We got up, showered and dressed and everything. We were going to try and tackle a couple small things, not really "issues", with the van, but we realized we only had an hour to check out and didn't want to have to rush. We walked down to the lake instead. I went for a swim. By "swim" I mean I went underwater and immediately got out. That's all you need when it's that cold. Loki wouldn't go in above his toes.
After a pitstop in Punkin, AZ to make breakfast, we began making our way back to Prescott, since Mandy had work the following day. She rerouted us along the way, to Tonto Natural Bridge. She took a left off the highway and we plunged deep into a valley. I think the sign said 16% grade? I still don't know how grades are measured exactly, but I don't think I've seen one that steep, ever. Eventually we got to the bottom of this hole. Neither of us knew any more about the site than what was on the signs. That is, it's a natural bridge. Expectations were zilch. We were prohibited from the hiking trails because we had Loki with us, but we were allowed to get to all the observation areas at ground level. What a cool site! It would have been awesome to hike down into the crevasse formed below the bridge but the views from ground level were very cool. If you're ever near it, check it out. It's hard to explain how interesting a landform it is, and it's hard to convey in a photo, too. And we apparently took none.
We made it the rest of the way back to Prescott and parked downtown on historic Whiskey Row for the night. While Mandy was working Monday, I fiddled with wiring up our cell phone signal booster to one of our batteries. In doing so, I got lazy and didn't use the correct tool for the job, and I accidentally shorted the positive post to the van chassis. In that instant of electrical short, the battery's safety kicked in which disconnects the posts from the internal charge, putting the battery into a "safe" or "sleep" mode. Crap. Everything was completely dead on the house side of the van. I panicked at first, and tried a bunch of things that didn't make sense. After a breath and some thinking, I realized we should get somewhere that we could plug in our shore charger, and hoped that would work to "wake up" the batteries. When Mandy got out of work, we went to the only campsite in town that had electrical hookups. It was $50 for a night, which we reluctantly paid. We needed to plug in the van for only an instant, and that was enough to wake the batteries up and everything began functioning as normal straight away. It had been a tense few hours, not knowing if it would work. The relief when the systems came back on was huge. We made dinner and worked on destressing the rest of the night.
Tuesday was not super interesting. Loki and I dropped off Mandy at work, and then we took a couple hour ride down to Phoenix. We spent pretty much the entire day at the Mercedes-Benz dealer in North Scottsdale. It was time for its first oil change and the rest of "Service A" at 20,000 miles. I think the bulk of the work is fluids-checking and other inspection points. But we also had a small stack of recall notices to address. The team there handled everything all in one day, which was fantastic. It was a long day for us, but Loki was pleased to be welcome inside the lobby and found himself a nice cushiony chair to sleep in for most of it.
Thursday we had a little bit of a mishap on the way to drop Mandy off at work. The grey water tank, which we knew was mostly full, backed up into the shower and spilled out onto the floor. It was a result of specific driving conditions, I think a right turn while braking; because of the way the plumbing is arranged. So that was the project of the day. After drop-off, I cleaned up the floor and dumped the grey water tank. I ordered a check valve for the drain pipe immediately after, and we made a note to ensure we don't let the tank get over half full until it's installed.
With the plumbing issue resolved as much as it could be at the time, I set to work figuring out plans for the weekend. This is something of a process which we're still ironing out. But we're definitely improving and getting more efficient. There's a lot of points to consider! First, we have a list of destinations recommended by friends and family, as well as places we want to see. There's a lot of overlap there, which is good. Then, there's weather to consider; will it be too hot or too cold? Any rain or high winds? Some destinations, like lakes, for example, we want to visit when it's hot on purpose. For swimming. The desert spots we want to visit when it's cooler, because the desert can get incredibly, unforgivably hot. Then, we have to consider where exactly we'll stay at a given destination. Is there a place to park for free, or should we get a campsite? Do we need reservations? Is there anything available? Then we have to consider the route. Can we get there in one shot on a Friday after work, or is it better to break it up? Can we pair it with another destination that's on the way, and do a two-for-one deal? All of that stuff is the figuring. Then, there's also prep work. Like ensuring the grey tank is empty, in case we don't see anywhere to dump it. Fill the fresh water tanks, in case we don't pass any fill stations. Make sure the fuel tank is full. Get groceries for the weekend. Even though we're ostensibly "ready to go", there's still a lot to be done.
This took us Thursday and Friday to complete, but we came up with a solid plan we were excited to execute. We'll tell you all about it in the next one!
Mandy got out of work Friday afternoon and we started driving south and east. We passed through the valley (that's what locals call Prescott Valley), Camp Verde, and then started climbing some mountain. We had a gorgeous drive over a couple of mountain passes through the sunset hour. The landscape is just so IMMENSE! We wondered if it ever gets old for people that live here? I had to slam on the brakes suddenly otherwise I'd have taken out a family of elk. There were a couple dozen milling about on both sides of and in the middle of the roadway just south of Strawberry, AZ. Right around dusk, so they were a bit hard to see. So from there on, the drive was a little tense. My shoulders were sore when we finally parked in Payson at Houston Mesa Campground. I gave my eyes a break from scanning for wildlife.
I set to work making dinner while Mandy paid at the post for our site for the night. We wished it wasn't generator-city here. Is that a new trend? It's a little annoying, honestly. We had pork chops. Nice thick cut, bone-in chops. Seasoned and then baked alongside Brussels sprouts and home fries. I also caramelized an onion to mix into the sprouts. It's great to be cooking full meals again. We cleaned up and watched the latest video from Expedition Overland and then went to bed.
Saturday was a big day for the van - it was to complete its first off-road trail!
We got up at the crack of 8:30ish. We let the dog out into our campsite. We were parked such that no one could really see into the passenger's side and it was warm enough so we could shower with the sliding door open. It was chilly, but in a good way. The kind of cool that you know is going to vanish quickly. We ate breakfast and took a quick lap around the campground with Loki before setting off in the van.
We stopped at Speedway to dump whatever small amount of grey water we had with us, and top off the fresh water and diesel tanks. Then, we went to Home Depot to get a stick-on wire holder thingy for charging cables and some glass wipes. Loki leaves his nose prints everywhere on the inside of the windshield. And bugs leave their guts all over the outside. It needs to be cleaned frequently.
Then we headed south down highway 87 with the windows wide open. It was so warm! We hopped off the highway right around mile 222, at the Mount Ord trailhead/FR-686. After a half mile or less, the pavement disappeared and we were just left with gravel. We set the shocks to full-floppy mode and began climbing. Up and up and up. Somewhere along the way, I decided to put the trasfer case into low range so we could drive slower for more comfort. We didn't really need all four wheels driving, but it's a side effect of engaging the low range. The views were amazing all the way up. Mildly terrifying, too. There's just a sheer drop in a lot of places, and a couple shady areas were still coated with a thick layer of ice. We managed, and the van had no issues whatsoever. We didn't slip once that I was aware of.
At the top of the trail, we parked and met Russ who was pitching his tent. He camps there often. Really nice guy, who had a lot of great info. After we chatted with him a bit, we hiked up the last half mile or so to the summit. There was still a fair bit of snow up there, but it was melting and making the dirt into soup. Gross. And bad for traction, too. The views at the summit were outstanding!
After we took it all in for a while, we turned around and headed down. Loki was pretty lazy on the down hike. Back at the van, he wanted nothing more than to nap in the shade underneath it. We eventually coaxed him into the van, and we set off back down the hill. We became aware of a popping sound somewhere along the way. It was definitely in the rear somewhere. I walked next to the van while Mandy rode the brakes over some bumps. I couldn't quite pinpoint it, but we took a few minutes to put a wrench on the upper shock hardware anyways. I got about 1/4 turn out of the passenger's side upper shock bolt, and we continued on in silence. Problem solved, I guess. The rest of the trip down seemed much shorter than the ride up. Uneventful. Which is what you want, really.
Back on pavement, we stiffened the shocks back up and beat feet to Roosevelt Lake. We weren't sure which campground would have sites available, if any, so we were hopeful but not certain. They're mostly first come-first served this time of year. Cholla Campground had plenty of sites available so we picked our favorite, hung our receipt on the post, and took a short ride south to Ffinchs (sic) for dinner. I got ribs and Mandy got a pulled pork sandwich. Loki got a cup of whipped cream and a cookie because everyone loves him. The views across the lake were better than the food, but it was fine because we were starving. And that's not saying much because the views were fantastic.
We tried to walk down to the marina, but the sign said no pets on the docks. So, we went back to our campsite instead. Someone was leveling their camper trailer when we arrived. I explained that we had already paid for that site. They packed up and moved over a site but we felt bad. Even though we'd done nothing wrong. I'm sure it would be crappy to have to set up twice. We scouted some spots for night sky photos in the dwindling twilight and went back to the van to wait for full darkness. Mandy forced us out of bed around 9. I was so sleepy I didn't want to go shoot. We stepped outside to find that there was way too much campfire smoke to see much in the sky anyways. We abandoned our plans and instead took a few shots of the van. We went back in to sleep.
At least it's back to the grind for one of us. Mandy started her temporary contract position for the VA Medical Center in Prescott, Arizona. During her working days, Loki and Rob will be adventuring in and around the town. On weekends, we'll all be exploring various parts of Arizona. Remember that we have to leave Prescott National Forest lands to satisfy the stay limits within the national forest. Since the adventures will be on a bit smaller scale, it probably makes sense to condense a week into each post here, rather than a day per post. Hopefully that's okay with you all. These posts have fallen quite far behind real time, so this will help to catch you guys back up to present day. Or at least a bit closer.
Day one of work for Mandy, and we already have a pretty well-established morning routine. We get up, take showers, eat breakfast, make the bed and raise it to the ceiling, feed Loki, take him for a walk, then drive Mandy to work. We drove through the security gate which was a little awkward because she didn't have an ID, we didn't have a parking permit, we have a pet which isn't allowed, and so on. We were allowed through, but we decided right then that in the future, we'd just park outside the gate and she could walk in. Mandy put on her brave face and set off to work. Loki and I left to run some errands. We got groceries, opened up a mailbox so we could receive mail and packages. Real exciting stuff. Eventually, we returned to our campsite and set out to hike to Goldwater Lake, which is about 3.5 miles away from the campground. Somewhere around the halfway mark, Loki started dragging behind, so I took it as a sign to turn back so I could avoid having to carry his 85lbs all the way back. Because that was just not going to happen. Back at camp, we relaxed in the sun for a while until it was time to pick up Mandy. Back at camp, we decided to grill a BBQ chicken pizza over our campfire. The gluten-free dough, which was all we could find at the grocery store, was a little difficult to work with, but the pizza came out awesome anyways. We devoured it, and spent the rest of the night cleaning up and relaxing by the dying fire before heading to bed.
Wednesday Loki and I went to Phoenix to meet a dog-sitter from Rover. So, we spent most of the day driving there and back again. We were going to try to do a hike before picking up Mandy, but the diesel pump was moving so slowly that we ran out of time to do the whole thing. Filling up the tank took over a half hour. It was incredibly, even impressively slow. I'd never encountered that before, so it was really strange. After we picked up Mandy we did a different hike, but still one we'd never tried. My back was hurting from all the driving by the time we got home to make dinner, I just had to lay down. I'd planned to make dinner but Mandy wouldn't allow it, and she handled it all herself.
Thursday was pretty much all errands. Loki and I mailed some post cards. We wrote to you guys here. I worked on some weekend plans, trying to figure out where we might go. We went back to work to deliver Mandy's wallet which she'd forgotten and needed to get a work ID. I called the van insurance company to discuss getting a rock chip repaired in our windshield. I reached out to some local companies to install window tint. I edited some video for our YouTube channel. Oh, you didn't know we have one? We post videos every week here. Check it out if you want. I found a laundromat in town we could go to after we picked up Mandy. So we picked her up, and went to Iron Springs Laundry to do a load of laundry. Mandy ran the laundry and I made chicken pesto pasta for us for dinner. A little bit of bacon is key to kick it up just a little bit. It came out wicked good. We ate, washed all the dishes, finished up the laundry and stored it, then returned to the campground to sleep.
Friday we woke up early. Enough time for a little sunrise hike. It's super chilly when we start out, but by the time we get back, about a half hour later, we're warmed up and comfortable from the effort. Plus the sun starts warming things as soon as it shines on them out here. There's no moisture in the air, so there's almost zero lag. But as soon as you're in the shade, it's cold again. It's a strange effect. Loki and I got groceries after we dropped off Mandy. Then I set to work installing a cell phone signal booster. We haven't needed one before now, but cell signal is so wildly variable in Arizona because of the landscape, we've been a little frustrated by it. If you're on the wrong side of a particular hill, you might just be completely out of luck if you need to make a call, send a text, look up something online, write a blog post, etc. Our hope is the signal booster will help alleviate that. Loki and I walked around a park a couple times to get his energy out and ensure he'd be nice and mellow the rest of the day. We drove across town to Affinity RV dealer and dumped our grey water and topped off our freshwater tanks. It's free there!
We circled back to work a bit early, so we prepped the navigation in the van, and waited patiently for Mandy to come out. We'll give you the weekend in the next post, as it's more interesting than a work week, I think.
We awoke in White Spar Campground and just got to chill again. No plan. No rush. Just made it up as we went. Sometime mid-morning, we decided to go for a hike. There's a bunch of trails that begin at this campground. We had sort of a map this time, on Mandy's phone, but didn't really refer to it all that much. We just kind of went where we felt like going and tried to keep our bearings relative to the campground.
I have to shout out the Mercedes app again here. Not that we needed it, but there's a feature that could come in super handy. I'm hoping we never DO need it, but it's great to know it's there if we do. So, if you have your device's GPS antenna on, and you open up the map in the Mercedes app (side note: we've learned to call it "M-word" in the van, because if you say her full name she's all "How can I help you" and then we're like "NO SHUT UP"), you can see two dots; one is you, one is the van. If you ever get lost and need to get to your vehicle, this is really handy to know. You just have to walk in the direction that connects the dots, then you're there. Just wanted to spread that knowledge in case.
So, I couldn't really tell you which trails we did. We learned that one of them goes to a lake which we'll definitely be checking out soon, once it gets just a tad warmer. Hopefully we can swim there. We'll see. Eventually, it was coming up on lunch, so we made our way back to finish up the leftover ziti. We reheated it in the oven and it was so good. We also had a wobbly-pop each, and just relaxed in the sun at the campsite. I sat in my new chair which is awesome. We highly recommend the Nemo Stargaze chair. I tried to adjust the passenger's side power step on the van to alleviate a retraction issue, but it didn't seem to improve any. It's just annoying. When the weather is too cold, it doesn't work properly. I think the van and the step have different thermal expansion rates that causes binding.
When we felt like we wanted a change of scenery, we lazily picked up and set out in the van. We made the short jaunt into Prescott and parked to walk around Whiskey Row and the courthouse. It's such a cute little town, and super dog-friendly, which is awesome. We picked up some post cards for family, and Loki literally just laid down inside the store. He's so lazy. The shopkeepers were laughing at him. Not AT him, but like, in a nice way, you know? Laughing with him, if he could laugh. Eventually, we agreed to find a patio to get a beer. We were wicked picky for no real reason, but we ended up at Ad Astra. It's a tiny brewery in town. It's also dog-friendly. We sat on their patio which is so adorable. Mandy got a strawberry-something sour that was really good, and Rob got an imperial IPA. Also delicious.
We made our way back to the campground, and split up. Rob set to making a fire in the pit, and Mandy made us dinner. We had steak tips with roasted broccoli and home fries. We sat on the ground next to the fire pit and elbowed dog so he couldn't swipe any off our plates. When it was nearly dead, we put the fire out so we could walk Loki around the campground, and then we went inside to avoid the nightly chill. We caught an episode of Ozark and passed out immediately afterwards.
Loki made sure we were awake around 4:00am or so. He heard coyotes, and he just wanted to verify that we heard them, too. We appreciate him keeping us safe, though. The coyotes don't have a key, so they can't get to us in the van. He was very alert, so it took some coaxing to get him to go back to sleep so we could do the same.
We eventually got up. This was the least-hurried morning we've had yet! It was quite nice. After we ate, we took a stroll around the campground to put our trash bag in the dumpster. On our short walk, we bumped into the host, Brian. He was super friendly and had a very laid-back approach to hosting. We expressed interest in hiking from the campground but that we were planning to move the van out of the site so we wouldn't violate the checkout time. He said not to worry about it. Thanks Brian!
So, after chatting a bit more with the host, we set out. With no map and no trail markers, we didn't want to get too crazy. It wasn't a full-blown trek by any means. We just meandered up the dry riverbed a while. We enjoyed the solitude together. There wasn't another person around the entire time we walked. And we could only hear cars if we listened really closely. It's incredibly rare to find a place like that anywhere near Ipswich, so this was an interesting new experience for us.
When our water bottles were half empty, we turned back. Back at the campsite, Mandy whipped us up some leftover tacos with the addition of chorizo to stretch them a bit further. We relaxed at the site in the sun for a while - Loki really loved this part. He's been deprived of his midday naps because he doesn't sleep well while we're driving the van yet. He's improving each day, so hopefully someday he'll be able to sleep on a drive. He laid out on his bed in the warmth, and you could just tell the was at peace.
Eventually it was time to go. We packed up and made the last little push to our final destination of Prescott, AZ. We made our way to White Spar Campground but stopped for groceries along the way. The campground is very nice and super clean. It's probably the cleanest national forest campground we've seen. Ever. We picked an open site and reserved it online through Thursday. We did some basic math and came up with a decent plan. We're allowed to stay 14 days in a 30-day period in Prescott National Forest. So, if we do Monday-Thursday nights while Mandy's working in town, we'll have to vacation every weekend away from Prescott. And then we'll just have 2 days per 30 days to find parking somewhere else.
We made, then ate, baked ziti for dinner and then we watched the Tinder Swindler before bed.
The sunrise in Sedona was b-e-a-YOU-tiful! Right in front of where we parked was the most scenic U-haul location we've ever seen. Which isn't saying anything at all. Usually they're not much to look at. But Sedona U-haul has got it going on. We finally had a little time to kill, so we just walked around the town a bit with Loki. It's just so pretty! Even though it was pretty chilly, we didn't even care. It was awesome to be outside walking around in the fresh air and sunshine.
Eventually, the cold did start to gnaw at us a little, so we circled back home. Once there, we made a couple breakfast sandwiches and ate them. After we ate and cleaned up, we made a big climb out of Sedona, through a zillion switchbacks, towards Flagstaff. Once we were in Flagstaff, we continued climbing even more. "You're going to drive all the way up the mountain and there will be none left to ski," Mandy said. Well, she was wrong. At Snowbowl, the driveway is a long climb uphill, but there's plenty of mountain left to ski at the top. The thing about skiing is that you need snow to do it, and the snow only likes to hang out at the top. She doesn't ski, so she just doesn't know.
From about 9:30am, when I started, until about 10:30am, the mountain was solid ice. As soon as the sun started to shine on the surface, everything softened up and it was perfect. It's a steep hill, pretty much all over, so it was a little dicey in the beginning there. Once the crust broke up, I was a lot more comfortable, and pushed myself to make a few passes through the moguls. I had a wicked good time playing all over the mountain until mid-afternoon when my legs started to get a little crampy. I forgot to stretch them out in the morning, so it's my own fault. I called it a day sometime after 2:00, and I was fine with that. It was a solid day of non-stop riding.
The base had fantastic weather. We almost called it "hot". It was deep into the "warm" territory, to be sure. I took my time cleaning off all my gear as I put everything away. And we didn't freeze during it. We even had the doors of the van wide open. You just can't do that in New England. Loki hung out on the ground outside the van, which is one of his favorite activities. It was awesome. Once everything was packed up, we headed back into Flagstaff. Although the mountain is technically IN Flagstaff, it's pretty remote. We took the van for another wash, this time doing a much better job than in Tennessee. Then, we went to REI.
We had some gift cards from Christmas to spend, and we had a need for some chairs that we could use outside the van. We had chairs, for years, actually. But when we moved into the van, we drew the line, and they ended up on the wrong side thereof. We never loved those chairs. We just accepted them, because we'd had them for so long. But it was finally time to shop for replacements, which was exciting. We trialed pretty much every chair they had available in the store. A lot of them we had to assemble first, but the store doesn't mind. And Loki got to come in, too, so we could take our time, and not worry about if he was okay outside in the van. Big shoutout to REI for being awesome. We decided to get one Nemo Stargaze chair, because Rob really liked it, and Mandy wasn't sure. She wants to use it for a time before deciding.
Leaving Flagstaff and heading towards our temporary-final destination of Prescott takes you along highway 17S. The surface of the highway is terrible, so we stopped to adjust the shocks a bit softer. Along the way, Mandy rerouted us towards Camp Verde, because the overnight temperature was forecast to be about 11 degrees warmer. And we didn't have to be in Prescott the next day. We were finally beginning to understand just how much impact we would allow weather to have on our travels. It's not that we have to avoid the cold and snow and rain and misery, but if we're this mobile, why not be comfortable? We stopped at Clear Creek Campground, and found the perfect site nestled in a corner. We paid for the night, and then we cooked chicken tacos for dinner. After dinner, we used our new chair for its intended purpose, and we stared at the night sky for a while. It was very clear here, with almost no light pollution from nearby towns. It was a perfect way to end an awesome day.
Overnight in Tucumcari, NM was very cold. We wondered aloud if we should have just stayed in New England. The temperature was officially 6F, but the weather app said it feels like -9F. C O L D. As soon as Loki peed, we hit the road. We were not in the mood for more cold weather. That defeats the whole purpose of this trip.
We drove straight through, more or less, from Tucumcari, NM to Sedona, AZ. We stopped for fuel and, since I had to pay inside, these chips (below) caught my eye. I thought they'd be spicier than they actually were. But they were tasty nonetheless. Always go for the shady-looking packaging. Sometimes you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The 8-ish hour drive through to Sedona was mostly uneventful. We were contented just watching the outside temperature gauge slowly climb. And we were happy to know that we were done with long driving days; our ultimate, temporary destination just an hour and a half ride away. The scenery slowly grew more and more interesting as we left the flat, open expanses of the greater panhandle and eastern New Mexico behind us. There was undulating elevation. And cacti! We learned that "cactuses" is also proper English. We also learned that there is no Welcome To Arizona sign. Or we just missed it. Other than that, the ride was boring in a good way.
We stopped for the night at the Elks Lodge in Sedona, AZ. They have a handful of RV sites that are open to the public. It was a lot easier than trying to find an open site on BLM land, since we arrived to Sedona after dark. It's tough to try to find a site after the sun has gone down. The Elks Lodge was simple, and they didn't even have us check in or pay until the following morning!
We awoke in Oklahoma. It was a little cold, and a little wet, but it wasn't terrible. Just across the highway from the casino where we stayed, we topped up on fuel. Then we hopped back on 40W. We found it odd how much the price of fuel can vary at any given exit on this highway. There are typically at least two stations at a given exit, and the prices can be 20 cents or more difference, per gallon of fuel across the highway. It's odd.
It was overcast, but dry on the highway. So, we went as swiftly as we could to cover as much ground as possible before it started to get sloppy. We were expecting snow at any moment. We stopped at a rest area to try changing some shock settings around and see how the ride quality was impacted. We made them a bit stiffer, and found it much more comfortable inside. But while we did that, we noticed that the rest areas in Oklahoma were so trashy. Literally, there was trash all over the ground. And graffiti. Like, low quality graffiti. It certainly wasn't artful. All the more reason to keep moving.
We got all the way to Texas before we saw any snow. Now, we're accustomed to New England weather. When there's a 20mph wind, it's what we call a fairly windy day. We notice it, but it's not anything really insane. When there are gusts up to 30-40mph, we start to expect some minor tree damage, usually. So, when we saw that there were 10-15mph winds accompanying this snow storm, we didn't think much of it. Just glossed over that part. As you know, we were heading west on 40. It's not pin-straight, but it's a pretty straight route for the most part. And in the panhandle of Texas, it's across pretty barren terrain, with no trees to act as a windbreak. The winds were coming from the north, so our passenger's side. Pretty regularly. In fact, the wind was so constant and significant, that we could see about 10-15 degrees difference in the temperatures inside our tires from the passenger's side to the driver's. Since the wind was pushing the van towards the driver's side, those tires were carrying more weight, and thus heated up quite a bit more. It was not concerning, but it was interesting to see.
At 75mph, it is a battle with nature to keep the van between the lines. Passing trucks is exhausting because the north wind becomes a pulling force into the trailer due to the low pressure area between vehicles. Then you have to be ready to jerk the wheel back when you get to the cab of the big rig, because there's that side wind again. Once the snow started to fall it was just one continuous drift for miles and miles. We've never seen such a long snow drift. It's trippy if you stare at it a while. Feels like you're in a dream.
But here's the thing: that was really it for adverse conditions on the highway. A wind from the side and a visual effect over the pavement. A very thin film started to accumulate only in the middle parts, in a few small areas. But where the tires go, the pavement remained dry. And yet, we lost count of how many cars went off the road. It was mayhem. I put the van in 4WD after a stop for brisket lunch at Tyler's in Amarillo. That brisket was top notch. You all should go there and get it. Anyway, in 4WD and keeping it slow, around 60mph, mainly because of uncertainty around how the conditions would change because it's unfamiliar territory. In hindsight, we probably didn't need 4WD at all. But it's everything we own so we wanted to be cautious. And I thought maybe there was some legitimacy to all these people losing control. But it was really simple for us to stay on the pavement and right side up so who knows.
We got to Tucumcari, New Mexico fairly early, but stopped for the night. We didn't HAVE to, but we were tired obviously, and it seemed a decent spot. But more importantly highway 40 was closed. In multiple areas ahead. Because there were SO. MANY. ACCIDENTS. Mandy read of a single crash involving 4 passenger vehicles and THIRTY-FIVE trailer trucks. Truly, it was mayhem out here.
Before we set out, our plan was to do short driving days, just 4 hours or so, times 9 days, to complete the route. Weather motivated us to forego that plan, and we've done some long days to get to warmth. But now that we're in Tennessee, it's finally warm and we can take our time. From Nashville to Memphis is just over three hours of driving. So that's what we set out to accomplish.
We cut straight across Tennessee, pretty uneventfully, and made it to Memphis sometime around lunch. Well, whatever time it was, we were hungry for lunch. So we found a BBQ spot because you have to, right? We've developed a pretty sweet system for navigating. Hang on, Mercedes developed the system, really. We've just started learning how to use it. That's what I meant. Mercedes-Benz has a cell phone application that works really well with their vehicles. And with Google Maps. So here's how we like to use it. The person in the back will look ahead on Google Maps for whatever the next destination will be (i.e. - lunch stop, campsite, fuel, hiking spot, etc.). Once they've found a destination, they can just click "share" in Google Maps, and select the Mercedes application. That's it. The location will automatically be sent to the in-dash navigation in the van. The driver clicks on the screen, and the van automatically navigates to that point. It's so easy! It took us a bit to figure it all out, but knowing the ins and outs of it makes navigating places so convenient. Full disclosure - Mercedes aren't paying us to type this. We just really like the app. It can do a ton more stuff, but for now that's all you need to know. I told you all that to help you understand why I, as the driver, don't know the name of the place we stopped for lunch. I just tapped the screen in the dash, and then ate food. The ribs were sooo good. Which should surprise no one, because Memphis is pretty well known for outstanding BBQ. We sat outside so Loki could join us, and we could all enjoy the lovely 60-degrees-and-sunny weather. What a change from what we were used to!As we were eating and relaxing outside, basking in the warmth, Mandy checked the weather forecast. There was a very large cold front blowing east across the entire southern US. For a few days. So, rather than find a place to explore in Memphis, and have a nice relaxing afternoon, we hustled back to the van and continued our drive west. Our thought process, heavily influenced by the recent change to warmer weather, was that we wanted to endure as little more cold weather as possible. We could stick to the plan, and face whatever comes. Or we could drive into the front as fast as possible, to get through it to the other side, where more warmth would assuredly be. Right or wrong, we chose the latter.
We hopped back on the highway and pushed all the way through Arkansas. Nonstop. We're sure there's plenty nice things to see and do in Arkansas, but they're all hidden from view on highway 40. We told ourselves there was nothing, so we wouldn't feel the guilt of passing through the whole state in a few short hours. We didn't stop until we got to Oklahoma. The only thing we really noted about all of Arkansas is that the truckers were really frustrating to drive with. The highway is two lanes, and big rigs are limited to 70mph, whereas passenger cars are limited to 75mph. But we were effectively limited to 70mph because there was always a big rig in the left lane passing a slower-moving truck in the right lane. And blocking the left lane from passenger cars.
We arrived to Roland, OK sometime after dark. There's a casino here that offers free RV parking, including full hookups. How neat is that?! We don't generally need hookups because we designed our van to be as self-sufficient as possible. We have enough battery power to last two days (or longer, if we cook more efficiently), and those are recharged by an auxiliary alternator, so simply driving the van recharges them. We have 64 gallons of freshwater storage, which could easily last us two weeks or longer. We have a 20 gallon grey water storage tank, which should last us on average about 3 or 4 days. Since the services were free, we took the opportunity to top-off our fresh water supply, and to dump the grey water.
The grey water is mostly just soapy water from showers, and from washing dishes. The toilet uses no water, and doesn't feed into the grey water tank. In a lot of places, it is acceptable to simply dump grey water on the ground. We try to avoid doing this, just because it's generally not necessary; dump stations are easy to find, and we aren't always sure what the rules are in a given area. Our grey water tank dumping is something that needs work. For this operation, we have a valve on the tank which dumps to outside. We open the valve to fill a large food storage container, and then close the valve. We dump the bucket of water into the drainage hole at the dumping station, and then repeat. Until the tank in the van is empty. This usually takes several iterations. It's not ideal. But it works. For now.
Because lunch had been somewhat late, and we mostly just sat down for the whole day, we weren't really hungry. We decided to skip dinner, and just got into bed instead. We were more tired than we were hungry.
We go somewhere else. After we woke up and got dressed and slid open the door to walk around with Loki, we were so excited to find the outside temperature was almost above freezing! At 6:00am! It was around this time we were much more confident that we'd made the right move getting out of the northeast. As hard as it is to leave literally everything, sometimes it's necessary.
Johnson City was still asleep and we could walk down the middle of most of the roads without interfering with traffic at all. We marveled at the architecture around us. Lots of old brickwork. It's got such a powerful yet down to earth feeling to it. It's just lovely. I love the way old business signs painted on decades ago still linger on, even long after the business has changed multiple times. It's like a glimpse into the past, without needing a time machine. As the streets began to fill with more and more cars, we took our cue to get back to the van and move along. But not far. Just across town to a laundromat. It's laundry day. We found one adjacent to a car wash, so we could finally get all the salt and grime off the van. It's been a while since we've washed it. In fairness to us, it's terrible washing a car when the temperatures are below freezing. But here it was 55F and sunny! There was even a dog-washing facility, although we ultimately skipped this part of the venture.
After our bodies, clothing, and van were all squeaky clean, we continued our journey. We navigated to Nashville, TN. Do you have to include the state? Everyone knows where Nashville is, right? When you're saying it out loud, though, it's easy to confuse it with Asheville, so in that case it's best to include the state. We didn't head to Nashville specifically for the hot chicken, that was just an added bonus.
We've learned not to pick a destination specifically for a food item. It usually goes poorly. We once tried to stop in Chicago on a road trip, to get a pizza for lunch. We ended up getting a crummy sandwich at Jimmy Johns. We went to Miami for a Cuban sandwich, and it was okay. We had just been in Philly for mediocre cheesesteaks, so the disappointment was still fresh. We went to Nashville because it's a really cool city, was convenient, and was forecast to have excellent weather. We didn't even mention the hot chicken until we were already parked at Titan Stadium and were walking over the river to downtown. This must be the correct approach, because none of it disappointed.
We wandered around a bit just exploring the area. There was an event for Chik-fil-a taking up a block or two, so we had to take a little detour around that block. We ended up at The Stillery on a recommendation from Rob's dad. Since we had Loki, we couldn't eat inside. But we called and ordered over the phone, and Mandy walked in and out to grab the food once it was ready. Conveniently, there are picnic tables on the sidewalk right outside the restaurant, so we sat down and devoured the delicious sandwiches almost immediately. What's even better, there was music playing from every other bar on the road, so we were completely enveloped in live music. Prior to eating the sandwiches, we both had an idea we kept to ourselves; that the hot chicken was a dry thing. Like, a rub rather than a sauce. No idea where this notion came from, nor why neither of us mentioned it until after we ate. It was so good, it was just a surprise. After we ate, we began our walk back home, over the bridge. The city lights are so pretty at night. And the view across the river is just awesome.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.