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Jell-O plans

September 15, 2009—Most full-time RVers don't like to be nailed down to specific timetables or itineraries. After all, when you're traveling through unexplored territory, you need to be able to take advantage of serendipity. Suppose you meet somebody at a campground who casually mentions that there's a hammered dulcimer festival in the next town starting on Friday. What are you going to say—"Sorry, I have to drive 300 miles to Deadfish Lake State Park tomorrow"? Of course not. If you're smart, you'll stay over an extra day or two, and enjoy the festival.

RVers even have a phrase for this: "All my plans are Jell-O plans," they'll laughingly say. Nothing is carved in stone. Back when I was working a 9-to-5 job, I found this frustrating. Trying to plan a get-together with my new RVing friends could be frustrating, because they were always vague about when they'd arrive. Now, of course, I understand completely. I'm retired, so what's the hurry?

Sunday, September 13

I'm not sure how I picked out my intended destination for today, Big Lake State Park, but when I rechecked my route this morning, it turned out to be almost due north of Eisenhower State Park, rather than east as I had intended. So I chose another state park, Van Meter, and headed for it... but that plan ended up getting changed as well.

The short version of the story is that at a rest stop about an hour short of my destination, I met a couple—Barbara and Dan—in a red 2008 Lazy Daze with the same midbath floorplan as mine. Of course we got involved in the usual show-and-tell that happens whenever owners of similar rigs get together. I hadn't seen a 2008 Lazy Daze interior, so it was fun to tour their nearly-new rcoach. And since I have the reputation of having made a lot of improvements to my rig, there was a lot to show in Skylark.

Dan and Barbara

Since Barbara and Dan were heading in the same direction on I-70, I decided to go along with them, and since they'd chosen Arrow Rock Historic Site as their destination, I did likewise, leaving Van Meter for another occasion. Jell-O plans, you see.

I did have a panicky moment when my GPS told me to turn off at exit such-and-such, and as I obediently did so, I saw Dan and Barbara pass the turnoff and head on down the highway. Given my lousy sense of direction, I was afraid I'd made a terrible mistake, but it turned out (for once!) that I was right. They showed up about twenty minutes after I did, and we took $11-a-night dry camping sites. (When I've been driving all day, my batteries are fully charged by the time I stop, and there's no way I'll drain them overnight, so paying ten bucks extra for hookups doesn't make much sense unless I'll be using my air conditioner or electric heaters.)

When I pulled in at around 5:00 p.m., the visitor center was closed, but a tollbooth-like building at the campground was lit and occupied. I walked over and waited for the gentleman inside to open the window and greet me, but he was busy shuffling papers. Finally I tapped hesitantly on the glass. Without even looking up, he shook his head.

I was rather taken aback, since campground staff are almost always friendly, outgoing people. I wandered over to the host's trailer, which was parked nearby, and spoke with a woman who turned out to be the man's wife. She was friendly enough, but seemed hesitant to give me information—"My husband says I always say the wrong thing," she said. At that point the man from the booth came stumping over, grumbling about people who couldn't arrive at a reasonable hour. "I'm up at 4:00 a.m. and have my campsite picked out by 2:00 p.m.," he huffed. His wife apologized for his gruffness: "He's only giving you the treatment, like he does with everybody."

That seemed to be the conversational pattern: he'd bluster and scold, and she'd apologize. As I stood there collecting the maps and paperwork needed to register, another couple pulled in, obviously exhausted after a long day's drive. He gave them the same kind of hard time he'd given me. I felt sorry for them because they were desperately tired (and said so), and just wanted to pull into a site and collapse, but he wasn't making it easy for them. I could see where his "gruff act" might have been amusing with friends who knew him well enough to know he didn't really mean it... but it was the wrong approach to take with strangers, and especially tired strangers! He was one of only two campground hosts I've met in eight years of camping who had a personality utterly unsuited to his function.

Arrow Rock is a pretty little park, but heavily wooded, and as with other Missouri state parks I've been in, the sites are on the small side, and very unlevel. I was lucky enough to get the only pull-through site in the dry camping area (technically a handicapped site, but the host told me to use it, since the campground was pretty much empty), and since the site wasn't too far off, I figured it wasn't worth getting out the Lynx leveling blocks for just one night.

Cell phone reception was very quirky at Arrow Rock: even with a roof antenna and booster amp, my Verizon USB-720 cell modem alternated between one and three bars, and had great difficulty in making a reliable connection. (The few other times when I've seen this happen, I was midway between two towers and the the device couldn't make up its mind which one to use.) By that time it was dark, and I wasn't going to set up the HughesNet satellite dish—the dense woods would have made that a dicey business anyway—so I made do with the intermittent cell modem connection. After many tries, I was able to check voicemail (but not to place a call), and was able to read some email and send a couple of one-line messages.

Arrow Rock SP

Dan and Barbara invited me to a spaghetti dinner, and I brought a salad. Afterward, we sat up late talking about the places we'd been, swapping tips on which state parks were the nicest. I enjoyed it so much that I stayed up a good deal later than usual for me, so I didn't get enough sleep that night.

Monday, September 14

Dan and Barbara were up early and obviously eager to get on the road, so after we took each other's pictures and exchanged a few last-minute tips, they pulled out, while I settled into my usual slow-paced morning routine.

I got in my "morning mile" walk, which gave me a chance to see more of the park. There's a pretty little lake—well, really more like a large pond—called "Big Soldier Lake," with a fishing area. This would be a lovely place to visit in less warm, humid weather... say, in late fall.

Big Soldier Lake

My original plan for today was to drive 89 miles east to Graham Cave State Park, but I decided that I needed to do some shopping, so I went 20 miles out of my way to Boonville to find a Walmart. The GPS found it for me, actually, and led me there without a hitch. I stocked up on food, underwear and whatnot, then had lunch in my rig. I'd bought a small "Chicken Sonoma" wrap at a Quiznos restaurant next to the Walmart. It turned out to be good, but spicier than I really like... but I ate a big bowl of salad with it, and that along with a glass of milk alleviated the burning sensations.

Salad

And then, because I believe in a balanced diet, I ate a large handful of chocolate-covered bing cherries.

Cherries

I drove the two hours to Graham Cave State Park, arriving pretty well fatigued. I found a lovely pull-through site right across from the friendly campground host. As was the case yesterday, this seems to be the only pull-through site in the dry-camping area, and it's also the closest to level... the others are all pretty far off, sometimes both side to side and front to back. It's odd that Missouri went to the expense of paving these sites, which many state parks don't do, yet didn't bother to level them while they were at it.

Graham Cave SP

Today's oddest business sign was this one, glimpsed along I-70:

ARMY SURPLUS
PIZZA AND DELI

Army surplus pizza? I can think of few things less appetizing!

I looked at my route this evening, and I'm only about 600 miles from Pittsburgh and my father. Even at a moderate 150 miles a day average, I could make that distance in four days. I could be there (or more precisely, in nearby Tarentum, where I plan to stay) this Sunday. That puts all my plans about two weeks ahead of where I expected them to be. My friend Karen may be right in saying that I'm moving too fast.

Japanese TV

Tonight I watched a movie that I'd picked up in Walmart for $5: "Lost in Translation." I like Bill Murray, and the jacket was plastered with "FLAT OUT HILARIOUS!" and "TWO BIG THUMBS UP!" as well as numerous awards (including an Oscar for best screenplay) and four-star reviews, so it seemed like a pretty safe bet.

To my surprise, I was pretty much bored stiff. Hilarity was conspicuously absent... unless you think ten minutes of an incredibly annoying Japanese version of Soupy Sales is hilarious.

There was a total of about ten minutes of mildly interesting interaction between the two main characters, but it didn't go anywhere—their relationship issues were left completely unresolved at the end of the film. The rest of the movie was almost a complete waste as far as I was concerned, consisting mostly of random scenes of Tokyo street life. How could I be so far out of sync with all those reviewers?

Tuesday, September 15

I decided to stay over, giving me a day to catch up on things like this website. But the pull-through site I'd stayed in was reserved by somebody else for tonight, so I had to move. Besides, the day dawned gray and dismal, and in these deep woods I knew I wasn't going to get much solar power... so I moved to a $19.00 electric site up the hill, where I could plug in and work all day on the computer.

It was a good day to do that. I gave my father a call to let him know I'd be arriving in a few days, then plunged into the usual round of emails, website discussions, and writing this update. Tomorrow I hope to get an early start on my 208-mile drive to Fox Ridge State Park in Illinois.

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