Month: September 2013

Late night river crossings, government shutdowns and learning to call audibles

Last night we had a fun time with our Peoria crowd – the biggest yet on Tour. Due to some less-than-ideal planning on my part, we had an afternoon event scheduled 6 hours west in Kansas City today. Another great group, but it meant we needed to get at least part of the way to avoid having to get up early and cut it close. I tend to prefer night driving over day driving because the roads are more open and construction squeezes tend to not be so squeezy. That was definitely the case in Illinois and Missouri last night, and I think I probably saved at least an hour of aggravation by rockin a drive that ended at 2:30am rather than one that started at 7am. The drive was highlighted by the crossing of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The dark waters below Lillie weren’t showing off as much as they would have during the day, but it feels pretty momentous to be semi-officially on the west side of the continent.

Mississippi River


I won’t get all political here, but this government shutdown looming for Monday/Tuesday is messing with my plan. We had been looking forward to almost a full week of downtime (well deserved after this 3 week sprint!) in Yellowstone, Teton and Glacier National Parks. Now thanks to goings on back home, it’s entirely possible the parks will all be closed. That’s a real disappointment, and I hope the powers that be can remember what happens to whom when these things have historically happened. Speaking of history, these have tended to be measured in weeks rather than days, so it’s entirely possible Yellowstone, Teton and Glacier will be swallowed up by all of this. Boo.


So, on to the audibles… we have state parks in the region to hit, and then there’s always Canada. Yes, we would be spending our American dollars otherwise earmarked for US Parks in Banff and other places north of the border. There’s your micro-economic impact right there! Now, if Alberta can import some poutine from Quebec, THEN we’d be talkin…

Map to come… I’m updating my iPad to iOS7 now and the apps (Skitch, most notably… that’s going to be how I’ll make my “hey, we were here” map) are taking forever to update. I think iOS7 gets a full throated thumbs up… if thumbs up can be full throated. Hmm. Probably not.

As always, you can learn more about Tranquility Tour at, follow us at  #tranquiltytour on Twitter, Like Tranquility Tour on Facebook, and come back here to An Uncommonly Silly Blog for the “DVD Extras” as I like to call these posts…

Stinkbugs are the devil, a great park, Lillie’s MPGs and bike RVs

Stinkbugs are the devil. I’m on record. Not here, but trust me… I am a well-known hater of stinkbugs. Every year they swarm my cabin and I have had to resort to using an awful poison to keep them at bay because *nothing else works* and they have no predators to champion here in the US. Apparently there’s some asian wasp or something. I may resort to breeding them. Or inventing nanobots that destroy them all. But I digress.

I thought we got away from them, but while in Pittsburgh for the Tour, they swarmed on poor Lillie as she sat in the parking lot. I found an invader inside tonight, and I just know more got in. They shall not survive. That’s all I’m saying. Namaste to everything except them.

If you are in Chicagoland, you absolutely must visit the Indiana Dunes. We had an amazing time there punctuated by beautiful sites, an awesome campground within walking distance from the South Shore line that takes you right into Chicago (!) AND a visit from an old high school friend who got there on said train. Totally great. Recommended.

Kimberly and Louis on Lake Michigan
Kimberly and Louis on Lake Michigan


And for those of you gas mileage nerds out there… Lillie keeps improving, or I’m learning how to draft semis better. Latest tank shows a .2 MPG improvement! Read it and weep Chevron and BP… this tour just got slightly more efficient!



Listened to the latest Sprocket Podcast (please do the same… they rock) and heard more about people who are building bike RVs. I’ve enjoyed the RV camping experience, but I really lament the amount of fuel we burn. I ran into a guy who shot a video of someone who built – for lack of a better way of saying it – an Airstream-inspired bike RV that he was towing around North America. Let’s just say this is all conspiring to become a winter project. I found this Bike RV project as well… needless to say I’m intrigued. More to come.

bike rv project

Tranquility Tour Extras: Lillie’s Gas Mileage

Kimberly and I were joking today that this blog is essentially the DVD extras for Tranquility Tour… so if you’re into odd ins and outs of the tour, you’ve found the right place.

This edition is an update on the most common question I get… what kind of gas mileage does the camper get?

The answer is… it depends. Actually that’s the answer to most of life’s questions, but I digress. I use an app called Mileage Keeper that tracks how Lillie is doing. We don’t exactly get great mileage but better than I expected. Our worst mileage tank was 7.2 MPG and the best will likely be this tank, but so far the record is 11.0 MPG. I might get all crazy and graph it. More to come…


What to do with that old iPhone

Today, I finally justified saving my old iPhone 4 by making it into a true international phone. If you travel outside your home country and find yourself tethered to your phone’s data plan like I am, crossing a border can either be (a) beyond expensive from the roaming rates or (b) beyond frustrating as you realize how much you rely on cellular data to do… everything.

Crossing into Canada for the first time on Tranquility Tour meant my trusty iPhone 5 and it’s fancy turn by turn directions would go away… with International roaming turned off (as anyone without a huge bank account and desire to spend frivolously should do), your iPhone turns into a glorified iPod touch upon crossing a border from your home country. But I had a plan. But before that, a surprise. A nice one.

If you use the app Waze, apparently the app preloads the entire map with turn by turn before you cross the border… that was great, because it meant I didn’t need my copilot to read from a PDF’d version of the directions. You know… old school style. Instead, Waze behaved exactly the same as it would have had it been guzzling down data. Very cool… good to know when you cross a border. I only tried this once, so your effectiveness may vary.

On to the plan. Today, I walked into a Rogers store to pick up a SIM card for my old iPhone 4. I had previously worked with AT&T to “unlock” it (see info here on that). This means it isn’t usable only on AT&T. Once that’s done, any compatible network SIM card in any country that runs on the same system can work on your phone. In Canada, I decided Rogers was my best bet. For the next month, I have 1GB of data I can rock over cellular, plus a Montreal number and unlimited texts for about 70 bucks. Granted, not cheap, but WAY cheaper than roaming on my iPhone 5. This will come in super handy next week in Toronto and for the week or so we’ll be in Alberta and BC. I typical burn 2GB per month in the States, so 1GB ought to be more than enough. In tribute to my old phone becoming Canadian, it’s sporting a new look:


So, now I have two iPhones that work… I’ll just switch back and forth as I hop across borders. Plus my Canadian one gives me street cred with my friends north of the border…

Serpentine belts are important

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By now you may have heard about the mechanical issues we’re facing with the busted serpentine belt. I thought I’d share what I learned in the moment and afterwards…

The serpentine belt runs everything that matters in a vehicle. If it goes, the click starts ticking on a few things…

– power, because you’re running purely on the charge in your battery. The alternator isn’t recharging without the belt! If your battery is old, the second you do t have enough juice to spark the spark plugs, you stop.

– heat buildup, because your water pump doesn’t cycle coolant into the engine. This is the number one issue because an whine that gets progressively hotter will eventually damage beyond reasonable repair. Pay attention to your heat guages!

– some things go away right away – power steering, AC… All the good stuff.

So, you hear a flutter and a snap like we did? You can drive a bit further… But I wouldn’t recommend it. We had 4 miles coming off the highway and getting “home” to the campground was such a compelling thing we risked it. If you’re not in a similar super close place, pull the heck over. Call AAA or roadside service of your choice… The belt is pretty easy to get and replace. Some savvy car types (cough cough not me) carry an extra one and are skilled enough to put one on. The things the belt loops around (tensioner and pulleys) are often to blame though, so a new belt can only get you so far.

Driving a vintage RV means parts aren’t always on hand – the dealer near here can get them all tomorrow but first appointment is Wednesday… So, we wait.

Super close to NYC.

Boo hoo, right?


3 thoughts on planning the ultimate roadtrip

I have a strangely split personality. While I’d like to think I’m a laid back, take it as it comes person (which I am), I’m also an obsessive planner when it comes to travel. Obsessive. Chalk it up to watching my father’s frequent international travel when he was working all those decades before retiring, or my astrological burden of being a Virgo… obsessive.

So, as we embark on Tranquility Tour in a week, I’m beginning to pile up resources (apps! maps! stuff and things!), calendaring things (we’re here then, we go to there after!) and coming up with options upon options of places we can park and stay with our camper. So. Many. Details.

A few things I’m discovering:

My iPhone is my friend, except when it won’t be. In Canada.

I rely on connectivity through my iPhone like you wouldn’t believe. I have a few apps that show off camping spots, rest stops, and a few other things that are linked to the GPS and maps with turn-by-turn directions. Hugely helpful.

Now, in Canada, my data plan would need to be funded by Scrooge McDuck if I had it on. However, I have an old iPhone 4 that has been unlocked, so I hope to get a SIM card up there and have a pay as you go plan on that phone, allowing me to have the same capabilities north of the border. Plus, hey… I’d have a Montreal number all of the sudden 😉

I’ll say it. Thank you Walmart.

I didn’t grow up with Walmarts… in fact, the first one I ever went to wasn’t until I moved back to the east coast in 2001. Now, I’m swimming in them (there are two equidistant from my cabin in WV). With all the controversies and websites poking fun at Walmart shoppers, I have to say they are super friendly to RVers. Many, perhaps most of them, allow free overnight parking. That’s a huge potential savings considering most full-hookup RV campsites can run 40 bucks a night. Granted, there’s no plugging into the side of the store, but free is free. There’s even an app that helps you find which stores are cool with overnight parking. So thanks Walmart. We’ll table the talk about benefits and wages for now…

Timing is everything

Big road trips like Tranquility Tour are much, much easier after Labor Day. Straight up. So many campgrounds are booked solid in the late summer, so kicking this off now creates a lighter burden from the planning perspective. Also, I hate heat. Cool fall nights (and maybe even some cold ones in the mountains) will be a lot easier on us than hot humid ones.

So, onward with the obsessive planning!

Post RV renovation

A week later and here we are…

this rug smelled like wet dog and contained more sand than a beach.
under the rug was a shiny carpet pad, presumably to keep heat in.
initial tile layout
nearly done!
fancy schmancy transition pieces… a professional look from an absolute amateur!