Friendship’s 5.03.19

We left Brownwood Texas happier than a clam digger on Martha’s Vinyard. Great people hosted us, fed us, took us on safari, and let us fish their “tanks” for huge large mouth bass. We got to see a perfectly planned and executed, small town, war memorial, and we attend a bible study with the locals.

Bible Study

Afterwards, we found our way to Dallas without GPS and had dinner at a modern TexMex restaurant called Mesero’s-Prestonwood where we experienced the best waiter ever and ate dinner with my high school friend David and his wife Susan; meeting each other’s wives for the first time was the goal.

Dave and Susan

It took a lifetime for me to realize that special every age, event, and experience is a blessing, and every relationship matters. At 62 years of age high school seems, for the most part, like a blur. There we mountains to climb and jungles to explore, and girls, and fears of girls to conquer, but I survived high school and remember it with fondness.

When you get older, like the age of dirt, it doesnt matter if you had dozens of friends or if you were class president, a home coming queen, or a superstar jock. All that matters is that you remember theit faces and have a faint devotion to maintaining and connecting fresh to the people of your past.

We planned in advance a stop in Dallas on our retirement tour. And my friend David kindly arranged this present together of high school friends who live in Dallas. I had just seen two of these last October for the first time in fourty five years and that night I met again two more of the same vintage. If the sole purpose of our gathering was to laugh and reminisce, mission acomplished. But I also got the warm and fuzzies just seeing and greeting faces embeded deep in this old man’s memory. This happens every time old friends get together, I highly recommend it.

There was Jack and his lovely wife Margaret, who I looked forward to meeting. Then there were John and Marla, Jeff, David, and Jackie, my wife, and myself. I’ll remember the hugs and the first sightings of familar, but weathered, faces. I’ll remember the waiter dropping bread pudding on Jack, although I did not see this happen I just heard dishes crashing and I saw Jack’s, still smiling, but shocked face. I’ll remember David for his big smile, the kindness he showed by arranging all the details, picking us up and showing us culture shocking Dallas. I’ll remember the bright and the almost angelic, happy, and loving face of Marla, John’s bride. I knew John the best of these from high school, but I’ll remember John that night because we are kindred brothers, the kind that stand by when we need anything. And Jeff, what a pleasure to see him. All pressed and handsome like the Lockheed S-3 anti-submarine warfare aircraft Jeff flew for the Navy for almost 30 years. A real gentleman he is and I’d like to here more about his life.

The truth be told I was not “best friends” with any of these guys in high school. A couple I even felt were competitors or antagonistic and sometimes hurtful; we were high schooler’s, that stuff happens. But today I’m so happy that we could meet up again and I’m hopeful that in the busyness of life we can find more opportunities to explore the events and depths of our souls.

We are presently staying with great friends and one was onr of Jackie’s co-workers of days past. Glenna and Ron, are fun to be around and we are very relaxed staying with them. We will likely be here another couple days, and then our journey will resume.

We also say Kary, the funniest Georgia Buldog fan of sll time! She also is the daughter of our good friends in Polebridge. It would not be right to be in Dallas without seeing Kary.

Well, that’s it! Besides my having to fix an exhust leak in the van and determining that I have a smal intake manifold leak affecting mileage and performance, all is well.

I know this post was not very exciting, but I’m sure there are more events and exciting places to visit ahead.

Catching up! 4.27.19

Thinking back…. We left the white sands of Fort Pickens and camped at Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs Mississippi where we had our fill of the best and cheepest crawfish. We paid something like $3.95 per pound and further along we saw it for more than $8.95 per pound. The campground where we stayed was very nice and the town of Ocean Springs a hidden gem. It was cute, clean, and enjoyable. . Just remember we only stayed there one night!

From Davis Bayou we drove to New Orleans. It was as we expected, crowded and interesting because there are few places like it. Many “joints” of all kinds filled the streets and the air. There are literally hundreds of places to eat, listen to musicians, and see colorful people. Despite the craziness, it is one place we should all see once, this was our second visit so only the requisite drive through was necessary.

By evening we made it to Lafayette. The KOA on a lake was our home for two nights. It was nice, just a bit noisey as it was located next to US Highway 10, the main east west corridor. Before we pulled in to our campsite we stopped at Don’s Specialty Meats where “the Boudins and Cracklins are the best.” Do you know what Boudin and Cracklins are? I didn’t! They are food of course, a Cajun speciality. It is basically a peculiar class of sausage. It comes in many varieties and there seems to be a competition happening along the highway to try to convince travelers who is the best sausage maker; who’s Boudin Balls, is the better of the best. Oh ya, cracklin’s are basically chopped pork meat left on the skin of a pig. They are deep fried with a tasty, spice batter. You can see how easy it would be for one maker to say, “Stop here, our Cajun Boudin and Cracklins are the Best!” The truth be told, one is not so much better than the other, I suppose they are just different. By the way both Boudin and Cracklin’s are very good. We also picked up some stuffed chicken (stuffed with crabmeat) at the recomendation of a local fellow I met in the parking lot taking pictures of our van, the van sent from God! It surely has introduced an abundance of opportunities to meet people and find gems along the road.

Another interesting tidbit that we learned in Lafayette was that people actually live at these “campgrounds,” for years. One lady two sites away from ours has lived on that lake, in the KOA, for 27 years, yep, 27 years! I guess she retired, bought a huge travel trailer pulled in the KOA and has been there ever since. Another family there retired young, but one of their family members got sick so after selling their house and buying a 33 fot Airstream they needed to return home to help out. He now works 3 days a week at the KOA which pays his site fee, and he lives on a lake! Just so you know, he said the monthly fee for staying there is under $400/mo. But he does pay for electricity. (No taxes, gets free water, sewage, garbage, laundry facilities, a swimming pool and the camp store sells ice cream sandwiches for .75 cents! Such a deal!) Think about that! Even the poorest of slobs can buy a big, used, camper and with only social security (and an EBT card if they are really poor) and live a quite comfortable retirement. Sure it’s not on the mansioned lined lake of their dreams or not on that twenty acres of heavenly ranch land, but it’s certainly an option for many, and we are meeting all kinds of people doing this. If you see a couple in their early sixties with a brand new turbo diesel Silverado dually and pulling a brand new Winnebago camper, they might have just sold their house and are searching for 70 degrees and sunny!

After Lafayette we took as many back roads as possible to Galveston, finally crossing over by ferry from the “High Island” into Galveston. The drive was long but nice.

We are learning that bird watching is a favorite hobby of retirees. We are not quite there yet, but I think they enjoy it very much and the “community” is large. As they travel about they plan meetups and long stays with each other enjoying their days and nights together.

Galveston was interesting because the streets are so wide and historic. Downtown was struggling a bit and the retail stores like everywhere were pitiful. The shops were full of trinkets and tee shirts, nothing anyone surely needs. The food scene from what we could tell was interesting, and a few higly recommended places we found in the most unusual locations. You’ll have to find them out for yourself, that’s part of the fun right?

The beachs on Galveston are just “ok.” East Beach had free parking and was almost uninhabited, we liked that! And it was also dog friendly! I said, “just ok” because the sand is brown, and at this time, there seemed to be a fair amount of garbage remnants mixed into the sand: Kinda yucky!

The campground we stayed at, Galveston Island State Park, was very nice and only $26. We stayed on the bay side which was marshy and had beautiful sunsets. We also visited the lower section of the island where we could drive out on to the beach. I liked that a lot, the van liked it too.

We left Galveston after two nights soggy and happy. Soggy because each morning the moisture in the air soaked us. Everything felt wet all the time (One vote for air conditioning). Happy because we were moving again and seeing new things.

It did not take long to get deep into east Texas. We did our best to avoid Houston, not because we know what’s there, I guess we just wanted to avoid traffic. “Turn left, turn right, into one small town then the next we went. The landscapes were green and lush.

An hour and an half or so into our drive to San Antonio I spotted a run down shack with faint signage that said breakfast, lunch and dinner. I passed it by but something said, “turn around.” I hit the brakes, flipped a U’ey” and pulled into a wonderfully unique dive. We like dives.

We entered cautiously! Cautiously because the place was very run down and there was brown paper covering the glass door. All was good once we opened the door. Inside there were two cowboy’s eating, a waitress, and a black man cooking. We nodded to the gentlemen and the waitress asked if we were going to eat. That was not a strange question although it apeated so at the time. I quickly figured out this place was not frequented by travelers. It was the local’s restaurant and surviving by a shoestring. Still, on the walls were photos of fallen soldiers from past wars, a picture of John Wayne and a sketch of Humphrey Bogart and several photos of older regulars sitting at the main table in the middle of the very same restaurant years earlier. Elsewhere within there were other sorts of needed supplies and a cooler of drinks. The ceilings were low and the place had not seen paint since the early 1960’s.

The men proceeded with their conversation and the waitress was well known and fully engaged.

We ordered and ate our food as we listened to their conversation. There were only a few tables, mayber enough for 15 customers. The men were conservatives for sure. Their conversation included disparaging statements of democrat leaders critisms of “idiotic news personalities,” and music to my ears. These were unashamed and ordinarily sane men, men who seemed born in another era. They were totally unsympathetic critics of the current Democrat leadership in congress, and the totally biased liberal media.

After a few minutes another regular entered the building, joined the two others and the fun of listening to these old guys was hilarious; they paid no attention to us, we apparently didn’t matter, it was their space. Finally, I chimed in, encouraging them, and we had a few good laughs.

We all left at the same time and they had fun seeing and taking pictures of our van. They wished us safe travels and one asked if there were more people like us in Montana! We replied, “Not many, sadly we are being invaded by the left coast.” They felt sympathetic, and said the same was happening in San Antonio and Austin. With big grins we all departed.

We eat at all sorts of eating establishments. Most have a young, secular, vibe. You know, the healthy, uniquely fun and “different” food presentations. The gastronomic creations at this place were uniquely old fashioned, in their own way refreshing!

We then drove on and visited my brother in San Antonio and had a very nice time. The Alamo was beautiful and interesting. So was the Riverwalk.

From Antonio we headed to see some friends west of Austin. They had guests staying with them but invited us anyway, “The more the merrier,” they said. We arrived just before dinner and unbeknownst to us our friends had planned a fantastic jambalaya dinner with fresh conversation. Steve, a British chap and his wife Donna are super fun. They too are retired, love to camp and travel. We saw them a few years back in Montana at their campsite near Glacier Park. (Steve, I love your regular guy aptitude, you’re an inspiration, and Donna you’re fun to be around, thank you for having us and please come visit us again!)

Finally, we’re in Waco. We are camping at Lake Waco. Earlier in the day we joined hoards of people to visit Magnolia Market Silos area downtown. It’s all part of the empire the TV couple have made for themselves.

Honestly, I never go to these places. We avoid them like the plague. But this time it was a pleasure to support them by visiting. Almost immediately it was strongly impressed on us that the quality and faith of the people visiting Magnolia was different. It felt like we were at church with likeminded friends. The feeling was was sort of strange. We confirmed our suspicions on our way out when we met another couple gawking at our van (see it’s a conversation magnet). We all agreed the reason we came was to share in the joy Chip and Joanna have given to their fans. And it is especially true and apparent that their faith is formost in all they do. They believe in doing things well and they glorify God in how they live. They are not showboats. They live in a 1,700 sq foot house. And the contribution they have made in jobs and the development of Waco is large and obvious. The kids and the people working at Magnolia likewise had an unusual joy. I know where it comes from, the world may not see it, but for those of us who know the disposition of true faith, we understand. I highly recommend a visit. It’s a superior, well run operation. The quality of the products are excellent and reasonsble; and the management is outstanding. Nothing is like it!

So, that’s it. Your up to date. Today we are going to try and eat at Magnolia Table, then head to Brownwood Texas to see more friends. More eating, more laughing, and fishing!

Blessed

I’ve see seen a lot of road and lots of stuff on our retirment tour; almost six thousand miles and many, many dozens of cities and sites. Surely, so far, we have chosen our favorite sites, parks, campgrounds, restaurant’s and roads. But we have also had fun and emotional experiences along the way.

I must tell you about this one event, not that you need to know, but more that I may remember. I must tell you how much I love poor people. I know this could sound upish, philosophical, religious or even arrogantly superior, but just hear me out!

The scriptures say “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The lesson is not, “blessed are the poor!” I try not to get these concepts mixed up! To be clear, to be dirt poor is not a blessing, it’s more like a state of being and if you agree I think you’re spot on. But also remember the scriptures say, it is extremely hard for the rich person, in his or her state of being, to enter heaven! Since I’m presently in Louisiana, and historically it’s a bit French here, please remember the bourgeoisie, those with perceived materialistic values who typically have the same conventional attitudes as most Americans. You and I may actually be included along with the rich, comparativly speaking. In fact, in a worldly sense, most of us middle class and rich folks alike think we are badly designed by circumstance. We think we deserve more! Some of us think only the poor, who live in poverty, cannot help themselves. I think it is us who cannot help ourselves and it is God who allows so many of us to live priviledged although to be unsatisfied lives. So we must ask, who among us is truly blessed?

This is where our Metro van joins the story. That crazy odd, old, delivery van created for noble purposes has brought us in contact with all kinds and classes of people. Now let me say again, I love the poor, but this time I’ll add, the “poor in spirit,” (please note it is usually the poor who have the “spirit” part). Yes, it is ironic fun to have people in million dollar RV’s wander over to our campsite to tell us how cool our van is. And it is nice to relate with people on familiar grounds or interests. However, for Jackie and I, it is immensely more gratifying to have the poorest of the poor run up to us with the most satisfying grin and tell us how much they like our van and share a bit of their lives. Toothless and dressed in the sloppiest rags the poor are. And we have met the most joy filled of these folks ever; and all because we have a silly looking old van. Can you understand this? It is actually humbling! What have we done to reach out to such people as these? It’s not that we have not tried. We just don’t live where they live. We only see the ones with cardboard signs at Home Depot begging for money or in tent village’s in big cities, places we would rightfuly avoid. It’s our opinion that most of these are not happy. I’m not trying to belittle their situations or make a political statement. We simply don’t, intentionally, drive to ghetto’s or bad sections in cities: come on, I live in Montana!

Along the way on this journey it was rather important to stop in the “bad sections” of towns. When we need gas or need to eat we often end up in minority and/or poor states, counties and neighborhoods. Our van has provided us with cover and an open door to meet and converse with all sorts, but I must say the happiest smiles and the biggest grins have come in these places, and from the most joyous of souls, the poor in spirit!

To further describe what I have seen with my own eyes take this one fellow we met in Gulfport Mississippi. We needed gas, and just before we reached the coast (where all the nice million dollar houses are), we pulled into a gas station. Within seconds a lady appeared to the rear of my van as I was about to put my credit card into the pump. She said, “Excuse me sir, I’m not homeless, but could you spare me some money to get home, I’m out of gas?” I noticed she only had two front teeth, the rest had rotted out. She appeared to be my age, but I would guess she was probably much younger. She said, “I’ll give you this neckless, I don’t want to just take your money.” She repeated, “You know I’m not a homeless person, my husband is across the street at the auto parts store in our car. I just need enough money to make it back home to Ocean Springs.” I looked at her with what must have been curious eyes, I’d not heard this one before. I gave her five dollars and in a few seconds she was gone. I didn’t think much more about it, scammed or not, it was only five bucks. I then proceeded to put my credit card into the pump. It wouldn’t take. The pump displayed in bold type that I had to pre-pay inside (note when this happens, you are probally not in a great neighborhood). I was starting to think the neighborhood could need some love. I went inside and talked with the cashier. She was cold, uncaring, and miserably unfriendly. She said I could pre pay my gas and if I overpaid the prepay the balance the difference would be credited to my card. I bought it! But later we checked our bank statement and found out it did not work that way. Luckily, I only overpaid by six bucks.

Now the relative story. Just as I finished pumping my premium gas, a short black man appeared next to me. I was now in my van seat, door open. “Man! What kind of vehicle is dat?” he asked. This is the guy with the big smile, the grin from ear to ear. He went on and we had a great conversation about our van. It didn’t last too long and he didn’t have an agenda, he was simply joy filled and was an interesting character. He responded like he had just seen a famous vehicle from his favorite childhood movie. I wanted to know this guy! He had that “poor in spirit” thing going on.

After our conversation and as we pulled away our new acquaintance got back to merrily searching for and collecting aluminum cans from the garbage bins. It was at that moment, just as we pulled away from the pump that my eyes teared up, and I said to Jackie, “I love poor people.”

In a strange sort of way the poor in spirit have rich lives. Every day is an adventure. They live, they laugh, they hunger and thirst. Most have a joy indescribable, and when you meet them they somehow make you happy and sad at the very same moment.

From that gas station, it was not more than a few blocks to the “scenic Old Spanish Trail Hwy on the gulf coast where all the huge mansions lined street and they went on and on for miles and miles. We could not see the poor, dirty, neighborhoods just a few blocks deep behind these fantastic, beautiful homes; but I knew that was were there true happiness, even real holiness often resides.

My prayer this easter sunday is for the Lord to help me to better understand and experience this kind of joy. Help me to lay aside bitterness and not judge unfairly the circumstances of others. Yes, I am grateful for my blessings, but help me become more like the man at the gas station, the one who stood out from the rest, the man poor in spirt and full of joy!

We are not sure where we are heading next, it will probably be somewhere near Galveston. Then on to San Antonio, Austin, Waco, then Dallas. After that, Steve and Sandy, Brownwood. See you soon!

Gainsville to Fort Picken’s

It has been a quite busy trip and it has also been difficult to find time to write. Tonight is the exception. There is a line of strong thunderstorms heading our way and lightning is flashing all around us. It’s only 9:30 pm at present, and we retired early, it was a long day and it is sprinkling.

Before I go on, I must return to our drive from Gainsville and the “forgotten coast” before I forget. Not that where we came from is forgetful, it is because we have been doing so much we can hardly remember one day after the next.

Did I mention traveling from Gainsville to Mexico beach along Hwy’s 27 and 98 was totally enjoyable? No, we did not see much, I mean touristy things, we just saw beautiful landscapes, forests, clear water springs, and nice beaches. Suprisingly the ride and the roads were some of the nicest and least traveled I have ever driven. This was a special blessing because I like to drive the van between 50 and 55 mph; it didn’t hurt that the temperature was in the mid seventies and sunny. I would recommend this drive over the larger highways any day, any century!

I can now vouch for slow driving seniors! We seniors have fewer deadlines and driving slow is more pleasurable, unless of course you’re driving a new Dodge demon or an old Corvette convertible.

Clear water springs
No traffic!

Sadly, the joy we endured gladly soon turned to shock, then concern. About an hour and a half out of Gainsville we entered the “Emerald Coast” (leaving the “Forgotten Coast”). We entered Mexico Beach, FL. Mexico Beach is located 25 miles southeast of Panama City and was ground zero for hurricane Michael in October of 2018. The devestation is/was horrendous. I know in a few years it will look beautiful again, but if we consider the people who lost so much it is humbling. I put together a collage of photo’s to show you ghe destruction, I hope you will watch the YouTube video. It says more than I have energy to describe. Bascically, from Mexico Beach to Panama Beach the devastation will be evident for many many years to come. We could pray for the people who we under insured and lost everything, for the rest it is a dream lost, money spent, and a community forgotten. It is actually a sobering 45 minute drive.

Mexico Beach Devastation

Now, you may already know, we are currently in a gorgeous place and leaving tomorrow. I posted photo’s on facebook of Fort Pickens and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. It’s a narrow sliver of white, like sugar, sand beach across from Pensacola Fl. The water is pristine emerald and deep blue in color, and at tbis time of year the beaches are empty; if you like this sort of thing, we do! Fort Pickens is also here. It was built and finished by slaves around 1834 and was manned up to WWII. The architecture is very interesting and it is most famous for housing the Apache Geronimo after his capture, ithink, in the lat 1800’s. Interestingly, the local authorities at the time thought the famous Indian would help tourism, so they advertised his captivity and sold tickets to see him at the fort (lol), capitalism before political correctness.

Well, I’ll not bore you to death, if I do I’ll have no furure audience. Besides, I’m itching to write something philosophical or faith based, maybe next time. This “write a 500 word essay on what I did on my spring retirement vacation” is getting old.

More important things to come, i hope.

Out to Pasture & More!

Mom’s Pool

We will be hunkered down in Orlando, at my mom’s house, for a couple more days and we are happy for this brief respite after all our adventures. We need this time to refresh, do laundry, clean the van, get reorganised, and fix the power steering. Yep, the power steering bracket broke again! It happened back in St. Augustine. This time vibration caused the power steering reservoir to break. I removed the belt and with much difficulty the reservoir. The fun part was getting hot power steering fluid spilled all over my chest in an Advanced Auto Parts parking lot. I inquired at several auto parts stores but none had my part in stock. I finally found one in Jacksonville, about an hour away so I disconnected the belt and drove there without power steering. I got the part but the bracket was now the issue, again. I decided driving without power steering was doable as it would be sufficiently difficult to find a welder at 6 p.m.; besides my mom’s house was only two more stops away. So we drove to and visited my cousin in Jacksonville, then our Aunt and Uncle in Vero, FL, and finally made it to Orlando on Monday 4.09.19.

Ania stearing at my my every bite the glass table.

If you are wondering, driving without power steering was not too hard on the highway, but in town having to make tight turns was memorably difficult. So was kissing a frog!

Anyway… Yesterday we were pleased to find Jody, a great guy, at Alpha Welding Services just a few miles from my mothers house. He kindly found time to fix and beef up the bracket. Kindly, is an understated adverb in this case. Jody is a certified aerospace welder, there are very few of these guys around; can you imagine the quality of his work? I did not know this, but the main job of an aerospace welder is not so much to weld, there are lots of goid welders. Certification is more about following government and FAA paperwork requirements. Procedures must be followed and documented for every areospace job; not so much for mine! It was facinating to chat with Jody. We had much in common and we are about the same age. Later I met his lovely wife too.

This is where the title of the blog post comes in. Jody and his lovely wife are not yet “out to pasture.” They have dreams of traveling more and maybe even doing as we are doing, traveling and camping. We invited them to see Glacier National Park and stay with us whenever they too decide to repurpose their existance.

Jody and his wife

I have decided “out to pasture” best describes this new phase of our lives, specifically this trip. This country is very large. It’s fenced in, maybe not by walls, but by laws and regulations. We are like old cows exploring the fence line of a huge ranch in Texas or Montana. We’ve no place we really want to go; not one place over another anyway. We are just looking for good food, friendships, and the company of familiar faces. I suppose cows out to pasture want the same things!

We have no timeline for when we will return home, just directions by which way we will wander.

Mom’s house has been a good watering hole with shelter and good food to boot. Yesterday I did most of mom’s honey do list. Today, I finished re installing the pump and bracket, changed the oil, cleaned the van and re-organised the stuff. Jackie and Mom did laundry, shopped for food, and cooked us a nice homemade meal, and i was thankful (see video).

Stay tuned, Saturday might bring us some fun. There are a couple car shows near us. I’m trying to decide which one I want to enter. One is a pure classic car show with judges and prize money. The other is at Old Town in Kissimmee FL. The advertisement reads, “Every Saturday.   Old Town is home to one America’s longest running weekly car show and cruise, the Saturday Nite Car Cruise. Every Saturday, we invite show-quality 1987 and older hot rods, street rods, and antiques to join us along Trophy Row and around the property showing off these classic beauties.” It’s a pretty big event attended by a thousand or more Disney tourists. My old van is not show quality, but it is a classic car of interest and qualifies to join the parade. So, do I want to go to a classic car show and visit with other enthusiasts or be a crowd pleaser and cruise the streets of Old Town? Keep tuned, I’ll let you know!

Two Cello’s

Sunday night we are going to the Amway Center to see Two Cello’s. We don’t get many top quaslity events or concerts in Montana, so this should be fun!

Car Show Video

We will seek other pastures head toward Gainsville to visit more good friends on Monday. After that we will be driving scenic Hwy 98 to Destin Fl and onward to the remote white sand beach of Fort Pickens Campground near Pensacola.

Braggadocious

Some might say, “I can’t do what Bob’s doing, isn’t he’s praising himself for his own achievements?” Or some might say, “He’s awfully proud of himself; his vehicle, his life, his adventure!” Well believe it or not, I get it! I’m not a shy guy! But my intent is not to speak too proudly or sound snobby or self important. I simply want to share our adventures, share our insights, praise God, and practice my writing skills; and of course have a fun, extended, vacation!

Honestly, it is both nice and humbling that more of you than just my mom, have “followed” my blog. (Worthy mom’s always read their son’s blog’s, thanks mom) .

We have, all of us, worked our butts off for many years and when it comes time to retire or repurpose our lives I know some of you may not be blessed by means, but you should certainly be blessed with time when you are no longer working.

As for our trip funding, Jackie and I are trying to be as frugal as possible. In hipster terms, we are trying to be as responsibly efficient and economical as possible. In old fashioned words, our retirement funds are not endless. Note, we are sleeping together in an old van, possibly an old icecream truck or bread truck with our dog! Most of the retired “campers” we have run into have 30+ foot air conditioned rigs with slideouts and big screened TV’s which they use to sit inside and watch golf. Go figure!

For you who have not retired yet and are wondering sbout the economics of such an adventure (like ours), Well, it has not been cheap even by our standards. Our old van gets about ten miles per gallon and so far we’ve traveled about 4,300 miles (we are only half way). The van takes premium gas at an average price of $3.10 per gallon, so that means we have spent about $1,333 on gas. We have had about $200 dollars in repairs. And we are finding that “camping” sites can be very expensive! Most KOA sites run between $40-$110 per night! We have been on the road for more than a month, you do the math. That’s right, campgrounds cost sometimes more than hotels! Fortunatly, state or National Parks are typically $30-$40 per night, but we have found that it is almost impossible to get one of tbese sites unles you reserve them a year in advance, the best locations anyway. We were fortunate to snag four of these sites along the way by being early season campers, or by driving into the parks and hoping for cancellations. One night we spent in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel because nothing was available.

Then there is the food. Eating out is expensive in popular tourist destinations, but you knew that. Tonight, to save money and not drive to find food, we had three day old bread we bought from a store in Savannah. We added peanut butter and jelly, and had beef jerky and water to drink! Other nights we have had dinners with our friends or we decided,”To heck with the budget, that looks so good,” and we splurged on food we could not get at home in Montana! (We have avoided as many chain food resturamts as possible).

So here we are! I’m not trying to defend the fact that this is a hugely fun and relatively expensive road trip or that it might seem like I enjoy being the center of attention by having my own blog. I know some of you cannot afford such luxuries or have not yet had the freedom to do what we are doing or just do not like your personal lives to be so exposed. Therefore, if or when you have the time and just some small amount of money, come visit us. A few nights at the Graham’s will be very cheap and I won’t post photo’s without your permission,

Now, if you don’t already know, let me give you some hints on how a less expensive trip could be for you if you don’t want to stay with odd people like us. First, don’t buy an old van that’s cute! Cute, like getting old, has its drawbacks and vans such as ours can drain your pockets dry. Second, buy a good camp mattress and tent camp! Most tent sites are much cheaper than rv/camper sites. Or just stay at a airbnb and get livestreamed (not funny). And finally, go west! This east coast camping is ridiculously more expensive. I’m not asking all of you to come to Montana, because we have enough tourists, but camping, the way we like to do it is still free out west. In most state forests or BLM land you can drive up, park, and stay up to two weeks free of charge. I’m talking about a beautiful spot on a creek in the middle of nowhere.

So, am I braging about our blessings? Am I posting “too much information or too often?” I hope you don’t think so! We feel very blessed that we can do this and we’ve sacrificed much in years past. Still, it has been fun so far. Of course it sometimes feels like I should keep my mouth shut and not post pictures of us on the beach when you still have a foot of snow on the ground or because you have not had a vacation in years and you are still slaving to just pay health insurance and taxes. I get it! For us, retirement and this trip, has helped us reflect on our blessings. And, I think, God may be helping us focus in on what our life will be like after we return home. Right now we can only see dimly what retirement will look like; we are simply enjoying the moment. No schedules, no deadlines! We do know our future will full of adventures, and this retirement tour is only the beginning.

Humbly yours,

Bob Graham

Why Lord?

Sometimes it is just best to live our lives as the bible says than to try and figure out life’s inequities. One lives in a shack, another in a Castle. I’m greatful for all that I have been given and who I am today!

We love meeting new people along our journey and cherish old friends and family. Our old van has provided us with both transportation and entertainment. Today, Tuesday the 2nd of April, we stopped for gas in Beaufort, South Carolina. The gas station was run down and populated with obviously poor black folks who hardly have a material blessing to their names. But as soon as I pulled in and stepped out of the van an ancient, poorly dressed old man (my age) appeared from nowwhere. Toothless, malnourished and certainly rough looking, the black man said with a smile grinning from ear to ear, “You’ve got a 350 in there ain’t you?” “You’re right,” I replied; before he spoke I could see a joy, rich and deep in that man.

We said no more, and I quickly went into the station to use the restroom, it was time if you know what I mean. When I returned and got back into the van the same man reappeared. This time he stands with another man no more then ten feet in front of the van, just off the side of our windshield. The two of them were staring at me, I was now in the drivers seat. At first it felt awkward, but I quickly figured they were waiting, waiting to hear the rumble of the motor, I hurried to turn the key anticipating two big joyous smiles. It started, and I did! I was thrilled too!

My old van is making people happy, I did not think the deep rumble from twin 2″ exaust pipes could make three people so happy, but it did! I presume they had never seen a van like mine and were excited by their discovery. Life for them was made new today. For me, I was delighted to see them happy!

Along our retirement journey we have visited great friends. We have experienced Camp Nathanael, the work of God, and were reminded of the rustic, happy and sad lives, of people in Appalachia.

We fished. We did Cades cove in the Smokey Mountain National Park. We visited Family! We did Dollywood with some nice people we met when they stopped to see our van.

We have seen the bounty given the Teasdale family at the Master’s Mission and were reminded of days past. We experienced the pleasure of meeting and reminiscing with a Cherokee Indian girl at a restaurant in Robbinsville. We visited the Vanderbuilt Mansion in Asheville. We have eaten way too much good food!

And we just today had the pleasure to seeing a mom and her two girls enjoying themselves at dinner. I know, and so do you, here comes another story.

So, Jackie was eating a delicious Red Snapper sandwich and I some blackened shrimp taco’s. The restaurant is on Tybee Island east of Savannah, I think it is called “The Searay?” We were enjoying sunshine instead of the cloudy cold we had earlier this morning in Charleston. On the outdoor patio some really good 1960’s and 1970’s music was playing and people were all having a fun time. Occasionally everybody would break out in song following along with the words of these classic old songs, it was all spontaneous. The family of a mom and her two girls were sitting just next to us at a table of four. One of her girls was facing our table. I immediately noticed first that she was very cute, but not in a creepy old man looking at a young thing way. She was maybe seventeen, but I could be way off. Her smile was infectious, but then I noticed her mom. She too had the same big infectious smile, the third daughter as well. All three were having such a good time chatting that it had occured to us that this was actually unusual. There were no cell phones being stared at, no alcohol was involved, the girls and their mom were simply enjoying the pleasure of the moment and apparently we were in the company of an unusual filial friendship.

I promise, I did not stare, I was only pleased to see their joy! Have you noticed the theme here? Well, we finished our dinner and instead of just leaving full and happy, we both engaged the girls mom and told her that we noticed the joy in both herself and her girls and it was a pleasure to see it. A sudden feeling of excitement and pleasure overwhelmed them all. In other words they were thrilled that we would do such a thing and say such things. It made all of us happy! “That was so sweet of you to say,” the cute one said. “Well, it made our day to say it,” we replied!

Life is really made up of little things, little good things! Smiles and laughs, kind words and sometimes, but hopefully not often, even sorrows and tears. Our retirement tour, our van experiences, our happiness is a gift from God and we are happy to share it. I realise not all of us have the same gifts, but we all have gifts. Mine is to encourage others. To do better, to believe differently, to look inward and express outwardly our love. No fear! The work of God is in all things.

Tomorrow we hope to “see” Savannah, the city. But we also hope to experience the joys of living and greeting people along the way. Stay tuned, we too have no idea about what lies ahead!

“My Pillow”

One might say I’m more of a radical, than a rebel. Before our retirement tour began, I ate my first Chick-Fil-A sandwich, bought President Trump’s MAGA hat, and got one of Mike Lindell’s “My Pillow’s” for our retirement tour. Sure, I could have brought my luxurious down pillow, bought a Glacier Park hat, or tried some hipster cauliflower rice, kabobs, or anything sriracha instead of a yummy spicy Chick-Fil-A chichen sandwich.

My Pillow

If you’re not aware, Trump, Christians, and even companies, like Mike Lindell’s “My Pillow,” are getting all sort of liberal hate these days. So my inner, radical, self said, “You gotta do this Bob! You need to ruffle some feathers if only to support contrary and righteous ideoligies!” The secular left, especially the media, goes bananas when they think of such things; as if exercising the power of thought is really what they do? I needed to fight back, I needed to do this!

If you are logical and right minded, you may have your own opinions about trumps MAGA hat or the flavor of a Spicy chicken sandwich, and that’s ok, but not all of you own a “My Pillow” so I thought I’d write someting about it as it has a role in our trip.

Sure I bought the pillow because “I’m a bit of a radical too: And, I like the fact that Mike wears a cross in his commercials, that he is a bold advocate of President Trump’s economic policies, and Mike makes no apologies for his success and his Christian faith. I think I paid $34 for his pillow! That is pretty radical, right!

Now about the pillow! Unsurprisingly it is lighter and feels less substantial than even a low end Walmart brand. The outer fabric is not as soft as many comparatively priced and more expensive down pillows, it actually feels cheap to the touch! So much for “Christianity” and truthfulness right! Wrong! In my opinion, Mike’s pillow performs as advertised. He uses some form of proprietary fill (I did not tear mine apart to see what it is), I can feel some sort of small foam chunks inside. The chunks don’t bother me nor do they create some sort of irritation, they just exist and tend to wrap themselves around my head. I added a nice pillow case to solve the fabric issue. When I lay my head on the pillow it does not compress all the way down (as advertised). It’s quite cushy and it supports my head perfectly, I’m actually liking “My Pillow,” I like it for reading, and lying on my side and back. In truth I’m a three or more pillow guy and also own a luxurious down pillow to compliment this “My Pillow,” but for this trip I left (forgot) my down pillow at home and “My Pillow” is performing well.

So, setting politics and religion aside, as we should with pillows, hats, and chicken, Mike Lindell’s “My Pillow” is a great, tough, and comfortable pillow for van life as well as my own bed in Montana. So there you have it, religion, politics, and pillows in a 1961 Metro van.

Well, wasn’t that interesting!

The “Friends and Family” leg of our journey.

Many of you have privately asked, “Where are you?” Well, no worries, I have not lost my mind, returned home, or decided to stop blogging about our retirement tour: our retirement tour has not ended! In fact, our old van has performed marvelously (We did need to get the power steering bracket re welded by Mex Muffer’s in Madison, and I did remove the vacuum advance, and adjusted the timing to get better gas mileage, we are now getting a whopping 11.7 my last fillup, which beats 8 mpg.) Considering her age and ours, our journey together has only begun.

We have been visiting friends and family these past couple weeks and although we have experienced much, I am finding writing is more difficult without a hostile adversary like -40° temps and crosswinds that can kill me. It’s not that friend’s and family experiences are boring, it’s more like inscribing facts without purpose or growing trees without branches.

So, without boisterous embellishments I’ll do my best to not bore you. Refreshing our memories, I last wrote about reuniting with my bride in Wisconsin. Since then, together, we spent a few more days with Jackie’s mom, training her devil dog “Blue,” visiting her brother, our nephew, and a few friends of Jackie’s from long ago.

More interesting for you all may be photos including a shipyard visit to see my brother in laws yacht, a cheeze curds and bacon pizza, and a family antique.

Dry docked for the winter, her brother is polishing the hull of his new boat.

Cheese Curds and Bacon Pizza – Only in Wisconsin!

The clock by our bed at her mon’s house! Priceless!

And then there is Blue!

Blue, the “devil dog.” Not really! She’s just a bit undisciplined and likes to snap at people. But with a little training he learned to be very sweet.

From our visit with mom we drove to Madison to see our son. He’s doing well and we enjoyed being with him immensely.

Our Son!
With Baxter we visited Cave of the Mounds
Brew Kettles at New Glaris Brewery
The old opera house in Stoughton WI.
The Mustard Museum in Middleton WI. And they had tastings! Actually it was very interesting.
Friends Bob and Linda, great food!

After a much too short visit, we headed south in search of more friends and warm weather. We first visited my sister and family in Glen Ellyn Il., then drove to the hospitality of Gary and Karen, Duane and Kay, and Rick and Kathy, all friends and folks we have not seen in a long time.

Karen and Gary presented us with a feast!
Duane and Kay his very lovely wife. I played college football with Duane.
Kathy and “Mr. Goodlooking,” Rick.

Our visits were too short and our experiences personal, fun, and blessed.

We are once again on the road doing the retirement tour. We left our friends Rick and Kathy Sunday and have arrived at Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky. We found an available campsite and hiked trail #6 to the falls. The falls are spectacular and the hike helped work off the piles of good food we consumed with friends along the way. If you ever do what we are doing, be prepared to eat and stretch pants a must.

Cumberland Falls
Fourwheelin with the Franklins’s
Great food from the “Breadsmith” in St Louis. Duane and Kay own it, a must stop!
Great fellowship at Camp Nathanael in Emmelena KY

Fried bologna sandwich at Gracie’s in Maryville TN
Little River KOA in Townsend TN

We are now, today, in Townsend Tennessee. The best part about traveling is seeing friends, good food, and different cultures. So far this trip is scoring big on all accounts. I to hope bore you less in future posts!

Together Again!

Ok…where was I? Right! I didn’t think I’d have much to say about my journey from Fargo to Sturgeon Bay, but as usual, life, the way God makes it, is always full.

First I must say Fargo surprised me. Apart from its standing as a backwards place, full of half crazy mystical characters, the area and the people I visited with were not comedic at all. It was a small but suprisingly metropolitan city in a God awful cold and windy place. That’s all I learned about Fargo this trip. I just stayed the night, got a pizza, and drank a half a can of PBR and talked with a few nice folks!

From Fargo I headed east to Brainerd MN and visited truly a wonderful couple who have a cute cabin also in Polebridge Montana. Bill was and still is a faithful friend and prayer supporter of our son and it’s always a joy to see both he and Kathy. I appreciated thier hospitality, their faith and fellowship. Great people, nice home, super close family. And like all hospitable hosts they fed me well! So typical of good hosts and always a blessing, a good host asks when you’re trying to leave early morning, “Would you like an egg before to leave?” Sure, it’s just an egg you think. Twenty minutes later delicious yummies are produced and always the finest combination of conversation and eating begin. Thanks Bill and Kathy!

Bill and me!
“An egg!”

Around 8 a.m. I’m on the road again and soon after I am traveling around Saint Paul Minnesota, ironically the most dangerous part of my journey so far. The crazies are out at that time of morning. They’ve had too many cups of coffee and are all in a rush to get somewhere important. At least a sane person would think so. The semi trucks and their trailers were flying by me. All were speeding and darting in and out of traffic searching for that slight edge over the other to get where they were going. Besides their speeding, the roads were worn and groved which made the old van bobble and weave. At moments I thought, “This is it! I was going to hit one of these groves and big semi was going to fly by me and suck me into it. Soon after there would be all sorts of antique Metro van parts for sale on Craigslist.” But I survived, barely, and that’s not rhetorical drama, it’s truth, the “barely” part!

Now a while back, before I arrived in Brainerd, I started hearing a pinging sound. For those of you not familar with the mechanical workings of old vehicles; the timing can get out out of wack, and “advanced timing” on an engine can make a pinging sound. It happens when the piston fires late in the engine progression. A well timed engine fires just before “top dead center.” I’ll not bore you with further mechanical details, but that is what my enginge was sounding like. I needed to adjust my timing, so I thought.

So at first the noise was not that loud so I drove on. I had more important objectives I was going to see Jackie, my wife, and make my destination, Stugeon Bay Wisconsin. But gradually the pinging became louder, “the distributer must have loosened, I thought!” I pulled into the next gas station, the Flying J near Hudson Wisconsin. I came prepared! I had a timing light with me and I checked my timing. It was right on, so I something else was wrong. I looked around and could not see anything striking, so I decided to reproduce the sound by opening up the throttle and accelerating the engine. This is where pinging occurs. It’s also sometimes associated with vacuum advance. As I pulled the throttle linkage I noticed the power steering fluid holder shaking. So this was the culprit, not the timing.

Welding the bracket

The bracket had broken at the bend. I suppose a stress fracture. After all the steel is at least 40 years old. We used an old bracket off another vehicle. “Well now what?” I thought. I have about all the tools I need in the van, but I don’t have a welder. I called around and one person recommended another until I finally found an outfit that could weld my bracket bact together. It was Veterans Truck and Trailer Service in Hudson, WI.

Great people worked there. When I pulled up they was like a bunch of girls flocking to a new puppy. “What year is it?” “What engine do you have in it?” “Look he put four wheel drive in in!” The guys were great! Young and enthusiastic diesel mechanics.

They were obviously all proffessionals. Their shop was fantastically outfitted and the were very busy working on several eighteen wheeler’s. I was thankful they had the time to fit me into their busy schedule, I told them I desperately wanted to make Sturgeon Bay by nightfall.

Yhe bracket was not a hard fix and it only took the pros a half hour shop time to remove and weld the break. Fifty bucks and a bunch of fun with the young men and I was rolling again.

Darkness fell and it got cold again, but by seven thirty I made it. My eight hour drive had turned into and eleven hour experience, but I was with my bride. We were together again! It was a well worth it journey. After hugs and kisses, I wanted some Perch and a beer. We stopped into the most typical of northern Wisconsin restaurants, The Greystone Castle in Sturgeon Bay. The place was filled with mounts and stuffed fish, good food, and friendly people.

We will spend a few days together in Sturgeon Bay then begin our retirement journey in earnestand together next week. First stop Madison to see our Son, then a short stop in Wheaton/Glen Ellyn Illinois to see my sister and high school friends. Then on to Kentucky! From there you’ll have to follow to find out!