Day 4

Palo Duro Canyon is my Happy Place

Early on Friday morning I creep through the cabin of the RV with my dogs startled and delighted, leash them as silently as possible and open the door to the fresh hot mountain air of Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. Off in the distance a dog is barking rhythmically, like an alarm. My dogs ears prick as I coax them along towards a path running off the campsite road. A small outdoor amphitheater is laid out on our left as we make our way down the path towards the creek at Gulpha’s Gorge. Once we get to the creek we hop across on large stones laid out just before the water tumbles down hill and we make it safely into the forest beyond. Now that we’re safely across the water and away from the sounds of the barking dogs and morning campers, I take the dogs off their leashes. Together the three of us move silently into the forest. The dogs showing their excitement by running ahead a little. 

My excitement is hidden.

I don’t even smile too large because I don’t want to scare away the awe that I am feeling. My pup Samantha, who looks just like a german shepherd that’s been shrunk by about 50% and crossed with an adorable bunny rabbit, starts smelling the edge of the path, only running to catch up with me when I call her away from her discoveries. Libby, my little chihuahua mix is about 15 feet ahead of me. When there’s a path that descends back down to the creek on our left, she pauses and waits for me, showing me yet again how much intelligence and trust is packed in her tiny little body. We keep moving straight on the same path as it immediately turns to the right and starts moving steeply up the side of the gorge. A few paces on there are stone and wood steps built into the path to help with climbing. We make it about halfway up before I start sweating (I didn’t wake up quite THAT early) and so, knowing I won’t be able to shower before we hit the road, I call the dogs and turn around. The dogs, hot now and thirsty as well, run ahead back down to the creek and begin drinking. Samantha wades into the water a little above her ankles and greedily drinks. Libby, aware of the current’s power against her tiny 9 lb body, stands gingerly at the edge and sips what little she can reach, before trying another spot. Eventually I call them and we take the path the other direction up the creek. This path is flat and follows the edge of the creek, about 7 or 8 feet above it. The campground is not visible from here. We walk for about 10 more minutes and then turn around. I know this is all I will get of this national park, but I feel satisfied. Even the smallest of walks in the woods with my dogs off their leashes, running beside me, enjoying the sounds and smells and feel of it as much as I am, this is the wild experience I am craving. The one that reminds me I am free.

We pull out of the campground, everyone but me bewildered by my choice of this remote Arkansas location, and my husband makes a choice to follow the country roads through Arkansas and up to Oklahoma which takes us the breadth of the Ouchita National Forest, through Whitesboro, Arkansas (my kids joke that they are home, which isn’t completely silly since the rolling hills, farm after farm, intermittent small towns with its name proudly displayed on the firehouse, the school and the general store, with the occasional vista of distant  mountains, feels a lot like a scenic drive on Route 20 in New York State where we live) and into the Chactaw Nation, before turning north on Indian Nation Turnpike and back to our most traveled road this trip, Interstate 40 (which both parallels and joins the historic RT 66 and guides us along most of the first half of our trip). Michael is loving driving these mountain roads. Winding gently along we go up to the top of a hill and then back down, like the rocking of a baby, the motion of waves. After a morning delayed by 3 Arkansonians who took almost a full hour to decide that their propane tank wasn’t working to fill ours… because it was empty, I might have agreed with Michael’s joke that Arkansas should be paved over completely, put to better use and promptly taken off our maps… but these mountains in their green fields and wooded beauty, whisper to me of hundreds of years of peoples who love and cherish this land. 

Oklahoma brings us nothing but flat farms. We are back on the highway now, giving us the flattest passage through the center of the state. This is nothing like home. We see a crop growing at one of our stops for gas that resembles corn, except that it is only about knee high and topped with a plume of whitish greenish seed pods. I figoole out that this is Sorghum, a crop many farmers have switched to growing for livestock feed because of its high resistance to drought and extreme temperatures. As we reach the western end of Oklahoma, the farms begin to switch over to Ranches, or maybe that happened in Arkansas, and I didn’t notice, or maybe that didn’t happen until we reached the Panhandle of Texas, it all runs together… it was then, as much as it is now (I’m writing this on day 8, Tuesday, August.. don’t ask me what date, I have no idea… about day 4, last Friday) a bit of a blur.

And in all of that writing, we’ve crossed into Oklahoma, through Oklahoma City, which appears huge, but probably isn’t, however the land is so flat you can see the entire city all at once from the ticky tacky housed outskirts where I-40 cuts through, all the way to skyscrapered downtown (fun fact, tallest building in Oklahoma is Devon Energy Center in Oklahoma city, which is just over half the height of the Empire State Building, which is now only the 7th tallest building in NYC according to Wikipedia. I know nothing else about Oklahoma City, except how to spell it thanks to my high school musical days), made a pit stop where I meet some fellow RVers admiring our rig’s resemblance to one they used to drive, and learn that Oklahoma has the best weather service in the whole country (according to this stranger) because of the Tornado watches (immediately after which I ask if this is tornado season… which had just occurred to me a few miles earlier… and no, it isn’t) and all the way to the Texas/Oklahoma state line. 

It’s Texas where I leave my heart. We arrive in Amarillo, a spralling west Texas city with more farm stores than coffee stops, and one with lights that can be seen for hundreds of miles around, not because of the brightness of the city, but because of the flatness of the land. In Amarillo we head south as dusk is upon us. Our destination is the bottom of a canyon, 800 feet deep, 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, descending from it’s entrance at 3,500 feet above sea level.

I’ve been out in this part of the country once before. My sister treated my son and I to a week long visit in Albuquerque, New Mexico (a destination I loved so much, I was happy to appease my Breaking Bad fan step son and include a 2 day layover there for this trip). Albuquerque is about 5,500 ft above sea level, and it boasts of volcanic mesas on its western border, but along its Eastern border is the  10,000 foot Sandia Crest, a chain of mountains that will simultaneously take your break away, try to blow you off it’s peaks… and give you altitude sickness. I loved visiting Albuquerque, but I felt a little bit sick from the altitude the whole time I was there.

This time around, we are slowly climbing, our bodies adjusting bit by bit, mile by mile. Which reminds me to explain the experience of crossing time zones into the past. I’m the navigator for the entirety of this trip. Even for the very short snippets when I am driving, my husband is taking the chance to shut his eyes, in which case either my daughter takes over (she’s gotten very good at turn by turn directions) or I have my google maps set to tell me exactly where to go. At around 11 am on Thursday, on our way to Nashville, Tennessee, I leave the cockpit to go into the cabin and give one of the kids a chance to be up front. I set my alarm for 12:30 pm, so that I’ll be up front in time to navigate us into our landing spot in the city. I head to the table and benches in the back of the RV and begin to write, my back to the road… Maybe 45 minutes or so goes by and I look at my phone. 

At first I don’t know what’s wrong, I panic momentarily. 

I look at my watch, same answer. It’s approaching 11am… time has stopped and suddenly I don’t know where we are and for a second, I question who I am. Thank god I looked up in time. My alarm had been set for about an hour and a half down the road… that was a time formerly known as 12:30, but when you cross into a new timezone, you will be an hour past your destination before you realize what time it really is, or how far lost you are.

Here’s another fun road trip vignette. During the day, we conserve all the battery life we can (actually, it’s more about not running the generator which is the only source of 120V electricity available while driving, which is something I now understand because as I mentioned, I will be a certified RV electrician by the end of trip, but for ease of explanation, let’s just assume we’re generally conserving energy) so the only light in the bathroom is through the skylight… so when you’re in the little RV bathroom and the vehicle goes under a bridge… Well, just don’t do your makeup while driving.

Ah, West Texas, flat, wild, sky all around, and this time of year, in the 90s. We turn south at Amarillo and head towards the Palo Duro Canyon, which will be our resting place tonight. We are literally chasing the sunlight as we head toward the state park’s entrance, and the 800 foot drop full of hairpin turns on the edges of the canyon walls. Just as we enter the canyon, the last of the light gives out, and my husband expertly navigates down the canyon with only physics, his feel for the road, and the headlights to guide him

I had read in a review of the campsite that one camper was excited to spot 2 lizards and a tarantula… this was probably my most shared fact with the kids before we hit the road to take this epic adventure. So when we actually land at our campsite at the bottom of this canyon, the first thing the kids do, even though it’s dark and we’ve been on the road for 12 hours and everyone is tired… is look for strange animals. Within minutes of stepping out of the camper, my step son finds a 5 inch long, ½ thick, greasy black millipede (I think?) and soon after a bright green grasshopper the size of our chihuahua Libby’s snout (small for a dog… huge for a grasshopper) and wielding them on the ends of sticks, sets them on a flat rock to do battle. (The flat rock was located just outside the RV’s main door, perfect for unloading flashlights, dog bowls and the citronella incense that my husband took one look at and bellowed “Texas bugs are not going to even be fazed by your citronella!” The campsite had several of these perfectly flat rocks situated around the perfectly level concrete hookup site for the RV, as well a several smaller flat rocks situated around the fire pit, an adjustable grill grate inside the pit, a beautiful, landscape-fitting wooden lattice lean-to with an aluminum roof and steel poles to provide shade and rain cover for the clean, sturdy aluminum picnic table. But the pièce de résistance… a wooden outlined, stone filled area that creates a natural drain beneath the water spicket keeping the campsite mud free as we wash our dishes outdoors the next morning. This may all seem unexciting to you if you’re reading this while sitting at your kitchen table, cozied into your bed or relaxing on your couch… but to us, after all these days on the road, spending everything from $30 – $300 for a campsite, most being in the range of $50-$60, and this one being a solid $35, these little details are almost equal to the breathtaking beauty of the canyon itself… one of the reasons we want to make a return trip directly to this same spot… or if this campsite is any indication of the general quality of Texas State Parks, we’d easily spend months of our lives (some day) exploring the state, one park at a time. 

I had been looking forward to this campsite at the bottom of a canyon that no one outside of West Texas has ever heard of (I know this because I talked about it for the rest of the trip and always received a quizzical face… a canyon? In Texas?), more than any other beautiful place I’d researched, planned and reserved. As the sky descended into complete darkness, we finished checking out the immaculately clean bathrooms (except a dead spider hear or there), taking the dogs for a short walk down paths we hoped were not hiding chihuahua eating snakes, playing with large bugs and hooking up the rig to water and electricity (what are these amenities doing at the bottom of a canyon?! Modern civilization is a wonder all it’s own) I follow my daughter up the ladder at the back of the RV and though the moon is bright in the south western sky, the rest of the land is a deep grey. From above the treeline on the RV’s roof (as we drive west the land gets bigger, the temperature hotter and dryer, but the trees get smaller) I see canyon walls completely encircling me, and above the black line of land at the top of the canyon… is sky, everywhere.

I find a spot with my daughter to lay down. We had started looking at the stars during our trek through treacherous dark paths exploring our immediate surroundings, but now, safely on the manmade ground of our mobile home, we can actually lay down and look up. It takes me a moment to adjust, but once I find the big dipper, all the surrounding stars and constellations that I know so well, but haven’t looked at in too many years, reveal themselves to me easily. I point out Cassiopeia, the north star, and I search (and never find, I have to look up why) for the little dipper. My daughter tires of the hard bed on the roof and goes to her inside bed. I get my son to come up and look, but he is too tired to relax and won’t lie down next to me and be still, so I send him to bed as well. Then I am alone. The night gets blacker, more stars come out, the fullness of the sky is carrying me into its mystery and I drift off for a moment. When I wake up, I see a star. I look at this one star, the feeling of familiarity is overwhelming, though I’m not aware of it yet in the liminal state between sleep and wakefulness. Then I see the cross of Cygnus. 

And I remember.

I am 17 years old, deeply in love with my best friend (who fell in love with someone else the following year, ended up marrying her and now has four beautiful children), lying next to him on the grass in the front yard of my childhood home in New Hampshire. Our hands are tightly clenched together in silent, physical acknowledgement of our shared awe and love for the night sky. We find Cygnus, Cassiopeia, Orion, his belt, the big and little dipper, and more I can’t remember now (he was the astronomy nerd – tin foil hat and suit for Halloween and all – I was just his groupie). Watching patiently, knowing that if we keep our eyes fixed on the night sky, every ten minutes or so, we will see a shooting star. Some of them, maybe one or two a sitting, seem to shoot across the whole sky in our vision, from one pine tree lined horizon to the other. One night we decided to pick out stars of our own. He will have his own personal star, and I will have mine. I don’t remember except vaguely which star was his, but I do know mine. My star is found by first finding the the cross of Cygnus, which was always upside down in the summers in New Hampshire, when we had time and comfort to look, and then following the 3 stars of the short line of the cross off to your right (which I believe is East, but really have no idea, and a terrible problem with getting confused and all turned around when it comes to that kind of orientation) and there is a much less bright, and therefore easily hidden, fourth star that is almost exactly in line with the three that are easy to see. 

And there I am, just waking up and my 17 year old, in love for the first time, unrequited and full of passion, self, is lying there with me, in the warm Texas night, at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon, looking up at the stars, remembering the one that is my star, and sobbing.

Day 2-3

Solidly Southern

When it’s five pm and the skin on your back is still sticking to the leather couch, it’s clear that the trip is heating up in more ways than one. 

Picture this, I’m driving, and from the back of the RV comes a panicked voice, “Where’s Samantha?” And quickly from panic to terror, “Where’s Samantha?!” Michael is searching frantically on either cramped side of the bed in the back (I intuit this mostly because my eyes are fixed madly on the road as a brand new sensation of the entire rig pulling to the right has me on edge before the nightmare vision of our dog slipping out a door left open a little too long, and running around lost and miserable from parking lot R to E to J of Nissan Stadium in Nashville… twenty minutes in the rear view by now). 

“She’s been locked in the bathroom?!” he nearly screams…

Now, before I go on with the point of this story, which is to illustrate just how hot this trip is getting, in every sense of the word, I must address the fact that our dog was not discovered missing for at least 20 minutes after we’d hit the road. Since I didn’t grow up with dogs, or have dogs in my 20s or my early 30s, and having never even seen the inside of a working RV until 3 days ago, I was naively in a set of people who blissfully pictured that dogs could just do dog things in an RV, just like home. Sit, sleep, eat, cuddle and play. While googling… (actually, figoogling a term I invented after the RV refrigerator debacle) every inch of RV life that I could think of… I guess I never typed in the simple three words “RVing with Pets” and took the abundance of dog friendly campsites as well as the all around good natured personality of our dogs, and the fact that they regularly spend 6-8 hours together in a crate while we are at Bagel Grove, to mean that we would do just fine taking our pets with us. It was the humans I was worried about. But after about 5 seconds of figoogling out what to do about Samantha’s anxiety while driving, I discovered, duh, that our pets need to seat buckled in just like the rest of our irreplaceable family members. I promise, especially to anyone who has already picked up their phone and started figoogling out how to get the local authorities to track us down and take away our doggies under charges of pet abuse… we are stopping at a Walmart in the morning and getting a seat belt harness for Samantha and Libby. I could not be more sorry for my oversight.

Still driving, I’m in shock, the kids are silent at the mercy of their father’s/step-father’s rage as he spits out “bunch of zombies.” This insult, even though it was clearly a meaningless discharge from an incredibly stressful situation, winds me up almost immediately to a point of tension where minor wars are declared. So to help the situation, because that’s what I was born to do, I yell back, “Why can’t you realize we made a mistake and stop yelling at everyone!” Which gives me the exact same feeling you get when you are fed up with your toddler and you finally snap at them and literally scream the most ironic statement known to motherhood, “you don’t get your way by screaming!” 

Yeah, that kind of hot.

My husband and I are like fire and, well, to be honest, more fire. Stubborn, opinionated, sensitive and deeply concerned with what we believe is right. It takes a fair amount of strong talk before we reach a homeostasis of togetherness and forward momentum. Mind you, I love this man more than anyone on this planet that I didn’t give birth to. That’s really the heart of the problem. Too much goddamn heat!

And the temperature outside is rising as well.

As we drive towards Memphis, and with my battery power on 3%, I’m scanning with google street view to see if we can park our RV near mud island dog park RIGHT ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER (geez, never knew how good it would feel to finally, at age 40, have it come in handy to be able to spell that word… but then spell check actually just reminded me that I forgot the second P, which is what happens when you get excited that you know something and then mess it up over your excitement). No one else probably wants to stop, but it will be 6pm, and I feel that the road trip gods are definitely smiling on my perfect picnic by the mississippi (got it right the first time, this time, except that I didn’t capitalize the M, but I actually like it that way at the moment, so I’m keeping it). So stop we will.

As far as travel blogs go… I must admit, this is failing pretty hard at the travel + blog part. Because last you knew I was pulling out of our driveway in upstate NY, and as far as I know the only Memphis on the mississippi (that word is mine now.) river is leaving out a whole lotta stuff in between. Well, there’s a couple reasons for that. One, is that at merely day 3, the novelty of the RV, and specifically spending about 47 of the last 84 hours with all 7 of us (that’s 5 with 2 legs and 2 with 4 legs, which if you do the math is approximately .38 legs per hour, but an ever increasing amount of hours per leg) inside the RV, means that’s what I’ve got to write about. Secondly, when I’ve got time to write, its while we’re driving between “rest for the weary” and “fun in the sun”, so hashtag rvlife is what bubbles to the fingertips. So as the next place of rest is on the horizon, I’ll give you some pictures of what our life is like south of mason dixon line… (chronological order attempted here)

After hours and hours of Pennsylvania rolling hills, bespotted with outlet malls and billboards for gentlemen’s clubs (I wen’t to college in Philadelphia as well as growing up driving down to visit my father’s family in Virginia, so this stretch of highway is well known to me, and not the least beloved) we finally crossed into dixie and the 3rd state of the trip, Maryland welcomes you but it quickly runs off to the east and kicks you into West Virginia, and you feel you are making amazing time, a whole state in 30 minutes, and just as you’re figuring out how West Virginia ended up all the way over in what firmly feels like East Coast territory, you’ve clocked yet another state, and the whole lovin’ state of Virginia has you in it’s mountains for the next 5 hours.

As we near the Tennessee border I get a phone call from the RV park we are staying at that night. And while it’s fine if we roll in past midnight, because a little envelope with our name on it will be waiting just outside the office door (best RV park in Pigeon Forge, if you ever need a recommendation) the rain (did I forget to mention it was raining for about 12 out of the 15 hours that first day) has them a little concerned about the creek. (where I’d romantically chosen to spend our first night) flooding. So picture a boat in a flood… and now picture that boat filling up with water… Thank you Pigeon Forge RV Resort for your caution! So she was moving us to spot “F as in Frank and the number 6, yes ma’am that’s F as in Frank an the number 6, yes ma’am.” Now… if you want the full effect of that line, start by saying Tinniseeee, with as much Dolly Parton smile and twang as you can, and then roll right on into “F as in Frank and the number 6…” Welcome to the South kids!

As we enter Tennessee I discover (on my phone’s google map) that we are near the junctions of Virginia and North Carolina. And because Tennessee’s shaped like a dachshund (yeah, a leggless and headless one) Georgia isn’t too far away, and even South Carolina feels like a simple day trip. So if you’re from one of those places, then you probably know Pigeon Forge Tennessee has a reputation. But let me tell you it was way more fun to drive into this land at the foot of the great Smoky Mountains, at night, and have no idea what was coming. Picture you’re an alien, and you land somewhere in the desert driving through Nevada having no idea what Las Vegas is. Now cross that with the local, held together with tape and gum “kidz fun zone” in your town, and you may begin to get a picture of Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge Tennessee. We see indoor water slide parks the size of a small mall, outdoor waterslide parks with slides the color of skittles, outdoor roller coasters lit up with a string of lights (which in the daylight we saw are built along the side of the mountains so that your are careening over mountain ledges as part of the ride), a house the size of the white house built upside down and off kilter holding a museum sized Wonderworks engineered to expand the minds of unsuspecting children, an almost life size Tiitanic reproduction, large clubs advertising slapstick comedy dinner theater, Bible dinner theater, and musical theater comedy that tells their stories backwards (made that up), then more water parks, more roller coasters, the largest knife store on earth, a museum of cowboy boots, and on and on for miles. And that’s just the miles of road that lead up to the city’s main draw, DOLLYWOOD.

At Dollywood I learn an important lesson, taught to me in part by my desperately begging daughter. Seize the moment, it may not come again. And another one, don’t let fear be your guide. A roller coaster called “Wild Eagle” that I’d watched a POV video on YouTube seemed to me one of the most uniquely built roller coasters on planet earth. Designed with two branches of seats spread on either side of the track (kind of like Eagle’s wings), your feet are dangling, and it has careening twists and playful loops that make you feel (I hear) that you are as free and wild as an eagle soaring above the entire park. I wanted to go on this roller coaster more than any of the 10 or so that all looked unique and fun and thrilling… except for one birdlike feature at its origin… the nosedive. When the time comes to go with everyone, my son backs out, my step son isn’t even considering it, my husband says “sure, sounds fun” and my daughter is jumping around on tiptoes ready to take flight herself out of excitement. It is down to me, and just when the moment I’ve been looking forward to arrives, I lose my nerve. I back out. I say, “I can’t do it, maybe next time…” Even though I know I would have loved it. After getting off the roller coaster called the Tennessee Tornado earlier in the day, I was hooping and hollering, loving the feeling of weightlessness during the loops, the thrill of the twists, and the joy of overcoming my fear of the drops. But I panic, I forget how to be brave. And as the day goes on, before I have worked up my nerve to experience this coaster with my daughter (who is begging me even harder after she’s experienced it and knows how much fun it is)… the park is closing, we dash to the final (wooden) roller coaster on our list, only to find the rope drawn across the entrance saying “ride closed.”  Our only option is the long trolly ride “home.” (which takes even longer because we follow a sign after exiting the park that says “trolley this way” which leads us with a group of other folks heading to the parking lots. After walking the length of 4 or 5 parking lots we stop one of the tram drivers who is bringing people to their cars, and ask them where the trolley stop is… only to find the trolley stop was way back past where we’d started. So if you are ever exiting Dollywood, and you need to take a trolley home, don’t follow the signs, they make no sense. Find someone that isn’t a tourist, or fight your way back into the park to find a park employee, and just ask where the trolley picks up.)

Day three is another one spent mostly staring at multiple versions of the same thing for hours on end, the road, a book, a phone, this computer screen, and for bits and pieces, out the window. Not a whole lot to catch our attention as far as Tennessee highway scenery once we leave the breathtaking Smoky Mountains. But we do stop in Nashville for lunch at a tourist destination, Hattie B’s, for Tennessee Hot Chicken. Our international basketball playing, motorcycle riding, world traveling uber driver tells us that he doesn’t think Hattie B’s is the best hot chicken, and not worth the 30 – 40 minute wait… but when we see a line out the door of only about 8 or 9 groups deep, we are pleasantly surprised. A few southern sides, chicken bones and breasts and all manner of spice levels from mild all the way to “shut the cluck up” (which we order on 1 tender just to try it) we are feeling very pro Nashville. But our opinion is sealed, (and we begin to sense that the road-trip gods have started to open up and pour upon us their blessings), while walking back to the RV (we decided the $20 Uber ride from the stadium where we’d found a city spot to park an RV was not something we needed to repeat and that we could handle a dozen or more city blocks and a lovely pedestrian bridge across the Cumberland River) we head down Broadway. Immediately we are serenaded on every side by live country music acts pouring out of the open windows of loaded bar after overflowing bar after bar, for 3 straight blocks. (At 2pm on a Thursday?!). There is also a group of women, about 20 of them, moving slowly down the street to our right on a sort of party bus that is shaped like a bar on wheels and powered by everyone peddling. (My 13 year old daughter was mesmerized and convinced this was the coolest way to spend an afternoon with your 20 closest friends… She nodded emphatically when I asked if that’s what she wants to do for her 21st birthday. Lord I hope she changes her mind when she gets there…) Music is all around. And even with none of us fans of country music, we can’t help smiling, laughing, snapping pictures and being completely caught up in the dumb spirited life of it all.

Back in the car we make our way through Tennessee, stop in Memphis (my dog park picnic on the Mississippi is ruined by rain, even though we stop, we immediately get back on the highway, which is only saved by the curious appearance of pyramid to our left, which my 12 year old son recognizes immediately as the 9th largest pyramid in the world (he knows so much random shit)… which is now a Bass Pro Shop. Weirdest thing ever), then cross the great Mississippi (last time I will write this until the way home I’m sure) and head towards Hot Springs National park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We drive through Little Rock in the dark, so I can’t tell you a thing about that city… and arrive at the national park and the campground at Gulpha’s Gorge about 9:30pm. Turning in for the night, I close my eyes to the sounds of country, not the music… the thing itself.

Day 1

Ehem… Yes, We’re RVers

Nothing like rainy day welcome to life on the road

Aaaaaaand… we’re off! After finally, finally falling into bed just after 2am this morning.

This first time RV co-pilot, and brand new RV rental recipient, was up so late because the long awaited for trip had arrived, the RV successfully steered into our driveway ready to be nested (yes, all verbs can be turned into adjectives when you’re tired enough), and I was at its mercy trouble-shooting an RV fridge, which is not like any fridge you (unless you are an RV veteran) or I, have ever seen. I was nursing a sore back for having lugged (alone, all other family members being in bed) 20+ loads of supplies, food, linens and toiletries into and packed every nook and cranny, with after midnight logistical problem solving skills, and packed the hobbit-of-the-shire sized fridge so full that all food would after the packing, emerge perfectly square.

Nervous, excited, and staring at the blinking orange light on the fridge door that said “check gas if blinking.”

I quickly found the exact problem and how to solve it on a RV forum online, and went through all the steps, only to find the light still blinking, and now being too tired to go any further, the car running to charge the battery, the stove burning to dispel any air in the lines and the AC off to divert all One hundred and Twenty measly volts of electricity from our back yard’s extension cord to the RV, I faced the fact that I was going to have to now unload the blessed fridge… and figure it out in the morning.

My back, my aching back.

And for the first time since January when we decided this was the year to finally do our cross country trip, for the first time since March when I picked out and reserved the RV, for the first time since April when I began planning the route, for the first time since May when I began making deposits on state park hook-up campsites (not that kind of hook-up silly) and deluxe pull through and budget back-in spots in RV resorts, for the first time since June when I realized the worst possible (likely) thing that could happen was that no one would have fun, and I wouldn’t win mom of the year, and I’d decided I could survive that and stopped worrying about the trip at night, for the first time since July when I’d changed the reservation yet one more time to accommodate the newly released information that Dollywood, our first official destination, was closed on the day we were arranged to be there, for the first time since August when I ran the budget numbers one more time and ensured we could afford not only the trip, but the break in income for closing down the Bagel Grove (while still paying everybody), for the first time since last night when we’d met the RV owner and been handed the keys to this adorable and quirky 2006 (ancient in other words) 31 foot home on wheels… I thought to myself,

“This is a terrible idea.”

I had hurt my back in a 40 year old creaky body sort of a way a few weeks ago while single-handedly (while my husband was at work lifting 200 lbs loads of bagel dough, so I am NOT complaining) ripping up the wall to wall carpet in my son’s bedroom while he was away for the weekend as an early birthday present to him (the dog’s were house trained on that carpet maybe just one too many times… which is why your kids should listen when you say to them “keep your door shut so the dogs don’t go in there”).

And as I sat looking at the blinking orange light, and the trouble shooting advice on my phone screen that said “the refrigeration unit isn’t running if…” and the 2 weeks worth of refrigerated goodies meticulously packed, and not so meticulously hauled by the crate full out one screen door (SLAM… I hope no one wakes up) through another screen door (Fast Annie before any bugs get in) and up 3 rubber steps that take you from driveway to home (up in the same airspace where truck drivers live, for whom I now have a respect that I feel nothing but guilt for gaining so late in life… you cars, you cars do NOT KNOW HOW TO DRIVE ON THE HIGHWAY, because you only learn how to drive on the highway when you’re steering a until that can simultaneously kill you, the five cars passing you 3 inches from your god given lane, a mile of guard rail and about fifty trees in one miscalculation)

I decided it was time to cry for help.

So I woke up my husband who at my instruction was sleeping soundly to prepare for the lion’s share of the following day’s 13 hours worth of driving (a sacrifice we had to make in order to still fit Dollywood tickets into our agenda). And wouldn’t you know it? The AC had been off for long enough that the RV’s battery, still not sure which one.. are there two different batteries? or just the battery and the generator, and one runs this if you do that, and the other draws from that if you do this (I will be a licensed electrician in some lawless southern state by the time I am finished with this trip), had recharged and when he switched the fridge power source from “gas” to “auto’ he pointed and said, “look, working,” and went back to bed. (Let me try to explain a little, the problem of the blinking light first appeared while the unit was on auto, and my online forum gave specific instructions to fix this or that, then start the fridge on gas, ie propane for those of you who are fuel source confused, and once it was working on gas, switch back to auto… I never got past “working on gas”).

I stayed up for another hour or so, running a few more items I’d said I’d leave till the morning, but now had too much adrenaline to ignore. I believe I fell asleep at 2:20am. I KNOW I woke up at 4:50am this morning (we are on day 1 as I write) and said to myself “what the hell” and got up, made coffee and finished my to do list long before anyone else even peeped (except my 15 year old step son who is one of those people who, when something is planned for “today”, will not be at peace sitting around for more than 10 minutes until the planned thing has started happening, and will keep sort of pacing and looking at you wondering “what you are WAITING for to get STARTED?!” My grandmother was this way. She would have gotten us to a dinner reservation 3 hours early if we’d let her. I find it very endearing). But the rest of the bunch was still enjoying the bliss of their own beds for the last time… Next up was my 12 year old, who hits the ground running, and was promptly given enough little jobs to keep his heiney in gear all morning, and then I decided it was time to rouse the royal driver (my husband) and get this motor-show on the literal road

Bagel-ing in the age of COVID

Yesterday started out like any other day…

There are five of us who open the shop together every day: a baker, a dough maker, a couple on the prep line, and someone to take care of the register.

We were keeping busy with prep work, filling orders and greeting the steady line of early risers coming in our doors.

The day was grey and rainy outside… but peaceful.

I’ll spare you ALL the details, but it went south quickly.

A group of somewhat rowdy men started to gather in the lunchroom. Their cohort had soon outgrown the ability to fit in the booth… and still no one had ordered anything.

One of our employees came out from the back to fix her coffee. The employee had chosen to wear her “Black Lives Matter” T-Shirt to work. She is fully supported in that choice. 

Immediately, the rowdy group of men reacted. Complaints and comments and a scuffle with our staff over mask wearing ensued.

In the end, we asked the men to leave and find somewhere else to gather.

Now why am I telling you this?

The whole ordeal made me feel one thing.

It made me incredibly thankful for the overwhelming majority of our customers who not only love our bagels but also appreciate how we do business.

These have been hard times for all of us.

But we have such an awesome community of customers.  And because of you, we are still here, doing what we do best.

You really make it all worth it

Welcome to 3am at Bagel Grove

When seventy-two perfectly browned, shiny on the outside, promising soft, steaming, chewy crumb on the inside, bagels arrive at the open door of our rotating bagel oven, 

It’s like winning a prize.

We pull ourselves out of bed at 1:30 and into a cold shop to bake the day’s bagels… Once the oven is full to capacity with boiled, bagel shaped lumps of dough (that’s 36 dozen), it’s finally time for the first bagels of the morning to start coming out. 

Look at these beauties!

Once that first shelf of bagels is out of the oven, every 3 minutes another batch of hot, browned bagels will arrive finished at the oven door. And it goes on like that for the next 2 hours. The task of baking bagels involves facing a 460 degree oven, keeping up the pace, and taking care not to under or over-bake, miss any seeds, or drop even one precious bagel. And when this hot and precise process is finished… breakfast is served!

Back in what I’ll call “the glory days” of Bagel Grove (was that just 2 months ago??!), we repeated the process that I just described, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. We had a staff of 20 people taking the bagels from their humble beginnings as a bag of flour… to dressing them up with fancy cream cheese and farm fresh eggs.  But for now, access to these delectable bagels is pretty exclusive.

When you order, you’re getting bagels made the old fashioned way, baked in the wee hours of the morning, and delivered to your door only hours later.  But there’s more to it. When you get your dozen bagels delivered on a Friday or Saturday morning, you’re not only receiving an artisan, fresh product… You’re helping to preserve a tradition.

Thank you for supporting us through your orders, your kind feedback and your patience!

Can someone please explain why?

No… I can’t explain why the world has turned upside down, or why all this time at home has only increases your to-do list (and made it harder than ever to get through it), or why the internet starts acting like it’s 1991 at about 4:45 every afternoon… (Well, actually that one I can explain, it seems streaming Netflix is the new happy hour.)

But I specifically wanted to explain to our loyal and devoted customers why Bagel Grove bagels are in such scarce supply.

Many of you only ever saw the retail side of the Bagel Grove. Many of you were used to coming in for your bagel sandwich, or grabbing a dozen for the office or standing in line on a busy Sunday morning. What surprises most people, is that the majority of our bagels were baked and out the door before our retail store was even open! We used to have a booming wholesale business. Our bagels were in the cafeterias of dozens of local companies, coffee shops and all the local Colleges and Universities.  But as all the students and workers were sent home in mid-March, our bagels were no longer needed… and the wholesale business went instantly into hibernation.

Additionally, as with many restaurants, the shut down has many fewer customers out and about, and we felt that pinch as for sure.  So, we’ve worked hard to pivot the business to delivery, and shrinking our operation to bare minimum is hopefully only temporary. 

We are encouraged by our customers and the influx of orders for our dozen delivered. 

We will continue to keep those bagels coming as often as we can.

Welcome to Bagel Grove

Utica’s Original Bagel. For over 30 years we’ve been having fun and changing it up when we need to… all while making and baking the most delicious bagels and serving the most delectable toppings! Read more to get a sort of behind the scenes look at what’s going on with the bagels and the folks that make ’em!