Heading North, part 2: North Carolina

While we weren’t the least bit tired of traveling or being on the road, we were a little tired of being tourists. The weather, though it had stopped raining, had turned colder and we weren’t inspired to head to any of South Carolina’s beaches. We also decided not to head in to Charleston but instead chose a leisurely morning at the campground and then got back on I95 heading north. We reasoned that the East Coast is a lot easier for us to come back to if we want to see anything that we missed.

We had a nice day, but little of it is blog-worthy. Nice conversations in the car, taking our time over lunch at a rest stop, not feeling hurried or pressured to see and do all that can be seen and done.

The increasingly colder weather was helping us process the change of seasons happening for us as well as in the world around us, and the hours in the car gave us plenty of time to start talking about what comes next.

Year-round campgrounds got harder to find as we headed north, but we found a KOA in Enfield, North Carolina that was still open and we stopped for the night. It was a bit drizzly and cold cooking dinner outside, and we woke up to the first frost we’d seen since Yellowstone. And, though we didn’t know it at the time, this was our last night in Home Sweet Pop-up.

Campground Review Enfield/Rocky Mount KOA:
Price: I forgot to note how much we paid, but the website shows a rate of about $35-$40 per night for a pop-up the size of ours.
Location: There isn’t much locally, but it is convenient to I95 and according to the website they are the only KOA between Fredriksburg, VA and Point South (where we’d stayed the night before). I imagine most of their business is overnight stays as people travel up and down I95.
Facilities: This one one of the smaller KOAs we’d stayed at. The pool was closed for the season. Use of the kitchen cost extra, so we braved the weather with our camp stove. The bathrooms and showers were fine.
Site-description: Grassy-field style.
Neighborhood: Practically deserted on a cold weekday in the off-season.
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/enfield/
Comments: The “free wifi” was time limited (an hour, I believe) and restricted by a code to one device, so no getting on with both a smart phone and a laptop. I hope that they have since changed this policy.

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A beautiful but cold morning waking up in North Carolina

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Uh… Houston?

We have a problem. With the camper. But we already talked about that.

But really, does anyone ever talk about Houston without pretending to be on a NASA mission? I guess maybe if you live there. I’ll do my best to avoid any further astronaut references.

Houston was another non-negotiable stop on our route. Three good friends live there (2 of them married to each other) who used to live in Sweden. We all worked for Young Life together, and it’s the kind of work where your co-workers are the people you share life with. They become like family. These members of the family moved back to Texas a few years ago and we missed them. It was a joy to once again be invited into their homes and to pick up right where we left off.

This was another stop that was focused more on being with people than seeing a lot of sights. There were conversations late into the night, a trip to an amazing Tex-Mex restaurant, and silliness at Target. Wonderful days, but not too much to blog about.

TexMex-Diana Nancy Peter

Nancy and Diana with Peter outside the restaurant

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Micke ordered a truly terrifying drink… like a beer margarita? Only in Texas.

Peter & TheEnchiladas

This one’s called “Peter and the Enchiladas”. Photo credit: Micke Goteman

TexMex-Lindströms

And this one’s called “TexMex Lindstroms”. Also by Micke

The Target AvengersBeware the Target Avengers!

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I wish our stores at home had shopping carts like this!

SpiderWoman & Lizzard Dude

More fun in the toy aisle. Peter’s not quite sure what to make of these two. 

We also had the chance to go to church together at an outdoor church that focuses on outreach to the homeless community. The group worships together in a park, and afterward there are opportunities for those who need to to take clothes and other basic necessities that have been donated. They then share a meal together – not like a soup kitchen where the “haves” serve the “have nots” but rather sitting side by side and breaking bread together. It’s a beautiful ministry and it was a joy to join their community for a few hours.

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The congregation gathered, with bins of donated clothing & essentials on the side. 

EmelieFountain1Enjoying the fountain during worship. An added advantage to church in the park!

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Thank you to Micke for these beautiful pictures!

We slept inside a house for the first time since Orange County CA, and tried to make arrangements to get the camper fixed. After calling around to a few RV places, only one called us back. The estimated cost seemed unreasonable and the wait time would make it impossible to get back to Philadelphia by Thanksgiving. We decided that the 2×2 solution had worked well enough for a few nights. We would just finish the trip without repairing the camper. Nothing like a little added adventure!

Problems in Fort Stockton

Texas is big. That may seem obvious, and we knew that but it wasn’t until we decided to cross it that we understood it from experience. To go from visiting our friends in El Paso to visiting our friends in Houston, given our self-imposed 4 hour per day driving limit, was going to take several days.

So why did we stay in Fort Stockton? Well, we looked at our route from El Paso to Houston, then looked at what was about 4 hours away from El Paso along that route. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So we thought about stretching the day a little longer but there was continued nothingness. Fort Stockton is right along I-10 and is the only dot on Google maps between El Paso and San Antonio. Decision made.

Our stop in Fort Stockton would have been just a campground review (we’ll get to that) if not for a little extra excitement that came as we set up Home Sweet Pop-up for the night. A cable in the mechanism that allows us to raise the roof (and holds it up once we’ve raised it) snapped. One of the corners couldn’t be raised with the hand crank and couldn’t support it’s own weight. Poor Staffan spent the whole evening working on trying to fix it but lacked the proper tools and equipment to do so. Eventually we solved it by Staffan lifting the disabled corner while I cranked up the other 3. When they were at full height, we supported the corner with a 2×2 that Staffan had cut to just the right height. It would get us through a night or two until we could get to Houston, where we could sleep in our friend’s guest room and try to get the pop-up repaired.

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Trusting that 2×2 to keep the roof from crashing down on our heads

In the meantime, as Staffan was working hard to make sure we had someplace to sleep, the kids and I ate dinner at the on-site “restaurant”. The food was okay, but the whole place had more of a church fellowship hall kind of ambiance and didn’t feel much like a restaurant. We were thankful for it, though, because we couldn’t cook in the camper while it was being worked on.

Our visit to Fort Stockton was thus mostly stressful, but we got to see more of the town than we would have otherwise as we drove around looking for what we needed to fix the camper.

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Princess Emelie reads a book for her little brother in the Fort Stockton sunshine

While in Fort Stockton, we stayed at the Fort Stockton RV Park. Here’s our review:
Price: $24/night
Location: convenient to I-10, and if you’re heading east, pretty much your last option for many, many miles
Facilities: adequate, but most things could use a little freshening up and modernizing
Site-description: gravel/dirt/grass with small trees that provide a little bit of shade
Neighborhood: We didn’t see any other families. It doesn’t seem designed for long-term stays, but for most it’s probably a place to stop and sleep on the way to somewhere else.
Website: http://www.ftstocktonrv.com/
Comments: The office is connected to the restaurant and has strange open times. This was inconvenient for us because we needed local help finding stores to get what we needed, and also because Peter left his favorite car in the restaurant when we ate dinner. He had just gotten it as a present in El Paso but he loved it. When we missed it, they were already closed for the night, and weren’t open in the morning until almost lunch time. We had lots of desert to cross so waiting wasn’t an option and we were forced to leave it behind. I hope another child got to enjoy it while waiting for his or her dinner!

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Campsite photo

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I would not plan to use the picnic tables unless they’ve replaced them. They seem to be made from unfinished plywood, weathered so that the plies are separating, held together but a rusty metal frame. Splinters with a side of tetanus? No thanks.

Sight-Missing in Albuquerque

Because of our visit to the Petrified Forest in Arizona, we didn’t reach Albuquerque, New Mexico until late evening. We were well past our goal of being off the road every day by 4pm and even needed to pick up dinner along the road. Our kids are great in the car, but everyone has limits, and none of us are at our best when we’re tired and hungry.

So we may have been a bit ragged when we arrived at the home of our old friends who so kindly hosted us while we were in Albuquerque. By “old friends” I mean the kind of friends who we haven’t seen in at least 20 years (I was in middle school or perhaps even younger – none of us could remember exactly when it was) but who still opened their home to us when we were in the area. Bob was my dad’s best friend in high school and they went on to serve in the Air Force together. Though they kept in touch over the years, living on opposite sides of the country made it difficult for them and their families to get together very often. As it turned out, Bob was out of town the week that we came to town, but his wife El received us very graciously. We worked out all the details over Facebook with Bob’s oldest daughter Melinda. Once again, Facebook to the rescue!

We camped in their driveway, which was probably a little too steeply sloped for Home Sweet Pop-up, but with the help of all the extra boards we had with us, plus a few from their garage, it worked. Late October in Albuquerque was much colder than it had been in Arizona, and we considered moving inside since it was available. But the space heater kept it comfortable enough, and we decided it was better to avoid interrupting the kids’ sleep routines too much.

IMG_2822It doesn’t look too bad from a distance…

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But this set up made me a little nervous.

There are probably a lot of very interesting things to see and do in and around the Albuquerque area. We didn’t do any of them. After a couple of weeks of pretty intense sight-seeing, we found ourselves saturated. After browsing a number of sight-seeing options, we opted for a day of “sight-missing”. What we found was a Fall Festival for kids – with free entry no less! – and decided to go there first. It turned out to be so great that we stayed the whole day.

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This was perhaps the best thing ever. Like a cross between a ball pit and a sandbox, filled entirely with corn. I can’t even estimate how much corn was in there. It was huge. The kids loved it!

IMG_2770I’m still not sure how we ever got them out of there.  IMG_2768Who knew you could have so much fun with a muffin tin? Will have to remember this for the sandbox!

IMG_2791Then they had a hay bale maze…

IMG_2788And a giant tube slide…

IMG_2811And whatever these would be called…? They’re super fun anyway.

IMG_2816But quite a workout as it turns out. 

IMG_2813Poor Peter was too young for a lot of things, but he thought it was fun to watch his big sister

IMG_2818Bean bag toss is always good…

IMG_2820And a plastic bowling set. Nice follow through!

IMG_2795And these seem to be obligatory everywhere.
Emelie says, “Do I really look like a cow?” 

IMG_2796Finally something Peter can do too (with a little help)

On the way home, we stopped at one of those frozen yogurt bars that I’d been dying to try. We had the place to ourselves and the friendly older gentleman working there gave us great a yogurt bar tutorial. It’s my new favorite thing! I wish they had those in Sweden, but it’s probably better for our waistlines and bank accounts that they don’t.

So we opted to skip all the tourist sites of Albuquerque and enjoyed a fun, relaxed and free (except the yogurt) day playing in the sun together. It was refreshing, and it was absolutely the right decision. After an evening of visiting and a second night in our somewhat precariously balanced camper, we were on the road again and heading south.

IMG_3159Pajama party and hair brushing with El

IMG_3166“Hanging” with Melinda’s son

IMG_3160Just give me some blocks and I’m a happy boy!

Walking Among Giants: Redwood National and State Parks

What is it about majestic, ancient trees that they seem to embody wisdom? There are abundant examples in literature and film where aged trees become characters in the plot in some way. They are almost always mature, wise, and deeply respected. Walking through a redwood forest, where the tall canopy obliterates any view of sky or sun, gave me a deeper appreciation for the origins of these literary references. There is a sense that these trees have seen it all, across ages, and have endured. They are scarred by fires and acts of vandalism and yet they thrive. Most people speak with slightly lowered voices, as if out of respect for something they can’t quite identify. Not three-year-olds, but most people.

Staffan wanted me to title this post with a reference to the land of the Ewoks, since those scenes from Star Wars were filmed in redwood forests. He even suggested that the post, or part of it at least, be written in Yoda-speak. Agree with this I do not. Take a very long time it would. Exhaust both writer and reader it would. Continue this way I will not.

I think it may have been the ranger at the visitor center who mentioned how easy it is to lose perspective as you walk among these giant trees. When every tree is just a little taller and broader than the one before it, you can start to forget what size “normal” trees are. Somehow the extraordinary becomes ordinary. One remedy for this is tree hugging. Stretching yourself across the base of a giant redwood is a good way to remind yourself that these trees are b-i-g. It can also give some perspective not just on the size of the trees, but on the size of the people beside them. Someone walking past us in the forest commented, “I don’t know what you folks’ religious persuasions are, but all this makes me feel really small.” It wasn’t clear just what faith perspective he was expressing in that statement, and he turned and walked on without leaving time for a response, but it brought to mind the words of the psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him…”

The first of us to hug a tree

Then the rest of us took a turn

Can’t believe how little she looks next to that tree!

Still hard to understand just how big and old these trees are!

Family photo

But our kids are not nearly this contemplative of their surroundings, and we were once again reminded that nature builds the best playgrounds. One of the great joys of this trip has been to watch them, particularly Emelie, explore and discover all of these different, amazing and unusual natural environments. Seeing them through her eyes too adds another dimension and usually deepens the experience for us.

This one we could climb in!

All 3 of us fit in there!

This one she could climb through…

… and this one she could climb on!

When she ran in the ferns we couldn’t even see her! Here I am!

The redwood forests have also produced some places for the grown-ups to play a little. No visit to the redwoods would be complete without visiting the drive-through tree. Today it would be illegal to do this kind of damage to a redwood, and the few drive-through trees that are available are all outside of the national and state park boundaries. But those that already exist are allowed to continue to operate. And it is definitely an experience. We decided to visit the drive-through tree on our way south and away from the main redwood area. It fit best with our driving route, but it also meant that we had the trailer with us. We asked at the entrance if we were allowed to drive through with the trailer or if we needed to unhitch it first. His response was basically that we could drive it through as long as we didn’t get it stuck.

If I was driving, I would have been nervous enough about taking the minivan through. I would never have dared take the trailer through. But Staffan is a much more experienced and confident driver, especially when it comes to bigger vehicles, and he was sure it would be fine. If the side mirrors of the van fit, the trailer will fit. So I got a little nervous when the mirror on my side bumped a little and folded in, which impaired his view of the trailer. It just so happens that that window isn’t working, so I couldn’t put it down to flip the mirror back out, and there was certainly no way to open the door in there. But through we went. We gathered a little crowd of spectators, all of whom were expecting that the trailer would get stuck. But it didn’t. It fit exactly. As soon as the front of the van had passed through the tree, I jumped out with the camera to document the rest.

In we go!

And here comes the trailer! No wiggle room!

We’re still not sure what “maximum age” means, but probably the oldest in a range of estimates? Either way, it’s old and it’s big!

Family photo with the drive through tree – after the drive through

You need a bit of distance to see it, but the tree is definitely still alive despite evidence of fire on the trunk, and the giant hole that people drive their cars through.

As we watched others drive through in smaller sedans and on motorcycles, I couldn’t help but think that we had had the bigger adventure. They all experienced driving through a tree, just like we did, but with plenty of room to spare and without the thrill of not getting stuck. I still wonder sometimes what would have happened if we had gotten stuck in there. Has anyone ever gotten stuck? I don’t know but I’m certainly glad it wasn’t us.

After staying 3 nights in different parts of the Redwood area, it was time to continue south along the coast. We had wonderful adventures among the redwoods, but new experiences awaited us in the San Francisco Bay area!

Home Sweet Pop-up

On Monday (August 20) our trip west officially began. We loaded up the minivan in the early afternoon and drove about 150 miles to Shippensburg, PA. It was not without a bit of apprehension that we pulled up out front of the Rockwell’s home as we anticipated our introduction to the pop-up camper that will be our home for the next three months.

A fully loaded van
The kids are buckled in and ready to head west!

We were both pleasantly surprised to discover how spacious and open it is on the inside! For something that folds up so small and is so light to tow, we really do have a lot of living space in there. I suppose it all depends on what you’re used to. Staffan and I used to do a lot of tent camping in a tent that was small and light enough to carry around all day, so in comparison this feels palatial. On one end is a queen-sized bed that we’re sleeping in, and the other end pulls out to a double bed that the kids are sharing. In between is a small kitchen-ish area and a table area.

 

 

Our home as seen parked in my brother’s driveway on Tuesday night

Partial interior view

This is how the kids are sharing the bed.                                                                               A duffle bag and a bed rail turned out to be a great solution!

We’ve slept two nights in it parked in people’s driveways, and tonight is our first night in a campground. We rolled in a little later than planned and are still a little slow and inefficient at setting camp, so dinner was cooked under the stress of fussy hungry kids and parents who can’t seem to find anything when they’re looking for it. Needless to say, there were no pictures taken of our first meal cooked in the camper kitchen, but pictures will follow in a later post of a calmer and more peaceful meal.

We will spend one more day in central Pennsylvania and then move on toward the Pittsburgh area on Friday.