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Archive for March, 2006

Panera Bread, Pensacola FL

It’s family night at the Panera Bread … or so we have decreed. Emma is at my side munching on a roast beef sandwich and pickles, Eleanor is downloading system updates and sending emails, I’m working on our new Airstream Life store (to be launched soon) with a nice chai latte.

It’s a nuisance to have to drive 30 miles into Pensacola to get online, but once we have the bulk of the necessary work under control we’ll stop doing this and start seeing some local stuff. There’s a great aviation museum here, and it’s free. We’ve been there, but it was years before Emma was born, so we may take her. I’ve also heard they are aircraft carriers here that can be toured sometimes, so we’ll ask around about that.

There’s also a rally starting tomorrow at Mystic Springs, so we’ll be in the thick of that. I doubt there will be any kids for Emma but there certainly should be a LOT of grandparents. I’m looking forward to meeting Vince Saltimaggio, who I interviewed weeks ago for an upcoming article in Airstream Life. He’s one of the people who fled Hurricane Katrina in his Airstream. He’ll be here in his ’59 Tradewind, I hope.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep catching up on everything here at Panera Bread. It’s my favorite place to get online, other than the Airstream. They don’t mind us being here for hours, and the food is great. (Tom from Internet in Motion says, “I really love the ‘cobblestone’ pastry.”) This place is flooded in the evening with students from some nearby college, and they are a riot to watch: cell phone in one hand, laptop in front of them, and multi-tasking like maniacs. There are so many of them that the high-speed Internet connection goes down every evening under the load. But it’s fun to hang out and people-watch.

Being Cheap?

We’ve arrived at Mystic Springs Airstream park, about 30 miles north of Pensacola FL. Finally! The long driving spree is over for a while. We’ll hang here amongst the moss-draped pine trees through Sunday or so. We need the break.

Mystic site.jpg

Our camping budget has been greatly helped by all the courtesy parking we’ve been doing lately. Our stay at NTAC was free (because we were the guest of one of the lot owners), as were our four nights in Weathersford. Then we hit Wal-Marts along the way up to Indiana, spent a few days at Airstream of Indiana, and stopped at a Cracker Barrel on the way down to Florida.

The upshot is that in the past 15 nights we have only had to pay for parking twice (at Kickapoo State Park in IL and Mammoth Cave NP). So for two weeks our total camping expenditure has been $32.

Now it’s sort of a quest: how long can we go without paying? Eleanor says I’ve gotten cheap, but I prefer to consider it Yankee frugality, or perhaps just an expansion of the way we travel. Anyway, we just put hundreds of dollars into batteries so we can get along longer without power connections — let’s make use of them! Didn’t we buy an Airstream for “real travel independence” as they say in the brochures? But she still says I’m cheap.

We need to make a few more tweaks to be comfortable living “off the grid”. I’d like to be able to power our laptops and cell phones off the trailer’s 12v system without using an inverter, so I am considering a IGo everywhere universal power adapter. This thing has little power tips to fit all sorts of equipment, so one IGo will power both the laptops and the phones (assuming I buy the right tips to go with it).

On Saturday night I went out to Radio Shack and bought their universal 12v adapter for $5.99. This allows us to run the factory-installed Sharp flat panel TV on the 12v system, bypassing the inverter that came with it. (Formerly it went from 12v to 110v AC power, then plugged into the wall.) So that’s one less appliance that needs AC power. Now we can watch DVD movies even while boondocking.

Once we have the 12v adapter for the laptops and phones, everything in the trailer except the laser printer and vacuum cleaner will run off the house batteries. I can recharge the cordless drill, camera batteries, and other misc battery-powered devices using a basic Radio Shack cigarette-lighter inverter, if I really need to.

So, I’ve dumped the Honda eu1000 generator that we were hauling around. With an SUV, toting a generator means gas fumes in the car, less storage space, and more weight. We’re going to see how it goes with just batteries and — eventually — a pair of solar panels.

Mystic Springs is a nice spot, but it’s in the boonies. Sprint doesn’t cover the area, and there’s no Internet access to be had anywhere nearby, so I have to drive 30 miles into Pensacola to snarf wifi from Panera Bread or one of the hotels. I already got booted from the Luxury Suites motel by a grumpy matron earlier this evening, so I think from now I’ll stick with Panera. At least there you can get a nice cuppa and muffin while you work. While I’m doing that, Eleanor and Emma are going to run errands and find something fun to barbecue — the park is planning a barbecue night on Thursday. I’m voting for salmon… would a cheapskate do that?

Bowling Green, KY and Athens, GA

So nice and quiet last night at the Mammoth Cave campground. It’s been so long since we heard bird singing in the morning that it woke Eleanor up early. Morning birdsong has become unfamiliar to us, since we’ve been parked by highways and in the desert for the last two months.

The Frozen Niagara tour was great. A bit claustrophobic at the beginning, but really terrific. We can highly recommend it if you visit Mammoth Cave.

We didn’t stick around the park after the tour, because late last night I reserved a spot for myself to tour the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green. I had decided I really couldn’t leave Kentucky without seeing it. Eleanor graciously volunteered to stay in the trailer with Emma for the entire two hours it would take me to do the tour, so we parked it in a far corner of the factory lot and they hung back to do some homeschooling work.

Corvette factory.jpg

It worked out well, because as soon as we arrived the thunderstorms came crashing down. It wasn’t weather I wanted to tow in. But Eleanor and Emma were snug in the trailer and I was having a BLAST checking out the very cool factory tour.

They also make the Cadillac XLR in that factory, but on a separate line. I wish I could show you photos from the tour but they are strict about no cameras, no cell phones, no PDAs, no anything, inside the plant. Trust me, it’s worth the $5 for the tour. I left the building wanting a Caddy XLR for my very own, but at $77k apiece I don’t see it in my immediate future. But I did get a freebie postcard.

Corvette postcard.jpg

I was tempted to just stay in the parking lot overnight because the thunderstorms were still raging at 3pm when I was back from the tour. But I didn’t think they’d appreciate that, especially since we were in the “GM CARS ONLY” lot with our Nissan. (The “non-GM” lot was full.) They seem to take that sort of thing seriously at car factories…

Thunderstorms and traffic and accidents left us far short of our goal tonight. That’s the way it goes. We’re spending the night at a Cracker Barrel tonight, and we hope to reach Gulf Shores, AL tomorrow. Then we’ll slow down for a while. All this driving has us a bit loopy.

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Last night we had some pretty exciting thunderstorms while we were parked at Airstream of Indiana. But with the stabilizers down, it wasn’t bad. We lowered the TV antenna just to avoid being an attractant to lightning. With a dozen other Airstreams and lampposts around, I figured our chances were pretty good of surviving the night.

We said goodbye to the nice folks at the dealership, promised to stay in touch, and packed up our traveling roadshow this morning. While we were packing inside the trailer, a police cruiser took some interest in us. I suppose being parked in the dealership lot on a Sunday (obviously camping, since we were plugged into a lamppost outlet), we looked somewhat unusual. He passed by three times, and appeared to run our license plate on one stop. I was wondering if we were violating some city ordinance and would get a ticket. Finally, on the fourth pass, I was outside talking on the cell phone and he spotted me. I gave him a big friendly wave and he gave me a wave back. I guess he just likes Airstreams …

I didn’t think we’d be able to post today because we are in Mammoth Cave National Park. Last summer we stopped here for two nights and couldn’t get online at all, and cell phones were iffy. But it’s different now: no leaves on the trees means cell signals can go farther, and with a slightly higher campsite, I can get online easily. Sweeeet!

Tonight will be balmy with lows only in the 60s so we can sleep with the windows open — yahoo! That’s the first time we’ve been able to do that since Arizona. But tomorrow a major cold front is coming through with thunderstorms and the overnight low tomorrow will be only 34! Time to get outta town. We’re going to do the Frozen Niagara tour in the morning and then head south before everything else gets frozen too.

We would visit the Corvette assembly plant in nearby Bowling Green but I checked their website and they say no kids under 7 allowed. Hmm, maybe some elevator shoes and lipstick for Emma?

Saturday at the dealership

At last! The sun has arrived and the temperatures have risen in central Indiana. Despite a dismal forecast last night, it has turned out to be a beautiful day.

We’ve spent the day chatting up Airstreamers (and future Airstreamers), giving tours of our trailer, and checking out the new models to get ideas for ways we might modify our own. Blog reader Lee Benson dropped by, and gave me some tips on using satellite Internet that I’ll be able to integrate into my presentation next month.

AOI dealership.jpg

Misc notes:

(1) In response to a request from another blog reader, I’ve posted an album to Flickr with pictures of two of the new Airstream models, the Base Camp and the Safari 23. Look for the new album called “Airstream of Indiana”.

(2) We disconnected the AC power last night so we could exercise the batteries. I was interested to see how much power we used overnight for the furnace (22 amps). The Tri-Metric tells us exactly what we have used, and what we have left, which is very useful. I am not sure at this point but I think we may want to add a couple more batteries just so we don’t drain the batteries too much when we are boondocking. The batteries will last much longer if we drain them no more than 25%.

(3) Emma has had a minor relapse with a slight fever. We’ve tried to keep her low-profile today but she feels good enough to run around and get into everything and meet everyone. Fortunately, she doesn’t seem to be contagious.

(4) Finally, the folks at the dealership expressed some regret that there were no leftovers of Eleanor’s dessert. Apparently everyone has been checking the blog since we got here!

Special Dessert Night

It’s one of those occasions when Eleanor is inspired by something she saw in the grocery store. So she came home with some pizzelles (sort of like thin waffles) and some ricotta cheese. She added those ingredients to some mixed berry preserve, with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream in layers, and cocoa powder sprinkled on top.

AOI dessert prep.jpg

The result was a short-lived dessert. That, and a DVD of six Spongebob Squarepants episodes, and you’ve got a formula for a heck of a family-friendly evening.

AOI dessert.jpg

Base Camp!

Emma is better, thank you. She spent the afternoon in bed and didn’t want to eat or even watch a movie, so we knew she was really feeling poorly. On the other hand, it’s the only time we can snuggle her for more than a minute or so, and have adult conversations without being interrupted by a puppet show … There’s nothing like a virus to take the edge off a kid!

Now she’s back to her usual bouncy self, and off shopping with her mother. I’m left here with a lot full of new Airstreams to check out — such a tragedy. Today I poked my head into the new Airstream Base Camp. It’s a very cool thing, sort of a miniature toy hauler with a little kitchen. It can be pulled by several small SUVs and carry a pair of motorcycles, a four-wheeler, or sleep a few friends. It’s a real eye-catcher in red.

AOI basecamp ext.jpg
Cute little toy hauler

AOI basecamp.jpg

Tom and Donna, who are the lead salespeople in this dealership, spent part of the morning chatting with me about Airstreams and showing me some of the new models. They’ve become Airstreamers themselves, as a result of having this job, which is always a good thing. I think the best dealerships are managed by people who actually use the product themselves.

AOI sales.jpg

I also checked out the new Airstream 23-footer. This is a neat unit, kind of like a Bambi but more usable and with plenty of cool features. I think that one is a winner. In general Airstream has put more emphasis on the shorter trailers lately, and so there are many more floorplans 25 feet and under to choose from than there were just a few years ago.

We’ll be here on Saturday but heading south on Sunday, toward Mammoth Cave National Park.

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