Monthly Archives: July 2020

July 2020: It’s an adventure…

RV travel has a lot to commend it: beautiful locales, a slower and more relaxed pace of travel, destinations that would be difficult without mobile accommodations, and, in a time of pandemic, the previously mentioned advantage of being able to see the country while essentially self-isolated. But there’s another side to RV travel, a darker, less romantic, and decidedly less enjoyable aspect. Perhaps the best way to put it is to paraphrase the oft-heard warning to those thinking of cruising the oceans: if you don’t like tinkering with things, facing a constant stream of maintenance, dealing with a never-ending series of breakdowns and repairs, and being able to keep an even keel when faced with being stranded, don’t even think about RV travel.

What brought on this moment of sudden realism? For the second time since we’ve owned this RV, we found ourselves locked out. The insidious little cause of this latest bit of frustration is a poorly designed and/or stupidly manufactured door mechanism on most RVs. It turns out there’s a little plastic part that connects the door handle to the latch bolt that engages the strike plate. And as you’d expect from a cheap plastic part, certainly made in China by virus-spreading worker bees whose mission in life is to weaponize RV parts in order to foment rebellion in the West, the little stupid connecting part breaks with some regularity. Really. Any Google search on the web will turn up thousands of accounts of people finding themselves locked in or out of their RVs with no way to retract the latch bolt and thereby get to the other side of the door.

Fortunately, having been through this once before, we at least understood the concept for a temporary fix. I was able to climb in through the driver’s side window (don’t even try to picture a seventy-year-old, corpulent, crinky old man trying to contort himself enough to make it though an opening 18-inches square). Once inside, I was able to remove the interior molding to get access to the latch bolt. Being unable to force it to retract last night, we decided to have dinner and sleep on it overnight, which necessitated Wendy doing a similarly ungraceful entry to the motorhome. Then, last night, as my over-energized, sleep-depriving brain ran through an infinity of possible jury-rigging options, another idea came to me. We got up this morning, implemented my overnight epiphany, retracted the latch bolt, and opened the door.

We’ll be fine for the rest of the trip. We’ve removed the latch bolt, so there’s no need to worry about having to retract it using the now useless door handle, and we can use the deadbolt to secure the door, both inside and outside the RV. Once we get back to Atlanta, I’ll replace the door handle, reinstall the molding, and wait in dread for the next door handle failure, which is certain to occur too soon. Or maybe it will be something else. It will certainly be something. Such is the nature of RV travel.

But now, off to Grand Teton National Park, and in the grand scheme of things, who cares about door handles?

July 2020: As high as an elephant’s eye

For about 700 miles of this trip, we found ourselves driving through corn fields. Not all of the corn was as high as an elephant’s eye. Actually, none of it was. But that’s not the point. The point is, why are there hundreds and hundreds of miles of corn? The question particularly came to mind driving through Nebraska, which is, after all, the “Cornhusker State.”

It turns out, corn is the most widely grown crop in America. The reason crop fields go on forever is because about 96 million acres of land (about 150,000 square miles) in the U.S. are dedicated to corn production. In Nebraska, for example, over 20% of the area of the entire state is dedicated to corn production. Iowa is the biggest producer of corn (over 37% of its land area dedicated to corn production), with Illinois in at number two (I thought the Illini were too busy passing stupid gun laws to do much else), and Nebraska is number 3. Corn is grown in essentially every state, even Alaska.

For some reason, agricultural production is measured in bushels. If I knew anything about farming, I’d know why, but I don’t and I don’t. Just take it that a bushel of shelled corn weighs about 56 pounds. In any event, annual corn harvest in the U.S. is about 15 billion (“billion,” with a “b”) bushels of corn, which works out to 420 million tons of corn produced every year.

And what do people do with all that corn? 33% goes to livestock feed (spread about equally among dairy, beef cattle, hogs, and poultry), almost that much goes to ethanol production, 10% goes to distiller grains, and about 10% goes to other uses (like high corn syrup and sweeteners), and 10% to export. The corn used in livestock feed is the “carb” component of the feed; the protein component comes mostly from soybeans, which we also saw miles and miles of as we drove along. And the “other uses” of corn, although small fractions, are pretty interesting: breakfast cereal, tortilla chips, grits, beer, soda, cooking oil, and even bio-degradable packing materials.

Since one-third of corn production goes to animal feed, I thought it might be appropriate to insert a note here to my vegan friends. But then I realized I don’t have any vegan friends. Nor do I want to.

And, of course, people eat corn directly. Sweet corn (like for corn-on-the-cob and canned corn) is one such use, but it turns out it’s a trivial fraction of overall corn production (less than 1%). But how’s this for a weird fact: Popcorn is also a corn crop, grown and harvested so that the corn kernels retain some moisture in the center of the kernel, which is what causes it to “pop” when heated. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that Americans consume about 17 billion quarts of popcorn every year, meaning the average American consumes 58 quarts of popcorn per year. I like popcorn as much as anyone, but I guess I’m just a slacker when it comes to serious popcorn eating.

For some reason that I’m sure has to do with political correctness gone berserk, internet searches for “corn” often redirect to articles entitled “maize.” It is true that corn (OK, fine, maize) was originally domesticated in Mexico about 10,000 years ago, but so what? If we want to call it corn, we get to call it corn. Sheesh. Oh, and besides that, reading about corn production inexorably leads one into the thorny political thickets of farm subsidies, a blog post for another day…

One last tidbit. Some alarmists go off the deep end worried about “fixed” resources. You may recall the panic in the 1970s about us “running out of oil.” Ha — that’s a funny one. But the truth about the infinite expandability of “fixed” resources is nowhere more apparent than in agricultural production. In 1900, an acre of farmland could product about 25 bushels of corn; today that figure is 180 (!) and is limited not so much by nature as by the economics of farming. Change the economics and it could go even higher.

So, we’re out of corn country now and almost to Grand Teton National Park. But there’s an infinity of fascinating things to learn, and one of the things we love about cross-country travel is that each passing mile gives us an opportunity to check one more off the list.

19 July 2020: A Peculiar, Peripatetic Pandemic

The caption is right on all counts, starting with the fact that I’m writing this while sitting in the RV in the Peculiar Park Place RV Park, located in Peculiar, Missouri. Seriously. There are a variety of explanations as to how this town came to earn its moniker, but the leading candidate is that the guy who surveyed the town wanted a unique name and kept submitting various unusual names to the state, all of which were rejected, until in exasperation he said, “I don’t care what name you give me, as long as it’s peculiar.” He asked for it…

The reason we’re here in Peculiar, though, is that we finally got into the RV for an actual trip. It took us FIVE tries. First was a trip to North Carolina with all four families. That didn’t work because Robert got eliminated by the flying fickle finger of fate (AKA DoD), which imposed a 250-mile travel limitation. Version 2 was three families in the same location, which got nixed when we decided, correctly, that two families in one RV during an epidemic was a tad too risky. Version 3 was a two-family trip to some random state park in Virginia, which got cancelled because, well, who wants to go to some random state park in Virginia? Version 4 was the same two-person group, but headed to Grand Teton National Park. That got cancelled because Cliff realized that the prospect of flying cross-country with three children, connecting in O’Hare, dodging infected people, dousing the upholstery with antiseptic sprays, while everyone was wearing masks, including a four-year-old, was nuts.

So, here we are with version 5: Wendy and I travel cross-country over 4-1/2 days and we do Grand Teton National Park on our own.

1892 miles, over 4-1/2 days, from LaGrange to Colter Bay, Grand Teton National Park.

RV travel during a pandemic presents a unique combination of considerations. On the upside, RV travel means no hotels, no restaurants, and no public bathrooms; we can, in essence, self-isolate while we travel around and see the country. That explains why most RV dealers have found their inventory depleted and the RV rental companies are booked for months in advance. The downside of RV travel during a pandemic is that it occurs, well, during a pandemic. That, in turn, means that places and activities where people naturally congregate are closed, such as the Grand Teton’s ranger stations, visitor centers, ranger talks, and ranger-led hikes. That’s a significant issue for us — we enjoy all of those activities. We always start out a visit to a national park by reviewing all the information and displays at the visitor center, no matter how many times we’ve been there, and we pretty much go to the ranger talks every night. Still, it’s Grand Teton National Park, the singularly most beautiful place on earth, and we look forward to a great time, add-ons or not.

So, further updates will follow in a few days.