Monday, April 9, 2012

Day Twelve: Lots of Driving, Wisconsin and Home Sweet Home

Day Eleven we drove. And drove. And drove. 652 miles total. The girls hung out and finished homework while I packed and cleaned. I bring empty totes, so I can pack the last few hours. I was done unpacking Monday morning by 11:00am .. yippee!

We drove through Wisconsin on our final journey. State #14 for this trip. It was CRAZY windy. Scott could hardly keep the RV on the road. We had to slow down to 50 at times, and our mpg dropped to 5.8. Darn, that is hard on the gas budget.

We made it home around 7:45pm. The girls were so excited to see the neighbors, and their Easter baskets. That Easter bunny is gooood! Scott and Paradis returned the RV today (Monday). Yes, I let Paradis stay home from school as we didn't know when we would return, and she already had her home work done. Hope Annelies doesn't read the blog entry today. 

We were sad to say goodbye to our Jayco Greyhawk - it was a good ride. Literally. I'm putting in a plug for Charlie's RV Rental - Charlie was great to work with and the RV configuration was perfect for our family. Thanks Chuck!

Final Statistics:
  • 14 States Visited
  • 4,063 Miles Driven
  • 614 Gallons of Gas
  • 6.65 Average miles/gallon
  • $3.88 Average cost/gallon
  • Gas: $2,372.96
  • Lodging: $52.00
  • Souvenirs: $360.87
  • Tourist Traps: $839.81 
  • Redbox: $26.00
  • Fights: 0
  • Injuries: 1

When is our next trip? Scott travels to California in ten days, for his annual Baseball Trip with friends. In three weeks we drive to Kentucky, to celebrate Paradis’ 13th birthday at the Kentucky Derby (I'll be blogging). And two weeks after getting back from Kentucky, Scott and I fly to Vegas with friends. It will be a busy couple months. As for our next long road trip, probably in 2013.

Thanks for following us. Don’t forget to put your email in the box to the right if you want to get notification when I blog again. I love all the comments and emails. Happy travels everyone!

I want to end with a note Paradis gave me when we drove in the driveway yesterday. Almost every day I think about how little time Scott and I have left with our girls, and I feel so fortunate we can travel as we do. Thanks to my entire travel team ... I love Drivin' the Dream with each and every one of you!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Day Eleven: A Waterfall, Horse Back Ride, Indiana and Back on the Road

In the morning Scott rolled over and said, “Guess what time it is?” We had slept in until 10:00! Apparently that fresh mountain air made for good sleeping. We stopped at the Visitor Center for Annelies’ 18th Jr. Ranger badge.

We hiked to Cataract Falls where the girls had a good time walking in the river and across fallen trees. It was a beautiful day.

We left GSM and drove toward Townsend Center to a place called Next to Heaven, for a trail ride in the mountains. This was an unguided trail, and I thought it would be fun for the girls to ride in the mountains. The best part turned out to be meeting the family that had gotten on the trail just before us. Their horses had stopped to eat, and they couldn’t get them going. Paradis and Annelies shared their riding experience with the family, and got them down the hill. We shared a lot of laughter going down that mountain.

After that adventure, we hit the road at 3:30pm for a straight shot back to Minnesota. We had 988 miles to reach our home in Victoria, and planned on stopping only to sleep. Paradis and Annelies slept for the first few hours, not sure what that was all about. I guess they are just plain worn out!

At this point, it is only fair to mention Scott does all the driving, and he is amazing. Driving a 30 foot RV isn’t a simple task. There were two situations where I almost peeed my pants, trying to turn around in a spot not made for our vehicle. But Scott was great. He is always cool and calm. Unlike when I become my own mother and start yelling, “I can’t look .. I can’t look ..!” At one point I had to get out of the vehicle, as I was confident it was going to tip over.

People ask us all the time about our gas mileage. As I mentioned before, we are getting about 6.3 to 7.3 miles per gallon. It depends on the driving conditions and use of the generator, which runs on gas. The prices fluctuate greatly throughout our travels, from $3.66 in Kentucky to $4.00 in Iowa.

We made it into Indiana late, so we shook the girls up from their electronics long enough to get out for our state sign shot. That was state #13 on this trip, #28 total. It was dark, so the sign was reflecting off my flash!

We stopped at a Wal-Mart in Lebanon. Indiana, that is. We drove 458 miles for the day; only 530 remain until we reach Minnesota. We are all a little sad to be coming home (sorry friends). 

Day Eleven: 458 miles (3,411 total); $264.90 on gas ($1,906.11 total); 2 states (13 total); $0 Lodging  ($52 total); $16 Souvenirs ($360.87 total); $141 Tourist Traps ($839.81 total); $4 Redbox  ($26 total); 0 fights (0 total); 1 injuries (1 total)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day Ten: Gatlinburg Craziness, Clingmon’s Dome, First Hitchhiker, and Great Burgers

I realize this post is late my friends, but I went 24 hours with no cell towers; I was starting to get the shakes from withdrawal!

We made our way to the Great Smoky Mountains (GSM). We were expecting tranquility and peacefulness when we sadly came into … Gatlinburg. What a tourist trap! Branson used to be our ‘Tourist Trap Capital of the World’ but we are adding Gatlinburg to that title.

We stopped at the GSM Visitor Center and picked up some maps. GSM is the #1 visited park in our country, and we were feeling it. They were experiencing record numbers for April, similar to a typical day in July. Crazy.

The Wal-Mart near Gatlinburg wouldn’t allow overnight parking, so we decided to stay at a campground in the GSM. We drove to Elkmont Campground and snatched up the last spot. There wasn’t a Ranger on duty, so we drove around until we found an empty spot, and secured it with a piece of paper clipped to a board on our site. We were so anxious that we would return that evening to find someone else at our site, Scott took a picture of our registration, to document the time!

We drove to Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest point in the GSM. It was absolutely beautiful. And cold! We had to pull out our sweatshirts. As we were heading back down the mountain, we saw our first hitchhiker, so we pulled over and picked him up. We could only bring him five miles down the hill before we pulled over to hike the Appalachian Trail, and dropped him off.

Fifteen years ago Scott and I celebrated our 2nd Anniversary in North Carolina, and spent time on the Appalachian Trail. At that time we dreamed about hiking the trail with our kids. So we got on the Appalachian and hiked to the Mount Collins shelter. We met a couple hikers that were settling in for the night. It was fun to talk about ‘life on the trail’.

After the shelter visit, we drove to Newfound Gap and took some photos. Amazing. As we were leaving Newfound Gap, guess who we saw? The same hitchhiker! So we picked him up again. We agreed to bring him to the grocery store in Gatlinburg; on the 30 minute drive we shared our Cheetos & Gatorade and he shared his stories. We were fascinated with his life. His trail name was Strider, and last summer he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (2,184 miles). This summer he was simply walking 130 miles of it with his ex-girlfriend. His occupation? Hitchhiker. I didn’t dare take a photo, because he said it is frustrating to ‘get off the trail’ and have people ask for a picture as if he was some sort of ‘creature’. But I wanted to!

We arrived back at our campsite, which no one had taken, around 9:00pm. We are confident most campers were sleeping, as this was a rustic campground – no electricity or water. We didn’t pack camping stuff, but Scott and the girls insisted on cooking hamburgers on an open fire. Without any kindling or paper, Scott and Annelies were determined to get the fire started. Scott kept saying, “Wish I had some gas!” By 10:30 we all enjoyed what Annelies said was the best hamburger she ever tasted. The two of them had a great time facing the challenge, while Paradis and I took showers and played Farkle.

We had a wonderful day in the Great Smoky Mountains ...

Day Ten: 159 miles (2,953 total); $242.29 on gas ($1,641.21 total); 1 states (12 total); $17 Lodging  ($52 total); $73.70 Souvenirs ($344.87 total); $0 Tourist Traps ($698.81 total); $0 Redbox ($22 total); 0 fights (0 total); 1 injuries (1 total)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day Nine: Some Tags, Congaree National Park, North Carolina, and GSM

Scott scored a couple more Tags (a.k.a. License Plates) on our drive to the Congaree; South Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. Yahoo!

We entered Congaree National Park around 10:00am. Annelies earned her 17th Jr. Ranger Badge. If you aren’t familiar, Jr. Ranger Badges are available at most National Parks; they are usually a booklet with questions for the kids to answer as they visit the park. Some are very detailed, others are simple. It is only fair to say that Paradis does all the work for the badges, while Annelies gets ‘sworn in’. Annelies doesn’t dig the ‘educational portion’ and Paradis would rather die than go through the ‘swearing in portion’. It works.

The Congaree was amazing. It is the largest area of old-growth bottom land hardwood forest remaining in this country. The trees are so tall, it was hard to see the tops. The amount of wildlife we saw (e.g., lizards, slugs, frogs, catepillars) was fun for the girls. Another American wonder.

We hit our 12th state on the trip, North Carolina. We pulled over for our classic shot, just after driving through a hail storm.

I failed to mention an injury that occurred on day six. Paradis had a callus on the bottom of her foot, which became a blister during our walk throughout Disney. It is healing nicely, but we are a little nervous about our hike tomorrow.

We ended the day just 30 minutes east of the Great Smokey Mountains entrance at Gatlinburg, sitting in Lowe's parking lot (free WiFi), watching Convoy. Remember it? The 1978 movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw about a trucker that creates a convey to avoid an abusive sheriff? The girls couldn't stand it. Scott and I thought it was hilarious. Every time we are on a road trip I can't stop singing, "East bound and down, load it up and truck it. We're gonna do what they say can't be done ..."

I’m not sure if it is reflective in this blog, but we are having so much fun. Even I find it amazing that the four of us can spend so much time together, in such small quarters, and still giggle as much as we do. I have so many funny stories to tell, but not enough space to do so. And many of them the girls won’t allow me to post; sure wish they were younger and couldn’t read. My friend Linda wrote in an email the other day, “How fun to have a husband who enjoys the travel, and girls who love the history.” I couldn’t say it better myself. The photo below is an example of some of the craziness I enjoy every day traveling with these three ...

Day Nine: 245 miles (2,794 total); $242.29 on gas ($1,641.21 total); 3 states (12 total); $0 Lodging  ($35 total); $10.59 Souvenirs ($271.17 total); $0 Tourist Traps ($698.81 total); $4 Redbox ($22 total); 0 fights (0 total); 1 injuries (1 total)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day Eight: The Beach and South Carolina

We woke up .. went to the beach .. had a TON of fun .. and left. A simply wonderful day.

The weather couldn't have been better. Annelies spent the day hanging out with kids. Paradis fell asleep and got a little sun burnt. Scott went Boogie Boarding with the girls. I got a little knitting done. It was a day of Heaven for all of us.

We crossed into South Carolina around 6:00pm; state #11 on this trip. We stopped at a High School parking lot for dinner (Paradis and Scott thought that was weird) and continued driving to Orangeburg, SC. We Parked at Wal-Mart,  and made plans for tomorrow.  Fabulous, fabulous day.

Day Eight: 141 miles (2,549 total); $128.42 on gas ($1,398.92 total); 2 states (11 total); $13 Lodging  ($35 total); $0 Souvenirs ($260.58 total); $0 Tourist Traps ($698.81 total); $2 Redbox ($18 total); 0 fights (0 total); 0 injuries (0 total)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day Seven: Georgia, Service Stop, Laundry and The Beach

We started day seven as we do most; Scott shopped Wal-Mart while I cleaned the camper and the girls slept. It is a routine that seems to work for us. Spending 24/7 in a cramped space for nearly two weeks can be volatile. But we make it work by respecting the fact each of us are different, and sometimes we need alone time.
We left Florida and drove north along the east coast on our quest to Georgia. We crossed the border and got another photo.

As we were driving, the generator stopped. The generator runs everything in the RV while traveling down the road. It gives you power in your outlets and runs the major things (e.g., air, microwave). With temperatures reaching 80, the air conditioner has been running nearly the whole drive. We stopped at Camping World in Savannah. The service guy told us the ‘charging station’ I showed you earlier was pulling too much power. “What?” I asked. “How can a generator that is only suppose to power the RV equipment not service our laptop, camera battery, two iPads, two DVD players, two TVs, and three iPhones?” Lesson learned …we all agreed to go on a ‘power diet’. Literally.

We didn’t plan on a beach stop during this trip, because we’ve spent many vacations in Florida. But Scott and the girls could smell the ocean and I couldn’t keep them away. So we changed our plans and will skip Virginia this trip, and visit Walton’s Mountain another time. That will allow us to spend a day on Tybee Island – just east of Savannah. That is what I love best about our ‘ad lib’ traveling, we adjust on the fly.

We arrived in Savannah and they dropped me off at Spin City, a Laundromat. If you know me, you know I had a great time; I spent the time washing clothes, working on my PC and knitting. Scott and the girls went to the beach and had a fabulous time. I knew within minutes of them hitting the beach, this diversion was a great idea as they sent me this picture!

We ended the night shopping at Wal-Mart, and the grocery store. We went back to the RV, baked some chocolate chip cookies (with ice cream), and played a game of Life. All is well in Savannah, Georgia.

Day Seven: 296 miles (2,408 total); $99.68 on gas ($1,270.50 total); 2 states (11 total); $12 Lodging  ($22 total); $145.29 Souvenirs ($260.58 total); $519.81 Tourist Traps ($698.81 total); $4 Redbox ($16 total); 0 fights (0 total); 0 injuries (0 total)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Day Six: Disney World .. ALL Day

We were one of the first few to walk into Epcot at 9:02am. We spent five hours there and I would say the girls saw everything they wanted. Of course we didn’t see and do it all, but with a five hour timeline one must identify priorities. It didn’t seem busy at all. We rode all the ‘rides’ we wanted, and never waited in line. Our strategy was a) get Fast Passes as often as possible, b) avoid all shows – takes too much time, and c) focus on the rides that were a must.

After visiting Future World, Annelies and Scott spent the entire time being secret agents for Kim Possible. It was amazing. The kids are given cell phones and are sent on ‘secret missions’ throughout Epcot’s World Showcase. I’m sure it is Disney’s way of getting parents to see everything without the kids asking, “Can we go on a ride now?” They are shown pictures, and when standing by it and pressing OK something happens. For example, smoke coming out of a chimney in Germany, a flag being raised in Norway, a hidden picture being revealed in Mexico. Amazing. If you will be visiting Epcot soon, we highly recommend the activity for kids six through ten.

Paradis and I visited each country, had our passports stamped, and made a pressed penny. We had a great time just hanging out together. These are the things I love most about our travels.

We parked at Magic Kingdom in the morning, so after Epcot we went back to the RV for some lunch, changed our clothes (we were a little sweaty), packed dinner, and simply enjoyed the air conditioning. We were in Magic Kingdom by 3:30. Epcot seemed quiet, but Magic Kingdom was a mob! Crazy busy, but we were expecting that. This stop was Annelies’, and after riding It’s a Small World, she seemed content. 

But we rode rides all afternoon, ending the magical day watching fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle and buying pins to remember the day.

Once at the RV, the girls took a shower in the parking lot and crawled into bed. We were back on the road within minutes and drove about an hour north to Orange County. Pulled into a Wal-Mart and hit the pillow. It was a magical day.

Day Five: 60 miles (2,112 total); $0 on gas ($1,170.82 total); 2 states (11 total); $0 Lodging  ($10 total); $145.29 Souvenirs ($260.58 total); $519.81 Tourist Traps ($698.81 total); $0 Redbox ($12 total); 0 fights (0 total); 0 injuries (0 total). 

I don't add food to this summary, as we don't eat out while traveling; but it is important to note we only spent $11.37 on food at Disney - one Gatorade for Paradis and ice cream during the fireworks!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day Six: Quick Update

Scott and I woke at 5:30am, to get on the road for Disney World (just 20 minutes away from our ‘Hotel Wal-Mart’). We arrived at 6:50am, and parked in the third row at Magic Kingdom! We are waiting in the RV until the monorail opens for Epcot, so I have a little time to update totals from yesterday. Our strategy is to hit Epcot first, stop by the RV for a quick meal and freshen up, and hit Magic Kingdom in the afternoon and evening. Scott and I are looking forward to the day. The girls are still sleeping!

FYI: We are getting about 6.5 miles per gallon in our 29 foot Jayco Granite Ridge. I'm feeling like buying a Prius when I get home!

Day Five: 473 miles (2,052 total); $277.45 on gas ($1,170.82 total); 2 states (10 total); $0 Lodging  ($10 total); $18.04 Souvenirs ($115.29 total); $0 Tourist Traps ($194 total); $6 Redbox ($12 total); 0 fights (0 total); 0 injuries (0 total)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day Five: Martin Luther King, Florida, and Lots of Driving

We started our day at the home of Martin Luther King. It was a nice stop. The National Park Service has bought many of the homes in the area and restored them to the 60’s. We loved the tour of his home. I, of course, cried throughout most of it - so emotional. 

Annelies earned her 16th Junior Ranger Badge today. We just love National Parks!

After Martin Luther’s home, we drove eight hours to Orlando. Florida was #10 on this trip. We are planning to visit ‘The Mouse’ tomorrow ... that was #1 on Annelies’ list for this trip. We will only spend one day at Disney World, so we will start at Epcot and end at Magic Kingdom. It will be a full day!

I’m heading to bed, as we plan to get up early tomorrow … no stats tonight my friends. I’m preparing for our ‘magical day’. 

Day Four: Sweet Alabama, Civil Rights Institute and The Nazar Heroes

We crossed into Alabama, our 8th state on the trip (our 24th state overall). I spent the morning re-jailbreaking Scott’s iphone; the kids use his phone as a wifi hotspot for Netflix and Pandora throughout the day. We’ve already received a text from AT&T stating we are downloading too much data; since we have an unlimited data plan we ignore the messages. It irritates us. This is a photo of the ‘charging station’ in our RV! Think we may be pulling more power than the manufacturers intended?

We drove a couple hours to Birmingham, and visited the Civil Rights Institute. It was fabulous. Very interesting reading about the key people involved in the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, the place it all began. Of course I shed a few tears throughout the exhibit ..

We had a little extra time in our schedule so we decided to stop at an O’Reilly’s store to buy a fuse reader, as our automated steps weren’t working. This may seem like a small issue, but in a vehicle that is two feet off the ground it is tough jumping out and pulling yourself back up each and every time you leave. We met Jerry in the parking lot, who graciously got the steps working. He took the motor apart, removed the corroded parts, and put it back together. Yes, right there in the parking lot. Amazing! The girls had a great time hanging out with his two sons, Gerardo and Ruben and their new puppy. Thanks to all three of them for giving us some of their time … they are our heroes for the day!

Yesterday I forgot to mention our friends, Dennis and Jason. They both helped us score license plates for Kentucky, Georgia and Illinois. We meet so many great people on our travels .. we just love, love, love this country!

We continued east and passed through Georgia; state #9 on this trip, 25 in total. Half-way through our goal of seeing all 50 states by the time the kids leave home. We stopped at a Wal-Mart just outside Atlanta, and cooked mac-and-cheese in the parking lot. A really good day.
Day Four: 273 miles (1,579 total); $154 on gas ($893.37 total); 3 states (9 total); $10 Lodging – dump the RV at a truck stop ($10 total); $24.92 Souvenirs ($97.25 total); $27 Tourist Traps ($179 total); $0 Redbox ($6 total); 0 fights (0 total); 0 injuries (0 total)