TTS Hop 1
229 miles via I-89, I-91, MA 2 and MA 122.
This first hop of the TTS was a mirror image of the last hop of the STN, so there was no new scenery. We stopped twice: a lunch stop in Hartford, VT, and an emergency roadside stop just north of the MA border to reattach a strip of molding that came loose on the RV. There was a moment of excitement on I-91 where I was traveling along in the right lane with large trucks in front of me and to the left of me. Suddenly the truck in the left lane put on his turn signal and started edging over into my lane. I braked, to let him in, then saw that the truck in front of me was braking hard. I had to swerve into the breakdown lane to avoid both. The reason for all of this drama: a police accident investigation, protected only by a few traffic cones deployed a hundred yards from the accident site. This was a very dangerous situation (an SUV had already plowed through one of the cones) and I blame the troopers for not securing the site better. They should have posted a cruiser before the start of the lane reduction, to warn traffic to slow down.
But I made it through unscathed.
The best thing about the hop was the fall foliage. It was absolutely spectacular from start to finish and it was enhanced by the bright sun with just a few clouds for dramatic effect. I don’t have any photos taken during the trip because it is generally unwise to snap photographs while driving a 10-ton rig. But I do have one that I took this morning at the Pine Acres Family Resort Campground, just to give a small sample of what we were treated to for 229 miles.
I should also mention that the truck performed admirably. No problem at all.
Color at Pine Acres
Hartford VT rest area
The end of Hop 1
Third Trip South (TTS)
Today Jett and I leave South Hero, VT, and start our trek south, to Ft Myers Beach, FL. It will be a journey of just over 2,000 miles and will take 26 days. we will spend 6 nights in MA, catching up with family and friends, and 5 nights in the DC area, also catching up with family. That part of the trip – MA to DC – will be a simple reversal of our trip north. Nothing new there. But after that we will hit a few new places:
- Natural Bridge, VA. It is just one night, but I have always been interested in this stop. Probably just the name – “natural bridge” – but it sounds interesting.
- Asheville, NC. Seeing the Biltmore estate and the western NC region is on my bucket list. We have the time to take a pretty significant detour to make this happen. 3 nights.
- Charleston, SC. We are looking forward to having 3 more days to explore one of our favorite cities. And we will be staying in one of our favorite RV parks, with the huge dog park. The dogs are looking forward to this stop, too.
- Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville may not be at the top of the list of Florida destinations, but I think there is enough there to keep us interested for 3 nights.
- Titusville, FL. This is near Cape Canaveral, which I have never visited. And it is an area of the east coast of Florida that I have never explored. 3 nights.
Then on to our new Florida home for the winter – Gulf Waters RV Resort. We loved the Seminole Campground, but decided to try a new, more upscale, park this year. It is expensive, but, hopefully, will be worth the price.
Of course, this will all be done using our repaired truck. The first hop down to MA will be nerve-wracking. I will be listening intently for any unusual engine sounds and hoping against hope that the engine doesn’t blow up. It should be fine, but I won’t be comfortable until we complete that first hop unscathed.
Wish us luck.
Vermont at its best
You are not allowed to spend October in Vermont without taking pictures; if you try to leave without any they stop you at the border. So I had to take a few. Fortunately, the day when I took the repaired truck out for an 80-mile test drive was a perfect day and the fall color was nearly peak.
It was such a beautiful day that several balloonists decided to go for an aerial stroll.
Early fall sunset on Lake Champlain
The marina closes October 15, but business has been very slow since Labor Day. Once the kids are back in school the lake is used mostly by fishermen – and now duck hunters. But very few pontoon rentals. So a day at the marina consists of minor chores and hours of reading, doing Sudoku and surfing the ‘net.
But there are still moments when the lake is beautiful. When the wind dies down and the sun is low in the sky or a storm passes by and a rainbow appears… the beauty is nearly breathtaking. At those times the job is not boring at all.
The lonely gas dock
Montreal is in an entirely different country, yet it is less than 2 hours from our place on Lake Champlain. We could drive to Montreal in half the time it takes to drive to Boston. And, on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago, we did. We left at 8:30am and returned at 4:30pm. We took our passports but didn’t take the dogs – we didn’t want to risk having them detained at the border. But it wasn’t a particularly long day for them. I am sure they would have enjoyed meeting some French-speaking dogs, but staying at home was best for all concerned.
The hightlight of our trip was lunch at Lester’s Deli, an iconic Montreal deli famous for its “smoked meat” sandwiches. I, of course, had to try one. The smoked meat is brisket and the result is a smoky version of a corned beef sandwich. Pretty good. I also ordered a side of poutine, a Montreal staple. It is a pile of French fries, soaked in gravy and covered with melted cheese. It sounds disgusting, right? But I was assured that if I tried it I would love it. So I tried it. It is disgusting.
Interior of Lester’s Deli
Smoked meat sandwich
We also wandered the area around Lester’s and were surprised to find that it had a heavy Hassidic Jewish population. There was some interesting architecture as well. I don’t recall ever seeing triple-deckers with three front doors. I would like to tour one of these buildings sometime and see how the stairs are arranged. We also saw many buildings where the main entrance was on the second floor, with some *very* long staircases to the front door. I had to wonder how dangerous those stairs would be in the winter.
We drove around some other neighborhoods but found the traffic and the parking conditions to be daunting, so we only got out of the car on top of Mont Royal. There is a terrific panoramic view of the city from that promontory, but the photo didn’t turn out. Don’t know why. I guess you will either have to take my word for it or go see it for yourself.
Triple doors to triple decker
By most measures – including “as the crow flies” – we are closer to Plattsburgh, NY, than we are to Burlington, VT. When we Googled the nearest Walmart we found that it was in Plattsburgh. But we never went to Plattsburgh, despite its proximity. Until two weeks ago.
Why? Because it is a ferry ride away. A $21 round-trip ferry ride. It is a nice ferry and it runs frequently, but I was not about to pay $21 to get some discounted Walmart goods.
But I remained curious and, so, when Jett was away and the Sierra was in the shop, I decided to make the ferry trek to Plattsburgh in my rented Toyota.
It was an interesting ferry ride, but it wasn’t exactly a pot of gold at the other end. Plattsburgh seems to be a fairly sleepy old mill town (there is still a Georgia-Pacific mill there). It looks like they have done a credible job of going upscale downtown – sidewalk restaurants and only a few empty storefronts – but it has none of the energy that Burlington exudes. I stayed for less than an hour, so it wasn’t an in-depth exploration. But I felt that I had seen all I wanted to see. I feel no urge to return.
On the ferry
The engine-less Sierra
Way back in June I was informed that my 2005 GMC Sierra pickup truck would need a new head gasket. For those of you who aren’t familiar with internal combustion engines, the head gasket is a large, complex gasket that fits between the engine block and the “head” – the piece that caps the cylinders. Its purpose is to ensure a tight seal on the cylinders, keeping oil and coolant from getting into the cylinders and preventing high-pressure combustion gases from escaping into the cooling system. It is a very important piece of a very complex puzzle.
And it is a bitch to replace. The engine must be pulled out of the vehicle, then completely disassembled, cleaned and reassembled with the new gasket installed. The original estimate was $3,000 but I expected it would be substantially more, probably $4,000 after adding in parts and state tax. Well, I was low. The final cost was $5,574.05. There was “extra labor”, glow plugs (i.e., spark plugs for diesels), thermostats and two injector return hoses.
This truck is important to our lifestyle. Our fifth wheel goes nowhere without it. As we needed to vacate our current location by Oct 22, it was vitally important that we have a functioning truck by that date. I briefly considered trading it in on a newer used truck, but could find no suitable replacement. Buying a new one would mean an additional %60,000 of debt, which was not palatable. And the truck has only 127,000 miles, which is nothing for a diesel engine.
So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I handed over the keys for what would be nearly a two-week job. My trepidation was not diminished when, a week into the job, I stopped by the Keeler Bay Service and Sales to check on the progress and found the truck sitting outside with the engine in about a thousand pieces, filling the back seat and much of the bed of the truck. Nor was I soothed when I inquired as to status and they said that the repairs were being delayed because the wrong gasket had been delivered to them. Nail-biting time.
Well, the repairs were completed and the truck was returned to me a week ago. I took it for a 100-mile test drive yesterday and it seems ok. I wasn’t towing anything, so I still am not completely sanguine about the situation. But I have built some confidence that they didn’t make it worse.
That sounds like faint praise, but the fact is that I was very worried that they might do exactly that. I drove the truck all summer – not far, but frequently – and we did use it to tow the RV to the Escapade in July. It was operating flawlessly, which made the decision to invest over $4.000 all the more difficult. But Mitch, the owner of the Keeler Bay shop, told me that they found oil in the coolant when they took the engine apart, which was a symptom of impending doom. He assured me that the engine would have been destroyed if I had further delayed the repairs.
So now, $5,500 later, I have a truck that operates as well as it did before. But will (hopefully) last for years.
Nancy, Jett, Roger and Zelda on Church St
Thank God for family and friends. We might have never seen Burlington this summer had we not had guests. I have already reported on the visit by Jett’s sisters. More recently we spent a very pleasant afternoon with my college roommate, Roger, and his lovely wife Nancy. It was a day when Jett was feeling well enough to walk a bit, so we met Roger, Nancy and their dog Zelda in downtown Burlington and spent some time exploring. We found the waterfront – both the elevated park above the lake and the park and commercial area at the shore – and had a very nice early dinner at a sidewalk restaurant.
Ben & Jerry corner
We started with a stroll up the Church St pedestrian mall, which is, I think, the heart of Burlington. It is a great place to people-watch, have lunch and shop. Being Vermont, it has a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop which, appropriately, is located on Cherry St (with an sign that suggests that it is actually “Cherry Garcia St.).
There is also a rather unique water fountain nearby. Looks like a prop from Rollerball.
The First Unitarian Church anchors the northern end of Church St. Beautiful structure.
Roger and Zelda
After Church St we wandered down to Battery Park, which overlooks Lake Champlain, then strolled down to the Waterfront Park. I fortified myself with a maple-flavored “creemie” (soft-serve ice cream), then we fought our way back uphill to Church St. We finished with a late lunch/early dinner at Ri Rá Irish Pub.
Thanks, Roger and Nancy, for giving us a reason to see this beautiful city.
Jett and I like street fairs. We like county fairs. We like state fairs. So of course we went to the Champlain Valley Fair when it was in town in August. The “Champlain Valley” encompasses several counties in northern Vermont, but not the entire state, so it is somewhere between a county fair and a state fair. It is large and the venue was the Champlain Valley Expo, where the Escapade was held in July. So we got to see the same facilities used in a different way.
We also, of course, stuffed our faces with the usual assortment of fair foods. Funnel cake, french fries, sno-cones, bratwurst. To our credit, I think, we passed on the deep-fried oreos and bacon.
One weird thing on display: an old, gas-powered washing machine. Never saw one of those before.
We also came within an inch of buying into satellite TV. Dish had a nice fair special and we got to the point of handing over our credit card before we discovered – and the salesman discovered – that the RV service did not support DVR. Well, Jett has to have a DVR. So we will keep looking.
But despite that disappointment it was a fun, sunny day at the fair.
Even on a dreary day the view from the marina office is pleasant. On a sunny day – or a stormy day with sunny breaks – the view can be absolutely breathtaking. I particularly like the marina when the sun gets low in the sky and long shadows mix with bright boat profiles.
The marina at its best