produce feels familiar and alluring. Perhaps it’s because Michigan is my birthplace. Or maybe it’s a welcome respite after 24 years in the bustling Phoenix area with 6-foot block walls separating our yard from our neighbors’.
Being able to pick fresh fruit right off the tree and squash and zucchini straight from the plant is a treat. We find it appealing to be surrounded by fresh, healthy food.
Small farm towns feature their best at annual county fairs, something else we got to experience while in southwestern Michigan. Building upon building featured livestock of all sorts, from rabbits and sheep to goats, pigs, cows, and horses. Another building displayed hand-crafted items. Tiny stands sold fried food creations. Screams from spinny rides mixed with live country music.
No Michigan county fair is complete without a display of tractors and/or riding lawnmowers. The one we visited included both. Mowing is such a big deal in the area that my cousin, Debbie, greeted us on her riding mower when we arrived at her place, eager to cut the grass so we could park our home with ease.
Farm life with family also offers abundant opportunities to pitch in and help, something we cherish. While at my brother’s, I got to scout for eggs. I’ve always enjoyed a good Easter egg hunt and have relished hiding the plastic treasures for my kids to find. I still get a thrill out of it.
When Steve asked me to help find where one of his hens was laying its eggs, I jumped at the chance. I searched high and low, but the chickens didn’t lay the eggs where I would have if I were a hen. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.
After watching them, I realized they wouldn’t go far from their coop where predators could swoop in and take their precious goods. Sure enough, I found some eggs in a shrouded nest perched in an old tree right behind their coop.
Bob helped Steve with a tree-trimming project and a driveway expansion, as well as installing a dryer vent.
At Debbie’s, we got to assist with replacing carpet and tile with Lifeproof flooring. Since we don’t own a house anymore, it’s wonderful to be able to participate in these types of activities.
Bob also cooked a lot of super delicious meals and helped with computer projects.
Another plus of farm living for us full-time RVers is being able to do maintenance on our vehicles, such as the fuel tank upgrade for Gulliver while at Steve and Ginger’s.
Our duration in southwestern Michigan gave us ample time to install shocks on Tagalong to help soften the effects of bumpy roads on our belongings.
Bob did prep work for the project, which involved closing the trailer’s four slides and moving it from a grass field to a dirt parking lot so he could jack up Tagalong. With my office out of commission, I had to work at Debbie’s and watch my home from across the street.
With the prep work done, we were able to move the trailer back to the grass field and set up our home again. A mechanic friend, Ethan, pitched in to weld brackets in place under the trailer to hold the shocks, which should smooth our anticipated drive to Alaska.
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Working remotely from anywhere in the country requires good internet access. As we shared early in our RV journey, we use a variety of technologies to ensure strong Wi-Fi signal. In May 2022, Elon Musk’s Starlink high-speed internet service became available for RVs. After considering it for a month or so, we decided to purchase it. And we’re super glad we did.
What Is Starlink for RVs?
Starlink is an array of more than 3,000 small satellites in low orbit around Earth. By orbiting only 340 miles from the planet, the satellites can deliver low-latency broadband internet with speeds high enough to support video calls, streaming, and even online gaming.
Traditional Starlink required a stationary satellite receiving dish that limited Starlink use to immobile locations. Starlink for RVs extended the high-speed, low-latency functionality to changing locations. Although the service is not designed to be accessible while in motion, it is available if you move from point to point.
Setting up Starlink for RVs
After getting dropped from video calls in Maine and Vermont due to poor Verizon cell service and no T-Mobile service, I was eager to try Starlink. Although tempted to ask our camping neighbors in Maine if I could use their Starlink service, I refrained. I hobbled through the work week, knowing our Starlink equipment was waiting for us at my brother’s house near Lansing, Michigan.
We arrived at my brother’s in great anticipation of the internet speeds we could get. Our $599 equipment fee provided everything we needed to set up the service: the satellite receiving dish, a router, and a 75-foot cable.
For an additional $150, we purchased a FlagPole Buddy* from Amazon to mount to our RV ladder for easy setup and teardown of Dishy, as the satellite dish is called, when we need it to be high. Other times, we can put the dish on the ground. It requires a clear view of the northern sky.
Bob had to download the Starlink app on his smartphone to complete the setup. The app has features that show how the service is working, where Dishy’s view to the satellites is obstructed, and things like that.
Starlink comes with a 30-day guarantee. If you’re not happy with the service in that time period, you can return it and get a full refund on the cost of the hardware, the initial $599. On top of that, the service costs $135 per month. You might still be out the $135 for the first month even if you’re unhappy with it.
Assessing Starlink Internet Service
The Starlink service didn’t deliver exceptional internet quality at my brother’s house. But it did provide enough for us to stream movies and TV shows. Our Verizon signal came in strong, so I used it for work there. And we canceled our T-Mobile service.
At our next location in southwestern Michigan, I hoped Starlink would enable me to work from my office without having to cross the street to my cousin’s house every time I needed to join a video call. Verizon service at Debbie’s farm is not very good.
I’m happy to report Starlink has exceeded my expectations for internet quality. Although encountering a few hiccups when our Dishy lost sight of a satellite, I haven’t been dropped from any video calls while using it. I’ve been able to do my work successfully from my office inside our RV.
Is Starlink for RVs Worth It?
As I mentioned, we can’t use Starlink while traveling from point to point. On those rare occasions when we need reliable internet while in motion, we use our Verizon MiFi.
Depending on the location, and the number of other Starlink users there, internet speeds may slow, especially during peak times. For example, if numerous people in the area rely on Starlink for their full-time work, that can affect our internet speed. Similarly, if lots of people use Starlink to stream TV shows and movies in the evening, we might run into some issues while watching our own.
Another drawback of Starlink for RVs is that it’s not yet available everywhere. That’s why we’ve kept our Verizon service. We pay $135 a month for Starlink and $70 a month for Verizon to ensure we have dependable internet so that I can work and support our RV living habit.
We’ve achieved download speeds as high as 92 Mbps when Dishy had a completely unobstructed view of the entire northern sky. The highest we got with Verizon were in the 40s range when in close proximity to a Verizon cell tower. For us, Starlink for RVs is well worth the cost. We’re glad we made the investment.
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The high fuel prices and a planned trip to Alaska got us seriously thinking about an additional fuel tank for Gulliver. After all, 32 gallons can only take us so far, especially when we average 8 miles per gallon while towing.
An additional fuel tank offers a couple of perks. First, it would give us more flexibility in where we stop, enabling us to go longer distances with fewer fillups. That would mean we could take advantage of rest areas, which could save us 20 minutes a pop over a truck stop. Second, it would enable us to stock up on fuel when we find it at a good price.
Weighing the Options
Most people who add fuel capacity to a truck do so through an additional tank that sits in the truck’s bed. Various makes and models of those exist. Some stick up higher than the sides of the bed and include a gas pump handle for manually filling the in-market tank that came with the truck. Others sit just below the sides of the bed and connect to the onboard tank for more seamless switchover.
We wanted one shorter than the sides of our truck as we have a tonneau BAKFlip cover over the bed to protect our fifth wheel hitch when we’re not towing. During travel, we flip the cover open and secure it in place.
To accommodate Bob’s handyman skills, we carry a lot of tools in the bed of our truck, too, distributed in four stacks of modular containers secured against the cab — where most after-market fuel tanks are designed to sit.
Not wanting to part with or relocate the tools to the trailer, Bob looked into other fuel tank options. He found we could replace our 32-gallon onboard fuel tank with a 55-gallon tank. That’s the route we decided to pursue.
The Doctors Are In
Bob ordered the tank and had it sent to my brother Steve’s house in Michigan. Bob and Steve are both mechanically minded and felt confident they could perform the operation and save money over having a dealer do it.
Preparing Gulliver for surgery meant draining his onboard fuel tank. Since we arrived at Steve and Ginger’s with about a half tank of diesel, we had a bit of driving to do to empty his bowels. Two round trips to the Detroit airport, about 70 miles each way, to drop me off and pick me up for a work trip to San Francisco did the job.
The day of surgery arrived. Steve offered the use of his garage for the operation.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Bob crawled under Gulliver and loosened the bolts holding the original fuel tank in place. As he neared time for the old tank to come out, fumes overpowered him, making him dizzy and lightheaded. I got dizzy too. Did we hallucinate seeing a duck that thought it was a chicken? No, that actually happened.
The guys succeeded in removing Gulliver’s old tank. Then they had to reattach hoses from the original tank to the new tank before they could install it. Bob painstakingly cleaned around the openings of the old vessel before doing so to help ensure no debris got in the new tank.
Because the new tank stood taller than the original, installing it required jacking up Gulliver’s tail. That enabled enough wiggle room to get the new tank into position. The guys got it secured and returned Gulliver’s tail to the ground.
Road to Recovery
Before the transplant could be considered successful, the new tank had to be tested for leaks. The guys poured 5 gallons of diesel into the tank. That amount barely covered the bottom. But it held and provided enough fuel to get to a local station to fill the tank in full. As Bob pumped diesel, I peered under the truck to watch for leaks. Thankfully, I saw none.
Now, we have a longer driving range. The tank sticks out about 2 inches below the truck, which is no big deal. The only drawback is that the range to empty notification on our dashboard is based on a 32-gallon tank, not its 55-gallon replacement.
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Bob and I relish cruises on the open seas as they provide a way to disconnect from our ordinarily busy lives. In the past, that meant leaving Gulliver and Tagalong behind, parked somewhere safe to give us peace of mind.
All that changed when we were looking for the easiest and best way to get around Lake Champlain to relocate from Burlington, Vermont, to Michigan.
As we learned in Virginia and Maine, it pays to have insiders who know the area well. That also proved true in Vermont. While discussing our route options with Jim and Kelly, friends who live in the Burlington area, they suggested we take a ferry across the lake.
A Fresh Idea
When you drive a big rig that spans 57 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, and 13.25 feet tall, the thought of driving it onto a ferry typically doesn’t cross your mind. We had never considered such a thing, thinking our rig way too big to put on a boat. But Jim and Kelly told us semi-trucks cross the lake that way all the time.
We looked further into the possibility, and Bob even called the ferry service. Sure enough, they could take us and would measure our combined vehicle length when we arrived to determine the cost. It looked like we’d be out $80 to $90 to take this route, but it would save us significant time, fuel, and wear and tear on our vehicles from the bumpy roads down and around the lake. We were sold.
Window of Opportunity
On our scheduled day of departure from the campground, rain threatened our journey. We avoid driving in rain whenever possible because doing so forces water into the trailer around the slideouts. Checking and rechecking the weather, we decided leaving by 8 a.m. would give us the best window for the least amount of rain. So, we busied ourselves with getting the trailer ready and hooking up to Gulliver.
After hitting the road at about 7:40, we drove a half hour to the ferry station, encountering a few drizzles on the way but no major downpour. Elation flashed across our faces as we pulled into the station and saw a FedEx truck in front of us. If the truck could cross on a ferry, we knew we could as well.
We checked in and got measured and were charged only $55.65 — a bargain as far as we were concerned. Told to pull into lane five, to the left of the FedEx truck, we obeyed, expecting to have to wait 15 minutes for the next ferry.
A dock worker waved at the FedEx truck to board, followed by a line of cars. We thought the outfit could only take one big, heavy vehicle per ferry load. But then the worker waved us on and ushered us to park directly behind the FedEx truck.
Just like that, Tagalong was on a cruise, experiencing beautiful views and refreshing breezes as the rain held off and the skies grew brighter. Although the journey was short-lived, taking only about 15 minutes, it was unique and rewarding. And now we know ferries are not out of the question for our travels.
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We had visited the state of Maine early in our marriage, going just over the border to the touristy but alluring towns of Kittery and York. There, we took obligatory pictures of the Nubble Lighthouse, dipped our toes in the frigid Atlantic Ocean, hit the outlet stores, and toured an old military fort.
Wanting a more authentic Maine experience 30 years later, we headed farther north, to Bar Harbor, lured by stories of its beauty. Although it’s also touristy, we spent a week in the area, and an insider’s tips helped us get the most out of our stay.
With a coastline that stretches more than 3,000 miles, Maine has been producing seafood since well before it became the country’s 23rd state in 1820. One of the most popular seafoods in the area is, of course, lobster.
Believe it or not, lobster used to be considered poor people’s food and was fed to prisoners. That all changed in the 1900s when the Rockefellers hosted a dinner party at their Maine summer home and fed lobster to their guests.
Our friend, Tom, whom we know from CAF Airbase Arizona, grew up in the Bar Harbor area and knows all the best places to get the freshest seafood. We met him at Union River Lobster Pot, located right on the river. While waiting for a table, we reclined on a wooden bench in a grassy expanse overlooking the river and caught up.
Once seated inside, we chose from various sizes of lobster and other seafood entrees. I ordered a 1.5-pound lobster. Bob got a 2.5-pounder, and Tom got fried haddock. All of our meals were delicious. Bob and I must have looked like we knew what we were doing to get to the meat of our lobsters because a lady at the next table kept turning around to see if she was doing it right.
Another evening, Tom referred us to the very freshest seafood in the area, at Beal’s Lobster Pier. It too offers a variety of lobster sizes, fresh off the boat, as well as lobster rolls, sandwiches, steamers, and fish. Bob got lobster and steamers. Not wanting to crack another lobster body open but wanting to partake in the delicacy, I ordered a lobster roll. Tom got the haddock taco special. We dined outdoors on the pier, reveling in the freshness of our meals.
What makes Bar Harbor a tourist destination is its proximity to Acadia National Park, which spans 38,000 acres of forested mountains, panoramic coastline, and picturesque islands. Part of our desire in visiting the area was to explore the expansive park. Based on Tom’s recommendation and its less popular status, we prioritized a visit to Schoodic Peninsula, a breathtaking, off-the-beaten-path area of Acadia.
The winding road took us along the water’s edge, with stops to observe various rock formations and beaches, waves, and plant life. We even picked a handful of wild Maine blueberries on Blueberry Hill.
Getting to Schoodic Peninsula requires a drive through the small town of Winter Harbor, where we stopped for breakfast. After filling up on an omelet and pancakes, we crossed the street to investigate the Winter Harbor 5&10 store. What a gem! The small space houses practically anything you might need, from dishes and towels to decorations, hardware, camping supplies, greeting cards and, of course, souvenirs. It also features a variety of local offerings.
A few days later, we drove the main Acadia Park Loop Road, where most tourists to the area visit and hike from. Although we found the rock formations, sandy beach, Jordan Pond, and other sights attractive, they paled in comparison to the beauty we had experienced at Schoodic Peninsula.
Another Maine activity we relished would have never taken place had it not been for Tom’s recommendation. He suggested we make a trip to Northeast Harbor, investigate Pine Tree Market and its creaky wooden floors, buy a Maine specialty chicken salad sandwich with cranberry and something to drink, and meander to the harbor for a picnic.
We took him up on the idea and had a wonderfully relaxing time. As we sat on a park bench delighting in our sandwiches, wine, and views, the Sea Princess cruiser arrived to dock. Thirty or so passengers disembarked from the afternoon harbor cruise, and another 30 or so arrived to go on the sunset cruise. Had we known about it ahead of time, we might have joined them. We weren’t dressed warm enough to go out on the water at sunset.
Kayaks are also a common way to experience the water in the area. Another evening found us at Tom’s house overlooking a bay. If the tide hadn’t been out, we might have taken him up on his offer to kayak.
There’s much more we could have seen and done in Bar Harbor, including a lumberjack show. We packed as much as we could into a work week, leaving us with pleasant memories of time well spent.
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We had just settled into Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It podcast to get beyond a stupid (but all-important at the time) squabble. The diversion worked, lightening our moods and bringing smiles to our faces.
The cheer didn’t last long. Midway through one episode, our tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) started beeping, alerting us to a rapidly deflating tire on our trailer — the third such instance in 2022.
Thankfully, the off-ramp to a closed weigh station on the freeway offered the perfect place to pull over. As I emerged from the truck, a loud hissing assaulted my ears. Nearing the trailer, I could see a vapor escaping the front passenger tire.
A Team Effort
What Mike Rowe had begun, this situation completed. We both forgot about our squabble and quickly shifted into our roles to fix the situation. Having experienced two other flat tires within two months, we knew exactly what needed to be done and had gotten pretty good at it.
I opened the trailer’s passenger side cellar door and removed the lug wrench to lower the spare tire from its secure spot under the rig. I also grabbed our Safe Jack from the cellar, a purchase that has more than paid for itself. It’s the right tool for any job that requires jacking up the trailer. After lowering the spare, I had to crawl under the trailer to pull it out.
Bob busied himself in the back of the truck to find the torque wrench and the right size socket to loosen the bad tire’s lug nuts. That done, he crawled under the trailer to jack it up high enough to remove the bad tire and put on the spare.
Unlike with our other flat tires, the root cause of this one was not a stem leak. The tire had started to shred. If our TPMS hadn’t notified us of the fast leak, we wouldn’t have even known. Our rig could have sustained serious damage from the shredding tire like a camper neighbor experienced. A tire blowout without a TPMS bent the frame of their slideout, sealing it shut.
We carry a full-size tire under our trailer, the same make and model as the other tires on the coach. It’s a good thing, because this flat happened 1.5 hours from our destination in Bar Harbor, Maine. That’s a long way to go with a smaller, temporary tire. And, it being a Sunday, all of the tire shops in the area were closed.
Warranty to the Rescue
Having bought a set of trailer tires from Discount Tire in Tennessee in 2021, we knew they were still under warranty. Unfortunately, Discount Tire stores don’t exist in Maine. So, Bob had to call Discount Tire to see if the nearest store, in Boston, could ship the tire we needed to our location. The store associate said they could, so we had to confirm our campground could accept packages. Some campgrounds don’t allow package delivery for temporary residents.
Our campground in Bar Harbor said it could receive a package. Bob ordered the tire and arranged with Tire Warehouse in the area to remove the bad tire from our rim and put the new tire on. We only had to pay about $35 for shipping — a bargain when you consider the cost of that new tire out the door neared $250.
Once again, God watched over and took care of us, ensuring we had a safe place to pull over when the leak happened, providing cloud cover while we changed the tire, preparing the way for us to make it to our destination, and arranging for us to replace the bad tire with a new one. And our day only got better from there.
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Every summer, Bob and I volunteer to go on tour with the B-25 WWII bomber, “Maid in the Shade,” from CAF Airbase Arizona. The volunteering starts long before summer tour, requiring a time commitment, annual membership dues, and attendance at the annual ground school.
Tour is a working vacation where we keep long days to fulfill our mission to educate, honor, and inspire. Fulfilling that mission involves opening the plane for static tours on the ground. Unlike some organizations, we let people climb into and touch our warbirds.
It also involves selling Living History Flights to give people a feel for life as an Army Air Force crewman of yesteryear — minus the gunfire and bomb explosions. Passengers get to hear the engines roar to life, smell the smoke they emit on startup, and move about the cabin to different crew positions.
As you can imagine, it’s pretty cool to tour with a plane like this. Despite the busy schedule day in and day out, it offers a number of perks. Here are four of them:
We get to go to some spectacular places. The airbase covers commercial airfare to the plane’s location at the start of a member’s tour if they agree to stay on tour for a minimum of 10 days (and meet all of the other requirements). I typically go for two weeks, and Bob commits to three.
Bob’s first tour in 2016 took him to Missoula, Montana, and Everett, Washington. My first tour with Bob in 2017 took us to Penticton and Kamloops, British Columbia, and Lethbridge, Alberta. Together, we’ve visited Nashua, New Hampshire; Leesburg, Virginia; Bristol, Tennessee; Bozeman, Montana; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Springfield, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Kalispell, Montana.
Because we keep a busy schedule on tour, we don’t get to do a lot of sightseeing. While in Bozeman, Montana, for example, we didn’t get to go to Yellowstone National Park, a 1.5-hour drive away. But that’s OK.
When time allows, we do get to drive around and explore an area. We typically have Monday afternoons off after arriving at a new location for the week. That’s how we were able to check out the Bass Pro “Granddaddy of All Outdoor Stores” in 2021. A day off in Lethbridge, Alberta, enabled us to visit the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, which houses one of only 17 remaining Lancaster bombers.
We also get to enjoy a different type of sightseeing by flying over each tour stop and from location to location. The landscape varies in each area. We got to cruise over the stunning beauty that is Glacier National Park. The scenic flight from Kamloops to Penticton, British Columbia, meandered through canyons formed by a river. Flying over the Mississippi River gave us a bird’s-eye view of the towboats that push barges of heavy, bulky cargo to cities on the river’s banks.
In addition, we often get a chance to check out other airplanes. In 2022, those other airplanes included an airworthy F-86 Sabre, a fire bomber plane, and a C-45 Beechcraft on floats.
3. Amazing People
Each week we’re on tour requires a crew of eight to handle ground and flight operations for the bomber. In addition to commingling with amazing volunteers, we meet fascinating people. In 2020, for example, I met Tom Oberweiser over the phone. He requested we fly over his dad’s nursing home to honor the WWII veteran B-25 navigator on our way from Bozeman to Missoula, Montana. We gladly accepted.
Although Tom’s dad has since passed away, honoring the vet continued in 2022. Tom and his wife showed up in Bozeman, two hours from their home, eager to meet me and anyone else on the crew who had been involved in the 2020 flyover. The couple booked a flight on “Maid in the Shade” to further honor Lt. Jack Oberweiser and get a taste of what his war days might have been like.
That contact with amazing people is truly inspirational. Although part of our mission is to inspire others, we often find ourselves inspired. When Civil Air Patrol cadets come to our tour stops and pitch in to help us in any way they can, it’s inspiring.
When veterans come to see our planes, we find ourselves humbled and inspired. When sons and daughters of veterans visit us in honor of their parents, we can’t help but be encouraged. That was certainly the case when a gentleman named Bob flew into Kalispell on his Stearman biplane, unaware his family had purchased a ride for him on our B-25.
Tears blurred Bob’s eyes as he shared about his father, who had flown more than 30 missions on a B-25, and his uncle, who had flown numerous missions on a B-17. Bob regretted the way he had treated his late father but was thankful to be able to honor him by visiting and flying on the B-25.
We’re thankful to have been part of that exciting surprise. As I shared with a newspaper reporter, it’s truly an honor to be near and experience these warbirds and to do what we do.
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As crazy as it sounds, one of my greatest delights is doing manual labor, especially outdoors. Maybe it’s because of my upbringing, helping my dad work on a tomato farm and later operating a bandsaw for his wooden toy business. Or maybe it’s because I spend most of my days in front of a computer.
When we owned our house, I delighted in taking care of the yardwork — potentially to the detriment of my children. It gave me a welcome break from staring at a screen and got me outdoors to enjoy sunshine and fresh air. I looked forward to going home from my office job to mow and edge the grass. It provided a way for me to shift my mind from work obligations to home life. The same can be said for other projects around the house.
Once we sold our home of 24 years and moved into our fifth wheel, I thought my days of yardwork, painting walls and trim, and other projects were over. But in each of the three years we’ve lived on the road, I’ve been surprised and blessed to be able to help with painting projects.
That got me thinking. We stay at campgrounds. We boondock. We moochdock. But maybe there’s another kind of camping we’ve been missing, something called tradedocking.
What is tradedocking?
Simply put, tradedocking is trading work for a free place to stay. At the three places I painted, we were moochdocking at the time — in essence, tradedocking.
Tradedocking should not be confused with Boondockers Welcome, a membership for RVers who offer free stays on their property in exchange for free stays on others’ property when they travel. (Thankfully, it’s not limited to RVer hosts. We’re able to take advantage of it too.) Technically, that could be considered a form of tradedocking.
But true tradedocking is more akin to work camping. A handful of websites offer ways for full-time or even half-time RVers to camp in a single location for free for a set number of months — typically at least three — in exchange for labor.
Some RVers even make an hourly wage on top of the free stay. They do tasks such as landscaping, cleaning restrooms and campsites, and handling camp registrations.
Tradedocking is work camping on a much smaller scale. We commit a week or two (sometimes longer) to stay with a host and help with projects. In addition to my painting contributions, Bob has helped some of our moochdocking hosts with various tasks, including computer work, cooking, and fixing machinery.
Most of our tradedocking hosts have been family members, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t or couldn’t help friends with projects too. At the risk of overbooking and overcommitting ourselves, we absolutely would.
We feel blessed anytime we’re able to help others. Tradedocking offers those opportunities in spades.
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This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.