Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Orlando And Beyond...

Sunday, Friday 15th

Jim from the RV park and I had talked several times before we actually met. Our travel arrangements were odd he agreed, but yes, he could fit us all in one site. "I'll have to charge you for all those extra people though." That was the deal. Oh, and if we were going to arrive after 6:30pm to just give him a call and he'd tell us our site number. We could settle up on Sunday morning if I could just stop by the office before he left for church.

That we did.

He didn't charge us for everyone though, "I'll just pretend you have 7."

"Checkout time is 11am but I don't start shootin' until 3."

We showered, played outside, ate hot food and shopped. I had heard that once you cross the state line into Florida all the prices increase. We found Wal Mart and Sam's Club (Lola, Kris's navigation system, was no help. This was strike 1 for Lola...) and stocked up on food for the week in Orlando. We left the RV park very close to 3pm. No sight of Jim with a sniper rifle.

I had planned on using this time (with internet at the campground) to get specific directions to the Wal-Mart in Orlando where we would be boondocking but I forgot. The plan was to get as close to Disney on Sunday as possible. Our reservations at Fort Wilderness Campground were for Monday and we wanted to arrive as early as possible.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term "boondocking", let me explain... Boondocking, or dry camping, is nothing new, usually used in reference to camping in out of the way places or off the beaten path. Recently, it has taken on a new meaning for RVers. Sam Walton was rumored to be an avid camper and family man and often encouraged RVer's to use his lots for overnight stops. Marketing brilliance on his part. Happy campers spend money in the store...Since his death policies have changed for Wal-Mart and not all of them allow parking overnight. Some due to city ordinances, some just because they don't want the hassle.

Every year there are rumors that it will no longer be legal but every year RVers boondock without incident. Mostly, campgrounds and RV parks spread these untruths because they fear the loss of business. There are also a certain set of unwritten rules to be followed, much like salvage yard etiquette.

There are lists of "no parking" Wal-Marts and lists of ones who happily welcome them freely on the web. I had printed off the "no parking" Wal mart list just in case we needed it but was going to nail down a specific location from Georgia. ( I ran out of planning steam and time before we left home!) I knew my mom had a copy so I called her (She was already in Disney with my brother and his family) and got a few addresses.

Strike 2 for Lola occurred on Highway 4 in Orlando when her directions were unclear and Kris's car and our bus got separated. Our walkie talkies were not within range and I didn't have Kris's cell phone number, but she had ours, so we drove around looking for the Wal-Mart on our own. (Orlando is really a hoppin' place, even at 8:30 on a Sunday night!) "We" stopped and asked directions at a gas station. (Who went in to ask? I'll give you one guess) and found that we were not far off track.

Enroute I got a call from Kris, Lola had redeemed herself and led my sister to the proper place. Even though it was not listed on the restricted list it had "No Overnight Parking" signs all over the lot. I didn't tell Matt yet, he was in no mood to deal with that little tidbit. I thought we should get there first and talk about it later.

No more than 2 minutes after we arrived in the lot next to Kris's car a security vehicle pulled up along side of us. My window was open and I called out to her that we would not be staying here. I received a blank stare...maybe she couldn't tell my window was open...I said it again. Nothing. Matt waved at her, she rolled her eyes and drove away.

Tension was rising, we were tired and no one was used to lapses in my planning. Up to this point, EVERYTHING was planned out. Where we would stay...what we would eat... and it had all worked out. I don't think quickly on my feet (except sometimes) so in order for me to feel secure, I like to have a plan. This particular Wal-Mart was located in a mini mall and there were RVs and a few semi's parked in the out lot. We nestled into a spot between Denny's and McDonalds among the other drivers and just to be sure, I went into Denny's and asked the manager about the parking situation. He told me "They'll kick your butt out of their lot, but you can park in mine." I wanted to hug him and told him as much.

We put the bus into sleep mode and settled in for the night. At 2 am I was awakened by a strange sound and looked out the window just in time to see all the lights in the entire block go out. Very creepy. Very Dark. Sirens in the distance. Alarms in the stores. Very tired. Very sleepy...


There were a few white knuckle moments while driving down but all in all, it was a pleasant and easy trip. The bus tended to "lean" to the right, so I constantly felt like I was fighting to stay in my lane. This wasn't a problem for most of the trip, but when we hit the rain... with 12 inches between the bus and the barrier... and semi's passing on the left...I felt like I could cry.

Matt didn't seem to have a problem keeping the speed consistent but I did. I think maybe it was the position of my foot on the peddle. I got better as the miles wore on but my leg ached from the constant pressure.

We averaged between 8-10 MPG depending on speed which ranged from 55-65 (20-28 RPM).

Travel log:
Valdosta, Georgia to Orlando, Florida
Highway 75 to Florida Turnpike to Highway 4
260 miles
5 hours

Trip South Totals:
1475 Miles
32.5 hours (including potty stops and breaks but not sleeping time)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Knoxville to Valdosta, Georgia

At some point Friday night/Saturday morning, it started to rain. I could hear it before I was awake and my groggy brain went through the "camping in the rain checklist". (deja vu?)

What's outside that needs to come in?
Who's going to get soaked?

Then I remembered...I have a bus. And I fell soundly back to sleep.

Saturday, February 14

Hailey's 17th birthday.
Sleeping in a Flying J truck stop in Knoxville.

We slept late and took our time in the morning, here you can see the bunk board (or " 'cross the bed" as the kids like to call it) in action.

the boys played cards (full contact of course)

We hooked up the computer, paid for a days worth of WiFi and took turns checking our stuff.

Made eggs and toast for breakfast with my sisters cool machine and got on our way about 10:30 am

I must say, the road conditions in Kentucky were pretty bumpy...we lost a piece of interior molding on one particularly bad stretch and decided that we'd definitely have to make room for a spare tire somewhere before the next trip.

Driving through Altanta was OK. With my sister driving behind us acting as Wing Man, lane changes and traffic weaving were not so bad.

The boys thought this was a very inappropriate place for Power Ups. (Too many video games perhaps?)

Traditionally for us, vacations involve a mad dash to "just get there", but due to an unexpected day off (after our Disney tickets were purchased) we had extra time...4 days to get there. After doing some research, I found a state park in Georgia that I knew would appeal to the masses but I just couldn't make it work for a over-night stopping place. So, get this...we just stopped there anyway.

Had dinner and toured the falls.
...Pay no attention to the fact that this boy has been wearing the same thing for the last 3 days...
These were everywhere, we had never seen them and the kids thought they were the coolest thing.
We packed back in our vehicles and were on our way once again...destination: River Park RV Park in Valdosta, Georgia. 18 miles from the border. Showers. Hot food. Internet.

Arrived 9 pm

Travel log:
Knoxville, Tennessee to Valdosta, Georgia
HIghway 75
430 miles
10 hours

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lowell To Knoxville (or 40 Hours Straight Without A Nap-Part 2)

Friday, February 13th

"My eye is 99.9% better than yesterday" Kris says as she explains how she received a chemical burn during her Wednesday hair appointment. Her husband, Dan, was unable to get time off to join us on our Disney trek, but felt confident letting her caravan with us as long as Matgyvr would agree to take care of anything that malfunctioned along the way. Have I told you that Matt can fix anything?

We got underway by 7 am.

This is what she saw for the next 3 days.

Well, that, and this...(left to right) Keaton, Kieran and Ryland

Traveling with Matt is very laid back. He never dodges an opportunity to stop for potty breaks, snacks or cousining. And when traveling with 8 kids, (7 of them boys) that's a good thing. We brought the walkie talkies to communicate those needs to each other.

My sister had her 3 boys during the same 4 years I had my last 3. When they get together, all we do is count heads, distinguishing faces is nearly impossible.

This also gave him to chance to make sure everything was up to snuff with the bus.
We started to notice a lot of Bus Kote on the school buses in Kentucky. We got a little science mixed in when we talked about the why's of potholes and geography while they followed along in their own atlas's.
We took turns driving. I navigated using Along I-75 while Matt drove (Amazing book, by the way! I wish he wrote them for ALL the interstates in the US - I'd buy them! Makes the time fly.) and he slept while I drove. By evening, I was exhausted and getting pretty punchy. I kept forgetting to push the button on the walkie talkie when talking to Kris.

We arrived at our resting spot in Knoxville without incident in the mountains around 7 pm, put the bus in "sleep mode" and crashed at 9 pm.

In order to accommodate all 11 of us, Matt fashioned a carpeted piece of plywood to fit between the 2 bottom bunks creating a king size space for an air mattress. It slips under the regular mattress when not in use and doubled as a table (set on collapsible saw horses and covered with a tablecloth) when we arrived at the campground in Disney. It was a tight fit, but cozy and warm (and better than sleeping in a car!)

Travel log:
Lowell, Indiana to Knoxville Tennesee
Highways 65, 64 and 75
516 miles
12 hours

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's Worse?

...Not having internet while on vacation?


...Thinking you'd have internet while on vacation but not actually having it?

I know my answer.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

40 Hours Straight With A 2 Hour Nap (part 1)

Fact: You have to brush your teeth after 24 hours even if you haven't slept.

We got a little bit of a late start on Thursday. At 7 pm as Matt was securing the extension cord under the bus, the last job before we were to pull out, he snapped the brake line.

After the ^@#*&()!!!!!!!!! feeling passed and we were able to think clearly we realized what a blessing it home, with all his tools, knowing where the stores are, NOT MOVING!... Matt said it just snapped when he bumped it, it was that brittle. A few hours and a few trips to the store and we were all set once again. Have I told you how much I love that Matt can fix anything? Have I also told you how nervous he was about driving through the mountains in Tennessee anyway?

Thursday, February 12th 10:15 PM
Our plan was to drive through Chicago as late as we could as we have not had a lot of practice driving the bus in heavy traffic. Matt started the trip to make sure the brakes were working properly then we switched and I got to drive through Milwaukee. We stitched positions again before Chicago.

The other advantage of our little brake mishap was that there was hardly another soul on the road with us in the wee hours. We sailed right through to our first scheduled stopping place and arrived at 3:45 am.

Travel log:
Green Bay to Lowell, Indiana
Highways 43 to 94 to 65
268 miles
5.5 hours

Friday, February 13th 5:30 am (Exactly on time)
My sister, Kris and her boys arrived at our meeting place. That was the downside of our little brake mishap, 3 fewer hours of sleep than we anticipated.

I greeted her with a hug and a short explanation of our situation. She had a mishap of her own to share. The conversation went like this:

Hi! We have new brakes!
Hi! I have a corneal abrasion!

We went inside the "Flying J" to catch up and let rest have a little more sleep before we headed out as a caravan.

(to be continued)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last Call!

That's the cry here at our house.

Last load of laundry. Last sweep of the house for useful travel items. Last look at snow for a week and a half. Last cuddle from the kitties. Last call for bus tweaks.

We've done a lot to the bus in the last few weeks that I haven't chronicled. We'll have lots of pictures of us on the bus as we wend our way south, so I'll mention them as we go.

On a side note, Griffin got a nasty sliver two weeks ago. I thought he was being a little over dramatic as he writhed in pain while I was tending to his foot. (But there was still that small voice that told me there might be something more to it...Momsenses?) 2 days later we we're pleased when a puss bubble caused a small sliver to come out. Thinking that was the end of it, because I could see absolutely nothing more, we moved on with our lives. He stopped complaining and I stopped checking his foot each day for signs of infection.

Today, as he finished his last shower, he called me in to see what was under his band aid. This is what was still in there. It must have been straight in. YUCK

He's now tied for 1st place in the ongoing "Best Sliver" contest.

We saved it in a baggie for Matt to see when he gets home. Wouldn't you?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bicycles, Birds, Bermudas, and the Bus

It was above freezing yesterday for the first time in months.

It felt balmy. My thermometer read 39 degrees.

Unbelievably, I witnessed people on bicycles and people wearing shorts. But I also heard birds singing.

That's what I've been missing...bird songs. The groundhog is wrong I just know it. Spring is just around the corner.

Our snow is melting which is good and bad. Good because I'm sick of it. Good because the ice path on the driveway is finally melted making the trek to the back door a little less treacherous.

Bad because we've been using it as a ramp at the base of the driveway. Normally to get the bus out of the driveway we need to cut across the boulevard so the bottom doesn't scrape on the ground but with all that packed snow there, the bus just glides out. Our apron is so steep, and our road so bowed that even my van scrapes if I back out straight.

Bad because, even though the ice/snow at the base of the driveway is melting, the 4 foot banks on the boulevard are not. Which means, until we chop our way through 2 months of road remnants and ice chunks, we're snowed in. And the bus is scheduled to leave for Disney in 5 days.

I know what the boys will be doing today!

If it hits 42, like the forecast says, I might even go out there, in my shorts, to listen to the birds and catch some rays while hacking away with my pick axe.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I Might Be On To Something

I love patterns, I love numbers, I love manipulating numbers and things into patterns. I love symmetry. I love palindromes. I love rhythm.

I love that growing up I had:
1 Grandma
1 Grandpa
1 Aunt
1 Uncle
1 Mom
1 Dad
1 Brother
1 Sister

I have:
1 Husband
and for the first 4.5 years of parenthood, I had 1 daughter and 1 son.

The kids birthdays are in order by months except for one small 18 day slip in August.
#1 Febuary
#2 May
#3 September
#4 August
#5 November

What I'm not loving so much is:
1 Bathroom
Which means:
1 Toilet
1 Sink
1 Bathtub

We deal with our circumstances pretty well. Since we homeschool, we're not usually rushed in the mornings. We take turns. We spread things out. Luckily we have mostly boys which means we have options in times of emergency or occupancy conflicts.

But, when we've all been gone all day, an all day basketball tournament...and we all arrive home with the same thing in mind...The line outside the door is not the only issue. It's the plumbing. I'm plunging a particularly stubborn clog yesterday I have a great revelation:

"Hey guys, I just thought of a great new Wii game!"

Do you think I'm on to something?