Monday, September 10, 2012

Legends Goes Rv'ing (Day 1 and 2)

The Learning Curve

Like any small business in a tight economy, Kathy and I have been adjusting and changing plans to adapt. One of our biggest needs is downsizing the cost of travel. We've been somewhat spoiled, always staying in hotels and motels. Nothing fancy, we try to go as cost effective as possible; but, we have our “criteria” that each place must meet. That has often left us searching when we pull into a destination and we haven't always been able to find one that met all of our requirements, the biggest of which is internet, but, must also allow our two dogs, Kaydee and Riley.

This past summer Kathy started hinting around at changing from the Hotel/Motel plan, and camping instead. She first suggested that we get a tent, but, I quickly nixed that one. The idea of the two of us, along with two dogs, in a tent, at the mercy of Mother Nature, just doesn't appeal to this computer geek turned history lover. After I convinced her just how bad of an idea that was, she turned her focus to Pop Up campers. Ok, that's more doable, but, do we really want to go out and buy a Pop Up without doing this “camping” thing first? Our good friends, David and Tim Cattalino, who publish books on RV's and Camping through their company Roundabout Publications, knowing Kathy for probably 20 plus years, and knowing me since 2003, answered that question with a resounding “NO”.

Ok, so how to get the RV/Camping experience without buying an RV? In comes Kathy's sister Kristy and her husband Geno. They just happen to have a Starcraft Travel Star camper. Alright, now we are in business! Kathy spent some quality time planning out a trip that would take us on a camping adventure to parts East of the Mississippi River, with the idea that we would then be able to truly judge if this was the way for “us” to travel. We figured all that money we are spending on a cell phone with a data plan would pay off, and when there wasn't any wireless internet available, we could use the phone as a hot spot.

Geno says I did pretty good at learning the in's and out's of setting up, etc. He got a chuckle or two the first time we hooked it up to the Legends Mobile and I freaked out at various noises. “Are you sure that thing isn't about to fall off the hitch?” “No worries Dave, it's just settling in.”  He could tell by the look on my face that our planned 11 day outing would be an adventure, with a few stories to tell (and some to probably keep secret).

Day 1-Warsaw to Lake Rend Illinois

And so it was, this past Friday, that after carefully stocking up the RV fridge and cabinets, making sure to pack all the comforts of home, we headed out from Warsaw, Missouri to our first destination, Rend Lake, Illinois (just outside of Whittington). Kathy's plan took us toward St. Louis, but she made sure to keep me off the interstate at first so I could get my feet wet pulling a Camper. Glad she did, as I was pretty “white knuckled” that first few hours. It didn't help that Kathy came up with her usual “I've got a short cut” schemes, one of which wound up getting her lost and back to the same area of I-64 in Illinois over and over again. That's due to the fact Kathy has really settled into being a Missourian. “I don't think this is the right way Kathy.” “Show me it isn't”. When she finally gave in and told me to follow our Tom Tom GPS instead, we booked on down the road, pulling into Lake Rend with plenty of daylight left.

Kaydee and Riley enjoying Lake Rend
with storm clouds brewing. 
Of course, we needed that extra daylight, as being novice campers, we were going over the checklist more than once, making sure we had it all right. Leveled, check. Stabilizers down, check. Dogs on leashes, check. Hey, that fridge really did work on batteries..and so on. After getting everything settled, we sat down at the picnic table beside the camper and took in the lake view, noticing pretty quick the storm clouds building in the background. It wasn't long before the camp host drove up to alert us to the Severe Thunderstorm, with 60 to 80 mph winds, heading directly for our nice little set up.

This is where Kathy and I both became full fledged Missourians. Me being raised in the Texas Panhandle, Kathy in Southwest Kansas, living in the Kansas City area for over a decade, we both said “Storms? Show Me.”

And so, after negating the need in following the camp guides instruction to the nearest safe shelters, we brought in the dogs, settled into our very first night in the new mobile motel, and pondered on just how hard headed we were being. Luckily for us, the RV only swayed a little, and with just a couple of moments of “shoulda, woulda, coulda,” we weathered the storm. This state campground didn't have WiFi, and unfortunately, Kathy's new “smart” phone wasn't so smart after all, so couldn't get on the internet. Kathy asked me why she could receive and make calls, but not get internet.  I showed her the "E" symbol for ATT's Edge Network and told her that unless that was 3 or 4G we would probably be out of luck. "E means Internet is Empty babe."  Giving up on our normal “geekin” routine, we called it a night.

Day 2 - Whittington, IL to French Lick Indiana 

After a little tossing and turning getting used to our new sleeping arrangements, we awoke ready to push on out to our first day of actual history travel. Since our campsite didn't have a direct water hookup, therefore nothing to get rid of at a dump station, there wasn't a lot to do before heading out. We took note that despite all the wind the night before, the campsite and state park seemed to be intact, and the camper made it through unscathed. Our first item on the agenda was a quick stop in Benton, Illinois. This is where 1920's mobster Charley Birger would become the last person "publicly"  hanged Illinois. The town still displays the gallows, noose and all, and it was a good picture opportunity, not to mention great practice for me in figuring out where to park with camper in tow.

After Benton, Kathy's next target was New Harmony, Indiana, just across the state line. In Crossville, we followed our Tom Tom GPS (which is probably 6 years old by now) and turned on a highway that would take us straight there, just 7 miles down the road. Now, you would think that we would pause and reconsider upon immediately reading “Road Closed 6 Miles Ahead, Local Traffic Only”, but no, we are still on the “Show Me” tour, and just couldn't imagine that there wouldn't be a way to get past the closure 1 mile from New Harmony.

Standing at the Wabash River, at the now closed Harmony Way Toll Bridge that seems so long forgotten, but, only permanently closed since May, we could only imagine New Harmony on the other side. The fading red sign announcing “Entering Indiana” still hangs high on the trellice over the bridge. The Toll Booth, though a ghost of it's former self, still standing to beckon visitors across the state line. Surprisingly, we weren't disappointed that we had ignored the signs telling us this road was closed. Dorky as it is, this is one of the things Kathy and I enjoy. Running into history in the form of ghost towns, and the occasional ghost bridge. Surely there's a story to be told about this relic, sentenced to rust away over the Wabash as a constant reminder of it's once more fruitful days. A quick search shows that it was built with private funds back in 1930, but started having structural issues in 2007 and long story short, several years later there just wasn't enough money to "fix" everything that needed fixed.  

“I saw a cross roads back a mile or so. I bet we could take it and get there”, Kathy says, announcing another 'I know a short cut' scheme. “I don't think so honey, didn't look like a road that would get us across the river.” “Show Me”.

One of the things I haven't practiced a lot is backing up the camper for a long distance. I do alright backing into the campgrounds or into the driveway, but much more than that, notta. So as the county road she had me turn on changed from asphalt to gravel, then started changing to dirt, I got my first crash coarse in backing up to a cross roads we had passed at least 500 feet back. You know, it doesn't take a lot to turn a camper going backwards, and if you turn too much, you wind up snaking your way back and forth just to keep it on the road. Yeah, I figured that out pretty quick, but got the practice I needed and by the time we reached the cross road, I was ready to back another 500 (but, not this moment).

By the time we reached New Harmony it was already lunch time. There's a lot to see here, so we found the visitors center, parked in the back lot, with the plan of doing a walking tour followed by sandwiches in the camper. This is a pretty neat town, established in 1814 by the Harmony Society, a group of "Harmonists" decided to build a town in the wilderness.  In 1825 they decided to sell it to an industrialist and social reformer, Robert Owen, who wanted to create utopian as a social experiment. Although an economic failure after only a couple of years,  the community became known as a center for advances in education and scientific research.  Residents established the first free library, a drama club, and public school system.
Roofless Church in New Harmony, IN
Today, in addition to the numerous restored buildings in the historic district, you will find the Roofless Church and Atheneum. The Atheneum is the towns visitors center which opened in 1979, and in addition to historical information, provides the starting point of guided tours if you wish.  The way we travel, we decided to pick up the information and tour on our own. As we walked through the town we kept seeing tree trimming trucks and a couple with power poles attached pulling through town.  After running into felled trees, large and small,   along with scatterings of branches, we realized just how fortunate we were at Lake Rend during that storm.  One tree in particular, probably at least 100 feet high, laying on the ground completely uprooted, pretty much convinced me that next time we would seek better shelter. I guess you could say it "showed us".

After a couple more pics of the abandoned toll bridge, and a quick lunch in the camper, it was time to mosey over toward Poseyville and down the road toward Ferdinand, once known as the wooden shoe village. Established in 1840, this was a quick picture opportunity to see the Monastery of  Immaculate Conception, which began in 1867. This is the monastery of The Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, who have been serving the area since.  They immediately began teaching at the Ferdinand parish school, and in 1870 opened a boarding school for girls.  In 1914 the community established a training school for teachers, St. Benedict Normal College, which closed in 1970. The girls boarding school would also be victim to declining population and closed in 2000.

By this time we needed to find our next camping spot near French Lick, Indiana. Not planning ahead, this turned into one of our motel searches, as we bounced from spot to spot.  One campground appeared to be just for long termers. Yet another, had no trees, no guests, and looked like it could have been run out of our own backyard.  So we decided to backtrack to Patoka Lake State Park instead.  Another great campground, this one with a fresh water filling station, but still no internet.  "What does your smart phone say"? I asked, knowing that we probably were still on E.  "Still looking for a G spot", Kathy replied.  Gonna have to work on her cell phone lingo.

We've got a G Spot today (Day 3), so I'm catching up on the blog.  Will write about our adventure into Kentucky next blog as we traveled from French Lick to Lake Cumberland.

In the meantime,  you can see the highlights in our East of the Mississippi Facebook photo album HERE.

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