Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Location: Forest City, IA

This is a time of forced relaxation for us. The rig is getting some work done at Winnebago Industries, so we are parked in a courtesy site at night for what will be at least 10 days. A time for catching up on reading, cleaning, and internet-surfing.

It's hard to relax here in Iowa, because winter is chasing and rapidly catching up with us -- a huge snowstorm that hit Colorado just missed us, and the night temperatures are only a few degrees above freezing. I'm trying to make this my first winter without seeing a snow flake, and I'd hate to loose the chance this early in the winter ! 2007-08 was ruined by snows in May at the Grand Canyon, and 2008-09 fell when I took a winter trip from Yuma to Prescott with my friend, Cookie, and we hit a blizzard at the higher elevation.

Once we leave here, it will be an almost straight trip south to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Not only is the weather a good reason to hit the road, but a lot of northern campgrounds are closing on November 1st. So another few nights, and we'll be on our way south.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It Must Have Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

We had a small problem with our hot water a couple of days ago -- we had none. Technically we had lots of the stuff -- our water tank was full of hot water, but it was useless because none of it came out of the faucets (the problem is fixed now -- the bypass valve had jiggled itself into the closed position). Since cold showers are not particularly attractive to me, I packed up my shampoo, towel, shower shoes and other assorted items of personal hygiene and set off to use the campground's shower.

The shower room consisted of a sink, a couple of toilets, two shower stalls, and various and sundry "science experiments" that were creeping up the walls and doing the mold-and-mildew-naughty in the drains. But it was still better than a freezing shower -- and, besides, this is why I pack shower shoes and have learned to dress and undress in a way that nothing ever touches the floor or walls!

When I looked at the wall between the shower stalls, this is what I saw:

Four switches on the outside, in between the two stalls. The lights were out in the stall, so I took a gamble and moved the lower switch to the up position. The lights came on. So far so good. But what could the upper switch be for? More lights? A fan, maybe? Let's find out!

To my amazement, the upper switch turns on (and off) the water in the shower! Someone must have thought it was a good idea to replace the normal faucets that have served us all so well since indoor plumbing moved beyond an architectural indulgence, and install an electrical mechanism to start/stop the water flow.

Hmm... combining water and electricity needlessly. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rude, Rude, Rude!

Location: On the Road

For lunch we stopped at a typical Chinese buffet named Jumbo Buffet (20 Charlestown Plaza, Charlestown, WV). As we walked in the door, the hostess, who was on a cell phone, held up two fingers asking if we needed a table for two. We nodded, "Yes."

So far, so good. But then instead of doing what any good employee would do -- asking us to wait a moment if the call was business or asking the caller to wait if it was personal -- she picked up menus and silverware, kept the phone to her ear, and proceeded to show us to a table while yakking in Chinese the entire way.

She started to steer us towards a window booth, but they were all filled. So she had to reroute to a table because she wasn't paying attention -- at least, she wasn't paying attention to her job. She changed course and kept chatting. She got us to a table, and pointed to it -- still talking to her ostensibly More Important Person. She then held the phone on her shoulder with her chin, mouthpiece still open, and asked us for drink orders.

At this point John lost it. He said, "No. That's just rude. Not while you're on the phone." She looked surprised, and then proved she needs to practice her English sentence structures a bit more by saying, "there's nothing on my phone." so John clarified by saying, "I'M NOT IN YOUR PHONE." Suddenly, a very pleasant and capable waiter appeared and smoothly took over the rapidly disintegrating situation.

Since she doubled as the cashier, she had the perfect opportunity to apologize for her behavior when we paid the bill. Did she apologize? Of course not. Did she even know how rude she had been? Doubtful. She showed no sign of embarrassment or remorse -- actually, she didn't even show any sign she recognized us. She just looked bored and asked the question she has asked so many times she no longer cares if she gets an answer -- "Was everything all right?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Along The C and O Canal

Location: Brunswick, MD

We are currently in a small municipal RV park, our rig nestled between a remnant of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and facing the Potomac River.

Built between 1828 and 1850, the C & O Canal was originally meant to bypass the unnavigable sections of the Potomac and link the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River. But by 1850 it became obvious that the new railroad, constructed next to the canal, would win the transportation race so the push to the Ohio River was halted. The completed portions of the canal did operate until 1924, primarily hauling coal.

The canal became a National Historic Park in 1971, and today the 184.5 mile towpath -- where the mules walked as they pulled the canal boats -- is used by hikers and bikers. To get to our campsite, we had to drive on part of the towpath -- on what may be the only section where vehicles are allowed. Here is a different section of the towpath today, with what remains of one of the locks:

A lot of history has happened in cities and villages along the towpath. Here are a few places along this stretch:

Brunswick, MD, where we are parked, is home to the Brunswick Railroad Museum. In addition to railway artifacts, it houses an HO Model Railroad that recreates the stretch from Brunswick's 5-mile rail yard to Union Station in Washington D.C. Here is the HO-scale town of Brunswick -- if you could drive towards the bottom of the photo (through the town and past the railways), then make a left towards the photo's bottom right corner, you would soon be at our RV site:

When the canal builders reached a river or stream that flowed into the Potomac, they either built a culvert under the canal, or built an aqueduct over the river (if the river was too large for a culvert). The aqueduct was actually a bridge filled with water allowing the canal boat to float to the other side. The largest of the 11 aqueducts is over the Monocacy River. The last time I saw it, it was braced to prevent a collapse. It has now been restored:

The Civil War battlefield in Antietam, the site of the bloodiest single day in American history, lies near the canal. On September 17, 1862 the battle began. 12 hours and 23,000 casualties later, it, and the Confederate Army of Virginia's invasion of the North were over. Here is part of the Sunken Road, where 15,000 were killed or wounded:

Getting closer to Washington at Great Falls, the Potomac's water narrows through Mather Gorge where the rapids provide experienced kayakers with lots of adventure. The rapids here have been a navigation concern for a long time -- George Washington originally proposed constructing a canal to by-pass them:

Finally, at the terminus of the C & O Canal at Georgetown, the Canal is watered, and the Park Service offers canal boat rides which we of course took. The boat is drawn by mules, and passes through a lock, first locking from high water to low, and on the return trip reversing the locking from low to high. Here is a photo of a lock at Georgetown. The second photo shows a couple of sidewalk-based spectators watching as our boat floated up:

Everyone has heard of the terminus of the canal, even though they may not realize it. The lock system has many parts, such as weirs, feeder dams, wickets (tough to move when they get "sticky"!), sluice gates and upriver gates. The gates open and close to allow water into, and out of the locks. And sitting right at the end of the canal, is the namesake of these gates through which water flows: the Watergate Hotel.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

More Maryland Landmarks

We'll soon be leaving Maryland -- unfortunately, I had too little time here to visit with everyone I wanted to -- but I will be back!

In the last couple days, John and I visited a national historic site that I had always overlooked when I lived here: Hampton House. It turns out it is a huge, elegant, beautiful mansion that was the largest house in the U.S. when it was completed in 1790. It even had its own indoor greenhouse and an outdoor ice house so the owners could have chilled berries and citrus in the middle of winter!

Next, Fort McHenry, the birthplace of our National Anthem. While being held hostage on a British warship During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key watched the attack of Fort McHenry as it lasted through a long, long night. After the attack was over, he remained unsure of the victor as the fort, now becoming visible in the dawn's light, was still shrouded in smoke from the battle. He finally caught a glimpse of the flag, still flying over the fort, and penned the poem that we now sing as the lyrics to the National Anthem.

The fort, the canons, the ramparts, and broad stripes and bright stars of the flag are still there for the viewing.

But John -- that end of the canon may not be the best place to look!

Finally, a trip to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

I had previously been by the tall stone fence many times, and had been inside a couple times -- once even to attend a wedding at the Chapel. This time, though, I departed from just roaming around and took the tour, and it was fabulous. We got a lot of insider information from a very knowledgeable guide. We saw Bancroft Hall (dorm and dining hall), the athletics building with an Olympic size pool and diving boards (the cadets traditionally finish off their last parade by jumping in, fully clothed, from the 3-story high board), the Chapel, recently restored and looking spiffy (it boasts a stained glass window of a newly minted officer, and a crypt containing John Paul Jone's body), and a new museum with naval displays on the ground floor and an amazing collection of model ships upstairs.

We expect to move next to Harper's Ferry where a whole lot of history awaits.

Here in the northern part of Maryland, we have been nestled back in the woods where the night is noisy with crickets and the blue jays and cedar waxwings come around each morning. In the evening, we have had several fires, an especially nice way to end the day when the temperature is cool. Simple pleasures are the best.