#1 DRIVING MS. TIMBUCKTWO

 

           Prior to our purchase of our Winnebago 30T, we had numerous discussions regarding driving a vehicle this size. The Internet is rife with horror stories about RV driving mishaps usually ending with a significant damage to the vehicle. We consumed countless YouTube videos for tips on the safe handling of RVs, but no amount of video watching can replace practical experience. 

Having driven large U-Haul trucks over the years in various military moves, I felt confident (likely over-confident) that I could manage an RV. Pam was far less enthusiastic about driving something so large. We had planned to take a test drive before the final purchase day, but events associated with selling our home and everything we own conspired to prevent that option. We did, at least, take the vehicle to a large, disserted parking lot near the dealership on the day of purchase where we both took the wheel for a few minutes. This was better than nothing, but certainly not the big RV driving education we both were desiring. If I had to do it again, I would have taken a RV driving course if time and availability made this an option. 

         My first experience with driving TimBuckTwo was our drive from the dealership to Fort Meade, Maryland. As I expected, it was not necessarily difficult, but it did demand my complete attention. Unlike driving a car, in TimBuckTwo there was no fiddling with the radio, taking your eyes off the road, or nimbly whipping in and out of traffic. Since our vehicle occupies most of a standard lane, one must pay constant attention to keeping the vehicle centered. I prefer to live in the right lane and drive either at or five miles below the speed limit (we do not exceed 65 in TimBuckTwo). This stimulates most of the other drivers on the highway to pass quickly. One advantage of our Class A is the expansive windshield providing unparalleled visibility of the road. We are also sitting up high at the same level as the truckers which provides an excellent view of the road for a long distance. Speaking of truckers, while they tend to be the safest and most predictable drivers on the highway, the wind wall the trucks make as they pass will physically shove our RV over if you are not prepared. Most of the cars also drive safe although there are notable exceptions on the highway. The stupidity of some car drivers and the stunts they pull is truly amazing and we have a great view of these morons (along with our dash camera) from our high vantage point as they put themselves and everyone else in danger from their poor driving. The best defense against these folks is slowing down. I try to keep at least five Mississippi counts between TimBuckTwo and the vehicle ahead. 

           Comically, Pam finally decided it was time to bite the bullet and take a turn at driving after we had stopped for gas somewhere in South Carolina. Unbeknownst to us, the next 40 miles of highway was nothing but road construction and Jersey barriers. It was some of the most difficult driving either of us has experienced in TimBuckTwo thus far. Pam soldiered through it and likely gained a weeks’ worth of driving experience in that awful stretch of highway. 

          We are fortunate that we are both now comfortable driving. We try to limit our day’s drive to either 300 miles or stop by 1500. Because of the attention that Mis. TimBuckTwo demands, sharing the driving, driving only in the daylight, and keeping the days relatively short seems safest. I certainly have a newfound respect for driving and the perils of unsafe driving from the driver’s seat of TimBuckTwo. Please be safe out their and give the RVs plenty of space. 

#2 ELECTRIC BIKES

 

          Pam and I elected to begin our RV journey without towing a spare car. Along with everything else, we sold both our automobiles last month. This has resulted in several raised eyebrows from friends and family, some suggesting we would likely be towing a car within the next six months. Perhaps.

          In preparation for this journey, we purchased two new Lectric bikes (lectricebikes.com). We have been so busy traveling that we hardly had any time to ride the bikes, except for a test ride while still in our old home. Otherwise, the two cycles have lived on an electric bike carrier on the rear of our RV. Our recent stay at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa Bay, Florida, for over a week finally provided the time to pull the bikes off the back and try out our new mode of transportation around the hood.

          Wow! They are truly a blast. Pam and I recently took the bikes to the Base Exchange, about five miles away. Pam, who is not a bike enthusiast, had no problems with this distance round trip using the electric pedal assist on level 1 (there are five levels). I decided to use the bike without any electric assistance on the way up and used level 1 on the way back. The pedal assist really takes the drudgery out of biking.

Later, in an ongoing effort to fix our television sound problem (substance for another post), we decided I should return to the Exchange to pick up an audio cable we needed. I wanted to get there and back with as little strain and hassle as possible (it was Africa hot at this point). I initially set the pedal assist to 3 and instantly was cruising down the road at 17 mph with hardly any effort in the highest gear. It was like riding a motor scooter that requires a small pedal effort. With newfound confidence, I set the assist to 4 on the way home and was flying at 20.5 mph back to the RV. At one point, a car drove past me, stopped down the road, let me pass, and then followed me for a bit. I think he was having difficulty believing his speedometer as I cruised down the street.

          In short, the bikes are a big success. Obviously, we are restricted by the weather in using them. Still, I think we can easily handle a 20-mile trip (40 round trips). We'll see about that car.

#3 BOWLING

            One of the exciting aspects of nomad life is having the time to do whatever happens to cross your mind. On a Sunday, during our more protracted than expected stay at MacDill AFB, we decided to check out the base bowling alley. I am about as good at bowling as I am at golf, which is to say I know just enough to be dangerous and be highly irritating to anyone who has a passion for either activity. To be reasonably proficient at either sport, one must play with some routine. Since I haven't swung a golf club or held a bowling ball for about a decade, it is safe to say I suck rather severely at both activities. I have never owned a bowling ball, and I have not missed my golf clubs that were part of our 'stuff' purge. 

            The significant advantage (in my eyes) between bowling and golfing is the beer and pizza. One can enjoy these staples of American life in air conditioning, at a table, between attempts to knock 10 pins down with a heavy round ball (so satisfyingly violent, and yet nobody gets hurt). In golf, one usually must wade through 18 holes (and in my case, most of that time is spent in the weeds searching for a tiny round ball) before one can finally quaff a brewski at the '19th’ hole. Bowling wins hands down in the snack category. 

            This particular Sunday in Tampa Bay was forecast to be hot and muggy. I suggested bowling to Pam because she has always had a fondness for the activity, and I thought it would be nice to escape the sticky air for AC and pizza (oh, and bowling). So after taking Bosun for a long walk, we jumped on our Ebikes and pedaled to the bowling facility. We were both rather hot and sweaty by the time we arrived, so imagine our disappointment when we learned the AC at the MacDill bowling facility had been out for a week. Oh well, they had large fans going, and I was sure the beer would be cold. We were at an Air Force Base, after all. 

            As expected, on my first roll of the ball, I managed to knock down one pin (I didn't want to peak too early and embarrass Pam). As we continued to play, we both began to pick up the occasional spare and even a few strikes. More importantly, no matter how bad my shot was, I never once had to search for my bowling ball in the weeds. It always magically came back from the hole in the lane right where I had thrown it. How civilized! Eventually, the cold beer showed up with a giant pizza (they only served one size). We could not possibly eat the entire pizza, so we offered the last few slices to a genuine bowler who was practicing next to us (he had the wrist thingy, a fancy custom ball, and appeared to be able to control where he wanted the bowling ball to hit the pins – fascinating). 

            Despite the lack of AC, our time bowling was very enjoyable. Pam used to bowl with the girls when they were growing up as homeschoolers with some frequency. I usually missed these events because of work. So I am grateful to have the time to explore some of these things now. I will be looking for the next military bowling alley at the next FamCamp we stay at down the road.              

#4 PICKLEBALL ON THE ROAD

           

           Our extended stay at the MacDill Air Force Base FamCamp in Tampa, Florida, has allowed us to explore the local area extensively and develop some level of routine. We continue to ride our electric bikes around town. We usually try to limit these excursions to around 5 hours because that is the maximum we are presently willing to leave Bosun alone in the RV, and the blasted heat will literally melt you if you spend much longer outside. Blessed was the person who invented air conditioning. We are both fans of walking, but distances in this heat are out of the question for Bosun. We have managed to walk everywhere interesting local to the campground. The natural areas here on the base are genuinely spectacular. 

            Before punching out of Annapolis, we were introduced to the growing sport of pickleball by a close friend, Amy Steindler. Unlike our golf clubs, our pickleball stuff made the cut to the exercise locker on TimBuckTwo. We thought there would be opportunities to play with others as we traveled, and although the game is best with four, it can be played with two for an excellent workout. Pam and I both played tennis early in our marriage, but over the years, our interest waned. Like any sport, tennis requires practice and considerable physical ability and stamina. A stronger player who can swat the tennis ball with more force and accuracy will typically dominate a game. This is not the case in pickleball. While there are undoubtedly similar elements between tennis and pickleball (a net is involved, for example), sheer physical power is not particularly useful in the sport. I think pickleball is more akin to table tennis, except the players are standing on the table. With a court the size of a half tennis court, smashing the ball as hard as you can usually only results in a point for the other team. It also has an area on both sides of the net called the kitchen where players cannot stand unless the ball bounces there. This prevents crowding up to the net to smash the ball at the opposing team. The ball is a plastic Wiffle ball, and the racket is a paddle. Even the most aggressive swat of the ball is somewhat anticlimactic. I would suggest (tennis fans notwithstanding) that pickleball is more about strategic play and ball placement as opposed to the application of sheer power. I feel the de-emphasis on power evens the court's playing field between men and women. My strength advantage does not help be against Pam and is usually more of a handicap. 

            Early in our stay at MacDill, Pam found a flyer advertising pickleball play at the base gym on odd days of the week between 0900-1200. On our first trip (we have been three times now), we were hoping to meet other players, but no other enthusiasts showed (it is much more active "in season" - Oct - Apr). MacDill courts are taped out on the large basketball court and use a collapsible pickleball net. It has been an interesting experience playing indoors on a hardwood basketball court surface. Although I have won more games, I think Pam and I are at about the same skill level. Pam tends to be more accurate in her ball placement, making me run around the court like Forrest Gump. I believe I win more because of my secret weapon:  Pam finds my exceptional play extremely funny and is often laughing too hard to return my expertly placed shot. If my looking ridiculous wins the point…I’ll take it. 

            Pickleball is an excellent sport where all age groups can be competitive. Your muscles will tell you that you have been active afterward, which is good. We are always looking to play, so I serve first if you have a penchant for pickleball and run into us.

 

#5 THE LADDER

            We were well into our longest drive so far in TimBuckTwo from Tampa Bay, Florida, to Foley, Alabama. Sadly, we had just spent a considerable amount of time sitting on Interstate 10 near Tallahassee because of a horrific accident involving five cars. Later, we would learn that a westbound vehicle had lost control, crossed the median (no median barriers in Florida), and hit an eastbound car head-on. This would set up a chain reaction of crashes. We would learn later that three people had lost their lives. It was all unsettling, to say the least. 

            After finally passing the horrific scene, a few miles down the road, I was confronted with the strange sight of a large pickup truck driving fast backward towards us on the highway shoulder. I barely had time to point the strange vehicle out to Pam when the next series of events happened with mind-numbing speed. Another pickup truck in my right-hand lane, a reasonable distance ahead (I like to keep four seconds between me and the next vehicle at speed), suddenly swerved violently into the left lane of the two-lane highway. At that moment, I perceived a large, silver object occupying most of the right lane. I thought I might swerve just like the person in front of me and immediately checked my passenger mirror to go into the left lane. Maddingly, an oblivious woman was driving a car right next to us. I was in a pickle  - I couldn't swerve right because of the woman next to me, and I couldn't veer into the shoulder because of the truck driving backward. I murmured a word of French, gripped the steering wheel tight, took my foot off the accelerator, and edged as far left in my lane as possible. TimBuckTwo hit the object with the left front tire – BAM! I instantly checked my left mirror and recognized the shape of an aluminum ladder now flattened like a pancake. Fortunately, a lightweight ladder is no match for TimBuckTwo's 10 tons of mass. I was surprised that the tire monitoring system indicated everything was okay, with no blowout detected. The vehicle also seemed to be driving normally. 

            Out of an abundance of caution, I spoke some more French, which Pam correctly pointed out was not helpful. We left the highway at the next exit. We pulled into a gas station parking lot to evaluate TimBuckTwo for damage. I crawled under the length of the RV and could only find a scratch on the drive shaft (no dents). We had dodged a big bullet. Sorry to the Floridian who now has an extremely thin ladder. Hopefully, that person will tie the next one down better. 

            This should have been the end of this harrowing experience, but no. Two hours later, as we were crossing a bridge to Alabama, I spied a large piece of plastic sheeting flying across the highway. I commented that the plastic could not possibly hit us after everything we had just dealt with. But, of course, it could, as Pam announced we were flying a plastic flag off the right side of the vehicle. We pulled off the highway at another exit, and Pam freed TimBuckTwo of the trash (it had wrapped itself around the front axle). At this point, we were both ready for this drive to be over. Fortunately, we were very close to our goal of Foley, Alabama, and Pam's parents. 

            In all of this, the lesson for me is the importance of staying alert and undistracted while driving. Things happen despite your efforts to drive safely, and sometimes you just have to grip the wheel and muscle through. I shudder to think how worse this incident could have been had we not been paying attention. Stay safe out there. 

#6 ZEN AND THE ART OF FLY FISH CASTING

            I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Pirsig in college. I was rather unimpressed with the text at the time. My main takeaway from the book was the beauty of being able to recognize quality and value in things – anything. Perhaps I was too busy working towards my eventual career as a physician or my next beer to appreciate the lesson at the time. So I filed the literary experience away and moved on. 

            A wife, three kids, and a career later, I am thinking I should reread the book since I feel I am in a better place to understand the content. In short, I believe Pirsig was trying to express the ability to appreciate and enjoy the simplest of things and yet marvel at their complexity. Fly fishing is, for me, an excellent example of seeking quality and value. This tends to be a complex topic for most people. On the surface, fly fishing is just a more complicated method of fishing. A casting rod depends on the weight of the lure and the rod's potential energy to fling the bait out. With few exceptions, most folks can achieve proficiency with a casting rod in an afternoon. A fly rod, conversely, depends on the ability to store potential energy in the fly line to fling the practically weightless fly across the water. A well-executed fly cast is a beautiful thing to witness. 

The angler draws the line up from the water with the lure trailing. As the line speeds back and loads the fly rod, the angler feels for the apogee of the line as the rod bends to the line weight. The rod is then pushed forward, sending the line in a graceful loop forward. The angler may repeat this motion 2 or 3 times and add more line into the air before selecting an aiming point and bringing the line forward in a final graceful loop that lays straight on the water surface. This is followed by the ridiculously small tippet line with the fly gently alighting on the water surface (irresistible to a fish). Since books have been written about the fly cast, this short description is an oversimplified description of the action. Nevertheless, when done correctly, it is truly a spectacular thing to behold. 

           One does not master fly casting in an afternoon, rarely in a lifetime, and (as in my case) perhaps never. So many things must all go right for the perfect fly cast. The good news is that with patience and practice, every devoted angler will experience the nirvana of an ideal fly cast over the water at the most unexpected moments. Of course, one must muscle through thousands of botched fly casts to appreciate that seminal moment. In pursuit of the perfect fly cast, the aim of catching a fish almost becomes inconsequential. 

I am pleased to say I have experienced some of those near-perfect casts and witnessed them in my daughter, Hannah. She was able to appreciate the beauty of the cast at a very young age. Perhaps the only joy greater than experiencing a near-perfect cast for yourself is witnessing the joy in a child who achieves this Zen moment. 

           When you are out on the water in the mindfulness activity of fly casting, there is no room for other worries or distractions. Achieving quality and value in each cast requires complete uninterrupted attention. I have come to see beauty in many activities when one honors the action by striving for perfection. With this understanding, almost any human activity can be turned into art. While achieving perfection is impossible, the effort and intensity invested in pursuing perfection in any human activity is perhaps the most significant expression of the value and quality of a thing. 

          Fly fishing is one activity that allows me to explore the meaning of value and quality. Finding those things in life seems essential and an excellent way to practice mindfulness.

#7 PAIN

          Last week during our visit to Lake Placid, we decided to take a hike up local Bear Den Mountain. The hike was not particularly long (about 6 miles total) and was billed as a 'moderate' hike on the Internet. We donned our hiking boots and day packs and set out from our KOA RV site. 

          The hike begins at a parking area next to some spectacular rapids of the Ausable River as it passes through a gorge to an even more breathtaking waterfall further down the river. We hiked a bit further at the end of our adventure to see the falls. Initially, the hike up Bear Den trail was delightful as it followed a lively stream flowing down the mountain with frequent small falls and forest pools. However, as we moved higher up the mountain, the trees got shorter, and the predominant hardwoods of the valley gave way to pine trees. The last mile up the mountain was definitely not 'moderate' hiking, and we found ourselves occasionally on all fours to keep going up the trail. The exertion and sweat were definitely worth it, though, as the view of nearby Whiteface Mountain and the valley between was fantastic. 

          We enjoyed a short lunch of a ham and cheese wrap and some cherries. We took some great photos and headed back down. Traveling down the difficult trail was facilitated by gravity now being on our side, and the miles seemed to pass quickly. It was a bit tricky on the steepest areas, but we both managed to stay upright.  We paused at a small bridge over the mountain stream and removed our hiking boots to cool our overworked feet in the cold water. It was so refreshing. At this point, our bodies were protesting the hike, and we were looking forward to returning to camp. 

I was definitely sore that evening, but in the pleasant way that comes from having accomplished something physical. Unfortunately, the following day I awoke with a sharp, burning pain in the middle of my right foot that had me practically crippled. Initially, I assumed I had strained something in my foot, and figured time plus a little Motrin would resolve the issue. I was wrong. In the next 72 hours, my foot swelled up, and my toes felt like sausages. The pain increased to the point where even putting my foot down would increase my discomfort. Rarely have I been so swiftly rendered physically incapable without some specific trauma. The hike was strenuous, but I did not fall, and I do not recall injuring my foot. 

          On the drive to our present campsite in Maine, Pam insisted that we visit an urgent care facility to rule out a fracture. This was the first time we had used our new TRICARE insurance, which worked flawlessly. The x-ray revealed no fracture, and the attending physician diagnosed tendonitis (an expensive doctor's word for inflammation of the tendons in the foot). Nevertheless, I was relieved there was no fracture and hopeful that the tincture of time would resolve my pain. 

The sobering fact that compelled me to relate this ongoing pain issue is how overwhelmingly life-changing pain can be. This is not the usual aches and pains of being in my fifties. This is a moderate to severe pain presently impacting every aspect of my life, from the most straightforward daily task to any activity requiring walking. It has been incredibly frustrating and humbling how pain of this magnitude can derail one's life. I have spent a career managing pain, often of much greater intensity than what I am presently experiencing. It has been a sobering experience.

          Pam has been incredibly understanding throughout this ordeal. We rode our bikes yesterday into the local town of Naples, Maine. It was a lovely day with lunch, some store visits, and a visit to the last functioning Songo River Lock connecting Sebago Lake to Brandy Pond. I likely overdid it, and my foot protested mightily last night, resulting in intense burning pain that kept me up most of the night. I feel I have learned my lesson - Pam helped place some acupuncture needles this morning, and I am motivated to give my foot some time to rest and heal. I am hopeful this will resolve soon. 

#8 NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST

          One of the most enjoyable aspects of the 'on the road' RV lifestyle is the opportunities to explore new areas of the country. Pam and I loved living in Annapolis, MD, but the scenery was becoming routine. As a military family, we had gotten used to moving to a new location every few years and enjoyed learning about our surroundings. Our move in 2007 to our Annapolis home on lake Ogleton would become the most prolonged period that we were in one house. For Trip, it would be the longest time he had ever spent in one place. We had put down roots in Annapolis. However, with the girls gone and spread out along the East Coast, we began to feel the tug for a change of scenery. Getting rid of accumulated stuff was easy; leaving established friends was not. We recognize that our somewhat radical shift from a stable home and work life in Annapolis to life on the road was unsettling to many friends and family. As my Uncle LR put it, "I don't think I would make that decision even on a drunk." LR always has a way of getting his point across with humor. 

          All that said, I do not miss my days at home hunched over a computer working for the government. Pam misses her patients but does not miss the grind of a regular work schedule. After the loss of BoBo, it was cathartic to spend some days alone at Lake Murray State Park in Oklahoma. We unleashed the electric bikes and spent days exploring the lake and surrounding area. Lake Murray is truly worth a visit. The water clarity is incredible (thanks to the state forest surrounding the lake), and its color in the sun reminded us of Caribbean waters. On one bike trek, we traveled to the nearby town of Ardmore, about 8 miles away. We parked the bikes at a park on one end of main street. The park sported a massive 115-ton locomotive called the 'Mercy Train.' Over a hundred years ago, a huge explosion in the Ardmore train yard practically flattened the town. The steam engine decorating the park had brought help and supplies that saved many lives from the disaster. We walked the main street, stopped for an iced coffee, and shared a lemon poppy seed muffin. Later we visited the local shopping center for some needed items and new clothes. Trip got a new pair of blue shorts, leaving the old pair he had walked in with, in the dust bin. In the RV, you must leave something old behind if you buy something new. Without our wandering, we never would have experienced any of Ardmore, Texas – that would have been a shame. 

          A few days later, we pulled into Clinton, Oklahoma, to visit with Trip's Uncle LR. LR is a bit unsettled by some of our life choices of late, but he had to admit that TimBuckTwo is a good-looking and comfortable vehicle. LR has been an incredible host. Trip has enjoyed seeing Clinton, where he and Erich (brother) spent many summers as boys. Pam was able to find some pickleball courts in nearby Weatherford. He got up early one morning (0800 is early in retirement) and drove over to play. The new pickleball courts are gorgeous and some of the best I have ever seen. The Weatherford Pickleball Club has worked with the local government to build a first-class facility. When we arrived, the club members were incredibly gracious to Pam and me. They were interested in what we were doing and paired us with pickleball partners for some great games. It was an impressive and welcoming club that was open to traveling pickleball players. Without our wandering, we never would have met the incredible people in the Weatherford Pickleball Club – that would have been a shame. 

          These are just a few examples of the experiences that Pam and I were seeking. We are both incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to see new places and meet new people. We cannot wait to wander somewhere next to see what delights are down the road.