Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Broke Buddy" in Topeka, Kansas

Uh, oh . . . our supplemental braking system “Brake Buddy” just became “Broke Buddy.”  (For you non-RV’ers - this is a device that is placed in our tow car, hooks to the brake pedal, and applies proportional breaking pressure in the car.  Therefore, the car brakes with the RV instead of the 4,000-pound car pushing the RV forward at a critical time.)  I love knowing that we have a supplemental breaking system and never drive without it.  So when this baby stopped working, I was feeling a little unsettled.  Not only is it a safety issue, but it is the law in many states (click here for an interactive version of the map you see below regarding the requirement of supplemental braking systems in each state and province.)

"you know I don't have health
insurance - I couldn't get on the website"
After calling a few RV repair places, I was out of luck in the help department.  The last resort was to call the manufacturer of our Brake Buddy unit and see what assistance they might provide or guidance as to how to fix our backseat driver.  I had a pretty strong feeling that the unit was not working because of some frayed wires.  Gee, how smart of me to recognize that frayed wires would probably be the reason the machine was not getting substantial power and actually drained the car battery.  Genius!  The nice man at Brake Buddy said he could send a new wiring harness for me to install.  Uh, I don’t think so!  I really am not that handy and Betsy gets super nervous when I am rummaging through the box of tools. 

The nice Brake Buddy man asked, “Where are you headed?” 
“Kansas City,” I said
“Well, we are located about about 70 miles south of Kansas City in Emporia.  If you bring your unit in we will work on it while you wait.  Should be a quick fix.”
“Great, I will be there Monday morning.”

We figured Topeka had more to offer than Emporia and since Topeka was on our way to KC, we decided to base out of there and not burn so much diesel crossing the prairies of Kansas.  Monday morning, we loaded up Broke Buddy and Spirit and headed south to Emporia.  Sure enough, the frayed wires were the problem, and within half an hour, it was fixed for free and we were on our way back to Topeka.  Thank you nice man from Brake Buddy.

And guess what else was in Topeka . . . a Hamburger America hit!  SCORE!  Since nice Brake Buddy man fixed us so fast, we were back in Topeka for lunch at Bobo’s Drive In - a Topeka legend since 1948.

Bobo's does have inside seating but Betsy wanted the full drive in experience of eating in the car and having a car hop bring us the goods and hang them on the car window.  It just seemed right . . . and the people watching was pretty good.

The hamburger patties are coarse ground meat pressed down on the flattop so you get a thin patty with a crispy outside.   Personally, I thought the burger was just o.k., it was a little dry and under-seasoned.

Another attraction in Topeka that I wanted to see was the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Site.  This is a very powerful and thoughtful museum that transforms the visitor back to a day and time when racial prejudice was in the forefront of daily life.  The museum shows powerful images and videos that effectively elicits the raw emotion that was stirred by this 1954 landmark case - Brown v. Board of Education.  The case challenged an 1896 Supreme Court decision (Plessy v. Ferguson) that established the doctrine “separate but equal.”  Brown v. Board of Education reversed this age-old law when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation is unconstitutional and ended racial segregation in America’s public schools.  While Brown v. Board of Education dealt only with education, it was a catalyst that spurred other laws ending racial segregation in other facets such as employment and transportation.

The museum is housed in Monroe Elementary School which was one of the four segregated elementary schools for African Americans in Topeka.  Walking into the school takes you back to a time when your hair was in pig-tails (or a tight crew cut for you guys) and your lunch was packed in a brown paper sack.  The school auditorium is the starting point of your visit and houses a 30-minute movie that explores history of racism and segregation.  The classrooms are filled with interactive exhibits and emotion-stirring multi-media displays.  

The exhibit is quite moving - as you walk down the hall videos filled with racial slurs and hatred play on both sides of you.

This museum provokes thought and is definitely one that stirs your emotion and is well worth the visit if you are in Topeka.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What is there to do in Abilene, Kansas?

Believe it or not it was quite easy for us to spend a whole day in this of the lesser known of the “Abilenes.” 

We filled our day by visiting the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, made a stop in the Greyhound Hall of Fame, had lunch in the historic downtown, and paid a tasty visit to the Russell Stover Candies factory outlet.  So there, you really can spend a whole day bopping around the little town of Abilene.  You could actually spend longer if you linger in candy outlet scamming the free samples undetected.  Not that we tried that.

Presidential libraries and museums are on our lists of must-see attractions.  No political affiliations are of concern to us.  We figure if these guys can generate enough money and support to construct a library based on their years in office, we are there.

Eisenhower’s life was filled with grandiose accomplishments including his leadership guiding the Allied ground invasion on D-Day, president for two terms, and president of three universities.  But in a homecoming speech he declared, “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene."  During his presidency he fought for civil rights and an end to segregation, initiated construction of the federal highway system, ensured that polio vaccinations were available to all, established NASA and the first manned space program, increased the National Wildlife Refuge System by 11 million acres, and established the Wilderness Act.  Those are just a few of his accomplishments in office.

Recently, we were introduced to the gentle giants that are greyhounds (the dogs not the buses).  Abilene happens to be home to the Greyhound Hall of Fame so we popped in for a look.  When you walk into the building you are immediately greeted by two four-legged representatives who nudge you for a pet and then saunter back to their beds unimpressed that you are there.  The Hall of Fame is a tribute to both man and canine that have contributed to the sport of greyhound racing.  Exhibits present the history of these majestic dogs from ancient time to the present through multi-media displays.  The museum is free with donations appreciated.  

As we were leaving Abilene and driving back to the RV which was parked in nearby Salina, Kansas, we did an abrupt U-turn when Betsy spotted the Russell Stover Candies factory outlet.  After all, it was her birthday and a treat was in order since I neglected to bake her a cake.  Whoops, what was I thinking not stocking the RV with cake pans? Turns out I was forgiven when she laid eyes on and then her teeth into a delicious red velvet cupcake.   

Even though it was a fun day, I don't think we will be spending Betsy's next birthday in Abilene, Kansas. Wonder where another year will take us? 

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Book to Live (or Die) By

Betsy discovered a book a year or so ago that caught her attention and we knew it needed to be included in our travel bag.  Hamburger America is a state-by-state guide to 150 best burger joints across the country.  For two girls that like burgers and are traveling the country, this book fit like a broken in pair of faded jeans – perfectly. 

We don’t buy many books because the campground “book exchange” is the one place in the campground that we never miss.  Many times we have scored some great books, some we were looking for and others that we just picked up by happen stance and that turned us on to new authors.  But the $15 or so dollars we shelled out to Barnes and Noble for Hamburger America has been well worth it.

The book exposes the drooling, stomach growling reader to burger joints that fill the gamut of mom-and-pop joints, nostalgic diners, roadside dives, and drive-ins.   Before entering a new state, one of us eagerly grabs the burger bible while the other anxiously waits to see if there is a noted burger joint in our near future.

Just so happens that our stop in Salina, Kansas had a burger hit.  The Cozy Inn was on page 114 of the hamburger bible and rapidly plugged in to our GPS for lunch.  The Cozy Inn has all the spectrum of food accolades that make it taste-worthy like “Best Burger Joint in Kansas,” one of “the top 50 burger joints in America,” featured on the Travel Channel and many more gastronomic praises.   The joint is 91 years old and still uses the same flattop.  Talk about well-seasoned.  The burger meat comes out in a little ball is pressed flat with a spatula and steamed with hand-cut raw onions.  The finishing touch is to put the bun (specially made for The Cozy Inn) on top for a quick steam, add a pickle and serve it up on a checkered napkin. Remind you of White Castle? Turns out both the owners of each of the legendary eateries knew each other and liked the tasty idea of how the combination of steamed onions on thin meat patties tantalizes the taste buds.

Even the snow could not keep us from making a pilgrimage to a Hamburger America mention.
The welcoming staff quickly recognized we looked dazed and confused as to how the restaurant worked. There were only six stools at the well-decorated counter and we tried to blend in with the locals by quickly taking a seat and waiting for guidance.  The menu was explained to us, “hamburgers come with onion and a pickle, if you want ketchup or mustard it's on the counter, help yourself to a pack of chips over there hanging on the wall, and what kind of soda do you want?” I like that "keep it simple and good" philosophy.

"I'll have a diet coke with my five burgers, please"
“We usually start off people with two burgers and keep the tab until you have had as many as you want” said the tall, thin waitress who looked like she did not partake it the same overindulgence that we were setting ourselves up for.  The burgers were good but we especially loved hearing the history of The Cozy Inn and how the locals have affectionately been stepping up to the counter for as long as they can remember.  As promised the smell of steamed onions melting into ground beef on an ancient flattop followed us home as our closes were permeated by the scent.  

I had to ask what was the record number of burgers consumed? Not that I was planning on being inducted to The Cozy Inn Hall of Fame, but I was curious.  The winner was a local man who ate 55 burgers and drank a 12-pack of beer in an hour and a half.  Sure that got a mention in the local paper but it also put him in the hospital with "plumbing problems" when the yeast from the beer and buns reacted in an intestinal explosion. Let that be a lesson to you beer drinking hamburger eaters.

So for you traveling burger lovers may I suggest you don't delay in purchasing a copy of Hamburger America.  Or you can choose to follow us around the country, hoping that we have eaten at all the pages, and are heading to the book exchange to make a deposit.  

To tempt you into abandoning your $15 . . . check out the following pictures from just a few of our burger adventures across the country.

There was the Missoula Club in Missoula, Montana

They come with grilled onions presented beautifully on a styrofoam plate.
Dirty Martin's Kum-Bak Place in Austin, Texas was a favorite of ours

Gott's Roadside (still called its original name Taylor's Refresher by the locals) in Napa Valley, California is not to be missed

Their ahi tuna burger rocks 

Hut's Hamburgers in Austin, Texas is a great local hangout but it can be hard to get a table

Matt's Place Drive-In in Butte, Montana was a great burger joint (that also makes awesome milk shakes) and was one place we got to share with great friends visiting from New Orleans.

That was just a sampling of some of our burger madness.  Book or no book, we will find more.

Please let us know of any hamburger joints in your area.  Remember the book only has 150 places and I am sure there are plenty more good burgers out there.  Good eats!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Loneliest Road Metamorphed into the Coldest

A drive across the state of Nevada along Highway 50 was pretty much the same from the west to the east . . . boring!  That was my opinion.  But, in all fairness, Betsy actually liked the drive.  Not because Betsy likes boring but because she loves seeing all kinds of scenery.  The road continues on, and on, and on and the scenery really doesn’t change.  The smooth road bisects the mountains that flank both sides of the never-ending blacktop.  There is very little in the way of towns, roadside attractions and even gas stations. 

please don't break down, please don't breakdown . . .
U.S. 50 stretches from Sacramento, California to Ocean City, Maryland but it is the stretch through Nevada that earned the title the “Loneliest Road in America’ by Life Magazine in 1986.  The name originates from the large expanse of desolate areas that offer no signs of civilization.  Nevada quickly embraced the term and exploited it as a marketing slogan.  Travelers are urged to pick up a free Loneliest Road survival kit at various businesses along the route.  The kit contains a map and must-see attractions along the road.  Stop in at the attractions to get your survival guide stamped then mail the completed kit to the Nevada Commission on Tourism and you will receive a Loneliest Road survival certificate signed by the Governor, a Loneliest Road lapel pin, and a Loneliest Road bumper sticker announcing that you survived this "uninteresting and empty" road.  What is really a lonely thought is that this road parallels a Pony Express route - think how lonely that must have been alone on a horse?
See anything like civilization?
How about now?
We stopped midway for a restful overnight but woke up to a light rain that turned into a surprise of white snow flakes that quickly morphed into quarter-sized sparkling  flakes gently covering the ground.  In no time, a few inches of packed white snow created an unexpected winter wonderland.  Our early morning departure was promptly cancelled.  Long ago in this journey, we decided that we would not drive in bad weather.  What this left for us to do was take a leisurely hike in the neighboring public land, finish a long-overdue book (which ironically was on polar exploration), and spend time in the kitchen making comfort meals for lunch and dinner – all of which was more enjoyable than driving in the snow.  The Lonelinest Road would have to wait until the next day to see us again. 

Spirit was one happy pup playing in the snow.
Definitely time to break out the hats and gloves.

The next morning the snow had all but melted except at higher elevations.  We enjoyed a brisk early morning walk and then it was time to hit the lonely road again in the bright sunshine.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Saying "Goodbye" to the West Coast

The last year and a half has been a wonderment of amazement, beauty, and new places for the three of us.  Our journey took us through the desert of Arizona, the glorious Rocky Mountains, Canada’s glacier clad mountains and alpine lakes, the Pacific Northwest’s magnificent giants, and the stunning Pacific coastline.  So now, after having explored ten western states and two Canadian Provinces, we bid adieu to the west and make our journey back east. 

One of our highlights was the three months we spent work camping for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Dent Acres Campground on the Dworshak Reservoir.  The people were a joy, the work fun, the scenery gorgeous, and the fishing great.  What more could you want in a job?  “Living” and “working” at Dent instilled assured affection inside our hearts for Idaho and we hope to return someday.
The Dworshak Resevoir 
The last few stops on our west coast journey were filled with reunions with old friends and wandering through areas we have always wanted to see and new ones we just happened upon.  The western United States is tremendously diverse and instills a sense of wanderlust with all of its natural beauty.  So long west coast . . . until next time when we explore more of you.

We will now make our way across the midwest to visit with family and friends before turning the compass south and heading to the gorgeous sugar white sandy beaches of the Florida panhandle for the winter.  So if you find yourselves in the Florida Panhandle, please drop by and say "hello."

"I think I am going to miss it here!"