***Trip is Editor-in-Chief at U.S. Medicine, a news magazine for federal physicians. He writes an editorial every month, and his latest muse for February is something that we hope you will enjoy. You can follow his writings each month here.
“A baby is a wishing well. Everyone puts their hopes, their fears, their pasts, their two cents in.” - Elizabeth Bard
I recognize that this column tends to dwell on the many negative aspects of the federal healthcare system, our democracy, and the general human condition on this planet. We are a species both fascinated and driven by conflict. I have elected to change tack for February and focus on something entirely positive that has occurred in my family. As a resident and staff physician, I often craved positive news during January and February. These months seemed the most difficult to work through, coming off the high of the holiday season. The days were short and cold, and I would spend many days in a row getting up in the dark and returning home after nightfall. Mix in a few nights on call caring for patients, and one might forget there are healthy and happy people in the daylight outside of the hospital. In retirement, these times are memories as my wife, Pam, and I now chase the sun in our RV (TimBuckTwoBlog.com). We headed a bit north this past December for Christmas and the gathering of our family for a special event. Unfortunately, we made it just in time for historic cold weather in Atlanta (Freezemageddon). Fortunately, we were prepared to exist in the RV in extreme cold. Why chance the cold?
With permission from his mother, Susan, my eldest daughter, and Father, Dan Hoffman, I am beyond pleased to announce the first birth in the next generation of my family. Alden Chester Hoffman was born in Atlanta (his father and Pam were in attendance) on December 29th, 2022. Susan and Dan initially had not settled on a name for the baby, wanting to meet him before making a final decision. Humorously, when the attending obstetric nurse inquired about the child’s name, Pam blurted out, “Perfection!” Later, when I met young Alden, I think Pam had it right. After getting to know the new addition to the family, Susan and Dan settled on Alden as a first name, a Hoffman family name. The middle name Chester extends back through me, my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, our original American, Anton Buckenmaier. Anton named one of his six sons, my grandfather Chester, after a Spanish-American War Army buddy. The name persisted through the generations in the males of my family, and I am the third Chester Church. I was blessed with three daughters, so as I often quip, the "madness will finally end." Not so!
The honor Susan and Dan have given generations of men in my family who carried the name Chester is humbling. Admittedly, when this unexpected announcement was made, I had difficulty saying anything recognizable through my blubbering for some time. My father, who died a few years ago, would have been ecstatic.
A name is one of the few things given to a person that no one can take away. For many generations of my family, names have been chosen to honor those who came before. This sense of history and connection to family members past has always been grounding and a source of comfort to me personally. I was particularly pleased that my other daughters, Hannah and Samantha, through no small effort, made the trek to Atlanta, taking time from their busy lives to celebrate Alden. I feel Alden is fortunate to be the son of Susan and Dan, backed by two incredibly strong families. His future is so bright he should be wearing shades.
Pam and I have hung around in Atlanta to support Susan and Dan as new parents. It has been strange to think of myself as a grandpa. I certainly do not feel old enough. Baby Alden has reminded me of the utter uselessness I felt with each baby of my own. Women are equipped with everything a baby desires, and men, well, we exist. I have done my best to provide Dan with helpful advice on how his previous existence is now dead and buried as he takes on the role of Dad. I have emphasized the clarity of purpose a child provides one's life and the comic relief of children generally. Mark Twain, in a famous speech concerning babies, described the newborn's influence on family life thus:
“If you will stop and think a minute—if you will go back fifty or one hundred years to your early married life and recontemplate your first baby—you will remember that he amounted to a good deal, and even something over. You soldiers all know that when that little fellow arrived at family headquarters you had to hand in your resignation. He took entire command. You became his lackey, his mere body-servant, and you had to stand around too. He was not a commander who made allowances for time, distance, weather, or anything else. You had to execute his order whether it was possible or not.”
Pam and Susan have tried to distract Dan and me from our uselessness regarding Alden with a ‘honey-do’ list of projects around the condo. Undeniably, I have enjoyed the diversion. Between jobs, I have shared a beer or two with Dan at the local pub. I have tried not to be too specific with Dan regarding my own experience with my children. Too much advice from former parents can be a burden, and I recognize that my experience is now 30 years old. Parents must find their own way in their own time. I will have to learn how to be a grandfather (I hope the boy likes to fly fish). I still lament that children do not come with instructions.
If you were looking for a point in this month's editorial, dear reader, I am sorry for your disappointment. I just wanted to share a slice of my joy regarding the consistency of family and the miracle of a new life. We in federal medicine are, after all, in the business of life. Remember that fact when your alarm goes off at oh-dark-thirty, and you trudge to the hospital for another day of patient care. You are supporting events like the one I just described. Bless you.
We have found ourselves during December and January a bit further north than we would like to be during winter. TimBuckTwo is presently parked at Dobbins Airforce Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia, about a half hour from Atlanta. Pam and I wanted to be present and available for the birth of our first grandchild. Alden Chester Hoffman was born on December 29th, 2022. As Pam announced to the birthing room when the new baby arrived, Alden is pure 'perfection.' Susan (our oldest) and her husband Dan are both well, although a bit more fatigued lately. It has been a wonderful experience.
Our stay in Atlanta happened to coincide with one of the coldest periods in the region's history. Pam and I knew we would face below-freezing temperatures, but we had no idea how historically cold it would get. Fortunately, in preparation for cold weather, we looked into and purchased the AirSkirts (airskirts.com) undercarriage insulation system (with a military discount). Since I fancy myself a student of physics (we will not speak of my grades from college on the subject), the simple genius of the AirSkirts system spoke to me. The system is centered on inflatable PVC tubes inflated underneath the RV to create a thermal dead space under the RV where water and sewer pipes exist. Like a double-pained thermal window, the trapped air within the AirSkirt tubes and underneath the RV acts as an insulator to the cold (or hot) outside.
Ordering direct from the manufacturer is easy, and they customize the system to fit your RV. Installation and storage of the tubes are simple. They can be completed in 20 minutes (storage bags and an electric air pump are included). We have another round of freezing weather for the next three days. Just before writing this Deep Dive, I re-installed our AirSkirts in preparation for the new cold snap. For extra freeze protection during Atlanta's Freezemaggedon, we added non-toxic antifreeze to our black and gray tanks and drained our freshwater tank. We disconnected the RV water hose (kept it in the shower) and used bottled water during the four-day freeze (tap water from Susan's place for the toilet). In a bit of overkill, we put a space heater under the RV to keep the space contained by the tubes to just above freezing. We have a temperature system with multiple sensors to monitor outside, inside, and under the RV. The AirSkirts kept our basement consistently above freezing despite the temperature plummeting to single digits outside.
I am pleased that the AirSkirts system worked as advertised (no financial relationship). The system is not inexpensive but certainly less costly than a pipe bursting. While Pam and I will continue to chase the sun, I feel more confident about keeping our home in colder climates when circumstances require it. If you are looking to RV in temperature extremes, I recommend visiting the AirSkirts website.
One of the interesting aspects of RV life is a closer relationship to the most important aspects of living. Water, sewer, food, and electricity along with the maintenance of these systems take on greater importance within the compact world of the vehicle. That is not to say that a sticks and bricks homeowner does not deal with these issues, but I would contend in a vastly more simplistic and removed way. For example, when we had a house, water and sewer was a bill I paid occasionally. I could expect these systems to always be available on a whim. Certainly, going to the grocery store was a recurring event. Still, one could buy enough food for a week or two since the house offered a pantry and refrigeration that was palatial compared to what is available on TimBuckTwo. Besides water, electricity is likely the most essential modern convenience I rarely noticed in my old home beyond the electric bill and the infrequent power outage. All of these systems exist on TimBuckTwo, but they demand a level of attention, care, and appreciation that a homeowner likely rarely experiences or could comprehend (until, of course, those systems of modern life are suddenly gone like the folks in Ukraine are sadly experiencing).
We are hanging out for a couple of weeks at the Damn Neck Naval Annex in Virginia Beach. The military campsite here is right on the beach, and it is gorgeous. We are beginning to appreciate longer stays at locations since it allows us time to explore an area. Yesterday, the weather was excellent, and I went ahead and washed TimBuckTwo from stem to stern as a few thousand miles of road grime had built up. I spent this morning doing some routine chores around the RV.
Water is provided at most RV parks, but the quality varies, so we have filters on the hose into the RV, a central RV filter, and we again filter the water we drink. On the road, we rely on our freshwater tank, which requires periodic flushing and sanitizing with a water conditioner. Water is heavy (roughly 8.3lbs per gallon), so it is a bit of a game to carry the minimum amount needed when traveling. Water is a top priority since practically every other system (including our bodies) requires water to function. It is always foremost in our minds.
Most sticks and bricks folks don’t pay any attention to the sewer system until the toilet handle breaks. For TimBuckTwo, we have developed a whole production around the management and disposal of our sewage. Frustratingly, our sewer gauge always reads 2/3 full, even right after emptying the 40 gallon tank. The tank float is likely encrusted with gunk (I try not to imagine it in too much detail) which prevents the adequate function of the tank level sensor. Of course, being wrong about the black tank level can literally lead to a 'shitastrophy.' We both live in fear of the fabled ‘shit rock’ that can develop and eventually disable black tanks that are infrequently dumped or rinsed. We do both religiously.
We are blessed in this country with a food distribution system culminating at the supermarket that is the envy of most countries around the planet. Since we lack an automobile, we must be considerably more prepared for our trips to the grocery store. With backpacks and our electric bike baskets, we can get all the groceries we need, just not in bulk. Storage around our rolling home is always at a premium. We routinely look through the RV for items that have not been used in a month and toss those items off the bus.
Everything on the RV requires electricity to run. We have two deep-cycle house batteries and a starter battery for the engine. Our refrigerator is electric only, so a source of electrons is always a concern. We are fortunate to have a solar panel that trickle charges the batteries. When camping without a plug-in, we have a gas generator to keep the batteries topped up if needed. Fortunately, most campsites in this country have a 30 or 50-amp service, and we can use either. One of the best investments we made to facilitate boondocking (camping without hook-ups) are two Jackery lithium rechargeable batteries that allow us to run certain items while preserving our house batteries for the refrigerator. Again, a little bit more thought goes into every switch we flip.
One convenience I initially did not mention was the internet. TimBuckTwo has a WiFi booster router that allows us to pull in the weakest free WiFi signal and firewall our devices from these unclean services. We (smartly) have two cellular plans (Pam is on AT&T, and Trip is on Verizon), so we usually have a signal and access to the internet in all but the most remote areas. This keeps us in touch with family and email. We both enjoy evening shows (presently binge-watching Rings of Power). We can often stream shows with weak Internet if we have downloaded the content to our iPad before watching. We look for opportunities to suck some free internet at coffee shops and restaurants, but again prior planning is required to make this work. By the way, Roku is the bomb to stream internet content on our 'dumb' RV television.
To be clear, none of what I am describing is overly onerous. The issues I am describing are most certainly all first world problems. A benefit of this lifestyle is we are both more in tune and appreciative of the systems that make life possible in some cases (water & food) and more enjoyable (sewer, electricity, and internet). These past months have made us more grateful and conscious of what is really important. How could that not be a good thing?
Anything worth doing is worth doing well and is usually difficult. My daughters are rolling their eyeballs reading this read since they were plagued by this statement for the entirety of their childhood. For Pam and me, it would have been far easier to have remained in our home, continued the grind at work, and taken no risks. We were living a version of the American Dream we had known about all our lives. With recent economic and inflation events, there is an argument for taking the safe path. It’s a good path, one that we had taken for 30 years. We were feeling stagnated, though, and did not want another decade to pass without exploring a life of travel like we had discussed for most of our marriage. What were we hanging around for with the kids (adults now) launched and doing well? We took a risk and began this life as full-time RVers with an eye toward being full-time sailors in the future. It has made all the difference.
As with the decision to sell our home and everything in it for the riskier road life, similar risk decision points come along as we travel in the RV. Many RV folks find favorite spots on the road they know and trust and spend most of their time in these places they can depend upon. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. For many, revisiting favorite spots as the seasons change for months is their nirvana RV lifestyle. We entered this life of travel because we wanted to see things in this country we otherwise would not be exposed to. This, necessarily, requires a bit more risk-taking and travel. Understand we are not against visiting known spots and the joy of familiarity. We just spent most of the summer at the Brass City camp that we have visited for 30 plus years as a couple. But, as we headed back down the coast, chasing the sun as fall and winter approaches, we decided to take some risks.
Like Acadia, Martha’s Vineyard was a place I certainly had heard of but had never experienced. Pam and her family had visited the island (and Nantucket Island) by boat when she was young, sailing during the summers. She has recalled events from those experiences fondly. We wanted to visit, but taking the RV to the island would have been prohibitively expensive for a short visit. We did find an RV park close to Falmouth and Woods Hole, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. With a little effort (there's that word), we thought we could rely on our trusty electric bikes to access the ferry system to the island and have transportation to explore the island. Pam worked her usual magic to book the RV park and find a tiny home AirBNB on Martha’s Vineyard, between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, where we could stay relatively inexpensively. We were making decisions based on map reading and hope.
After arriving at the RV park and setting up, we spent the next day biking through Falmouth to find the ferry terminal, and also explored Woods Hole. Satisfied we could make the trek by bike to the ferry, we packed our backpacks for our planned three-night stay on the island. This, too, required some effort in planning:
Electric bike chargers and a power cord
Only the footwear we would actually need
Enough clothing to include inclement weather wear
Phones (how did we live without the damn things) and chargers
Only the toiletries we would need
We both recognize that a car would have made all of this ‘planning’ effortless since we could have dragged along anything we wanted. On the other hand, traveling by bike to visit places has some distinct advantages. The journey tends to be far more exciting on a bike since we feel part of the scenery we pass through, and we can go places on a bike that a car cannot. So far, the advantages of not having a vehicle continue to outweigh the disadvantages.
Our travel to Martha's Vineyard was pure adventure, braving the traffic to Falmouth (our new flashing taillights are the bomb), the ferry ride across (beautiful weather and calm seas), and the trek to our tiny home (5 miles from the ferry). Our accommodations on the island were essentially a purpose-built shed, big enough for a queen bed, kitchenette, and composting toilet (Pam was not a fan). It sported an outdoor shower and seating area under hanging lights (a nice touch). There was an outdoor firepit, but sadly, no wood.
The following days were spent riding and walking to explore the sites, mainly on the island's East side. Pam estimates from her smartwatch that we likely walked and rode about 50 miles in three days. Certainly, this would have been effortless with a car, but we really thought we got more of a feel of the island by bike. Some highlights:
Original ‘Black Dog’ saloon and shop in Vineyard Haven.
Getting ‘lost’ on Pennywise bike trail and seeing some untouched parts of MV
The iconic Oak Bluffs Flying Horse Carousel was not open (The proprietor, touched by Pam's memory of the carousel as a child, turned on the music and pushed her around to grab a ring. He even let Pam hold a brass ring for a photograph. Someone got a bit teary over the whole thing.)
Seeing the sailboats in the various harbors and dreaming about our future
The gingerbread houses (Carpenter Gothic)
The Jaws movie bridge
The news story during our stay of Ron Desantis’ flight of immigrants to the island (such an asshat!)
Doris, the 81 yo local who lives across from the bus station, told us about the new station’s development and the electric bus system it supports (In the fall, the buses are running at a reduced schedule, and we did not get to go out to Gay Head lighthouse like we desired. But, no worries, Doris was more fun to talk to anyway. She was a former elementary school teacher on the island who reportedly never got a parking ticket from the police since she knew them all as students. Something Hannah can appreciate)
Martha’s Vineyard Museum, a must-see that holds the first-order Fresnel lens initially used in the Gay Head lighthouse
Coming back to Falmouth a day earlier than planned to avoid an approaching rainstorm – brilliant
In summation, it would have been far less effort to just pass this part of the country by. But, then again, what fun is that. Teddy Roosevelt, who was famous for his traveling expeditions, probably said it best, "“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life ...” I think we will stick to the path less traveled.
Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park were just places I had heard about until this past week. One of the reasons we were both keen on selling everything and jumping into an RV was to experience places we had only heard about or seen on television. After our relaxing and protracted stay at Brass City on Highland Lake, Maine, I was not sure what to expect on our first visit to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. Nevertheless, we were both excited to be back on the road again. Our time at the camp had provided the rest my foot needed to heal, but Pam and I were itching to be a bit more active again. We succeeded spectacularly.
“Wow!” hardly does justice to the absolute beauty of Acadia. If it is not on your bucket list of things to see in the United States, it should be. Pam learned during our visit that she and her family had visited the island when she was a little girl, but she was too small to remember. September after Labor Day (the end of the high-holy season) is a great time to plan a trek to this pristine natural paradise. Crowds have thinned (a bit) and the temperature is perfect.
Acadia National Park was established by President Woodrow Wilson on July 8, 1916…the first park to be established from gifted public lands and the first national park East of the Mississippi River. It boasts the highest mountain on the Atlantic Coast, Cadillac Mountain. It is the most visited National Park in the United States system. One of the most pleasant features of the 76-square mile park is 45 miles of crushed stone 'carriage roads' that weave around the park's mountains and valleys. These special roads open to hikers, bicycles, and horses were a gift of John D. Rockefeller. They provide unparalleled views of mountain lakes, bogs, and sheer mountain cliffs.
While I realize I have been a bit of a broken record describing the advantages of our electric bikes, our primary means of transportation was perfect for exploring the park. I felt a bit sad for the 'cagers' in their cars whizzing by too fast to appreciate what they were passing. The bikes made the trek to Bar Harbor breeze. Bar Harbor is a beautiful New England town sporting a seaside walk and all the bars and bistros one could hope for in just a few blocks. Our first 25-mile ride around the park perimeter had us dipping our toes in the cold Atlantic waters at Sandy Beach, and we had lunch on the seaside cliffs near Thunder Hole. The views of the ocean surf slamming into the rocky cliffs were humbling. Later we explored the carriage road system around Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond for an additional 27 miles. The scenery has been breathtaking.
Pam and I are a bit weary from our constant activity but in the most pleasant way. Despite our efforts to see everything, we both feel we have just scratched the surface of what this place offers. We will be coming back.
It is the beginning of September, and we are about 48 hours from getting back on the road with TimBuckTwo. Our plan to hide in Maine from the summer heat plaguing much of the nation has been tremendously successful. We are itching to get back on the road, though. This is the most extended period that we have ever stayed at the camp. We have thoroughly enjoyed our visits with our girls and their boys, Karon, Toni, Amy, Dave, and our niece, Chace, and her friends Oli and Rosie who all made the trek to join us at Brass City. I would also be remiss not to mention the incredible help our neighbors and friends, Chris and Lynn Peet, have given us during our protracted visit. Chris helped us find storage for the RV at the Bethel Airport and loaned us his truck for various tasks throughout the summer. Lastly, thank you to Pam’s sister, Janet, who graciously allowed us to use her camp across the street when we needed it.
Perhaps the most exciting change to Brass City is completing the new boat house and dock. The much loved but increasingly impractical former boat house that sat on the water over a log cradle filled with boulders is no more. The old structure was continuously worn down by the Maine winter lake ice. If we had lost the structure, we would have lost our rights to have a boat house next to the lake, as environmental codes have changed. However, thanks to our local contractor, Andrew Lowell, we were able to give up the structure on the water for a new boathouse at the lake’s edge. We also now have a removable dock over the old cradle boulders. Andrew has done an incredible job, and the new boat house is fantastic. No more worrying about the winter ice destroying the structure.
Hannah and I split the cost of a new metal fishing boat for the camp. It came with an electric trolling motor that moves us along at a perfect speed for fly casting. I bought a new pair of oars and locks for the craft. I added leather oar sleeves and cut and sewed them on by hand. It was a very satisfying project, and the oar sleeves came out wicked good. Hannah named the new camp boat BAYBO in honor of our recently deceased pups. The sting of loss from those two still eats at Pam and me. Baylee and Bosun's collars have joined the collars of dogs past hanging from a nail in the Brass City living room.
With so many visitors, we had initially rented a car to help with trips around the state and visits to the Saco River for drift tubing down the river (a sublime pleasure in the summer heat, don’t forget the extra tube for the beer cooler). Later, with fewer obligations to visitors, we relied again on the electric bikes. The bikes continue to be our preferred method of travel.
The timelessness of this place continues. So much about life on the lake and in the camp is comfortably the same and familiar. This, of course, is an illusion. A camp this old (over a hundred years now) has and will continue to require attention. It needs to be visited and used during the summer. Like so many family and friends before, we have tried to leave the place in a bit better shape than we found it. I am pleased and proud that our children see the wisdom in these efforts and are asking how they can help (no worries, we have a list of tasks for next year). We are so fortunate to have this slice of summer paradise on Highland Lake to visit in summer and reconnect with family and friends.
I texted the girls that I was putting up our fly rods for another year. Closing and leaving the camp for another summer is always a bit bitter. Samantha promptly texted back to remind me that the next time I pull out my trusty fly rod, there will be a grandchild here. That sure put a smile on my face. I hope he likes to fish.
#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.
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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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.
#2 ELECTRIC BIKES
Pam and I elected to begin are 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 peddle assist to 3 and instantly was cruising down the road at 17 miles an hour with hardly any effort in the highest gear. It was like riding a motor scooter that requires a little pedalling. 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 the bikes. Still, I think we can easily handle a 20-mile trip (40 round trips). We'll see about that car.
#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.