Our slogan is “Because you’re never too old”, but the reality is we know that, at some point, we are going to prefer sitting and rocking on the front porch to skiing down a black diamond hill. Actually prefer is not the right word but now that just getting up off the couch is accompanied by numerous grunts and groans it seems inevitable that we will have to find enjoyment in less physical activities.
We have lived and worked most of the past ten years on the small island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Our house is not grand but it is on top of a hill in the middle of the island which gives us spectacular views of both the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans. We had a lot of plans for this house but they will take time to realize and time is the thing we are most short of.
We had to make a very difficult decision and choose between staying in paradise or exploring the rest of the world. It’s a big world and we just can’t do both so we decided to sell our house and set out on a new adventure.
We have already been to almost every state and province in the US and Canada plus most islands in the Caribbean. We’ve done Mexico, and a little bit of South America but hardly anything in Europe. So that will be the focus for the next few years.
We plan to get a motorcycle (trike), a trailer camper and travel from place to place, blogging as we go.
We write this having just listed our house for sale. With the world’s economy in the dumper this is not a good time to sell but we have priced it so aggressively we hope it will sell quickly.
If you or someone you know has a dream of owning a home in a tropical paradise check out our home in Eleuthera.
The Adventure Continues …
Update – January 18, 2019
Plans change and new adventures arise.
Here we are, updating this post almost NINE years later and a lot has happened over those nine years.
The plan to sell our home in Eleuthera, buy a motorcycle and travel around Europe never materialized. But, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been adventures – and a lot of them.
We still own our home in Eleuthera and come here every winter now.
There is so much to see and do in the world and not enough time to cover it all. We don’t want to end up in the rocking chair at the old folks home complaining about all the things we wish we had done – so we are just going to do as much as we can from now on.
Money – there is never enough
Having the will is one thing but practically you have to be able to pay for it. With even a modest income you can do a lot of traveling and we are going to prove it.
We have set ourselves a limit of an average of $100/day. For the next six months we will be traveling around the US, Canada and Europe but keeping a close eye on what we spend. We’ll report everything we spend for transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment for each day.
Just because we are doing dirt cheap travel doesn’t mean we are cutting corners after all we’re not a couple of teenagers backpacking around and staying in youth hostels. Our plans include three cruises, timeshare resorts, visiting family and camping.
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We will try to blog every day but there will be times when we just can’t get online so you may see several daily posts in a bunch.
Our transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost so far
May 11 ~ Day # 1
Budget to date
Total to date
Current Location: Lake Como Resort, Lutz, Florida
Mileage: 296 Total: 296
Today’s Total Expenses: $185.15
Transportation: Started with full tank Toll: $2.50 Accommodation: $49.08 Food: $133.57
Econo Lodge in Dania Beach
Before embarking on our “official” trip we spent two days in the Econo Lodge in Dania Beach to give us a chance to get organized and get the car serviced. I guess those two days count as T minus 2 and T minus 1.
We got a really good deal on the stay as we have a Choice Privileges card and Econo Lodge is part of the group. We had earned a free night stay with our loyalty card and paid for the other night.
Although older, the motel was clean, the pool was great and the staff were friendly.
All-in-all it was a great deal for the money.
Mostly running around and shopping
Even though today is officially the first day of the trip, we still had a lot of running around to do and a lot of things to buy.
We made a final stop at our mail forwarding address to make sure there wasn’t any more mail for us before we left.
The poor car just looked so packed full of stuff. Truly, we have yet to get organized but hope this process will happen along the way.
Thank goodness for our Magellan GPS. With a few minor exceptions it has guided us accurately to wherever we told it we wanted to go.
A Trip to the Apple Store
Our running around included a trip to the Apple Store at the Mall in Aventura.
It was time for a new computer and this one would be Vicky’s first new Mac – as opposed to a hand-me-down from Geoff, which is what usually happened whenever Geoff upgraded.
We took video of our new computer but the Apple store employee didn’t want to be in the video, so it’s kind of short but a nice reminder of when we got it.
February, 2019 Update – Vicky still has this computer and is still using it!
Recap of our equipment
So, let’s do a quick recap of what we’ve actually got with us for the trip. In order to save money and try to bring this adventure in on budget we plan to do some camping along the way.
Now, there’s a real leap of faith. I haven’t camped in more years than I care to admit to and the same goes for Geoff. But, we tried to select the equipment we would need logically. We’ll see how that works out.
What we have for the trip:
*Koolatron cooler – that’s the type that can be either hot or cold and plugs into your cigarette lighter or power outlet in your car/RV.
*Sportz SUV Tent – this tent actually attaches to the back of your SUV giving you way more space with the tent and SUV combined. We’re traveling in a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee, so this kind of tent seemed ideal for us. (More about setting it up later)
*Truckbedz – we opted for an inflatable mattress that was designed to fit the back of the Jeep. It inflates and deflates quickly and this also meant that we wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground – something I particularly didn’t want to do.
*Jetboil Helios cooking system – this was purchased with an eye to both size and convenience. Reviews on this system also seemed pretty good. (More later about cooking our first supper with this system)
These were the main purchases. Other items that were, of course, needed were dishes, cutlery, cooking utensils and the usual stuff like paper towels, etc.
A Car Full of Food
One of the toughest things was keeping down the amount of food we were purchasing. For one thing, food is very expensive in the Bahamas, so everything looked like such a good deal. However, the cooler and car will only hold so much. We had to be really conservative on anything that needed refrigeration.
Our first grocery shopping trip was to Costco. Now that was really difficult because of the sizes normally sold there. We did buy some stuff but not nearly as much as a normal Costco trip.
Costco has always been an outing for us and it’s just amazing how much will just jump in the cart. However, we exercised surprising restraint and only bought things like canned chili and packets of soup in a bowl.
One of the best things we got were salt and pepper grinders all ready full of sea salt and peppercorns – can’t be without our salt and pepper.
Just before getting to our camping spot for the night we stopped at a Wal-Mart Super Center to pick up just a few more items. We got a set of Coleman dishes and cutlery so we actually had something to eat dinner on, as well as a few utensils like a spatula and the always-essential can opener.
With the car now bulging (and I thought I may have heard a few groans as well), we headed to Lake Como Resort to camp for the night.
This meant setting up the tent for the first time, inflating the mattress for the first time and using the Jetboil system for the first time. That’s a lot of firsts for people our age.
After finding our campsite we began the process of figuring out the tent. We opened it up, checked all the parts we had and began to read the instructions. I guess we looked a little perplexed as a neighbor came by to ask if we needed any help. He had noticed us poring over the instruction booklet.
In a bit the methodology became clear and we started to assembly the tent and attach it to the car. As with anything new, once you’ve got it figured out subsequent attempts become easier.
Then our thoughts turned to dinner. Geoff set up the Jetboil, and they sure named this product right.
We were having spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner and we began boiling the water for the spaghetti which, amazingly, only took a minute or two to boil.
When it was ready we took that off the burned and cooked the ground beef and then added the spaghetti sauce that also cooked in record time.
It was a bit awkward but everything came out great and we enjoyed spaghetti and meat sauce as well as salad and garlic bread for dinner. Not bad for our first camping meal.
It was now time to think about heading off to bed for the night in our new tent. At this point we began to question if we wanted to sleep in the back of the car, which seemed like it would be cramped.
Remember, we’re used to sleeping in a king-size bed. So, we decided to inflate the mattress and just lay it on the floor of the tent.
Well, as I mentioned earlier, it was specifically made to fit in the back of the car, so it has a rather odd shape. We made a valiant attempt to sleep on this hourglass-shaped mattress on the bottom of the tent, but neither of us could sleep because we kept falling off the edge of the mattress.
About 2am Geoff suggested that we put the mattress in the back of the Jeep where it was meant to be in the first place. So that’s what we did and you know what, because we had the sides of the car to lean against and we weren’t falling off the edges of the mattress, we actually felt like we had more room and were able to get a reasonable amount of sleep.
After our first day of camping I’m pleased to say that we are still married, still talking to each other and both without any major injury.
I’ve only camped a couple of times in my life and Vicky hasn’t camped since she was a kid. Our first night under canvas was not the most comfortable. Once we rearrange the mattress as Vicky explained yesterday I was able to get to sleep but I sure needed my Ibuprofen this morning.
Lake Como Resort
Lake Como resort is a permanent or winter home to about 500 people and there are some pretty spectacular mobile homes and RV’s parked on the grounds.
By the time we had our oatmeal and coffee, struck the camp, and completed a conducted tour of the grounds, we were late getting on the road. It was past 10am before we got on the road so it was good we did not have plans to go a long way.
We have driven across the US and Canada several times but always using the Interstates and have never had the chance to really enjoy the trip. We want to slow down this time and only travel in daylight. Also the Magellan GPS system allows us to explore some of the smaller highways that we would not have attempted if all we had was a map. We have decided to name the female voice of the GPS system, “Madge”. Not very imaginative but it works.
Today’s goal is the Sunburst resort in Milton, Florida which is almost to the Alabama border. That’s just over 400 miles so if we were not going to face putting up the tent in the dark we needed to get cracking.
Vicky had made some beef and cheese wraps so we didn’t have to stop for lunch. It also helps to keep the cost down and it is much more nutritious than stopping at some greasy fast food joint.
Good Job Madge
“Madge” (Magellan GPS) directed us flawlessly without using an Interstate highway but it was a good job we are traveling west and are able to take advantage of the extra hour you get when crossing time zones. By the time we got to the Sunburst resort the sun was setting and we still had to set up the tent and the Jetboil.
This time putting up the Sportz SUV tent was easy and only took about ten minutes. The Jetboil however was not behaving like it did yesterday. I thought at first we may have already gone through a whole can of fuel but connecting a new can did not improve things. It was still working but not anywhere near as efficiently as it did yesterday. I think the fuel line is clogged but I will have to wait for daylight to check it out.
When we checked in to Lake Como yesterday we were unpleasantly surprised to learn that we (me) had not fully read the fine print. We ended up paying $18 each for ground fees and $12 for camping for a total of $50. And that’s after our AANR membership discount.
The Sunburst resort on the other hand just charged a single $16 ground fee and the camp site was free. With tax we paid a total of $17.04. That certainly helps to keep our daily average expenses down.
Our New MacBook Pro
One thing I had not allowed for was how long it takes to configure your computer the way you like it. We have a couple of Mac desktops at home with all the websites we check and their passwords stored in Firefox. Everything gets backed up each hour to the Apple Time Capsule and I could have brought that with us to make a mirror copy of our systems. I didn’t because the new laptop we chose for the trip – a 13″ Powerbook – does not have a hard drive big enough to hold a copy of the almost maxed out home system.
Consequently I’m turning the car air blue quite frequently as I realize there is yet another resource I don’t have readily available. Truthfully I also thought blogging along the road would be much easier but by the time we reach our destination I’m not much in the mood to edit video, register software and download updates. This will get much easier when we get somewhere we can spend some time.
We are planning a couple of days in San Antonio soon so maybe we can get caught up then. It’s easy enough to write while Vicky is driving – like now – but you, our readers, don’t get to read it until it is polished and uploaded.
We are doing the $100/day challenge to prove that even baby boomers with limited resources can travel the world and enjoy retirement to the full. We would really like to hear from you with questions and suggestions. We will respond, although that will be subject to getting a decent Internet connection.
Our transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment cost so far
May 13 ~ Day # 3
Budget to date
Total to date
Current Location: Houston, Texas
Today’s Mileage: 607 Total: 1285
Today’s Total Expenses: $94.83
Transportation: $44.00 Accommodation: $50.83
We had very ambitious mileage plans for today that, unfortunately, just didn’t work out. We had hoped to get from Milton to San Antonio in one day and as we started our drive we realized that that just wasn’t going to happen.
We slept in a bit – not a bad thing, really. After all this trip is not about getting across the country at breakneck speed. So, we didn’t get on the road until about 10am – after we’d had breakfast and broke camp.
However, we did end up pushing pretty hard and didn’t get into a motel just outside of Houston until about 10pm.
That leaves us only about 200 miles to San Antonio, so tomorrow should be a pretty easy drive.
Keeping Expenses Low & Popcorn in Mississippi
We were able to keep our expenses down to just gas and the motel. We already had enough food with us for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Also, along the way we stopped at a Mississippi Welcome Center and apparently this is National Tourism Week. It was amazing, there was a band playing, we were greeted by some lovely people from Mississippi Tourism who were giving away free bags of popcorn. I love popcorn! We had a great chat and got a few more samples of stuff from other people that had set up booths to celebrate National Tourism week.
It was wonderful, so “Hi!” to the great folks from Mississippi Tourism.
We had planned to camp but it was just too late at night to even think about putting up the tent let alone look for a camp ground. So we chose the Day’s Inn option.
King Size Bed!
On the plus side, that gives us an Internet connection, a king size bed, a bath tub that I intend to soak in for a while, air conditioning and a free continental breakfast.
We will be camping in San Antonio.
I have learned on this trip that I can actually type stuff into the laptop while Geoff is driving. As a kid any time I tried to read in a moving vehicle I would get a horrible case of motion sickness. Seems like that doesn’t happen any more – or at least it hasn’t yet. So far, so good.
I’m glad we pushed through to the west side of Houston last night so we didn’t have to deal with the morning rush hour traffic.
The Free Continental Breakfast at the Day’s Inn was the typical uninspired selection of bagels, cream cheese, sugary cereals, muffins and white toast. I always wonder why these places don’t spend another $1 a guest and make their free breakfast something spectacular.
Every so often you run across a place that does it right. A make it yourself waffle machine, boiled eggs, wheat toast, fresh (not packaged) donuts and big Costco style muffins. Once in a great while you are offered omelets or porridge.
Anyway we had our bagel and cream cheese plus the coffee I need to pry open my eyes in the morning. Vicky is one of those annoying “morning people” that wakes up wide awake and then chatters about the day ahead for the first hour or so. Even after 22 years of marriage she still doesn’t understand that until I’ve had my first coffee I just don’t hear her.
Anyhow today is my birthday so I was serenaded by several chorusses from the Beatles – When I’m 64. Which of course is why we are doing this mega trip. Do it now because if you don’t it’s a crap shoot that you will be able to next year. Not that I plan to give up any time soon but I get a little shiver any time I hear of someone my age checking out early.
The original plan had been to make it to San Antonio yesterday but that was just more driving than we wanted to do and then we would have to put the tent up in the dark which we haven’t done yet. We only had a couple of hundred miles to go so it was going to be an easy day – or so we thought.
About 50 miles outside of San Antonio we came over a small hill and faced an ominous black cloud on the horizon. Within the space of ten miles the temperature dropped from 80ºF to 60ºF and the sky opened up to dump every last drop of rain directly on us. Sure glad we had Madge (our Magellan GPS) to guide us to our destination otherwise we may not have found it.
San Antonio is one of the few places in the US we have not yet visited so the plan is to stay a couple of days before we move on. We are staying in a 25 acre camp right beside the San Antonio river. Two pools, hot tub, club house and high on Vicky’s must have list – a laundromat.
It was still raining when we arrived so we delayed putting up the tent and spent an hour in the hot tub. The sky soon cleared and we got the tent up then learned from a fellow camper that the tree above us was full of caterpillars that were searching for places to build their cocoons. We soon confirmed this by looking at the picnic table and the ones that had already claimed their spot on our tent. So with the help of another couple we picked up the tent and moved it to another spot.
Vicky made and extra special supper of filet steak, cheese and broccoli rice, and vegetable melange. She followed this with fresh whole strawberries. Pretty spectacular for being prepared on a single burner camp stove.
The sky was pretty clear when we crawled into the back of the Jeep and drifted off to sleep but the weather gods had not done with us yet. At about 2 o’clock in the morning………
But this is Vicky’s blog day so you will have to wait for tomorrow’s exciting episode.
Geoff mentioned the rain we got in the middle of the night in his post yesterday and as we are each posting every other day, then officially that ran into my day so he left further explanation up to me.
We both heard the rain start last evening and the rain we had driven through the day before gave us some cause for concern about how heavy the rain might be. Keep in mind that this was only the third time we had pitched our new tent and it was about to be baptized for the first time.
The rain started gently at first and I guess we just drifted back to sleep. Then the lightning and thunder started and that registered somewhere in my semiconscious and very sleepy mind.
And then the rain came – really – I swear the sky simply opened up and dropped what it had directly on our tent. The wind kicked in too, just to add to the excitement. But, everything seemed to be holding together okay so I just pulled the blanket over me and attempted to get back to sleep.
Well, at about 2am I was rudely awakened by a gush of ice cold water directly on my feet. Now that is NOT the way to be woken up at any time let alone 2am! I sat bolt upright and tried to determine what the problem was. Geoff was now wide awake, too, and I think that may have had something to do with my screeching about being soaking wet.
What had happened, apparently, was that the water channel on the hatch of the Jeep had gotten clogged with leaves and it couldn’t run off as it was made to. Kind of like guttering getting clogged the same way. But, it just didn’t drip. Oh, no. It waited until it couldn’t hold any more water and then poured everything it had on my feet!
So, there we both were cleaning handfuls of leaves out of the channel, throwing towels on the floor of the tent to soak up the spill. We put all the stuff we have on the trip with us on the floor of the tent each time we set up camp so that we can then sleep in the back of the car. So, all that stuff was in danger of getting drenched, too.
Fortunately, once we got the leaves cleared out the water channel began working properly and no more water got onto me, the mattress or into the tent.
We both crawled back into bed and tried to get back to sleep, curling our legs up so they didn’t touch the wet blanket and sheets. I know I laid awake for quite a while listening to the storm and for any signs that it might be abating. It did start to move off, the lightning and thunder got further away and I think I was able to get a couple more hours sleep before we got up for the day.
The campground we’re in is very close to the San Antonio river and with all the rain they’d had, it was predicted to overflow it banks. The usual camping area was down in a valley closer to the river but the owners of the campground suggested that we camp on higher ground and directed us to a good area for that.
It was a good thing, too, because the San Antonio River did indeed overflow it banks and we watched throughout the day as the water continued to rise and put the entire camping area where we could have been totally underwater. We watched two picnic tables in that area disappear totally under the water, so that gives you some idea of just how deep it got. Had we camped there we most certainly would have floated away!
We had planned for Saturday to be a “do nothing” day. Just sit around the pool and recuperate from the amount of driving we had done so far. And that was a really good thing because we wouldn’t have wanted to pack the tent away wet.
Saturday actually turned out to be a beautiful day. While we were sitting around the pool an impromptu game of water volleyball broke out and they needed more team members, so Geoff and I joined in and, although we weren’t very good at it no one seemed to mind and we had a great time.
We tried not to spend too much time in the sun, but obviously we weren’t that successful, as we both ended up with pretty bad sunburns. We hadn’t brought any sunscreen with us but we’ll pick some up tomorrow because we need to grab a free groceries when we get back on the road.
Because we had decided on some down time it was also a pretty inexpensive day. Just the cost of camping as we already had all the food we needed with us.
Speaking of food, just because we are trying to keep expenses down doesn’t mean that we aren’t eating well or that we’re eating junk food.
For breakfast we had homefries and fried eggs. For lunch we had some leftover chicken, salad and some flatbread.
Geoff already told you about the lovely dinner we had last night for his birthday. Tonight we had sausages, red beans and rice and sautéed yellow squash and zucchini and the rest of the strawberries for dessert.
We’re starting to get quite adept at making nice meals with the resources we have.
It’s back on the road for us tomorrow morning heading towards Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.
We slept in again this morning so had to scramble a little to get everything packed away. We did take a few minutes to check the level of the river and it looked like it had crested some time in the night. Areas where we had walked taking pictures yesterday were now under eight feet of muddy water.
I don’t remember when I first became aware of San Antonio but I do remember what did it. A photograph of a boatload of happy people gliding along past little boutiques apparently in the center of San Antonio. One of the reasons we chose the route we did is so that we could “do” Riverwalk – which is what this area is called.
We made a quick stop at a Wal-Mart Super Center then told “Madge” (the alter ego of our Magellan GPS) to take us downtown. Even on a Sunday finding somewhere to park is challenging. Sure there are lots of parking garages charging exorbitant rates but we are trying to bring this trip in under budget so we went around the block and found some space in front of the San Fernando Cathedral.
With luck this happened to be right by an entrance to Riverwalk. Shit brown is not a good color for water, especially when it is part of a tourist attraction. The recent rain had stirred up a lot of mud and I guess it will be several days for things to get back to normal.
Anyway, my imagination of the Riverwalk experience had far outstretched the reality. Unfortunately we were running late and did not have the time to take one of the boat tours but we did stroll a ways along the footpath. It’s OK but it certainly isn’t Venice.
In fact, I’m sorry to say it but San Antonio is a tired looking city. There may be many nice parts we didn’t see but downtown and the route to the highway was all buildings in need of repair and sidewalk grass waiting patiently to be cut and weeded.
Our next goal was Carlsbad Caverns and the drive from San Antonio was uneventful but because of our late start it was almost 10pm before we got to Carlsbad, NM. Since we had no prior reservation we decided to stay at a highway hotel for the night.
One of the things we want to do on this trip is evaluate the pros and cons of camping vs inexpensive hotels. Very often, particularly in major cities, you can find highway hotels for less than the cost of a camp site. In many states highway rest areas have magazines full of coupons for hotel discounts. You can also find these magazines in the fast food restaurant that cluster around the highway ramps.
The cheapest we could find in Carlsbad was $39 for the night. It was remarkably unspectacular but at least it had a working refrigerator so we could pre-cool some more water for our Koolatron cooler. It was also an opportunity to recharge all our electronic gadgets – computer, cell phone, movie camera, iPod, tooth brushes, etc. But the advertised free WiFi just wasn’t happening so catching up with our posting will have to wait until tomorrow when we head to the Carlsbad Caverns.
As Geoff mentioned yesterday, we arrived fairly late in the town of Carlsbad and decided to take a motel for the night. I phoned around to get prices and the best we could do was $39, no breakfast, not even coffee and a WiFi connection that was pretty useless. The hotel was old and tired and in much need of repair, but it was clean.
We tried to start off a bit earlier as we didn’t have to break camp this time, just load up the car and go. Since this place didn’t offer any breakfast at all we just had some fruit, cheese and bread and then went looking for coffee as soon as we got on the road. We had remembered seeing a McDonald’s when we came into Carlsbad the night before so we headed there for our coffee and were then on our way to Carlsbad Caverns.
We had checked the admission fee for Carlsbad online just in case it was some ridiculous amount as some attractions can be, but it was really reasonable – just $6.00 each.
We arrived at the Visitors Center at about 9:30am and were given the choice of using the natural entrance or the elevator. We chose the natural entrance, which actually takes over an hour to get to main caverns.
It was an interesting walk and the pathways are paved and have handrails. It’s not, however, for anyone that has difficulty walking as it can be a bit tough on the knees and calves because most of the time you’re walking on a downward slope. It’s also not a good idea for anyone that has difficulty seeing in low light. They have done a terrific job of keeping the lighting as unobtrusive as possible but there are spots where it can be a bit difficult to see.
But if you’re okay with all of this then we would certainly recommend taking the natural entrance in and then the elevator back out – which is what we opted to do.
The Big Room of the cavern is huge and it takes over an hour to walk around that, too. There are all kinds of interesting formations and signs giving you explanations and some history that are well worth reading.
We had also read online that the caverns are a constant 56 deg F year round, so we opted to dress appropriately – long pants, long sleeve shirts, jackets and, of course, good walking shoes. We found we didn’t really need the jackets because the exercise involved, particularly if you use the natural entrance, keeps you pretty warm.
If you visit, take your time, don’t rush it. It’s a great experience.
We headed back on the highway and thought we would stop at a rest area and make some soup for lunch. It seems that when you really want a rest area they just aren’t around. We drove for over 100 miles and still nowhere to stop that would have water and restrooms. So, as we were coming into El Paso we opted to stop at a Subway for lunch – it was already about 2:00 in the afternoon.
It was at this point that we realized we could make it all the way to Phoenix if we stuck to the highways. So, we called our friends and asked if it was okay if we arrived today, but it would be a bit late – about 10pm. Being the wonderful friends that they are they of course said that was just fine.
The rest of the day was mostly driving. We did stop at a really cute rest area in New Mexico to make soup for supper. They had several picnic tables all in there own little adobe-style huts. It was quite pleasant. So we used our Jetboil to boil the water for soup (those soup-in-a-bowl instant type soups) and made coffee as well.
Today is also my eldest son’s birthday and even with our on-again, off-again cell phone signal we managed to talk to him at about 9pm his time and wish him a Happy Birthday. Love ya!
We arrived at our friends’ home at about 10:30pm to welcoming hugs, reminiscing and a few glasses of wine. It was so good to see them and they made us feel right at home as they have always done.
It was late to bed after a lot of catching up but we have more catching up to look forward to tomorrow as we will be spending the whole day here.
I love Phoenix. We lived here for about three years in a new house that I had built to my design. If we were Americans (I’m English/Canadian and Vicky is Canadian) this is absolutely where we would make our home.
Phoenix and the surrounding cities have all been built since the 1950’s and all to a master plan. The only time you see traffic congestion is during construction or an accident. The city is surrounded by a series of concentric ring roads with convenient connectors so traffic flow is very efficient.
While I’m talking about highways I must mention the highway art in Arizona. The highway interchanges and retaining walls are all decorated with desert art. Each one is different and all blend in to the clean desert environment.
Today we are staying with our friends D & V at their home in Scottsdale. Unfortunately D is a pilot and he had to leave on a trip this morning so we only got to visit for a little while last night. V also had to go to work so Vicky and I spent the day catching up on our web sites and just relaxing around the pool.
V cooked some wonderful steaks on the “barby” and after a few glasses of wine it was off to an early night so we could catch up on some of the sleep we seem to be missing.
It was difficult to leave our friends in Phoenix and continue on our journey. It was such a pleasant visit and being back in Phoenix felt like being home.
But, it was time to get back on the road again as we had a campground reservation at Mather Campground in the Grand Canyon Park. So we hit the road again and headed North to the Grand Canyon.
Before we left, our friends reminded us that it would be much cooler at the Grand Canyon and so we thought it was wise to pick up an extra blanket along the way.
Rising elevation = lower temperatures
As we headed North on I-17 the temperature dropped as the elevation increased, but it was still pleasant and sunny all the way to Flagstaff.
After a brief stop in Flagstaff for a few more groceries and, of course, the extra blanket, we continued on to the Grand Canyon.
The Park entrance fee for the Grand Canyon is $25.00 per vehicle. The pass is good for 7 days and for in-and-out during that seven day period. Not a bad price for a week-long pass but a bit steep if you only plan to stay overnight, which is what we were doing.
Senior citizens that are US citizens or permanent residents can get a considerable discount. If this applies to you, be sure to inquire as you can get discounts on both the park pass and the camping fees.
As we drove in we noticed that the Mather Campground was full, so we were glad that we had pre-booked our tent site online a couple of days earlier.
As it was still relatively early in the afternoon, we found our campsite and then headed off to take in some views of the Grand Canyon. As soon as we got near the rim I discovered that my fear of unprotected edges was still very much intact. My sweaty palms and elevated heart rate made that fact very clear. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the views and particularly enjoyed them when there was a nice, sturdy railing for me to hold on to.
It’s hard to describe the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon. This is our second visit. I remember thinking, on our first visit, that we were just going to look at some big hole in the ground but I was totally awestruck when we got there and saw the canyon for the first time.
My only advice is, if you’ve never been – GO!
After taking in the view from several vantage points we headed back to our campsite and got the tent up in record time. Geoff is very good at getting it all together and – hey – I help some, too.
I started making preparations for dinner and the temperature continued to drop. It was really starting to feel quite cool. Living in a warm climate most of the time it’s easy to forget just how cold cold is
When I was packing for our trip I opted for a light cotton blouse to use as a jacket instead of a few warm fuzzy jackets that I actually have. What was I thinking? Well, obviously, I wasn’t thinking and I was now paying the price. But, Geoff to the rescue! He let me use his jacket while we were having dinner and watching a movie on the computer before settling down for the night.
I don’t know how cold it actually got through the night but we we’re both freezing, even with the extra blanket. We were both looking forward to morning when it would, hopefully, warm up again.
We should have anticipated how cold it would get at night but we didn’t so consequently we spent most of the night cuddling for warmth and not sleeping (OK it wasn’t so bad). The camp sites at Mather are nice but there aren’t any showers so we just applied liberal amounts of deodorant and huddled around our steaming mugs of coffee until the sun started to warm things up a bit.
On our first visit to the Grand Canyon, several years ago, we were absolutely blown away by the size and spectacle of the place. This time we knew what to expect so although the vistas are just as grand there is not as much of a wow factor.
We wanted to see some of the views that we did not see the first time but the signs within the park are very poor. Even Madge (our GPS alter ego) couldn’t help. She new the way but the roads she wanted to direct us down were closed. I’m amazed at the amount of data packed into this little GPS unit – it even directed us right to our campsite – amazing technology.
Time was getting on so we decided to call the Grand Canyon done for now. One day we would like to return when we have more time so we can hike some of the trails and take a rafting tour down the Colorado. I guess we will need to book that rafting trip pretty soon as I understand they are booked years in advance.
If you have ever seen a movie where folks are out in the desert and there are rocks sticking out of the ground that look like ice cream cones, chances are that was filmed in Monument Valley. The John Wayne movie Stagecoach was shot here along with many other classic westerns.
It is located on the Arizona, Utah border in Navajo territory.
The route to Monument Valley took us back to Flagstaff and then north east on highways 89, 160 and 163.
It’s only about 250 miles so we arrived around 4pm and looked for somewhere to stay the night. After last night’s cold we looked first for a reasonably priced highway hotel but the only vacancy we could find was a $200 a night suite at Goulding’s.
Fortunately Goulding’s is a complex with rooms, tours, stores and RV camping. They had a couple of tent sites still available so we grabbed one. It was over 80ºF and we were at a much lower altitude so we hoped it would not get too cold.
The campground is well laid out, clean and they have an indoor swimming pool. After pitching the tent the first thing we did was head to the pool for some relaxation.
Then it was supper and a movie I had on the MacBook.
Thankfully it was a very pleasant night and we awoke warm and refreshed ready to explore Monument Valley.
Last night was a much more pleasant sleep as it didn’t get nearly as cold here as it did at the Grand Canyon.
Again, Geoff has breaking camp pretty much down to a science now. I help pack up, too, but he really does the bulk of getting the tent packed away.
After a quick breakfast and the essential cup of coffee we were off to view the amazing monoliths of Monument Valley. Geoff has taken lots of photos and video that he will, no doubt, be posting soon.
As we heeded north on highway 163, I checked out a regular, paper map to see if there was a scenic route we could take to Salt Lake City. It seems that Madge (our Magellan GPS) doesn’t have an option for “scenic route”.
As I continue, keep in the that it was ME that chose this route – you’ll understand later.
Gravel Roads and Switchbacks and Cliffs – Oh My!
From 163 we turned onto 261 which was marked on our paper map as a scenic route. It certainly was that. However, it was also a very steep route with a lot of switchbacks and sheer drops from cliffs well above the desert floor. Yes, you guessed it, sweaty palms and elevated heart rate again. I am soooo grateful that Geoff was driving. I would have simply been paralyzed. I would have made it, certainly, if I was the only one available to drive, but I would most likely have done it at 5 miles per hour.
I took some video from the car as Geoff drove. I think I may have had my eyes closed at some points, but hopefully the camera got everything.
If you are traveling with a trailer or in an RV DO NOT take this route. And that’s just not from me. There are signs along the route, before you get to the switchbacks telling you not to do that. Some larger vehicles just wouldn’t be able to make it around some of the switchback turns and the road gets quite narrow in several places.
It was no wonder that when we turned on the road, Madge (our Magellan GPS) kept saying, “As soon as possible, make a Legal U-turn.” Apparently she knew something we didn’t.
But we made it and I’m glad we went that way. It was quite an experience. We have video of parts of the road and of how high we actually were as well, so watch for the posts.
As we continued along the scenic route we saw such places as Glen Canyon and Dirty Devil River to name just a couple. The drive through the canyons was just so spectacular with many different kinds of rock formations and colors. Is it possible to get an overload of beautiful, incredible, awe-inspiring scenery? I don’t know, but if it can happen it would happen here. Every turn brought more oohs and aahs from both of us. One or the other was saying, “Wow! look at this.” or “Oh, my, that is so beautiful.” or even, “Pull over here so we can get a better look.”
We stopped for lunch along the Dirty Devil River. The Utah government has provided washroom facilities in various places as well as honor-system camping in this spots. The rate is pretty cheap – $6.00/night/person or $3.00/night/person for seniors, with a maximum charge per vehicle of $12.00 or $6.00 respectively. Not bad.
Again, it is difficult to describe the beauty of this route so my suggestion again is, go if you can and take the scenic route.
As we approached Salt Lake City the weather turned nasty and I swear I saw snow in the air even though the temperature gauge in the car was telling us it was still in the 60s.
Fortunately, we had planned to stay at a hotel anyway because this was not the kind of weather that either of us wanted to camp in. Even setting up the tent in such conditions would have been miserable and we would have most likely had to pack it up wet – not a good idea.
We picked up some highway hotel coupons along the way and I started searching for a good place to stay. One of the advertised accommodations was Sky Harbor Suites which seemed really reasonable at only $48/night and that included a suite with a full kitchen. I called ahead and mentioned the coupon. They told me that the rate on the coupon was a “walk-in” rate, meaning we couldn’t prebook it. But, they said they did have some available and we were only about a half hour away, so we took the chance and headed for them.
Sky Harbor Suites was a lovely place and very reminiscent of a timeshare resort. We were able to get the coupon rate of $48/night. Their regular rate is $79/night, so it was a really good deal.
The suite was small but lovely, with a queen size bed and a full kitchen as advertised. After checking in we headed to a local grocery store so we could take advantage of having a full kitchen available to us. We had a lovely dinner of boneless pork chops, baked potatoes and sauteed zucchini along with a glass of red wine. Who could ask for more?
As we watched a little TV and let supper digest we looked forward to a good night’s sleep protected from the cold rainy weather outside.
Sure, Vicky gets to talk about the incredible drive from Monument Valley to Salt Lake City – I get Idaho. It’s flat. That’s it. Oh and it’s the end of May and it snowed. Not just a few flakes but stay on the ground, everyone head for the ditch whiteout snow. Don’t believe me, we have pictures.
If you’re one of the morons that questions climate change go back and read the last paragraph again. Notice I said climate change and not global warming. Unfortunately the scientists named the problem after what is actually happening but they didn’t expect all the folks in the short bus to not believe them ‘cause they didn’t get palm trees in their back yards.
Anyway it was snowing so hard we had no choice but to spend the night in Boise. We had picked up one of the highway hotel magazines in McDonald’s when we stopped for coffee so we checked for coupon specials. We found what looked like the best deal which was at the Rodeway Inn for $39.95. They offered a huge hot breakfast, free wifi and pool (which we passed on given the current conditions). Also they are part of the Choice Hotel group and we have one of their loyalty cards so we collected some points.
When we arrived we were informed that all the rooms for the coupon special were gone and we would have to pay $10 more for a king bed. What the hell does the furniture have to do with pricing a room. Does a king bed cost more than the two queen beds in most hotel rooms? So with a king bed and tax our $39.95 room cost $57.51 – ouch.
Hotels tend to frown on anyone firing up a camp stove in the room so it was off to Denny’s for supper. I know old farts like us and Denny’s is such a cliché but it’s hard to find better value. At least in any Denny’s outside of Idaho. For some incomprehensible reason, here they equate meat loaf with hamburger patty. The staff were polite and apologetic but it still tasted awful.
We capped off this unusually expensive day with a $65.40 tank of gas. Every single gas station in Boise we passed was $3.09 a gallon.
While I’m on a rant let’s talk about free wifi. The Rodeway Inn offered free wifi and surprise it actually worked. This has not been our experience as we travel across the country. Usually you are tantalized by the network name appearing in the selection box only to be disappointed as you try to log in and fail because the signal is so weak. Even many of the MacDonald’s we have stopped at have problems. If you are in business and advertise free wifi as an incentive to make the traveller stop please make sure the bloody system works. I really don’t want to hear, “Sorry, the day manager changed the password and I don’t know what it is.” Arhhh!
If you’re from Idaho and want to defend your state please feel free to post a comment below. I’m sure there must be something good to say about it.
We were up for an early start as we had to get to Seattle for reservations we had at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Kent, just outside Seattle.
We’ll be spending a couple of days in the Seattle area as Geoff has a couple of business meetings to attend. I won’t bore you with the details.
Rodeway Inn Hot Breakfast
We were really looking forward to the hot breakfast that was promised in the coupon we had used to stay at the Rodeway Inn. After all, we had paid an extra $10 over the advertised amount because they only had a king bed room, so we were hoping that breakfast would make up for the extra expense.
No such luck – the breakfast was very, very disappointing. I think one of the regular continental breakfasts we’ve had would have been better than this.
So, just what did they think constituted a hot breakfast? There were doughy, warm biscuits; sausage gravy that was also warm but horrible; a crock pot full of oatmeal that was thicker than wallpaper paste; make-your-own waffles with an appliance that really didn’t work very well; coffee and tea; about a half dozen slices of white bread if you wanted to make toast; a few muffins and some juice. We actually ate very little and had a hard time seeing how they could refer to this as a “full hot breakfast.”
Sorry, Rodeway Inn, we not only weren’t impressed, we were really disappointed.
We told Madge (our Magellan GPS) to get us to Seattle via the most use of freeways as we had about 500 miles to cover. She obliged with a good route to get us to our destination.
We actually arrived in Kent fairly early – about 4pm. The fact that the time changed along the way and we gained an hour helped as well.
The drive itself was fairly unremarkable. Just more highway to cover. However, I insisted on doing most of the early driving because I was anticipating that at some point we would have to drive through a mountain pass and I didn’t want to be the one driving when that happened. I get sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate whenever I’m near any unprotected edges. Not good when driving.
As it turned out, there were no perilous passes along the way, so I could have driven it, but better safe than sorry. Geoff is much better at driving on any such roads, like he did for the scenic route from Monument Valley to Salt Lake City.
Howard Johnson’s Hotels Hit a Home Run with Us
When we arrived at the Howard Johnson’s in Kent, we were greeted warmly and our reservation was retrieved quickly. We were told that the queen room we had booked for two nights was not available but they were happy to upgrade us to a king room at no additional charge!
They also told us that our room keys were good for a 10% discount at Denny’s, just across the street, and a 15% discount at a Mexican restaurant right next door.
We opted for Mexican and both had a yummy chicken taco salad. It was nicely presented, tasty and filling.
Another bonus, the WiFi connection was amazing and we were able to retrieve emails and get some other work done, too.
We were very pleased with our room until this morning when we discovered we had no hot water for showers. The girl on the desk apologized and said the maintenance staff would look at it ASAP. We were contemplating the idea of just washing the smelly bits when she offered us the key to a vacant room so we could take our showers. This is the kind of customer service we like to see.
The Howard Johnson’s version of the free breakfast was better than most in selection and presentation but still mostly carbs. Sugary cereals, muffins etc. I guess we are going to have to take the breakfast off our criteria list when searching for a room because we are always disappointed.
Clean and fed we headed off to downtown Seattle for my meeting. Like any big modern city parking in Seattle is a problem. At least it’s a problem if you don’t want to spend a week’s grocery budget just to park your car for a few hours.
We thought we had struck gold when we saw a sign for 2 hrs parking for only $6. But like country bumpkins in the city for the first time we forgot to read the fine print. We arrived back at the parking garage after 2hrs and 10 minutes to discover the $6 was now $14. We are not adding this to our trip budget as we only parked here for my meeting.
By the time we got back to the hotel it was time for supper. An early supper but since we had skipped lunch that was OK. Denny’s is right across the street from the hotel so it was pretty much a no brainer particularly since our room key gave us a 10% discount.
Turned out we didn’t need the discount since Denny’s was having Coupon Monday Madness. Just bring in any coupon at all and the entrée is 2 for 1. We didn’t have any coupons but our waitress pointed out that there were highway hotel books in the lobby.
Huge salad, grilled chicken, two sides, dinner rolls, unlimited drinks for two just $17.79 including a $3 tip.