That’s pretty much what I should have named this blog: Have Friends, Will Travel. Most of my family and friends know that I’m up for a road trip (or a plane trip) at the drop of a suitcase. That’s a good thing!
My friend Welmoed and me
Last month, my youngest daughter Holly invited me to join her in Washington, DC. She was attending her first professional conference on her own, and she had an extra bed in her hotel room. DC is an eight-hour drive from here, and I love our nation’s capitol. And I love my daughter! There is always a good reason to see both.
The drive is not long, but it can be arduous, since the only way there is through mountains, no matter which route is chosen. At some times of the year the mountains can be treacherous, either from icy conditions, or from poor visibility from heavy snow or from fog. I got lucky this time. Even though it was February, temps were mild, and the snow on my way home, while steady, was light and the roads never got slick.
Since Holly’s husband is in the military, and currently stationed in Afghanistan, she was able to book a room at the Navy Lodge, which is part of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center complex in Bethesda. The Medical Center is situated along a main road opposite the campus of the National Institutes of Health, with a convenient and busy Metro station in between. The hospital is also known as the Bethesda Naval Hospital, and it’s where Presidents are generally treated medically during their time in office. Ronald Reagan was operated on there, and John F. Kennedy’s body was flown there for an autopsy after his assassination. Little known fact: Presidents pay for treatment out of their own pockets at this facility. Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy here, for the breast cancer discovered while she was First Lady.
Needless to say, security is very tight at this complex. We were required to submit our drivers’ licenses and other information to use the facility, plus show ID to get back in when we left. The Walter Reed Medical Center is one of the largest medical complexes in the United States, covering more than 113 acres.
The Navy Lodge here is only one of many that the US Navy operates, largely for families visiting military personnel being treated at the facility, or for military families in the process of moving to a new post. There are Navy Lodges operating in sixteen states in the US, and in three additional countries: Italy, Spain, and Japan. We heard many languages spoken in the lobby of the hotel, since military personnel from other countries are also treated here. A group of Georgian (formerly part of Russia) soldiers with amputated limbs were staying there while we were there.
Before I left for DC I posted a request on Facebook, asking if any friends in that area would like to meet up while I was there. A longtime, online friend, Welmoed answered the call enthusiastically. Welmoed lives north of the city, and she picked me up at the Metro station near her home. Welmoed and I were both educators for a wonderful patterndrafting software company, Wild Ginger, but we had only seen one another in person a couple of times before. However, sewing folk like us, who have communicated online for around 15 years, always have something to talk about!
We had debated going to a museum, but I wanted most to see Welmoed’s fabulous home, Redwall, which she has talked about in a forum we both frequent. Redwall sits on six acres smack in the middle of a suburb of McMansions, a holdout from the clutches of a developer. It’s a brick Arts & Crafts style home, with too many features to count, really. But how many homes do you see with a cloister? The one at Redwall provides shelter from the weather between the main house and the garage, plus Welmoed’s wonderful sewing studio. One other outstanding feature at Redwall: it’s guarded by a large metal sculpture, an actual, fire-breathing dragon.
After the house tour, we drove to a local foodivore place for lunch, Founding Farmers. Too bad they don’t have locations outside the DC area; the food was fantastic–fresh, vibrant, and abundant. Neither of us could resist the basket of homemade potato chips, truly the best I’ve ever had. They also handmake fresh syrups for their drinks, which are also delicious.
Both of us well-fed and ready to get a little exercise, Welmoed, a great tour director and host, then drove us to Great Falls National Park, on the Great Falls of the Potomac. The Potomac River, as it drops 77 feet in less than a mile to sea level, is forced through the narrow and rocky Mather Gorge. The dramatic rush of the water can be seen easily because of well-placed walkways over the various parts of the falls. It’s possible, if the water isn’t over the walkways, to saunter clear to the widest part of the river, through interesting hardwood forests, full of moss-covered boulders. Welmoed told me the woods are full of wildflowers in the spring. We kept hoping to see the locally nesting eagles, too, but no such luck. We did see a lot of turkey vultures, which are plentiful in the park.
On the other side of the river you can see the rocky cliffs on the Virginia side rising out of the rushing water. Seven people a year drown in the Potomac here, and while we were standing there two people on the Virginia side were inching their way down, illegally and foolishly. Alcohol may have been involved.
The other interesting feature about the park is the Patowmack Canal, which was once known as the “Great Falls Skirting Canal”. Back in the day, the only way to navigate the Potomac all the way to the sea would have been the canal and its lock system. The canal was begun in 1785, and it took seventeen difficult years to complete. Black powder blasting, little used before the formation of this canal, was utilized to forge a passageway through the solid rock. Today, part of the canal is visible, and the park maintains a boat of the type that would have traversed the canal long ago.
Even though I was only in the area for a couple of days, I got to see and do quite a bit. Holly and I had dinner at several wonderful restaurants, and we made a quick trip to the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian. Did you know that the Smithsonian Institute manages the world’s largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums, 9 research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world? And admission is mostly free, except for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City (which is closed at the moment). The National Zoo is part of this complex, as well. The National Portrait Gallery houses portraits of those who have shaped the United States into what it is today, from Presidents to poets, and in between. Next time I visit I’d like to see more of this museum. It’s huge, and we only got to see a small part of it. The woman at the desk told us, and I couldn’t verify this for sure, that all the artists represented in the museum were American. That’s pretty cool, if it’s true. Certainly, all the people portrayed in the paintings are or were American.
My visit to Washington, DC was way too short, especially my time with Holly. But her conference experience was a success, and we had a fun time together.
Next adventure, coming soon!
Well, maybe not. They had a hangar full of shiny new conveyances, some with their own means of power, and some meant to be hauled behind another vehicle (usually a truck). But it was fun to look at them.
The trailer pictured in the photo above was small and light, but still too big to drag behind my Honda Civic. I would have to have a larger vehicle, and one with a trailer hitch. One other thing I realized about the trailers, even the small ones is that they cannot simply be unhitched when one wants to leave them at a campsite or other location. If you look at the back of the trailer you’ll see one of the stabilizers at each corner; these have to be set individually so the trailer doesn’t tip when you unhitch it. I imagine it would not work too well once you’re inside the thing if that’s not done, as well. Could be way too much funhouse for my taste! There are also some very cute, very small such trailers, which are basically an enclosed bed on wheels, with a camp kitchen on the back end. That’s just a bit too small for me.
Somehow, I can’t see myself sleeping in that trailer, by myself. The potential for easy entry by an intruder seems far too great.
There are some really cool, converted “toy haulers” that looked like an option. (Toy haulers are for hauling motorcycles, 4X4′s, go-carts, and other, well, toys.) But doesn’t this look a bit claustrophobic, with no windows? It’s shiny and pretty, but I can’t see this particular trailer as being very comfortable, especially in either the heat or the cold.
So onward to more contained units, including the kind that propels itself. A friend who travels extensively in an RV with her husband recommended that I look at the kind they have, but I have not yet been able to see a Lazy Dazey RV in person. They are based on a van body, with the trailer wrapping over the top of the van cab, for additional room. This was the closest thing I saw at the RV show.
If I can’t find a Roadtrek somewhere, this type would be a nice option, although it’s still larger than I want, and taller, which would make it more difficult to park on a residential street. There are some nice features in this type of RV, though, including a roll-out awning for al fresco dining and relaxing. They have pretty big water tanks, too, and a generator for cooking, heating/AC, and for using TV, radio, and Internet.
It is possible to find RV’s that are as large, or larger, than many actual homes. I’ve seen two-story motorhomes, with incredibly fancy interiors, with leather recliner/sofas, and giant flat-screen LCD TV’s, and gourmet kitchens with granite countertops. They are amazingly deluxe, but massive. It would be more like driving a bus than a passenger vehicle.
The side walls of the RV expand outward in order to provide so much room inside. It’s actually quite ingenious, all the different ways they use that feature to expand the interior. Entire kitchen walls or dining areas or seating areas slide into and out of the center aisles to create the illusion of vast space.
It really would be possible to live in one of these. As long as you like the color brown. Every single RV or trailer I have seen so far has some version of a brown color scheme. I guess it is so dirt doesn’t show–I mean, who wants to have to work so hard to keep what is essentially a vacation vehicle clean? But still. It depresses me. Dark blue or dark green, or even burgundy would be just as nice, in my opinion.
So the quest continues. But for the first leg of my journey, coming up soon, I’ll just be getting in the Civic and heading out. More to come!
My goal for this upcoming journey has several parts:
- See parts of the US that I’ve never seen before.
- Visit friends and family, including Internet friends who I’ve never met face-to-face.
- The ability to meander wherever I want, regardless of the availability of hotels, or other places to sleep.
- Safety first.
At the same time, I don’t want to spend a fortune–on lodging, gas, or food–to achieve these goals, and I would also like to be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on each part of the trip. How to manage this?
Enter the small RV. Chevy makes a wonderful small recreational vehicle called a Roadtrek. It is basically a conversion van, and includes a tiny but functional kitchen area, comparatively roomy living quarters, and one of the nicest RV bathroom facilities I’ve seen.
I think the middle size, 19-feet long, will do just fine for my purposes. It’s just a foot or two longer than most vans, has a nice long wheelbase (for stability), is not so tall that crosswinds will make it unstable, and the gas mileage is not horrible. Also, because it’s a Chevy and has a gasoline motor, any issues that crop up along the journey can be fixed at most repair shops or dealers. I understand that diesel motorhomes can cause nightmares in the case of a breakdown. Truck stops usually have places to repair diesel engines, but I have heard of one person who was stuck at a truck stop waiting for a repair for nearly a week. Not my idea of fun.
These vans include all the comforts of home: queen-sized bed, plus additional sleeping arrangements; air-conditioning and heating (propane tank); good-sized water tanks, both for fresh and dirty water; tiny refrigerator, two-burner propane stove, prep sink, and microwave; marine toilet, tiny sink, and both a handheld shower, plus an “in-aisle” drain with privacy door for a full-sized shower; Bluetooth; satellite radio; GPS; and built-in flatscreen TV. In addition, there is a dining table, full-sized mirror, and plenty of storage. What more could a girl need?
My challenge now is to find one of these gems! For my first trip (of several, I hope), I’d like to rent one. This will allow me to test the waters, and to see if what I think the benefits actually are.
More to come. Stay tuned!
My name is Karen, and I’m getting ready to embark on a grand adventure. I hope you’ll join me, as I learn more about the United States, up close and personal. I’ve traveled to 49 of the 50 states, all except Alaska, but can’t say I’ve really experienced all of them. Ohio is my home, and I feel there is plenty I can still learn and enjoy about our 88 counties, let alone the rest of the country.
A couple of years ago I was driving from my home in Cincinnati to Florida, straight down I-75, as usual. Typically, I would leave early in the morning of the first travel day and try to make it to somewhere south of Atlanta, spend the night, and then drive on. This time, though, I had stuff going on the night before and didn’t sleep well, so was unable to really get going until a bit late, and I decided to stop near Chattanooga to rest up for the rest of the drive.
The next morning my daughter Robin called, and I told her where I was. She said “Mom! Chattanooga is one of my very favorite cities! You really should go into town and check it out.” After I checked out of the motel I used Robin’s directions to find the row of museums along the river bluff (not yet open, that early in the day), and then to cross the Tennessee River over to the North Shore, an area along the riverfront with shops and restaurants and bars. How could I have driven up and down I-75 for more than 40 years without once stopping in such a great place? I’m ashamed of myself, for having missed this, and so many other, amazing places.
That trip was a revelation. I spent the rest of the time traveling a bit sideways to the beaten path, and began the first tentative steps to the odyssey on which I now am planning to embark, to expand on the idea of that first trip, and to travel the width and breadth of the US.
I am fortunate to have lots of family and friends flung all over the country, and I plan to visit some of them (and you) on this voyage of discovery. This blog will serve as my diary, first for planning the means and the path, and then to the journey itself. My motto: You learn something new every day–if you pay attention!