Trip to Indiana – Achieving a Major Milestone

Moving from Kentucky north through Indiana with two stops. The area in red ink is Elkhart and Goshen Indiana which are important for RV repairs and upgrades.

We moved on from Kentucky for two Indiana stops. First time I towed the RV around or through two major cities on the same move day, those being Louisville and Indianapolis. After 10,088 miles of towing this big rig, I’m starting to feel comfortable with traffic and lane changes in big cities. The keys to big city highways are knowing what lane to be in for exits before you leave on the trip, travel between 10 am and 2 pm and to some degree, on Sundays. Although it seems to me that anymore Sunday traffic is busy in the afternoon. As a side note, it also seems the campgrounds start to fill up on Thursday evening rather than Friday afternoons. So now we plan our travel days to public campgrounds, such as state parks, accordingly. You don’t want to arrive when the rest of the herd is showing up.

We have camped in Indiana before, so it’s not on the list of new states visited. Our first stop was just north of Indianapolis at the White River Campground located in Cicero Indiana. We exited off Interstate 69 North onto Indiana Highway 37 that’s easy to navigate. If you are traveling, especially in a larger RV, I want you to stop reading and write down this campground on your list of possible visits. Not only is it a great County Park but it is within striking distance (130 miles) of Goshen and Elkhart Indiana where 80% of all RVs are built. We would notice dozens of new RVs headed southbound, presumably being delivered from the factories. If I had not booked our camping spots on this spring trip weeks in advance, I would have made our next stop Affinity RV Group in Goshen for some routine maintenance. Oh well, we scheduled a stop at our fifth wheel brand’s service center for later this year in Mississippi. Those of you planning to travel fulltime in an RV will appreciate ideas as to where to get quick and reliable service while on the road. It’s a big deal. I phoned Infinity to verify what rigs they work on. They work on all brands, to include where the customer pays or has an extended warranty. They provide factory paid warranty work for Keystone, Heartland and Forrest River. They do have a spot for campers to park if they are there more than one day, but space is limited. So if they must have you back the next day to finish the work, you might be referred to a local campground. At the time of this posting Infinity is booking appointments for September (three months from now) or later. When I called, the phone was answered on the second ring. Anyone else have a special place to get RV service while traveling?

White River Campground – Cicero Indiana

We stayed in site 18 at White River Campground, a full hookup that backs up to a gentle river where it was common to see kayaks and canoes. The campground can refer you to a service that will transport you to a put-in point.
The county dismantled two historic bridges and relocated them to the White River Campground/park area. Walk over the bridge to a trail.
The town is connected to a city lake that is part of the river system. We spent time driving into the countryside to check out rural Indiana communities. Some will appreciate a good place to buy meat which is the small Cicero Market. Get the smoked pork chops!

Some time ago I commented about using Google Earth to measure campground roads and camping spots that might be visible through the trees when viewed on the computer. Well, I conducted a test while at White River Campground. I found the measurement tool in Google Earth to be surprisingly accurate. Our site measured 50′ deep and the road in front was 22′, both when using a measuring tape and the Google Earth tool. We hung the back of the RV about five foot off the pad to gain a little more room to park the truck.

Taylor Center of Natural History at Strawtown Koteewi Park

I’ll have to wrap up the report about visiting this part of Indiana to save room for the next stop. Especially as I still want to describe how Karen and I achieved a major milestone where we have embraced the lifestyle.

This Cicero area county park consists of several plots of land that you can ride a bike or drive between. We were lucky to have spent a good hour talking to a retired history teacher who worked at a replica American Indian Village. Once you have seen one old Indian artifact then they all seem the same at the next museum. But not in this case as it got my attention when the teacher described Indiana Native American history. Darn if I can’t recall his name. Older guy that looks young because he is a runner. Look for him at the Strawtown Koteewi Park – you won’t miss him. We talked about how the county combined land from different owners to establish the large park, to include an inland lake. We talked about excavation of at least one Indian Village on the same ground. We talked about the little old lady who lived in the house across the street from the Taylor Center of Natural History and how she rode her lawnmower over to the center for visits before she passed away. She described to the teacher of growing up in the area and the fun things they did on the property as children, which are now memories that will be lost in time unless the stories are told. We visited the original settler cemetery on the backside of the property. The older lady’s 1920’s bicycle is still located in a resorted 1800’s barn on the property and now owned by the county.

There were only two other visitors at the Indian Village, one had a dog and the other did not mind if we let them off leash. Wyatt had a hard time catching his new friend. The dogs ran until they were tired and found a shade tree as we kept them out of the structures.
Very interesting – a mockup of a pit where archaeologists dug when excavating the village. Replica artifacts are imbedded in the concrete walls, depicting where they were found.
This is a photo of a late 1800’s barn, the one where the old lady’s 1920’s bike was left. She was married to the kid on the right. The next photo is the same barn but restored. The little old lady (Mrs. Morris) told the museum folks they painted the shutters the wrong color.

Hello Warsaw Indiana – Located 40 Miles South of Elkhart – We Arrive to a Different Attitude of Where We Are in Life.

We stayed over a holiday at Pike Lake Campground which is owned by the City of Warsaw Indiana alongside a small lake and nearby city park. They actually have large pike and walleye in the lake. I thought about getting a five day out-of-state fishing license and using the kayak but we were to busy relaxing. Yes, sometimes you don’t get a lot done when you are visiting with the neighbors. Or drinking a beer at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday, sitting outside looking at what passes by and wondering what everyone is doing back at your old workplace:)

This was not the type of RV camping spot we necessarily look for. In the center of a larger community, down roads flanked by residential streets where locals wonder over to the city park to stare at all the RVs at the campsite. But they dare not enter because park management are ex-fulltime RVers and don’t tolerate anything but making sure the campers have a good visit. By the way, if you go here, let Camp Host Linda give you hand signals while backing the RV if she insists. The spots are laid out in a way not common to most campers with the driver’s side within feet of the next camper. Our particular pull-through spot required the RV straddling the sewer connection where I climbed underneath to attached the poop shoot (sewer hose). Sessional campers rent spaces for the spring and summer. Our dirt/gravel/grass spot in the sun turned out to be fine. A few months ago we would have had been disappointed with the accommodations, calling the place a parking lot. But something happened, maybe because we spent a couple weeks away from the RV while in Nashville or maybe because we are finally embracing the lifestyle after 21 months of living it. Although we began to really appreciate where we were at while parked on the high plains of Kansas last year. When I wrote the following comments about what we were feeling:

“It is now apparent this lifestyle is not just about driving around! You can not experience these landscapes in a museum! Envision cresting a hill which opens to a landscape, painted by God, where you can see over what appears 10 miles in the distance. Imagine stepping outside your home to just sit in the lawn chair, surrounded by the same landscape but up close. Sitting on a hillside overlooking prairie grass, singing birds flanked by a gentle lake that stands out from a background of rolling hills. Just sit there and hear nothing but nature in a cool breeze under a massive blue sky. There is no time for worries because the mere experience of this takes your mind away with all your senses occupied just to take in the beauty of the moment.”

This is no way described our current camping spot. The comments while in Kansas do not describe the feelings we had once we arrived at Pike Lake Campground in Indiana months later. Between now and then the hassles of living this lifestyle were somewhat overshadowing the good parts. Maybe trying to negotiate issues around the pandemic created roadblocks to finally letting it all go and embracing the lifestyle. Maybe, finally as a couple, having our individual expectations come to a crossroad and merge into one thought happened to arrive at this juncture. I know from experience others who will take to the road will not get this far along. They will burn-out in the first few months. Their plan to spend a year traveling will be a battle, or not, which will lead to giving up before they also embrace (surrender) to the lifestyle, making whatever adjustments are necessary or at least opening ones eyes to the good parts while minimizing the hassles.

I write long posts, longer than you know because I go back and cut a lot out. Not this time. Many blogs and YouTube video I have used for research over the past eight years don’t bother to totally explain concepts. I think some just use words like embracing the lifestyle and think the reader/viewer will eventually figure it out on their own. At times I thought others were just being lazy when they did not bother to explain something in detail. Writing is much harder than recording a video. Because you have to think about every sentence you type so as not to confuse the reader. There just is not enough space in a short article that will keep a readers attention long enough to “over explain” the point the writer is trying to pass along. I write in detail, as do others, because somehow it feels rewarding to put it in print and we feel a sense of responsibility to get the entire story out.

Permit me to paint a picture of what “embracing the lifestyle” means to Karen and me after the two of us discussed it. This is our story as we arrived at Pike Lake:

Just another stop on our way to a final destination. We were happy to have a weekend spot over a holiday. We could see the campers parked close together, many separated by mowed weeds. I was just glade not to have missed any turns or hit any parked cars. Time to once again setup our camping spot and plan for the next. That’s what this eight day stay was to be in our minds. But not so!

We were hit by sudden and unexpected thoughts, stepping out of our now leveled and ready to live in RV with power and water attached to the campground supply. Time to walk around and check out our surroundings. We might have been 15 feet from the RV when we noticed the ancient cemetery on a nearby hillside. We enjoy exploring the lives and markers of those buried. Around the corner, to our surprise was a half mile boardwalk through a wetland habitat. Down the path from our home is a small residential lake – with boat docks and a pile of kayaks management says we are free to use, just stop by for a key to the lock. Overlooking the lake are two comfortable porch swings from which we could watch a mother Swan leading her young. What fine details the experienced camp hosts have considered to include telling us to make sure and come by Saturday at the camp shelter for a holiday breakfast. Locals, with their rigs parked for a few months on sessional lots, even wondered how the heck we found the place. Parked next to us are Fred and Stephanie. Fulltimers for years who are in town for a longer stay with family. Their dog is the camp mascot.

None of this was expected! As we walked down the path of the boardwalk Karen and me were thinking the same at the time. This is wonderful. Who cares about where we parked the RV or what it took to get here. We were a notch above happy. We had embraced the lifestyle for what it offers. It no longer is so much about what we left behind and comparing that against our current situation. Yes, we know there will be challenges ahead. There always is no matter where you call home. I anticipate those challenges will be few and far between. The hassles will be quickly overcome and will not overshadow the unexpected joys of this lifestyle – once one has sincerely embraced it.

The Photos from Pike Lake Campground, Warsaw Indiana

Fred and Stephanie’s wonderful Keystone Montana. This is their yard. When you park campers close together on the driver’s side, back to back, it opens up the yard between the next camper. If you guys are reading this blog – thank you for the friendship and the camping spot suggestions on our future trips. We might see you in Texas for winter someday!
Maybe this is a sign Karen was embracing the lifestyle. She finally is making the place her own and had me install spice racks. Na – Stephanie gave them to her.

Tour of Historic Cemetery and Boardwalk Through a Wetland

Oakwood Cemetery, Warsaw Indiana. Just a walk up the hill from the campground. This is the Civil War Circle. I’ve never seen so many dead Yankees in one place since we left Andersonville Prison Camp. 17,000 town people and many soldiers are buried here.
Black squirrels running everywhere. Did not seem to be afraid of the camera.
Tommy Hubler, Section 2 of the cemetery. The youngest person to serve in the military during the civil war for the longest period. He was said to have been at 26 battlefields. Joined when he was nine years of age.
The trees are changing. We know we are getting closer to Michigan.

We are currently parked near Howell Michigan visiting family. We will be heading north from here.

I’d like to ask for prayers for my blogger friends, Dee and Jim. He is suffering from a brain tumor. She is moving closer to family while he is in treatment at a nearby hospital. Dee – I’m thinking about you guys everyday. Click here for her post titled Life Can Take a Turn Fast. That way you will have more information for your prayers.

Only a few friends knew my wife Karen was on a ventilator, nearly dead, the year before we were to leave on our fulltime journey. I never wrote about it because it was too personal. God is great. Karen woke and here we are now. Prayers work. So say one for Jim and Dee.

Kentucky – Our 18th State to Visit

Cave City Kentucky – Near Mammoth Cave National Park is about 80 miles north of Nashville off Interstate 65

We made it back from our two week stay near Kansas City Missouri, having left our RV in storage in Nashville Tennessee. We stayed the night in a motel then hitched up our 5th wheel the next morning, heading out to Cave City Kentucky which is a couple miles outside the main entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Before I get to far into the story regarding our visit to Kentucky I want to pass along how important it was to Karen and I having returned home to our RV. We really enjoyed the time we had with family back in Missouri and wondered what it would be like returning to the RV for the first time having left it behind. Well – we agreed the RV still felt like home and was the place we wanted to be more than anywhere. We are both happy in this lifestyle. I hope to remember to tell you the story in the next post of how we talking about embracing this lifestyle and what that really means. These are pivotal moments I want to share, especially with those planning for a future in an RV or experiencing the ups and downs of their first year or two on the road. More on this next time…..

It is worth noting our trip to Kentucky actually included the drive back from Kansas City Missouri. We took the US 60 route out of Springfield Missouri eastbound through the Ozark Mountains, having stopped to visit family overnight along the way. Paducah Kentucky was our first destination with zero plans to stop for a visit. I wanted to drive over a couple bridges a friend wrote about. You can read his remarks here at On the Road of Retirement Blog back in July of 2020. Yes, call me silly or whatever to make a destination out of driving over a rural bridge. We have time and 80 extra miles on a trip seems like nothing. The map of the United States gets a lot smaller in this lifestyle. I wanted to know what the horrifying experience was all about as described by a 10 year veteran driving a big motorhome.

These were a couple of nasty bridges that wanted to eat the side of our truck. Glad we were not towing the RV. And even more happy to find there did not appear to be many diverting to this route with the closure of the I-40 bridge in Memphis. I have no idea why we did not find a debree field of mirrors on the roadway and metal crash marks on the railing. The scenery beyond the bridges was amazing at this crossing of two major rivers. There is an alternative route over Interstate 57 to Interstate 24 which I might have taken had we been towing. You learn that adding a few miles for better roads is just part of the deal. Besides, we find some of the most interesting campgrounds by taking the longer way around.

Two bridges heading from Missouri to Paduka Kentucky via US 60 to US 62. These are very long and narrow bridges.
Google Earth View – Those truck mirrors are right on the line. No way was I going to take a picture while driving. You learn naturally what the center of the road feels like when towing a big trailer and just concentrate on keeping it there. I’m guessing our mirrors where less than a foot away from a semi that passed us on this bridge.
Google Earth view of trucks passing. Google Earth is your friend – look at it from a street view over major rivers.
And this is what John posted on his blog. Construction on the bridge. From prior experience I known in the view ahead is a temporary traffic light used when the lanes are reduced to one. Each end has a red or green light and you hope the other guy is paying attention. If you stay on the road long enough you will learn how to judge traffic patterns and things to look out for. John – for some reason my comment on your blog asking to share the photo never showed up so you never had a chance to tell me its okay to use the photo. If you want to sue me, I’ll be in about five states in as many months, good luck getting me served with the court date 🙂

It was a good idea to cut the days drive to 80 miles after hitching up the RV in storage. Wish we would have booked the first campground for a week to get rested up. We had only four nights stay to explore Cave City Kentucky which is the home of the worlds longest cave called Mammoth Cave. The cave is one of only 21 sites in the United States that is a World Heritage Site. Frankly, it’s hard to impress me with a cave as there are so many back in our old home state. Glad I took one of the 15 different tours. Karen stayed home with the dog and intended to take a horseback ride later. Cave City is an easy stop off I-65 for all you folks coming back after winter down south. No need to just get a quick park for an overnight stop when you can extend for two nights and see the sites. Just like you can do in Huntsville Alabama where I reported about the Space Center. Both were on the route towards our goals in Michigan.

There is a wonderful museum inside the visitors center where you will learn literally everything you would want to know about caves. Millions of years ago the planet consisted of one continent. What is now Kentucky 330 million years ago was a warm, shallow ocean. Calcium-rich remains of tiny plants and animals drifted to the bottom and formed what is now the cave’s limestone. Eventually the water would recede. The lands of Kentucky were uplifted by seismic activity with a layer of sandstone on top and the more water soluble limestone below forming the hills. Over time a river would erode downward and eventually form channels through the cave. Water would flow down in other places through sinkholes that formed above. Ancient man used reeds collected from near the river that burned for up to 45 minutes inside the cave. They packed bundles in as they explored the cave system. There were burn marks on the cave ceiling where reeds had been thrown to illuminate the cave from above.

The visitors center is in the center and the yellow lines are the 400 plus mile cave. Geologists believe there can be another 600 miles yet to be explored. If you want to visit a natural feature that is the largest in the world then visit Mammoth Cave.

It’s difficult to get any photos inside the cave when flash photography is not permitted. My tour began with a long walk down a paved path (later you have to walk back up hill) then down 65 steps into the cave at its historic visitors entrance. This cave has be actively toured for hundreds of years. I noticed a signature painted on a wall inside dated 1832. I had told a ranger the cave even impressed this Missouri boy. He told me that signature I was looking at belonged to a man who owned a cave in Hannibal Missouri. He came through, was impressed and traded that Missouri cave to another. The cave in Hannibal is the Mark Twain Cave where we have camped.

My tour was self-guided with rangers posted along the three miles who would answer questions. The staff is highly educated and appreciated questions, some of which lead to 15 minutes of discussion. If you think of a cave as being a tree with branches, my tour would be the trunk of the cave. I was greatly impressed with the height and depth of features. When asked what was the most important feature in this one of 15 different tours, the ranger said that would be knowing there would not have been a United States without this cave. The story goes on that during the War of 1812 the British blockaded the United States to prevent, among other products, the importation of gunpowder. This cave had deposits of saltpeter which is an additive used to make gunpowder. The wood assemblies, to include wood pipes, remain in their exact locations today inside the cave. Large mounds of dirt are scattered alongside the paved walking surfaces of the cave. These piles are the remnants of what was mined in the cave. I later read saltpeter deposits were also found at the time in the Ozark Mountains. During the War of 1812 Kentucky was a state and Missouri was still part of the Louisiana Purchase Territories. So I guess Missouri and Kentucky both were instrumental in winning the war through mining saltpeter deposits.

Even more interesting were scratches on the cave walls where ancient man scraped off deposits of gypsum for unknown purposes. I was also impressed with a couple stone buildings at the end of one large corridor. They were what is left from an experiment where people infected with tuberculosis where part of a study to see if cave living would cure them. Most died and the experiment ended. The buildings were left behind. In fact there are many items lying about in the cave, in their original locations where it is unlawful to move them. I learned after 50 years items left in the cave become part of the historical features, forever to remain where they were dropped.

Trail towards the historic cave entrance
Stairs down into the cave
Old stone building in back of cave used for medical experiment. Folks living here would ask cave visitors for news outside the cave
Yes, its hard to see, so was it when I took the photo. These are part of the remaining early 1800’s saltpeter mining operation. After about 30 minutes inside the huge cave my night vision kicked in and things were easier to see. I should have worn a patch over one eye for an hour before I entered. Closing one eye at night is an old army trick to maintain night vision when flairs are shot up in the air for temporary illumination.
Photo outside the visitors center. This is the historic entrance. This is just one of several tours you can take. So plan a multi day series of tours if you are into caving. There are other caves around town as well. Book your tour online before arrival as they get busy.
RV parking outside the visitors center in their huge lot.
Wait a minute…. I had to ask why there was a photo of sharks inside the visitors center. Remember this area was an ocean with a limestone bottom. Ancient species of shark teeth where found inside the cave. And yes, they found human remains to include where an American Indian was crushed beneath a rock ledge while presumably mining for minerals.

We camped at Singing Hills Campground in a long pull-through with full hookups. It’s a wonderful smaller campground.

Singing Hills Campround
Typical view of Kentucky Hills – This one is on the way to the campground. There are many things to do in Cave City. We should have stayed a week.
What the heck – Walmart has a liquor store across the lot from their main store. Campground brochure says this was a dry county. Nope, that changed in 2016. We brought our own beer just in case

Weeks ago, Karen ordered items to decorate our fifth wheel. After almost two years, she has finally come up with the desire or ideas to make the place more ours. She is replacing the 4×7 rug, added colorful covers on the dining chairs and had photos, taken during our trips, framed. She had everything shipped to our daughter’s house in Kansas City. This included a 3″ foam topper for the bed bought through the My Pillow Company. Two free pillows came with it which we both like. Our original mattress was an upgraded model but after 18 months it started to sag in the middle. So far so good with the new topper. We like it and will let you know how it holds up.

One of the photos Karen had framed from our trip photos. I’m still worried the extra 3M Command Strips might damage the wall paper. Friend says just heat them a little with a blow dryer before removal.

As you recall we had just come back from Kansas City Missouri for court. I had met with Dee, a retired KC Police Officer who works for the Clay County Prosecutor in Liberty MO, who handled my travel expenses. What a small world. Camped next to us at Singing Hills was a retired cop from Kansas City. We knew the same people. She is best friends with Dee whose husband welded together the generator storage area on the back of her camper. I’m terrible at getting photos of friends, new and old, at campgrounds. Donna was the retired officers name (actually as I recall she was a commander at North Patrol as I thought I recognized her from years ago) Anyway, Karen cooked us a wonderful spaghetti dinner as the three of us enjoyed sitting around the picnic table telling stories and talking about Donna’s first trip as a solo fulltimer. Donna, if you are reading this – you have the right attitude for making it in this lifestyle. I’ll tell the story to others how every evening you moved your diesel truck to the parking area near the office. That way you would not wake fellow campers when you left for the early morning outings. You and your dog, Murphy will meet many wonderful people. Travel safe. See ya next time….

We are currently camped in Warsaw Indiana through the holiday.

We Left the RV in Nashville Tennessee to Take a Two Week Side Trip

Vacation – defined as an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling. Wow, stop and think about that sentence from the perspective of a fulltime RVer. The original title of this article began with We are Taking a Vacation. I decided to change the title after further review. The intent is to describe the process we went through when leaving the RV behind and taking a quick out of town trip. Also, offer a suggestion should you need a break from RVing.

Do your best not to find, infer, or attribute some additional meaning or different interpretation based on what is presented. I’m in a good mood and feel like having some fun when writing. We have no plans to leave the road.

At this point in the blog post, I should insert a “read more line.” You would have to click on the words to continue. That way I can can come back later and check for errors before some have a chance to read them. I just figured that trick out a few months ago. I might also delete half of what I’ve written but you will never know.

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Huntsville Alabama – Home of Rocket Scientists and Wonderful Landscape

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” – Neil Armstrong July 1969

Tranquility Base is the landing site on the moon where during July 1969 Apollo 11 crewmembers Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin landed their lunar module named Eagle while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins remained in orbit waiting for their return. The three had launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bolted on top of the now famous Saturn five rocket. Designed and assembled in Alabama pictured above as seen from near our campsite.

Michael Collins died yesterday 4/28/21. I read about it hours after posting this blog. I never remembered his name as being someone on the Apollo 11 mission. Now I’ll never forget it.

Mans journey to the moon would begin years before those famous words were uttered to the control room at Houston Texas. I’ll have to take you back to the end of World War II in this blog post and work forward to our visit in the Appalachians region of Huntsville Alabama. Don’t worry, I’ll come up with a way to pass along the info in a condensed version. As well as include some RV tips, in this case, Karen and I spending time apart touring places of interest.

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Living in Kansas on the Way to South Dakota

We are stopped at Prairie Dog State Park just outside Norton Kansas in an area of the High Plains Region. During the drive out here and while “camping” I finally realized a point others talk about related to this traveling lifestyle. There have been moments over the past year where I wondered if this was just going to be about an endless search for points of interest inside and outside cities to tour. Or looking for places to park the rig for a nights sleep especially over the weekend when parks are full. Would this journey be about escaping the weather or spending more time with family and my wife. Yes, all that is true and important about the lifestyle.

However, I believe I have transcended to the next level. It is now apparent this lifestyle is not just about driving around! You can not experience these landscapes in a museum! Envision cresting a hill which opens to a landscape, painted by God, where you can see over what appears 10 miles in the distance. Imagine stepping outside your home to just sit in the lawn chair, surrounded by the same landscape but up close. Sitting on a hillside overlooking prairie grass, singing birds flanked by a gentle inland lake that stands out with a background of rolling hills. Just sit there and hear nothing but nature in a cool breeze under a massive blue sky. There is no time for worries because the mere experience of this takes your mind away with all your senses being occupied just to take in the beauty of the moment.

Plains of northern Kansas on US 36 Highway. This is nothing like I-70 to the south which is boring other than the Flint Hills and a quick view of the New Horizons fifth wheel plant/building.

Site 302 – Prairie Dog State Park outside Norton Kansas on scenic US 36 Highway. That’s our home to the left of a uniquely designed shelter house.

I should note that near the bottom of this blog post is information regarding RV stuff, not necessarily related to this trip. I always like to include information on general RV topics in each blog post for those not so much interested in trip descriptions. Now back to the story;

We left Platte City Missouri about two weeks ago, arriving in Kansas for a three week stay. Initially, route planning included possible travel over Interstates on the way through Nebraska and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Having traveled US 36 Highway through northern Missouri in the past I was aware the highway extends all the way west to Denver Colorado. US 36 through Missouri is a divided highway while the route through Kansas is over two lane roads with decent shoulders. Glad we skipped the Interstate (I-80 or I-90) routes and started on US 36 Highway at St. Joseph Missouri.  The short-lived Pony Express started in St. Joseph and in fact US 36 is called the Pony Express Highway.

Along the route one will pass several towns which display the history of the Pony Express. You will pass over the geographic center of the lower 48 US states near Lebanon Kansas. As well as the home of the “Home of the Range” in Smith County. Home on the Range being the Kansas State Anthem.

As our new puppy, Wyatt, is so young and an inexperienced traveler we decided the first two stops across US 36 would be over shorter distances. We stopped at Seneca Kansas, then on to Lovewell State Park and then on to Prairie Dog State Park. Several US Highways branch off south and north to I-70 or I-80 if one wants to take a fork in the road. We were so inspired with the views on US 36 and finding the two lane roadway well maintained and lightly traveled, we decided to take US 36 for extended miles. Dreading having to stop for stop lights within towns, as these rigs take some time to stop if the light turns yellow, I was delighted to find these smaller towns don’t have many stop lights and are as easy to pass through that one only has to slow down for a short distance with little to no curves in the road. We will be taking US 83 north into Nebraska at some point. US 83 happens to be the most direct route to take from Mexico to Canada as a side note.

Seneca Kansas was the first stop for riders on the Pony Express. The downtown is fantastic. We enjoyed how the town placed well worded plaques on buildings with history lessons.  I’m always on the lookout to see how other towns showcase or label their attractions or how a museum might use a unique way to display treasures and tell stories. Unfortunately, the Seneca Pony Express Museum was closed, presumably because of the virus thing. I was impressed to see how their city hall was built in the early 1900’s and is still used as a city hall.

Plaques all along downtown Seneca Kansas telling stories of history.

Historic Seneca Kansas – First rest stop for riders on the Pony Express

City Hall – Still in an early 1900’s building. Beautiful way to preserve buildings by keeping them occupied.

At first I was worried about Wyatt taking a drink from a downtown fountain. Then I read the plaque. With more cars and trains replacing horses, an organization actually built fountains for animals who remained. This was running water and Wyatt took a long drink.

So why do we see so many blogs with photos of quant downtown locations? I’m guessing that many of us don’t care to spend much time in large cities and find these smaller towns very hospitable with all the necessities if you look for them.  Frankly, Karen and I have discussed it and don’t have a goal to visit every state. Nor worry much when passing around a big city. I appreciated looking at the architecture of the Seneca Chiropractor’s Office rather than any tall glass monster building in downtown Houston Texas as we flew by it earlier this year.

I learned a new phrase in the past couple days known as “physiographic regions.” Basically the entire United States landmass is broken down into distinct and chartable areas. I’ve already mentioned we have been traveling in the High Plains Region. I suspect if one takes a look at the charts it would be easy to search out landscapes that are unfamiliar. We have spent a lot of time in the US Interior Highlands (Ozark Mountains for example) and therefore might seek out terrain that is less like the Ozarks for new experiences. I’m looking forward to the sandhills of Nebraska on our way to or from Fort Robinson after Kansas. My sister Lisa handed me a book about General Custer before we left on this trip. It has been wonderful  studying up on American Indian history as we cross territory they once roamed. I must say, seeing these places in real time and reading where tribes called home is way more impressive than any of the museums I toured as a child regarding plains Indians. Here in Kansas, later in Nebraska and South Dakota we will be near the final days where the American Indian’s way of life came to an end.

After Seneca we stayed at Lovewell State Park where we extended our stay one day as there was no reason to leave on a Sunday and compete with others at the dump station.  The park is located on what has to be one of the largest lakes in the state. Not much to do but enjoy water sports although there is a Pawnee Indian museum within driving distance where archaeologists are digging the ruins of a village. The dig is enclosed in a building.  Unfortunately we did not make it to the village. A highlight of the trip was meeting Don who frequents the park. Don operated a truck for years, traveling all over the country. We sat down one day with an atlas as he showed me great highways to take to include a route around Dallas/Fort Worth on Highway 281 out of Wichita Falls. And thank you Don for the wonderful evening cruise on your boat!  Karen and I agree this is a highlight of our trip. It was great to meet you and we will catch you again should we come through town.

Don takes us out on an evening boat tour. Thank you!!!!!

Wyatt loves the water. He went swimming for the first time earlier at the boat ramp. Karen stood in water to her knees and Wyatt swam out. Nice – We are hoping to make a kayaking dog out of him.

Below are a few additional photos of Prairie Dog State Park, our last stop in Kansas. The state attempted to transplant prairie dogs here but twice failed. A couple wild ones wondered into the place and now they have a fantastic colony with a viewing area. You can walk among the mounds as well. First time for us seeing prairie dogs. Also in the park is the only remaining historic Kansas abode house sitting on it’s original location.

Interesting rail line that runs through part of the park, between two hills and under a bridge. We have not once heard a train.

We extended our stay to nine days at Prairie Dog State Park. To preserve grey and black tank space, Karen does dishes outside and we use the public shower/toilet when reasonable. We have gone as long as 11 days this way. We are moving on to Ogallala Nebraska after this where I’ll remember to get my sister Mary some Nebraska vanilla bean beer.

We took a day trip into Norton Kansas (only three miles outside the campground 🙂 At Water Tower Park is a re-creation of stop #15 on the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Stage Line. Where folks could travel to the gold fields of Colorado for $125 .  The short visit included reading a marker inside the cabins clear glass viewing windows.  Apparently, Wild Bill Hickock worked for this stage line as did Billy the Kid whose parents operated one of the stops. Pat Garrison, the sheriff who later killed Billy the Kid also worked for the stage line which was later sold to the parent company of the Pony Express.

Stagecoach stops were positioned every 25 miles out to Colorado from Westport (a.k.a Kansas City)

And finally, a few notes about RV topics in general:

  • I like to use Google Earth during route planning. With all the hills we are about to come upon, I noted roads surrounded by obvious farm fields are appealing in that presumably there will be no cliffs to drive off as they are flat fields.
  • I think Vanleigh could do a better job insulating their front caps (front of the fifth wheel). When hit by direct sun we can open the bedroom closet door and feel the heat. During my research it seemed common for companies to just hang rolled insulation in the space and maybe include a material over that to reflect the heat outward. Wonder what it will be like when we hit a bird with the front cap up to 13′ tall when driving 65 mph?  Just barely missed a couple coming across Kansas.
  • We can run both air conditioners on 30 amps (at about 116 volts). We have to place the hot water tank over to propane to do it and sometimes cut the fridge over to propane if we need more power for other items.  Just set the temperatures of each AC unit a few degrees apart so the compressors don’t start up at the same time. Also remember to run them on high fan during very hot and humid days or they will ice up. Our surge protector mounted at the campground power post has an optional inside display where I can monitor amperage used.  We successfully handled upper 90 temps with partial shade on one side.  Glad the fifth wheel was parked facing sunrise where during the course of the day the roof took most of the direct sunlight.

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Voltage is 121 and amperage at 3 with just the fridge on electric. I keep a chart as to what each electrical items requires until we learn our system.

  • As a follow up to my last post regarding 50/50 decisions to make while equipping an RV; I was contacted by others after the post and want to add a couple items.  Regarding slide toppers. If you are fearful or have physical limitations that prevent you climbing onto the roof to clean debree from the top of slides then get slide toppers for sure.  I’d estimate I climb on the roof at 1/2 our stops to check for debree. Slider toppers would obviously cut out one more step in getting ready to move.  Seems like all the older rigs have sagging slide toppers.  Even some of the newer ones don’t look that tight. I’d not like to listen to them flap in the wind while trying to sleep. Maybe they would help insulate the top of slides from direct sun which would be nice. Wonder if they cut down on rain noise? Regarding RV extended warranties. I never buy extended warranties nor have I in this case. I was considering getting one after owning our new trailer for a year. RV’s lived in fulltime take some abuse. If there was ever a time to change my mind about extended warranties, using a recreational vehicle to live in would be it.  We have money set aside to repair stuff. I’m thinking I don’t want to be at the mercy of a warranty company as to where and when something is repaired. Many RV components have warranties beyond one year directly from the manufacturer.

Evolution of Emotions

I just found the time to sit down and put thoughts together regarding Karen and my effort to finish up with the house sale and move into our Vanleigh Vilano 320GK fifth wheel. As I begin writing this post, I’ve got no idea what to title it.

I’ve been trying to come up with a general outline which covers a few tips we have learned and the emotions of the past couple months. I don’t want this post to come out overly negative but many of the points will include the not so pleasant emotions of it all. In the end we have moved into our new home and are adjusting well.

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Howell Michigan Camping

We are stopped at a state park near Brighton Michigan for six nights to visit family. Running on electric only. Our tank sizes are 70 gallon fresh water, 10 hot water, 90 gray and 45 black. We are being more conservative on water usage than our last longer stay without hookups. So far it looks like we will have no problem spending a week off hookups. Paper plates and taking a shower at the public building is about all we are doing to preserve water and tank space.  Karen is being more careful when washing dishes as well.

We have finished 850 miles of a 1700 mile trip. I purchased a one year subscription to RV Trip Planning Wizard and really like it.  I also jump over to campground reviews.com for additional ideas for camping areas. Those years of planning are coming in handy as I’ve got an arsenal of ideas for trip planning provided by friends and readers.  Thanks for that!

One comment that makes since is trip planning and navigation are two separate concepts. Navigation might be using a GPS or map during the drive. Our 2018 Dodge navigation system is working great. As I’m still so new at hauling a monster fifth wheel, I still look at Google Earth for the entire route to check for tight areas. Used to even look over interstate’s on Google Earth as well but now feel comfortable with only checking lessor roads, especially if they are not divided highways. RV Trip Planning Wizard also contains a low bridge database so at this point I’ve not bothered to find a third party application to check for low bridges. At this point, I’ll not purposely take side routes that are not part of the original route planning. Tried that in Indianapolis to get around major highway backups. Was a fun trip to include my first time on a larger road in a residential area and a first time trip through a round-a-bout. That got my nerves sparking but keeping it slow and watching those back tires in the mirrors, along with reassurance from Karen I was going great, were big boosts to morale. Have I said I really, really love Ram’s tow mirrors!  They are awesome. Even if you get a 2500 to tow with, make sure you have the factory tow mirrors!

For now, when I book a camping spot I copy all my notes to Google Calendar. That way we can look things up quickly while traveling or upon arrival.  Click this link to see what my typical notes look like:  Calendar view

For now, because I’m so new at this, I print a campground map prior to arrival so I know how to get to our spot and where dump stations are located. Before we park I make sure I know how I’ll pull out assuming all the surrounding spots are taken and I’ll be maneuvering around cars and other campers. For that matter, when I park in a cramped grocery store lot in the dually truck, I make sure I can get out if someone parks on both sides of me and the travel lanes are narrow.  On the way into the current state park there were two low branches (ya have to look up to see them). It was like driving threw a serpentine course as I weaved in and out of other camping spots to avoid low branches. Just learned I’ll be keeping my tree trimmer with the extendable handles. And I hope not to go to jail for cutting a branch every now and then.

This lifestyle is really going to be healthy. I’m walking more and am generally more physically active. Karen and I are loving our time together. It’s nice to wake up in the morning in our new home then step outside to remember you are dead center in a wonderful state park. It would be hard to explain the wonder of it all in words. Just imagine if you are in your sticks and bricks house, unaware of what is outside, then open the door to amazement.

We are going to try out spending two nights at each stop on the way back to Kansas City. We had a couple overnight stops on the way here and tried to stay around 200 miles for each travel day. RV Trip Planning Wizard has an excellent system for showing travel distances between stops. Really helps with picking campgrounds along the way. So far we are booking our stops when we can. All this helps keep the stress level down for us new guys.  Finding less stressful ways to do things is important during this first year I’m sure.

One stop on the drive to Michigan was at a county campground which does not take reservations. We called and the lady at the county office said there would be spots. At $20 a night with 30 amps, within five miles from the highway in a secluded location, what a find that was. Get your notepad out and mark this one down.

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I’ve been using my make-shift office setup to get some work done. Right now I’m sitting at a chair outside the camper. But for more serious work I take five minutes to setup a more involved space at the dining table. Like most everything else, the way we do things seem to be evolving into something that works well.  I might add the process of evolution is also occurring for places we store things to include the basement space where for the most part we started off with containers we already owned. Yup, I’ve already discovered how you setup for the stay has a lot to do with how long you stay. For example, moving a storage containing out of the basement to under the camper to make room to pull other stuff out. I’d say don’t sweat over all the details such as how you arrange storage. Your unique system will just seem to happen on it’s own.

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Current office arrangement

 

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Yesterday’s view from the “office”

For the short-term you may notice a few changes in my writing style. There is a lot going on that I want to report on. I’ll just have to bang out the thoughts more quickly for now.

A sad note is that we lost our dog Johnny-Ringo to illness on this trip. I can’t write much about it. I live around death nearly every day on the job back home. Loosing a dog hurts just as much as when other loved-ones die. Seeing Karen sad hurts . Dogs have such unique personalities. He had a long-term breathing problem and it finally caught up to him. I can’t find the strength to even post my favorite photos of him. At least my mom now has another dog to play with in heaven; I like to think.

We went to bible study with Karen’s mom the other day. It was wonderful. The minister is so educated and smart about the bible. We are looking forward to stopping in at other churches on this journey. Tonight the minister is coming out for a campfire. His wife appears to be equally knowledgably. There were several older folks at the bible study and I got a lot from listening to their wisdom.

To my sister Mary – We saw an R Pod camper across the street from us being pulled with a full size SUV. Most of the campers of that size in this campground are the hybrid travel trailers with hard sides and the pop-out beds at the end. During this week I’ve noticed what appears to be moms with kids coming out during the week presumably when dad is at work. I’ll bet you see the same in your trips.

By the way, we have a contract on the house. Closes August 26th if all goes well. I’ve got to hook-up to the city sewer system and there might be a delay in getting that done as the contractor is backed-up. With the help of the real estate agent, who knows how the city and contractors work, we have a plan B should the sewer connection be delayed. We gave the new residence permission to store personal items in the basement. They are staying with relatives but had to get the kids registered in school. I’m thinking we are going to have a good relationship during the process with the new owners who are over the top excited about the house. They already finished their inspections and I’m waiting for the results. The realtor has us sign everything on-line and I can tell is making sure to allow us to enjoy our vacation time.

A final thought for sure is that I’m thankful to all our new RVer friends and readers of this blog for the last four years or so of planning. So much of what we learned and are now applying will ensure we make it through the curves in the road that pop up in this lifestyle.

Mark from Missouri

Life in Kansas City – D Day

I title posts “Life in Kansas City” which I’d consider more interesting to family members who read this blog. Of course you are welcome to read along to the end as the story comes together.  This post is about an ironic occurrence in my life.

June 6, 1944 marks the day of the invasion at Normandy. A family member was on Omaha beach that day and as destiny would have it, set an example that would effect my father’s decision to become a police officer. In turn that would influence my decision to follow their footsteps. 

Last Saturday Karen and I went to Home Depot to order carpeting for several areas in our home before it goes on the market. The sales clerk was very informative. So much that it was decided we would order carpet through her. She handed me a business card and I noticed the last name was Orr. I asked where her family was from and she said Orr is her husband’s last name and his family is mostly from Mt. Vernon Missouri. I let her know my grandmother is an Orr from Mt. Vernon and hence we are cousins.

Karen and I left the carpet section to pick up a few items. Maybe a half hour later a gentleman came down the lumber isle and asked if my name was Mark to which I said yes, and this is my wife Karen. The gentleman’s name is Ed Orr, son of Thomas Orr who landed on Omaha Beach, earning the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Tom was my grandmother’s brother.

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Well Ed was very excited to learn he had family living nearby for all these years. I told him I did not recall Uncle Tom had more than one son, with the other having passed away years ago. I said, Ed I want to pass along something about your father that is very important to me. I became a police officer indirectly because of your father. I used to swing by your father’s house while on-duty for a visit every now and then. I am very proud of my uncle. My father made sure I knew Tom’s story.

My father has passed away put left behind a 71 page document which summarizes his life in short descriptions. Dad was a cop for over 50 years. Among those stories is one about Uncle Tom Orr which reads as follows:

“I got to write a V-Mail letter to, I think, Uncle Tom in Europe. You wrote it on a special form which the government microfilmed and sent in rolls to Europe where they were blown up a little and printed like photographs of letters. We got them back the same way. This was something new, after the War had been going on for a couple of years, maybe ‟43 or ‟44.

Just a little about my Uncle Tom Orr, because I followed him into the Army Military Police and that pretty well set my life’s pattern. He was a platoon sergeant in an MP company in the Normandy invasion, Omaha Beach, 2nd wave. Bad place to be. They had the door blown off their landing barge, half the platoon, including the lieutenant, were killed right off the bat. When he got to shore he crawled into an 88 hole (shell crater of a German 88mm cannon). Another incoming shell blew him out of the hole but he crawled back in, The 88‟s had been zeroed-in before the invasion so they could hit any square yard on the beach at will.

If you saw any movies about Normandy, like The Longest Day, or D-Day, you know the Americans were pinned down on Omaha Beach and getting murdered. They had to get a hole punched in a wall before they could go in, which was done by some brave army engineer troops. As soon as a hole was opened the troops and tanks started pouring through. Problem was, it caused a big traffic jam, with every tank and other vehicle wanting through at once to get away from the incoming artillery on the beach. Uncle Tom looked over there from his shell hole and realized that traffic jams were something MPs should take care of. So he did. I think he stood there 24 hours without relief, exposed to fire, directing traffic. He was awarded the silver star and not too long after that was promoted to lieutenant.

So the army got off the beach, the invasion was a success after all, and we won the war. Thanks to my Uncle Tom and the Military Police Corps. Nine years later I was an MP too. It had to be.”

Now back to the irony in all of this. And I’ll preface this by saying in no way would I want someone to think I’m minimizing the event that took place on Omaha Beach; I just want to pass along how my great-uncle influenced events in my own life.

As stated early in the story, Karen and I ran into Uncle Tom’s son at Home Depot during which I passed along much of this story. My father became a Military Policeman because of Uncle Tom and then a police officer. I became a Military Policeman because of my father and then a police officer.

I was with a city police department which has a retirement plan through the state. I later moved to the Sheriff’s Office which has an additional retirement plan for county employees. This plan requires a minimum number of years before one is vested. And a year of credited service is based on having at least 1000 hours worked in a given year. 2019 became my retirement year as I want to be vested in the additional county employee retirement plan. I’ve been literally counting the hours on a board in my office.

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This is a board in my office where I’m counting the hours.

On the left of this board is the date 6/5/19 which is today, followed by 4 hours which is how many hours I have left before being vested in the county retirement plan. Tomorrow, June 6th, I’ll be vested in the plan – D Day! 

So this retirement event is far less important than the achievements of my Uncle on the beach with his dying friends. But, if you can hear me Tom – Thank You for your service and I want you to know how influential you are, generations later.  I’m working for myself now, tomorrow at noon, four hours into my work day – I’ll be telling my co-workers the goal is reached and how it all began. They will hear the story of my Great-Uncle Tom!

It’s Only Business

I decided to write this post as a way of thinking through the modern system of business and how at times our generation has to adjust to it. Or maybe it’s just venting…

The business/customer relationships has been changing for years and surely is market driven. The consumer is behaving differently which caused the business to do the same. And in some cases, those that run businesses are attempting to show higher profits in the short term and not really caring about the future of the company they are fleecing in order to retain their unearned higher salaries. I could write a well informed opinion about Sprint (United Telecom) for example where it could have been the greatest. No worries, I just received my second early retirement check from them!

I’m of the generation that believes in long-term business relationships. I’ve had the same insurance guy for more than 25 years, been with only two banks in my lifetime and shop locally as much as possible for example. I’ve had the opinion a business deal has to be good for both sides. But know the customer is competing for the highest quality, best value product at the lowest price. While the business interest is moving the negotiation to at times providing the lest costly product or service at the highest sales price.  I get it and eventually that business will find it’s niche.  And I as a consumer I will discover that niche is exactly where I want to be in terms of value and therefore find that business and purchase from them.

But it’s a new world and in some products the tide is turning rapidly. I know it’s only business and I have to change my mindset when negotiating. Here is a recent and common example.

We all have those expenses were we have to review the contract on at least an annual basis.  Karen and I cut the cord with the cable company (Direct TV) and switched off to using the digital antenna I mounted in our home’s attic for free over-the-air channels.

A minor part of that savings was used to upgrading our internet service for increased streaming of movies and shows, netting a monthly savings of about $60. Yes, that savings is small. But if we viewed every expense as just small; compounded with other small expenses that total is large.  I view evaluating every monthly expense as being worth my time to review it.  And know several wealthy people who think the same way.

Well, it only took speaking with nine (9) customer service representatives to cancel the service. The first four customer service employees probably think I’m a jerk. I eventually learned their jargon and was able to explain what I was asking in their words. You see, Direct TV was bought out by AT&T so I was bounced back and forth to operators who handled different aspects of the business. I learned to tell each “I’m a legacy customer who wishes to cancel my service and want to know what my final bill is and where to send the equipment.” I even started off providing my full name and service address which turned out to be the question each of the nine operators asked regardless. This change in service came about as our bill was being raised 22%. The only negotiating they would do was a one time $10 rebate.

I would have preferred to stay with Direct TV and at price we could both live with. Heck, I’ve been with my internet provider for 17 years. But for sure I recognize the new majority of customers will jump ship in a heartbeat. They do it all the time with cell phone providers, insurance agents or whatever. Do you remember those days when we all had a home phone and for years upon years the monthly cost stayed relatively flat (thanks to telecommunications regulators I’m sure.) Kind of like utilities are today for those of us not in an RV.

So for me, I’m learning to be nice when I call a provider and if the negotiations do not go well, and I know there are other options, to just move to another company or cut the service all together. And I know those long-term relationships, if there are any, may go on in the form of I quit you today and hire you back in a year.

Perhaps on a more important note is the notion of making life less complicated. I’ll bet a few readers were thinking about that several paragraphs ago. I hear ya.  Cutting the cord with Direct TV will allow more flexibility once we hit the road in an RV in that I’ll delay the whole satellite TV decision and the equipment necessary to use it, or not, for awhile. And maybe that will cut down on the need to read an email or two for bill payment.

Several years ago, when I was a business owner I had one advertising service provided by again, AT&T. I paid that bill annually to reduce the amount of mail I received. Although the company continued to send a monthly bill showing I owed nothing. I called customer service and said they have two options as a business if they intend to keep me as a loyal customer, or words to that effect. Either stop sending the monthly bill, which I had to open to make sure it was not important, or cancel the advertising service.  Well we ended up canceling and I shifted the money to other forms of advertising.

Maybe this is a little off topic of spending time with family or planning for a future in an RV. I just really wish more businesses would recognize ease of doing business is just as important as price and product. Until I find those businesses, I’m making life simpler by firing them when neccessary.

Who is John Galt?

I’m taking a brief intermission away from discussing what features Karen and I used for our final RV selection. In order to put out a short message for folks who are on the fence regarding if they should make a major change in their lives. This will involve some homework. And is proof I’m able to write short posts.

I’ll give a couple hints for those interesting in pursuing this.  Above is the whiteboard in my office. On the left is the number 487.  That’s the total hours I’m required to spend on the job next year (61 days for those doing the math). Notably, a personal goal that most likely is not something others would be interested in.

More hints of what this post is about are found above.  John is a character in a book.

So if you are interesting in philosophical debates or conversations.  Do the homework (Google) and find out who John Galt is and we can discuss it in the comments.

I’m looking forward to sometime visiting Ouray Colorado. Also sometimes known as Galt’s Gulch.

Safe travels.