Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bolivar Peninsula

January 29 – February 16, 2017

Leaving the island I slowly made my way towards Galveston. My app said the Walmart there allowed parking but when I got there I discovered the rules had changed. One article I found said the RV parks had gotten together to force the store to forbid overnight parking, presumably to force vacationers to shell out for expensive parking. There was nowhere to park overnight without parting with a pile of money so I gave up on visiting the island and went back to the mainland.

On my way to the Bolivar Peninsula (free beach parking) I saw this guy in one parking lot. Maybe a little heavy for a travel trailer but bonus points for ingenuity and recycling.

The Bolivar Peninsula used to have a paved road that ran through to the wildlife refuge but it was wiped out in a hurricane. Rather than rebuild it, the road was bulldozed and closed at the refuge. Now it's free beach camping.

You aren't actually on the beach, instead you stop on a wide spot on the road which is single lane with a wide spot on the end to turn around. I stopped about midway and set up for a few days lounging.

The road is higher than the beach so no high tide stress here, and there are remnants of previous construction revealed at low tide.

The first night was hot and muggy so all windows and vents were open.  As the light disappeared I saw dozens of mosquitoes slapping up against the windows.  I went to bed all smug and satisfied that all of my windows had screens.  Yeah...

In the middle of the night I got up to pee and then went back to bed.  While lying down I was slapping at things on my arms and gradually I realized that I was hitting a tiny body every time I slapped.  Well this can't be good.  I got up and turned on the light to something that looked like a horror movie set.  A cloud of mosquitoes circled the light and I do mean a cloud...we're talking about a hundred or so.  Me and my sheets were covered in blood smears from slapping the bugs that had been biting me and more were circling me rather than the light.  I scooted to the back and sprayed myself with deet.  I hate doing that inside because that stuff is so nasty but I wasn't going to try to hide under sheets for the next few hours until sunrise when the temps were still in the 70s.

I started smashing the bugs on the ceiling, walls and windows and the horror scene expanded to include bloodied walls.  I spent the next two hours chasing mosquitoes and when it started to get light outside I opened the window to shoo some out.

It took days to eventually squish them all.  I had more than 100 bites on my face arms and stomach.  I didn't count the ones on my legs or back.  So much for being smug.

Met another ToyHome owner here. Tony lives in his in a RV park in the town, a mile or so inland. After we chatted he stopped by every day to make sure I was OK and tell me how much he wanted to be doing the same thing. He also told me about the unofficial nude beach at the end of the road next to the wildlife refuge.

I have a NOAA app on my phone that provides weather and warnings. After having been at the beach for a couple days I turned my phone on to see if I had any connection. My NOAA app happily informed me that I was parked in a tornado watch zone and just off shore the surf was going to be dangerous.

So...I have been in some bad storms, some of which spawned tornadoes (New Mexico – alien lightning) but that was before I had an app to enlighten me while the event was occurring. For some reason it's really freaky to know there's some chance you will see a tornado and be completely helpless to do anything about it. I spent several hours trying to figure out what the most sensible plan was and watching the radar on my weather app. Ultimately I didn't go anywhere and luckily the ridge of storm kind of split over the peninsula and even the storm was short lived and didn't dump too much rain.

I still don't know what I'd do if saw a tornado, but I try to keep an eye on thunderstorms now.



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Barrier Beaches

January 22 – 28, 2017

I'm working hard at not driving very far to get into the habit of super-slow travel. Although the park (near Corpus Christi) isn't that far, I aim for 50 miles a day, stopping for a day or two at each place.

I hit CC close to rush hour and had a nervous drive through the city. Luckily there's only one road out to the Seashore and once past downtown the traffic lightened up. Once past the last inhabited area the traffic dropped to me and a couple trucks going the other way. I drove to North Beach which is part of the Seashore but not past the entry booth.

Although windy, it was fabulous. Daily walks down the beach and nothing but dunes for the cats to play in.

The beach was well-packed sand and it looked like there was plenty of space between the water and the dunes. Had I consulted a tide chart before parking I would have known that I arrived during a very low tide. I also would have known that there would be a very high tide. Although I had a few minutes of insecurity, the water never reached more than a couple inches up the tires. Crises avoided.

Taken from my window

After a couple days I went farther into the Park to the South Beach. Wild and beautiful, this beach had softer sand and some serious blowing sand. I watched a couple cars get stuck in the soft sand near the exit and helped to push them out. Also met an older couple staying in their Airstream that is a good ten years older than I am.

Although I had the windows that faced the wind closed, on the lee side there floated very fine grains that managed to sift into everything. Open windows had sand drifts (on my bed – not nice) and the engine was coated in grains. All of my locks got gritty and hard to turn and the doors and windows became gritty and hard to move.

The weather turned from sunny and windy to rainy and windy and I was done with being sand-blasted. Sand had piled up on the windshield wipers and solidified by the rain, and all of the windows were coated in sand and salt. Since I have no washer fluid (the container is's on the to-do list) I drove slowly to the visitor center and borrowed a bucket to wash down the windshield.

Now able to see, I braved the freeways of Corpus Christi and drove away from the city.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Beach

January 18-21, 2017

From the strip mall I drove east to Port Isabel, the closest free parking to South Padre Island and the beach.

Port Isabel (at least the parking lot) is filled with blindingly white, elderly people who drive vehicles from curiously exotic locales such as Wisconsin and Minnesota. Yeah, if I lived there I'd also be in the south of Texas during January.

There are also some longer-termed resident. A converted school bus parked on the other side of the lot and this lady (who had once had a ToyHome) decided I was her new best friend.

Betty lives in her Toyata Tundra/motels and is very nice – and more than a little odd. I'm beginning to think that everyone who does this long-term travel thing is odd. Except me, of course.

She introduced me to the free bus to South Padre Island and we had a bus tour of the island. I think I may have written about the island for Canadian Traveller but somehow the overbearing condos and hotels seem less of insult when on paper. Much of the island looks like the kind of place that wouldn't welcome someone of my limited means. I couldn't even find free parking for the beaches although there may have been some. The day was crappy and we went back to Port Isabel.

Happily the weather cleared up and Betty and I went to the park at the end of the island. The park is a mix of Canadian snowbirds that have rigs parked there for the season and locals who probably work in the big hotels and have brought the kids to the beach for the day. The beach is a wide band of sand and provides great views of shrimping boats coming home and windsurfers flying over the waves.

Betty left early to find somewhere to watch football while the boys and I enjoyed the weather.

Port Isabel would have been a nice place to chill for a while, but I couldn't handle Betty any longer. She kept pulling trash out of her truck and offering it to me as a gift. How many little packets of fake syrup can one girl use?

Took off and started north to the other Padre Island, the one with the National Park.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mexico on the East Side

January 18, 2017

I tried to find some free parking – or even inexpensive lots – near the bridge to Mexico but everything I saw was garages which are not all that RV friendly. I parked at a little strip mall about two miles from the border and walked down. Much like El Paso, downtown Brownsville looks much like the city across the river.

I walked along this great bike path that has some perilous bumpers for protecting the cyclists. It would be nice if more cities took the two-wheelers this seriously.

Walking across the bridge was much like it was in El Paso, except the toll was $1 and there was a big guy there making sure you didn't duck under the turnstyle.

Matamoros is a little nicer than Ciudad. Cleaner and fewer burned-out buildings. Also some fun shops:

Check out the url

Irish Pubs really are everywhere...

I wandered around for a couple hours and then walked back to the rig, taking a detour through an old cemetery. I like cemeteries.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Down to the Tip of Texas

January 6 – 17, 2017

Sticking mainly to small town Walmarts, we made our way to Brownsville. Rural Texas is much like you'd expect; lots of trucks, lots of open space. The stores have minimal wifi (sometimes none) and even the Walmart “superstores” are more like minimarts with lots of milk and snacks but not much in the way of meat or veggies. Presumably there are more expansive grocery stores elsewhere.

Some of the most fun is finding quirky surprises. This sign store appears to be out of business, but I imagine the owner had a good time while it was up and running.

Down in Brownsville while planning another trip into Mexico, this guy circled my vehicle a few times before stopping to chat.

He's a traveling minister who uses the rv as a place to relax when the venue is far from home. We chatted for a while and he encouraged me to go to the beach before leaving so I'll keep that on the to-do list.

The weather was drizzly so I hung out in the camper for the day reading. It turns out that no one really cares how long you camp at Walmart and I've stayed at places for up to three days. Eventually you'd get rousted I suppose, but it would take a while for someone to get up the gumption to take action. I figure with my small truck it would be a week or so before anyone started wondering and longer than that if I bopped out somewhere and came back. Not that most parking lots are ideal camping spots, but sometimes you just get tired of switching places.

These guys parked right next to me in the middle of the night. I suppose my rig gave them protection on one side while the tarp covered the other. Turned out to be three kids who had a blast in Mexico and were now on their way home to a land of lattes and mom's washing machine. At least, I'm hoping the washer was part of the plan. It didn't seem like (smell like) bathing was high the priority list while lounging on the beach.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Running from the Cold

January 2 - 5, 2017

After a scary storm at the lake (semis were blown over closer to Fort Worth) and a look at the weather forecast I decided it was time to head south.  We had had several days of 15 degree nights while in Fort Worth and it isn't any fun at all. And we were plugged in.  Even with the electric heater I used 1/2 a tank of propane running the furnace to try to keep everything from freezing.  It didn't work and the water heater froze but thawed with no leaks so it's all good.

The cats were done with the lake after all the wind and rain.

Ever hopeful we headed towards Waco.  My only plan was 'go south.  avoid cities' which makes planning pretty easy.  Mostly it was a series of small town Walmarts but not bad.  The cold weather caught us a bit south of Austin and we shivered through a couple of freezing nights.  Still happy I didn't have any leaks, I turned on the water pump to do some dishes and suddenly wasn't happy anymore.  No water came out.  Actually water did come out but it came out underneath the camper.  Not good.

I spent some time thinking about what to do while driving to Victoria.  Victoria is big enough to have hardware stores and an RV repair shop.  Rather than give up and drive to a repair place I decided to try and figure it out.

Only leaks when the water pump is run. Dry under the sink - not the pump.  Follow the lines.  Under the sink all looks good, check the next compartment.  Yeah, that one is wet.  We start here.

The lines were all covered with insulating wrap so I pulled that off to check them.  Turns out they are all carefully labeled.  Damn.  Always buy an RV from a compulsive person.  Started feeling the lines from the wall that connects to the sink and kept going until I discovered that one corner had popped out of its connector.

That's it.  No cracks, just a Herculean effort required to get the hose back into the corner connector.  I couldn't get it in perfectly and I wonder if the previous owner couldn't either and that's why it separated.  

I patted the area as dry as I could and stuffed a bucket of drying crystals into the compartment.  I also tossed out about 15 pounds of wood pieces that had been used for leveling.

While in the big city I hoofed it to Home Depot to get some weather stripping.  The door is a little warped and I can see daylight through the bottom when it's closed.  Actually the door is irrelevant because of the frig:

Remember this picture?  That's daylight coming in through the vents that were needed for the propane frig.  The one that fit completely into the space and sealed off all the drafts.  Now it's like a wind tunnel When the wind is from that side.  I'll need to do something about this at some point.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Texas Parks

December 22 - January 1, 2017

South of Fort Worth the Brazos River widens into Granbury Lake.  Around the shores are several parks that allow free camping for a week or so.  I chose one at random and settled in.

The area is nice, if lacking trees (there were a few).  The park was across a large field from houses and busier than I would have expected for winter.  The cats went out a few times and Bo plunked himself near the shore and stared at the water for the longest time.  I can't image what was going through his head.  Butch, of course, raced into the field to hunt critters.

After Christmas I went farther down the Brazos to Steele Creek Park on Lake Whitney.  Much more isolated and I pulled into one of the two campsites with trees.  Lots of them.  After checking out the area I decided it was safe for the cats.  The first day was fine - they stayed close and played in the trees where I could keep an eye on them.  But being good is not Butch's style so after that they went across the street where the grass was higher and the woods more prevalent.

I went across the street to make sure it was okay and heard a growl.  Listening carefully I realized it was Bo, and then I realized it was coming from inside a culvert.

Seriously?  Who's cats are stupid enough to go inside a dark culvert?  Mine, apparently.  After calling him a couple times I raced back to the camper to get a flashlight hoping it wasn't anything worse than a skunk in there with him.  As I was crossing back over the street, Bo came running across.  I grabbed him to check his face and paws for injuries.  Nothing.  Phew.  Curious about what was in the culvert I put my flashlights down at one end and went to the other to see if I could see anything.  What I saw was Butch running out.  Seriously?  Both of them were that dumb?  Whatever.