Our time in Pittsburgh was great. Not only did we get to catch up on the lives of Connie’s sister Barbara and brother-in-law, Jim and most of her nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews, but we even were able to take in some of the sites of Pittsburgh.
We spent the better part of one day touring the National Aviary which is conveniently located in what is referred to as the Golden Triangle area of Pittsburgh. For those not familiar with the city, the Golden Triangle is the peninsula that is formed by the intersection of Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to form the Ohio River. Such landmarks as Three River Stadium have occupied land in the area. Of course, in this new era of sporting arenas Three Rivers has been razed and now the Steelers play across the river in their new home, Heinz Field. The Pirates have a new home adjacent to the old Three Rivers Stadium called PNC Park. Anyway, the National Aviary is located just north of the “stadium district” in a beautiful green space that has survived all the redevelopment of the downtown area.
Barbara and Jim accompanied us to the Aviary making the visit that much more fun. We always enjoy sharing our adventures with friends and family. The visit was highlighted by two shows. The first was a birds-in-flight show held in the rose garden. All the birds featured in the show are not native to the United States, making the show that much more exciting for us. Jim and I were willing participants in the show and I was able to get some pretty good pictures. The second show was more of a familiarization discussion of a warm climate penguin whose name I have regrettably forgotten. Among other things we learned that there are something like seventeen species of penguin that do not live in cold climates. They live where the food sources live.
Of course one of the most important things that the National Aviary tries to do is educate its visitors on the need to conserve the environment and habitat that all the exotic and not so exotic birds featured require to survive. My take on preservation of bird habitat is that humans will go the way of the birds that have been forced into extinction so long as we continue to lay waste to the environment that supports life of all sorts. So, where the loss of a specific bird species due to destroyed habitat may in isolation have no direct negative affect on mankind in general and in fact may have immediate short term improvement in quality of life for some humans, the wide spread destruction of bird habitat will, over time degrade the planet to the point that human survival will be threatened. Therefore, protection of bird habitat is very important to all humans. As the young lady who presented the birds in flight show put it, we are only borrowing the earth from our children. To that I would add it is not ours to abuse and throw away as we do with so many of those things that exist in nature.
The National Aviary is home to some really neat birds that one would have to travel the entire world to see otherwise. Therefore, it is a great place to put on your list of places to visit. Even for a couple of seasoned bird watchers like Connie and me, there were looks at birds we had seen in Africa and Panama that we were never able to either see at all or as well as we enjoyed at the Aviary. The education piece of the aviary cannot be overstated. So, birdy or not, when in Pittsburgh, you must visit the National Aviary and check it out.
Our stay in Pittsburgh was rounded out with events such as touring through one of the most modern and fullest of all full service super markets in existence. Connie needed that in order to satisfy her shopping gene. I was also treated to some very good tennis. The Mt. Lebanon tennis courts hosted a futures tournament during the week we were in town. The courts are a mere two blocks from Jim and Barbara’s home. So, Jim, an avid tennis fan, spent a lot of time at the courts. For those not familiar with professional tennis, the futures league is comprised of professional tennis players rated 500 and below in the world rankings. They play in tournaments around the world to make money and earn points to raise their standing in hopes of making it to the tour level where the big money is. The tournament in Mt. Lebanon was free to the spectators and, boy, what a treat it was for anyone who has even a passive interest in the sport. These guys can really play well. The futures tournaments also provide a venue for up and coming college players to get exposure and tournament practice. As luck would have it Jim and I watched the last few games of a women’s doubles match where one of the competitors is a student at the University of Wyoming. It is not often you get to run into Wyoming students. Her mother, from New York, told me that she had never actually met someone who was a native of Wyoming after she learned that I was born and raised there. By the way, the team with the Wyoming co-ed won the match.
All in all, our visit to Pittsburgh was a lot of fun. We spent a good deal of time with family as well as seeing some of the area we had never taken the time to visit before. We did have a very close call with the motorhome while there though. We originally had parked the motorhome on the street in front of the Isler’s house. Cinda Isler is one of Connie’s nieces. She and her husband Scott have been long time Mt. Lebanon residents. Even though we had first obtained the permission of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department and Cinda had called the police every day to renew our permission, someone complained causing the police to pay Cinda a visit. Although the city had no problem with our parking there, they suggested we move the motorhome to maintain neighborhood harmony. So, we moved it down the driveway to front of their garage. The move effectively blocked the garage which is not a big deal this time of year. It also effectively hid the motorhome from view as one drove along the street. On Saturday, I ran from Barbara and Jim’s house to Cinda and Scott’s house to start prepping the motorhome for underway. I decided that since we were now parked so close to an electrical outlet to power up the refrigerator and get it cooled down before loading with food. We had a down angle on the rig, but it did not seem too steep to be a problem. I spent about 45 minutes at the motorhome after turning the refrigerator on. Before I left I noted that it was cooling. Later in the day Connie and I went over with all the cold food we had stored in Barbara’s refrigerator. We loaded our refrigerator and it was working fine.
When we returned on Sunday morning to get underway, the internal temperature of the refrigerator was 70 degrees. OOPS! One of the most precious and also most fragile pieces of equipment in a recreational vehicle is the refrigerator. I will not go into the engineering of these machines thereby sparing you a long discussion of how they work. I will simply say that to work at all they have to be nearly perfectly level at all times that there is either power to the machine or the propane is aligned to the machine. If there is too much of a slope either fore, aft or to either side, the unit will burn out and heat will be added to the box vice removed from it. Soon after that, a hole will be burned through the thin wall of the heat exchanger allowing the alcohol and ammonia solution to escape. When that happens you replace the refrigerator. When Connie reported that the internal temperature was in the seventies I was really worried that we would be replacing the unit. At a minimum nearly all the food would be thrown away to avoid poisoning ourselves.
The good news was that we were only intending to drive about one hundred and fifty miles that first day out of Pittsburgh, so we would have an early opportunity to find out whether we would be eating out for a few days, or thanking our lucky stars that we had dodged a bullet. I will spare further suspense. Within thirty minutes of arriving at our next stop we knew we had dodged a bullet. The refrigerator continues to work just fine. In fact, we left it turned down too far after buying and stowing groceries last night and we woke up to some icy food this morning.
Now, let me get back to that first stop out of Pittsburgh. We had decided that we wanted to go to Pipestem State Park in southern West Virginia. A quick study of the map told us that we would have to drive some 270 miles from Pittsburgh to get there. Well, I no longer drive that far in one day unless I really have to. So, we picked a spot a little better than halfway between for our stopover. The name of the place was Flatwoods RV Park. When Connie called from the road to see if they had sites available she was surprised to have a Days Inn employee answer the phone. As it turns out the company who developed the campground also owns the Days Inn, the nearby outlet mall and a huge amphitheatre between the RV Park and the hotel. This company did their homework before they broke ground and put together a great facility. I am certain they use the hotel as an offsite location for a lot of trendy companies in the region. It houses a conference center and they have all the amenities corporations look for when trying to get away to do strategic planning. They used the same business sense when building the RV Park. The sites are well laid out and there is excellent WiFi access from anywhere on the property. The amphitheatre looks to be large enough to host a rock concert. Now, that would likely not make many of the RV Park users any too happy unless they are into rock of course. At any rate, we really enjoyed our one night at Flatwoods. Since we could not find a super market anywhere in the vicinity, we ultimately ate out anyway, even though the refrigerator was working just fine.
On Monday we got a reasonably early start to finish the drive to Pipestem. We were concerned about getting a space at this destination-type location, so we wanted to get there early. As it was there were only five spaces remaining upon our arrival. So, it was good of us to get going early. Pipestem is a place we have now been to three times. There are not many places along the road we have ever returned to, much less for a third time. Before I go any further I will say that we will continue to return to Pipestem anytime we are anywhere near the place. This has to be one of the finest run and most beautiful state parks I have ever seen. There is so much to do here that even the hardest to please or most diverse family would find it difficult to not have a good time. There is golf of three types; miniature, par three and championship par four and two driving ranges, horse back riding with special events that include over night trips by horseback featuring dinner and breakfast in a primitive camp setting, tennis, archery, hiking, swimming, dining, a lodge, one to four bedroom cabins, the campground and much more. On our last visit we stayed in one of the rooms in the lodge, dined in a very nice restaurant which is down in the bottom of the valley with access via tram only and played golf on the championship par four course. We had golf in mind when we decided to stop this time, but looking at the schedule of events we will likely take in other activities as well. The beauty of this place is just unbelievable and even though we are here pretty much at the peak of the season, the diverse activities offered and the wide expanse of real estate the park sits on makes it seem pretty lightly loaded.
Once again I jumped ahead of myself a bit. After we got settled in the campground, which was not all that easy, we drove some fourteen miles into Princeton, West Virginia to go grocery shopping – remember the lost food. We drove past a Mexican Restaurant on our way to the super market, so we decided to dine out another night. Boy were we glad for that decision. For a small town, the food was remarkable. We eventually finished our shopping and got back to camp and filled the now very cold refrigerator.
Let me tell you about getting set up in camp. Normally, we drive onto the site, I check to see how level we are and by using leveling pads we adjust the height of the wheels to attain something as close to perfectly level as we can. We have been leveling this motor home for the better part of nine years now. You would expect us to be pretty good at it. For the most part, we are. However, yesterday when we were trying to get level you would have thought we had never done it before. We just could not get it right. Part of the problem was that we recognized early on that the back end was severely low and we did not have enough leveling pads to get us right. So, we kept moving back and forth on the site trying to find a starting point that was more favorable. Finally help arrived in the form of a bit more elderly fellow from Texas. He and I were in the camp office checking in at the same time. He chose a site that Connie and I had passed by due to the location of the sewer connection. He got settled on his spot in a fraction of the time it was taking us and finally wandered over to offer any support he could. With his help and the addition of some partially burned wood from the fire pit we were finally able to raise the back end high enough to safely run the refrigerator and keep the blood from flowing straight to our overworked brains while lying in bed. As a result, there is one really big step to get out of the motorhome. It almost seems like climbing gear would be appropriate for climbing back in.
We spent a very comfortable evening and woke up to the singing of the birds. After eating a late breakfast we ventured over to the golf course where the club pro was conducting a free clinic. Now, I like my golf a lot. Unlike a lot of guys my age and ability, I usually can recognize when I need some help with my game. I recognized last fall that my already mediocre game was in trouble and I needed the assistance of a pro to tweak a few things. So, this free clinic was for me. Connie gets a small fraction of the playing time that I do, so clinics are always a good idea for her as well. We were not disappointed. The pro started where they all start, with the grip and setup. We went from there to the basic swing and finally put balls in the way and he walked the line helping individuals with whatever issues they needed help on. What a great way to start the process of knocking the rust off. From the clinic we went to the par three golf course and played nine holes. The par three golf course at Pipestem is one of the longest and technically challenging short courses I have ever played. Most impressive to me was the immaculate condition of the course. They really do a great job of maintaining the facility. The length of the course was sufficient to test most mid and long irons, or as is the case with us, our hybrid clubs. We played pretty well and really had a good time.
Following golf Connie decided we needed an ice cream to celebrate. So, we went to the main lodge. As we ate our ice cream looking way down towards the river, I remarked that the only way to improve upon this location would be to have WiFi installed. So, as we were leaving I asked the desk clerk if there is any WiFi on the property. To my surprise, the lobby of the lodge is wired for WiFi. So, this chapter of our adventure will get published before we leave.
We intend to spend the rest of today just relaxing and enjoying the surroundings. Tomorrow will likely include some hiking and possibly a motorized trip to visit a gorge that has captured Connie’s attention. For sure there will be more to follow.