Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cahokia Mounds: Don't Miss This World Heritage Site

“Opps! Missed the exit!”… “Nah, it’s too hot for a walk around there today.” … “We spent too much time shopping; we’ll go there next time.”

“Next time” happened on November 14th. As Ed and I traveled west on I-70 approaching St. Louis, Missouri, we decided to quit driving early to avoid city rush hour traffic. “Is there someplace you want to visit along here?” Ed asked. I told him about the Indian mounds that I’d always been meaning to see but never got to visit.

The Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico. The site was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1965. Then in 1982, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Cahokia Mounds a World Heritage Site for its significance in the prehistory of North America.

During our visit to the Interpretive Center, “City of the Sun”, a 15-minute award winning video, introduced us to this prehistoric Mississippian Indian civilization. Evidence shows that the first settlements at Cahokia occurred around AD 700 when the Late Woodland Indians lived in villages along Cahokia Creek. As they established a stable food base from hunting, fishing and cultivated gardens, the Mississippian culture rose to highly structured communities with a complex social and political system. After 1050, Cahokia became a regional center for surrounding farmsteads and villages. At its peak between AD 1050 and 1200, the population reached 10 – 20,000 people. Cahokia spread over six square miles and included at least 120 mounds.

The rectangular mounds served as a base to elevate ceremonial buildings and residents of the elite. Archeologists believe the conical and ridgetop mounds were used for the burial of important people or to mark important locations. Scholars of the Cahokia Mounds estimate that these people moved over 50 million cubic feet of earth in baskets on their backs for mound construction alone.

Monks Mound is the largest prehistoric earthen mound on the site and in the Americas. It contains 22 million cubic feet of earth and its base covers more than 14 acres. A massive building once stood on top of the mound where the principle chief lived, conducted ceremonies, and ruled. I climbed the steps up Monks Mound but never reach its top some 100 feet above ground level. The summit had been closed to the public due to some landscaping restoration and I respected the orange barrier.

I found the Archaeology Wells in the Interpretive Center most intriguing. These five sunken displays throughout the gallery area show “What was here”, a recreation of the archaeological evidence discovered during the excavations for construction of the Center. Lighted screens created ghost like images of the people in their homes. I could imagine these families engaged in daily living and felt awed by this historic yet intimate peek as a guest in their once lively home.

Beyond my imaginings, Cahokia Recreated presented a life-sized diorama of Cahokia as it appeared in AD 1200. Single family dwellings of pole and thatch were among the representative sweat lodges, communal buildings, and grain storage structures.

By the late 1300s, Cahokia was abandoned. Archeologists speculate why. Visitors can also ponder reasons for Cahokia’s demise and register their thoughts on this unanswered question. Here’s how. You select a suggested reason such as depletion of resources, social unrest, climate change, or disease and vote for it by feeding dollars into slots like those on snack and soda vending machines. This clever fund raising display tallies the funds collected and shows in dollar amounts the factors most believed. As a former fund raiser, this fascinated me. How clever! How delightfully unscientific! As for my vote, I feed a few dollars into several of the slots. This historic site is worth supporting regardless of the questions that remain.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is located at 30 Ramey Street, Collinsville, Illinois.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stay on the Red Roads or Moral of the Story: Read the Map Legend

“Look at the map and find me a little town on a red road off this interstate where we can boondock for the night,” Ed requested.

We were on Interstate 540 south of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Wal-Mart atlas showed little towns on either side of this green interstate route. They each had red routes running though them, but to get to them, the map showed that we’d have to travel on tiny sections of black roads a few miles.

“Take this exit to Winslow,” I directed.

The two-lane (map legend “black “road) wound past houses under a canopy of trees still bright with colorful orange, yellow and red leaves. Then, the road began to descend into a valley. The grade became steeper and steeper. Yellow road signs posted speed limits for the upcoming bends in the road. The distance between these signs lessened and more warning signs appeared. Then, the big yellow signs with big black arrows pointing around the 90-degree switchbacks directed us first right then left and right and left again. Ed asked, “Was this a red road?”

Sheepishly, l admitted, “Well, there’s just a little section of black road to the red road in Winslow. We should be there any second.”

“Patty, I can see the tow car snaking beside me on these turns!” Ed exaggerated but not by much. I wanted to close my eyes so as not to see the yellow signs with big black arrows on the descending turns. And, I reassured myself that Ed had navigated a road like this before when we visited the Gila Cliff Dwellings a couple of years ago. I did close my eyes then but also knew that we’d end up in a heritage park. What kind of town had I selected now for an overnight visit?!

One of our bus conversion friends told me, “It’s not the driving that I like so much, it’s arriving.” I felt happy to arrive in Winslow, Arkansas. Well, sort of happy.

We parked parallel to the railroad tracks on the only street without a curve or hill. “Let’s take a look around,” Ed said heading out the door. “Are you kidding? Let’s get out of here,” I screeched, but he didn’t hear. So I followed Ed because I wasn’t staying in the coach alone. The town looked abandoned.

“Ed, this building houses the Winslow city office, water company, library, police station and jail!” The space was smaller than our coach. Further down the Main Street row, we found a store with straw hats and baskets in a disarrayed window display where a sign read “Open Saturdays”. The next series of windows may have been to someone’s living room. Through the venetian blinds, I saw newspapers open and scattered on the floor. Across the street was a marker from the railroad days and engraved bricks recognizing the 20 or 30 donors by name whose gifts made the site possible.

In our brief wanderings, friendly people in pick-up trucks and cars waved to us as they drove past. And, we noticed two ladies had parked and went inside Lena’s Beauty Parlor. Ed and I followed them inside a moment. They were sisters. Lena introduced herself as the beautician doing hair in Winslow for over 30 years. Barb sat in the salon styling chair in her nightshirt explaining that she had slept through the day because her role in the chaplaincy of Washington Regional Hospital had kept her up all the night before. (Small world! I had done a feasibility study for the hospital’s charitable foundation two years ago.) She had impulsively begged Lena to give her a wash and style at this late hour of the day. She didn’t expect visitors.

Pointing to the coach, Ed asked, “Do you think it’d be okay to park here? That’s our coach over there.”

“We figured that much. How you get here?” I explained the red road scenario. “Well, don’t go back that way. You’ll bottom out. I’m surprised were not pulling you out of the ditch right now. Be sure you head that way out of town,” she said pointing to the right. “Route 71 is just past the post office. It’s a bigger road and will get you to the Interstate.” She got quiet for a moment then added, “Seeing that my sister and I are City Council members and the two of us make a majority, you can park here in front of the town park and my beauty shop. Consider that permission to stay the night.”

From Lena, who boasted to be the oldest resident of Winslow, we learned that in the days before air conditioning, people came from as far away as Dallas, Texas to escape the summer heat. Winslow was their summer spot in the Ozarks, cool and country. The railroad brought them. In fact, a train still passes through the old stone tunnel each night at 3 AM. There’s an abandoned school on the hill. The governor of Arkansas closed the school some years ago because there weren’t enough kids to meet the 300 minimum requirement to stay open. The general store is for sale. It’s the one Lena’s dad had owned. She said the family thought of leaving Winslow to open a bath house when she was a teenager but the other town just didn’t feel like home so they returned to this little town in the Ozarks.

Winslow felt homey to us after our visit at the beauty shop. We enjoyed a good night sleep there and waited to hear the 3AM train whistle when the locomotive roared across the tracks.

Moral of the Story: I will read the map legends but I may still take us down those tiny black roads to the red ones. I wouldn’t want to miss visiting another town like Winslow, Arkansas.

I am Glad You Asked

Friends and family who know that our previous MCI bus conversion/motor home had been used primarily by Ed in his business Private Motor Coach, Inc. (PMC) have asked how he’ll continue taking people on trips when we live in the coach. At first, I answered that question by telling people, we’d be very selective about the trips taken and that I could accompany Ed or choose to head to Mom’s house for awhile. Ed responded by saying, “I’m bored with America. I want to expand the business to Central and South America.” He is ready to let go of PMC’s North American market and move onto a new venture. So now my response has changed. I tell people who now ask that we became fulltime RVers living in a Prevost motor coach/bus conversion to facilitate our new business plan: Global Tourism Solutions, Inc. (

Our primary intent is to open the market in Central and South America to private RV travel by considering, among others, eco-tourism, charitable tours, charter groups, and business-to-business development with the various countries’ tourism departments. Our secondary effort is to create a “Charles Kuralt- On the Road ”- type video series, like that which aired on CBS in the ‘70s, chronicling our travel experiences either as a couple or with guests aboard the coach. We are currently working with our contacts within the RV industry to develop these plans and identify sponsors. We will begin a fact-finding expedition to the Americas in the spring of 2008. Global Tourism Solutions, Inc. is the offspring of our initial travel company Private Motor Coach, Inc. (

Our new business plan is evolving so keep asking questions. Your questions help us to focus our thoughts, refine or challenge our ideas, and move forward.

When the Rain Stopped

Ed and I had arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania, just before the rain storm hit. We had returned to visit my son Chris after our tour through Canada. Our plan was for Chris to act as our personal fly fishing guide and enjoy the season’s end of the steelhead run. That evening when Chris visited us in the coach, we checked our rods, inspected our flies, and made plans to wet a few lines.

The rain began shortly after Chris said “Good night.” The downpour pelted the roof of the coach through the night sounding like popcorn exploding in a metal pot. As I lay awake in my bed, I wondered about the effect the weather would have on Walnut Creek. Would it make conditions too muddy to fish or would the stream rise just enough to make conditions ideal? Around midnight, the noise stopped. “Ah, no more rain,” I thought as I drifted to sleep. In the morning, Ed pulled back the coach privacy curtains. “Hey,” he said, “Someone put a bunch of wet Kleenex on the windshield.” Then, he quickly corrected himself. “Hell! That’s SNOW!”

Big flakes of wet snow were still falling. The flakes were so dense that visibility outside only reached a few feet ahead. And, on the ground, snow measured eight inches deep! The pelting sound of the rain had stopped because the rain had turned to snow!

Having lived in Texas for the past seven years, our experience with snow had been minimal.* We actually became giddy with laughter. Here we were in our coach in the snow! Our guide advised us to use our money to buy a snow shovel instead of the Pennsylvania Tourist Fishing License! There’d be no fishing even though the rain stopped.

November 5 – 6, 2007

* (There was one time when Whitehouse, Texas did have a dusting of snow. That was when Suzie’s roommate Nicole visited in April 2007. Suzie had promised Nicole sunshine and warm temperatures. She got cold weather and a freak snow fall.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What? No, Starbucks!!

I must confess that one of the things that I am missing while on this Canadian “shakedown cruise” is my regular indulgence at Starbucks. I am hooked on their tall caramel Frappuccino. In Montreal, I noticed a Starbucks sign in a window. It read, “Coming Soon, Starbucks.” What a disappointment!

I have been without my favorite Starbucks icy brew for over eight-weeks. But today, just outside of Niagara Falls, Ed and I stopped at my second favorite coffee shop Tim Horton’s. Tim Horton’s doesn’t do anything fancy with coffee. It’s just a plain brew that is consistently good flavored with a double cream and one sugar. Tim Horton’s are rare in the US but in practically every Canadian town, even Ingersoll, Ontario – Ed’s hometown. I am a fan of their freshly baked donuts too. I had an apple filled donut today so generously coated with a powdered cinnamon that I whiffed some of the coating onto Ed’s fleece jacket when I took my first bite. Homer Simpson and I could be the poster team for Tim Horton’s. Bring on the coffee and donuts. This is Canada.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Ingersoll Homecoming

Family and friends gathered on a Sunday afternoon at Ed's sister Marie's home in Ingersoll, Ontario to give us a send-off as we begin our plans to travel Central and South America. Some wish they could come with us. Others will be content to hear about our travels without leaving town. So as we accepted warm wishes and tearful goodbye hugs. We carry their heartfelt joy with us down the road less traveled.
November 4, 2007

All About Ed

Ed describes himself as a “farm boy” from Ingersoll, Ontario. If you dig more, you’ll find that he is legendary in the world of “innovative travel.”

When I first visited Canada with Ed in 1995, he took me to his old elementary school and we’ve visited it each subsequent trip as well. This trip to Canada in November 2007 was no different; we visited SS #1 Dereham Township Public School built in 1872. It’s now converted to a house, but Ed still remembers running through the iron gate to the one-room school house where each year students advanced a grade by changing to a different row of seats. He walked to school from the farm some four miles every day. Three generations of Ed’s family attended school there including all five Lonsbary kids, Ed’s mom Jean, and his Grandpa Wray Wilford.

Ed learned how to farm and feel comfortable around heavy equipment from his Grandpa. That’s why he can work on our coach - just another piece of big equipment - and why he can skillfully drive it. He says he one time raced a tractor backwards. How’s that for driving talent?

As the oldest boy in the family, Ed helped on the family farm. He worked hard and even picked tobacco at other farms for six summers to earn a wage. Throughout his college years, Ed bartended at the Ingersoll Inn. He earned a decree from Fanshaw College in 1972.

Over the years, Ed’s career took him from Timberjack in Canada to 25 years in corporate America. A job with Jacuzzi landed him a job in Arkansas with a permanent green card to live in the United States. He worked for DuPont, Dow, and Bayer in engineering, sales and marketing. His extensive travel made him a “road warrior” and feed his love of being on the road.

Wanderlust and his love for big equipment led Ed to create Private Motor Coach, Inc. (PMC) in January 1999. He bought a MCI-9 bus conversion/motor home that he used to take people “Anywhere-Anytime”. Families, businessmen, people with special needs, and entertainers have all been welcomed aboard the coach he named “Patty’s Charm”. The United Motor Coach Association honored Ed’s innovative business with the 2001 Vision Award. Ed opened up a whole new world to travelers, especially those who might not have any other options, or those who might not want to travel the routine way. His next move is to grow the Central and South American markets through PMC ( and build a new venture Global Tourism Solutions, Inc.

Ed’s come a long way from a farm boy at a one-room school to an entrepreneur who is a legendary innovator in private travel.

Montréal Tour: A French Mass, A Walk Around & Chinatown

I always felt like I missed an opportunity to visit Montréal with my good friends Kim and Myra. They had made the trip to Montréal for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games and I didn’t join them. When they returned to Pittsburgh, I enviously listened to their stories about meeting handsome Olympic athletes and descriptions of Olympic Park. Now, more than 30-years later, I could see Montréal’s Olympic Park. On the horizon jutted the impressive Olympic Stadium with its large inclined tower – the largest in the world. At last, I made it to Montréal!

Unlike me, Montréal stirred no special emotion or excitement in Ed. He had lived in the city from 1975 to 1978. He felt content to stay with the coach in Longueuil while the experts at Trans Arctik rebuilt the Espar Heaters. Not content to stay with the coach, I hired a cab. I pointed to a picture in Montréal’s Official Tourist Guide for my French speaking* driver to understand my destination. He navigated the morning rush hour traffic taking me to Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.

The Guide describes the Basilica as “a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture with a magnificent interior of sculpted wood, paint and gold leaf.” When I entered the Basilica, I reverently walked its perimeter noticing these features but stopping to linger at each statue behind rows of votive candles in clear or red glass sleeves. I could feel the candles’ warmth on my face and I wondered about the prayerful petitions each flame carried to heaven. Could it be a wish for safe return of a soldier, a prayer for recovery from illness, maybe a petition for money, or a wish for a baby sister as I had often prayed for as a child in the Cathedral of my own Catholic parish?

I sat in the front pew of the Basilica for a long time admiring the sculptures of the altar. After taking a guided tour I learned significance of the four sculptures surrounding the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice. In one sculpture, Moses leaves a jar of manna in the Ark of the Covenant; a second, Melchisedech holds out bread and wine. In a third sculpture, Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. The last one shows Mary being crowned by her Son. Photos cannot do justice to this magnificent sculptured altar. You must visit and savor each part as I did.

I had planned to attend a Rotary Club meeting at noon, but then I decided to stay at the Basilica for the 12:15PM French Mass in the Chapel. As a child, I had attended weekly Latin Mass and then the English Mass after the Vatican II ruling permitted deviation from the Latin tradition. To hear the Mass in French was like attending a melodic symphony of words, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.

I further explored Old Montréal by walking past the courthouse known as Hôtel de Ville, along the sidewalk cafés and Jacques Cartier Pier. Later, I ventured to Chinatown. In Chinatown, I wandered the narrow streets peeking into shops selling traditional paper lanterns and Buddha figurines. I dared to buy an ornate tin of Jasmine tea in the herds and natural medicine shop shunning the other strange roots and mushrooms overflowing in barrels. And, I marveled at the red and golden arches granting entrance to the district. When I aimed to photograph one, an ancient Chinese woman sternly tugged my elbow to the vantage point that according to her “all the tourists like.” I didn’t resist. I moved to where she led me and changed the angle of my camera to take the shot.

So at last, I had become the tourist in Montréal. And, though it was just one day, I savored each moment and wondered why I waited so long to visit.

*Montréal is the second largest French speaking city in the world after Paris.

October 25, 2007

Weekend In Ottawa: A Mint, Museum & Movie

Wouldn’t you love to get your hands on a bar of gold? You can do that at the Royal Canadian Mint under the watchful eye of a friendly armed guard. I used two hands to lift the weight and only raised it a few inches barely extending the chain that anchors it to the platform display. “Is it real gold?” I asked. “I wouldn’t be wearing a gun if it weren’t real,” replied the guard.

The Mint, located in Canada’s national capital of Ottawa, produces only special edition and investment pieces. We didn’t actually see the production because our visit coincided with inventory. We peered through a second floor viewing window to the mint below to watch the count. Imagine counting sheets of silver and bars of gold. No one worked alone. Teams of people carried the heavy metals while others watched or tallied the count. We did see displays of coins many of which were minted for Canada’s historic events and surprisingly under contract for other countries which have no special minting capabilities.

At the end of our tour, we were offered the opportunity to buy newly available souvenir coins for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. “Why mint a quarter showing a downhill skier?” quipped our tour guide. He didn’t wait for an answer. “Because we Canadians think we can win that event,” he added with a smug grin. “And, we have plans to mint coins for the other winter events,” he added with a bit of national pride.

I bought some of the Olympic coins to send to Suzie, Chris and Brianna with a note saying don’t use the coin for laundry (right, Suzie). I sent more to my friends at the USA Swimming Foundation to remind them the competition is always thinking about bringing home the gold.

Parking the coach at the Mint presented no problem, Ed found a spot on the avenue for buses only. Leaving the Mint was not so easy. We wanted to travel to Gatineau, Quebec across the river from Ottawa but our selected route was barricaded. Orange signs detoured us thru a park. Lovely, except there were bridges linking the little islands of the park across an inlet of the Ottawa River. They looked fragile and low! Backing up was not an option with the tow dolly hauling our Toyota, so Ed and I got out of the coach to make a decision to cross or not to cross. Traffic backed up behind our coach. Irritated drivers cut around us. Curious ones waited to see if we dared to cross.

No signs indicated a weight restriction, no signs told us the height of the three bridges we needed to cross. “I’m going across,” Ed decided. “Patty, you watch my roof as I try to keep the coach centered. The distribution of weight from the coach and car should be okay.”

After he made it across the first bridge with me walking along side, his confidence picked up. He left me sprinting in the puff of diesel as he crossed the remaining two bridges. On blacktop then in a residential Ottawa neighborhood, I climbed on board while Ed asked some locals about the next turn on the detour. Assured there were no more bridges, we made our way to Gatineau.

In Gatineau, we visited the Canadian Museum of Civilization acclaimed for its collection of totem poles some three stories high, each pole telling a native myth in wood carving. I explored the First Peoples Hall, Canada’s largest permanent exhibition on the history, diversity and contributions of Canada’s First People. Ed explored Face-to-Face, the Canadian Personalities Hall . Here he found biographical information, artifacts, recordings, and photographs of people who shaped the country from notables like Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to the first mapmaker of the Northwest David Thompson. Together in the IMAX Theater, we watched “ Hurricane on the Bayou”. The film captures the wilderness of the New Orleans wetlands and reveals the vulnerability of Louisiana following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. For me, the film elicited a feeling of disquiet as I remembered the disquieting loss of 230,000 homes and 1,580 lives. To lighten my spirit, I made my way to the contemporary gallery to get lost in fantasy of art – hundreds of balsa model planes suspended in the shape of a cube and white abstract shapes clustered just for the sake of art.

We had driven the Toyota to the museum so we had no navigational challenges upon leaving just the surprise of delicate snow flurries.

October 27 & 28, 2007

Gaspésie, I Love You!

“Gaspésie, I Love You!” How truly that phrase expresses my sentiment. I had said it many times aloud before I realized it appeared on the cover of the resource I held on my lap as we drove into each town. We obtained the Official Tourist Guide 2007 – 2008 at the Tourist Information Center when we entered Québec. It lists the community name, population, history, descriptions of attractions and events, websites and phone numbers. A helpful young woman at the Center employed by the Québec Ministry of Tourism marked her recommended sights – the windmills, the rock, and more - in this free booklet and on the map we bought.

As she suggested, we visited Cap-Chat to see its windmills. Le Nordais Windmill Park has 133 windmills. This is the largest windmill park ever built in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The 2,814 residents of this municipality can boast that they have most powerful and the tallest (110 m) vertical axis windmill in the world. The interpretative center was closed so we missed the opportunity to tour the interior of this turbine.

We found “the rock” in Percé. This small town became popular for Canadian artists in the 1930s. Even today, many galleries make the visit pleasant. However notable the galleries, I marveled at the famous landmark no man or woman could create - the Rocher Percé. The Rock lies in the sea off the shore of Percé. Tidal erosion sculpted a giant arch through it. Whales are seasonally in the waters around the rock. And, during our brief visit, a local authority educated Ed on whales’ migratory patterns and nearly convinced us to join him on the whale watching boat tour that morning. Just as Ed resisted the enticement of the whale watching tour, I resisted spending our US dollars at the Canadian exchange rate on trinkets like ceramic whales, model light houses, and other souvenirs with the name Gaspésie painted on the base as a souvenir. Let me just say that Percé is very touristy and I only bought a few inexpensive postcards for the family.

My lack of knowledge about Canadian history and poor pronunciation of French names got a rise out of Ed. “This booklet says New Carlisle is the birthplace of some guy named René Lévesque,” I read to Ed. How was I to know that he was the founder of the Parti québécois and Premier of Quebec from 1976 to 1985? I was more interested in the humorous fire hydrants than knowing about this historic Canadian. Each of the town's fire hydrants was painted to look like some of my favorite cartoon characters – Fred Flintstone, Garfield, Sylvester the Cat, and Snoopy to name a few. I’d never seen a main street with so many fire hydrants let alone such a touch of humorous originality. You’ll have to visit the town or these web sites to see them, since we never did stop to photograph the hydrants or to find the Lévesque statue in the municipal park: or New Carlisle,

Had we stopped at every attraction in every town, we’d still be in Gaspésie. As it was, we were there from October 12 -17, 2007. Our tour of the Gaspé Peninsula followed Highway 132, which hugs the coastline in a round trip, until we cut across the peninsula on Highway 185. By traveling off-season, we never had to get up at dawn for the solitude of a walk on the beach, wait for crowds to clear to enjoy the view, sit in slow moving traffic, or stand in a line for an attraction. That's why I love Gaspésie.

The information contained in “Gaspésie, I Love You!” is also available online at

We’re Not Really Tourists: It’s a Shake Down Cruise

Traveling through New York and Canada may seem at to be an extended RV vacation. Ed quickly dismisses this notion. “We’re not really tourists,” he explains. Several reasons come to mind.

First, this trip constitutes a “shake down cruise” according to Ed. Our Prevost coach may be new to us, but we are the fourth owners of this previously loved RV. And, since our future intent is to ship the coach to South America next spring, all mechanical functions must be reliable. Throughout our trip, Ed constantly monitored fluids, tires, brakes, engine, and transmission. He made notes on concerns and created a list of questions to ask the experts. Second, the trip took the coach to the experts.

The first set of experts was the mechanics and technicians at the Prevost service center in St. Nicolas, Quebec. For four days and then another two on our return from the Gaspe, these men installed new brakes, replaced a differential joint, and inspected the coach from engine to axel. Another set of experts at Trans Arctic in Longueuil, Quebec needed two days to repair the three Espar heaters that would warm the coach interior when temperatures drop.

These many days on the road also gave me the opportunity to acclimate to living in the RV in the friendly environment of the USA and Canada. There are many things to learn that Ed has already mastered by travelling in our old MCI that I did not experience. Energy management is one big factor. For example, with the generator running, we have all the power of Niagara Falls. That’s when I run everything – the range, microwave, refrigerator, printer, lights…When we’re running off the inverter, we have to watch the amperage used by monitoring the breaker panel above the coach windshield. Water and waste levels are another factor. Conserving water means no long showers with the water constantly running. The manual on-off toggle managers the flow of water to get wet, soap-up, and rinse. All water eventually goes into a holding tank so as water is used, it drains into the black water tank. I have become mindful of monitoring the levels of the fresh water and black water.

We are also testing our skill of driving. Ed can handle the coach in any circumstance. He’ll navigate steep grades, switchback curves, and narrow streets with tight turns. I am still a novice having taken the wheel only one time on the four-lane Trans-Canadian Highway 20 for a very short time. Ed is learning the capabilities of the coach. I am still trying to drive without using both feet.

The road trip has answered questions about what we need and don’t need onboard. We need a crock pot; we don’t need the bread maker. We need long sleeve shirts and fleece jackets; we don’t need high heels or dress shoes. We need bungee cords to button-up some closet doors and the refrigerator for when Ed takes a curve too hot; we don’t need Sam’s Club size bottles of Dawn.

The “shake down cruise” tests our navigation skills. Rand McNally’s The Road Atlas ’07 including the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club Store Directory for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico rarely leaves my hand. When they are available, I like to spend the $4 - $5 for a local map that details a region like the Gaspè for easy navigation of streets and finding attractions. We also have a satellite program called DeLorme Street Atlas USA that runs off the laptop. It works great until we decide to take a different route than we originally program. That’s when the voice navigation system urgently tells us how to get back on course. Supposedly, we could alter the course if one of us would just take time to read the manual.

Technology is fabulous if you just read the manual. I am studying my camera manual and learning to use the photo program Picasa2. I am halfway through the ACT manual and have entered nearly 60 business contacts for Ed’s company Private Motor Coach, Inc. with just the basic understanding. And, I am learning to use my new Dell Latitude D630 Laptop.
We’re exploring communications technology during this trip too. Ed has a Black Berry; my cell phone is in the Verizon network. Both work great in the U.S.; but the roaming charges in Canada, we have been warned, will feel like bank robbery. We’ve managed by using a calling card for 8-cents a minute for calls to the U.S. and 5-cents a minute for calls within Canada. Skype is an affordable option when we have access to the Internet if you can manage the voice delay in transmission.

We had access to the Internet in the U.S. through Verizon’s Broadband Network. In Canada, we found Internet access through the customer lounges at Prevost and Trans Arctik. Once, we used the coin operated Internet in a Youth Hostel at the rate of 20 minutes for $2. This became costly due to the dial-up connection in the remote Gaspè. Email has been the best way to connect with family and friends who are interested in knowing our whereabouts. And, of course, this blog is the more detailed chronology of our experiences.

Connecting via the mail is one-way. I send postcards weekly to my three-year-old Grand-daughter Brianna and on occasion to the children Chris and Suzie. When I find something like a special salmon fly for Chris and a Chinese good luck charm with a horse on it for Suzie, I drop these in the mail. We have a contract with mail forwarding service through Escapees, an RV club for full time RVer’s, but they do not ship mail outside the U.S. So our mail waits in Livingston, Texas until we come back to the States. Some mail has gone to my Mom’s house in Greensburg, Pennsylvania where she opens the mail and weekly, she and I decide over the phone what needs attention and what can wait for our return or be tossed out.

We have made some headway with bill paying online or by phone, but there are still a few things that still require a physical mailing location. For example, I renewed my Texas driver’s license online but it had to be mailed to a specific location. Orders for new business cards and letterhead for our new company Global Tourism Solutions, Inc. we made online, but the shipment is going to Suzie college address in Missouri where we expect to be once the printing is completed and shipped.

As we travel on this “shake down” cruise, we’re getting better at living aboard our coach. And we are building confidence in our abilities to adapt what we learn today as we advance to tomorrow’s next part of our journey – RV travel in South America.