Friday, July 01, 2016

RoadAbode June Trip 2016

There is lots happening this year for the RoadAbode Crew.
New position for Amy coordinating "The Table", a food pantry located at Roxborough Church. Kimberly "graduated" her first class of preschoolers. Emily herself graduated from High School. I have a new position of Infrastructure Support - focusing on creating and maintaining the backups for hundreds of virtual servers - and tweaking a few "bare metal" ones. Add in other daily demands, volunteer opportunities, a few social engagements like weddings and we were MORE than ready for our annual June roadtrip. Even so, it was two days shorter than usual, just because of individual logistics and commitments.
Prom Time Fun!
Since this was Emily's graduation year, she got to pick where we were heading. Months ago we discussed and I "helpfully suggested" a few points we haven't visited. Lake Erie or Lake Michigan, perhaps the Outer Banks of the Carolina's. Emily had already a place in mind. Amherst Massachusetts. What's in Amherst? More than I expected!
Amherst MA is the home to the American Poetess Emily Dickinson, one of our Emily's favorite writers. Emily D was born and raised in this now college town, and is buried only a short walk from her family homestead.
Now that I'm a "father of adults", schedules become more crowded. Not only do I and my wife have work obligations to take care of, but so does our now teacher daughter. The day we hit the road, we ordinarily like to be at RoadAbode by 10 or 11am, earlier if possible. Because it was last day of classes (graduation day) for our daughter's preschool, we couldn't leave until 2pm. Drive time (without stops) was six hours.
As usual, there was plenty of road construction, and a short harrowing piece I thought  we were ending up on one of New York's parkways.  We called ahead and had the office of the campground leave our paperwork on the front door. Even though we rolled in around 9:15pm, at least it had not been raining, and had no mishaps.
Campground KOA
Setting up camp is always pretty easy with RoadAbode, a fact I especially appreciate in the dark. Setting up at Northampton/Springfield KOA was no different. We had a pull thru site, that we only needed two blocks under one front tire to level. Hooked up water, cable, electric, turned on gas - and we were set! The rest could wait till morning.
Molly our 7 year old Lhasa-poo pup loves to explore new places, and at first light was already poking and prodding me to take her out for new "sniffs." I got to stay in bed until 5:30a, and had to take her out. Who am I kidding - I wanted to get moving too!
A leisurely walk around the park let us discover a nice dog park with doggy exercise equipment, a newer playground for kids, and smallish pool (right across from RoadAbode). The roads were gravel, and in many places a new coating would be a good idea.
Back at RoadAbode, I began brewing a pot of coffee on the stove, and was able to relax. I sat outside to read more of the book by Ron Chernow that inspired the Tony award winning musical, Hamilton. The true history of the man is in some ways more incredible then what is dramatized in the play by Lin Manuel Miranda.
I was able to get in a few hours reading, then a shower. Shower house was disappointing at this KOA. Only one shower and in need of updating. At least it was clean.
The girls were soon up and getting hungry. We decided to do an all American diner - and we sure found one! Blue Bonnet Diner located in Northampton was exactly what we were looking for before touring Amherst. Great food, great service. A short drive from there we were in Amherst proper and found what we came for - the Emily Dickinson Museum.
There was plenty of metered parking out front, but a side street across from the museum had free spots available, so we took advantage of a spot - with shade to boot.
The homestead of Emily Dickinson has been wonderfully restored, and the grounds have homey small gardens, similar to what Emily would have had during her time there. The first floor of the home is a welcome center and gift store, with some photos and memorabilia to see before an official tour. The tour is the only way to see the other areas of the interior of Emily Dickinson's home. Many of the volunteers are college interns, and of course fans of the poetess. Our guide was a retired resident of the area who knew a few poems by heart. She was well versed in the history of  the town of Amherst, the college, and the family tree of Emily. One special treat was near the end of the tour. We were sitting and looking at how variations of Emily Dickinson's poems came to be, when she asked for anyone who had a personal favorite. Our Emily, usually reserved in open forums, quickly raised her hand and discussed her favorite. Our guide pulled out a concordance of Dickinson poems, found the particular prose, and invited our Emily to read for the tour group. To my surprise - she did! One of the highlights of the visit for me.
After the tour, the girls did some shopping in the museum shop, then we wandered thru the gardens. I checked my smartphone, and found we were a short walk from Emily Dickinson's grave. We exited the gardens on an opposite corner, and walked past some of the beautiful homes of Amherst to the gates of West Cemetery. We were not sure of the exact location of the grave, but since the graveyard was small, it was easily found. Gated along with her family in almost the center of the cemetery was her tombstone, adorned with gifts from her admirers. Pens and pencils, scrawl
ed notes, even jewelery were placed upon her final resting place.
We left the West cemetery and walked along North Pleasant Street to Judie's Restaurant to have some drinks and pop overs with apple butter. Pop overs are a great mid-afternoon snack. If you have never tried one, pop overs are similar to very eggy, overgrown muffins. We first encountered them on our 2012 trip to Maine. Slather them with locally grown jam or apple butter and they are even better.
After touring town a bit (should have checked out this part of the college town even more) We headed back to RoadAbode to relax. On the way we stopped by what appeared to be a family run farm stand near the campground. Outlook Farms had lots more going on! Set next to to an orchard of heirloom apples and other fruits, Outlook Farms also holds a bakery, small cafe, butcher and produce stand. They also have an in-house cidery, which I picked up a bottle to try. Great stop if you visit the area.
The Three "R"s ~ Relaxing, Reading and Recreational Games
Rest of our day was spent reading and playing games. That relaxation part of a vacation that we sometimes forget to do. I was continuing to read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Amy was reading something on the problems and solutions for food security in our neighborhood. We also got to play some great games the girls had along. Kimberly had Game of Phones, where each player participates in a scavenger hunt using their smartphone. The "judge" for the round picks a card, and the others need to scour either their smartphone folders or internet and find the best answer on their phones and show the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. Emily brought out Rory's Story Cubes, a set of dice with different symbols on them. Create a story using the symbols you roll. pass on the story or shift it around from player to player. Great game to dust off the cobwebs in your brain and use your imagination.
The next morning we opted to grab breakfast at the Outlook farm and head to the Eric Carle Museum. For the uninitiated, Eric Carle is a children's book author, who is known for his colorful art work. The pictures in his books are created using a collage technique with hand-painted papers. The author/artist then cuts and layers these to form bright and colorful images. His most famous and award winning book - The Very Hungry Caterpillar - has been translated into over 40 languages.
The museum itself showcases the artists and artwork found in children's books. According to Wikipedia The museum includes three rotating galleries, each housing picture book art. The West Gallery is devoted to the work of Eric Carle, the East and Central galleries present the work of numerous picture book artists. Though we did not stay long, we enjoyed learning about the creation process. I especially thought learning about story development and seeing preliminary sketches for the books were intriguing. Such great detail and imagination!
After our time at the museum, the girls thought some shopping was in order. They love perusing thrift stores, so with the help of Google Maps, we found some great stops to check out. One in particular The Cancer Connection thrift shop in Northampton MA, had some great buys at low prices. Kimberly even found some items to use in her classroom. We stopped into one of our favorite grocery stores - Aldi - for some provisions, and a look around at a Salvation Army Thrift (I stayed in the car and took a nap) 
Since Friday is pizza night, we got a recommendation from the KOA office for a local pizza joint. Pisano's Pizza was pretty good, though pickup was a bit away in the town of Hadley. 
We closed up our evening with more games, and watching the farmer next door cut, bale and cart off his hay. 
On our last full day in the area, we wanted to check out the Amherst Trail system Some are maintained by the University, or the Township of Amherst, with the help of volunteers. Many are converted "rails to trails" .The girls decided to check out the shortest trail because it was named for Emily Dickinson. The trail formerly known as the Misty Bottom Trail, is one of Amherst's "Literary Trails." It starts in Groff Park and follows Amherst College land, meandering along the Fort River.
Along the way we passed a small community garden, and found what we first thought was a bird house, but turned out to be an interesting home for some wee little rabbits! The Trail connects with some larger paved biking and hiking routes. We opted to reverse and head back to Groff Park rather than investigate these. Some of the bikes going past on the larger trails were moving at a good clip, and Molly our pup is not too keen on sharing space with bicycles.
As we headed back to RoadAbode, we noticed an interesting sign that we had past a few times in our travels in the area. "Grey Matter Books 2/10 ->" 

We decided to stop in - though half our crew stayed in the car "to keep Molly company" Grey Matter Books Was what a used bookstore looks like in the movies. Off the beaten path, with just a little disarray, but a helpful clerk that can probably find just about anything. Kimberly again found plenty to share with her preschool class.
After a bit of literary shopping, we headed back to RoadAbode. Emily cooked some hamburgers over the fire - she's a pretty good cook - and we settled back for another evening of reading and games. Except - we had the excitement of some police activity right in the campground!
Seems that a domestic dispute of some sort broke out, and the KOA staff became involved, as did Massachusetts state troopers. A few conversations and walks around the pool, and a family was packed up and escorted off the property. 
After the evening's live action soap opera, we settled in, watched some TV, and prepared for coming home.

Our trip home was easier navigation-wise than travelling to the area. We only ran into heavy traffic as we approached the Tappan Zee bridge, and that was partially due to all the construction going on. What we gaged as being five and a half hours only stretched into six and a half. 
Another great June family trip in RoadAbode!

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Case of the Missing Catalytic Converter and Repair Drama

Actually, not much of a case. Someone took it, and we didn't catch them. So this is more of the story of discovery, Working with Good and bad mechanics, figuring out what to do, and getting replaced.
Yup, something's missing
In March, we visited RoadAbode to get ready for our first trip of the season. We are always excited, because, well - first trip of the season, and we almost always head to our "home" campground. We call Country Acres our home campground because it's only an hour away, and we usually camp there first and last trips of the season.
We have a basic checklist of things to do. Check battery, look for leaks or pest infiltration, and start RoadAbode up. Usually when I start RoadAbode, even first time of the season, all I do is walk up from the house part, bend over, stick the key in the ignition and give a turn. Don't even need to touch the pedal and the fuel injectors do the rest. This time instead of the usual low throaty rumble we usually hear when I turn the key, we were greeted with a terrifyingly loud roar as the engine came to life. LOUD ROAR. Amy was putting linens away in our bedroom. Our eyes met and said everything in that knowing couples look. "THAT ain't good!" I quickly shut down the engine, fearing something was wrong with it. Hopped out and laid down on the ground and took a look. Sure enough, something was missing. "Hey Am, someone took part of our exhaust pipe!"  I bellowed incredulously from underneath RoadAbode. I laid there on my back , ticked, wondering why someone would cut a four foot piece of exhaust pipe out from under an RV. The other part that was upsetting is that though I had not visited RoadAbode In January and February as I usually do (busy at work with travel) Our storage place is behind a gated facility - with codes to get in.
We packed up and headed home still thinking why someone would cut out a four foot piece of pipe when I came to realization someone had not cut out just exhaust pipe - it was our catalytic converter!
What's missing? A Catalytic Converter!
I was not totally aware that removing catalytic converters from vehicles was a "thing" , but a quick Google confirmed the the metals found in the part are what make it an easy target for unscrupulous scrappers to make into quick cash.
Now that I identified what was missing, I had to find out if we could get it fixed before the next weekend. Then I remembered "hey, there is a truck repair place right next door" - convincingly called Jim's Truck Repair - they could probably fix it, and I wouldn't have to drive too far either. I called and spoke to what I believed was the owner, and though not 100% thought he could do the repair, but not by next weekend. So still a plus, I asked for an estimate. He asked for the Make/model, and would get back to me by end of day. Next day, I called in the afternoon since I had not heard back. An older, perhaps gruff sounding gent answered the phone, told me to hold on - and sounded like he threw on the counter - maybe even clattering to the floor. The owner got on the line after some time, and apologized for not getting back, but that he needed the VIN number as well. I said I needed to hunt that down, and asked If we could meet up at RoadAbode so he could take a look. He stated the next day at around noon or 1pm would be good for him. I let him know I needed to check with my boss, but would call back as soon as I got the VIN. Later that day I found the VIN in some paperwork, and called back. Mr McGruff answered. I had to repeat to him a several times the long sequence of numbers, either because of my speech impediment (I don't have one) or a bad phone line, or perhaps his short attention span to inane things like letters and numbers. I let him know that I still didn't know what time I could meet up with Jim (had not heard back from my boss yet) Mr McGruff bellowed into the phone "I don't know what's the BIG DEAL about meeting and gettin' him to look at this thing? It's sittin' RIGHT NEXT DOOR!" Taken aback I stopped for a moment, then proceeded to let him know that I work during the day, and to meet on Jim's schedule I needed to get approval to get the time - does that make sense?!? He grumbled yes into the phone and hung up. Later I called that I could meet the next day, Jim answered, and said no problem.
Next day I picked up Jim at the front gate, and took him to RoadAbode's spot. He took pictures, and measurements saying it seemed like he could refit a catalytic converter in. I drove him back over to his garage, and he said he'd call me with an estimate. Two day's later I hadn't received a call, and called there. "Are ys' sitting down? Mr. McGruff chuckled into the phone it's gonna be $2500 dollars! I thanked him and said if I would call back if I wanted done.
Amy canceled our March reservations, and kindly Country Acres let us reschedule at no loss for April.
I Googled the part and found that the Catalytic converter alone was $350-$400 dollars, depending on what site I visited.
I decided to call Bergey Truck Center - who up to this point has done all my yearly work and inspections. Since RoadAbode is a Ford, I was referred to the Bergey Ford Shop. The gentleman there was very helpful, and told me he would get a price, but he believed that since they were a Ford Service Center, that they would have to do replace from the headers by the engine block, all the way to the muffler. He called back in a few hours with a price of $2900, and confirmed that would be from the headers to the muffler. He also stated what I was already thinking. If it was his, he's get the part and get a muffler shop or independent garage to weld the part in.
At this point, I ordered the part online including shipping for $371 and figured I would find someone who could weld it on.
Bought it - Can I get it installed?
I knew I had until April to find a place to get the new catalytic converter installed. Just needed the time to call around, get prices and find places willing (and big enough for RoadAbode) to install my aftermarket part.
Unfortunately, I now was travelling more for work, which afforded me little time to lookup and call places.
It was a bit fustrationg - and stressing too. That's When Amy came to the rescure!
While I was in LA for work, she managed to find a place that was only a few miles from RoadAbode, and could weld in the part. So without letting me know she drove RoadAbode to Dependable Auto Service in Hatboro, There, they treated her very well and showed here what they needed to do, and took pictures for her to boot. I think we found a new dependable place for future RoadAbode work!
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

How'd We Get to Here?

It's been a long time since posting. Too long. It's not that we've stopped doing things with RoadAbode. It's been that there has been a shift in responsibility and priority.

The place I have worked for as the IT Administrator for over a decade was acquired by a larger company. Now in my fifties, my job has changed. I need to learn new technology (to me), new interfaces, new software. I have to adopt new responsibilities. I now travel to other offices to help in upgrades, moves and expansions. In the past few months I've added up more flights and hotel stays than in all my previous time spent on this earth combined. It's not that I haven't wanted to write, it's the time to do so.
One of my flights. Like riding a flying school bus

Let me try to catch you up.
In 2015, RoadAbode had two blowouts - one on either side of the rear. Two different trips. The second one in November also took out the sewer gate valve. Fortunately we had just flushed the tanks for the winter. It also took out part of the wheel well trim.  Hope to write about the adventure of replacing the sewer parts soon.

As usual, we did little in December, January and February with RoadAbode, and even less because I was travelling for work across the country. Birmingham, Los Angeles, and Buffalo to name a few - but I mostly got to see the inside of airports, office suites, and hotel rooms. Not much sightseeing. Do feel blessed to be working with a good team of people. Makes working until 2am some nights bearable.

The week before our first trip in March, I visited RoadAbode to do a "pre-road trip" check. Found out when I started her up that someone had helped themselves to her catalytic converter. Bit upsetting since we keep RoadAbode in an access controlled, fenced in storage facility. Unfortunately the time-frame was so wide we couldn't catch the culprits on the storge yard camera. March's trip was cancelled since we could not get a reasonable estimate, nor the part before the trip. We've since replaced, and perhaps will blog the account how Amy got the job done.
A missing catalytic converter
My travel for work also caused my decision to step down as board member of a local theater group, ASH. I felt I could not give the correct attention to the kids outreach that I would like to.

We finally did have a great weekend out to Lancaster in April. Thrift shopping and visiting some eateries. And some Snow too!

May's trip was for Mother's day, and enjoyed a time next to the Swatara River at the Jonestown KOA.
So there has been a good bit of adventure, and not as much travel in RoadAbode - but summer is almost here!
Looking forward to an upcoming trip to Amherst, Massachusetts - home to Emily Dickinson and the  Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Hopefully I can share the experience here.

It took a day off to recoup and get the time to write to write. hopefully I'll be able to chronicle what adventures are headed our way with RoadAbode. It's fun to look back at the past eleven years and see how much we've enjoyed the time in RoadAbode! If not, at least I'll try to post a quick picture on Instagram or Twitter. Follow along!