From Joe: Lori has asked me to write a portion of the blog based on my experiences. The only way I can do that is to go back to Arkansas from the beginning. Before we started this trip, we had made plans years in advance of something we wanted to do but weren’t sure how to do it. We gave this a lot of thought and were gonna start our journey when Lori reached the age of 63. I had already been retired for two years. You don’t realize until it happens that things start changing in your life. You start realizing that life is a little more precious than you once thought it was years ago. Every year, we went through the same routine, Lori would become sick at the end of the year. I had just gone through cancer and was not expected to live. Doctors said I surely would not live past 10 years. Upon leaving Arkansas in April, many of our friends asked if we were in fact dying. They didn’t want to put it bluntly, but they had to ask. So, we had to reassure them and ourselves also that this is something we have been planning to do. So we took it upon ourselves to set out this time in our lives instead of waiting for a date that we may never reach. I had my last checkup with my cancer doctor right before Lori went to the hospital again for her illness. My doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Another thing that I would like to mention is that there is always a point in your life where you are concerned about the future. Lori is concerned that she has dementia or Alzheimer’s because she can’t remember things. I have to remind her constantly of things and have to restate them again and again and again. For those that have never seen the movie “The Notebook”, I suggest that you see it. It is very profound and will make a huge difference in how you perceive these updates as we travel. So with all that in mind, we took off April 1. We decided to go up north, so that I could show Lori a place that I had seen when I was younger and have talked about it over and over. A place called House on the Rock in Wisconsin. We staying in Wisconsin for a full month, seeing the sights, drove all over the countryside and took in as much as we could. From there, we were going to head north up to Canada, but the weather took a turn for the worse and we headed west to Revillo, South Dakota. A small town where I grew up and had big dreams, childhood dreams. I wanted to relive part of that past. When I got there, my joy and excitement soon disappeared and was left with huge disappointment. The town I grew up in that was bigger than life, and the people I knew, were gone. I did happen to reconnect with a childhood sweetheart and she was still just as beautiful as when she was a child. After I realized there was nothing there for me, it was time to move on. We continued across the state of South Dakota, but there were things that were starting to bother Lori and myself. Couldn’t quite put our finger on it, but we knew something was changing. We’d go from one town to another taking pictures of all the sights we could take in, seeing the architecture of the old buildings, and the land. When we finally got to Hot Springs, South Dakota, and took in as much as we could there, we decided to head south to Nebraska. As soon as we hit the Nebraska state line and we looked out across the plains, we realized that what what was bothering us so much was coming to a head. No one knows their time. No one knows how many days they have or what lies around the next corner. Lori and I have been given an opportunity to travel the country and we take each day as it is given to us. We prayed about it, consulted God about it and talked with friends and we asked that we get at least two years. That’s all were looking for is just two years. More if appropriate and if things work out right, but two years is the minimum. As we are going down that Nebraska highway, looking out across the land, we realize death is following us all around. With Lori’s condition, my condition, we realize how short our life really is. For those people that never get a chance to do these things, we wanted to share some of our experiences so that they may experience them also. We don’t know our days. We only know that we have this moment and this time. I don’t want to go on and on about our experiences, but as we looked out across the northern Nebraska skyline, seeing the fields and the mountains and the rolling hills, we think of a song, “America the Beautiful.” One of the tragedies we have seen along the way is the death of the country. The small towns that were once huge in the lives and minds of all those children growing up there and a lot of those adults, they are diminishing. Going away, never to return. Take the time. Go out and look for yourself. Don’t rely on other people. Find these things for yourself and see them before they’re gone. You may never get another chance. Write your own “Notebook.” Check this video out: The Notebook.
America the Beautiful
O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed His grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet, Whose stern, impassioned stress A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed His grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!
After leaving Hot Springs, South Dakota we headed south on Hwy 385. Entering Red Cloud National Forest in Nebraska, the landscape was like a scene out of the 1960’s TV show, Bonanza. It made me just stop and soak in the beauty. The wide-open spaces of the prairie with the lush green and amber fields across the horizon were awe inspiring. I’m sure this is the place Katharine Lee Bates was describing when she wrote “America the Beautiful.”
And as we were tooling down the highway in Nebraska, just soaking in the scenery, out of the blue a cat just casually strolled across the road and Joe had to slam on his breaks. It scared the living daylights outta me! Darn cat! Didn’t even phase him at all!
We had some pretty fierce 16mph cross winds coming across the plains, so this put a damper on our gas mileage. We normally get about 15mpg, but these winds put us down to about 11.5mpg. We’ve never really noticed before this trip, but it’s amazing the impact of a 19.5′ camper on your mileage. Now we are very well aware of the hills and wind.
We spent a few nights in Elm Creek, Nebraska. The first night we were there, we ate at a little truckstop diner just down the road in Overton called Taste of India. Joe had goat curry and I had lamb curry. The food was so good, we went back the next night. Mmmm!
The first morning, we went over to Kearney, Nebraska to see the Archway. We had seen the Archway several years ago, but wanted to see it again. According to their website: “For over 200 years, the path along the Platte River through Nebraska, once called the Great Platte River Road, has been a road to adventure. From the Oregon Trail era through today, the Archway’s family friendly historical exhibit tells the story of those who followed the Great Platte River Road and helped to build America.” This is a very informative and moving display of our American heritage. A must-see for your whole family!
As we were leaving the Archway and heading to our car, we met an older man that was just arriving….arriving by motorcycle. He had been traveling across the country by himself for several years. His bike was loaded with everything from tent, rake and a flyswatter. Pretty interesting guy enjoying his later years.
On our way back to the RV park, we discovered the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles (HMMV) in Lexington. This museum is run by volunteers and funded by donations. The museum has about 100 vehicles including helicopters, tanks, half-tracks, ambulances, and a jeep from every branch of the service plus displays of weapons, uniforms, engines, equipment, and more. The everyday necessities of a soldier’s life, such as MREs, blend with unique vehicles like those used by the German army in World War II. This hands-on museum invites you to see, touch, and even sit in vehicles that have been restored and, for the most part, are operational. Vehicles date from World War II but displays include items from World War I as well. The guys running the show were Veterans of the Korea War, WWII and Vietnam. The oldest guy was in his 80’s and was out mowing the yard as we were leaving. Very cool place.
As soon as we left Elm Creek, Nebraska, we stopped at the Nebraska Prairie Museum in Holdrege, just 15 miles or so south. Micah Huyser is the Director and just 24 years old! He is awesome. And the folks working there just rave about his abilities. This museum is a great treasure! We spent 2 hours walking through the exhibits and ooohing and aaahing at all the neat stuff inside. You’d never know by looking at the outside of this building that it is enormous inside! It is an incredible display of history, but not just of the Nebraska area, of the United States. Pictures can’t do it justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. There is also an original one-room schoolhouse, Lutheran church, home on the grounds. Very interesting to see. There was also a large display inside highlighting the POW camp in Atlanta, Nebraska that held German prisoners during WWII. I had NO idea there was a POW camp here! Wow! They even had one of the guard towers from the camp out in front of the museum. It was a very moving display. While we were there, Brian Gnuse, a journalist for NTV News and an ABC affiliate, was doing a segment on the trains at the museum. He interviewed Joe and I and I’ll share the full segment with you as soon as it’s available.
On our way through Kansas, we stopped in Kingsley at the Edwards County Sod House and Museum. We were met by a very charming lady, Julie Miller. We learned that Julie was a volunteer that ran the place by herself most of the time. She walked us through the large room of donated memorabilia, telling where the items cam from and also explaining what some of the items were. Her knowledge of the items was quite impressive. What a valuable resources she is to the museum. We walked through the sod house and checked out the train engine that was out in the front yard. Joe even schooled me on all the mechanics of the engine. He’s so dang smart!
Going South down Hwy 138, we stopped for gas at a station in the small town of Coldwater, Kansas and asked the regulars hanging out inside about a good place to eat. The overwhelming consensus of was Dave’s Pizza Oven just a block up the street. So we pulled our camper across the street in a vacant lot and walked up for lunch. It was not your normal pizza place. It was set up buffet-style with an assortment of pizzas under the warming lights and a salad bar next to it. We inquired about a veggie pizza and they were happy to oblige and started making it fresh for us. We helped ourselves to the salad bar and dug in. While waiting on the veggie pie, we chowed down on a “scorcher” that consisted of jalapenos and hamburger. We were getting pretty full, so we asked them to box up the veggie pie and we’d take it with us. That was gonna be dinner. Just as we were down to our last bite, Dave, the owner, pulled a cherry pie pizza outta the oven. Of course, we had to have a slice. And boy, was it yummy! We did find out from Dave, that they make their pizza crust fresh every morning. The service and food were out of this world! We told Dave that we were traveling the US and he mentioned that there was great camping just outside of town at the Coldwater Lake. Definitely something to consider when we come through this way again. And the pie we saved for dinner, well, it was devoured and enjoyed immensely.
One thing we’ve noticed in our travels so far is that almost every town, even the smallest like Revillo, South Dakota with 117 folks, have a Veteran’s Memorial. The patriotism of these towns is amazing. The US flags hanging from poles in front of houses and along the downtown streets. So humbling to see.
We arrived yesterday at Bobcat Creek RV Park in Sayre, Oklahoma. Very nice place, owned by Lauren. He was very accommodating and gave us a great military discount. We’ll be staying here a few day before heading back to Little Rock, Arkanasas for my birthday.
Last night we visited with Joe’s brother, Bobby Armstrong, and his wife, Amber, who live here in Sayre. It was great to see them and catch up on all the news of his family. We’ll get to visit a bit more over the next few days.
Lately, Joe and I have been listening to channel 5 on Sirius radio: 50’s on 5. As we listen to these oldies of my mother’s youth, I chuckle at the song lyrics and hear my mother in my head asking what the gibberish was we were listening to in the 70’s. Heck, the lyrics from the 50’s are just as goofy as some of the songs kids listen to now. LOL!
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid on a road trip, I used to count telephone poles. Now, it’s not so fun. Do you have any idea how many telephone poles we’ve passed on Hwy 138 south through Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma? It seemed like 10,000! More than I care to count. Other road games I used to play as a kid was finding all the state license plates, finding the alphabet in billboards, counting semis and finding all the “red” vehicles. Of course, no road trip was complete without singing songs, either along with the radio or just little ditties from days gone by. What did you do to pass the time on road trips?
In case you’re thinking about retirement, it’s not easy….at least not for me. Retirement mode is hard. It’s not easy to just stop being OCD and relax. Relaxing takes time and effort….and a lot of patience on Joe’s side. Remember that you don’t have to have a laid-out plan of action for each day. You CAN fly by the seat of your pants and it won’t kill you. It may stress you out for a few months, but you will get over it…or at least that’s my goal. And luckily, Joe has not left me on the side of the road yet. LOL! 🙂
If you have never been to South Dakota, you are missing out. From Revillo on the eastern border to Hot Springs on the west, this state has some of the most beautiful country EVER! From millions of prairie dogs, buffalo grazing on the side of the road, country roads that go on for miles, herds of deer along the roads, mountains that will knock you’re socks off and cows at every turn, God has certainly created a bit of Heaven here in South Dakota.
Remember years ago when everyone saved Greenback Stamps? Well, in Mitchell, they have the equivalent. They can be redeemed for merchandise in the store or at the gas pump. Pretty cool.
One thing I forgot to mention a few months back, Joe and I made our own bar soap before we left Arkansas. It took about 30 minutes to make, a month to set up and then we cut it into bars. The soap makes your skin SOOO soft too! Let me know if you want the recipe and I’ll email it to you.
Right after we arrived at Angostura State Recreation Area and set up camp Monday, we took the pups for a walk up the hill behind our campsite to check out the view of the lake. Abigail was off her leash (she usually stays near us and comes when called) and Agnes was on her leash followed by Joe (she is not quite as obedient as Abigail). Well, Agnes saw a herd of deer, yanked her leash out of Joe’s hands and took off like a speeding bullet. Abigail joined suit. They were GONE! Joe followed on foot to round them up and I went back to get the car. I got the car and went up the road to locate the girls, but they were still following the deer across the road about a mile away. I went back to the campsite to see if Abigail was there and there she was, just sitting there waiting on me. She always comes back. 🙂 Well, she jumped in the car and we took off to find Joe and Agnes. By the time I got back up to where Joe was…..maybe 1 minute away….Joe had finally rounded up Agnes and we loaded her in the car and returned to the campsite. And did I mention that it was wet from several days of rain and snow? So guess what that meant? Wet, muddy, stinky dogs! Ugh!! I love my dogs, but I cannot stand a stinky dog. So as soon as we got back, Joe had to give them a bath. Needless to say, they were both grounded the rest of the day. The next morning, when the herd of deer were outside the camper, the girls were stuck on their tethers and could just bark and drool from a distance. LOL!
Just in case you were wondering, bicycles don’t go to Heaven, they go to Pringle, South Dakota.
I’ll write more later, but wanted to share some photos and videos from this week.
Because of the extreme weather conditions up north, we rerouted our travels west which led us to Revillo, South Dakota, grand population of 107. Why would we travel to this small, small town, you say? Well, Revillo is where Joe grew up and then moved from to Little Rock, Arkansas when he was 12. When he was a kid, he thought Revillo was this huge city…..a gigantic playground of fields, bridges, creeks, trees, dirt roads, bicycling, horseback riding and tons of friends. But as we grow older, we all realize that our childhood perspectives are out of whack. This town that was bustling with activity 50 years ago is now a desolate memory of days gone by. There are only a few business left in town: farmers grain elevator, Watering Can Cafe, Charlie’s Bar, Schmieding’s Garage, US Post Office, beauty shop, health center, volunteer fire department, community center, K-12 school that closed in 2017, Lutheran church, Catholic church and Trinity Lutheran church. The only paved road is the main drag, with all others still gravel. The perfect place to raise a family if you didn’t have to work, as there were very limited opportunities.
On our way to Revillo, Joe called the postmaster, an old grade school friend, Yvette Johnson, to find out if there was a place to park our camper for a few nights. She suggested we park behind the old school.
As soon as we arrived in town, we went by Schmieding’s Garage to ask about camping at the school and he agreed that the school would be a good place to camp. While there, we ran into a guy that Joe new from school that was on his way out and he knew who we were immediately. Apparently the Postmaster told everyone in town that we were arriving. LOL! The garage also has a small bar and we visited with the owner and the only patron and caught up on stuff that has happened in the past 50 years.
While we were exploring the town, Joe showed me the location of his first home that used to be the school built in 1901. After years of neglect, the building was torn down. Here is what it looked like:
After his mom and dad divorced, mom and the kids moved in the house across the street. It is now tired and run-down and desperately in need of a major renovation or maybe just a bulldozer. Time has not been kind to this home. Check out the photos below.
We wandered over to the Watering Can Cafe to get some lunch and was greeted warmly by the owner, cook, server and dishwasher, Shelly Ruth Schafer. She runs a really nice place. The lunch special was chicken Alfredo that day and boy was it yummy! It was so good that we returned the next day for tater tot casserole! MMMM!
When we stopped in at Schmieding’s Garage again, the owner mentioned that it was Tuesday Pie Day at the community center. You don’t need to tell me twice! We headed straight to the community center for pie. When we arrived, there were several older women in the kitchen with lots of leftover pie. They had already began to shut down, but were very happy to accommodate us. Joe asked who’s pie was the best and one lady said “they are all good.” HA! What a diplomat! There was no rhubarb left, so we chose a blueberry and a cherry pie and were given a hot mug of coffee to wash them down. Apparently you have to be first in line to get rhubarb. We visited with the ladies for a while and some knew Joe’s family. Small world. Great pie and great company.
One thing we wanted to do while we were in Revillo was find the grave of Joe’s dad, George Arthur Moen. I found the details below online. We visited all the surrounding cemeteries and found no headstone or marker for him. On the suggestion of another old school friend, we went to the funeral home in Milbank for assistance, as they would have done the services for the Revillo area. They kindly obliged and searched their records to no avail. So, that was a bummer. We did find several other family members of Joe’s dad that were buried there, the Buntings, Schultz’, Mogard’s and another Moen.
Before heading out to South Dakota, we contacted an old grade-school sweetheart of Joe’s, Darcy Dahlgren. She gave us the low-down on some other old friends and changes in town since Joe left. She also sent some yearbook pictures of their 5th grade class and a random one of Joe. Darcy is now the manager of the Grainery Cafe in Watertown, so we visited her there for breakfast one morning. It was so nice to meet her and talk more about the “good ole days.” Joe describes her as ageless. And she is very kind, considerate and welcoming. Darcy has raised 3 sons and has worked at the Grainery Cafe for 32 years!! Kudos to her dedication! Hopefully we’ll meet up with her one day soon.
After breakfast at the Grainery Cafe, we went down the street to WW Tire Service Inc to get new tires for the Sedona. They had what we needed in stock and immediately took our car in the bay. They were quick too. We were out of there in under an hour. Great service!
After lunch at the Watering Can Cafe, we walked across the street to the Grant-Deuel Wildcats Museum, a small building housing all the memorabilia of the now-closed school. We found all the yearbooks and class photos from when Joe and his siblings attended. Some of the photos we found are below.
The second night we were in town, we stopped by Charlie’s Bar and Joe introduced me to a South Dakota beer, Grain Belt. Not bad stuff, so I had another. While we were there, we ran into another old friend of Joe’s, Stan. Stan bought me another beer, which is one beer over my limit. We visited with him and Charlie for quite a while and got caught up on other Revillo news and days gone by. Very nice evening.
It rained the entire time we were in Revillo. Dark, dismal and wet. We headed for Mitchell, South Dakota Wednesday afternoon and are now in the KOA just east of the city.
While in Mitchell, we checked out the Corn Palace. We have seen it before the outside is redesigned every year, so we wanted to see the latest mural. According to their website: “During the summer months the Corn Palace offers free guided tours led by friendly guides full of “a-maize-ing” facts, like how many nails and staples are used in the decoration process. The tour also features an outstanding video explaining the Corn Palace Story. After the tour you can view displays about the Corn Palace, how the murals are created, souvenirs and entertainment from the past, and how the corn is grown.” Very interesting place. Your whole family would enjoy this place.
Another place we visited was the Mitchel Prehistoric Indian Village. It is “A national historic landmark and the only archaeological site that is open to the public in South Dakota.” Pretty interesting place.
We have two campers parked next to us: Laurriee and Jimmy, and her mom and dad Sherry and Bill in the camper next to them. Laurriee and Jimmy are in a 70s, 80s and 90s rock band called Jade Monkey. Pretty good music! You can check them out here. Yesterday, while we were out walking the dogs, Joe asked Sherry why such a young woman was using a walker. Sherry said that she was just diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer in her hip. She broke down and Joe shared his cancer story with her. We can all agree that cancer sucks, but by the grace of God, Joe is 11 years cancer free this month! WHOOHOO!
There are REAL deer here and not those Great Dane-sized ones that roam around Arkansas. These are REAL dear!
Ring-necked pheasants and turkey are everywhere from Wisconsin west to South Dakota and they are not afraid of anything…..not even a car. They will saunter across the road like they owned it and take their sweet time doing it. I have never seen more in my life!
Prairie dogs are everywhere also. Abigail and Agnes would have a blast digging them out. Just saying.
Have you noticed the pepper flakes that restaurants put in their shakers? They put coarse-ground pepper in a shaker with tiny holes. Why? Why can’t they just use fine-ground pepper in their shakers or use shakers with larger holes. Just, why?
The whole time I have been writing this morning, Joe has washed 2 loads of clothes, hung them up on the clothes line and then scrubbed down the outside of the camper. He has been a a pretty busy boy this morning. What a wonderful husband. 🙂