Sunday, October 20, 2013

Headed for Skyline Drive

One of the items on my VA/MD/DC bucket list was a trip down Skyline Drive. As soon as the National Parks reopened, I (and a million other people) started making plans. I had hoped to do a day off swap, work Sunday & be off Mon-Tue, but I was unable to get Tuesday off. I figured the drive would be jammed, but the window of opportunity was closing rapidly. The fall foliage report said the north & central sections were already past peak and most of the campgrounds in the park close Oct. 27th. The weather was supposed to be nice on Sunday & Monday but the lows are already down in the low 30's. So I needed to go this weekend. I have a killer furnace in my PC Cruiser, but my batteries are shot. I can't really run the furnace all night without running them down. I also have a Mr. Buddy portable propane furnace, which I am not 100% sure I like, and definitely don't trust enough to sleep with it running.

 I got out of work at 11 am. By the time I got done the prepwork I should have done earlier, stowing stuff, checking tire pressures, etc., it was 11:45. One of the things I did was take down the pseudo-tieback curtains.  They were faded and grungy, and kept getting caught in the mechanism of the blinds.  I think it makes the window look bigger too.

I had thought I might go down 15 and stop at home for some things I forgot like the air mattress, then take 66 to Front Royal and Skyline Drive. I decided not to do that after all and took Rt 7 west. In retrospect, I should have gone the other way. While it was scenic, there are slow and narrow sections, the drive through all of Front Royal was annoying and I was already a bit tired when I got to Skyline. And that road requires concentration.

I arrived at the start of Skyline Drive in Front Royal at around 1:15pm.   And traffic was at a standstill. I didn't take note of how long it took but it wasn't too awful. Even in my short RV with a 9'10" height, I got scraped by a tree branch as I was approaching the entrance gate.

I had my Annual National Parks pass out and ready and breezed right through. I had heard all the overlooks would be jammed and that was true. I stopped at two that were larger and had a few spaces, but the air was hazy and the sky was dark & blustery so it wasn't terribly photogenic. Though the sun did try to peek through at one point.

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For me, the most impressive part of the drive was a grove of a gorgeous trees in a valley.  A lot of other folks thought so too as there were a ton of cars pulled over.  No room for me...  :-(

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I drove the rest of the way to Big Meadows without stopping. I thought I'd get to the campground, check in, and go for a hike. I got to the CG and found my site. Wow, I thought it would be bigger as it said 35' max length, and said the site was 25' wide. It was a bit of a struggle to back my 22 footer in due to trees and posts. And the paved portion was only slightly wider than the rig. I can't imagine how someone with a 30 footer would do it. But it seems like the 12' tunnel near Luray keeps a lot of the big rigs out. I am the only rv in this row, the rest are all tents. The fact that this is a generator-free loop may also contribute to that.

My campsite in Big Meadows. The trees here were pretty bare.

10/19/2013 4:06:45 PM

I love the ease of setup compared to tent camping. I park, set the brake, drop the hydraulic leveling jacks and I'm there. It was cold and windy as heck and I was watching people trying to put up their tents from the comfort of my couch. By this time it was around 4pm and sprinkling, and the fact that I was at work at 5am was catching up with me. I decided there was no hiking in my near future. :-) I figured it was a good time to finally wire up my solar panel. I'd been putting that off for forever.  I originally bought a Harbor Freight setup that worked ok but started falling apart almost immediately.  It went back  pretty quick and I bought a Renogy 100watt panel and a Sunforce charge controller but hadn't assembled it yet as I am a bit intimidated by electrical work.  It turned out to be a snap.   I picked up some landscape wire from Lowes and attached MC4 connectors to one end, the one that hooks to the panel. I attached the other end to the controller with wire nuts. The output from the controller had circle terminals on the ends and I had batt clips with those as well. I connected them with bolts, nuts and washers, it's a kinda gerry-rigged setup. But I hooked it up to the battery and it appeared to be charging! Woohoo! I then used a bungee to secure the panel to the picnic table. Yeah, it was that windy. I then walked up towards the lodge. I was only feet from my site when I realized there were deer everywhere. And they were pretty unfazed with my presence. 

Deer at my campsite in Big Meadows.

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More deer in the campground

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I continued on up to the Lodge and headed to the Taproom. It was a disappointment. The decor/ambiance  was lacking and the service abysmal. I ordered a drink and planned to order dinner.  The drink was a really yummy concoction and I was off to a good start.

I was really looking forward to having one of these cider drinks....

50 minutes later I still had my 1st empty drink sitting in front of me and hadn't had my food order taken. So I left. Probably just as well, I couldn't find the trail in the dark and the roads were a bit scary to walk. I eventually found the CG again, lit a jar candle for warmth and light, made myself another drink and was asleep soon after.

The lights on the rig are little led lights with a solar-charged battery back.  They are not as obnoxiously bright as they look, this was a long exposure.  You can see my new panel set up next to the picnic table.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

This post is not about traveling, it's about how come I'm ABLE to travel like I do.  I didn't hit the lotto or inherit a bundle, I made saving a priority when I was young, and now I have the money to do the things I really want.  Within reason.  And that's what it's all about.  But you're never too old to start and every little bit helps.

So, I know I'm gonna piss off some friends of mine with this, but I kinda hope this shutdown serves as a wakeup call for some folks.  If you can't miss a paycheck without paying your mortgage or needing to go to a food bank, you need to work on your finances.

There were two things I did when I first got hired that helped immeasurably.  First was setting up an allotment from every paycheck that went into a not-very-accessible account.  In my case it was the OKC credit union. I have an account there to this day and I *still* don't have an ATM card for it.  The only way I can get that money is by writing a check.  I think I started out with $50, then later on raised it every time we got a raise.  Same thing when I bought my house.  Every time we got a raise I put more $$ towards principal payments.  It hurts for a little while then you adjust.  Obviously, you need to also max out your TSP contribution ASAP as well.  I started out with the minimum amount that got full matching, and by the end of the first or second year I was maxing out.  Another painful thing when you first start, but when it comes out of the check before you see it, you adjust.

The other thing I did was claim single-zero on my deductions and then take that big refund and send it directly to the mortgage co. Before I bought the house I put those refunds in savings for the downpayment. I paid my first house off in less than 10 years.  Of course, it was a cheap house.  I didn't buy what the realtor said I could afford.  I knew better.  Do you REALLY need that 5000sf house that will cost a fortune to heat & cool?

My first house, in the process of having the roof and siding replaced.

Everyone has areas where they can trim the fat.  Do you really need a new car every two years? I'm on my second one, it's a 2006 with about 100,000 miles on it now, and I paid cash for it when I bought it.  The first one was 8 yrs old when I replaced it, and I coulda squeezed a few more years out of it but I needed something bigger.  Or thought I did, anyway.  And I doubt I'll ever buy another new car, I'll buy someone elses 2 yr old trade-in and let them take the huge depreciation hit.  But I haven't had a car payment in this century.  I'm on my third new TV too.  :-)  Granted, I spend a TON of $$ on computer and camera gear and travel.  But I only started that after I got a cushion.

My very first new car, 1998

If you smoke, consider quitting.  You can save big $$ and feel better.  If you eat out all the time, try to cut back on that.  Learn to pack a lunch.  Keep all your receipts for a week and add it up.  You might be surprised.  If you use a credit card, make sure it's one that gives you cashback.  Preferably one with no fee.  Some grocery stores offer $$ off gas purchases. This may or may not be a great deal....   Something silly I still do is throw every bit of loose change in a big vase.  At some point when it gets full I hit up one of those coinstar machines.  You'd be surprised how much $$ you can save without trying.  There are a million advice pages on how to start bootstrapping yourself out of debt and begin to live within your means.  Worrying about money is a killer.  It doesn't have to be.

Standing on the beach looking north towards my property in the Bahamas, which I purchased in 2004.  With cash.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

10/5 St. Joe Beach....Crabs & Galaxies

We had planned to go eat lunch on the waterfront in Port St. Joe, but since there was no dog friendly places to go we ended up getting Subway and heading back to the beach house.

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Another teeny crab
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I did a little light painting on the foreground with an LED during this exposure.
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Ok, I finally got some use out of that damn tripod :-)
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Milky Way with some clouds.
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Milky Way with clouds
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