Monday, October 16, 2017

We Interrupt This Blog for One Spoiled Husky!

Fall is here!

Although we would much rather be south, there is one enormous benefit to being in Indiana. Crockett is enjoying his first true fall!
The weather is cool and brisk, which means a certain ten year old husky has come down with-
 a bad case of puppy zooms!
 The RV park doesn't have a fenced in dog yard, so we've been sneaking down to the nearby tennis court.
Nobody seems to be using it, and a tennis court is just the right size for a husky with the fall crazies!
Oh, yeah, that was a much needed run, followed by-
stretching out for some prime time squirrel watching! The RV park has a lot of black walnut and oak trees, which means we currently have 24/7 squirrel TV. Pretty sure life doesn't get much better than this!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Carnegie Center for Art and History (Free!)

Fall is Pretty Awesome 

We miss some things about Texas, like breakfast tacos and Tex-mex. We don't miss the crazy September heat - fall in Indiana is perfect riding weather! The Biker finally had a free Thursday, so we zipped over to New Albany to check out their local history center. Admission is - yep, free!
New Albany is, yes, another Indiana city that lies on the other side of the Ohio River, across from Louisville. It's easiest to just imagine the Ohio River as a wiggling snake, running east and west. Louisville sits the south (Kentucky) side of the river. New Albany and Jeffersonville sit on the north (Indiana) side of the river, with smaller Clarksville squished between them. 

New Albany, like the other two towns, was founded on land  given to George Roger Clark, a Revolutionary War hero, and father of William Clark. (William is, of course, the same Clark who went tramping off with Meriwether Lewis on a grand surveying expedition)
The land was sold to the Scribner family, who established New Albany in 1813. Indiana became a state a couple of years later, and New Albany was chosen as the seat of Floyd County.  Floyd County, incidentally, was named after Davis Floyd, a politician, and a friend of Aaron Burr. 
New Albany was the biggest city in Indiana until just before the Civil War, when Indianapolis overtook it. New Albany's wealth came mostly from steamboat and the Ohio River in the nineteenth century, and from plywood and veneer in the twentieth century. Since we seem to be covering obscure Indiana history in this blog, let's take a moment to talk about the craziness of the streets on this side of the river. 

While citizens of New Albany were laying out their town, another fellow decided to plan out his own town, called Providence. If you pull up a map of New Albany, and look at the area just east of Fairview Cemetery, you will notice the numbered streets start doing some strange things and 10th becomes 11th. That's where these two different city plans clashed. Literally. 

Jeffersonville, in the meantime, decided to lay things out in a diagonal street grid. This created such a mess that the city later added a more traditional grid. The result is there are still a lot of weird random diagonal bits that don't quite mesh with the newer grid system.
Ahem, moving on. Got to love the architecture of Carnegie Libraries! The Carnegie Center is housed in the old Albany Public Library. Originally slated for demolition after the library moved into a bigger building, citizens saved it by creating a Floyd County Museum. Today, that museum has become the Carnegie Center and is run as part of the city's library system.
It turns out  the center was installing a couple of new exhibits in both gallery spaces, so we couldn't check out any local art. 
That's OK, there were still two interesting permanent exhibits to see. The first is on the life of Lucy Higgs Nichols.
Lucy was born a slave. When the Civil War broke out, she grabbed her baby and fled to a camp of Union Soldiers. The United States had just passed a law, allowing the troops to keep Confederate property (slaves), so she was given work in the camp as a nurse.
Sadly, Lucy's baby girl died soon after, and was buried at Vicksburg.  Lucy went on to serve with the Twenty-third Regiment from Indiana for the rest of the war. After the war, the men continued to consider her a fellow comrade. 

She was a member of her local veteran's group in New Albany, and men from the Twenty-Third helped her apply for a Civil War army pension. Like many nurses, her application was denied, so the men just kept on insisting - until Lucy's pension was passed by a special act! 
The other exhibit was called 'Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad'.
A slave who get across the Ohio River would be free. New Albany was the biggest city in Indiana before the Civil War, and a bustling port city of steamboats and trains. The result was New Albany was the final destination for many who traveled the Underground Railroad.
This also meant the abolitionists in New Albany were often active in the Underground Railroad.  Local owners of the railroads in the area would even give out free tickets that could be used by escaping slaves.
Unfortunately, the large number of freed slaves living in and around New Albany also created a lot of racial tension, and at least 3 blacks were killed during a riot in 1862. The exhibit does a very good job of showing people's views and opinions of both the Underground Railroad, and the racial issues surrounding slavery, without glossing over the ugly reality of what was happening in Indiana in the years leading up to the Civil War.
'The Search' by Barney Blight, outside the current New Albany Public Library.

Know before you go: The center has free admission, and is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10am to 5:30pm. There is parking available behind the center. The center hosts several art and culture events throughout the year, and the public is welcome to attend these.

Monday, October 2, 2017

River Road and Patriot Memorial (Free!)

River Road Ride 

 The Biker is now working 45 to 50 hour weeks at Amazon, so we've fallen back into work mode. Get up, grab chow, do chores, feed the critters, and get The Biker out the door.  In the middle of all of this, two anniversaries crept up on us.

Last week was our first year anniversary of owning the Otterbee. It feels like it was just yesterday when we zoomed up to Dallas on a hot September day to inspect her and bring her home. After recovering from threading a 30 foot RV down the I-35 corridor of hell, we  began months of remodeling, and finally, our first camping experience in November. We headed to Livingston and the Escapees RV Boot Camp . Which was a pretty awesome birthday gift from The Biker, and worth every penny.

Our other anniversary? We've now been officially full timing for three months! People keep asking us what is the one thing we didn't expect one we started out.  I think the biggest surprise is how quickly our animals adjusted to living in a much smaller space. Our oldest cat, Ormolu, has even figured out how to nap without being disturbed by the other animals. She has claimed one of the upper cabinets as her favorite nap spot - and then trained us humans to open the cabinet door whenever she wants in or out!
Last week, we decided to squeeze in a quick ride on one of The Biker's days off. We took the bridge across the river, cut over to Zorn, and the turned east onto River Road. The white building is the Louisville Water Tower, which began operating in 1860. Today it's a museum and an event center - and hard to miss!
River Road is a wonderful ride, with lots of greenery and views of the Ohio River. Shortly after we turned off of Zorn Road, we begin to pass several city parks.  Maybe there is a road with  more city parks on them, but I really can't think of one at the moment!
Here's fascinating reason behind the many parks along this road. This area is Indian Hills, a small city that has been swallowed up by Louisville.
The spaces of the original subdivison were planned by the Olmsted Brothers - yup, those OlmstedsPart of the original municipal plan was to leave a third of the area undeveloped. 
If I was a better blogger (or not trying to take photos from the back of a moving motorcycle!), I would've taken photos of each park, as well as some of the cool houses and places of Indian Hills. Instead, y'all are getting random photos of the ride down River Road.  We probably need to beg, borrow, or steal a Gopro at some point, huh?
Anyhoo, heading east, we pass Eva Bandman Park, named after a local citizen who donated land for park space to the city of Louisville. 
There is also the Carrie Gaulbert Cox Park, named for for a local business man who also built the Malvern House. There is a great article about the house here, which is still lived in by Cox's descendants.
And finally, there is Caperton Swamp Park, or really, a 29 acre wildlife preserve. This is supposed to be a hidden treasure and a great place to take a nature hike.
River Road was originally a road that connected the small towns and villages along the Ohio River. Much of this area belonged to the Veech family and their farm's name, Indian Hills, would later become the name of the current city.
One of the great things about this ride is the many views of the Ohio river. With all of this year's natural disasters, though, it was hard not to look at the river and think about the Flood of 1937
Here's an obscure piece of history. The Ohio Flood was actually the second big disaster that Louisville weathered. The first was the Madrid Earthquake back in 1811. This was actually a set of earthquakes which are still on record for being among the top 5 earthquakes for North America.
A small red sign marks the Patriot Peace Memorial. 
There is no parking at the Patriot Peace Memorial itself, so we parked in the Different Strokes Golf Center, next door. A short walking trail leads from the golf parking lot to the memorial.
The memorial is set on a hill, and honors military personnel who gave their lives, but not in active combat. 
The memorial is simple and stark during the day (at night, the names are lit up). There are the currently over 400 names on the walls of the memorial.
On Memorial Day this year, Navy Lt Commander Drew Hilliard's name was the latest to be added. 
The memorial is a beautiful, moving tribute to the men and women who have died while serving our country. There is also an ongoing restoration project, which you can donate to here.
After leaving the memorial, we headed to the Captain's Quarters for lunch.
This marina is actually part of Harrod's Creek, a small town that was eventually annexed by Louisville. Here is another fascinating and totally useless historical footnote. This town was almost called Transylvania!

The government seized the assets of some Tories that had chosen the wrong side in the Revolutionary War and gave that land to the Transylvania Land Company.  When the company went defunct, Kentucky decided to use the land to create a college, called Transylvania University. 

The university divided some of the property up and sold it. It seems the intent was to create a town called Transylvania, but the town became known as Harrod's Creek instead.  I wonder how many residents know how close they came to being the brunt of Dracula jokes?
The Captain's Quarters is a well known local restaurant, that sits on the site of an earlier tavern. Harrod's Creek was a stopover for people traveling down the Ohio.
The view was awesome - the food was not.
We had checked online reviews of the Captain's Quarters, and the place was crowded, so we were looking forward to trying some local cuisine. The breaded catfish was tasty, but the french fries were meh.  The Biker asked if he could substitute another side for coleslaw, but was told he couldn't, because 'the coleslaw was a garnish'. The coleslaw then came out as a side anyway, and was literally swimming in too much dressing.
I had the blackened fish, which was also well cooked, but was the only thing edible. The 'steamed' broccoli was cold and half-raw. Even worse was the turnip greens. 

In the south, turnip greens are slowly cooked in a tasty concoction of butter and bacon that pulls the bitterness out. Instead, I was served an enormous pile of barely steamed turnip greens with no seasoning. With my fish sort of perched precariously on top. The 'etouffee'  garnish was a smear of sauce under a veritable mountain of inedible turnip greens. But wait - it gets worse!
I give you this restaurant's won-ton appetizers. Yup, we ordered won-tons, and got very bland jalapeno poppers instead. Nope, these didn't even have won-ton wrappers, just the usual crumb breading. Oh, and did we mention the waitress? She was in a band, and made it clear she was doing this job solely to make ends meet. We had to remind her to bring The Biker's drink (she served him water instead) and then she couldn't be bothered to check back on us, or bring refills. 

In case you are still wondering, we do not recommend this place! On the up side, Crockett loves broccoli, raw or not, and was very, very happy that I took my side home to him instead of eating it!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Why A (Ikea Hacked) Class C?

Our Class C Renovation! 

But first, let's answer the burning question people ask us - why a Class C? You have a motorcycle, so why didn't you just buy a toyhauler?
Well, when we started looking at RVs, we had four 'must-haves':

A walk around bed. When we lived in our itty bitty efficiency, we built a loft bed to make the space more efficient. This means we know first hand what a pain it is to have to make a bed you can't walk around, as well as added fun of going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We spent nearly five years climbing over each other and fumbling for steps in the dark, and we really didn't want to go back to that!

An RV around 30 feet. We want to be able to stay at public and local campgrounds. Most of these campgrounds have length limits, generally around 30-35 feet.

Must work for an 1100 Shadow. Our bike's wet weight (weight of bike plus gas) is 650 pounds, so this means we need a system that makes it easy to load and carry a fairly heavy bike. (The number refers to engine size - the bigger the number, the bigger the engine and the bike)

Storage. Motorcycles are like babies, they require stuff. Rain gear, jackets, chaps, helmets, boots, tools - the list goes on and on. We also need to carry animal chow and pet supplies for the dog and the cats. 

Fortunately, we live (lived?) in Central Texas, where there a lot of RV dealers. We also were able to check out three RV shows. We kept running into two BIG issues with toyhaulers.

First, there seems to be a running competition among RV manufacturers to see who can make the most shoddily built small toyhauler. (Our personal favorite was the Thor Outlaw that had glops of glue and visible staples holding together the kitchen cabinets) 

Second, most small toyhaulers clearly are not designed for bikers. We saw gear cupboards that weren't deep enough to fit helmets, tie down systems that seemed purposely designed to let a bike fall, and ludicrously steep loading ramps. We even stood at a dealership and watched a guy and his buddy struggling to load his motorcycle. The problem was the too steep pitch of the ramp - and he had a smaller 750.

After looking at - and giving up on - toyhaulers, we began checking out Class C's. We quickly were drawn to Winnebagos. Not only are their Class C's well built and reasonably priced, but the schematics and manuals for all their RVs are available online. We knew we would be doing some remodeling, so having these available was a big plus!
Eventually, after a year and half of looking, we lucked into buying the Otterbee,  a 30 foot 1999 Itasca Sundancer. Winnebago built the Sundancer for a little over 10 years, and designed the model to be a true all season coach. This means the Sundancer is taller than Winnebago's normal Class C, and has a full basement.  Yep, we have a lot more storage than most Class C's. 

It also means the water pipes are completely enclosed, and turning on the propane furnace heats the basement, ensuring stuff doesn't freeze (which is kind of important if you are going to be living in th RV all the time). The Sundancer also has insulated bay doors, insulated sides, an insulated ceiling, and the A/C system has ductwork, just like a house. It's really too bad that Winnebago stopped making the Sundancer, because it's ideal for full timers.
Of course, there were a few things we didn't like about our 'new' RV, and a few upgrades that needed to happen.

 Let's start with a floor plan. The top schematic is the original floor plan of the Otterbee, and under it is the new floor plan. Just a couple of small changes, but oh what a difference!
Before. Yep, the 80's hotel look had to go. More importantly, the couch and the dinette were not very comfortable, and made the space feel very cramped. 
The very first thing we did was scour the hardware stores for more modern handles. We eventually found a bulk pack of very simple nickle-plated handles for under $2 a handle. Woohoo!  Getting rid of the old brass handles that seemed to be everywhere instantly updated the entire coach.

Next, we tackled making the coach more cat friendly (priorities - we have them!).  We bought an inexpensive rug from Ikea, cut it to fit the 'shelf' over the cab and removed the fussy side curtains.  Our cats now have a comfy, warm place to sit and watch the world go by. 

We also replaced the front and back ceiling fans with Maxxair fans, with rain guards. We bought Maxxair instead of Fantastic because they were on sale, but we're really happy with our fans. They're quiet, energy efficient, and the screens pop off for easy cleaning.
Before. We (happily!) removed the very floral couch and the dinette, and replaced the old (blue-green!) carpet with Stainmaster Oyster Travertine. This is a good quality vinyl which should hold up to biker boots and dog pawsWe opted to lay the vinyl in a 'L' pattern. This required us to buy a little bit more vinyl, but we love our new floors.
We painted the walls in the living room and the bathroom with Sherwin Williams Rainwashed, which is a great color and changes beautifully in different lighting.  Not pictured is the tiny recliner we found, which just fits on the slide. 

We also bought an inexpensive Ikea chair, which we move around to wherever we need it. If we watched a lot of TV, we would've probably put in two recliners, but we just don't sit down that much!
Oh look, it's  an Ikea hack! We measured the space where the dinette had been, and discovered two Ikea Galant cabinets fit perfectly. These cabinets have soft close hinges, so the doors stay shut even when we are rolling. 

We had initially considered putting a narrow breakfast bar here, but we're glad we decided to go with additional storage instead. We can still pull a chair up and use the cabinets as either a desk or a table. (Like I'm doing right now😄)
Here's our updated Class C!  Even with the slide in, there is now plenty of room for two people, a husky, and the cats. We also upgraded all the old light bulbs to energy efficient LED lights. We bought two packs, one was soft white LEDs and one was bright white LEDs. This worked great, letting us tailor the light needed for each space.
Before. The bedroom when we bought it. Winnebago makes good RVs, but their decor choices are, um, questionable.
Here is the updated bedroom, before we bought the mattress. We hung light blue wallpaper on the back wall, painted the walls, and recovered all the valances. We stalked Joanne's for a sale, used a coupon, and nabbed a free shipping deal, so all the fabric for the valances only cost us $50!

OK, Confession time. We couldn't see spending obscene amounts of money to replace an RV 'short queen' mattress, so we just bought an inexpensive double bed mattress from Ikea. We've always slept in a double bed anyway, so we figure we'll never miss the extra 5 inches of mattress.
Before. Yep, more fussy floral. Under this atrocity is a hidden feature that really sold us on this model. Most of the time, manufacturers have mechanical stuff hidden under the beds, but the entire space under this bed? Is dedicated storage! 

The wooden platform under the mattress is even on gas struts, and lifts easily. This gives us plenty of room to store extra motorcycle gear, boots, and animal chow. Oh, and those cupboards above the bed? Deep enough to store helmets and still squeeze in some clothes. Yes!!
Here is our updated bedroom. The pillows are from Ikea and we found the bedspread at a thrift store. 

We think the paint color is Behr's Practical Tan. We had a paint color picked out for the bedroom, but then found a gallon of oops paint at the hardware store that was one shade darker. It was cheap and also Behr Ultra, which is our absolute favorite paint. We painted our kitchen cabinets with Behr Ultra, back when we didn't have a clue about painting stuff correctly, and the paint job still held up for eleven years.
Before. Seriously, who at Winnebago though that florals AND pleats were necessary? We had a weird challenge in the bedroom. It's a tiny room with three big windows, so there was actually too much light.  We also needed to match the walls and valances, so the room would feel bigger and the blue wallpaper behind the bed would be the room's only focal point. 

We've never been big fans of taupe, but it really worked for this room. The taupe fabric and taupe paint blend perfectly together, while toning down the extra glare from the windows. 
You're probably wondering about that white cabinet. It's an Ikea media cabinet that we found in the clearance section of our Ikea store. We turned it sideways and bolted it to the floor, next to our power outlet (it's also got soft close hinges so stays shut while we're in motion). We use it to store jeans and shorts. On a hot night, we can also set a fan there to blow across the bed. There's a Maxxair fan directly above the bed as well, so its easy to keep the bedroom cool at night.

Now the big question. Are we happy with our Class C? Absolutely! In fact, we kept finding reasons to have to go and hang out in the Otterbee even before we hit the road!  It's roomy, even when the slide is in, and the new layout works perfectly for us.

To be perfectly honest, though, there are two cons and one maybe. The first con is a large Class C like ours is already pushing the weight limit of chassis. Then we add on upgrades, pets, pet chow, two people, and the tongue weight of the motorcycle trailer. This leaves us only able to carry about 1000 pounds of other stuff.

Our Otterbee is also built on the old Ford 450, which is a gas hog. We average around 7-8 miles to a gallon, with trailer. Finally, there is the maybe. A 30 foot class C is perfect for us right now, but we keep looking at even smaller RVs and wondering. Maybe, someday, could we downsize even more?  Hmmmmm.