Baked Sauerkraut

Baked Sauerkraut
Serves 6
This is our recipe for baked sauerkraut, an important holiday recipe. It is a combination of Richard's Mom, Anne's, recipe and my own. Richard's Mom did not use apples in her's but I do. I like the balance it gives the sauerkraut, but they are optional.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 bag or large jar of sauerkraut — I use somewhere between 32-48 ounces
  2. 6 strips of bacon, cut across the grain into lardons
  3. 2 medium onions, sliced thin
  4. 2 medium apples or 4 small, sliced thin, optional
  5. Bacon fat or lard if necessary
  6. 1 tbsp caraway seed
  7. 1 tsp celery seed
  8. 2-3 tbsp flour
  9. 1/3 cup water
  10. salt
  11. pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Open sauerkraut, wash to taste and drain over sink. Repeat to taste as necessary.
  3. Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp.
  4. Remove lardons with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
  5. Cook onions and apples in bacon fat until soft.
  6. Add more bacon fat or lard if it looks dry -- there should be about 2-3 tbsp fat in the pan.
  7. Sprinkle with caraway, celery seed, and flour and cook until bubbly, stirring, about 1 minute.
  8. Add water and stir to combine.
  9. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. Remove apples and onions from heat and mix in bacon and sauerkraut.
  11. Spread into 9x11 pan, or similar size.
  12. Cover, either with lid or aluminum foil and bake for 30-45 minutes.
  13. Remove cover and let brown for 15 minutes.
Notes
  1. We serve this with fresh -- not smoked -- Polish sausage on the holidays. To cook the Polish, first boil it, then cut it into 3 inch pieces and bake. If you're low on oven space, the Polish can be baked in the sauerkraut by nestling it into the kraut.
  2. Serve with horseradish and ketchup.
Adapted from Richard's Mom and My Own recipe
Adapted from Richard's Mom and My Own recipe
Lost Rambler http://lostrambler.com/hodor/

New Orleans’ French Quarter

Blog Entry November 22, 2015

The Royal Sonesta in the French Quarter
The Royal Sonesta, with it’s raw bar called Desire, on Bourbon Street. We always got rooms on the other side of the hotel — quieter at night that way.
When I was younger, I visited New Orleans with my parents frequently. My mother loves the French Quarter: my parents honeymooned at the Royal Sonesta. We always stayed when we went to New Orleans for my parent’s professional conferences. I remember going there as a very young girl and having my imagination fired by the feeling you get of being in another world.

The only other place I’ve visited on the North American continent that looks like the French Quarter is Montreal. And no wonder, since they were both primarily built by the French. I’ve never been to France, but I’ve always imagined it looking like these places. It’s a wonderful place to walk around and dream of travel, which was one of my favorite activities as a child. As an adult, my life revolves around travel, as I dreamed it would.

When Richard said he wanted to visit New Orleans on the trip down I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to walk with him in the French Quarter and share some of my memories. But particularly, I wanted to enjoy some of the fantastic food with him. For me, the French Quarter is all about sensory experience: the look, the sounds, the smells and tastes.

But the French Quarter is not someplace you want to drive around. The streets are incredibly narrow, as you would expect for a 300+ year-old location. So the best strategy if you aren’t staying in a nearby hotel or at the French Quarter RV Resort (they have regular buses), would be to find a parking lot off Canal Street.

Image of One of the Canal Lines streetcars
One of the Canal Lines streetcars that run up and down the center of Canal St.
I recommend Canal because it’s a large street with lots of hotels off it, which often provide the lowest price for parking. Also, there are multiple stops for the Canal/Cemeteries and Canal/City Park/Museums streetcar lines. Harrah’s New Orleans Casino is at the bottom of Canal as well, if you are so inclined. Just be aware that you’ll have to turn left across the streetcar line to get to most of these hotels, and that the maze of streets in the French Quarter can be tricky with unpredictable one way streets (one of the many reasons you don’t want to drive in the French Quarter itself).

So we parked at the Astoria lot, which is valet. Not my favorite thing to do, but it was convenient to Bourbon Street. We visited during the day, which is my recommended time to see the French Quarter, unless you are a heavy partier and intend to use cabs to return to your hotel after drinking. On a Sunday there wasn’t a lot of folks on Bourbon St, so we walked down Bourbon to St. Ann to Jackson Square.

To me, Bourbon Street is a lot more fun in the daytime. You can look down the side streets and see all the little alleys and courtyards. You can stop and check out the history plaques and read about the buildings. When you hear good music coming out of a place, you can stop and listen. And you can do all this without drunks bumping into you!

St. Ann Street is a good one to cut down to Jackson Square. It runs parallel to Canal. It’s not a huge street, but it’s big enough to feel safe during the day. If you’re there at night, I wouldn’t recommend taking side streets unless you are in a group (I wouldn’t recommend going to Bourbon St. at night unless you are in a group, either). Although it has stores and museums and restaurants on it, you can also see that people still really live in the French Quarter, that it’s not all places that cater to tourists. It’s a living place.

From St. Ann, we came out on the top end of Jackson Square. Jackson Square is bounded by the river and Decatur St. (what I think of as the bottom) and the Presbytere, St. Louis Cathedral, and the Cabildo on the top, which line Chartres St., though cars can not cross the square on the top here. The Presbytere is part of the Louisiana State Museum, featuring a huge collection of Mardi Gras artifacts. The Cabildo was the seat of government during the Spanish colonial era. We didn’t have much time (seeing all three of these gorgeous sites would have taken all day), so we went in to the St. Louis Cathedral. Having recently visited several of the oldest churches in America in New York, we wanted to see St. Louis since it is a different architectural design.

Image of Inside Saint Louis Cathedral
The interior of Saint Louis Cathedral, built in 1727.
St. Louis Cathedral is spectacular inside. Covered in brilliant murals, the Cathedral reflects some of the different cultures brought together in New Orleans: Latin on the murals, French on the Stations of the Cross, and Spanish and French influence in design and style.

One of the main driving architectural features of all cathedrals is a beautiful ceiling. The idea was to beautify these ceilings to guide the parishioner’s eyes upward, towards God. Other architectural features do this as well, but the spectacularly painted ceilings in St. Louis’ do it to perfection. I wanted to sit in the pews and cast my eyes upward all day.

But we weren’t just in the French Quarter for the sights. Soon our stomachs reminded us that we were here for food as well! We left the Cathedral and went down St. Peter to the nearby Gumbo Shop.

Image of Outside the Gumbo Shop
The Gumbo Shop’s sign hangs from a balcony on St. Peter’s Street.
The Gumbo Shop is a small restaurant tucked into a converted residential space. There are three dinning areas: the front room, an outdoor courtyard, and the back room. It is an intimate space, but even at the end of the lunch rush, still not too loud. There was a line for seating when we got there, but everyone moved through pretty quickly.

Image of Crawfish Etouffee at the Gumbo Shop
My Crawfish Etouffee at the Gumbo Shop. Ooo-Eee was it good!
We started with the grilled Boudin sausage appetizer. The Boudin was rich, with a snappy natural casing and a soft interior, perfect for smearing on a French roll. Richard got the Creole combination platter: shrimp creole, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. I snuck some tastes and the red beans and rice were perfect – porky with that long cooked bean creaminess and just the right amount of smokiness. The Shrimp Creole and Jambalaya were both tasty as well, but I could have eaten a bucketful of the red beans and rice. I got the Crawfish Etouffee. The sauce was made with a shrimp stock and that extra dark roux you find down here, liberally studded with crawfish tails. Unlike other Creole/Cajun sauces the Etouffee sauce is made with the traditional trinity — onion, carrot and celery — instead of the Creole/Cajun trinity — onion, carrot, and green bell pepper. We both emptied our plates.

Image of Art vendors in Jackson Square
Art vendors in Jackson Square
After the Gumbo Shop, we strolled leisurely around Jackson Square down to the river. Jackson Square is a center for arts production, so the fence around the park that occupies the center of the square is a walking gallery for local artists selling their wares – everything from fine art, mixed media, street performers, and even fortune tellers is on display here.

Image of View of New Orleans Downtown from Riverfront
View of New Orleans Downtown from the French Quarter Riverfront
The riverfront affords beautiful views of downtown and the Crescent City Connection Bridge. If the wind had not been so high, we could have sat and watched the ships make their way down to various terminals for hours. Especially if we had a couple of beignets and some coffee from Café du Monde. Unfortunately the line on a Sunday afternoon for both take out and dine in at the Café were way too long, so we just sat a while and admired the view.

From Decatur St there are several streetcar stations for the Riverfront streetcar. We took the Riverfront streetcar line back to Canal, then took the Canal/Cemeteries line back up to our parking garage. A word of caution about the Canal lines. Both the Cemeteries and the City Park/Museum lines go up the center of Canal St, so don’t worry about which of these you get on if you only want to go up Canal a coupl of blocks. But the stations are in the middle of the street, and crossing can be difficult, so watch traffic carefully.

Image of Inside the Riverfront Line Streetcar
Inside the Riverfront Line Streetcar
If you’re going to do a lot of traveling on the streetcars (seeing the Garden District from the streetcars – the St. Charles St line — is my mom’s personal favorite) then get one of the Jazzy Passes. Normal rate is $1.25 for one way with $0.25 for a transfer. The Jazzy Pass is $3 for one day, which can be ordered online. But you’ll want to allow 5 to 10 days for delivery, more details on NORTA’s Jazzy Pass page.

Image of Buildings around Jackson Square
Around Jackson Square are plenty of places to sit and people watch.
The French Quarter is, in my opinion, a magical kind of place that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. To truly see it, though, allow yourself more than an afternoon if possible. Even though you can get a little taste of everything in one afternoon, like we did, to really appreciate it, you’ll want to spend more time. New Orleans itself also has a lot to offer in terms of museums, cultural events, dining, and live music. Just make sure if you are planning to stay in one of the state parks outside of the city over a weekend to make reservations some time in advance, since these parks (Foutainebleau State Park, for example) fill up. Profiter de la vie et de la danse!

Plotting the Rest of the Way South

Our loose plans for the month of November were to go south, stopping in Ohio, Kentucky, and Louisiana on the way to Alamo, Texas. Richard did a great job of trip routing down here to (outside) New Orleans. But we were both kind of stumped on the best way to get from New Orleans to Alamo.

The big elephant in the route between New Orleans and Alamo is Houston. Nothing against the city of Houston, but to be perfectly honest, their interstate and freeway systems are kind of scary. Richard had never driven there before, but I have, and I vividly remember the traffic and confusing roads. I lived in Los Angeles for 13 years, and even I didn’t wanted to drive the interstates around Houston again, most specifically in an RV.

Every route we looked into seemed to take us either through, north, or south of Houston, and all way too close for comfort. We’d heard from other RVers that the best time to take on the city would be early, early Sunday morning. Unfortunately, we plan to visit the French Quarter this Sunday and leave on Monday. And there was no way we were going to brave Houston traffic on a Monday morning.

So we called our fellow (and far more experienced) full-time RV friends who traveled from Illinois to Alamo every year. We’re going to be staying in the same park this winter on their recommendation, so we thought that they would have a good route. And boy, were we right!

Richard spent a good part of an hour on the phone with our friend getting the scoop on the route. The route will take us through Louisiana and then straight down to the coast. From there we’ll hug the coast, going down Galveston Island and from there on to Port Lavaca, where it turns inland. It involved several bridges, but best of all, a free ferry! Did I mention the ferry is free?! I think I did, but let me get it out of my system. Free ferry!

He also gave us several park recommendations. Our plan is to take it in three to four legs. The first leg will take us almost out of Louisiana. The next to a county park we found across right on the beach south of Galveston Island. There we want to spend a couple of days getting ready for and enjoying Thanksgiving. We both also need to get some work done for a couple of clients as well. Juggling travel and work sometimes means that you’ve got to just hunker down somewhere for longer than you planned to get the work done.

From the county park we’re looking for someplace between there and Alamo. The last leg will be on to Alamo! It’s exciting to know that we’re almost there, but at the same time, I do enjoy the traveling. Chloe doesn’t like travel days very much, because our routine gets changed. She does like sitting on my lap while we travel though.

Tomorrow we visit the French Quarter. I’m so excited to share with Richard all the places I’ve been, and to get some good Creole or Cajun cooking (including a beignet from Café du Monde).

Sun Roamers RV Resort

Our original plan for visiting New Orleans, Louisiana, was to stay at one of the state parks on the northern side of Lake Ponchartrain, Fountainebleau State Park in Mandeville. We called the park for availability, and much to our disappointment, they were booked up for the weekend. After calling and researching online, we discovered that all the state parks within a decent driving distance (defined as an hour and a half or less) of New Orleans were all booked, except for Bayou Segnette and Grand Isle. These are both on the south side of New Orleans, and Richard and I agreed neither of us wanted to take the coach through the New Orleans metropolitan area. We much prefer to avoid driving in large cities, or even driving too close to large cities, if possible.

So we started searching out private parks in the area, and found many of them to be either inconveniently located (for us) or out of our price range. Interestingly, and for those more adventurous about driving their RV in city traffic, we even found, on recommendation from our friends on iRV2, a park located nearly in the French Quarter itself. Finally we found a park just over the border in Picayune, Mississippi, called Sun Roamers RV Resort.

Image of Driving into Sun Roamers RV Park
After a couple of turns down the drive, the park opens up.
Like many private parks, Sun Roamers is primarily a seasonal destination, with many sites filled with stationary park models or RVs. The presence of seasonals don’t bother us, although if we are planning on a long stay somewhere, we generally prefer for the seasonal sites around us to be well taken care of, as in the case of Sun Roamers. Sun Roamers does have a fairly good selection of sites designated for their traveling visitors, however if you are a big rig (40 feet or larger) you may find some of the spaces pretty tight.

The sites in the front area are reserved for short-term stay visitors, while there is another section for longer stay visitors. Three of the short-term sites have full concrete pads (always a plus in my book). The park is surrounded by tall pines which act as a visual reminder that you’re in the Pine Belt, as they call it.

There is a distributed wi-fi system at the park, which provides a fairly good signal throughout, although like most systems it gets very slow around the later afternoon and evening as everyone gets home and logs on. Laundry and shower facilities, as well as an Olympic-sized pool (not heated), a clubhouse, a small non-denominational chapel and a pond round out the amenities. We managed to get a weak satellite signal on 110, but not 119. 129 (if we had the capabilities to use it) was also clear from our site at the front of the park.

Image of The office front porch at Sun Roamers
One of the office cats sunning on the front porch at Sun Roamers.
After Katrina, the park underwent some renovation. The office looks new, and the staff were welcoming and helpful, with popcorn and coffee for visitors. They offer daily trash pick up, which is fabulous, but although they advertise as being a green park, they did not have recycling facilities. I have to say that I am very disappointed by the general lack of recycling at most parks, even state parks, but I suppose that’s a complaint for another time.

Image of a Crook-necked crane
A crook-necked crane in the water.
I got my first picture of a crook-neck crane here, and the office is home to three or four cats who were friendly. I do enjoy stealing some cat time when I can. 🙂

Weathering Over

It’s five in the morning, an hour before my normal wake-up hour, and Richard and I are sitting out here in the living room watching the storm. We couldn’t sleep anymore due to the very loud and very close lighting strikes. As you can see from the radar, it’s pretty darn huge, and it’s been moving slower than we thought based on the weather forecast from last night.

Image of Large Storm over Mississippi Radar View
Here’s the radar from last night, around 10:20 pm when we went to bed.
Here’s the radar from last night, around 10:20 pm when we went to bed.[/caption]The storm is now moving in a north, north-east direction, sticking us with some red and yellow bits for a while yet. This was exactly why we decided not to go all the way to Mandeville, on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain outside of New Orleans. Not only did we think it wouldn’t be a great idea to explore New Orleans in the rain, we also weren’t sure of the amenities at Fountainebleau State Park, the campground we’d decided on in the area.

So, the decision to stay here and wait it out was probably a good one from a travel perspective. Our choice of sites, however, was probably not a good one, from a tornado perspective. We are out of the lake’s flood plain (that I can tell, although massive flooding could reach us from here), but here in the New Campground area of the park, there isn’t a storm shelter very close by. The closest is in the area they call the Second Loop, which was packed with RVs on Monday, and didn’t have any spots available for a coach our size.

There was a tornado watch issued for Hattiesburg at 3:00 am this morning, and there still is a one for the area until 9:00 am. Which brings me to two points: having a weather radio or app, and what to do in case of a tornado.

Even when I was tent camping, I always carried a weather radio with me into the forest. Now we have a weather radio combined with our walkie talkies, and I have an app called Weather Alerts on my phone. The app gives the same sound the weather radio or the television would, and woke me up at 3:00 am when the first tornado alert was issued. It is my opinion that no RVer should be without some kind of system like this. We use the app primarily, but we have the weather radio on the walkie talkies for emergency use, such as when the power goes out and my phone battery dies.

I think we’re pretty well prepared to be made aware of bad weather, or a tornado specifically, but what do you do if there is a tornado near you while you’re in an RV? In our sticks and bricks, we new exactly what to do. Go to an interior location, low to the ground, putting as many walls between you and the outside of your house as possible. The news last night had a new one for me: wear helmets if you’ve got them. Stay away from windows. Go to a storm shelter if there is one nearby.

But there really is no place in the motor home that puts multiple exterior walls between us and the tornado. The only place I can think of is the bathroom area, but it’s got a lot of glass in there. If we’d been near the shelter, I might have gotten Richard up and moved us there when the 3:00 am alert sounded. So, I went back to sleep. Was that the right thing to do? Not sure. We didn’t get picked up and thrown to Oz while we were sleeping, so it worked out. This time.

I’d love to hear about any of your stories or advice on what to do when a tornado alert sounds and you’re living in an RV.

Paul B. Johnson State Park

Yesterday we checked into Paul B. Johnson State Park. I think this one is going to go in our personal favorites list. It has everything we want in a campground to stay at for a couple of days. We think it’s going to be a great place to weather over the next few days.

If we’re only going to spend one night somewhere and get back on the road, we’ll stay pretty much anywhere as long as it’s close to the interstate (and at the moment, we also like to stay someplace with electric for the night). Paul B. Johnson is not close to the interstate, so it doesn’t fit with our over night criteria.

Image of the view from my window
The view from my window at Paul B. Johnson State Park.
The view from my window at Paul B. Johnson State Park.[/caption]But for places we’re going to stay a few days and nights, we want something more than an electric hook-up and nearness to the interstate. Paul B. Johnson has all the criteria we look for (pretty much in order of priority):

  • Full hook-ups.
    So, yeah, we can get by without full hook-ups; our work camping job in the summer doesn’t have full hook-ups. We have a huge blue boy that we use to dump when we’re at Big Rock Campground for the summer. We wanted a break from that routine, so we decided on full hook-up places for the winter season (and stuck our blue boy in storage). And, oh, my, goodness, is it great to have full hook-ups again! Shower as long as we want, whenever we want; don’t have to be careful while doing the dishes, etc.
  • Cement/concrete pads.
    Richard and I do a pretty good job at leveling the coach on any terrain, but it is very, very nice to be able to level quickly and easily when you get in after a long drive. And then not to have to level once more after it rains and the jacks sink or shift is also a plus. More like a plus-plus.
  • Spacious sites.
    Although we are social creatures, we also value privacy. We’ve stayed in places where you wake up to the sound of your neighbor brushing his teeth, and that’s okay. There’s many reasons why we’ll compromise on this point. Sometimes the budget can only take places where we’re packed in. Sometimes that kind of park is the only one close enough to where we want to be. But if we have our druthers, we would rather not be kept awake by the neighbor’s business. And we’d very much prefer for the neighbor’s not to be disturbed by our everyday noises as well.
  • Image of one of the native birds
    A male pied Muscovy duck. There is a flock of them that lives here, and about four that that have made the New Campground is their home.
  • A natural setting.
    Part of why we chose this lifestyle was to be surrounded by nature and beauty. We like being near natural features, or historical attractions. I know Richard especially likes being near lakes, not just for the joy of waking up everyday to see the light flashing on the water, but for fishing too (an activity we enjoy together). I love being close to trails I can hike, and beautiful scenery I can appreciate while walking Chloe. I also enjoy being in a natural setting where I can observe local wildlife, birds in particular. Am I a full on birder? Not yet….
  • Low(er) cost.
    This is most definitely a relative term. We understand sometimes you’ve just gotta pay more, but we generally like to pay less than $30 a night.

Paul B. Johnson State Park has all these things. It’s a large campground, but it’s been split up into areas that make you feel like you’re in a smaller place. Lots of sites have full view of Geiger Lake. There are some that are right on the water, but these are smaller sites that we couldn’t fit into with the 40’ Scepter.

Image of the spillway crossing
The spillway you have to cross on the way to the campground area.
The spillway you have to cross on the way to the campground area.[/caption]One drawback to Paul B. Johnson is the incredibly long drive in over narrow, old roads. The park was constructed after Geiger Lake was built by German POWs housed at nearby Camp Shelby. I’m pretty sure that the spillway you’ll drive over to access the campground dates to that period, or perhaps a little later. Going over that spillway in a 32,800 lbs vehicle is an experience to be sure. So if you stay here, and I highly recommend it, you’ll want to count on extra time exiting and entering the campground in your planning. It takes between 20 and 30 minutes depending on how much oncoming traffic you encounter, and how fast you want to drive the old, narrow, winding roads.

Image of signs on the entrance gate
If you’re going to be camping, you don’t need to pay the entrance fee. Also, the campground office takes credit cards. 🙂
If you’re going to be camping, you don’t need to pay the entrance fee. Also, the campground office takes credit cards. :)[/caption]At $21 a night with tax, this place is a steal. I’d expect to pay $30 or more a night for all the features of this park. I’m pretty sure it fills up during high season, since it is such a gem. Given the native dogwoods I’ve seen around, the place is probably even more spectacular in the spring. We may just have to find out on our way back to Illinois next spring.

Addendum: 11/18. Although we intended to stay through Thursday the 19th for some reason we only registered through today, the 18th. It’s raining right now, so we really didn’t want to go up to the campground office. I called up there, and spoke to a very nice attendant who renewed me over the phone. She told me I could come up there and get the vehicle passes when (if) it stops raining.

I also spoke to her about when the park sees it’s most campers. During the winter, she said they have “winterbirds” who stay the entire season. During the summer, June and July are their most busy months, with the campground being near to almost full during these months.

Benchmark Coach and RV Park, Meridian, MS

Our original plans for November 14th and 15thth, however, Richard and I decided we wanted to give ourselves a break and stay two days at our next stop in Meridian, MS at Benchmark Coach and RV Park. We were also hoping to be able to get the Bears game (unfortunately this was a no) and the NASCAR race (yay!).

Image of Benchmark Coach and RV Park

Image of The office at Benchmark Coach and RV Park
The office at Benchmark Coach and RV Park. I always like to show pictures of the offices at parks we go to, because I don’t know how many times we’ve driven into a park and asked, “Where’s the office?”
Benchmark does not fit all our usual criteria for a more than stop-over place. The sites are extremely close together, and there isn’t any views. It does fit our idea of a good stop-over, one night kind of place perfectly. They honor plenty of discount programs including Passport America, Good Sam, and FMCA, although you should know that they only honor Passport America’s discount for one night.

The sites, while somewhat tight, are all paved and level. The campground consists primarily of pull-thrus, which is very convenient for one night. Most of the folks were only staying one night, so we were able to watch a rotating cast of coaches throughout the two nights we stayed. One thing I really appreciated is that although it is very close to I-59/I-20, it is surrounded on both sides by woods to block the interstate noise. There does some to be some kind of heavy industry nearby, though, so I’d expect some noise pollution during weekdays.

Image of Laundry Room at Benchmark Coach and RV Park
The laundry room at Benchmark Coach and RV Park. Accessed with a keypad, it is in the same building with the showers.
The park is well kept and has several amenities: laundry room, showers, propane fill, and a small dog park. It’s a family run place, and everyone was very nice and friendly. On the weekends, the office is only open from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm. However, they’re happy to let you know which site to go to if you call them if you arrive outside of these hours. This did produce a line at the office when we went to register, but I didn’t think that was a problem since Richard and I were happy to chat with our fellow RVers while we waited.

Be aware that it says on the website that sites start at $25.00 a night. Only the five or six back-in sites are this price, and these do not have 50 amp service. With the discounts we applied (Passport America and FMCA) we were able to average $26.00, but if you do not have a discount, you will pay more. All in all, it’s a great stop-over on your way further south.

Our (Loose) Plans for Now

Richard and I try to remain flexible on the road, but we do like to make some sort of rough road map for at least the next couple of weeks or so. But these are not set in stone. Things change: weather, health, constitution, roads, the budget, etc.

Being able to be flexible is one of the most important skills I think full-timers can have. It’s not necessarily my strong suit, because I am a planner at heart, but it is a skill I would like to develop. I knew this lifestyle would help in that development. I’ve recently (like in the past year) adopted a more optimistic attitude.

“It will work out,” comes to my lips now without even having to try, because I know from experience that it will. Will it always work out the way I planned? No. Will it always work out the way I’d prefer? No. But life continues, and it does work itself out.

I didn’t always have this attitude. It was something I had to work to gain. I faked it for a long time before it became instinct. When something seemed challenging, or in danger of “not working out” I forced myself to take a breath, and say,

It will work out.

And low and behold! It worked out. Often better than I’d wanted, or in a way totally unexpected than I’d planned. But because I had accepted that life works out, one way or another, I didn’t find it unbearable when it worked out in a, shall we say, less pleasant fashion then I’d planned.

Are things always hunky-dory? Nope. But without a doubt, even when things worked out not so well, things still worked out. The key for me was taking away the unspoken valuation on the phrase, “it will work out.” Before, I attached a positive value to the phrase. So when I said, “I hope this works out,” what I really was saying “I hope this works out to my advantage.”
Our friend from RVillage, Peter, expresses a similar concept in his blog, Life Unscripted:

I suspect we all say things we mean in part, but don’t mean absolutely. There is a portion of travel I tire of; there is a flavor in hazelnut that I dislike; I don’t like the tingling sensation I get in my fingers when I’m in extreme cold. — We all say we don’t like things with an emphasis on specific characteristics.

And I think these characteristic valuations go unspoken but not unexpected.

Now I merely say, “It will work out,” secure in the knowledge that life will work out one way or the other, ether to my advantage or not. But one thing is certain, life goes on, and life going on isn’t anything that I can’t stand, since if I’m alive, I’m clearly standing life.

So, here’s the (loose) schedule for our next few days:

Travel Data

  • Traveled 240 miles in 5.1 hours from Fort Payne, MS to Marion, MS
  • Used 26.4 gallons of diesel at an average of 9 mpg
  • Cost of one night (averaged between one night with Passport America discount applied and one night with FMCA discount applied) at Benchmark Coach and RV Park $26 (averaged, with tax)

Chattanooga Traffic Craziness

Today we journeyed from London, Kentucky, to Fort Payne, Alabama. We were in four different states, and traveled our longest day yet of this particular route: six hours and 254 miles. It was not exactly a fun travel day, with happy sing-a-longs and road trip games (not that even our fun days produce such cringe worthy activities, but I think you get my drift, wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Out the windshield view of Smoky Mountains
The view of the beginning of the Smoky Mountains in Kentucky on I-75 from my seat.
The views from my seat were very pretty, I must admit, and I think they would have been even more beautiful a week or so ago when the colors would have been at their peak. There weren’t too many serious grades: one downhill at 4% was as high as it went. I-75 skirts the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) (FYI, Levi Jackson State Park is also in the DBNF) all the way down to the Tennessee border, and there were many attractions that caught my eye and have since been placed on the “places I’d like to see” list, hiking the Sheltowee Trace heading the list.

We went round the western side of Knoxville with a little more extra traffic than we experienced coming down I-75, but it was the kind of traffic we would expect in a metro area. There is a left hand exit from I-640 (Knoxville by-pass) to I-40/I-65, though. Things continued along, with the hills and grades gradually decreasing as we headed on to Chattanooga.

We hit the outskirts of Chattanooga about 2:00 pm, eastern. Traffic started to get very heavy around Cleveland, KY, with increasing amounts of semis and the dangerous behavior cars that are accustomed to a specific route exhibit when around them. The end of the route around Chattanooga on the south-east side terminates with a left hand exit, not a lot of fun in light traffic, but particularly difficult in heavy, semi-laden traffic.

View through windshield of Tennessee River just outside of Chattanooga
Don’t judge the traffic by this shot, Richard likes to give a lot of space in front of him. The Tennessee river is on the right hand side.
Then came the really fun part. In order to get to I-59 on the western side of Chattanooga, one must take I-24 for approximately 17 miles. There is a moment in this stretch where you break out ugliness and overlook the city nestled in it’s valley, followed by a beautiful curve bounded on one side by cut cliffs, and on the other by the Tennessee River. It is absolutely gorgeous. And absolutely not fun for the driver.

Traffic is still very heavy, the lanes are narrow, and the curve around the bend in the river is accompanied by a more steep slope than one would expect from an interstate in an urban area. Follow that up with the fact that to get onto I-59 you need to get into the far left lane, and you have a recipe for some real Chattanooga Craziness.

Craziness aside, Richard got us safely to our destination in Fort Payne, Alabama, at the Wills Creek R.V. Park. This park is great for an overnight stop, with tons of pull-throughs. Bonus, it’s not at all far from I-59. But there are little trees on either side of each site, many with low hanging branches, as well as narrow, dirt roads and tight corners. All in all, Richard and I are glad to be relaxing here and no longer in the congestion and headache of Chattanooga (even if we don’t have TV because we we’re too tired to set up the dish for one night and there’s no antenna reception here).

Road Data for November 13th

  • Traveled 254 miles in 6.1 hours from London, KY to Fort Payne, AL
  • Used 31.3 gallons of diesel and average 8 mpg
  • Cost of one night at Wills Creek R.V. Park $28.82 (with tax)

The Visone RV Boneyard

View of the Visone RV Boneyard from the road
Driving into the Visone RV Boneyard, you can see all the RVs parked on the rolling hills.
My mind has been totally blown by a visit to the Visone RV Boneyard. I guess I should explain. In London, Kentucky, lies one of the largest RV boneyards, if not THE largest east of the Mississippi. Not only can you go there and find spare parts in their warehouse, but you can also give them a list of needed parts and they will run out to the lots and try and find them for you.

Image of RVs lined up on the Visone Lot
Some of the RVs lined up on the Visone Lot.
When we first drove in, we were shocked by the amount of RVs, specifically motorhomes, they had on their property. And then there was the damage. I’ve never seen so much shear damage around me. It was just completely mind-boggling, to see the condition some of the RVs here are in after experiencing fire or an accident.

Image of the burnt side of Monaco
A fire in a Monaco completely destroyed the entire driver’s side.
The fire damaged ones, to my mind, were both the most impressive, and the most frightening. Fire is something that lays heavy on my mind sometimes. If a fire starts by the furnace or refrigerator, there isn’t much that can be done. You can do the safety-training stuff and aim the fire extinguisher, but there is a good chance that you will lose your RV. On the left is a Monaco coach after a fire in, I believe, the refrigerator area. The damage is extensive, and (as we discovered from talking to the guys here about the fire-damaged HR Scepter we were hoping to pull some cabinet doors from for a future project) the interior is nearly completely a loss. The featured image for this post is a close-up of some of the fiberglass damaged by the fire.

We were a little disappointed that we were not allowed to roam over the yards to seek out parts, but we understood why. A close friend had an accident out there, and their insurance company won’t allow them to let people roam at will anymore. But we were allowed to walk around some of the coaches in the yard, which was still exciting.

Image from inside the Visone Warehouse
Down one of the aisle inside the Visone Warehouse.
The warehouse is large and extensive. It contains nearly anything you could want for your coach, from cabinet fixtures to power inverters, to exterior covers. Some of the inventory is new, but mostly it is used parts pulled from the various coaches in the yard.

A visit to an RV boneyard has been something we’ve wanted to do since we started RVing, and Visone paid off in spades. Even though it’s a bit scary to see all the different ways our RV could, well, die, it’s still an amazing site to see all these RVs in one place.

We brought our purchases home and made our replacements. In addition to the door, we also bought several covers for our overhead florescent lights which had cracked, and therefore fell down at the slightest bump in the road. The new covers fit snug and don’t look to be going anywhere.

Image of the broken hinge
The hinge that broke on our OE door. Note the duct tape fix.
Replacing the door was not an easy task. First we removed the old door (with the fridge off so it would not beep at us). With the door off, we removed the old, broken hinge. Then we striped the black trim off one side of the old door, and knocked the wooden panel out.

Image of the new door
The new door on our kitchen table. Yes, we got thickburgers for lunch that day. 😉
The panel is held in on the edges by runnels, but it is also glued on. At Visone they’d advised us that we could possibly encounter this, and they said to run a file underneath the panel to break the hold. We didn’t have a file, so we used brute, but gentle, force. We had the cuts of wood we’d used in the great cabinet lift of 2015 that we used to protect the wood as Richard hammered the panel out.

Together we slid the old panel onto the new door. That took some coordinated effort to jimmy properly in place.

Image of Richard preparing to replace the door
Richard sitting before the door, preparing to do the replacement.
Now we were ready to mount the new door. First we slid the new door into the upper hinge. Then I got down onto my back on the floor while Richard held the (now very heavy with the wooden panel) door in place. Seating the screws properly to attach the new door’s hinge to the bottom mount was difficult, but once they were properly in place with their washer, I was able to screw the new hinge bracket in place.

What an amazing day! We got a project accomplished and had our minds totally blown by the mass of all the RVs at Visone. Definitely a place worth seeing, but it is also a great online resource.