Captain’s Log Days 11-19

Captain’s Log Day 11

It’s another long drive day for us, we’re trying to get from Stone Mountain (near Atlanta) to Harrisburg, PA today – and Chaplain CT sometime tomorrow.  We’re quite expert and breaking camp by now; it takes maybe an hour to pull up all the sleeping bags and fold all the couches and tables back out, to shower and freshen up, to reload fresh water tanks and dump the other tanks.  We spend another hour in a local Walmart replacing basic supplies and then we’re on the road.

The kids have figured out how to keep themselves busy on the drive.  We’ve got a TV and a Wii, and some amount of reading.  There’s singing and tickle fights, and lots of napping.  There’s food-making and grumbling about dish cleanup.  We camp out in the middle of Pennsylvania.  We pass the 3500 miles traveled mark, the 1/2-way point.

Captain’s Log Day 12

We break camp at daylight without waking the kids, and drive maybe two hours before the kids bother to roll out of bed.  RV “camping” is a real trick.  We make it around New York with only 1 truly crazy driver incident; a bright red pickup truck came blazing up the left side and was clearly out of room to pass us, but did so anyways.  He sliced across at a 45-degree angle in front of us. Had I not slammed the brakes and swerved we clearly would have hit the truck; and such a hit would have rolled him.

We finally pull into my Uncle Bill’s farm in Connecticut around 4pm.  We settle the RV, then meander down to the river behind the farm, where one of my cousins is RV camping.  We swim in the river, cook burgers on the campfire and sit around visit until way past dark.

Captain’s Log Day 13

We hang out in the farm all day; some of the kids swim in the river or fish or shoot fireworks off after dark.  I mostly hung out and caught up with the family news.  Shelley & I attended the local church wine-tasting, which was basically a chance to drink a bunch of wines that somebody else bought, and do more catching up on family news.


Captain’s Log Day 14

Shelley & I borrow a cousin’s car and drive to Cape Cod for the day.  OMG’s a car is SO much nicer to handle than Nessie!  We take the slow route up the Cape stopping at every tiny town and inlet.  Shelley’s family owned a summer house in Dennis Port 50 or 60 years ago and Shelley was tracing her roots.  We managed to stick our toes in the Atlantic and really unwind.  Shelley & I both like driving, so it’s another really peaceful down day.


Captain’s Log Day 15

Up early, we force all the kids to take showers (and change clothes; 2 weeks into vacation and our standards are getting pretty lax) and we hit the road.  Breaking camp is now a pretty standard operation.  By rotating drivers and Shelley driving until the wee hours we make it almost to Indiana.


Captain’s Log Day 16

We pull into the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign around noon.  I’m giving at talk at 6, and UofI is paying for dinner and 3(!) hotel rooms for us (one for each couple, and one more for the 3 kids).  Real showers for all again!  Yeah!!!  The talk goes really well, its my Debugging Data Races talk and its a good fit for the summer course on multi-core programming.  Shelley and I manage to sneak a beer afterwards.


Captain’s Log Day 17

Again we manage to break camp in short order and do another long day of driving through Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.  By now we’ve got a rhythm going; Shelley takes the early morning driving shift while everybody sleeps in, then Luke and I alternate shifts until evening (while Shelley naps), and Shelley takes the late night shift.  I think we’re covering around 800 miles in a day.


Captain’s Log Day 18

Today it’s the rest of Nebraska and Wyoming, then Utah.  My Dad manages to call me out in the middle of I-80 no-where land, to the bemusement of all.  We hit high winds on and off all day.  At least once I was driving with the steering wheel cranked over a full 180 degrees (and was down to 45 mph) just to stay on the road.  18-wheeler’s would blow by us, knocking us all over the road.  First the bow wave push us hard to the right, on to the shoulder.  Then the wind-block (and my 180-degree wheel position) would drive us hard back onto the road and into the truck, then the trailing suction would pull us harder into the truck – even as I am cranking the wheel the other way as fast as I can… and then the wind would return.  It was a nerve-wracking drive.  Shelley took over towards evening.  Around 11pm the winds became just undrivable even for her.  I was dozing when suddenly we got slapped hard over, almost off the shoulder.  Even driving at 40mph wasn’t safe.  An exit appeared in the middle of nowhere – even with an RV park (mind you, it’s typically 30 miles between exits *without services*).  We bailed out.  All night long the RV was rocked by winds, like a Giant’s Hand was grabbing the top of Nessie and shaking her like a terrier does a rat.


Captain’s Log Day 19

Morning dawns clear and still.  We hit the road again early, as we’ve a long drive today.  It’s a quiet drive through to Reno, and then we hit some really crazy drivers again – a combo of construction zone, short merge lanes and stupidity (outside the RV) nearly crushed a darting micro-car.  The construction on the Donner Pass was perhaps even worse; we managed to get forced into clipping a roadside reflector on the right (less than a foot away from the mountain stone versus pushing an aggressive SUV into the naked concrete on his left).  Finally past all the madness we get to the clear road down from Tahoe and through the Bay Area – but it’s all Homeward Bound on the downhill slide through our home turf!

Home At Last!!!


Some parting stats:

We passed through 22 states (24 for Shelley & I, as we also get to count Rhode Island and Massachusetts).
We drove about 6900 miles.
I bought about $3000 in gas, and $1300 in tires.
We saw 4 close family members in Tucson, 7 in Texas, my brother in Atlanta, and at least 16 in Connecticut (I lost the exact count!).
I did about 20 loads of laundry after returning (the washer ran continuously for 2 days).



Captain’s Log Days 8, 9 & 10

Captain’s Log Day 8

We’re on the road by 10am, this time a full day’s drive to Montgomery AL from Katy TX.  I forget how big Houston freeways are; at one point I count 9 lanes *in each direction* (18 total lanes!).  I’ve never seen so much concrete.  It’s otherwise mostly uneventful, though.  Traffic is fair to light and the road is good.  We stop at a random lakeside park by Lake Charles for lunch.  It smells of the ocean and has an alligator pond/cage/viewing area.

While I typically encourage the kids to drink a lot (to survive the desert heat & dry), I don’t check on how much they eat, just that they eat a reasonably balanced diet.  So I missed out that Matt hadn’t eaten all day, and was constantly staring heads-down on his IPod on silly flash games.  Well, towards afternoon he starts feeling sick, and near dinner he barfs and refuses to eat or drink anything.  He cannot even keep down tiny bits of bread or Gatoraide; the 2nd barf happens on our bedsheets and pillow.  At this point he decides to camp out by the RV toilet and do any more barfing into that (uggh!!!  poor guy!!!!), and we decide to cut it short and look for camping for the night.  By dinner he’s still unable to keep anything down; we grab to-go food from a collection of fast-food joints and keep rolling to the nearest campsite.

We get 1/2 way between Mobile & Montgomery, AL and pull over into a nice full-service RV park.  Shelley & I decide to camp outside in a tent, so Josh can get off the floor (he’s 17 and 6ft tall, lean and flexible… and does not fit in any of the RV pullout/fold-down beds, so he’s been sleeping in the aisle).  We want Josh off the floor so Matt can make an emergency run from his foldout bed to the bathroom without interference.  It’s beastly hot and humid outside, but I figure it will cool off as the night wears on.  Boy was I wrong! It remains 80+ & 80% humidity all night long outside, while the kids were sleeping in air-conditioned luxury.  And we get a late night visit from the camp kitten – he’s adorably cute and caterwauls at us, and starts climbing the tent with his razor claws until Shelley takes him for a walk.  He follows her like a shadow all over the park until she finally has to lock him in the campground bathroom.


Captain’s Log Day 9

Finally dawn breaks and we move back into the cool RV air.  Ahhh, blessed relief.  Also, Matt is much better – it’s a common kid 24-hour tummy bug.  I start him back in on the BRAT diet, with sips of water – and now he’s very hungry, a good sign.  He continues to improve throughout the day and is eating normal by dinner.  We pull up camp (we’re getting quite expert at this) and head for Stone Mountain, GA.

Stone Mountain is a giant mountain-sized chunk of granite outside of Atlanta, with a park and a lake.  It’s been carved with a 50ft high sculpture and has been slowly improved over the years to include many hiking trails, a sky tram system, lots of outdoor adventure activities and an amusement park.  Apparently the “ducks” (amphibious vehicals) are fantastic.  We are going there for the July 4th extravaganza – and as a sign that I’m on vacation, I barely know that today is the 3rd and I’ve no idea what day of the week it is.  We get there about 3pm and check in to a nice RV camp site.

Shelley cooks a fantastic spaghetti dinner.  My brother Eric drives out to camp with us, bring his best friends’ two small girls (ages 6 & 7) with him (he’s been watching the girls when the parents are working since they were 2 & 3) and we all enjoy a nice picnic dinner.  As the evening rolls on we’re deciding on whether or not to see the laser & fireworks show this evening (there’s a bigger one tomorrow) – when the thunderstorm hits.  It’s a real downpour, big lightning and thunder, blowing wind, the works.  We wait that out, and then try to take a walk about the park.  Eric & I, the two girls and my middle two kids walk over to the clubhouse (to check out the water-taxi ride to the main park area) but the rain has other ideas.  We make it to the clubhouse but we’re fairly wet, so we treat the girls to hot chocolate while we dry out.  We wait for the rains to end but it’s no good – the rain has turned into a steady drizzle; we just as wet by the time we make it back and there’s no end in sight.  We give up any idea of tent camping or seeing the laser show and settle for watching a Disney movie (the Sword in the Stone) and having a lazy evening with all 10 of us huddled in the RV).  Sleeping arrangements are “cozy” to say the least!  But at least everybody is dry.


Captain’s Log Day 10

It’s the 4th of July!  We breakfast, cleanup & head over to the water taxi. The rains have stopped and the sun is out.  It’s gonna be a hot & humid day. The water taxi is nice, it’s cooler near the lake.  We make it to Stone Mountain’s main attraction area and decide to walk to the bell tower.  The park is already busier than Eric has ever seen it before.  There’s a large Indian family setup under the bells already (and I see more people of the same persuasion walking over to the tower all morning – I think they figured out a cool shady semi-private place to hang out at all day).

We’ve walked maybe a half a mile and it’s not even noon and we’re already soaked with sweat when we make it back to the Plantation Inn.  The Inn isn’t open for lunch (although the AC is nice), but the helpful counter lady tells us there’s RV parking closer in.  We walk up to Memorial Hall.  Immediately two things strike me as really odd: there’s at least 1000 people hanging around looking for food (and more pouring in all the time), it’s 11:30 and *none* of the dozen or so restaurants are open yet – and there’s bus & RV parking open
right in front of the main Hall.

I hand the kids my credit card (to get lunch at noon when the restaurants open) and Shelley and I hightail it back to the RV: across 1/2mile of hot trails & roads, ride the water taxi (we miss the one in front of us by literally seconds even with me sprinting across the landing area), and finally the 1/4 mile hike from the taxi dock to the RV.  We pull the hookups as fast as we can and roll out & down the road.  Nessie does NOT sprint, she *proceeds*, but we made her proceed as fast as possible.  We took the short way around the lake, only to discover the road was closed: the attendant at the barricades explains “the road fell in a hole”.  Nothing to be had for it; Shelley makes a 3-pt turn on a narrow park road and we go the long way around.  Finally, a full hour later, we make it back to the bus/RV parking in front of Memorial Hall – and Lo! it’s open.  We take the most premier parking spot in all of Stone Mountain, at noon-thirty on the 4th of July.  (A short time later one other RV takes the next spot, then the road is closed behind us).

The amazing thing about the Stone Mountain concessions was the astronomical price for food; hotdogs: $7-$10, drinks also $7 or so.  (And they denied a hot and hungry hoard for at least an hour???).  But finally we all sat down and finished our food and plotted our next move.  Shelley, Eric & I all want a big hike.  Last Christmas Shelley & I hiked the Grand Canyon down to Phantom Ranch and back out in two days, and Eric has hiked both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail end-to-end.  We head out for the top of Stone Mountain on a hot & muggy day.  There’s lots of other folks with the same idea, but it really is a long hot hike.  Most of my kids bail out after a mile or so, voting to go hang out in the AC (which is really a good plan); Eric and his two young charges make it to the path-up cutoff but it’s a killer hike in the heat so they turn around also.

It ends up as Shelley, Laura (age 15) and I heading on, and we decide to head for the bird sanctuary.  It’s another couple of miles and we gave most of the water to Eric & the girls.  The three of us head down the far side of the mountain to a kids playground and finally drag ourselves into the park and help ourselves to the water fountain.  We drink a quart each, and fill a couple more quart bottles we’re carrying.  We hike the 1/2mile more to the bird sanctuary – mostly carrying on now because of what Shelley would call “Mission” – her ex-Marine training to “complete the Mission” no matter the cost.  i.e., we’re all too collectively silly to claim the end goal is ridiculous, so we hike it anyways. It’s a decent enough little woodsy trail, with plenty of songbirds – but far to beastly hot to really enjoy.  By the time we make it back to the kids’ park we’ve drunken all our water (another 1/2gal between the 3 of us), so we reload (and re-drink our fill) and back up the mountain to cross it in reverse.  We make it back in good time, although it was really pushing our the limits to
hike so far on such a hot day.

There is much lounging around and napping in the RV’s AC to wait out the heat of the day.  Matthew (age 12) introduces the two little girls to the joys of Minecraft.  Eric & Laura nap.  Everybody else surfs the (very very slow) park Internet, eating popcorn & chips.  Finally as the heat starts to fade and twilight sets in we get enough gumption to make & eat hotdogs.  Then we pack it up and prepare to leave the relative safety and peace of the RV for the slowly building hoard.

The lawn below Memorial Hall faces the giant sculpture carved into the face of Stone Mountain.  The only open spaces are at the very front, so that’s where we head.  I estimate 100,000 people eventually filled that lawn; in any case it was a colossal crowd.  It was also actually quite a peaceful crowd; no rowdies (no alcohol allowed), zillions of little kids running pell-mell, picnic blankets, soap bubble makers and glowing flashing LED lights.  It’s cooler now, so we settle down on our blankets and chairs, listen to the music and wait for the show.  At various times I let Josh or Karen & Luke wander off for snacks (a little nerve-wracking that; they are out of sight in the crowd within seconds and gone for 30mins or more, but everybody returns fine).

The fireworks show starts promptly at 9:30 and is possibly the best I’ve ever seen.  There’s a laser & light show on the mountain, there’s a Civil War tribute, (there’s ads for all of Georgia’s major sports teams), there’s music and of course fireworks.  The actual fireworks where downright amazing; you get a double-echo from the Bang! works, one directly and one bounced off the mountain.  They used plenty of the big fireworks and absolutely tons of rising sparks kind; the entire mountain was a sheet of fire for minutes at a time. The finale left us breathless.

Unwinding back to the camp was a slow but uneventful crawl; I’ve sure we beat the campers on foot (who had to wait for the river-taxis and the report was to expect a 2.5 hr wait).  Eric took his to charges home and we collapsed tired but triumphant for a full nights sleep.



Captain’s Log, Daze 5, 6 & 7

Captain’s Log, Day 5

It’s another early morning drive, this time we’re heading to San Antonio and then on to Luling TX for more relatives.  We’re still marching on through the great desert Southwest, but there are more signs of green now.  Some trees mixed in with the sage, and less cactus.

The ride to Luling is long but uneventful.  We give Luke another turn at the wheel.  The road is calm enough that we let Luke chug on for miles, and then we’re heading into San Antonio.  Suddenly the world is full of crazy drivers!  People are cutting in front of us, or darting around, or force-merging (on short merges) and giving us no space.  Luke brakes as he can, but we’re an 8 ton vehical!  We take at least twice as far to stop as a car!  We finally make it to a parking lot.

We have a great dinner in San Antonio with Grandpa & Grandma Weiner, and then we have to brave rush-hour traffic.  Shelley takes the helm this time, and a good thing too.  I’ve never seen such craziness.  We watched a pickup 4-wheeling it over the burm to cut traffic (and yes he set the dry grass on fire, we watched the smoke rise for a long time), we had endless numbers of people fight tooth-and-nail to get in front of us, only to switch lanes back a second later when some other lane had a slight advantage.  We have a little
sporty thing flash over from left to right, with us doing 60, with less than a foot spare across our bumper!  It was all over in an instant, and he missed us, but another foot and we woulda crunched him big.  It was a grueling two hours to get out of S.A.  Luling, where we spent the night at Grandpa’s house, was great.  We yakked all night while the kids worked out their cabin fever.  All in all, another fabulous Grandparent visit.


Captain’s Log, Day 6

Next morning, crack-o-noon, we headed out for my sister’s place in Katy (really far west Houston).  It’s another straight shot down I-10, and I-10 is in pretty good shape even out to Luling; as we approach Houston it widens to 6 lanes.  We start watching real weather appear; there’s a line of heavy thunderclouds forming up to the left and right of us and we’re heading right for them.  The wind starts to pick up and really buffet us; we slow down to 60 and then slower.  People are starting to park on the side of the road, but we want out of the impending storm.  Rain alternates between slashing and nothing.  The clouds get dark, low and ominous.  I start to see green clouds, and clouds moving the wrong direction.  I pull out Shelley’s “smart phone” and look up the local weather.  Sure enough, with vast modern technology, 4G wifi, low-power android-enabled cloud-backed internet weather smart-phone tech we discover what we already know: there’s two large thundercells on either side of I-10.  They happen alot during south Texas summers as warm wet Gulf air meets cooler midwest air.  And these storm cells often spawn tornadoes.  But after 20 mins of staring at awe-inspiring clouds and getting slammed by 40mph cross-winds we manage to roll through the middle of them and out the other side.  The rest of the trip in is entirelty uneventful, except for the trip down memory lane for me.

We get to my sister Ruth’s without incident and my kids rush in to play with her kids.  Then we have a comedy of errors trying to get power run to the RV.  First our old power cable gets hot and the RV power cuts off (which means the AC cuts off on a hot humid Houston summer day).  Then we think the outlet is bad, then we try to test the outlet with an old drill (drill not working), my laptop power supply (cannot see the little blue light in the sun), and finally a real tester (outlet is dead).  We switch outlets, then Aunt Ruth tells me the switch for that outlet is flakey, and it surely is; we quick-cycle the RV AC repeatedly without realizing it, and pop a 15amp house breaker.  We change outlets again, we change power cords again, we run the new cord through the garage to an internal 20amp circult, and finally it holds.  The RV stays well AC’d for the next 2 days.

Grandma’s over (*my* Mom this time) as she lives a few miles from my sister.  And we hang out and visit all day.  There’s wine & lasagna for dinner, and hot showers and full beds for all.


Captain’s Log Day 7

We all sleep in late.  We have pancakes & bacon for breakfast.  We run a few errands and then see the movie Brave (which is really good, BTW).  I end up connecting with an old college buddy and her boyfriend (Facebook!) so we invite them over for dinner.  Turns out the the boyfriend is also an old college friend, so suddenly it was Texas A&M U reunion night.  They are both divorced with one teenaged daughter each (compared to my 4), and enjoying life again after divorce.  We have a long evening of beer, hotdogs and college memories.  The kids Xbox continuously, or get their internet “fix” or play on the trampoline, or have drawing contests or otherwise monkey around.  It’s a really great “down time” lazy day.