Welcome to the March installment of the good news blogfest featuring feel-good stories from around the world. As you know if you follow my blog, I usually share good news about the environment, whether that’s here in my neck of the woods or in the marshes of the deep South or the Arctic Circle or, like this month, in Australia.
‘Biodegradable’ Plastic Being Phased Out in Australia
The story I have chosen to share this month is about plastics in Australia and what the government is doing to help alleviate the crisis of too much plastic clogging the nation’s waterways, soils, and landscapes.
This month Australia began implementing its National Plastics Ban. The initiative includes banning plastics on beaches, phasing in microplastic filters in washing machines, ending polystyrene packaging for takeout foods, and the phasing out of a certain type of so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastic.
Just because a plastic is labeled ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t mean it’s any less harmful to the environment than non-biodegradable plastics. There are few regulations governing the use of the word ‘biodegradable,’ so there are plenty of times when products are labeled as such when they, in fact, can live on in the environment for centuries.
The article explains it much better than I do. Click here to read it for yourself.
If you’re a blogger and you’d like to participate in the blogfest, click this link to sign up and spread the joy!
Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Nancy Herriman to Reade and Write. Besides being a great singer, Nancy is a fabulous mystery author who pens the “A Mystery of Old San Francisco” series and the Bess Ellyott Mystery series. She’s joining me here today to talk about her upcoming release, No Darkness as like Death, book 4 in the ‘A Mystery of Old San Francisco’ series.
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you might remember that Nancy has been here before. She talked about the third book in the San Francisco mysteries, No Quiet Among the Shadows, here. And I highly recommended the first two books in the series, No Comfort for the Lost (here) and No Pity for the Dead (here).
I think it’s obvious that I love Nancy’s books. I’ve preordered No Darkness As Like Death and I’m looking forward to its arrival on my ereader on April 6, 2021.
The books in your ‘A Mystery of Old San Francisco’ series takes place during a specific time period in San Francisco’s history (late 1860s). Why did you choose this particular period? Were there other time periods you considered? Why did you decide not to go with one of those?
The specific year my books are set in—1867—happened by chance. I’d been researching various events during the Victorian era and came upon an article about the beginnings of the anti-Chinese movement. The article gave me the idea for the murder that occurs in Book 1, No Comfort for the Lost, and dictated the year.
Can you give us a quick recap of the first three books in the series?
I’ll try! My main sleuth is Celia Davies, an English nurse who has taken over the care of her orphaned niece. Celia’s husband has left her to find riches elsewhere, and she turns to running a free women’s clinic in the city. She becomes involved in solving murders when one of her Chinese patients is found dead in the bay. She expects the police won’t be interested in discovering who killed the young woman, given her ethnicity. Surprisingly, Detective Nicholas Greaves is keen to see justice done. After that murderer is uncovered, Celia has no plans to continue sleuthing. But when a dead body is found in the basement of a close friend’s business, and the friend is suspected, she insists on getting involved in the case. In the next book, the private investigator she’d hired to locate her husband is killed, an investigation that entangles both her and Nick in the world of spiritualism and seances.
What kinds of resources did you use to research this book?
Fortunately for me, there is a great deal of reference material available online for San Francisco in specific and California in general. I’ve used archived newspapers, digitized books—especially when researching some of the details about the ‘water cure’ and how photography was practiced at this time—online maps and miscellaneous other items. Research has become much simpler in the internet age, that’s for sure.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned while doing the research for the book?
I chose a water cure facility as the location for the crime in No Darkness as like Death and enjoyed learning about them. These institutions touted their ability to cure all manner of ills through cold (or steam) bathing, drinking fresh cold water, massages, and strict diets. Which is not the craziest of treatments for that time period, and to me sounds rather modern and even sensible. These facilities promised greater curative results than they could actually deliver, though.
What are some of the things you learned that didn’t make it into the book?
I’d intended to include some research I’d done on medical batteries. This treatment involves having a ‘practitioner’ give you a series of shocks over different parts of your body, depending on what’s being ‘healed.’ It was quite the rage in the 19th century, but the practice ended up not working for this particular book.
Do you have a special connection with San Francisco that made you decide to write about the city?
Nothing more than a love for a city I’ve often visited and find endlessly fascinating. Besides its great history, San Francisco has always been filled with a host of interesting characters and makes for a great setting.
Do you read a lot of historical mysteries? If so, can you recommend some of your favorites?
My favorites are the Falco series by Lindsey Davis and the late Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books. I’ve recently taken up reading novels by authors who wrote in the 1920s and ‘30s, and currently have a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery on my bedside table.
Do you think your background in engineering helps your writing at all?
At the beginning of my career, I think my background was a bit of a hindrance. I kept imagining I could plan my way into a completed novel. I’ve had to learn to limit my pre-planning and plotting and basically just let the process happen.
Many authors have a character “bible,” or a history/biography of a character’s life that helps the author maintain consistency for that character throughout a series. Most of the things in a character bible never make it into a book because they’re for the author’s use only. Do you use a character bible? Can you tell us something about Celia or Nick that no one else knows?
My character ‘bible’ might be more aptly described as a character notecard. I admit that I’m not the best at keeping track of everyone’s characteristics or back-stories. That said, I did develop a rather thorough background for both Nick and Celia that I’ve only touched upon. I would like to more deeply explore the death of Nick’s sister Meg in a future book. There is a mystery to it I’ve not previously mentioned.
What’s next for Celia and Nick?
I’m presently working on the next book in the series, title not yet decided upon. It is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2022.
To visit Nancy’s website, click here. You can learn more about her, her books, and order them for yourself!
Nancy Herriman’s bio
Nancy Herriman retired from an engineering career to take up the pen. She hasn’t looked back. Her work has won the Daphne du Maurier award, and Publishers Weekly has said her ‘A Mystery of Old San Francisco’ series “…brings 1867 San Francisco to vivid life.” Her most recent release is NO DARKNESS AS LIKE DEATH. She is also the author of the Bess Ellyott Mystery series set in Tudor England. When not writing, she enjoys singing, gabbing about writing, and eating dark chocolate. She currently lives in central Ohio.
I’ll be hosting my book club again in April, so I need your help to decide which book we read. As we’ve done in the past, I’ll post the choices below, and you vote for the one you think we should read. Thanks! The book club has loved your choices so far!
The Organized Mind
I don’t know about you, but this sounds like one I could really use. Here’s the blurb:
“New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin shifts his keen insights from your brain on music to your brain in a sea of details.
The information age is drowning us with an unprecedented deluge of data. At the same time, we’re expected to make more–and faster–decisions about our lives than ever before. No wonder, then, that the average American reports frequently losing car keys or reading glasses, missing appointments, and feeling worn out by the effort required just to keep up.
But somehow some people become quite accomplished at managing information flow. In The Organized Mind , Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, uses the latest brain science to demonstrate how those people excel–and how readers can use their methods to regain a sense of mastery over the way they organize their homes, workplaces, and time.
With lively, entertaining chapters on everything from the kitchen junk drawer to health care to executive office workflow, Levitin reveals how new research into the cognitive neuroscience of attention and memory can be applied to the challenges of our daily lives. This Is Your Brain on Music showed how to better play and appreciate music through an understanding of how the brain works. The Organized Mind shows how to navigate the churning flood of information in the twenty-first century with the same neuroscientific perspective.”
The Favorite Sister
Ooh, this one sounds like a page-turner. Two sisters (along with three other highly-successful women) join a reality television series and one of them winds up dead. Here’s the blurb:
“When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…
Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only 27, the meteoric success of her spin studio — and her recent engagement to her girlfriend — has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her castmates.
Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now — a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.
Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends–and resentment soon breeds contempt.
The Favorite Sister explores the invisible barriers that prevent women from rising up the ranks in today’s America — and offers a scathing take on the oft-lionized bonds of sisterhood, and the relentless pressure to stay young, relevant, and salable.”
How Hard Can it Be?
Frankly, I don’t know how you all are going to choose just one book. This one sounds really good, too. Here’s the blurb:
“Look, I was doing OK. I got through the oil spill on the road that is turning 40. Lost a little control, but I drove into the skid just like the driving instructors tell you to and afterwards things were fine again, no, really, they were better than fine.
Kate Reddy had it all: a nice home, two adorable kids, a good husband. Then her kids became teenagers (read: monsters). Richard, her husband, quit his job, taking up bicycling and therapeutic counseling: drinking green potions, dressing head to toe in Lycra, and spending his time — and their money — on his own therapy. Since Richard no longer sees a regular income as part of the path to enlightenment, it’s left to Kate to go back to work.
Companies aren’t necessarily keen on hiring 49-year-old mothers, so Kate does what she must: knocks a few years off her age, hires a trainer, joins a Women Returners group, and prepares a new resume that has a shot at a literary prize for experimental fiction.
When Kate manages to secure a job at the very hedge fund she founded, she finds herself in an impossible juggling act: proving herself (again) at work, dealing with teen drama, and trying to look after increasingly frail parents as the clock keeps ticking toward her 50th birthday. Then, of course, an old flame shows up out of the blue, and Kate finds herself facing off with everyone from Russian mobsters to a literal stallion.
Surely it will all work out in the end. After all, how hard can it be?”
I know I can’t be the only one who’s never read anything by David Sedaris, but I think I’m in the minority. Here’s the blurb for Calypso:
“If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.
When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.
With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny — it’s a book that can make you laugh ‘til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.
This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris’s darkest and warmest book yet — and it just might be his very best.”
The Lost City of the Monkey God
This is a non-fiction entry to the vote. It gets thousands of great reviews on Amazon. Here’s the blurb:
“Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die. In 1940, swashbuckling journalist Theodore Morde returned from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and an electrifying story of having found the Lost City of the Monkey God-but then committed suicide without revealing its location.
Three quarters of a century later, bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.
Venturing into this raw, treacherous, but breathtakingly beautiful wilderness to confirm the discovery, Preston and the team battled torrential rains, quickmud, disease-carrying insects, jaguars, and deadly snakes. But it wasn’t until they returned that tragedy struck: Preston and others found they had contracted in the ruins a horrifying, sometimes lethal-and incurable-disease.
Suspenseful and shocking, filled with colorful history, hair-raising adventure, and dramatic twists of fortune, THE LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD is the absolutely true, eyewitness account of one of the great discoveries of the twenty-first century.”
The Glass Woman
This one is billed as an Icelandic Jane Eyre. Here’s the blurb:
“Rósa has always dreamed of living a simple life alongside her Mamma in their remote village in Iceland, where she prays to the Christian God aloud during the day, whispering enchantments to the old gods alone at night. But after her father dies abruptly and her Mamma becomes ill, Rósa marries herself off to a visiting trader in exchange for a dowry, despite rumors of mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death.
Rósa follows her new husband, Jón, across the treacherous countryside to his remote home near the sea. There Jón works the field during the day, expecting Rósa to maintain their house in his absence with the deference of a good Christian wife. What Rósa did not anticipate was the fierce loneliness she would feel in her new home, where Jón forbids her from interacting with the locals in the nearby settlement and barely speaks to her himself.
Seclusion from the outside world isn’t the only troubling aspect of her new life—Rósa is also forbidden from going into Jón’s attic. When Rósa begins to hear strange noises from upstairs, she turns to the local woman in an attempt to find solace. But the villager’s words are even more troubling—confirming many of the rumors about Jón’s first wife, Anna, including that he buried her body alone in the middle of the night.
Rósa’s isolation begins to play tricks on her mind: What—or who—is in the attic? What happened to Anna? Was she mad, a witch, or just a victim of Jón’s ruthless nature? And when Jón is brutally maimed in an accident a series of events are set in motion that will force Rósa to choose between obedience and defiance—with her own survival and the safety of the ones she loves hanging in the balance.”
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
This novel is about a bookstore! I have a feeling the blurb doesn’t give it justice, but that’s for you to decide:
“A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over–and see everything anew.”
The Rosie Project
Here’s the last one for this go-round! I’m not a reader of romance, but this one sounds different and really good. Here’s the blurb:
“The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.
Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.”
In this second installment of hobbies shared by readers, I’d like to introduce you to Bob Spearman, fellow mystery writer and avid hobbyist. Bob likes to golf, beach-walk, play and collect guitars, make stained glass, and camp.
Whew. It makes me tired just writing that.
Instead of me asking Bob questions, he graciously provided me with some anecdotes about his hobbies, so I’ll share them below. He also provided photos, which are great fun. I think you’ll enjoy this.
Before we get to that, though, I want to tell you about a book Bob has coming out. I’ve read Bob’s other books and they’re very good. I’ve read an early version of the new book, Then She Was Dead, and I really enjoyed it.
Here’s a quick blurb:
Software genius, Tom Santos, wakes up in a hotel room next to a dead woman. He remembers nothing from the night before. In two hours, he is scheduled to give the product presentation of his life.
His performance might determine the success of his startup company, financial freedom for his family, and the award of a government contract valued at more than 3 billion dollars. What to do next? Run from the room or call the police. The moral dilemma haunts him.
Sinister international forces work to steal Tom’s new quantum-based security software. He becomes the prime suspect until other people start to die. And just when the police think they have solved the mystery, captured the killer, and closed the case, a twist will come that takes you back to the start.
Take it away, Bob!
Walking on the golf course keeps me healthy and gives me quiet time to think about story lines for writing. If you know a golfer, you know that most of them like to tell you about their game. If you make that mistake of a cordial comment, like, “How was your golf match?” You expect an answer like, “Okay.” Or “It was fun.”
But no, that never happens. Any true golfer will go into a detailed recap of how they almost made a certain putt, or they hit this huge drive down the middle, or they won the bet, or blah, blah, blah. The harsh reality for golfers is that few people want to hear about their golf game, so, I won’t dwell on this topic or how my handicap is dropping even as I get older, that’s for another story.
We live at the beach on an island. Even in the winter, I put on my headphones, select a good audio book, and walk. I’m currently listening to Outlander. Typically, I stroll four to five miles each day, ending with a few pictures of the sunset on the west shore of our island or a herd of deer on our golf course. Walking is less interesting than golf, so I should probably proceed to more entertaining topics before your audience falls asleep.
When I was twelve, my parents bought me a guitar and amplifier for Christmas. God bless their merry souls, we were a family of nine living in small house. You can imagine the ear-splitting squeals when I cranked the amp up and scraped a pick across the strings, all while my five brothers and one sister raced around the house playing with their toys. Ah, good times on Christmas morning.
Given a little time with a basic guitar instruction book, I taught myself to play a few chords, and with more time, a simple song or two. I discovered that I could listen to others playing on the record player and be able to play along. Now that I can play music, I hate the formal training process. I’ve purchased the guitar theory and music theory books and videos but can’t get passed the first lesson. I’d rather just play.
My first and only live performance was with a group of college buddies that joined together to play in a college talent show. Five thousand people attended. Talk about going from zero to warp speed. I suppose the stodgy professors judging the contest didn’t recognize the genius of our music because we didn’t win the event. However, to our joy, the college students in the audience gave us a standing ovation and that seemed to make the effort worth it.
My parents attended the event. Maybe they wanted to see if their ancient investment had paid any dividends. After our performance, I took my guitar and went into the audience to sit with my parents. My dad took the guitar and put it his lap and strummed the strings a few times. He looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you could play.”
I thought, “dah,” maybe all those years he had been using a good set of earplugs.
A few years later, married with two kids, a time came when I finally had enough money to consider a new guitar, a real, big-name, quality guitar. I told my wife that it was time. It would be my Christmas present: a beautiful sunburst Charvel electric guitar with a pearl pick guard and lipstick tube pickups. Insert Tim ‘Tooltime’ Taylor sound here. If you don’t know Tim, never mind, not important.
Committed to make this purchase, I strolled into a music store, looked up at a full wall of guitars. I fell in love immediately. This guitar stood out like a bright light on a dark night, sparkling, calling my name. With my resistance down, I bought it along with a complementary Fender amplifier big enough for playing in medium sized arenas just in case I was recruited to play in another talent show. My kids said that I played too loud. I told them they were too old. I’ve only played this guitar in the house but just in case the Stones or John Mellencamp need another guitar player, I’m ready.
Since that second Christmas guitar, I’ve purchased a limited edition Fender Stratocaster, a limited addition Epiphone (Gibson) Les Paul Custom, and four acoustic guitars. I consider each guitar a work of art; each produces a different sound. The guitars all hang from the walls of my office or sit on a guitar stand for easy access throughout my house.
I have augmented the guitars with harmonicas. With a neck yoke, you can play the guitar and the harmonica at the same time. Or I hand out a tambourine and harmonicas to my grandkids and let them play along.
I’ve got a couple of favorite songs memorized so I don’t require sheet music to play: “Little Pink Houses” by John Cougar Mellencamp, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty, and “Road House Blues” by the Doors. The harmonica sounds sweet with each one of those tunes so I can adlib to my heat’s content. Probably my favorite guitar player, my idol I should say, is or was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Unfortunately, the good, they die young.
Sometimes I play for my grandkids, they dance or play along, but my wife is my primary audience. Before retirement, some days I would come home from work and sing the happenings of the day to my wife. If bad things happened, I would use sad chords and happy chords for happy things. It was a better way of getting the hassles of the day off of my chest versus grabbing a beer and complaining half the night. Even though my singing is not up there with Elvis or Frank Sanatra, I think she appreciated my light-hearted approach to personal therapy.
Every now and then, when I least expect it, a jam session magically appears by happenstance. I’ve enjoyed those at family gatherings, guitar stores, and campfires. I love those spontaneous occasions.
My most recent acquisition is a new type of amplifier that connects via Bluetooth and an application on my iPhone. With this device, one can assign the beat, play a few chords, and then the amp will provide a background band with drums, bass, and other appropriate instruments allowing me to play lead and compose my own songs. The amp will also generate different background tracks for different genres of music like a blues track or a rock track. The amp has about a million features for adjustment of sounds and music creation. I’m using it like most people use their brains, at 10% or less.
In the late 1970’s, I decided I wanted to add stained glass windows to our new house. As you may know, stained glass windows are terribly expensive. I quickly discovered why. Besides the art and craft skills required, the work is time consuming and the glass, the quality hand-blown glass is expensive.
Being an Electrical Engineer, I knew the basics of soldering for electronics and thought, ‘how hard can it be.’ I went to a small shop in Atlanta and picked up some supplies. I soon learned to cut glass fit it into lead channels and created some small, boring pieces, but nothing worthy of mounting in the windows of our house.
I set up a shop in our garage and worked to perfect my techniques. About six months later, I invested in the small glass shop with the original owner and another fellow. We expanded, bought some serious supplies of stained glass and started teaching others the craft. We made a very little bit of money, enough to fund our stained glass addiction and keep the shop open. As I taught others, I learned more about different types of glass and how to work with soldering techniques and glass structure.
In the process, I also learned how to work with etched glass; the type you might find in restaurant windows or as standalone art. We started a class in that art as well. Etched glass, the best etched glass art, is performed with a thick piece of clear glass and a sand blasting machine. The work is strenuous, hot, and can be dangerous due to the potential of breathing in microscopic particles of sand and glass.
Soon, people were purchasing my work for their homes. I joined the Stained Glass Art Guild in Atlanta and met some really famous artists in this field who lived in the Atlanta area. These people had studied world-wide with Monks, in old European churches, and under masters who had learned the art with techniques passed down through centuries of the art. It was truly a unique group of people, or I should say artists.
As I learned more about these people, I felt like a fraud, or a pretender for even being at these meetings, but I was learning. The greatest thrill came at a guild meeting, where they had asked me to show a piece that I had done using a copper foil technique to join the glass. Most people use an H-shaped lead strip to join the glass with solder at the joints. Copper foil requires a strip of copper to be wrapped around each piece of glass and a bead of solder left in a rounded bead. The glass cutting tolerance is much more significant and the solder technique is difficult. Hot solder flows like water so one must have a certain touch.
One of the masters told me that he really admired the work and the technique with the copper foil. He then asked for advice on how to accomplish a few of the details. For the first time with that group, I felt somewhat confirmed.
In my latest works, I’ve gone for the art more than just building a window to a pattern. Picking the right colors that blend properly, using jewels or other items inlaid into the window is also fun.
We have most of the special tools now: a diamond tipped router, carbide glass cutters, lead stretchers, copper foil tools, soldering irons with rheostats for temperature control, pliers to help snap difficult hard glass, patina solutions, and more.
Most people don’t appreciate the amount of work, the hours, or the material cost for a quality window. The process is probably akin to writing; unless you have gone through the process to create a novel or a stained glass window, you might not appreciate the effort required to produce a quality piece.
I taught my wife how to do the work and she has become quite handy. Now some, 40 years later, she has probably created more pieces than I have. We have had stained glass in all of our homes since then and we often make a window for a friend or someone in the family. It’s a hobby. Making a living at this art is ‘no place for the weary kind.’
I’m an Eagle Scout from a family that loved camping. I’ve camped outdoors with only a tarp over my head, tents, pop-up campers, and now we have a thirty-five foot 5th Wheel. Most people tend to go larger over time. Especially, if you go camping for two years and your camper becomes your home.
My wife and I got married in the late ‘70’s. As a young engineer, I traveled with the Federal Aviation Administration installing air traffic control towers. I was on the road 100%. After two weeks of leaving my young bride in a hotel room all day, we decided to change the situation and bought a 28-foot camper.
We were the rare, pink-cheeked, young couple at campgrounds inhabited primarily by retirees as we traveled around the southeast. For almost a year, we lived the RV life. We learned a lot about the art of finding a campsite and how to set up camp with sewer hoses, water hoses, LP gas, etc. One day, we discovery that our first child would be born in a few months and that put an end to our blissful life on the road.
Later in life, with two kids, we went camping in tents. Hiking, cooking outdoors, cooking under the coals of a campfire, and telling ghost stories are all good memories, at least for me. I tried to teach my kids about nature and how to survive in the woods with the simple things.
In 2018, when I decided to retire from engineering, my wife and I worked on the idea of a dream to travel the United States and see the wonders offered in this great land. We sold our house, put many of our belongings in a storage facility, bought a 5th Wheel and hit the road.
Except it wasn’t quite that simple. If you are not familiar, a 5th Wheel trailer requires a large truck to pull it. 5th Wheels are the very large trailers you likely see on the highways that connect in the bed of the truck, not on a trailer hitch.
With our first trailer, we found out quickly that a car will not pull a large trailer up a mountain. We had to buy a vehicle capable at that time. So, this time, I was going to start out correctly, I was going to make sure we had the beef to pull us around the country. We bought an F250 Ford diesel pickup, a beast with enough power to pull two of what we were buying.
Actually, we were going to purchase a pull behind trailer, one like the one that we had lived in as newly-weds. We had convinced ourselves that the huge 5th Wheels we had seen on the Interstates were just too big. We had searched the camping trailer lots in our area for over a year and had decided on one particular pull-behind trailer. We went to purchase it, I was in the final negotiations, my wife was wandering the trailer lot, and she calls to me, “Wait a minute. I think I’ve changed my mind.” She was beaming and standing in the doorway of what would become our 5th Wheel trailer.
Now, with the change of plans, I had to get a hitch installed in the bed of my brand new truck. I felt like I was taking my baby to surgery. It was painful but necessary. We got this fancy super glide hitch that slides back and forth as you turn so the trailer will not attack the rear cab of the truck. This issue is quite prevalent, and we meant to avoid it.
There is one little problem with connecting and disconnecting the trailer to this fancy hitch; you must have the trailer at just the right height, with just the right amount of pressure on the hitch or it will not disconnect. This stubborn hitch can be quite inconvenient at a campsite late at night. But we learned, as a team to solve the problem; me in the truck putting forward and then backward pressure on the hitch, my wife standing on a small stool pulling on the hitch release until she shouts out, “Got it.” Sounds a little more dangerous than it really is, or what we thought it was.
Before we sold our house, we took our first trial-run camping trip to Myrtle Beach State Park. Blissfully uninformed, we arrive at our site at dusk, no flashlight, little training, but with a desire to start our days on the road. There was only one site left and it was difficult to back the trailer into the narrow space.
Many campgrounds are like this one. Small one-lane roads, trees, cars, other campers, and I had over 45 feet of truck and trailer to maneuver. If you watch the movie RV with Robin Williams, you will see that other campers are typically helpful in the process of other campers as they move in, set up, or depart.
On the second approach to turn into our site, we quickly drew a crowd of well-intended gawkers, fatherly figures, a swirling batch of kids, and quasi-experienced campers with a multitude of suggestions. All of them had a dog or two running around in the mix.
The sun was down and darkness engulfed the wooded campground. Other campers moved their cars, their picnic tables, and stood watch over large pine trees that I couldn’t move even with my big diesel truck. Finally, we got the trailer in the site; now for the hitch.
The hitch was persistent in its desire to stay attached to the truck. When we tried to lift it, we had no electricity. One helpful man discovered that the state park power box intended for our trailer had blown a circuit. The previous camper had melted the 50-amp circuit and that’s no easy task. Twenty minutes later a State Park Ranger arrived. An hour later, he had the entire power box replaced. We continued.
Eventually, successfully disconnected, and our utilities partially connected for the night, we were applauded by the large crowd. They went back to their campfires, and we went to our trailer. After two nights, it was time to go home, a week of rain was predicted and we didn’t see that as fun.
As we started to pull out, we noticed the overhanging tree limb. It was a stiff Live Oak, about 8 inches in, and was not moveable. To stir the pot, my wife and I had not perfected all of our signals for “Stop Idiot,” “More to the left,” or any of those things required to maneuver in spaces too small. My shy wife did not yell in time to keep me from getting into a bind almost under the oak limb. If I went forward, there was a chance of brushing the tree limb. If I went backward, I would scrap the front of the truck on a pine tree. We went forward.
As I got out to see the damage, many of the people in the peanut gallery had ceased to speak; most were looking at nothing on ground, kicking the sand around. That’s when the Ranger said, “I should have shut down the one way road and helped you do out that way.” He wanted to pull the words back into his mouth after he saw my look. I replied, “That would have been a good idea about twenty minutes ago.” An uncomfortable silence wafted through the oak trees. An elderly camper patted me on the back and went to the toilet house next door.
The trailer had sustained a rip on the roof about 24 inches long. With nothing to be done but get it fixed before the rains hit, we hauled it back to the dealer. The maintenance man inspected the scar, scratched his scruffy beard, and said, “Can’t patch that, you’ll need a new roof.”
5th Wheels have fabric roofs coated with a beige tar like material. I was disturbed to find out that if you have a significant tear on an edge, the entire roof must be replaced. Four thousand dollars later, I called the insurance company. The lady said, “So, you bought it on Wednesday and you are filing this claim on Saturday?” I asked if there was a better day to file the claim.
The insurance company paid the claim, the trailer was repaired, we sold our house, and hit the trail. We went down to Florida to visit our kids. Then we headed west straight up through Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and eventually back to South Carolina.
This country is blessed with beautiful landscapes that are not located along the Interstates or near towns with four-star resorts. This country is best viewed with a camper on the back of your truck. You must get away from the bright lights, and take the roads less traveled. Many of these roads are well-maintained four lane highways with no traffic.
Yellowstone, Carlsbad, the rocky coast of Oregon, the western wilderness of Montana, Lake Tahoe, the red rocks of Utah, the redwood forest of northern California just to name a few. Some of the locations that I didn’t mention don’t jump out at you. The people who live in some remote ranches and small towns are key. Meeting the people will set you back to contemplate how much we are alike but yet how different we live.
When camping, if you find a town with a Dollar General store, you know that supplies are available and the town might also have cell coverage. If a town has a Walmart, well that’s just the ‘bees-knees.’ You learn to appreciate the little things and how some people live in our country without the convenience of everything you want at the corner store. But in this lonely land, the beauty abounds.
When camping off the beaten path, you will learn about which conversion plug is required to get electricity if it’s available. You learn about where to get water, how much to store in your camper, and you also learn how to get reservations at the next stop. It’s not easy to plot out two months of camping sights. Camping has become so popular, especially near our national parks, that one must reserve a site six months, or sometimes a year in advance.
We did succeed in plotting our way but only with much effort and a large calendar to mark down our days and locations. We also kept a Road Map Atlas with us because, as I said, sometimes we had no cell coverage to get a GPS electronic map.
We found our way back to South Carolina and Edisto Beach campground where you can hear the ocean roar from your camper. We landed at this little paradise just as Covid-19 sunk it claws in our carefree world. Suddenly, campgrounds began to shut down. Noting was available and you have to be somewhere.
We had been looking at the possibility of buying a home at Edisto and Covid cinched the deal. After almost two years on the road, changing locations every three to six days, we were forced to settle down. Our trailer is parked and waiting for our next adventure.
If you are interested in pictures of some of the beautiful locations along our trail, please go to my Face Book page and look at pictures and comments from August 2018 through May 2020. You might also have fun reading a short story about our escape from a grizzly bear in Montana on Booksie.com. https://www.booksie.com/portfolio-view/bob-spearman-269105/page-1
Thanks so much for being my guest this week, Bob. This has been fascinating and I love all the photos.