Sep 9, 2019 – Breaking from Normal

Our first evening on the beautiful White River.

This part of our trip began with great anticipation and much preparation building up to one thing, the White River in Bull Shoals Arkansas. But that all ended just as quickly as it began. Let me start by describing how the preparation played out.

Much of Vivian’s spare time (when not actually fishing) is to prepare for and learn about different fish species she will encounter on our travels & how to fish for them. And she is learning how to tie flys. In addition to watching an inordinate number of YouTube videos narrated by slow talking fishermen who are willing to share every last infinite details of their fly tying skills, Vivian collects animal parts and tries to make them look like insects, just like the big boys do in their videos. And often as she is hunched over the table with said animal parts and lots of shiny twine, I can hear mumbling words like “I am going to need new eyeglasses”.

Fly tying takes up some space in the RV.

Her skills go beyond the challenges of manual dexterity. Vivian, who speaks fluent Spanish and English has picked up a third language. And through guilt by association in a very small living space for the past year, I have necessarily expanded my vocabulary as well, although many of the words seem nonsensical, like “wooly bugger”, “Chernobyl ant”, “hippie stomper”, and “the hunchback scud”. This is the language of fly fishing and it is spoken often in our RV.

The White River in Bull Shoals Arkansas is famous for its trout fishing and would be our greatly anticipated next destination following Bennett Spring. And with a ridiculous spike in luck, Vivian secured a one-week reservation for a riverside campsite at the Bull Shoals State Park. In the afternoon, we arrived at our campsite, one of the premier spots on the river. But something was wrong in paradise. The water level was extremely high and the current was wicked fast. We watched drift boats motor against the current past our campsite and then minutes later drift downstream as their fishing occupants attempted to catch a fish. Boats repeated this pattern several times as the evening set in. There were no fishermen wading these waters.

This presented a problem for Vivian who has been anticipating wearing her waders and boots to walk into the White River from our campsite. Her dream of doing this was dissolving quickly. It also became evident that any quality fishing Vivian was going to do would be from a boat, possibly her kayak. With sheer resolve in her heart, Vivian would try her luck casting a line from the shores of the White River. After Bull Shoals, we had three more fishing locations, so if the White River did not work out, there would be plenty of opportunity for Vivian to quench her flyfishing thirst. Both of us had much to look forward to during the next few weeks in Arkansas.

The stairs the lead to the scene of the crime.

The next morning, I hiked briskly up a rocky path through a steep forested ledge. Coming from the Everglades, I was not use to this kind of terrain and so I used extra precaution negotiating rocks and inclines. Like any other RV traveler, Vivian and I have thought about worse case scenarios and how we would manage them. One of those scenarios is getting injured while enjoying the great outdoors. So, I walked carefully through the woods and periodically checked my phone for assurance of a signal. Eventually, I hiked back to the campsite to grab my bike and explore the rest of the park.

My phone rang as I was putting on my helmet. It was Vivian. I couldn’t think of any good reason why she was calling me since she was out fishing. I answered and immediately knew something was wrong. “I need you to come help me, I think I might have broke something”.

The long haul back to the truck.

Vivian is probably the most careful person I know when it comes to any form of physical activity, so I could not imagine what had happened. As I drove the truck to her location, I reckoned the worst case scenario was a strained muscle and with some RICE, she would be fine in a few days. When I saw her sitting on the steep steps that led down to the watery banks of the river, I saw it was a bit more serious, most likely an ankle sprain since her left ankle was clearly swollen. “Must be a sprain, broken bones don’t cause that much swelling, do they?” My attempt at rationalizing that it was not as bad as it looks was not getting us anywhere because it became very clear that Vivian could not walk. I had to get her up those stairs and into the behemoth truck.

Luck is a mysterious thing. Of course, breaking one’s ankle in two locations is not lucky, but what happened next can only be construed as pure luck. At best guess, Vivian broke her ankle at about 7:30 am. With the help from strangers, I got Vivian in the truck and we arrived at the Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home by 8:30 am. By this time, visions of small town health care inadequacies and insurance denials danced through my head. But we had to do what we had to do.

By 8:45 am, we were in an examining room after having completed the necessary paperwork. And I was relieved that our insurance covered this facility. Vivian was doing well so far and later we read the doctor’s report which included the following description of his patient, “She is a pleasant and positive female”. I never saw her wince in pain.

Not one, but two breaks

By 9:00 am, Vivian was wheeled to X-ray and by 10 am, we were getting the report from the on-call physician. Expecting to hear the word “sprain”, we were harshly jolted into reality when told Vivian had two breaks, a bimalleolar break. Vivian attempted to reconstruct the event in her head and seriously could not remember what happened. She remembered walking slowly on the grass near the river and then laying on the ground. She heard a snap and figured it was her rod which had broken during the fall. After getting the X-ray report, her first thought was that snap was not her fishing rod after all.

Screws & plate in place.

Without skipping a beat, the doctor told us Vivian would need surgery. Oh, this just keeps getting better! Now, I was thinking about our living and traveling situation. Staying on at the state park was not an option, we would have to move to another campground after our 1-week reservation ended and I would have to do the moving. But before we get to that part, back to the surgery. We are thinking that surgery meant at best, later in the week (this was a Tuesday), at least a few days away. Instead, what we got from the doctor was a most sincere apology, “I apologize that we can’t schedule your surgery until 1 pm today because you’ve eaten earlier this morning.” Both feeling bemused and relieved, Vivian was whisked away for surgery preparation. During that time, we met the orthopedic surgeon who by reputation is one of the best surgeons in the area. Did I mention having luck? The surgery went well, plates and screws inserted with no problem. I had Vivian back home by 4:30 pm.

Vivian receives a crash course in crutch walking before leaving the hospital.

We were faced with the spectacular task of getting Vivian out of the truck to the RV door, up the RV steps and up the steps to the bedroom. This was going to be interesting. All I wanted was to get her comfortable and not moving for the next couple days while I would frantically figure out what needed to be done, where to go next, make phone calls, cancel upcoming reservations and make new ones, acquire necessary medical equipment, etc. As luck would have it, Vivian was not in pain. But she was incapacitated. And as she lay in bed after overcoming the challenges of using the tiny bathroom, it was at that point we were hit with the reality of how dramatically our RV travels had changed.

8 hours following the break.

RV Tips and Issues

The obvious tip here is be prepared for anything, especially if you are full time living in an RV. You may be an optimist but you do have to consider the possibilities and be ready to deal with them. As you prepare for travel, begin your sentences with “What if…?”, and then think through how you would deal with it. This may require putting certain things in place ahead of time, like purchasing insurance that will cover you if you need to have the RV transported back home. Of course, health insurance is a big deal and not having consistent coverage state to state can be a huge problem. In short get your belongings, finances, insurance, family members, etc on board to help anticipate and minimize the fall out from any event that might happen.

Sep 3, 2019 – The Disney World of Fishing

Bennett Spring State Park

Our reasons for traveling the United States are much like everyone else’s – seeing and experiencing new places, learning its history and meeting people with varying experiences and perspectives. These are inherent to our travels and I could say the foundation of most anyone’s RV travel plans. But of course, each traveler has his or her own interests and as well, Vivian and I each have our agenda. If it were totally up to me, our travels would revolve around one thing, photography. But alas, Vivian is not a photographer and has other interests. Or should I say – she has a fishing obsession.

A scene from Bennett Spring State Park. Some anglers prefer fishing upstream, some prefer downstream from the dam. Each day, the spring water is restocked with rainbow trout.

We left the driftless area of Iowa on Labor Day, spent one night at a Harvest Host (beautiful place, delicious Meads), and arrived the next day at Bennett Spring State Park in southern Missouri. When planning, I am quite often the one who finds potential campgrounds. When I discovered Bennett Spring, I got excited because not only is it on water, but it is a very popular fishing location. While I always consider Vivian’s interests, I am not senseless enough to think I can choose the perfect fishing location. So, I ran my idea past her.

An old mill stands on the spring, remains of the old days here.

Bennet Spring is described as “a place of peace and recreation that has welcomed generations of enthusiastic anglers”. The spring runs through the state park and is stocked daily with rainbow trout “waiting for lucky fishermen”. On the state park’s website are several pictures of fishermen standing in the water, lined up, side-by-side casting their lines. If you like to fish, what could possibly be wrong with this place? But alas, after researching it awhile Vivian concluded with much derision, “It’s the Disney World of fishing”. Because both of us have a disdain for Disney vacations, I winced knowing exactly what she meant. Having spent much of her life fishing in the vast Everglades wilderness from a solo kayak, standing in well-stocked waters with dozens of other fishermen was not Vivian’s idea of ideal fishing.

In frustration, I went back to the drawing board to find a more suitable location. But then, Vivian gave it more thought because she had a clear goal in mind. Bennett Spring could very well be useful and serve as an important step toward a goal which, in theory was to be achieved at our next destination. More on that later.  

Our state park campsite in campground 1. Non expensive, full hook-up, excellent wifi, level concrete, spacious & shaded; more than many RV resorts have to offer.

Consequently, I booked us five nights at Bennett Spring State Park. When we arrived there, I was coming down from a euphoric photography high that began on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin and ended in Iowa’s idyllic farm country. In short, I had hundreds of photos to process. I could not think of a more perfect location to do that than a fisherman’s trout fishing paradise; Vivian would keep busy with her goal attainments while I would enjoy a rare treat, fast and free wifi service at our campsite. The weather was fabulous and each morning, dense fog hung over the beautiful spring that was a few hundred feet from our campsite. This became an irresistible photo subject. In between morning shoots on the river, a day in Springfield (more on that later), extensive bike rides and strenuous hikes through the very large (3216 acres) state park, I worked on my photos.

Beautiful water in morning fog. I shot this before the horn blew at 7:30 am.

While I settled into a routine of exercise, image processing and blog writing, Vivian set out to make the most of her stay on the river. Fishing at Bennet Spring is an orchestrated event. You can’t just go in there and start fishing willy nilly. Oh no, there is a rhyme and a reason, and you better know the rules of the game. First, you must get the lay of the land. The river is divided into three zones as follows: Zone 1 permits flies only, Zone 2 permits flies and artificial lures only, and Zone 3, permits only soft unscented plastic bait & natural and scented bait.

I think its because of the challenge, but Vivian uses only unscented artificial lures. Consequently, Zone 3 was off limits!

Second, you must acquire a 1-day license. The day before, you go to the park office and stand in line after 7:00 pm to purchase a 1-day license. Repeat as needed. The license must be clearly displayed on your hat while fishing. Third, you can only fish within a specific time frame. Like clockwork, a loud horn sounds off at 7:30 am, signaling the fishermen (who are already lined up along the banks of the spring) that they can enter the water and cast their lines. Then at 7:15 pm, the same horn blows again, warning the fishermen to promptly get their casts out of the water. All that just to catch a little trout.

I’ll hark back to my glory days in Iowa and Wisconsin. As far as photography is concerned, these locations were worlds apart and each one very different from what I am use to. Traveling with a camera has been a great learning experience. Likewise, Vivian approached Bennett Spring much the same way. Despite the Disney quality of it all, she observed other fishermen and gathered information from those willing to share their knowledge (she has a knack for getting people to open up to her). She learned about correct tippet size, fly presentation, flying to proper depth, casting correctly into the current, and so on. Fishing is a strange culture to me, but I believe it when she says it was well worth the time and money spent. Because after Bennett Spring, she would be fishing one of her dream locations, or at least in theory (more on that later).

Anglers lined up along the spring at dawn.
As I road my bike through the state park, all views of the spring included people fishing.

Meanwhile, we left the park for a day to visit Missouri’s number one tourist destination. No, not the Gateway Arch National Park in St Louis; but the “granddaddy” of all outdoor stores, the place that attracts four million families, sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts every year, the mecca as Vivian describes it – Bass Pro Shops National Headquarters. Your read that correctly, the original Bass Pro Shop that began in 1972 as a small bait shop and has since added restaurants, museums and aquariums. It is the Disney World of the outdoor recreation industry.

This is one happy camper!

I knew when we got there I would be spending the entire day in this place while Vivian immersed herself in the aisles of lures and other fishing-related gadgets and widgets. I spent my time looking at the fish in the aquarium and walking around taking in the visual overload that fill the store to the brim. It is a gawdy, over-the-top display of the commercialized great outdoors. But we had to go there; and that’s all there is to it.

At least the bait and tackle is easy to find.
And that’s where I could find Vivian.
Would have spent my time here had we timed it better!

Our stay at Bennett Spring State Park, although not a true wilderness experience was a building crescendo for our next destination in Arkansas, only a short 100 miles away. In short, it was a perfect stop over for what was to come, the crème de la crème of fishing destinations and one of Vivian’s top bucket list fishing destinations. At last, we would arrive there soon after leaving Bennett Spring. 

Instead, I spent my time with the sharks…
and the gators.

RV Issues and TipsWater weight is a big deal to us. We did the math and can’t travel safely with much water in the gray, fresh or black tanks. Not only that, we were told by the people who built our RV’s frame and suspension (Lippert) that ideally, there should be no water in the fresh tank or no more than 4-5 gal if necessary when traveling. We heed their advice and here is our approach to that issue. First, we boondock with no hook ups occasionally but only for one night at a time (usually at a Harvest Host). When we know we are going to do that, we add no more than 5 gal to the freshwater tank and another 4-5 gal in a hard-sided container while at our full-hook up site. As we use the water from the freshwater tank, it is transferred into the two gray tanks and the black tank, distributed in a way that the weight is no longer an issue. Second, if we know we are going from one full hook-up site to another, we make sure the freshwater tank is empty and carry a gallon container of water for toilet flushing when stopping along the way. Third, we frequently stay in parks that do not offer water hook-up on site. In those cases, we travel empty and fill up the freshwater tank once we arrive at the campground. At the dump station, we empty the freshwater tank along with the gray and black tanks. With little water left in the fresh take, I open the drain valve and let it run out onto the road. Fourth, if we ever travel without knowing where we will be staying next, we fill the 7-gal hard-sided container and have it ready for the chance we may need to transfer the water into the fresh tank.

One last thing, even if you think you may never need your freshwater tank because you camp with full hook-up all the time, you should be prepared to use it. This means sanitizing it and occasionally putting water in it and exercising the water pump. It’s one of those things that when you need it, you don’t want to be without it. Indeed, you may find yourself with full hook-up and the water gets shut off for some reason. It has happened to us! Or worse, you may find yourself boondocking unexpectedly. Be a Scout and be prepared.

Aug 19, 2019 – Wait, we’re not finished with Wisconsin yet!

A view from our roof of Harrington Beach State Park’s campground. Lake Michigan is a short 1/2 mile walk behind this scene.

Somewhere in our travel research, I read that Harrington Beach State Park is one of the best state parks in the state of Wisconsin being located on Lake Michigan. I figured after spending a week photographing Lake Michigan from Door County, it couldn’t hurt to spend a few more days doing the same from another vantage point.

Up the road from our campsite.

Ironically, while staying 3 nights at Harrington, I spent the least amount of time on the shores of the great lake; instead there was much more to this park. Good thing because the lake’s water levels are so high, there was no beach! Enjoy the photos from this beautiful and historical park.

Forested trails lead you a short distance to Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan shoreline at the park. There is a beach area, but as you can see water levels are high and the beach is submerged.
From the 1890s until 1925, a dolomite quarry (now called Quarry Lake) operated in what is now Harrington Beach State Park. Here, you can see tracks laid out in the water for the mule-driven carts. Below, enjoy a slide show of the state park.

There was another draw to staying at Harrington Beach and that was to visit yet another post-industrial city, Milwaukee. Yes, the city that has or had the following distinct and I might add, diverse characteristics:

  • the German Athens of America
  • the largest Polish settlement in the U.S.
  • the distinction with New York City of having the largest percentage of immigrant residents in the U.S.
  • the major city in which for years the Socialist Party of America earned the highest votes
  • a street named after Al Capone because he owned a home in a Milwaukee suburb
  • avoided the severe declines that other rust belt cities could not because of its large immigrant population and historic neighborhoods
  • nicknames “the cream city” because of the prominent cream-colored brick used to build many buildings
  • once the home of the world’s largest beer breweries (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller) and number one beer producing city in the world
  • home to America’s Black Holocaust museum
  • home to Laverne and Shirley
The historic Third Ward was once a flat swampy area. Drained, it was soon populated with primarily Irish immigrant homes along with factories & warehouses. It was known as “Bloody Third” for its frequent fistfights.
The headless mural created by German artist Andres Von Chrzanowski. According to the artist, the mural pays homage to women who dyed hosiery in this building for the Phoenix Hosiery Company. As you can imagine, the headless part of the mural has conjured much controversy.
We passed a lot of art sculpture on our downtown walking tour.
Milwaukee’s Riverwalk.

With only a short time for a visit, we came to admire some of the historic architecture of Downtown Milwaukee, added steps to the FitBit while enjoying the Riverwalk, stood in awe inside the iconic Milwaukee Museum of Art and ate an authentic Mexican lunch in the Historic Third Ward. We didn’t experience enough of this city but enjoy these photos from what we can share with you. Also, to get a slightly different perspective of the city, check out our friends’ Spencer and Lorraine Saint’s travel blog about their visit to Milwaukee.

I think the best part of our visit was the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Without going through the museum, we enjoyed being inside the Quadracci Pavilion (shown here), designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Below is a slideshow of the inside of the building, specifically the Windhover reception hall.
A pedestrian suspension bridge connects the art museum to downtown Milwaukee.
From across the bridge, the iconic “moving masterpiece” Burke Brise Soleil can be seen atop Windhover Hall. An architectural and engineering accomplishment, the wings span 217 feet and opens and closes at specific times of the day. Ultrasonic sensors detect wind speed and when winds reach 23 mph for 3 sec, the wings automatically close. You can read about the science behind its creation here.
We also enjoyed viewing the architecture in the down town area. This one was built between 1902-04 out of Indiana limestone and represents a Beaux Arts style. As with several other buildings in the area, is ornamented with fluted columns, carved stone grotesques and bronze grill work. The slideshow below provides more images.

RV Tips and Issues

We have learned the hard way to research campsites before we reserve one. That is, we spend a good amount of time studying Google satellite images. And it isn’t just that anymore, now we use the measurement tool in Google Earth to evaluate campground road and campsite widths. If we are lucky, we can get a street view of the campground as well. And sometimes, we find someone’s video of campsites at specific campgrounds. All of this information available to us has made our life easier and has helped us avoid further problems. We are convinced that some of our previous campsites (because we didn’t know any better) were the reason for having serious suspension issues (more on that later). My advice is if you have a moderate-sized trailer, class A motorhome or a fifth wheel is the following:

  • Know the full length of your rig (this includes tow vehicle connected to trailer or fifth wheel). Ours is 49.5 feet (truck connected to fifth wheel). Therefore, we DO NOT reserve campsites that are shorter than 50 ft.
  • For back-ins, look for campsites that are on a straight-away and not on a curved portion of the campground road. Look at the first image at the top and notice the curved road. Vivian got in with no great problems, but the curve made it more difficult. Thankfully, there was no obstacle on the other side of the road.
  • With satellite views, look for objects that will interfere with backing in. This is where knowing the width of the campground road comes in handy.
  • When in doubt about a campground, search YouTube videos, you might get lucky and find images of the campground. Check out this YouTube channel titled Campsite Photos.