While there are no guarantees in life, Betty & I can be pretty much assured that we will see snow on the ground in Winnipeg this Christmas. Just to be on the safe side, the snow arrived in early November, and we may very well have to brush it off the old Boy and the Smart before heading to Florida on Dec. 26. In fact, the white stuff could remain in southern Manitoba until our planned return in early May. As a contingency, on our return trip we are considering holding up near Betty’s brother in Amherstburg, Ontario, until the snow melts in Manitoba. Amherstburg is outside Ontario’s major snow belt – actually south of Detroit and on a similar latitude as northern California. We should be safe there in our plan to never have to winterize our motorhome again!
Some of you might think, why not just stay in Florida until we know that the white stuff has left Manitoba? As Canadian snowbirds, we are limited to a certain number of days in the U.S., before Uncle Sam comes knocking on our motorhome door. Not only does our calculation need to account for U.S. days in the calendar year, it also must track rolling days. So if we were to spend three months down south at the end of one year, and four months at the beginning of the next, we would be well over our limit and subject to deportation or refusal of entry on future visits. The Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) is holding its hundredth international rally in nearby North Dakota next August, and Betty & I would like to attend. In order to do so, we must find an extra five “U.S. days”, either at the end of this trip south, or the beginning of the next. BTW, if you cross the border at 11:00 pm and return at 1:00 am, that is considered two days, not two hours…
Since this blog was established to keep our kids, grandkids and friends informed of our adventures, there have been no posts for over a month – the longest period since we began. Of course that is because we are not on the road, and haven’t been taking pictures of our familiar surroundings in snowy Manitoba. We get to see our family in person and don’t need to share pictures from a distance. Yeah! But as we visit friends and talk to more distant relatives, they wonder if some kind of update could be added. Ok, here’s a very brief update, with possibly another before we go south.
Well, it has been a very busy time, with check-ins and checkups. Betty and I have been having some great visits with family and friends, noticing how the aging process affects the very young and old alike! The old Boy was delivered to Stylings RV in Lockport, Manitoba for maintenance and upgrades. The Smart spent a week at the Mercedes Benz dealership addressing issues related to our fuel pump failure on Cape Cod, and I was forced to drive a new Mercedes for the week. LOL. Betty & I have both visited our dentist, and I got a medical checkup. Betty has been catching up on her yoga practice with our daughters – one of whom is a yoga instructor, so that helps! Charlie got his meds renewed by our vet, and we’ve shopped on-line and in person for whatever we’ll need on our upcoming trip.
The Christmas season is a great time to spend with family and friends, and Betty & I are blessed with the many relationships developed over the years. We wish all our friends and family best wishes and God’s blessings for a happy Christmas and a merry New Year! And yes, we appreciate the white Christmas where we join with others in singing “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”. But as we contemplate the next phase of our overlandish odyssey, Betty & I are also saying: “Lets go, lets go, lets go!” LOL
While we might still be considered newbies in a number of ways, with much more to learn on our overlandish odyssey, Betty & I have come to a few realizations during our first year of travel as full-time RVers. These learnings are specific to our situation, but some aspects may be generalized for others. That is the purpose of this post.
Bigger is not necessarily better: As we prepared to sell our “bricks & sticks” home and move into a motorhome, we thought of all the “stuff” we had accumulated over the years, and all the “stuff” we would need to take with us
on our journey. My conclusion – not that of my wife, LOL – was that we needed a 45’ tag axle diesel pusher to get us down the road. My preference was a 12 – 15 year old Prevost H3-45, because of the huge available basement space. While I still look longingly at any Prevost that passes us by, I now realize that would have been the wrong choice for us.
Our 2005 Georgie Boy CruiseMaster was already paid off before we sold our home, so rather than putting our money into a depreciating asset (more on that later), Betty & I chose to invest in keeping our Boy roadworthy, while adding a few up-to-date bells and whistles.
When our 4 kids grew up and moved out, we downsized our home and rented heated and unheated storage lockers for the first year. At that point we realized we had never visited the storage lockers and could therefore easily live without that stuff. So we got rid of the lockers and their contents. The first few posts to this blog describe the agonizing decisions involved in decluttering as we downsized from a home to a motorhome. It can be a tough process, but very rewarding and liberating in the end!
At first, we crammed in whatever we thought we would need for our 5 year adventure. But after our first winter, we realized that we were carrying around more stuff than we were likely to use on the next leg of our journey. We have learned, confirmed by a number of other full-timers, that renting storage lockers is a waste of money, despite the fact they are everywhere we go on our travels! Our reality is that we are cheating a little bit by still keeping a bunch of “stuff” in the corner of our son’s basement. But we are committed to going through all that next summer, and deciding on a better home for those former treasures. BTW, Betty & I realize that the heartbreaking exercise of getting rid of our worldly possessions gets passed on to our children when we die, so if we can help dispose of a few things now, it lifts the burden for them later: a worthwhile exercise!
Ok, now out of the morbid and into the living! Betty & I have learned that we prefer national, state and provincial parks for our back-to-nature camping experience. While they don’t necessarily offer all the amenities of a private paved or gravel parking lot (water, sewer and 50 amp electrical on every site, with no trees to obstruct your slide-outs), they usually provide much larger campsites surrounded by some gorgeous scenery. One need only scroll back to some of our previous
posts to see what we’re talking about. Many parks are nestled in forests, precariously close to rugged cliffs, or near the sound of crashing waves. They cannot accommodate 45’ diesel pushers, and knocking down the trees and leveling the rugged terrain would take away from the natural beauty of these spots. In many parks, 35’ is the maximum permitted length, so those beautiful parks are not an option for a longer rig.
Larger RVs also cannot be accommodated in many scenic road-side pull offs. For instance, we drove the Cabot Trail (Aug. 16/18 post: The Majestic Cabot Trail) in our Smart car, stopping to take a closer look at amazing views along the way. Since motorhomes would not fit in most of these scenic look-outs, drivers and their passengers were forced to sail by and miss out on their trip’s raison d’être.
Also, the bigger the RV, the more it weighs and the more gas required to move it down the road. Ferries usually charge by the foot after a certain length, and some smaller ferries have a limit to the size of RV they can accommodate. Toll roads often charge by the number of axles on a vehicle, and some parking lots and rest areas simply don’t have room for larger vehicles. While the cost of gas, tolls etc. may not be prohibitive for short trips, it can add up substantially over time, taking away funds that could be better spent elsewhere.
The more Betty & I travel, the more we realize that we can live without a lot of extra baggage. Our focus these days is more on what we can get rid of, rather than what we can accumulate. Living in a smaller RV, we can ignore all the TV and magazine ads enticing us to buy a bigger this or that. When we realize we can be content with less, we are liberated from carrying lots of stuff in a larger motorhome. For us, bigger is definitely not better!
2. We Should Slow Down! In mapping out our 5 year travel plan to visit 48 states and 10 provinces, I thought I was being conservative in limiting travel days to 3 ½ – 4 hours: breaking camp between 10:30 – 11:00 am, stopping for lunch between noon and 1:30 pm, and setting up at our new location between 3:30 – 4:00 pm. That part of the schedule has worked out quite well in our first year. However, we have already visited more than half the states and provinces, because often I only allowed one or two days for each stop. That meant that we were usually more focused on grocery shopping and getting ready to leave, than on enjoying the surroundings at our campground.
We learned that this overlandish odyssey is not a race, and we should slow down and smell the roses a little more along the way. Why do we need to get up and move so often? Unless there is a hurricane or tornado coming in, we hope to spend a little more time at some of the nicer locations we unexpectedly encounter. As an example, we only intended to spend 5 days on Prince Edward Island, but after we got there and fell in love with the laid back beauty, we spent at least 2 weeks enjoying just a fraction of what the island has to offer. In future, we hope to return to places like that and spend longer periods soaking up the ambiance and scenery.
3. We Can Stay Off The Grid More. While we currently have a glitch with our inverter/charger, we have found the addition of solar power to our motorhome to be very liberating. In addition to the aforementioned national, state, and provincial parks that don’t always have electrical posts at each site, we have accessed many other overnight spots without shore
power. Earlier posts note stays in Walmart and Cracker Barrel parking lots, and wonderful visits through Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Host. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campsites are a great find, as are the many free camping web sites listed on the Internet. Almost none of them offer shore power, but if you have solar panels, it is possible to dry camp for free or cheap across the continent.
Some camp spots allow generators, and we have used ours from time to time, but there is nothing better than quietly sitting outside in nature, knowing that you are not disturbing your neighbours, near or far. The initial cost of a solar system may be high, but Betty & I believe it pays for itself by reducing campground fees, while liberating us to consider other camping options.
Related to this, and tied to the point above about slowing down: We have found it better not to make reservations all along our route. If we do, we feel obligated to move along in order to prevent a cancellation fee. Reservations constrain us from staying longer at beautiful spots we unexpectedly encounter.
Having said that, there are times when we have a particular event or place on our bucket list, and the only way to ensure a campsite is to make a reservation. For example, some of our kids and grandkids are meeting us in Florida in February for a Disney visit. Their vacation schedule is fixed, so our campground reservations are required to ensure we can enjoy the time together.
One of the most unique spots in North America to dry camp is Quartzsite, Arizona. We spent 2 weeks there last winter (see March 24/18: Quartzsite & Controlling The Sun, & March 27/18: A Desert Oasis) for a total of $40. That allowed us to camp anywhere on BLM land, fill up with fresh water as required, and use their dump station. We learned from others at Quartzsite that it is possible to save considerably on accommodation costs and apply those funds for other uses. Next winter we are thinking of spending more time there, in order to explore a variety of other options.
4. A New RV Is Not Necessarily A Better RV: For years advertisers have promoted almost everything as “new and improved”. We have learned that, when it comes to RVs, new is not necessarily improved. For one thing, as earlier mentioned, motorhomes are a depreciating asset.
While I would love to be in a position to own a brand new Prevost bus conversion by Marathon, the average cost is around $1,700,000 plus or minus a few hundred thousand. It becomes used and depreciates as soon as you drive it off the lot, losing about $100,000 in value for each of its first 10 years. That’s a million dollars in depreciation! If you can afford that, good for you! After that, it drops in value by only about $75,000/year, and levels off at around $50,000/year after 13 – 15 years. These coaches are extremely well made and designed to carry large passenger loads safely over long distances. They are a much more sturdy construction than fiberglass motorhomes built for 2 people, and like many high end vehicles, they don’t change appearance every year. Unless one is very familiar with model nuances, it is difficult to guess a 1998 model from a 2008, or even a 2018 for that matter. They are built well, and built to last, but cost a lot to repair, if you can find a shop that will do it.
High end fiberglass motorhomes, selling for say $600,000, also depreciate significantly when driven off the lot, losing as much as $100,000/year in value for the first few years. At the same time, warrantees are often limited to only a year or two, and many motorhome dealers will not service your rig if you bought it somewhere else. That is a real problem if you are travelling the continent.
In touring the manufacturing plants of Elkhart, Indiana we learned, as have many others, that most motorhomes are cranked out as fast as possible on assembly lines that have little or no focus on quality control. That is an unbelievable statement when one is considering investing six figures in a vehicle, either as a home or for pleasure! When I mentioned during a tour that the black tank rinse valve has never worked in our rig since new, I was told that it was likely installed backwards, as both ends look similar. Who is checking to see that installed items really work?
For me, listening to promotional advertising that says “New for this year is…” should be a red flag. What it means is that item either didn’t work last year, and they are trying to fix it, or they are incorporating something that isn’t tried and true. The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here. Changing the shape of the headlights, just for the sake of change, means that you will have difficulty sourcing those headlights two years from now, when you need replacements.
Betty & I learned that it takes a couple of years to work all the bugs out of a new motorhome. (BTW, we did buy our Boy new, and drove it to Alaska in our first year. LOL). One of our RV plant tour guides told us that it is best not to go too far afield in the first year, because there are going to be a lot of big and little adjustments required. A number of the motorhome magazines we receive have recall pages that list dozens of reasons why new and used RVs need to go back for servicing.
5. Smaller RV Service Centres Often Provide Better Service: As noted in previous posts, all motorhomes need regular service, either for maintenance or emergency repairs. (see April 17/18: Sweetness & Light;July 5/18: Heidi RV Rocks/ Hitch House not so much…;Sept. 22/18: Disillusioned With Camping World, Inspired by Major’s RV, and Sept. 26: Oh, oh!) I won’t repeat all that now, and encourage the reader to check these posts. Suffice to say that, while Camping World in the U.S. was our go-to destination for repairs over the past decade, we have learned that smaller independent RV service centres can and do provide better service. We still haven’t learned how best to differentiate the good from the bad (not all web sites can be believed…), but over time we hope to establish a list of trustworthy repair shops that can keep us going down the road. In the meantime, word of mouth from other RVers and campground hosts can be most helpful.
6. Some Routines Are Helpful, As We Get Older (LOL): Betty & I have developed a number of habits over the past year. Most of them are quite helpful! We have learned that it is good to prepare to leave a campsite in a certain order (make sure our power steps are up before the levelers come up, for instance), and to set up camp in a certain order (put the levelers down before extending the slide-outs, for instance). While travelling, we also routinely listen to audio books to make the time pass, and map out possible rest stops along the way. We learned early –from our parents- that it is good to have a place for everything, and to put everything back in its place. While our home on wheels may be small, it’s surprising how much time we can spend looking for something that was stored in a different location. I won’t bore you with our other routines – suffice to say that memory isn’t always what it used to be – so following patterns can prevent mishaps.
7. We Learned We Still Enjoy Each Other’s Company: Whether or not this learning is generalizable, Betty & I have found that we love to share these adventures together! We have met folks along the way who have lost their spouses. And while they continue to soldier on, it just seems way more lonely to watch that magnificent sunset by yourself, rather than together with someone you love and care about. We both have hobbies and times that allow us to be alone, but this overlandish odyssey has created a series of great memories (so far, LOL) together: A great bonding experience!
Well, I’m sure we’ve learned more than seven things in the past year of full-timing, but maybe that’s enough for now. I am far beyond the 600 words targeted for these posts, but far short of the book that could be written about our jaunting journey –even if we are only one year in… So we’ll sign off with these words of encouragement: There are wonderful, interesting people all across our continent, and it is fun to connect and reconnect with them. If you are one of those we’ve met during our adventures, thanks for taking the time to talk with us and share your learnings. Best wishes on your future travels!
It is now November 2, 2018, and Betty & I are celebrating. We began this blog one year ago this month, so this is our first anniversary. Yeah! We have visited 24 states and 5 other provinces since starting our overlandish odyssey, with more than a few oh, oh’s along the way. What a fabulous adventure it has been! But more than that, today is our 44th wedding anniversary, so Betty & I have shared a much longer journey on a road that has sometimes been smooth, and sometimes not so much…
Now we are back in Winnipeg, the home of our four grown children and three grandchildren. Our first few days have been spent at the Town & Country campground, unloading and preparing our motorhome for a check up at Stylings RV in Lockport, Manitoba. It’s a bit of a shock to our systems to see all the trees devoid of leaves, when they were lush and green only a few days ago! We have already had dinner one night with Valerie, Kevin, Isabella & Georgia; dinner another night with Lisa & Adam; and dinner and Halloween another night with Andrew & James. Now we are just waiting for our fourth – Luke – to invite us for dinner. Hint, hint. LOL.
Our to-do lists are quite long as we prepare to leave after Christmas on the next leg of our adventure. Today we saw our first snowfall in a long time, so in some ways Florida can’t come soon enough. Andrew & James have just come back from work & school, so there’ll be lots to keep us busy for the next while. Our lives are full.
While we don’t know what we’ll find on the road ahead, Betty & I are happy to share another anniversary, and to share stories of our ongoing adventure, with all its ups and downs. Pray that – for you and for us – every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places on our paths made plain.
For years, Betty & I have been reading ads in the Winnipeg Free Press for bus tours to Branson, Missouri, which bills itself as the “Live Music Entertainment Capitol of the World”. No hyperbole here…LOL. Since this southwestern Missouri city was more-or-less on our route home from Memphis, we thought we’d make it the 4th and last stop on our musical ride.
Most of our travel time was through the cotton fields of Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains that surround Branson. At $24./night for a full service campsite, we booked into site 124 at nearby Table Rock State Park, with the intent of cleaning
and preparing our motorhome for a brief storage period back in Manitoba. Being at Branson for 4 days, we thought we’d also check out a few of the many attractions listed, and maybe catch one of those live shows.
Truth be told, we found Branson to be a major disappointment, although maybe we didn’t give it a full chance to impress. It turned out that Elvis Presley himself was not at Presley’s Jubilee. Apparently he had already left the building! While Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and many other music legends were also being promoted, it appeared that none of them were there in person! What a let down!! LOL
The Branson entertainment guide had a picture of Michael Jackson on the cover, and you could get up close and personal with him, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and others – or at least wax images of them – at the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center: “One of the biggest attractions in Branson”. Everywhere we looked we saw imitations of this, tributes to that, copies of something else, including, for some reason, a replica of the Titanic hitting an iceberg on Route 76, their main drag. What’s that about? We didn’t check it out…
It may very well be that Betty & I are too harsh on Branson. It rained quite a bit during our visit, and we were more focused on the road home, rather than the musical ride. Will we ever go back to the “Live Music Entertainment Capitol of the World”? Maybe, or maybe we’ll just go to an imitation of Branson next year, in a place out west called Las Vegas, Nevada. LOL.
For the last few days, Marc Cohn’s song “Walking In Memphis” has echoed in my head wherever Betty & I have travelled in Memphis, Tennessee. (I guess the fact that it echoed suggests my noggin is otherwise hollow, but that’s another story. LOL) The autobiographical song recounts Cohn’s spiritual experience of walking in a city steeped in music history. And this week we joined him on that walk.
On a previous visit with our kids (Ok, they’re not kids anymore, so it was a while ago…) Betty & I visited Elvis’ Jungle Room in Graceland, and stood by his tomb with security guards near by. We have now toured a number of recording studios, so chose to forego a visit to Sun Records on Union Avenue, where Presley laid down a lot of vinyl. When planning this trip last year, I
was reminded that we had stopped at a restaurant on Beale Street for the best bbq ribs ever, so that was a point of interest not to be missed. The taste alone put our feet 10 feet off of Beale, as we passed the statue of the father of the blues, W.C. Handy, at Handy Park.
While not part of our musical journey, Betty & I wanted to pay homage to the great Martin Luther King, who was assassinated in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The motel has now been converted into a National Civil Rights Museum, and our extended visit there was a powerfully moving experience.
The next day –Sunday – combined our experience at the Civil Rights Museum with our musical ride and Cohn’s song. While we didn’t hear a sermon from singer/songwriter/ producer Rev. Al Green, Betty & I did attend “Memphis’ First Congregation of Color” – Collins Chapel, founded in 1841. Just as Cohn experienced, this was a tremendously moving experience,
with the black choir swaying together and clapping in unison as they sang gospel songs. (There was one white woman in the choir who didn’t ever seem to get the rhythm, but she was introduced later as a visitor from Minnesota. LOL)
Guest preacher, Dr. Clifford L. Harris of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, challenged the congregation to live in the eye of the hurricane, as the storm raged around them. Without directly referring to the current administration, he encouraged parishioners to get out and vote, reminding listeners of the day’s responsive reading “… O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” “For we must never forget that the only thing evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
In recounting how he came to write the song, Cohn tells of his inspirational encounter at the Hollywood cafe, just south of Memphis, with singer Muriel Wilkins. He was asked to perform on stage with her, and didn’t know the words to many of the songs. But as a finale they sang “Amazing Grace” together and, even though Cohn is Jewish, he felt the spiritual connection with Christianity that night.
Our visit to Memphis has shown Betty & me the worst and best of the human experience, from the assassination of MLK and the lynchings of blacks and their supporters during civil rights marches, to the inspiring and uplifting music that encourages us all to love and care for one another.
Put on my blue suede shoes And I boarded the plane Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues In the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy, won’t you look down over me Yeah, I got a first class ticket But I’m as blue as a boy can be.
Then I’m walking in Memphis Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis But do I really feel the way I feel?
Saw the ghost of Elvis On Union Avenue Followed him up to the gates of Graceland Then I watched him walk right through Now security they did not see him They just hovered ’round his tomb But there’s a pretty little thing Waiting for the King Down in the Jungle Room.
When I was walking in Memphis I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis But do I really feel the way I feel?
They’ve got catfish on the table They’ve got gospel in the air And Reverend Green be glad to see you When you haven’t got a prayer But, boy, you’ve got a prayer in Memphis.
Now Muriel plays piano Every Friday at the Hollywood And they brought me down to see her And they asked me if I would Do a little number And I sang with all my might She said “Tell me are you a Christian child?” And I said “Ma’am, I am tonight”.
Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) Was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) But do I really feel the way I feel?
Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) But do I really feel the way I feel?
Put on my blue suede shoes And I boarded the plane Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues In the middle of the pouring rain Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues In the middle of the pouring rain.
Truth be told, I don’t remember hearing about Muscle Shoals back in the day. While it was referenced in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1974 hit song “Sweet Home Alabama” (“…Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers/ And they’ve been known to pick a song or two…”) most of us remember this southern band dissing Winnipeg’s own Neil Young in that song…
But then PBS released a documentary called “Muscle Shoals” in mid-April, 2014, that opened my eyes and ears –and those of many others – to the significance of this otherwise insignificant small Alabama town. (BTW, prior to the documentary, school kids in Muscle Shoals couldn’t wait to move out of the backwoods hick town. Once they
learned of the influential rolls of two small music studios, they became proud to tell others where they were lived.)
The two now-famous recording studios in Muscle Shoals are Fame (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) at 603 East Avalon Ave. and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway.
The Fame Studio was started by Rick Hall in the 1950’s and operated by him until his death in 2018. It is still an active studio, and Rick’s wife, Linda Hall, told us about her husband and the studio when Betty & I went for a tour. Music
producer Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, who coined the term “rhythm & blues”, brought many young artists to Fame, including Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Many attribute their success to the Muscle Shoals sound emanating from Hall’s studio.
But in 1969, Rick Hall signed an exclusive contract with Capitol Records, and expected his session musicians, known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, to go along with him as salaried staff. Instead, the studio musicians, nicknamed “the Swampers” by Leon Russell’s producer because of their swampy sound, took the bold step of establishing their own studio, called Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
To record in a studio owned and operated by the session musicians was a unique experience and, with the assistance of Jerry Wexler, many famous musicians chose to make music in this little space, which had originally been a coffin shop, supplying the cemetery across the street. Of the two visits, the tour of this space was by far the best. Our young tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, and used
a combination of videos and musical clips from his iPad and external speaker to recreate special moments – too many to repeat in this short post.
Ok, let me see if I can give a short version of one longer story: The Rolling Stones had played in Miami and were on their way to perform in Los Angeles. They had never heard of Muscle Shoals, but Jerry Wexler convinced them to fly in on their way, in order to put down maybe one track for their Sticky Fingers album. Among others, they ended up recording Brown Sugar and Wild Horses at Muscle Shoals, with Keith Richards writing the final 2 verses of Wild Horses while sitting on the toilet in the small bathroom that was in the studio. When they went outside in this very rural Alabama hick town, no one recognized
them, and they were happy with that! The documentary has much more input from Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, so I’ll leave the reader to explore there.
Ok, just one more: Many black artists got their start, and continued recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. On separate occasions, both Paul Simon and Rod Stewart requested the same black backup musicians that they had heard on albums produced in Muscle Shoals, and were both surprised that the studio musicians were actually white! Linda Hall told us that, while colour was a major issue in southern Alabama, it
never was in Muscle Shoals, and black & white together worked to create this amazing sound. As I write this, many more stories come to mind, but I have passed the 600 word limit I set for myself on these posts, so I will again encourage all readers to WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY!
For music lovers, there are a number of places in the southern U.S. that claim to be the birthplace of rock & roll, the home of the blues, the heart of country, and all that jazz. Like trying to find the original source of a large river by following the many tributaries that flow into it, the starting place for any genre of music can be elusive. But our search for some good ole fashioned music did take us to some magical places that definitely contributed to inspired melodic outcomes. We were privileged to visit a number of those places this month, as chronicled by the following posts.
As mentioned in our last missive, Betty & I arrived in Nashville, Tennessee just ahead of torrential rains. But that didn’t dampen our spirits. We were there to soak up some music and experience some of the iconic venues in this country music mecca, along with Betty’s brother Jack, his wife Christine, and our old friends from Ontario, Penny & Rick.
We began with a Music City tour,
taking us to Music Row, lined with recording studios where many of the current and former hits were born. We passed the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, the Ryman Auditorium, the Johnny Cash Museum, the George Jones Museum, and the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum, among other attractions. Downtown Nashville’s Broadway is considered the city’s“Honky Tonk Highway”, with music playing 365 days of the year. Everywhere we went – from restaurants to street buskers – we saw ample evidence of the vibrant music culture.
Best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, the downtown Ryman Auditorium was by far the star attraction. Opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the Ryman gave performers and their audiences a warm, intimate space with great acoustics. While it fell on hard times for a while after the Opry moved to their new location, the Ryman has been lovingly restored both for
tours and for regular use as a venue. I noticed that Canada’s k.d. lang performed there just a few weeks prior to our arrival. Betty & I enjoyed seeing her live in Winnipeg– especially her moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It would have been a fitting song for this former grand tabernacle!
Of course, no visit to Nashville is complete without a visit to the
Grand Ole Opry. Opened at its much larger current suburban location in 1974, the Opry has continued the tradition of introducing upcoming country musicians, while highlighting many of the old faithful. When they moved from the Ryman, a circle of centre stage was cut out and installed in the centre of the new stage. New and old experiencing the stage lights at that spot express the feeling that they are standing on hallowed country music ground. For our visit, we had
excellent seats at the front of the auditorium for a show consisting of Bill Anderson, Luke Combs, Charlie Daniels Band, Jon Pardi, Craig Morgan and Kelsea Ballerini.
Whether or not you are a fan of country music, it is well worth the experience to immerse yourself in the flood of sounds and sights at this southern city. Just don’t forget your raincoat and wellingtons!
Betty & I have enjoyed the hospitality of hosts and guests in the campgrounds of the 24 states and 5 provinces visited so far. But on two separate occasions last week we were told to leave – and we did!
While we dodged a bullet with hurricane Florence on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, hurricane Michael wasn’t far behind. On our last night at Oregon Inlet campground on the Outer Banks, park rangers came around warning that they might announce a mandatory evacuation at 10:00 a.m. the next morning. Michael was approaching up the coast from the Florida panhandle, and a great deal of destruction had already been caused.
Similar to the Florida Keys, there is only one road down North Carolina’s coast along Cape Hatteras. Betty & I knew that if this spit of sand was to be evacuated, that road would become very congested in no time at all. Instead of waiting, we pulled in our slides and raised our levelers at midnight and hit the road to Tennessee. While we passed through torrential rains and watched rivers and streams begin to overflow their banks, we made it out safely! Yeah!
In Nashville, Tennessee we checked into the Grand Ole RV Resort & Market at Goodlettsville, with our old friends Rick & Penny from Ontario. We were there to meet Betty’s brother Jack, and his wife Christine, for a grand ole time at the Opry.
But then it began to rain. It rained all day and all night, and by 8:00 a.m. – guess what – staff were coming around telling us they didn’t know when the rain would stop, so we’d better leave, just in case. In came the slides, up came the levelers, and off we went with Rick & Penny to an abandoned K-Mart parking lot, on higher ground. Fortunately, Jack and Christine had a hotel room nearby, and we were all able to get dried off and cleaned up until the all-clear was sounded.
Another post will chronicle our musical ride, but this little epistle is simply to tell the tale of the inhospitable weather that chased us last week from otherwise very hospitable campgrounds.
In my December 8/17 post “On The Road To Memory Lane”, I highlighted 3 campgrounds that carried special childhood memories. Each has come to mind again whenever I think about “camping”, although travels in our class A motorhome don’t look much like holidays in our old canvas umbrella tent. LOL. Maine’s “Camden Hills State Park” was visited and described again on Sept. 11/18, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks became “Home Again – At Cape Hatteras National Seashore” on Oct. 8/18. Today’s post picks up the third in my trifecta, which is defined as a run on 3 grand events.
Now into mid-October, we didn’t expect to need a reservation at Tennessee’s Cove Lake State Park. As it turned out, the park continues to be popular late in the season, and we were lucky to find one available pull-through site for one night only. As a result, the visit wasn’t long, but long enough to confirm some benchmarks: The pool and overlooking pavilion where Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire would blast on the jukebox were still there. The adjacent ranch with the horses we used to ride is still there, and the park restaurant is also still open, although it is now a bbq joint with live blues singers on the weekend.
Somehow the campsites seem to be configured
differently than I remember, but maybe that was necessary to add the water, sewer and electricity that can be found on many, if not all sites. While the “pitch & net” golf course is no longer there, and there is no record of the property previously serving as a golf course, it is still a well-manicured spot with a backdrop of low mountains behind the undulating lawns and gardens.
As Betty & I reach the end of our first year in our overlandish odyssey, we have now visited 24, or half of the 48 states we hoped to visit in 5 years. Plus, in addition to our home province, we have toured 5 other provinces during this adventure. With this trifecta behind us, now maybe we can take it easy for the next while. Only time and health will tell…
Our boot-scraped door mat announces that “home is where the welcome mat is!”. Wherever we are parked, Betty & I have our living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc. with us. This is our home, and wherever we find ourselves becomes our home community for a while. Missing of course, and sorely missed, are our family and friends. But with the marvels of modern technology, we can share some of our adventures with them, while they share their lives the same way with us.
There are places on our travels where we feel very much apart, like fish out of water. There are also those special spots that allow us to relax, unwind, breath deeply. For a variety of reasons, coming to Cape Hatteras feels like coming home. The fresh, salty sea air, the rolling waves and the pounding surf on the fine-grained sand, the fresh-caught seafood, the blue skies and warm sun – all the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and emotions embrace us and welcome us back.
It has been over 40 years since Betty & I last camped on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and 60 years since my parents, brother & I made it a regular summer destination. Two weeks ago, when hurricane Florence was threatening the coast, Betty & I feared that this portion of our overlandish odyssey would be lost. We watched with sadness and grief as the high winds and water took their toll on coastal communities, wondering about the fate of this memorable spit of land, jutting out into the Atlantic.
While hurricane Florence apparently caused tremendous damage to South Carolina, and parts of southern North Carolina, we were surprised to find no evidence that such a ferocious storm had passed this way only a couple of weeks ago. Kitty Hawk – home of the Wright Brothers’ first flight – Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and all the other coastal
communities that lead to and make up the Outer Banks, have grown in size significantly since our last visit, and are all active, bustling communities, with all of their windows and signage intact. Either they were quick to fully restore everything, or the storm was merciful in missing this magical place.
Yesterday we took a drive down the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and guided our Smart car onto a free ferry to Ocracoke Island, at the southern end of the Seashore. We expected a quick, maybe 10 minute ride, as the islands are not that far apart. But after an hour at sea, we began to wonder if the Minnow would be lost, and we would be stranded again with Gilligan and his
crew. LOL. In the end, the ship arrived and we had a chance to visit the Ocracoke campground (for future reference) and grab an ice cream cone before heading back across Hatteras Inlet at Pamlico Sound. Today is a beach day, and mighty waves are calling our names.
The sign on the wall of our bedroom challenges us to love to the beach and back, and as I write this, Betty is texting me from said beach, reminding me that it’s a beautiful day to be alive in this part of paradise. It’s time to accept the welcome home!