Monday, October 22, 2007

Did Someone Say Offseason Road Trip in Gaspésie?

Closed for the Season Boon Docking

“Have you called ahead for reservations?” asked Natalie, the manager at the Saint-Nicolas, Quebec KOA Campground. “You’ll find the season is over in the Gaspèsie.” Natalie had kindly given me permission to use the campground laundry facility while our coach had maintenance work completed at the Prevost Service Center a kilometer away.

I replied as I exchanged my paper $20 for the roll of Canadian quarters Natalie handed to me, “I expect that we’ll boondock when places are closed. We’ll be fine.”

Our Gaspésie Peninsula tour followed Route 132 through Rivière-du-Loup to Point-aux Cross. Our first night (Saturday, October 13th), we took spot # 23 at the Camping du Quai for $25. That was our last electric and water hook-up for the trip. No one minded in the offseason when we parked Sunday night under the open hands of a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Baie-du-Sables. We found a municipal overlook in Madeleine-Centre on Monday where night parking was permitted. There we enjoyed the coastline view with a light house on the bluff. A caretaker at St. John the Baptist Church in Cap-aux-Os gave us permission to park in the church lot near the school and cemetery for two days while we explored the Forillon National Park of Canada. Natalie had been correct, most campgrounds were closed, but we were just fine.

Weather varied from rainy with fog, to cool with gusty headwinds, to gentle sea breezes and clear blue sky. We dressed in layers and sometimes raingear, boots or tennis shoes, and even light gloves. The weather did not deter us.

We Explored the North Shore Route of Route 132

I scouted Rivière-du-Loup while Ed rested and connected to the Internet. When he joined me, I showed him Parc des Chutes, the hydro facility in town. The river looked like root beer cascading over a too full mug, brown with bits of white foam. “Almost better than Niagara Falls,” Ed hollered over the roar of the waterfall. We could get close to the base of the falls. So close, that I wasn’t sure if the mist I felt was rain or spray from the cascading water. A catwalk took us over the falls to a landing across the river. And, a trail crossed a wooden bridge wide enough but not sturdy enough for cars and followed the river through falls colors of maples and birch trees.

The moving tide along river shoreline in Baie-du-Sables pushed shells over the rounded fist-sized rocks. The sound of the undulating shells pushed by the water made a rhythmic gentle clacking to accompany nature’s symphony of seagulls and pounding surf. On the evening we arrived, I walked the deserted beach and picked shells in the rain. Gray sky, fog and rain gave an ominous look to the commanding church steeple that beckoned us to this place from the higher ground of Route 132. In the morning, Ed and I were surprised to see the windmills on the hillside over the parish village and walked to the wharf now accessible from the shore with low tide. We had the place all to ourselves.

Where is Everybody?

Traveling offseason has its advantages. Ours are the only footprints in the sand. Places to boon dock are available. Traffic is minimal. Fall colors remain vibrant. And, people dependent on the tourist dollar are happy to see you and eager to help. Perhaps that’s why the police in Riviere-au-Renard gave us an escort to find a fish market. Our rig with tow car is too big to venture on unknown streets and reverse is not a option, so when Ed flagged down a patrol car to ask about a big place to spin the coach around, the officers were happy to lead the way (and even pose for a photo). With their help, we found the Poissonnerie La Mariniere. We bought fresh cod and little shrimp called Crevettes Fraiches for a lunchtime feast that we cooked in our coach. We were parked in the shipyard lot surrounded by the fishing boats out the water for winter.

Searching for Bullwinkle

“I want to see a moose,” I persisted like the spoiled only child that I am each time we drove past a moose crossing sign posted along the road. Then, I got my wish, only it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

“Oh my God!” I yelled. “Did you see that car? It has a moose head mounted on top of it!” Of course, Ed asked what I had been smokin’. But, it was a moose! And, when he finally saw one too, he hit the brakes. We learned that it was hunting season in Quebec.

Hunters display their game heads on the tops of their cars or SUVs. Some with pick-up trucks actually mount the entire moose over a wooden triangular structure like a sawhorse and run down the road displaying the big creatures.

I never did see a live moose.

Some Things are the Same,
Some Things are Very Different

You could be anywhere and see the same things that we saw in the tour of Gaspésie. Houses displayed seasonal decorations of pumpkins and Halloween witches. People carved initials in wooded railings at overlooks. Young families have Little Tyke play gyms in their yards. Stacks of wood wait to burn off the chill of the coming winter. And, the provincial flag of Quebec flies as boldly as the state flag of Texas waves back home.

Some things are very different here. Many houses look like those children draw in second grade – a square with a triangle on top for a roof. Some houses have roofs that curve up in a “J” along the eves. Other houses are painted bold color combinations like maple leaf orange trimmed in red, PITT blue and gold, aqua with red and white trim, white with violet shutters. Laundry hangs from clothes lines to dry. We found a coin operated computer at the International Youth Hostel in Cap-aux-Os, 20 minutes online for each Loonie. Lodging remains mostly motor lodges not Hampton Inns and colorful oval chairs reminiscent of the '60s are placed near each room’s doorway inviting guests to sit awhile. Concrete river walks or boardwalks lined the shoreline in most towns unlike Texas, where you have to go to San Antonio to enjoy a river walk. Fire hydrants in New Carlisle are painted as characters – Snoopy, Pink Panther, Fred Flinstone and more – for a touch of fun.

Exploring Forillon National Park of Canada

I convinced Ed to join me on the 4 kilometer hike to the Cap-Gaspé by reminding him of how badly he’d feel if a park bear came after me in the Forillon National Park of Canada. He reconsidered and decided that whatever “paperwork” needed his attention could easily be handled later in the day. After all, it wasn’t even 8 AM.

We would go together. I packed two apples, half a Hershey dark chocolate bar, our #3 Rubbermaid Servin’Saver full of mixed nuts, and a giant bottle of water in our new L.L. Bean backpack. Then, I checked for the camera and binoculars. Got them! We were ready for a morning of unexpected surprises.

The Forillon National Park of Canada is rated by tour books as an exceptional park located at the eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula distinct of its "grandiose mountain, cliff, and sea viewscapes." And, although the Forillon National Park of Canada is open year-round, the ranger entrance shack was deserted this October morning. We drove onward to the trailhead at Anse-Aux-Amérindiens where we faced the choice: follow the gravel road or hike a trail at called The Graves. We headed up the wider, less rugged gravel road.

We hadn’t gone far when we noticed a sparrow hopping along the left side of the gray road. The bird stayed ahead of us by just a few paces. When we would come too close, it would fly barely knee-high and land several yards ahead. We’d get closer and it would fly ahead another 12 feet. This pattern continued for over a kilometer as if the bird took delight in showing us the way to the Cap of Gaspé. Our feathered guide abandoned us when we huffed breathlessly and sat on the log bench at the top of a steep climb.

We paused often to catch our breath and to gaze through the pines from the high road over the Gulf of St Lawrence. Beautiful! Whitecaps moved in linear patterns. Blue sky touched the rugged cliffs on the horizon. Occasionally, sea gulls glided into the wind. And, waves crashed into hidden coves far below. An interpretive sign reminded us that 200 years ago hardy French, Irish and others thrived as fishermen along this coastline.

We didn’t see another sign or human being along the way either until we reached our goal. Some might say that you don’t have to climb a mountain to know it height but we were determined to have the bragging rights to say we went to the end of the earth at Gaspé and where the International Appalachian Trail ends.

We had reached the Gaspé Lighthouse and overlook thinking we could go no further. But wait, a scenic overlook further down a trail promised a better look. It would be a steep climb back up. Was it worth the extra physical push? Yes, yes, an emphatic yes!Because of the incline, the trail first went inland and down. Then as if at the vortex of a “V”, the trail sharply cut to the right and faced the bay. The trail ended at a wooden deck the size found on nice suburban houses. A lone telescope was bolted to the deck floor and swiveled for a panoramic view of the gulf. To our delight, seals lounged on a rocky island mass below the cliffs of the Cap of Gaspé. I counted 26 on the rocks and four bobbing in the water. One of the ones lying on the rock rolled into another one sleeping nearby and received a slap with a flipper for this trespass. Others would raise their heads then lower them as if to say it was still nap time. This sight delighted Ed and I for nearly an hour before retracing our path back.
October 17, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Building Goodwill and Better Friendships

Today, I experienced my first encounter with a cultural and language immersion. I attended the breakfast meeting of the Rotary Club St-Nicolas Chutes-de-la-Chaudièr. “Bonjour,” I said haltingly. Then, I introduced myself in English as a visiting Rotarian from Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The French-Canadians apologized for their lack of English and I for my lack of French. Smiles and handshakes sufficed for the lack of words.

Like many Rotary Clubs, this one began with a prayer and acknowledgement of guests. In the tradition of Rotary, I exchanged my Greensburg Club banner with Club Président Michel Dionne and received his Club’s banner in return. There was no program planned, so the Club members engaged in a lively discussion about an upcoming event. Bridgette, who sat next to me, whispered sporadic translations. And, then we all shared a laugh. One fellow suggested that as a birthday gift for another Rotarian named Philip, I take him on a trip - but only 50 kilometers - in our Prevost coach. “Oui,” I agreed. “That would be okay.”

Attending Rotary Club meetings is important to me because I met people in the communities I visit. It builds goodwill and friendship – the pillars of Rotary. I plan to “do make-ups” while on the road whenever possible and record my attendance with my home club secretary.

I am one of the 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide. Our motto is “Service Above Self.” As an international service club, Rotary International can do things governments cannot like funding projects to immunize children against polio, bring relief to survivors of natural disasters, give communities access to water, and many more humanitarian projects abroad and in our own communities.

I have been a Rotarian for nearly 18 years placing me among the first women to join Rotary. I served a term as President of the Greenburg Rotary Club (their first female president) in 1995 -1996. And, I have maintained memberships in the Rich-Mar and Tyler clubs when I lived in Gibsonia, PA and Whitehouse, TX respectively. When we sold our home in Texas, members of the Greensburg Club welcomed me back to my old homestead.

Since beginning this journey with Ed, I have visited several other clubs - Edinboro, PA, Watkins Glen, NY, and Canton, NY. I know when and where clubs meet because I have a club directory listing this information. Club information is also available online. When my travels just do not coincide with a location, I use eClub1. This online option of making up a meeting lets me read about a topic of interest to me about Rotary. Then, I submit my participation electronically to my club and receive credit for attendance.

So look for the Rotary decal on my coach window and get my make-up card ready. I’ll be there for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Gray Skys & Thounderous Waterfalls: A Stoll in Le Parc des Chutes-de-la Chaudiere

Celebrating my 52nd Birthday in the Birth City of Canada

We celebrated my 52nd birthday in the only walled city north of the Rio Grande, Québec City. This French speaking capital of Québec province rambles along the St. Lawrence River. Pink, blue, and white sails curve as the chilly October breeze push the graceful yachts downstream where tour boats and the ferry also make their way. On land, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – a luxury hotel - dominates the skyline with its copper roof, turrets and towers. Beyond this imposing hotel, there are hundreds of shops, restaurants, and cathedrals.

While making our way to the Citadelle, we asked for directions to the entrance. A French-Canadian named George stopped pedalling his bicycle and gave us more than directions. He had been a tour guide for the city as a young student. Our questions lead to a narrative history of the roles of the French and British armies in building and battling at the fort. Fresh with new appreciation for the historical importance of the city, Ed and I walked the Promenade des Gouverneurs and skirted the star-shaped fortress.

On the city’s edges along Rue des Remparts, low ramparts were studded with cannons. These are lifesize versions like the little one Ed owns. Ed’s cannon actually fires. These cannons had not fired since the 18th century. I asked Ed to pose for a photo suggesting that he had graduated to a bigger cannon and found a new way to disturb the peace.

More than the cannons and historic significance, I enjoyed the street performer who was a one man band. He had a drum strapped to his back and a cow bell on his waist. His rythmic strut tugged chords anchored to the heels of his boots and caused the drum to bang and the bell to clang. He strummed a guitar and sang farovites like Bye, Bye Miss American Pie. The open guitar case held the collection of money given in appeciation by the audience for his marvelous performance. Thanks, Jacques!

October 6, 2007

We Will Not Need the Guest Room; We Brought Our Bed With Us!

Canton is not a “destination city” in New York, but its status changed for us when Ed’s son Andrew and his wife Cindy moved there last September. This would be our first trip to see the “kids” since their move.

They welcomed us to their home, gave us ample parking for our coach in their suburban driveway, and ran an orange electric cord through the basement window so we’d have power. We wouldn’t need the guest room; we have our bed with us. Actually, visiting with the coach is ideal for seeing family. Nobody has to change their routines because we all have our personal space – ours in the coach, theirs in the house.

On Sunday, we let Andrew and Cindy drive us through this scenic part of New York along the St. Lawrence River. At the Eisenhower Lock, we paused to watch a huge freighter rise up to a new navigable water level.

Cindy is a visiting professor in the Psychology Department at St. Lawrence University. After classes on Monday, she gave me a tour of the university that ended like all tours should – in the gift shop. I bought two new books by Paulo Coelho and a frosted lantern for candlelight in the coach. Andrew is a computer consultant so he and Ed spent Monday evening installing programs on my new Dell Latitude. I am so glad to have a laptop again and the personal instruction of our family computer whiz.

Visiting Canton was refreshing. It gave me a chance to bicycle in the neighborhood where there were no hills. I had lunch with fellow Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Canton. And, what a small world it is! One fellow at my lunch table had graduated from PITT, my alma mater, and had lived in Pittsburgh. We had fun sharing our memories of local TV personalities like Chilly Billy Cardill and sports broadcaster favorites like Sam Nover. At the farmer’s market, I bought fresh lettuce and garlic with the hope that the border guard would not confiscate the produce. And, before we left, I made the acquaintance of the kids’ neighbor Randy. I had been eyeing the green tomatoes in his garden all wee; and in a neighborly way, he filled a bag of these delicacies for me.
September 30 - October 3, 2007

Note: We crossed the USA border into Canada. The guard asked about guns, tobacco, and liquor. Ed’s gun collection is stored in Andrew’s gun safe. We don’t smoke. My supply of gin and wine was too small to raise concern. And, my produce rolled across the border without question.

The Last Reminder of My Corporate Self Went Overboard

Last April, only one Ketchum consultant - me - filled the denim AFP Conference market bag until its weight swelled my fingers and stuff protruding from the bag relegated me to the aisle seats in the back of the seminar rooms. Of course, “the clever stuff” lured me to engage with those on booth duty. Our own Ketchum booth gave away triangle shaped highlighters with lime green, orange and pink on each tip and spongy red cowboy hats – after all, we were in Dallas, Texas.

The yard long boxes of bubble gum went into Suzie and her college roommate Nicole’s Easter baskets. The highlighters went into my office drawer. Brianna and I played with the Ketchum hats, balancing them on our heads and walking until they dropped. Ed got the neon safety vest for his coach.

Weeks later, when all the conference goodies were distributed just to raise a smile, I received a watch in the mail. Centered on its face was a Ketchum logo and my name lifted from a business card. Not very businesslike for my professional dress, I tucked the watch into my jewelry box – forgotten until I was looking for my "fishing jewelry" to wear while on Lake George with Ed. I tucked the watch in pocket of my shorts.

We trolled along in our boat for awhile along Roger’s Rock. When we idled for a while for Ed to change lures, I ceremonially pulled the watch from my pocket, offered a requiem, and tossed the watch into the air. It arched over the water, plopped on the lake surface, and then sunk to the lake bottom some 30 feet below. It was a last reminder of my corporate self. No more time for Ketchum and I slipped the boat throttle forward.

Rogers Rock

Imagine your own private beach cove, a place to more a fishing boat, a solitary campsite facing a lake with a backdrop of a rock cliff, and a full harvest moon shining each night. Sounds like something out of an exaggerated travel brochure, but I assure you it does exist. It’s the “Honeymoon Suite” at Roger’s Rock State Park in New York.

You won’t find it marked as such on the campground map. In fact, it wasn’t even our first choice for a site. We had selected a pull through near the boat launch with a troublesome grouping of low hanging branches. Before settling into our campsite, Ed asked for permission to trim the branches. The camp ranger said he’d have his staff take care of the pruning but he’d like to show us a few more sites that might be a better choice. Thinking we had already seen the best there was to offer, he and I obliged this friendly ranger and followed him in our tow car through the park. He stopped his green ranger car at the “Road Closed” sign, unlocked the metal gate, and rolled-up the plastic yellow caution tape.

The look on my face asked Ed, “Where is he taking us?” Ed shrugged and followed the ranger.

After a short drive down the dirt road, we followed the ranger into a picnic area with two covered pavilions. The lot could easily accommodate our coach and there was a clear view of the lake. “You’re offering us this site?” I quizzed the ranger in disbelief.

“Yes, he said but don’t get too excited yet. I have saved the best until last,” he said with a grin.
We followed him further down the dirt road descending a steep grade that opened to the “Honeymoon Suite.”

Excitedly, he pointed out the features like a Hilton bellman. “You can pull your coach here facing Lake George. Over there’s a place for your fishing boat. And, you could swim in cove where there’s a little private beach. Do you see it through these trees?”

“Up there is Rogers’ Rock where an English Colonial fighter named Robert Rogers escaped the Indians pursuers by climbing the cliff surface then reversing his snow shoes and descending the other side. The Indians thought he was a spiritual being after accomplishing that feat. Now, don’t you folks try climbing up there, cause I sure don’t want to have to rescue you,” he cautioned. “You can have this spot if you want it.” He added without taking a breath and bursting with pride at what he had to offer us, “No one will bother you down here because you can keep the caution tape across the road. This part of the park is officially closed but its open to you if you want it.”

And, that’s how we ended up for five days in the “Honeymoon Suite” of Roger’s Rock State Park on Lake George, New York under the harvest moon.

Let's Skip the Fort

We skipped the opportunity to visit Fort Ticonderoga where for $15 per adult we could wander inside. We had done that “tourist thing” in 1997 when came through the area on our honeymoon. Instead, we opted to stroll The King’s Garden. This is the site of a garrison garden adjacent to the fort. It was originally planted in 1755 to feed the troops. Today, it is appreciated as a pleasure garden because it was designed in 1921 by Marian Cruger Coffin, a leading landscape artist in a field dominated at the time by men. Colorful blossoms filled the inner courtyard. Fruit trees yielded a harvest of apples that we sampled.

In 1886, The Pavilion was the private summer home of William Ferris Pell. He later turned it into a hotel for the growing number of tourists coming to visit the ruins of the fort throughout the 19th century. Steamboats delivered Lake Charles visitors. And, markers tell the history of a battle with Iroquois Indians; and claim the site, including the fort to be the first attempt at heritage tourism. As a former fund raiser, I was pleased to learn that the next philanthropic investment by the Friends of Fort Ticonderoga would be to restore The Pavilion. Its disrepair was obvious and disturbing.

Old canons lay in the weeds skirting the property. They were noticeable only if you respond to the whinnying of Doc in the corral. He’s a Clydesdale mixed breed. His owner looks like Santa and will give you a ride in the horse drawn wagon from the fort to the garden and back for only $3 per person. We passed on the ride but took a picture of Doc for our equestrian-loving daughter Suzie.

Doc wasn’t the only equestrian artifact. There was an iron mounting block anchored along the u-shaped road in front of The Pavilion. We took another photo for Suzie after we realized this wasn’t just a randomly placed seat in the yard. More interpretive signs would have helped at this venue.

Dropping in on a Whim and Starting Over

“I am tired of driving,” Ed said as he unexpectedly veered off Route 87 and started down the two-lane road. That’s how we ended up in Ticonderoga, New York and parked in a Wal-Mart. At the end of the day when we land in a Wal-Mart, we typically replenish our fresh foods. Ed grabs a newspaper and reads for an hour on the bed with his feet propped up on three pillows. I make dinner. Such was the routine today except for one variation.

Just before sunset, Ed suggested we take a ride. We found the Ticonderoga ferry landing – the very landing we had crossed over from Vermont to New York in October 1997 on our honeymoon! We could see Vermont across the water on the moonlit evening. Vermont - the place we had planned to spend our summer. There was Vermont! We were starting over!

September 23, 2007

Slowing Down the Pace in Watkins Glen, NY

“When you’re 70-years old, you won’t move up the trail at that pace,” remarked the woman Ed and I had just passed briskly along the Gorge Trail of Watkins Glen State Park in New York. That’s when we stopped our race up the inclined path.

“It’s tough at 50 too,” I replied. “Where are you folks from?” I slowed and turned to ask her and her husband.

“Near about Lancaster,” the man replied for both of them.

Simple as that, Ed and I were reminded to slow our clipped pace and enjoy not only the scenery but the people who were out on the blue sky September day as well. We encountered a smiling couple from Harrisburg who asked us to take their photo for this year’s Christmas cards. There was a flannel shirted farmer from Kansas good-naturedly herding six of his eight kids along the trail. And, later, a busload of Watkins Glen race fans asked us jovially about our day fishing the flats though we obviously had no rods were just resting stream side.There truly was more to the Gorge Trail than its cathedral walls and 19 waterfalls. There’s the chance experience of meeting “nice” people if you just slow down the pace.

Returning to Watkins Glen

“This is to most beautiful campground that I have ever visited,” complimented Ed after having settled into campsite #87. Pine trees towered overhead and we could see a glimpse of the blue water of Seneca Lake from the hillside overlook.

I had been to Watkins Glen State Park over 20-years ago in a silver Dodge conversion van packed to the brim with a Coleman propane stove, a refrigerated cooler that ran off the cigarette lighter, and clothes enough for two boys – Jason and Chris – ages nine and four respectively. Now the boys are 29 and 24 and that van is history. Returning to Watkins Glen in the Prevost bus conversion makes a striking contrast. Our coach was now the biggest RV in the park and fully equipped with a microwave, refrigerator/freezer, shower, and queen bed…no sleeping on reclined captain’s chairs and a folded out bench seat.

What hadn’t changed was the scenic beauty of the gorge. Ed and I walked the park’s shady and cool Gorge Trail, which follows Glen Creek past “water-sculpted rock and 19 waterfalls.” We captured the Cavern Cascade, Rainbow Falls, and Central Cascade on our digital camera and later emailed photos to family so they can trace our travels. Email replies express envy of our current lifestyle free of work and household obligations. Did I deliberately use their corporate email addresses? Oops!

Watkins Glen State Park, New York
September 17 – 20, 2007

Discovering New Ways to Enjoy Reading and Pass the Joy Along

I’m a reader usually with two or three books going at one time. I tend to keep at hand fiction for bedtime, a business book for the morning hours when my mind is sharp, and a contemporary non-fiction or self-improvement book for times when I take a quiet break late in the day. I reserve magazines like The Rotarian, National Geographic Traveler, or Family Motor Coaching for the seven minutes I spend each morning blow drying my shoulder length hair.

My past career as a traveling consultant gave me ample time to indulge in reading too. Long flights, hour upon hour of weather delays, and simply passing time between walking through airport security and the boarding sometimes gave me as much as six to eight hours in a single block of time to read. And, when making the four-hour drive between Whitehouse, Texas and Houston, Texas twice a month for the past three years, I stayed awake and entertained with audio books borrowed from the local library.

With my new RV lifestyle, reading continues to be a part of my day but the quantity of time spent reading is diminishing. There’s no more reading between destinations. Why read, when there are places to see and experience? When driving down the highway, Ed and I can stop at will and I might miss an opportunity if my eyes were focused on the page of a book. I am no longer confined to the elbows-in aisle seat where you keep your eyes down and read so that time in the confined space passes fast.

Another notable change in my reading habits comes from the pleasures of being outdoors most days rather than confined to the Hampton Inn rooms. Now, even when the sun goes down, I still want to be outside especially if Ed has built a colossal campfire. Alone by the campfire some nights if Ed retires early, I’ll put an audio book disc in my CD player then sit by the fire enjoying the flames and storytelling.

One experience has led me to be more careful in selecting my campfire stories. Knowing that I’d be visiting many park sites, a friend passed along a CD collection – three Anna Pigeon novels written by Nevada Barr. Anna, the main character, is a national park ranger who encounters malevolence and murder. What a great collection to listen to in the forested campground – until in Blood Lure, Anna encounters a grizzly bear in Glacier National Park. Suddenly, I became acutely aware of the sounds around me - the crack of a stick, the movement of other campers, and the pop of the fire. Was that growl a bear? Or, was that just the sound of the neighboring camper’s German shepherd? I didn’t wait for reason to calm me; I headed into the coach fast!

As such an avid reader, storing books and CD’s in the coach has its limits so here’s what I do. If I think that a friend would enjoy the book or CD, I mail it along for their enjoyment. Sometimes neighboring campers have accepted my completed reads with pleasure and appreciation. But, more often, I visit the local library and ask if the librarian would like to accept my offering as a donation. I am met with grateful smiles each time.

So I keep on reading or listening to books and I hope you will too.

You Slept Where Last Night?

“You heard me right. We slept at Wal-Mart,” I answered. For non-Rving friends, staying at a Wal-Mart is unfathomable. For RVer’s, the welcome mat is rolled out.

The large and mostly flat Wal-Mart parking lots can be a place to park overnight. Of course, there’s no electrical or water hook-ups, but you do have a place to restock the pantry and buy stuff for the motorhome. For those occasions when a campground is not an option and Ed feels weary from the drive, boon docking at Wal-Mart is a friendly alternative and the stores are practically everywhere.

I like wheeling a shopping cart to the coach door and handing the groceries inside to Ed. We are fans of the pharmacy for our refills. And, the photo center makes it easy to make prints to send to family and friends. We never stay in a lot without spending money on merchandise or services. That may be why Wal-Mart’s corporate philosophy is RV friendly. They even sell a road atlas that contains a directory of all its stores. I highly recommend that you carry an updated version of this atlas in your motorhome. I also suggest that you be mindful of the “RVers’ Good Neighbor Policy on Overnight Parking Etiquette” which RV Clubs like FMCA and Escapees have adopted.

So, where are we sleeping tonight? It just might be a Wal-Mart.

(Note: One night we parked our coach in the lot of a home building supply retail chain. The lot was level and certainly large enough, but not conducive to a sound sleep. The high pitched safety beep of forklifts running in reverse manned by the night re-stocking crew and the amplified external manager’s public messaging system giving directives to the crew kept me awake until very late.)

Sweet dreams….

Corning Museum of Glass is Worth Stopping to See

“Oh my God, it’s a Chihuly!” I exclaimed. “Look, Ed. This is the artist whose exhibit I raved about when I visited the Fairchild Gardens in Florida. See why I delighted in his work. It’s expressive, bright, and a visual treat to the eye.”

The Chihuly design was the first piece of contemporary art to greet us when we entered the admissions lobby of the Corning Museum of Glass. This was unexpected! And as we furthered explored the exhibit halls, more pleasures and innovations captured our attentions.

The Corning Museum of Glass is more than just glass art and history. We saw a demonstration of glass blowing. We learned about glass inventions from the simple Pyrex baking dish every woman receives as a bridal shower gift to the safety glass in a car windshield. Contemporary art in glass that only great artists can create. And, rooms of glass displays – lights, crystal ware, vases, a chess set, and the largest paperweight commissioned for one of the museum’s past anniversaries.

This is a museum not to be overlooked or rushed through. The two day pass is well worth the time spent and the enjoyment gained.

Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY - September 14 & 15, 2007

Getting to Know Our Coach

Our coach was “previously loved” by three couples. Of the three, we have met Tom and Jane. And, they graciously agreed to help us get acquainted with our new house on wheels. We traveled to Arkport, New York where we plugged into their guest pad and enjoyed their hospitality for several days.

“Did you find the floor safe yet?” Jane asked. “That board will expand the kitchen table another two feet. And, that piece fits over an open drawer to extend out as a table in the living room,” explained Jane as Ed pulled things from the closet.

“Oh, and there’s a place for your guns too. Pull the mattress forward so we can show you,” Jane instructed.

Features, compartments, information about switches, and mechanical details all came to light thanks to Tom and Jane. They gave us a jump start on getting to know our coach. Thanks!

Note: If you buy a “previously loved” coach, let past owners help you too.

September 11 - 13, 2007

A Toast to Pennsylvania Wines and The Slots

While visiting our son Chris in Erie, Pennsylvania, we bought a case of wine, a very unusual occurrence for Ed and me. Usually, we have no wine stashed except around holidays, but the courtesies shown us when we visited Mazza Vineyards Winery and the pleasing tastes of the sampled Pennsylvania wines lead to this purchase.

The Mazza Vineyards Winery is located at 11815 East Lake Road (Route 5) in North East, Pennsylvania some 15 miles east of Erie. Chris, Ed and I arrived just in time to be added to the guided tour of the winery. We learned about the types of grapes used in the various wines, the growing season, and benefits of the lake shore climate on grapes. We saw a grape crusher and tanks for fermenting the wines. Our interest in the tour was greatly enhanced by the chance questioning of our guide about the advantages of cork versus metal twist off caps.

She deferred the debate to a fellow just passing the group. What luck! This fellow was a third generation winemaker for the Mazza family business. He had studied the art of wine making in Australia and Europe. He enlightened our group about American’s snobby preference for the corks, far behind Europeans’ acceptance of the technologically better metal twist caps. More questions came out of the group and he elaborated on current liquor control legislation, aging and bottling wine, and the wine market.

He continued with our group to the wine tasting room offering more wisdom and personal attention. He guided our tastes to the surprisingly fine Pennsylvania wines – Country Red, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot – We purchased a mixed case of the bunch.

With spirits in our system, we were game for fun with the slots. We visited the Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie. Security checked Christopher’s ID then clipped a yellow bracelet on his wrist. “Everyone under 30 gets the bracelet,” apologized the security man when Chris scowled. “Oh, and don’t remove it once you’re inside or we will ask you to leave,” he added drawing a deep sigh of reluctant acceptance from Chris.

I love the sounds of the casino slots - the click of the betting buttons and especially the clang-clang-clang of winning. Eager to play, I pulled a $20 from my black Coach wallet and stuck the bill in a quarter slot machine. I stretched my cash, one quarter after another, dropping to a $12 credit quickly. Chris was faring about the same so we moved to the nickel slots; after all I wanted to stretch that initial $20.

Ed hovered annoyingly behind Chris and me until we insisted he grab a slot of his own to play too. He guided his $20 into a nickel machine next to Chris and placed a 45¢ bet. Chris and I craned our necks as Ed’s machine blinged and flashed. His credits grew and our eyes widened in disbelief. He hit for $142! Amazing!

“Hit the cash out button, hit cash out! I chimed as I pushed the button for the stunned Ed and grabbed the credit slip. “You’re taking us to dinner,” I laughed. And, dinner was what we expected…blueberry pancakes as Ed’s favorite I-90 Bob Evans Restaurant.

September 9, 2007

Oh Dear, A Deer!

At last, we were on the road: September 8,2007. Hours after I FedEx-ed my Ketchum Dell laptop to Dallas and cut in half my corporate Diners Card, Ed and I pulled out of the Fox Den Campground in New Stanton, PA. We were finally on the road together and this was only the second time I had actually been in the coach when it was moving. The big rig actually moved!

We headed to Erie up I-79, a familiar route traveled hundreds of times before to visit my son Chris. I didn’t need to navigate. Ed knew the route. We just passed Meadville; and, in the moment that it took for me to call my Mom, he passed over a deer struck by the car in front of our coach.

Ed straddled the deer’s body with the coach, unfortunately the tow dolly and our Toyota didn’t fare so well. At the next rest stop, a walk around the vehicles showed no damage to the coach except for the washable blood splatters on the rear end. Blood, crap, and hair splattered the dolly shield and the undercarriage of the car. Both the front and rear bumpers on the car were damaged by the carcase that had bumped, tumbled, and rolled underneath. We’d have to call State Farm about this one and we hadn’t even gone 100 miles!

Ed called Chris. “Can you help wash the coach and car? We just ran over a deer,” Ed explained. Chris had helped wash and detail our old coach and cars when he was a teenager but today he had other obligations until later. He’d meet us at the KOA.

Next Ed called the KOA. Under the circumstances, they give us permission to wash the coach and car. The owner even gave Ed a power washer to blast the vehicles clean. Now that is customer service!

Reflections on the Decision I've Made

“There are two things that prevent us from achieving our dreams: believing them to be impossible, or seeing those dreams made possible by some sudden turn of the wheel of fortune, when you least expect it. For at that moment, all of our fears suddenly surface: the fear of setting off along a road heading who knows where, the fear of life full of new challenges, the fear of losing forever everything that is familiar.”
The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho

I read those words over and over on my last flight from Miami to Pittsburgh, my last day as a Ketchum employee. How could words ever ring more true for what Ed and I were about to do as full time Rver's? I could stay on as a Senior Consultant with Ketchum working for a fund raising consulting firm that at one time was a dream that turned into a seven-year reality. I had believed a career with Ketchum to be impossible for a while, but a supportive husband, grown children, and years of development experience came together as my “wheels of fortune” to make that dream real.

To ignore the new “wheels of fortune” – selling our Texas home, finding a willing buyer for our MCI motor coach when a new Prevost coach came available, Suzie off to college, and the successful conclusion of several client campaigns with Ketchum – would be folly. As in Coelho’s book, the character Miss Prym struggled with the choice that could change her fate, I pondered my actions too. Yes, there are fears…Can we successfully live in a house on wheels anywhere the road takes us? …and challenges…Will we be safe in on the road and in other countries with the coach? … and loss of the familiar…What will we find around each bend of the road? I had already decided that it would be cowardly to not follow the opportunity before me.

In this same novel, a character would say, “Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit the target with their eyes closed.”

With my eyes open, my resignation from Ketchum became effective when the Delta flight touched ground on Friday, September 7, 2007 at 7:50 PM.

Last Trip for A Road Warrior

I picked up a rental car from Enterprise of Greensburg for my last trip to the Pittsburgh International Airport. Cindy apologized for the delay as detailers finished cleaning the vehicle for me. She handed me the keys for an SUV, an Escape. “Escape” – what an appropriate word!

Tuesday evening, I'd be in Miami. I planned to have dinner with David, the Ketchum Consultant who would replace me at the Episcopal private school. My flight was to leave a 3:55 PM. It was on time at check-in. By time I removed my jacket and shoes then emptied my briefcase of laptop and bagged liquids, the flight was delayed to a new departure time of 5:30 PM. I cancelled dinner with David instead making plans for breakfast.

The plane was cramped and gross odors came from the bathroom a few seats behind me. When the plane landed, everyone jocked for seats on the terminal bus. Some Australian teens lugged skateboards and backpacks bumping rudely into other passengers.“I can’t wait to travel in my coach,” I thought.

At baggage claim, I spotted my big red Samsonite. Hooray! During my past four flights, I’d been separated from my luggage three times. I grabbed my bag then waited for the National bus to take me to the rental center. At least nine Budget buses had passed me before I flagged the one headed to National. I wasn’t going to miss this grind.

Four days later I reversed my route from Miami to Pittsburgh, grabbed my bag and hired a taxi to my coach. Ed was waiting for me in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The cab driver gave me a quizzical look when I asked him to hand my luggage up the coach steps. I was home at last because home is where the coach is parked – Anywhere, Anytime. My flying days are over!

Memories Bring Comfort As We Move to the Unknown

Shavings of green Styrofoam lifted in the breeze as I forced the folded business card into the florist foam. Two bouquets of silk daisies, red poppies, and purple blossoms from Wal-Mart brighten the brass urn making Grandma and Grandpa’s grave in the Garden of Devotions section of Greenwood Cemetery in Indiana, PA. Grandma’s been gone since 1980 and Grandpa since 1966. I remember them both dearly, especially when I visit southwestern Pennsylvania.

The graves are close to the oncology center where the offices of the American Cancer Society had been housed. From there, I fought the disease with fundraising to support research, education, and patient services. Cancer took Grandma’s life, and eventually my Dad’s life too, just one more reason I’d been so dedicated to my career there in 1990’s.

Many memories are tied to Indiana, memories that I’d been seeking out as comfort as Ed and I move into the unknown. On this particular Friday, we searched backcountry roads unsuccessfully for the old family farm. There, as a kid, I remember our family feasted on bacon roasted over a wood fire, toasted marshmallows, and plucked Concord grapes off the vines covering the arbor frame. Geese chased my cousins and me and pecked our legs. Hayrides bumped us through the fields. At sunset, we use to ride in Grandpa’s blue ’62 Oldsmobile with cherry lollipops in our mouths, heads and arms poking out the back seat windows on the ride from the farm to the city house on Maple Avenue.

Kovalchick’s junkyard was our playground behind the city house. And, when we got tired of weaving through the heaps of scrap metal and jumping over the rainbow pools of truck oil, we’d wander to Great-Grandma Sanford’s house in the adjoining yard to poke carrots and fingers through the wire mesh cages of her pet rabbits.

We’d eventually make our way to Great-Grandma Sanford’s kitchen screen door and press our noses on the wires to get a welcome call to come inside. Grandma Sanford had canaries in a cage and we’d reverently sit on her sofa waiting for a snack or the offer of a dime each to visit the dairy next door.

Aunt May worked at the dairy and would help us reach deep into the freezer case to find a drumstick cone or banana Popsicle. From the dairy, we could see Uncle Bob’s car at Breezy Point where he’d drink his beer to feed his beer belly and loosen his sense of humor. We weren’t allowed to cross Wayne Avenue to the bar because of the fast moving traffic there.

Still full of energy, we’d race back to Grandma’s house where a pot of Hungarian dumplings spiced with paprika simmered on the stove. We’d eat our fill, and then, lounge on the front porch steps competing with each other by keeping score counting the number of cars of selected colors going by Maple Avenue.

So many of these memories came alive as I visited the countryside and the place where family homes once stood. Later, the memories also came alive as I paged through old photo albums with my cousin Becky and excavated family history from the black and white prints. And, then watched the 8 mm home movies Dad filmed in the ‘60’s.

These experiences, places, and the family members long passed are memories that bring comfort as we move to the unknown. And, as I leave my card “Patricia M. Sanford Lonsbary, Global Tourism Solutions, Inc.” at Grandma and Grandpa’s grave, I am telling them goodbye and thank you for the memories and that I’ll carry a part of them with me as my travels carry me to places unknown.

This is Our Vermont

I left Texas on June 9th - the first day of my last vacation earned as an employee of Ketchum. I had two weeks to drive the Penske truck to Greensburg, see Suzie inn route, visit Chris and get ready to work on June 24th. The plan was for Ed to join me in Pennsylvania and for us to make our way to Vermont. Summer in Vermont, how lovely!

But summer in Vermont did not happen. The entire time that I was making my way to Pennsylvania, I felt ill with abdominal pains and symptoms of a bladder infection. My nurse practitioner detected the blood in my urine during a routine gynecological appointment in May and provided the first dose of antibiotics. Then when symptoms persisted, my family physician provided another 10 day regime beginning on June 7th. I found no relief, so 8 days later l I visited the urgent care center in Greensburg. An x-ray detected a kidney stone and a CAT scan confirmed the diagnosis. Now, I had medication to stimulate the passage of the stone, more antibiotics, and orders to drink large quantities of water. The stone did not pass! Again I was at the urgent care center on June 21st, that’s when the doctor helped me to find a specialist for the removal of the stone.

The urologist with the German accent became my new best friend. I would meet him in the Westmoreland Regional Hospital emergency room on the morning of June 22nd. Morphine, X-rays, the failed attempt to “fish out” the stone, meant I was sent to Mom’s house to recover with the hope that the stone would pass through the stent Doc inserted.

I officially went on medical leave from work June 24th. Everyday I waited and watched hoping the stone would pass. I managed the discomfort with the intermittent 4-hour or 8-hours dose of meds. There were more antibiotics. Surely, this stone would pass, all would be well. I’d catch my scheduled flights and make client calls next week. Wrong. No stone. No Vermont. I make another date with the urologist.

July 2nd I am admitted to the hospital's short stay surgery unit. This time the stone gets blasted and extracted. Doc hands me the charcoal gray stone fragments in a clear plastic lab canister. It originally measured 5 millimeters. How could something so little hurt so much? I cope with more meds, more recovery under Mom’s roof, more time off, and cancelled client services while a new stent works to flush any remaining fragments of the kidney stone. No Vermont.

Ten days later, I returned to the short stay unit to have the stent removed. By now, I know the routine and greet the nurses with their first name. This time I hallucinate and see M&M’s when going into sedation. “I must have M&M’s,” I tell my son Jason when we stop at the pharmacy not bothering to explain why. My three-year-old granddaughter Brianna thought the M&M’s were a great idea but she didn’t like seeing me escorted to her Daddy’s car in a wheelchair. She scolded, “Grandma Patty, don’t eat anymore stones!” I went through another round of bed rest, no lifting, medications, and postponed meetings with clients until July 22nd.

Ed joined me in Pennsylvania with his own medical issue which he kept secret so as not to upset me. On July 19th he was an outpatient at Westmoreland Regional Hospital for a colonoscopy. The exam revealed that the problem was hemorrhoids. What a relief! But, he is weak and needs to rest. Now, we knew for certain there would be no Vermont.

Ed had parked the coach at Keystone State Park in site number #64 and that’s where we remained. We hiked park trails, biked around the lake, canoed on a ranger guided lake tour, and enjoyed an occasional campfire. One evening Ed hugged me close under his arm and said, “This is our Vermont.”