Thursday, October 30, 2008

Week one ... oh my.

To say that things are different would be one those amazing understatements that comes around from time to time. We have a lot to learn...a lot.

So far we've reported for duty, met our bosses (most of them anyway) and taken care of a lot of administrative process surrounding getting installed in a new facility. We found new lockers and filing cabinets, learned our way around the building (mostly) and set up shop in a meeting area where we can spread our training materials out all over a conference table.
The airspace, the procedures, and the technical aspects of this operation are all very foreign to both of us and we are going to be very busy getting a good grasp on how things work and why. Dealing with oceanic traffic, a north-to-south traffic flow, and dealing with several sovereign nations that lie adjacent to us will be intriguing and challenging.
We knew we had that coming, but when the stack of study materials hit the desk, it still makes you go 'wow'. we go!

This week we have firmed up or plans for a place to stay, as far as March of 2009. We are set to change campgrounds in January and we will work further along in the next few days. We still want to explore different areas and learn more about where we can go and what we can see. It's a big city with a lot to offer, and we have some time to find it out and experience as much as we can before we head back into shift-work in a few more weeks.
We found the post office, tried a couple of alternative ways home, and looked for an Olive Garden restaurant that doesn't exist .. I'm sure of it ...
This afternoon we will drop the car off at a repair place so they can go to work on fixing up the damage that occurred just before we left Longmont. This weekend we will likely be spending some time changing our address with companies that need us for their financial survival and all. We might explore the park, or take a drive east to see the waterfront down on this side of Miami.
Now, I guess I'll practice learning some new three-letter identifiers :)

Finding our way.

Well, we're here.

We found Walgreens, a grocery store, and a Starbucks. The turnpike and freeways are amazingly crowded and I feel somewhat like a new driver out amongst the throng. Oh I remember California.. it was like this.

We are checked in and credentialled for our stay at the campground, which is a nicely arranged, secure, and fairly scenic park located next to the west side of the Miami Metrozoo. No, there are no noises or smells from the zoo :~). All the pads are paved, and there is a pool, laundry, and plenty of space to explore.
We had to locate and RV parts place and were lucky enough to find a $100 extension cord that would allow us to push 15 feet further on to the pad thus allowing us to hide the car under the front of the fifth-wheel. It is all fitting nicely.
We took a test run up to where we'll be working just to see how long a commute it will be, and how lost we might get. Turns out not to be difficult at all, and we plan a 45 minute commute window for our first day just to be on the safe side. There is one $1.00 toll each way so we got a window-sticker pass that will let us go through the booth without stopping each time (like the C-470 transponder only about 1/4 the size).
We took a couple of exploratory tours, including a drive to the town of Key Largo (arriving just before dusk) and I think it'll be easier to get around here than I'd initially feared. You just have to get the lay of the land first, which will come with time and experience. We did find a Hone Depot, and right across the freeway was Best Buy, but it was about 2 miles to get there because of the way the streets are laid out. Ah, the big city.

All is well, and we are looking forward to showing up at work and digging in to the training process.

Epcot and the Zoo.

I will be brief on this post and will try to catch up with what's turned out to be another busy and exciting 10 days now.
We arrived at Walt Disney's Fort Wilderness and got in a line of RVs three abreat to check-in. It all went well, as is Disney's tyle, and we found our way to the camp site.
Now this turned out to be a pretty close fit... well ... really close. I have some, but not extensive, practice backing trailers and this space was the toughest to date. It took a while, and we ended up using part of the neighbor's space, and (oops) slightly 'modified' a light post but eventually got the rig in place with about an inch to spare against the water stanchion. The space itself was big enough for the rig, but the back-in approach was very limited. Ah well, it's in ... let's go!

We learned our way around the bus, monorail, and boat-taxi system and spent the next three days enjoying Disney's best. We spent most of the time we were there in a very leisurely fashion, not worried about cramming as much as we could into any day. We saw great fireworks, enjoyed wonderful food, and were completely entertained and relaxed when we fell asleep each night. It was a wonderful getaway from the months of pressure and preparation for this trip and the last days of on-the-road stress. I am thankful that we got to be kids for a while again; it fits for us :)

We pulled out on Thursday morning, had a nice road trip along Florida's Turnpike, took a detour to Jon's house to fetch up the Toyota which had just been delivered about an hour earlier (saving us an 80 mile round trip to pick it up) and made it to Miami just after the office to the campground had closed.
After a brief discussion with the campground's security person we backed in to our spot and spent the night satisfied with our whole trip.

It has been an amazing 'ride' since January 27th, 2008 when we first sent in the applications for the new jobs. Since then things have been happening pretty much non-stop, far away from the hope of this blog to be a 'walking speed' experience. But a major step has been taken and we are now removed from life as it once was for us. Our comfort zone and familiarity factors are all gone and we are starting fresh at a new job in a new location. We are looking at each other and pretty much going 'this is awesome ... what have we done??' :)

It was a great trip.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Million Dollar View

Hopefully you will see that title again, as it is one of the primary reasons we chose the particular fifth-wheel that we did. It has a nice big back window and we thought that we would love to be able to back our home into a parking spot and throw open the curtains to a view of the ocean, or the countryside, or the city, or whatever. The idea that the view can change when you're mobile is appealing to us and so far it has proven to be very cool.

We decided on St. Augustine for a couple of nights as our "now-where-do-we-go" first stop in Florida. Both Robin and I have been there before, but this would be a chance to do some hand-in-hand street exploring and act as tourists for a while. I drove I-10 eastbound and Robin navigated and researched places to put the 5'er (now you're getting into the lingo) in for the night. Found a place just south of St. Augustine call 'Bryn Mawr" RV resort. Sounded good, the 'view rating' was high and they had a spot we could back into facing ocean-side. OK, cool. :)

Well, it was indeed an idyllic spot, and we got to park with a view of .. umm .. the sand dunes (they had to build them for hurricane protection) but we could sneak a small peak at the surf from our window and it was 50 feet from our door to the boardwalk that ran out the the beach. OK... it'll do :)

This was probably my tightest parking spot to date, and took a while to wiggle the trailer into place without relocating the neighbor's car or the electric post and water stanchion or the gazebo next to the pad. Robin is a great spotter and it all worked well (and helped prepare for the next challenge which I will mention in the next post). So... off to the beach; we got a little rain but we made it to the ocean.

This is why we are moving to Florida in the first place: to get to the water ... and we made it! We checked some data and then headed back to the beach to see if we could see the moon rise for us, but alas it was cloudy out to the east and all we could see was a cream colored glow spilling through the tops of the clouds. Good enough ... we'll take it!

Happily installed in our camping spot, we took the truck into St. Augustine the next day (Saturday 10/18) and spent most of day poking around the Estes-Park-tourist-zone-like setting. We explored back streets and shops and walked along the waterfront and had lunch at a great little cafe. Then we walked some more, wandered around the old Fort (built in like 1565, if I remember) and milled among the other tourists, eventually taking the long way back to the campsite and stopping for some repair parts at Home Depot along the way.

Sunnday morning we awoke, stowed away what we'd drug out and hooked up to the truck. We pulled out (guess when) and began the not-so-long trip to Orlando and our next stop; the rugged back country camp ground called Fort Wilderness. It was time to take a break from our travels and spend a few days unwinding and escaping. Last year we had bid for a week of vacation time around this time, and now we were going to spend some of it running around with Mickey and being goofy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


It's just a bit of a blur, but I'll see if I can recap a bit.

Wednesday (10/15) we woke up bright and early and decided we would try to recapture the original schedule, only a day late now. It meant a rather long pull, about 80 miles longer than we'd planned, but we could make it to our next planned stop and get the leg-lengths back on track. The first few miles were pensive as we wondered if the problem would recur but Fodzilla rocked right along all day.
Now, pulling the fifth-wheel at 65 mph through Kansas is one thing, but getting through a couple of major metro areas is a bit more challenging so setting a long (480 mile) day involving two big cities (St. Louis and Nashville) was ambitious. Traffic was fairly good, but there were still sop-and-go periods in both cities and we saw more construction that slowed us down as well. At the end of the day we stopped at a KOA about 25 miles short of our original plan and spent the night in Manchester, TN. It was pretty dark when we got in, and the folks at the campground led us around in a golf cart and made sure we were on place. We set up and decided we'd run off to dinner and found a wonderful local spot called O'Charley's for a great dinner. Not a bad day.

Thursday (10/16) Up and at 'em again and on the road by 9:30 (grin). This is getting to be a routine and Robin and I are starting to gel as a team to get us rolling again.
We found our way through Chattanooga and into Georgia. Rolling hills and lots of greenery set the traveling stage and Robin remarked that it looks similar to the hills around her native upstate New York.
Typically, we have been lucky to see wildlife along our trips. Pretty much wherever we travel we've seen different animals and Robin is especially keen at spotting big birds (hawks and eagles and recently a tree full of Cormorants in Colorado) but these last few days have been pretty sparse. A few road kills and some crows have been the lot of it ... until, that is, the camel...
OK, so we saw a camel alongside the road in Geogia. I suppose that's good enough for this leg :)
We pulled into a very nice park near Valdosta, GA and spent a peaceful night. Next stop? Florida!

Friday (10/17) ... Guess what time we pulled out? Right to the minute almost :) (9:30). We crossed into Florida and turned east on I-10 still undecided on exactly where we were heading. We had several options and we were pretty excited to be in our destination state so after a little discussion we settled on St. Augustine as a destination for the day. It ended up being 2 days, and we got parked and set up, and hiked out to the beach right away. It is, after all, why we are moving to Florida to begin with. It was breezy and cool and even rained on us a little, but we got out and about and did some foot-touring of old-town St. Augustine and had a great lunch at the Conch House overlooking the marina.
We also learned that the rough road caused a bit of damage inside the coach. The clothes rod in the forward (main) closet broke under the load of all my heavy winter clothes (not) so we had to make a side trip to Home Depot and find a replacement. We'll rebuild it .. better .. faster .. stronger.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day 2 (and 3...)

All was well as we pulled out of the campsite at the Sundowner West RV park near Salina, KS. The first leg went well, and after covering the first hundred miles or so we ran through the same silly cold front, complete with the rapid warming, an instantly fogged windshield and shifty winds. It rained again for most of the morning but cleard out about 1:00 P.M. and we thought we night even get some sunshine.
We took a short break at a rest stop and Robin drove the next leg. About 70 miles later we both jumped hard when we heard this huge "BANG!" from under the hood and the truck (Fordzilla) lost pretty much all power. We pulled off to the side of the freeay and I gave a quick look under the hood but couldn't see any obvious damage or leaks. None of the tires had blown, and there wasn't any debris on the freeway that we might've either hit or left behind so we deemed it best to try to drive off the freeway to a safer place.
The truck was making almost no power, and the boost gague would not budge off of zero, so I presumed we'd blown a turbocharger. There was no rattling and the engine sounded OK, so we began to move. Fortunately there was an off-ramp less than a mile away and a motel parking lot allowed us to pull out of any traffic.

I googled on my phone (oh, the benefits of geekdom) and called a local Ford dealership. After speaking with the service manager we concurred that the turbo may have blown and we shouldn't drive it any more. He gave me the Ford Roadside Assistance number, they called a towing company and we were handled well at every step of the way.
Ford paid for a towing company to come get us, take us and the fifth-wheel to a nearby campground and haul the truck off to the dealer. By the time it was all said and done it was after 7:00 P.M. but nonetheless we were safe and sound, and everything was in order and under warranty. now all we had to do was wait for a diagnosis and estimate on the repair time.

So...find Jonesburg, Missouri on your map :) .. (hint ... it's just down the road from High Hill). We had no idea how long we'd be stranded here, or exactly what the damage would be, but we were content that we were safe and that we had enough extra time built in to the schedule to be ok if we got delayed a few days. Robin had also stocked us up with provisions and we would be fine with the food we had on board for the stay.

The next morning (Wednesday now) I called the dealer and they said that they were just pulling it in to the shop. I gave them the contact numbers and we waited for them to call. We spent the day waiting for a call, and went through some boxes of 'stuff' we had thrown in during the last moments of packing. Finally we got a call late in the afternoon and (of course) told me that they'd called about 3 hours earlier and left a message (which I never received).
he good news was that it was simply a matter of a rather large (and very important) hose blowing off it's fitting (Charged Air Cooling hose) and it'd be a simple matter to put it back together. If I wanted a replacement item it'd be another day for parts.
I asked if this was a field-replaceable item and was told yes, so we opted to have them replace and re-torque the original one and I will have to come up with a new one as soon as I can get to a big-city dealership.
Kudos to Ford, Zweiser Ford of Warrenton, MO, Skyline Towing, and the Jonesburg Gardens RV Park (thanks, Bob!) for all the help and the up-front manner with which this was all handled.
It could've been much, much worse, but with this level of help it went very well indeed.

We got the truck back, and it works fine. We fueled up and took a short tour of downton Jonesburg then settled in for the evening.

If you ever pass just east of St. Louis, do stop at that campground. It was as friendly and helpful as they get; and the camp ducks were just ... fun :)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Day One

The first leg (457 miles) can be simply summed up in one word: RAIN.

We got up at 7:30, and pulled out less than a half hour late. We had the fortune to say a final goodbye with Rob and Sue (we will miss you!) and went to fill Propane. OK, so the gas station had no one there that knew how to run the Propane pumps, and .. oh .. OK, the huge propane tank in the lot ended up being empty .. but OK, we got on the road anyway and here we go.
It was 39 degrees when we left and we paid for the E470 route and turned in our transponders along the way.
It started to rain just before Limon, CO and at Kanorado the wind was strong and gusting out of the north. Then the wind shifted dramatically and the temperature rose over 20 degrees in less than three miles. ... wow! ... I've never expereinced a weather shift like this before; ever.
The temperature changed so fast that the cold glass of the windshield fogged up on the outside when the moist warmer air condensed onit. I had to turn the wipers up all the way so we could see.
Then it rained .. and rained and blew, and rained some more. Simply awesome.

We found the RV park, set up quickly and had dinner (thanks Robin!!).
Tomorrow we head for Missouri. Hopefully it will dry out a bit.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I need to kill a few mosquitos :)

10/11/08 (late)

It's late .. we're trying to get out early tomorrow morning.

It's cold .. and raining. We're finally at the campground and staged for departure for our first leg of the journey. We worked .. straight from 7 A.M till 10:45 P.M. non-stop. We had a lot to do, a lot to finalize and a lot to plan. But it's well as 'done' can be.

Now, I need a nap ... there's quite a day ahead of us tomorrow; about 470 miles of it.

Here we go. We are actually going.

This is amazing.

The Final Countdown

10/11/08 (By Gary)

Work is done. We have done what is likely to be the most tangible step of or plans ... we walked out of work for the last time.
The facility that Robin and I have called 'our work' for over 23 years will not admit us back in after today. We turned in our badges, cancelled our security and medical clearances, handed over our keys and headsets and shook hands, got hugs, and said goodbye to coworkers and friends.
Our original plans called for a Saturday (10/11) departure, but we will likely spend the day doing final packing and cleaning (we're still pretty far behind our hoped-for schedule) but it only means that we will have to maintain a stricter schedule for the next five days. The fifth-wheel has been parked in front of the house for a few days now, and we are actively setting it up as our new home. There is still a lot to be done and our thanks go out to Brecca and Brandon and Nichelle for their help scanning, shredding and stacking and sorting the last of the material 'wealth' that is left i the house. We appreciate the time and effort that all our friends have put in. We are grateful for the support we have received and for all the work that everyone's done to help us along the way.

It is the most important blessing a person can have, the friendship of caring people.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Pressure's On!

10/09/2008 (Gary)

"The bell would ring loudly over the end of the short but busy bar and the bartender would shout at the top of his lungs; "The Pressure's ON!!!".

That would mean the best and the worst to us in the confines of the old smoke-filled NCO Club deep in the heart of eastern Turkey. As part of the experience of being 8,000 mile away from home, the parties at the NCO club would be a great escape, a roudy and irreverent time of drinking, card playing, and bonding with your peers as we wiled away the nights on a small air base from which there was no 'shore leave'.

Every so often the barkeep, a senior NCO with a watchful eye toward his clientele, would put "the pressure" on everyone in the bar. This would usually happen a couple of hours into the evening's festivities when the bar was crowded and rowdy.

Now .. when the 'pressure' was put on, it meant free drinks for everyone in the bar; for as long as it took for someone, somewhere in the bar to have to call 'uncle' and go to the bathroom which was conveniently monitored by the barkeep himself. Then everyone went back to paying for their drinks (and forming a line to the restroom door) So ... who wanted to give up and end the spree of free drinks? No one, of course .. hence the 'pressure' was really on :)

As often as not, the event did not last very long (timing is everything) and it was all in good fun. The next day there would be some good hearted ribbing, and the whole thing would surely start again the next weekend if not sooner.

I feel somewhat that way now :) ... we are heading down to the wire on preparations to leave Longmont and the world we have known for the past 24 years. There is a pressure on both of us to continue packing up, storing and organizing. We are still finding things that puzzle us; momentos, valuables, trinkets and knick-knacks that we just haven't figured out what to do with. We really have four options when we come across anything left to pack. We can pitch it, or donate it (either to family or a friend or to a charitable organization), we can leave it behind in the house, or we can find a way to pack it along.

We still have a couple of items on Craig's List, and will have to impose on our friends to handle any callers, but mostly we're just trying to get organized and make tough dowsizing decisions.

If you've never really done this before, I must tell you that it is harder than you think.

We are pulling away in less than three days. We have this evening and tomorrow evening some of Saturday and then we're heading east for a couple of days and turning right for three or four more. I'm not nearly as prepared as I want to be, but I have to recognize that it's all part of the plan, the adventure and ultimately the fun. I think part of me is scared to actually start this trip because if how much change it represents. Our new home has a license plate on it, and we are pulling pretty much our whole (condensed) world behind us.
I think the correlation between the "pressure" of years ago and now is pretty slim actually, but I do not want to be the one to call 'uncle' and just leave a big mess behind for someone else to have to handle. At work, at the places we frequent, or at home. We are trying to clean up all the loose ends and there are many.
We are both working very hard to make a clean break. I'm hoping it'll be handled and we will not be taking a lot of tailings with us on the trip, but we will need to roll regardless of where we are when the 12th comes along.

Please pray for us that there is a safe trip in our future.

We have the route loosely planned, we have enough money to feed Fordzila along the way, and we are in the process of stuffing the fifth-wheel with clothes and foodstuffs to make it an easy trip for us. The schedule, while not excrutiating, is tight and we will need tomake a certain number of miles per day to make our goals. We did build in some margin should we have a flat tire or other delay, but we did build and intend to stick to a schedule as best we can.

OK, I need to pack... :) (and close out end-of-year ratings for my employees, and sell stuff, and clean the garage .. and .. umm .. well, you get it :)