A loud, incessant beeping from our tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) alerted us to a “fast leakage” from one of our trailer tires. The narrow, back-country roads of the South didn’t offer anywhere to easily get our 50-plus feet of truck and trailer off the road.
After turning on our emergency flashers and driving slowly, we finally found a place we could pull over to assess our situation and let the vehicles behind us pass. The faulty tire was on the driver’s side. We couldn’t change it in this spot as we were blocking a road.
We had only 3 miles to our destination for the day. Could we make it if we nursed the tire along? Although the TPMS said we had a fast leak, the air pressure wasn’t decreasing rapidly. We decided to try to make it to our stop, watching the tire pressure slowly go down along the way.
Oasis in the Forest
As we pulled onto the gravel drive leading to our stop, the tire pressure steadied at 40-something. Mind you, these are 80 psi tires. Smiles flashed across our faces as we approached the property of our Boondockers Welcome host and saw a concrete pad for us to park on.
It’s much easier to jack up our 17,000-pound fifth wheel on a flat, stable surface than it is on a grassy area off the side of the road. We know from experience.
The host greeted us and helped Bob get Tagalong into parking position, leaving enough room for us to get the flat tire off and put the spare on.
Work Must Go On
We don’t usually relocate during the work week, but we had made an exception this time. Bob got busy loosening lug nuts, and I lowered the spare tire from its stowage spot under the trailer. Leaving him to make the tire change, I set up my camping chair against a nice green background of trees to attend a Zoom meeting for work.
Fortunately, temperature and dirt don’t show through video calls. Someone in my meeting said they wanted to be where I was, based on the inviting background. Little did they know I had sweat dripping down my back from the 80-plus degree humid weather.
With the tire changed and my call ended, I helped Bob detach the trailer from the truck and try to level Tagalong. The auto-level function errored out before the job was complete. I left him to troubleshoot while I joined another call.
When that meeting concluded, I found Bob sitting on the steps inside the trailer with the air conditioning on but no slides open. The button to open the living room slide, which allows us to get to the kitchen and office, didn’t respond to being pushed. Bob suddenly remembered an app on his phone allows him to control trailer functions. He succeeded in opening the slide from the app. Whew!
The other slides opened with the buttons on the trailer control panel, and we set up our home for a five-night stay.
Leaks and God’s Providence
Google Maps showed a Goodyear tire shop about 20 minutes away. Bob called and found out they could replace a tire stem. That’s where the leak happened. That’s also where it was when we had a flat tire last year: in the stem. Both incidents must have been a result of the tire pressure monitors attached to the stem.
We headed to the Goodyear store, dropped off our tire, and went to get groceries. We returned to the shop to find our tire fixed and ready to be picked up. And the price? Only $3.47!
On the surface, this event looked like a terrible inconvenience and frustration, but it served as a reminder that God consistently watches over and provides for us. From the flat tire happening 3 miles from our destination and being able to make it to our stop, to the concrete pad, trailer slide, Goodyear shop, and amazing price, we were — and are — extremely blessed.
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Spain does a few things extremely well. It has designated bike/scooter lanes separate from where vehicles travel and pedestrians walk. It has inviting outdoor eateries down its many narrow alleys. It features amazing architecture. And workers keep it beautifully clean.
How do we know? We embarked on a transatlantic cruise from Tampa, Florida, to Barcelona, Spain, with stops in Bermuda; the Azores; Malaga, Spain; and Valencia, Spain. Here are the highlights.
Although we delight in sea days, we enjoy visiting ports of call too. After three days at sea, we disembarked in Bermuda. Rented bikes gave us wheels to tour the pink beaches, where Portuguese man o’ war in the sand deterred us from entering the water. Realizing we were no match for the narrow, hilly roads we had to share with motor vehicles — even if they were only going 25 mph — we returned the bikes to explore on foot.
Four sea days later, we fell in love with the quiet, laid-back culture of the Azores, where commercialism is kept at bay. Our tour guide, Telmo from T4W, gave us a comprehensive taste of life on Sao Miguel Island, the largest of the nine islands that make up the archipelago that belongs to Portugal.
Telmo entertained us with folklore about how the blue and green lakes came to be and how old women throwing rocks from the top of a cliff into the bay kept would-be invaders from overtaking the island. We sampled Portuguese coffee and farm-to-table delicacies from the livestock and produce on the island, including custard tarts and fresh blackberry cheesecake.
Malaga, Spain, treated us to a familiar sight and taste: Dunkin’ coffee. After caffeinating, we toured the city on rented bicycles, getting past the typical tourist traps to experience a less crowded beach, even dipping into the Mediterranean Sea up to our necks.
Having made fast friends with our assigned dinner companions on the cruise, we joined Frank and Pam to explore the city of Valencia. A bus delivered us to the heart of town, where we had a wonderful time walking the alleys, taking in the city’s beauty, and sampling local meats and cheeses.
The cruise came to an end in Barcelona the morning of Mother’s Day. It happened to be the same day as the Barcelona Marathon, so we sat and watched runners pass us by for about an hour, thrilled at the opportunity to see such an event in person rather than on TV.
Wanting to make the most of our day in the city, we navigated to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, a 14th-century cathedral built over a total of 55 years, with setbacks due to an earthquake and a fire. Today, it’s open to visitors daily.
Arriving just in time for the Sunday mass, we decided to stay. Bob used Google Translate to try to understand the message. The app got some things right, but others it didn’t, such as something about six German sisters with ducks. That gave us a good chuckle.
From there, we wandered the narrow alleys in search of lunch, stopping at a little place where we ordered mussels, a cured meat plate, and a cheese plate. But the best part was the toasted fresh bread smothered with olive oil and tomatoes. I risked a gluten-induced headache to partake. The bread melted in my mouth with explosive flavor. Delicioso! And I’m happy to report no headache ensued.
The Longest Travel Day
We spent the night in Barcelona and headed to the airport early the next morning for our required COVID-19 test before we could fly back to the United States. After getting confirmation that we both passed the test, we headed to an airport lounge for breakfast before boarding a plane to gain back the six hours we had lost traversing the Atlantic Ocean.
Arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York eight hours later, we quickly learned why three hours are needed for international flights. We had to jump through a lot of hoops: customs, a passport check, and navigating to the correct gate.
We connected through Atlanta before landing in Tampa, Florida, where a parking lot attendant whisked us to the lot where we had left Gullliver 15 days earlier. Happy to be reunited with our vehicle, we climbed aboard and drove two hours to reach Tagalong, finally arriving home at 3:30 a.m. after 28 hours of travel. What a day!
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When your home is on wheels — and it’s everything you own in the world — you can’t leave it just anywhere to travel via airplane, train, or ship like you can if you live in a sticks-and-bricks house. Instead, you have to put a lot of thought into planning to identify where you’ll be when you want to start your travel, what airport you’ll be flying out of, and things like that.
Living the lifestyle we do, we don’t like to plan very far in advance. We’ve learned that plans change and things break. It’s nice to have flexibility to adjust accordingly.
But, when it comes to long-distance travel outside our rig, we can’t afford not to make far-out plans. It’s a necessity for peace of mind that our home and truck will be OK while we’re away. So, where do we park for these getaways? It depends.
RV/Mobile Home Parks
When we’re stationary during the winter months, we stay in a gated, 55-plus mobile home/RV park. We know our neighbors and the maintenance man, so we feel quite comfortable leaving our rig and truck there. The fact that the community is gated adds to our peace of mind.
We left both Gulliver and Tagalong there while we ventured to Las Vegas and again when we went on a cruise out of Long Beach, California.
When we’re not stationary, we reach out to friends or family in the area from which we want to depart. If they have room for our rig and are willing to have it sit on their property while we’re gone, it’s a win.
Bob’s brother Bill let us park on his property in Massachusetts in 2020 while we went on tour with the B-25 as part of the Commemorative Air Force. Our good friend Darryl drove us to the airport, so we left Gulliver at Bill’s too.
In 2021, we left Gulliver and Tagalong at a fellow CAF member’s home in Iowa. Like Darryl, Gene drove us to the airport.
Our friends Greg and Sharon, also from the CAF, let us leave our rig in the driveway of their central Florida home while we went on a cruise out of Tampa. Because their place is a couple of hours’ drive from Tampa, we drove Gulliver and left him in long-term parking there, researching the lot first for peace of mind.
Other options we’ve looked into but haven’t used yet are RV storage lots. This is a practical choice if we ever depart from an area where we don’t know people. Having paid for RV storage when we first purchased our rig before moving into it, we know the storage fee should include some level of security that our rig will be protected while we’re away.
Depending on the storage company, we may have to pay for a month of rent. Many don’t offer weekly storage options. But the extra cost of that full-month fee may be worth it to set our minds at ease that our home is in good hands.
When we think of Florida, we think about beaches, Disney World, the Everglades, alligators, orange juice, and hurricanes. We don’t think about murals — at least we didn’t until we made a stop in Lake Placid, Florida, near Sebring in the central part of the state.
Philadelphia may be the “Mural Capital of the World,” but Lake Placid is known as the “Town of Murals.” In 1992, residents were looking for a way to liven up the small town (population 2,223 as of 2010) after an economic downturn. A couple suggested murals could draw visitors. The town liked the idea, and the couple founded the Lake Placid Mural Society with the goal of beautifying the town and telling its story.
Today, nearly 50 murals cover building walls in the downtown area, bringing history to life in picturesque detail. To ensure the murals capture the story of Lake Placid, the mural society only allowed depictions of things that are native to the area, including plants, birds, animals, and people.
Perhaps more interesting, most of the murals include hidden objects. The artists purposely added mystery and intrigue into their lifesize drawings. A book is available at the city’s Chamber of Commerce for $4 that tells the story of each mural and provides instructions on what hidden items to look for. We enjoyed touring the town and searching the images for the hidden treasures.
Known by Many Names
Murals aren’t the only things attracting people to the town of Lake Placid. It’s also known as the “Caladium Capital of the World” and the home of Toby’s Clown School. Altogether, these three nicknames earned the town the moniker of “America’s Most Interesting Town” by Readers Digest magazine in 2013.
Lake Placid grows 95% of the world’s caladiums and has an annual caladium festival. If you’re unfamiliar with caladiums, like I was, they have heart-shaped leaves and are also referred to as elephant ear and angel wings. More than one of the town’s murals depict the plants.
The clown school still churns out graduates, to the tune of more than 1,500 since 1993. Wannabe clowns take 25 hours of classes to become certified entertainers.
Although interesting, the murals, caladiums, and clown school aren’t what drew us to Lake Placid. We went there to visit friends. Greg and Sharon are some of the kindest, most generous people we’ve ever met. They even let us moochdock on their lakefront property, which gave us an inviting taste of paradise.
We know Greg and Sharon through the Commemorative Air Force, so it only seemed fitting that the four of us visit the state’s annual weeklong fly-in and airshow, Sun ‘n Fun, in Lakeland. We arrived at the show on the last day and were a bit disappointed to have paid full price only to find aircraft leaving early to return to their home bases.
Despite that, we saw all kinds of planes, including a PBY Catalina “flying boat,” an A-26 Invader, a B-1 supersonic bomber, the second of only two airworthy B-29 Superfortresses (“Doc”), a number of Stearman bi-planes, and some fighter jets. We got to tour a still-active KC-135 Stratotanker and even talked to the boom operator who has to align the boom with another plane in flight to fuel it.
Wanting to get our money’s worth, we stuck around for the airshow in the afternoon, and it did not disappoint. From skydivers who flew in formation to proudly display the American flag to an F-18 Rhino and A-10 warthog performing maneuvers, we watched in amazement as announcers explained the planes’ actions and pilots pushed the machines’ limits. We definitely got our money’s worth.
Another tornado warning sounded from our phones, alerting us to take cover in a basement. But in the Gulf city of Waveland, Mississippi (elevation 16 feet), there are no basements to be found. Many buildings are built on stilts to protect them and their inhabitants from flooding.
Although we were camped next door to a brick bath house at a state park, we loaded into the truck and headed to a different building, one on stilts. It went against my better judgment to ascend stairs when the National Weather Service encouraged people to descend to the lowest area they could find, but fellow campers followed suit.
The truth about safety in numbers rang true. Bob and I could be together in the laundry room to ride out the storm instead of separated in his and her restrooms. And we were in the company of other campers in the same boat.
We stood outside on the balcony, enjoying the cool breeze. When the wind picked up, I took it as my cue to move indoors. Bob stayed outside until the storm grew in intensity and he started getting wet.
The electricity in the warm, humid laundry room blinked off but came right back on. After about 20 minutes, the tornado warning expired. The fierce thunderstorm responsible for it continued to make its presence known with bright flashes of lightning, loud booms of thunder, and a deluge of rain.
Thankfully, we had already closed our slideouts before taking shelter. We headed back to our trailer, completely intact, to sleep for the night, thankful once again for our safety.
An Eerie Night
The rest of our time in Mississippi was uneventful, other than an afternoon to the beach to bask in the sun. After relocating to north-central Florida, we started looking for things to do in the area. It turns out the University of Florida in Gainesville has bat houses, and every warm evening, the nearly 500,000 bats emerge from the houses to forage for the night.
Unsure we wanted to make the 40-minute, one-way drive to see this event, we read reviews from others who had experienced the phenomenon. The reviews convinced us the drive would be well worth the trip.
We arrived at the University of Florida to find three houses on stilts, each with a bat insignia on the side and an overpowering stench of guano to let us know we were at the right place. The bats fly up under the houses and nest there during the day upon return from an adventurous night of hunting.
While waiting to see them emerge, we watched in wonder as a fence rail moved in front of us, alive with moth caterpillars and spiders. Bob joined some caterpillars on a bench. I stood, not wanting to share space with the creatures and too excited to relax. More people arrived, eager for their chance to see the bats.
The sun set, and we waited another 10 to 15 minutes. Then it happened. One bat left one of the houses. And then another. And another — until a tornado of bats spun from one house and flew over the tree above our heads, the guano scent stronger as they approached. The bats joined their comrades and, together, they made a trail in the sky.
When one house emptied, bats started emerging from the next one, and so on — truly a sight to behold (pictures don't do it justice).
Glad we had made the trek, we headed back to our trailer on a Boondockers Welcome farm. Tall oak trees dangling Spanish moss shrouded the dirt road to the farm, more eerie at night than during the day. After a moving fence rail and the bat barrage, it made for a creepy evening. But we made it home just fine.
Attack of the Ticks
Because we were boondocking at a farm, we didn’t have electric hookups. That meant no air conditioning. Three days of rain made for some muggy, sticky conditions inside the trailer and out. Wanting some relief, we decided to go out to dinner to take advantage of the A/C in the truck and the restaurant. What a difference that made!
Upon our return, I got ready to shower to wash off the stickiness from the humidity in the hope I’d sleep better. As I looked down, I found what appeared to be a scab on my upper left thigh, where my leg bends. I didn’t remember injuring myself, and I could get my fingers around the “scab.”
Grabbing a flashlight, I had Bob examine my leg. He pronounced the “scab” a tick.
I had taken a walk through the woods earlier in the day and must have picked it up then. Fortunately, we’ve carried a tick remover* tool with us since we started traveling. It made relatively easy work of removing the tick. Before long, Bob found and removed two more ticks — one on my back and one on the back of my knee.
Although we still had another day and a half in the area, I stayed away from the woods.
Absent of cows, chickens, or crops, this farm didn’t have the familiar E-I-E-I-O sounds. The owner told a fellow camper he grows campers in the winter and weeds in the summer. Regardless, the farm came to life after sunset.
Camped near a pond, we learned just how loud frogs can be — and they don’t all ribbit. The American bullfrog blared its raucous, low-pitched, bellowing call. The Southern chorus frog emitted a rapid clicking sound. The Southern leopard frog added to the symphony with a laughing noise and a chitter. And the Northern cricket frog joined the chorus with a chirping cricket sound.
This “song of the South” played us to sleep every night, reminding us how blessed we are.
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We stay at a lot of different places as we travel the country, from the property of friends and family to rest areas and Walmart parking lots to forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to established campgrounds.
Not all campgrounds are created equal. They can range from primitive, dirt parking spots with no hookups to wide concrete pads with full hookups — water, electricity, and sewer. One of our favorite types of campgrounds to stay at are state parks, but they can leave much to be desired too.
What is a state campground?
A state campground is an amenity offered by many state parks, which are areas set aside or preserved for their history, natural beauty, or recreation. Unlike federal parks, which fall under the administration of the federal government, state parks are controlled by the local state government. More than 8,500 state parks with more than 200,000 campsites span the country, according to America’s State Parks.
Although most state parks came into existence in the 1930s, some in New York and Pennsylvania date back to the 1880s. In 1933, as part of his New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps to put unemployed 18- to 25-year-old single men to work to improve America’s public lands. Their work included planting billions of trees, constructing trails and shelters, and establishing more than 800 state parks.
Let’s look at four pros and two cons of state campgrounds, starting with the cons.
Con 1: Not Built for Big Rigs
Nearly 100 years ago, when most state parks were built, the big-rig RVs people drive and live in today didn’t exist. With a few exceptions, the travel trailers of yesteryear were less than 20 feet long and not much taller than the vehicles pulling them.
Today, trailers and motorhomes come in all shapes and sizes. The largest stretch 45 feet long, reach 13 feet, 6 inches tall, and span 8 feet, 6 inches across. Because state parks were built with smaller rigs in mind, they have narrow roads with tight turns that can be difficult for big rigs to maneuver.
In fact, it was at a state park in Michigan that Gulliver needed a tow because we got stuck while trying to park our rig.
In addition, parking pads tend to be short and narrow. We encountered some parks where the max RV length allowed was 40 feet. Our rig stretches nearly 42 feet. If you can find a campground with a long enough parking pad — and they do exist — truck or toad vehicle parking can be a challenge.
Con 2: Trees in Need of Trimming
Because of state parks’ ecological nature, and because they weren’t created for today’s supersized rigs, campgrounds in wooded areas tend to have low-hanging trees. With all the people camping these days, rangers don’t seem to prioritize trimming trees to make it easier for rigs to get in and out of campsites. They have many other things to tend to.
The roof of our 13-foot, 3-inch tall fifth wheel is a rubber membrane. If it comes in contact with prickly branches, they can poke holes in it. And that’s happened more than once. Many times, we have to crawl up on top of the roof and trim trees to prevent damage during wind or storms.
Pro 1: Economical Price
Despite those drawbacks, the economic value is what draws us to most state campgrounds. They usually average between $20 and $30 per night, depending on the area and amenities. Compared to an RV resort that can charge more than $50 a night, state campgrounds win for us, hands down.
We’re very careful to research the campground and look at its satellite view on Google Maps to choose spots that can best accommodate our rig.
Pro 2: Hookups and Bath Houses
Most, but not all, state campgrounds offer at least water and electricity hookups. If they don’t offer sewer hookups as well, they contain a dump station so RVers can empty their black and gray tanks before departing.
In addition, most state campgrounds feature bath houses with flushable toilets, sinks with running water, and showers. These are a boon for tenters and for RVers with limited tank capacity. You may even find laundry facilities at a state campground.
Pro 3: Trails and Activities
Because state campgrounds are part of state parks, they typically include trails for visitors to explore nature. Campers can get out and enjoy room to roam. We often hop on our little electric bikes to explore state campgrounds.
Most provide a playground for kids. Some have access or at least close proximity to lakes, rivers, or the ocean. Some even offer organized activities, such as lectures about wildlife in the area.
We stayed at a state campground in central Texas that contained bird blinds with seating for visitors to watch birds through plexiglass. The other side of the plexiglass comprised natural foliage, water features, and platforms where rangers would lay out seed to invite the birds to linger.
One of the best things about state parks is that they include plaques and information about the history of the area. At a state park near Dallas, we learned about and explored buildings and old machinery left over from an 1800s farm. Another state park informed us about turkey roosts.
Pro 4: Online Booking
We’ve encountered numerous campgrounds that don’t have an online presence. To book a reservation, you have to call. We did that to stay at a beach campground near Corpus Christi,Texas. But, more often than not, no online booking option is a no-stay for us.
State campgrounds have interconnected online booking availability through reserveamerica.com. That means with one username and password, we can book reservations at state campgrounds across the country. That convenience makes it easy for us to book at our leisure, even if it’s after traditional open hours.
Although state campgrounds aren’t ideal for today’s big rigs, the pluses they offer keep us going back. We just have to be particular and intentional about the campgrounds and campsites we choose.
New Orleans is known for many things: jazz, Mardi Gras, the Saints, the French Quarter, creole food, and Hurricane Katrina. One thing the city isn’t well-known for is tornadoes — until recently.
On a cloudy, windy, rainy evening at a state campground outside the city, Bob cooked a nice gumbo to warm our insides. Just before we were about to sit down and partake, our phones alerted us to a tornado warning.
Unlike the last time we experienced such an alarm while in Michigan at my cousin’s farm, we were on our own. Bob turned off the stove, and we scurried about the trailer to gather a few things. Then, we loaded into the truck, knowing it would be safer in swirling, high-speed winds than our fifth wheel, which could disintegrate in an instant.
Gulliver navigated us to a vacant parking lot, away from potential debris, to ride out the storm. As we watched angry clouds hurry by, dropping rain as they passed, we breathed a little easier at the blue sky trying to peer through directly overhead.
After about 20 minutes, the Weather Channel app on Bob’s phone confirmed the worst of the storm cell had moved on. We returned home to our intact trailer and warm dinner, thankful for our safety.
An F-3 tornado did touch down in the New Orleans area that night, about 20 miles from our location. We saw some of the damage from it while celebrating my birthday on a river cruise a couple of nights later: a building with a missing roof.
A River Sailing
It’s no secret that we enjoy cruising. We’ve sailed eight ocean cruises and have our next one planned. But we had never experienced a river cruise. New Orleans’ location on the Mississippi River presented an opportunity for us to do so — on an authentic paddlewheel steamboat.
We boarded the four-deck vessel for a sunset dinner cruise and perched on outdoor seats on deck 4. A live jazz trio serenaded us while a narrator shared interesting facts about the mighty Mississippi and New Orleans.
After the sun set and the temperature dipped, we descended to the galley on deck 2 for our turn at cajun fare: chicken and sausage gumbo, baked chicken, bayou seafood pasta, fingerling potatoes, and green beans almondine. Bread pudding and bananas foster over ice cream with coffee finished the meal as we pulled back into port.
A National Treasure
Food is one of the big attractions of New Orleans. Another, and what drew us there, is the National WWII Museum.
One day is not enough to take in all this 6-acre, five-pavillion facility has to offer. From D-Day to the European and Pacific Theaters — including the Road to Berlin and the Road to Tokyo — the organizers did an excellent job capturing all the important aspects of the war and telling them in a detailed, immersive story.
The experience is interactive too. At the start of our journey, we each got a dog tag that represented a real person who played a role in the war. At different stations throughout the museum, we scanned our dog tags to learn more about each person’s involvement and contributions.
In addition to the rooms showcasing the detailed war history, the museum houses a separate wing. The Boeing Center displays a handful of aircraft that were pivotal to the war: a B-17E Flying Fortress, a B-25J Mitchell, a P-51 Mustang, an F4 Corsair, an SBD Dauntless, and a TBM Avenger.
Heavy-duty cables suspend these warbirds in the exhibit, and visitors can go up two and three levels to view the planes up close and personal — at eye level and from above — from catwalks.
Our visit to New Orleans left us more appreciative than before for all those who sacrificed and gave their lives for our freedom.
One of our favorite things to do as we travel the country is to sample regional cuisine to get a taste (pun intended) for the area: pasties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, cheese in Wisconsin, Tex-Mex in Texas, etc.
While in the San Antonio area, we made a point to tour the River Walk, a hidden gem that sprawls 15 miles beneath the city, offering shops and all kinds of ethnic fare–not just your Texas standards. We arrived at lunchtime and bypassed a Mexican restaurant to visit an Irish one, where we shared bangers and mash buried under a thick brown gravy.
After finding our way to the Alamo, which was worth the visit, we ventured back to the River Walk and stopped at a German restaurant before strolling back through the walk, past Love Lock Bridge, to our vehicle. Bob indulged in a German pretzel, and we shared a plate of Nuremberg sausage (yum!), Polish sausage, mustard mashed potatoes, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut.
Inspired by a friend who had told us about camping opportunities on Padre Island, we traveled from the San Antonio area to Corpus Christi. We spent a week on the beach at sister Mustang Island.
Unlike our friend’s sunny, warm experience in the area (in August), we faced cold, clouds, and wind (in March). But we didn’t let that stop us from strolling along the beach to take in God’s beautiful creation. We even braved a chilly bike ride to sample the local cuisine at a BBQ restaurant.
After weathering hours of 30 mph winds the night before our departure, the sun came out victorious. But it was too late for us. We had to be on our way to make room for the next camper scheduled to arrive in our spot. So, we packed up and hit the road on a brisk, 47-degree morning.
Two days later, we pulled up at the home of our friends, Dwaine and Belinda, oblivious to the treat that lay in store for us. We met this wonderful couple on our Panama Canal cruise in 2019 and have kept in touch. They offered to let us moochdock on their piece of paradise, and we gladly accepted.
Authentic Cajun Cooking
Dwaine and Belinda are born and bred Louisianans, and they made sure to immerse us in the staples they love. Most of the food in the region consists of rice and some sort of meat-laden, spicy gravy.
They fed us seafood gumbo, turtle (tastes a lot like chicken), red beans and rice, and tasso and cabbage. Tasso, we learned, is a smoked, spiced, cured meat–typically pork. We found it quite tasty.
Our Cajun food highlight, though, has to be a crawfish boil. We had heard of such a thing but had never partaken. Wanting to give us an authentic experience, our hosts enlisted the help of their son and daughter-in-law to do the cooking. And what a spread!
In addition to the crawfish, they boiled potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, onions, Brussels sprouts, and corn on the cob. After seasoning the water and bringing it to a boil, they threw in all the veggies to cook. These served as appetizers while the crawfish boiled.
Before we knew it, the crawfish, essentially tiny lobsters, were ready to be eaten. As with lobsters, you break off the head of the crawfish and eat the tail meat. If you get one with decent-sized claws, you can eat the claw meat too.
We ate and ate and ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. And we even took home leftovers. Bob spent hours digging the meat out of the leftover crawfish, and I enjoyed it on my lunch salads the next few days.
We couldn’t have asked for a better, more authentic Louisiana stop. Thank you, Dwaine and Belinda, for your wonderful hospitality and for giving us such a cultural experience.
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Rising fuel prices are plaguing the world in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. As you can imagine, that certainly affects our RV travels. The average diesel price today is $5.13 per gallon, according to AAA. That’s more than a $2 increase over last year’s average of $3.06.
Gulliver gets about 8 miles per gallon when pulling Tagalong. With a 32-gallon fuel tank, that comes out to an average $164 per fillup, compared to $100 last year. We never run the tank to empty, so we don’t pay that full price. Gulliver’s endurance on one tank is about three hours, and that gets us down to a quarter of a tank.
Savings in Numbers
Thankfully, we’re part of the TSD Logistics fleet, a tractor-trailer fleet that allows RVs to join through its Open Roads program. This enlarges the fleet overall and lowers the diesel cost for everyone involved. That gets us significant savings on fuel prices.
For example, a truck stop we visited in Texas had a published price of $5.31 per gallon. Thanks to our discount, we only paid $4.26. That said, the pump doesn’t show the discount, which can be a sticker shock. We realize the discount later.
Our TSD Logistics card is tied to our checking account, so our fuel purchases come out as bank drafts. The program doesn’t charge us the full amount we see on the pump and then apply the discount. Instead, it collects all the information about the transaction, subtracts the discount from the published price, and deducts that from our checking account.
Why Is Diesel More Expensive at Truck Stops?
Truck stops have a pretty exclusive market. Diesel cars and pickups can likely find diesel cheaper somewhere in town. But semi trucks and big RV rigs have a much harder time navigating to those places, if they can fit into the pump bays at all. Highway truck stops are designed for fueling many semis at a single time, with easy access in and out.
All truckers use fleet cards, so none of them pay that sticker price you see advertised on billboards. If we didn’t belong to a fleet, we would have no choice but to pay the inflated published price at the truck stops since our rig is as big as they are.
Many different fleets are in operation. TSD Logistics is only one of them, and it’s the only fleet that allows diesel-fueled RVs to participate. Discounts for our fleet apply to TA, Petro, and Love’s. We get our best prices at TA and Petro.
Benefits of Truck Stop Fueling
Our biggest perk to fueling at truck stops is peace of mind regarding height clearance and easy in-out access. The dimensions of our rig preclude us from fueling at gas stations in town because of lack of height clearance or inconvenient pump position.
For these reasons, some fifth-wheel RVers only get fuel when disconnected from their rig. Depending on the size of their tank, that may mean they have to stop frequently on a long journey so they can disconnect.
Another truck stop benefit for us is the ability to pay at the pump. This saves considerable time and hassle. In addition, truck stops offer diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) — a requirement for all modern diesel vehicles — at the pump.
We could buy DEF in 5-gallon containers like you see at The Home Depot and other places, but our DEF tank isn’t 5 gallons. So, we would end up carrying a half-full container of the smelly liquid with us — not to mention how messy it is to pour the liquid from the box into our DEF tank. Although our fleet discount doesn’t apply to DEF, we appreciate being able to get it at the pump.
In addition, truck stops offer extended-handle windshield squeegees for easier reach across tall, large vehicles. Many truck stops also have water — potable or not — and air compressors for tire inflation.
Navigating truck stops
Most truck stops have auto and RV pumps, as well as fuel pumps for semis. Our fleet discount doesn’t apply at the auto/RV pumps, so we have to go to the truck area.
Our first visit to a pump in this area of a truck stop met us with confusion. We didn’t know what to select on the digital screen at the pump. Tractor? Reefer? Both? We had no idea what that meant. Fortunately, a gracious trucker told us to select tractor, and we’ve been following that advice ever since.
The nozzles at the truck pumps are larger than those at the auto/RV pumps as they’re designed to deliver volumes of fuel at a high flow rate. Because the size of our fuel tank pales in comparison to the size of trucker tanks, we have to run the nozzles at the lowest speed to prevent spillage.
Along with every tank fillup over 10 gallons, we always include a fuel additive. Cummins, the manufacturer of Gulliver’s engine, recommends Diesel Kleen to keep the fuel injectors clean and the injection components lubricated — ultimately, improving fuel quality and engine performance.
Because we fuel at truck stops where professional truck drivers fill up, we do our best to give them priority. After all, they have schedules to keep and need to make good time. We have a lot more flexibility.
After replenishing Gulliver’s diesel and DEF tanks and giving Tagalong a walkaround, we move forward to get out of truckers’ way. We often park in that forward space, which it’s designed for, while we go inside the store at the truck stop to use the restroom and grab a coffee or snack. Then, we quickly return to our vehicle and get back on the road.
Truckers probably like to get in line behind a fifth wheel because the smaller fuel tank means a quicker fillup. Class A motorhomes, on the other hand, can take 100 to 150 gallons, making the length of a fillup about equal to that of a semi.
We like to keep a good relationship with truckers. We always feel good about a road where we see 18-wheelers because we know if they’re there, we have the height clearance we need. We want truckers to appreciate RVers as well, so little steps like giving them priority at truck stops can go a long way toward helping with that.
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The small town of Junction, Texas, on Interstate 10 doesn’t have a whole lot to offer on the surface. But its population of 2,500 maintains the county’s shipping and marketing center for livestock, pecans, grain, wool, and mohair. Perhaps more importantly, the municipality marks the intersection of the North and South Llano rivers.
Nestled behind the town is an expansive wildlife refuge for turkeys, deer, hundreds of species of birds, and more. The 500-plus acres constitute South Llano River State Park, which includes 58 campsites. That and the campground’s location right off the interstate attracted us to it.
Because the park is in a hollow, our phones had weak reception. I feared we wouldn’t be able to stay since internet access is imperative for me to do my day job. We rely on mobile networks for that.
We raised our 25-foot cell signal booster antenna with hopes that it would improve our reception. Sure enough, it picked up and amplified a T-Mobile signal 10 times, securing our stay.
The next morning, we awoke to find our faucets not working. The levers turned on and off, but no water came out. The 23-degree low temperature froze the water in the hose connecting the campsite spigot to Tagalong.
Because we have a four-season coach, we knew our fresh water tank and pipes were OK. So, needing water to make coffee, we switched to using our internal water tank. Problem solved — at least temporarily.
A couple of hours later, Bob went out to check the water connection and blew ice chunks out of the hose, freeing the blockage. He reconnected Tagalong to the campground water source, and the issue was solved. From then on, he disconnected the hose from the spigot before bed to keep it from freezing again.
Many of the reviews we had read before arriving at South Llano River State Park made mention of the large number of armadillos at the campground. We saw one amble across the road as we entered (like the armadillo we saw near Dallas last year) but, other than that, the creatures eluded us. Other campers told us they had seen them — even at our campsite.
The next day, while walking on one of the park’s many trails, a rustling sound caught our attention. We turned our heads toward the noise to see an armadillo rummaging through the meadow for food. They dig insects and invertebrates out of the ground to eat.
Fascinated, we stood and watched the animal for probably at least 15 minutes, amazed that it didn’t seem afraid of us. It didn’t seem to sense us at all. As it turns out, armadillos are nearly blind and deaf. They rely on their powerful sense of smell to lead them to each meal.
Later that day, the persistent barking of the dogs at the next campsite pulled me out of my work. I got up from my desk and looked out the window to see what the fuss was about: an armadillo rooting between our two sites.
After those first two encounters, we saw numerous armadillos throughout the park and never lost our fascination with them. We even watched one burrow its way into a hole beneath a tree trunk.
Maybe if you live in Texas or another area where they’re prominent, you just find them ordinary — or a nuisance. Their digging tears up yards and gardens. But for a guy from Massachusetts and a gal from Arizona, we were mesmerized.
More than 2,000 miles after getting Tagalong new brakes in Michigan, the parts still lacked some stopping power. That presented a dangerous proposition every time we traveled down a freeway.
We arose before dawn the day before our scheduled exit from the armadillo haven and hit the road in an attempt to reach a San Antonio brake shop that specializes in Dexter trailer brakes when it opened at 8 a.m.
We hit rush hour traffic. Rush hour traffic is never fun. When towing a 42-foot fifth wheel in an area you're unfamiliar with, it’s pure awful.
Thankfully, we made it to the place. Expecting the shop to keep the trailer for much of the day, we had planned to disconnect Gulliver and head into the city. But the mechanic at the shop looked at and adjusted our brakes right away.
A half hour later, we drove to a truck stop for a relaxing breakfast after a stressful morning, grateful for our time in Junction, Texas, for our new friends Kenny and Margaret, for not falling victim to another killer cardinal encounter, and for gripping brakes.
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.