Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our First Three Days on the Road

In the first post after leaving our real estate behind, we gave a rough account of what had transpired and how we got from point A to point B, so now we will go back and fill in the blanks.

We got started later than we planned to, at roughly 11 AM on the 19th of November, but we still think we made good time in getting to our first overnight parking spot. It was such a relief to finally get on the road, that we didn't worry about time or where we might end up. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we just enjoyed the ride.

We also didn't initially intend to take two vehicles, but in the last week of seeing how much stuff we couldn't part with just yet, we made the decision to take the Chrysler minivan and a second small trailer, the contents of which would be put in storage somewhere out west until we could sort it all out and deplete it.

Last spring, I had sold our 4 x 8 Harbor Freight trailer to a work associate in the remodeling and home repair trade. Going into winter, we knew there would be a slow-down in work, and took a chance that he might be willing to sell it back to us, rather than let it set idle. He agreed...and even delivered it back to us!

The 4-foot tall plywood sides and top (tarp support) bows were all intact, just the way we had sold it, but we had unfortunately sold the nice heavy boat covers that we had used on it previously, so I had to order a new tarp from Amazon. We weren't about to trust the cheap plastic tarps sold in most stores, so I did the research and chose one with a very high customer rating. We didn't want any leaks!

Navigation dilemmas...

One thing that we knew we were going to run into was navigation problems. Having another person in that passenger seat, who can read maps and plan the route, help watch for signs, and keep progress flowing smoothly is a very good thing. It's quite another thing traveling as the only person in the vehicle, trying to take the lead, and having another vehicle following behind. Any mistake in navigation means having to turn around with not just one vehicle and trailer, but in our case, two of them.

Thankfully, one advantage to the size of our vehicles is that they can turn around almost anywhere, and in one case (mentioned further on down) that was a necessity! And yes, we made a few wrong turns along the way, but nothing that was other than a minor inconvenience.

Our first (actually second) night in a Walmart parking lot...

I say this as our first night out, but we actually had spent one night at a Walmart in Marshall, Illinois on our way to Indiana in September. But this was our first "official" night as full-timers...and with now having a full-size spinet style piano in place of the small table and chairs we had used the first time! 

Our meandering through a lot of Arkansas farm country on our way south took a little longer than we thought, and darkness overtook us before we could do any research on where to stay. As we came through Fordyce, Arkansas, we saw a Walmart, so we pulled in...hoping that they weren't on the "no parking" list. We spoke with them, and they were fine with it, so we bought a few snacks while there.

One thing we had not anticipated, though, is that this was one of those stores that closes at 10 PM until 6 AM. This gave us a little concern about security. Nothing happened, other than what sounded like a group of individuals having a loud party in the middle of the night, and it seemed to go on for hours. Maybe they were Walmart stockers having to get into the numerous steel containers parked along one side of the parking lot, but we didn't get up to look. At that time of the night, they could have had a little more consideration of "quiet hours", but as long as they didn't bother us with anything but noise, we didn't care, and eventually got back to sleep.

Sightseeing (code for missing a few turns)... 

Our intent upon leaving Fordyce was to continue southwest toward Texarkana as our next stop, but missed a badly marked turn somewhere, and ended up heading northwest instead. But being retired and with no agenda, we didn't care. We just went with the flow. Our drive took us through some beautiful southern Arkansas forest country, with tall southern pines lining every roadway. Of course, this is HUGE deer hunting country, and we saw many hunter's vehicles parked along the road sides.

(Please excuse the lack of photos enroute to some of these places. It's hard to take photos and drive at the same time, especially when having to watch constantly for deer.)

We eventually came out at Prescott, Arkansas, which is just south of the interstate running between Little Rock and Texarkana. It was a little out of our way, but the scenery getting there was worth it. From there, we followed the side road along the interstate all the way to Texarkana.

We again missed a "not too obvious" sign on the loop around Texarkana and ended up going southeast for a little way, before realizing our (my) mistake and getting back to the loop again to head south. At this point, I felt like the van was running on fumes, and we barely made it back to the little town of Fouke, Arkansas. Thanks to my Gas Buddy app on the smart phone, we didn't have to guess at where to get fuel, or I would have definitely run out!

Of course, the nice thing about having two vehicles is that you always have a spare. Sharon still had a quarter of a tank in the minivan because it uses less gas. Still, we always topped them off at the same stops.

Our second night out...

Once we got on the right highway off the Texarkana loop, we stopped at a Burger King for a late lunch. This was the first time we had actually taken time to research some camping apps on the smart phone while enroute, and it showed a nice campground within a block of us! It was only mid-afternoon, and we had some daylight left, but we decided not to push ourselves. We were tired, and needed an early stop to recover from two days of driving.

In normal traveling, this would be about the end of a driving day anyway, but we'll have shorter distances to drive. Right now, we were trying to not only get across the country to beat the weather, but we wanted to be somewhere with other people for Thanksgiving...even if we didn't know them.

We tend to be late risers anyway, and often don't get on the road until after 11 AM. At this time of the year, with shorter days, it is always nice to get stopped long before the sun goes down, which means sticking to the old 3 and 3 rule...3 hours of driving and get stopped by 3 PM. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work when trying to make good time to get across the country to beat weather or other agendas.

Texarkana RV Park is a very nice campground. The grounds and buildings are maintained as well as any of the finest time-shares we have been to. The sites are all spacious enough for extra vehicles, so we chose an end spot right next to the showers.

Texarkana RV Park - Our end parking spot across from the showers.

Although there wasn't much going on in the activity centers at this time of year, the private restroom/shower rooms are the finest we have seen to date (which includes our previous 30+ years of RVing)! Each one was beautifully ceramic tiled from floor to ceiling, and all ADA compliant. And best of all, the rooms were heated and the water was hot and plentiful!

Texarkana RV Park - West side of the building housing the restrooms/showers (on the right)
and a community room on the left.

Texarkana RV Park - Restrooms and showers plus a community room on the left,
and another activity center and laundry on the right.

Near the back of the park was a nice pond with a gazebo.

Texarkana RV Park - Gazebo overlooking pond.

On the opposite side of the pond from the gazebo was even a nice bronze-look blue heron statue.

Texarkana RV Park - Blue Heron statue.

Ducks would come down to the pond to swim, and anytime people came by the ducks would all come closer to see if any food was to be had. We saw the groundskeeper feeding the ducks on his end-of-the-day trash run, so the ducks have come to expect handouts.

The near fiasco! 

The best advice we can give anyone, is to ALWAYS check multiple sources when attempting to locate a place to park for the night, and never wait until the last minute to do it! We tried to use our camping apps too late in the day to research other options, and trusted that there was an RV park just down the road from us on the north side of Livingston. The photos on the app looked reasonable enough, but never trust those photos! They are VERY deceiving!

We thought about going all the way to the Escapee's Rainbow's End resort on the south side, but it was already dark, we were tired, and never having been there before, we opted for what appeared to be a closer one...a privately run campground.

However, we had already passed it on the other side of the road without seeing a sign, so we asked at a quick-mart. A gentleman customer said he was heading that direction, and if we would follow him, he would indicate where to turn. Unfortunately, he put his signal on and slowed down on the berm of the road before he got there, and we took it as his intent for us to turn there. Wrong!

The side street wrapped around sharply to the right, onto a rough and narrow gravel residential street. I realized immediately that this couldn't be right, but I was committed to it already. And Sharon was behind me in the minivan with yet another trailer...and less backing experience than I had...and in the dark! I passed at least two driveways before I finally found a third one, on a curve to the left in the road, so that appeared workable to back up in the dark and get turned around.

What was easy for me, was not so easy for Sharon, and after we passed each other I had to sit and wait until she finally got turned around and could follow me again. By this time, the gentleman whom we had been following also came back to get us. Once we all got moving again, he led us down the highway about another block to the campground entrance. But, oh no! What had we gotten ourselves into?

The sign was one of those portable trailer mounted plastic signs, the main (and only) building had broken windows in the driveway end of it, very little lighting, and the only campers in the park looked like longer term construction workers vehicles. There were no street lights, but thankfully, there was a partial moon out, and with ambient light from the city, we were able to make out the street and camp sites...all back-in type. and were headed the wrong direction!

After going around the loop, we got into a position to back in at the proper angle, but being in the dark, and with no back-up lights on the trailer, and no street lights, it took several tries to get the trailer in position. Meanwhile, not one person from any of the other RVs even opened their blinds, nor came out to offer assistance. There was no room to park the other van and trailer, so all we could do was to leave them in the street in front of our parking pad. I was waiting for the theme to "Deliverance" (Dueling Banjos) to start any time! But this wasn't the end!

After we got parked, I attempted to plug the trailer into the pedestal. For one night, I wasn't concerned with water or sewer hookups, but we needed power for the refrigerator, since I wasn't sure how well it would continue to run on the coach batteries. Besides, campgrounds in areas that can freeze often have their water shut off this late in the year, so I wasn't expecting full services anyway.

But when I plugged into the pedestal...the power was off! By this time, my patience with myself, and with these shoddily run campgrounds was wearing thin! Upon further examination (from a hundred feet away) of the only building on the property, it looked like the entire setup had been abandoned. It needed painting, windows were broken, the restrooms were obviously nothing we wanted to set foot in, and not one person was around to offer assistance! There was also no indication of a host site where we could go knock on a door! So who runs the place, anyway? My phone call went to voice mail, which was never returned. I made sure I gave a review of their campground on the app, so that unsuspecting RVers would never get sucked in like we did!

At this point I was thoroughly pissed that such "businesses" (and I use that term very loosely) could even exist, so we made the decision to forge on to the Escapees resort on the other side of town, even if we had to find it in the dark!

Fortunately, the entry drive is well lit, had nice signage, and even though the office was closed at that time of night, there were very clear "late arrival" instructions and a map package available in front of the office. The short term parking sites are also right next to the office, and the sites were all nice long pull-throughs, so we chose a site where we could park both vehicles and trailers, one in front of the other, and finally got plugged in and settled in for the night! What a relief!

To be continued...

Since this is going to be an ongoing story for awhile, we'll take a break here and continue in another post. Feel free to jump in anytime with any comments or questions. And yes, we will have more photos as we go along. If you haven't subscribed yet, we urge you to do so, by one of the four different methods we offer. Look for another post within a day or two.


Shadow Living said...

Well written and very entertaining. Looking forward to your next postings.

John Abert said...

Thank you, Shadow Living!

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

The ongoing challenges of the road warrior lifestyle. For the most part, while I can relate to much of your experience, John, as a "solo" nomad, I've had to learn to adapt and improvise even more than you and Sharon. While I don't stay at commercial parks (I do stay at the occasional state park and national forest campgrounds), I have seen places like you described. Also, as a solo nomad, I've learned to navigate, capture photos (not always the best, but often some surprisingly good shots) while driving. I'm sure you guys will add to and improve your "skills" beyond those you have from your past RVing experience. I don't know if I asked you before, do you have a pair of Family Radio Service handi-talkie transceivers to keep connected between the two vehicles? Mine have come in very handy when caravaning. Loving the story, guys - looking forward to the next installment.

Brad said...

Hi John. I understand about shoddily run campgrounds. Been there, done that. I usually camp in county campgrounds. One of them never has the electricty on. A person has to turn on the power at the picnic pavilion, park in the drive next to it, and use that power.

I've also been to "year round" county campgrounds where the power is supposed to be on... and it's not. I carry a little nightlight from Dollar Tree and use it to test pedestals before registering... It's surprising how many electric hookups don't work.

Sorry about your "haunted campground" type thing... I'll bet that was creepy!

John Abert said...

Hi Ed, Yes I have a set of Motorola commercial grade multi-channel radios good for about 5 miles. And I have on my want list a good SSB CB radio capable of talking across the country. And we have taken many photos through the windshield while driving, but with much easier to use cameras than having to sign onto secure cell phones. They're very awkward to use one-handed.

John Abert said...

Hi Brad, yes, we will get many a chance to use county and state parks, but unfortunately, they're not often close to main traveling roads, and not something I want to try to find after dark, or with two heavily loaded vehicles with trailers. We want to be able to boondock when we feel a need to, but not for long term stays. Our solar situation is still not keeping up with demand, even with 300 watts. Before we can feel comfortable with just stopping anywhere we want, we have to have a dependable fridge and enough extra power to run everything else. I used to think portable wind generators for RVS was overkill, but the way the wind has been out here in the desert, plus the amount of cloudy skies, we could really use one right now! I may have to buy an alternator and some PVC pipe to cut into blades, and some steel pipe for a mast, and throw one together before long!