Friday, March 29, 2013

Ursula’s Last Stand

Lee took Ursula out for her last trip on Tuesday of last week, driving her over to The Farm so he could be there while his dad had his quarterly “procedure,” as they call the operations where they work on his bladder tumor and give him some chemo. That trip went well, and the doctor sure seems pleased that Ernest Senior has made it as long as he has. The stubbornness seems to have helped.
On Friday, Lee tried to take a shower, but noooo. The water pump seems to have gone out. Well, at least that justifies the decision to trade her in! I sure hope Ursula II (new name for the 5th wheel) is less breakage prone. In any case, Lee left his dad in the capable hands of Chris and lumbered along to Palmetto State Park.
Ursula in her final parking spot with us

I (Suna) had packed some delicious gluten-free foods in my car that Leigh had made, so I left directly from work in Ethel the MINI, joining Lee and our fellow Great Escapists around 6:30. I was blown away by the beauty of the place. If you have never gone there, consider it, even just for a day trip. It’s less than 1.5 hours from most of Austin, between Luling and Gonzalez. The RV parking area was all woods and just full of birds. Never saw so many cardinals. And black vultures playing—they were actually cute!
Chairs awaiting campers
It was a nice coincidence that two of my Facebook friends, who happen to be related to my favorite current LLL Leader, were camping in the same park. They are part of a group of women who camp together around Texas in their incredibly cute renovated trailers. I got to go on a tour of most of them—they were very sweet and welcoming. It’s amazing how they decorate to a theme (hippie/peace, frogs, sunshine, cowgirls and lace, etc.) and even decorate the picnic tables and outside the trailers to fit the themes. There is a great deal of creativity involved in fixing up the 60s trailers, Airstreams, and even a couple of newer ones. 
Interior of one of the cute little trailers. This one is "Cowgirls and lace"--note pink firearm.
After visiting, we made dinner and sat around the “campfire,” which really were some lights Martha brought. Two were spherical and changed colors. We got a great picture of her holding her “blue balls” at one point. The weather was great. The conversation was relaxed. The campground was not crowded or loud. Pretty great! We were all pretty tired, so headed in early.
Martha and her blue balls. Mike laughing.

The next morning, it was cold! All the tent and car campers were busy making fires and cooking fancy breakfasts. I set out on an early morning hike and took lots of pictures of trees and wildflowers. There were some of the biggest trees I ever saw (outside of the redwood forest) along the San Marcos River, which is where the trail went. Beautiful blue and red flowers filled the woods, along with many shades of pink and purple trilliums. I also never saw so many cardinals in my life. They were everywhere, flying around chasing each other. I also saw wrens, chickadees and a yellow bellied sapsucker. The main other bird, though, was the black vulture. There were dozens of them around, and it was educational to watch how much they played with each other. They seemed to be having quite the fun time on the riverbanks, jumping around and flapping away.
Blue mealy cup

Spiderwort (not trillium)
Not sure what this is--too big to be what I thought it was. All over the place.
Field of spiderwort
San Marcos River

Fungus on a log
Where I go in my mind when I relax or meditate

Lee and I went on a little walk to the Refectory, which is a gorgeous building the Civilian Conservation Corps built in the 1930s. It is made of the rocks from the area, and was built to look like it just grew out of the ground. It would be a great spot for a retreat. And it has great vulture views!
What a huge log!

Vultures! I hope Lee adds a close-up
Clever bench that comes organically out of the wall
The photographer, photographing
After I got back, we hung around and chatted, then ate lunch. Many of the group decided to go walk on the Palmetto Trail, which has signs and information around it, and is not too long for the folks with issues walking. What a lovely trail! By this time of day, all the butterflies were out, so there were many photo opportunities. This trail also went through the swampy areas, which were very beautiful (and only smelly in the sulphur parts). There is a really cool pump that the CCC also built—it keeps the swamps swampy after the oil boom lowered the water table. Unfortunately, the “mud boils” that used to be there dried up. That would have been fun to see. We did hear two owls chatting. They were very nearby—and I finally saw the pileated woodpecker. Hooray. There were turkeys around (and it’s turkey season, boom!) but I didn’t get to see one. And oh yes, there were both gray squirrels and fox squirrels, if anyone is keeping count on them.
Our group at the swamp

The pump, pumping. 

Montage of Lee's photos--I was playing with software!

As if I hadn’t hiked enough, later in the afternoon Mike, my usual hiking buddy, and I decided to walk the only trail we hadn’t walked yet. We started walking and talking and ended up walking way farther than we set out to. It had warmed up and gotten sunnier, so it was different from the morning walk! We saw fewer birds, but did see a “swamp rabbit.” They are as big as pet rabbits! It was not at all afraid of us, so we enjoyed it for quite a while.  Mostly we talked and walked, figuring out our lives and futures. Walking helps both of us think!
Can YOU spot the bunny? Hint: she is standing up.

When we got back, it was about time for dinner, so I used Ursula’s stove one last time (yay, we had propane!) and made some squash and couscous, plus put together the salad that Leigh had prepared for us. That was sure worth the effort—it was delicious, and the salad dressing she made was so tasty, and the avocados made the salad very rich. And the brownies she made were gluten free and delicious. There were no leftovers!
The other campers had also made great food, so for only 4 or 5 groups, we ended up with a lot of variety and yumminess. There was stew, chili, pesto pasta and more salad. The dinner went well, and we went on a dog walk afterwards, which enabled Lee and the Neemidge kids to check out some of the cute little trailers the ladies on the other side of the park had brought.
We had great fun sitting around the campfire. Neemidges brought peeps, and they were interesting to roast. The normal s’mores were also delicious. The fire was perfect for the rather crisp evening. But our clothing sure ended up stinky!

Lee and I woke up and decided it was too cold to go out, so we stayed in Ursula and began getting ready to transition to the Ursula 2. (That’s our new name for the 5th Wheel—more like the name of a ship.) We emptied out the bedroom so Lee would not have to crawl back there when he was transferring from one vehicle to the other. It was sort of sad. We really enjoyed Ursula when she was working. As we were cleaning, though, we did come up with a list of things we won’t miss.
  • The uncomfortable couches. Look forward to the nice lounge chairs and actual comfy couch
  •  The drawers that are nearly impossible to open. At least the ones we couldn’t access for the first year finally worked once we got something or other fixed
  • The tiny fridge with leaky icemaker
  •  The giant windshield that made it impossible to cool her off during the heat of summer—though maybe the new air conditioner we bought will help the next family
  • The small bed. Look forward to that Deluxe Donald Trump model king bed!
  • The closet doors that simply won’t stay on track.
  • The bench seats for the dinette. Looking forward to chairs!
We took pity on the other campers and invited them all in to warm up in Ursula, which was a nice farewell to her. We decided on a bird theme for the Ursula 2, since she is a Cardinal trailer.
Photo montage of the trip

Finally, after leftover salad for lunch, I headed back home in Ethel the MINI. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes using the toll roads. This makes me want to go back to Palmetto State Park often! Lee drove Ursula back to her house one last time, then we ran off to the beautiful Omni Downtown Austin hotel, where we spent the night in luxury before I started 4 days of work meetings.
The Ursula 2 and her tow vehicle. This side has only one window when the slides are retracted. There are two in the bedroom slight, at front.

This Week
While I was working and working, Lee took Ursula and his truck in to the RV Outlet Mall, where he got the 5th wheel hitch installed on his truck. While that was going on, which apparently took forever, he emptied out Ursula and put our stuff in the Ursula 2. She is now resting in the storage place, awaiting her first adventure (coming very soon!). Here are a few pictures we took of her when we were buying her, to whet your appetite!
Add captionThe Ursula 2 and her tow vehicle. This side has only one window when the slides are retracted. There are two in the bedroom slight, at front.

Not a great interior shot, but this was when we were looking at her at the RV place. More to come!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ursula, Oh Ursula. You Gotta Go.

If you are an actual reader of this blog, you may be wondering why there have been no posts since we went to New Mexico in November.

Well.  The holiday season was a madhouse of parties and events, plus the creation of a beautiful back porch that required supervision (see photo), so we could not even get her in to the RV Outlet Mall to get her latest collection of issues looked at--we really needed to get the living room slide to work, and that horrible noise it made the last time we retracted it was BAD. Plus, the leveling system still was not working right, after all the repairs we made.
New Back Porch Retreat, January 6

The furniture, rustic benches, and little shed

Getting her fixed was also challenging because there is such a short window of time in which Suna is available to bring a car in so Lee can get home after dropping her off--the repair place is only open on Saturday mornings other than during Suna's work hours.

So, at some point late in January, we got her deposited with the help of Declan, the red-haired son. Or maybe it was February. It was a long time ago. She patiently waited for parts to arrive, still sporting her Christmas decor. Turns out the motor and some other part on the slide needed to be replaced, and a controller in the leveling system needed to be replaced as well. The good news is that our extended warranty paid for most of it. If YOU have an RV, these are a good idea. They all seem to break frequently.

Change Is Coming

For the past month or two, we had lots of talks about our dear Ursula. These points came up:

  • Over the past two years, she has spent about a third of the time in the shop, and I think there may have been ONE trip where nothing broke. That's just not great. We really enjoy her, of course. It is great riding around in her, and she is very comfortable. But, heck, we can't use her whenever we want--she is so often nonfunctional! 
  • Lee calculated that, with all the repair bills, owning her only came out slightly less expensive than renting an RV for each trip. 
  • We now own a very large and very black diesel pickup truck (see below). It is strong enough to pull most anything. And is has enough luxury options that it is a pleasure to ride around in. Like air conditioned seats. Geez.
  • And one thing we had not anticipated when we got the motorcoach version of an RV was that once you get somewhere and get all set up, you can't go anywhere. Looking into the options for towing was pretty sobering. None of our cars are the right kind to tow, plus it really isn't great for any car. Since so many of our trips are to the farm or to the ranch, we really need to be able to go places once we are there and not have to rely on our family or friends' vehicles.
  • Plus, once we have the ranch house, Ursula would mostly be a guest house. It's sort of a waste of a thing with an engine if it doesn't go many places.
  • We still like Ursula. She's just a bit finicky for people who are not mechanically inclined.

Giant new truck actually pulling our actual trailer.
So, we started sort of looking at something the truck could pull. Something new so we could enjoy its brief period of good functioning. And something that would be a nice guest house, or main house while we are waiting to build something at the ranch. Like a 5th Wheel travel trailer.

We went to Camping World to see what they had. Nothing was really very nice. We don't want an entry-level one. We want something with good quality features. Like drawers that open and close, a nice size fridge, and a king bed.

Decision Made

So yesterday we went to the RV Outlet Mall to pick up Ursula. Yay, she is fixed. We will be able to take her on our long-planned trip to Palmetto State Park next weekend, and Lee can take her to his dad's next week and not have to sleep in the scary spare bedroom while his dad has another procedure!

While we were there, we also looked at their selection of nice 5th Wheels. They have the Cardinal by Forest River line. They were fine. Not the fanciest on earth, but not entry level. They have nice lounge chairs, real chairs around the dining table, and those endearing fake fireplaces upper-end RVs seem to all have.

So, after the trip next weekend, dear Ursula will head back to the RV Outlet Mall and once again be looking for a family to love her. We will take Ursulina, her replacement, back to the storage place, ready for the next trip.

More next time--featuring floor plans and photos of Ursulina. In the meantime, here, you can enjoy some photos and the brochure and try to figure out which one we picked.