Rapid City, SD to Virginia Beach, VA (Home)

Friday, September 5, 2008 - We left Rapid City and headed for Topeka, Kansas, but we will break this trip up into several legs with our first stop at an Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) campground at Fort Thompson, South Dakota. This campgroung is located just downstream of Big Bend Dam on the Missouri River. We like ACOE campgrounds for several reasons. The campgrounds are usually in locations along a river or lake and the sites are spaced far enough apart so that you don't feel like you are in a can of sardines. The parks are usually well maintained although this one looks a little shabby. They also give a 50% discount for holders of the Senior Pass.

Sunday, September 7, 2008 - Today we drove to the Big Bend of the Missouri, a loop in the river that almost closes back in upon itself. Along the river, this loop is about 25 miles long but, across land, the distance is less than a mile. Lewis and Clark noticed this when they passed this point in September, 1804. We had a great view of the entire loop from the top of a hill at the marked location on the satellite map.

Monday, September 8, 2008 - We continued toward Topeka with an overnight stop at an ACOE campground near Yankton, SD located at the base of Gavins Point Dam at Lewis and Clark Lake. Actually, there are two campgrounds located about 2 miles apart. We atayed at the one along the tailrace from the dam. Both were very nice campgrounds, typical of the Army COE.

Along the way, we stopped at Mitchell, SD and visited the Corn Palace. This remarkable building has a facade made of organic materials, mostly ears of corn, straw, and milo. Several varieties of corn are purchased locally and the different colors of the varieties allow for some impressive murals. The mural in the photo at right is being restored - corn is biodegradable and must be replaced at regular intervals. In this mural, you can easily see the individual ears of corn.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - We moved on down to Offutt Air Force Base and stayed at the FamCamp for a couple of days.

Thursday, September 11, 2008 - We arrived at Lake Shawnee campground in Topeka, KS. We stayed here four years ago on our return from a trip out west. The campground is located in a beautiful county park on the shore of a 400 acre lake, Lake Shawnee, that was built during the depression. We are in this area to visit friends that we met during our stay in the Rio Grande valley last winter. This is Charles and Judith's home which they describe as a "barnhouse." The first floor is a kitchen, breakfast nook, bathroom, and a huge garage/workshop. The remainder of the living area is on the second floor. In a small finished basement area is a cool craft room for Judith.

Monday, September 15, 2008 - We said farwell to Charles and Judith over a fine dinner at Texas Roadhouse Sunday night and hit the road the next morning. Two hours later, we arrived at Chanute, KS, the home of Nu-Wa Industries, the manufacturer of our Hitchhiker fifthwheel RV. We have several warranty problems with our RV that must be fixed. See the entry for July 12, 2008 for details of these problems.

We went to the Hitchhiker service center to confirm our reservation for Wednesday and I had a brief conversation with the shop foreman about the items that need to be fixed. One of these is the faulty tank monitors. The Smart Sense Monitor System was a $286 option that places the sensors on the external surface of the sewage tanks to eliminate a common problem with tanks that have internal probes that get shorted by tank scum after a few years of use. This was a big selling point for me because my previous RV monitors became useless after 2 or 3 years. But these external sensors don't work very well.

They are grossly inaccurate and often a tank read full when it had only a few gallons in it. Hitchhiker concluded that this system didn't work well with shallow tanks found in most RVs so it switched over to the SeeLevel system. I wanted them to replace my Smart Sense system with the SeeLevel system. Attempts to recalibrate the Smart Sense system had been unsuccessful. The foreman said it would cost me $600.

We are staying at the Chanute City campground and you may have noticed that all the RVs are Hitchhikers. That's because they are all here for warranty work and other repairs on their RV. Otherwise, this area would probably see few RVs. The campground is free for the first two days and $10 per day after that. That's pretty good since 50A electricity and water are provided.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - Our friends Charles and Judith came down from Topeka and we all took the tour of the Hitchhiker factory. It is interesting to see how my RV is put together and to see the placement of the tanks before that area is covered. Hitchhiker uses a vacuum bonding process to build their walls which makes them very strong, provides a high R-value for insulation, and minimizes the risk of future delamination.

I also got a good look at the black water tank to try and determine why I am having problems with clogs in my sewer line. See the entries for August 22 and 23, 2008 for details of this problem. This tank does not have a flat bottom - it is a shallow V shape, about 2 inches deep. This facilitates draining of the tank but allows areas of the bottom near the sides to remain dry until about 5 to 10 gallons are added to the tank. Since the tank sewer inlet is near the side, solids can build up into a mound before the water level has risen enough to float the solids. The solution seems to be to add 10 gallons of water to the tank immediately after each tank dump. This has the effect of reducing my tank capacity by that amount which is important since I camp in a lot of places that do not have sewer connections at the campsite.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - I arrived at 7:00 AM for my service appointment, ready to engage in some serious negotiations with the warranty guy. I didn't think it was fair for me to pay for the SeeLevel tank monitoring system. I felt that this was the only way to remedy the problem with the current system and it should be covered under warranty. Well, imagine my surprise when the shop foreman told me that they would do just that - before I had a chance to open my mouth.

We took the RV back to the campground that afternoon and discovered that the shower still leaked. That was one of the warranty issues. So, back to the service center early the next morning. They finally had to remove and reinstall the shower wall to fix the leak.

What do you do in a small town like Chanute while your RV (and your home) is in the shop all day (for 2 days) for repairs? We visited the downtown shops and spent some time in Wal-Mart. We fed the ducks and geese at the local park. Real exciting, huh? We stayed another night and left town early the next morning.

Friday, September 19, 2008 - It was a long drive to the FamCamp at Scott Air Force Base just east of St. Louis. We didn't expect to find many campers this time of year but there was an air show this weekend and the FamCamp was full. So we spent the night in overflow which was nothing more than a grassy area near the campground. But is was level and quiet and we had plenty of battery power to run our fans during the night. We were going to stay here for two days but left early the next morning.

Saturday, September 20, 2008 - It was another long drive to the FamCamp at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. The base was hosting the twelfth annual United States Air Force Marathon today and only two sites were available at the FamCamp. But we got one of those and are settled in here for the next five days. The campground has a sizeable population of these critters which I believe are groundhogs.

We were here three years ago but the FamCamp was full. But we did stop long enough to visit the Air Force museum which is one of the best Air Force museums in the country.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - This is the last opportunity to get the RV cleaned up before we arrive home next Tuesday. Although the rules forbid vehicle washing here at the FamCamp, it is not strictly enforced. So, we were bad and broke the rules. I washed the truck and the front of the RV and Carol washed the sides and rear of the RV. We were both pretty whipped this evening. Since our new RV is three feet longer than our old one, getting it in the driveway at home is out of the question. It's too long. So I can't wash it at home. I am allowed to park on the street for three hours to load and unload but trying to wash it there is not a good idea.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - We visited the Air Force Museum today. This museum is huge! Three large buildings (1000' x 200'?) house airplanes ranging from the Wright brothers to the B-2 bomber with everything in between including the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space capsules. Each of these buildings can accommodate a B-52 bomber with room to spare for dozens of other aircraft. There is also another building that contains 5 or 6 Air Force missiles. And there is an IMAX theater that shows several different big-screen movies. Admission is free (except for the IMAX movies) and the museum is off base.

Thursday, September 25, 2008 - We left Dayton and arrived at West Branch State Park a few miles east of Akron, OH. We are here to visit Carol's son, Matt, and his family. West Branch is probably the nicest government (national, state, county, city) park that I have stayed at. It is on the shore of Michael J Kirwan Reservoir. Interior roads and sites are paved. The park is wooded but open areas have lots of pretty, neatly mowed grass. The large bathhouses are relatively new and clean. Check-in was painless - we pulled up to the window of the entrance station, gave the lady my name, took the materials for check-in and were on our way to the campsite, all within about 30 seconds. We had a full-hookup site which is unusual for a state park. All this doesn't come cheap. The daily rate was $30 which is the most I have paid for a state park.

Monday, September 29, 2008 - We had a very nice visit with Matt and his family who live in Stow, OH. Matt's promotion to regional manager last year required him to leave Virginia Beach and transfer to Ohio. It could not have been a worse time to try and sell his house in Virginia Beach. Although his house was very nice, it took 14 months and several price reductions before it sold. All this time, he was making two house payments. Ouch!

We drove to Fredricksburg, VA before stopping for the night at Wal-Mart. We don't usually stay at Wal-Mart - it's too noisy. It was too far (525 miles) to drive all the way from Ohio to Virginia Beach and we only needed a spot for the night to sleep before continuing on to Virginia Beach. We found a quiet spot in the back corner and settled in for the night. About 9:30 PM, a Wal-Mart truck parked alongside and I thought, "Oh.no! He's gonna idle all night long like many trucks do at a truck stop." But he only stayed long enough to drop off his trailer and he was gone. Yeah!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - We were up early (as you should be when staying overnight at Wal-Mart) and arrived in Virginia Beach around noon. Since the RV is too long to fit in our driveway, we pulled alongside the curb and unloaded some things that we would need while staying here at home for the next month and then we went to Ocean Pines campground near Oceana Naval Air Station. I need to stay somewhere until I arrange storage for the RV. Also, Carol wants to bring family members over to see our new RV.

Ocean Pines is a relatively new military campground, converted from a previous mobile home park. The power pedestals were modified with RV outlets and a new office/laundry building was built. An entrance gate with keypad was installed to keep out the riff-raff (you know who you are!) The only odd thing is the location of the sewer. Being an ex-mobile home park, it is in the middle of the site at the rear. If you back in far enough, your RV will cover the sewer which requires you to connect one end of your sewer hose before you back in to your final position. Or you can crawl underneath the RV and make the connection.

This marks the end of our latest adventure. We will be here until early November when we head for Texas again. The yard needs work - trim hedges, weed the flower beds, prune the Crape Myrtle trees - all of the things that cause RVers to sell the house and become Full-timers.