The Journey Begins! March 2015 – Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina

5 March 2015

While I still have good internet capability I am trying to find the best solution to record my travels. I only heard from two people concerning the travel blog that I created and only 3 people are following. Do you prefer I email? Let me know what you prefer, or if you even want to continue receiving communications from me.  I’m reposting the two entries I’ve made from the blog site and including a Pentagon IG report from the Stars and Stripes below:

  1. http://paulacoffer.com

Accepting delivery of my new Thor Motor Coach Chateau 23U in Alvarado, TX!

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This is the beginning of this new journey, the next big adventure in my life. Welcome to my blog, a place where I will upload photos, videos and stories of the places I go with ‘Harry’. Harry and I will travel the backroads and highways of America in search of peace, love, adventure, friendships in an attempt to live life to the fullest; honoring America and her people, culture and spirit.

  1. 10 March 2015

I arrived in Dallas, TX about noon on the 5th of March. My salesman at Motor Home Specialist in Alvarado didn’t think I was coming until the 6th so my new Thor Motor Coach Chateau 23U was not quite ready for prime time! This worked out well as I had been up since 3:30am to catch the flight from Indy to DFW. I was provided with a loner car to see the sites of Burleson, TX where there is a Camping World store. I did do some shopping there to pick up a surge protector/regular for power and a regulator for the water supply as well as a water filter. I had not toured my new unit and didn’t want to get anything else just yet.

I tried to contact Shirley, a friend I knew while in Afghanistan but she was starting a new business and couldn’t squeeze me in so I didn’t get to visit with her. After I completed the walk through of the RV and it was positioned on a pad as I would be spending the night I did contact Debbie and using the loaner car I drove to her home about an hour away from the dealership. By the time we finished dinner and talking it was much too late for me to return so I remained with her for the night keeping the sofa occupied! Even though I was totally exhausted I had a sleepless night, anxious to begin this new adventure. Upon arrival at the MHS lot I prepared the unit for travel while waiting for the office personnel to arrive as they were going to let me hand carry the Certificate of Origin to facilitate registration in Indiana. With certificate in hand and well wishes from everyone I get ready to load up while the technicians make a last minute check of the unit.  They handed me the keys and much to my disappointment the key fob did not work to open or close the doors.

Jamie at MHS has to be the most patient man in the world. He methodically went through a process of checking all the usual culprits to no avail. He contacted the manufacturer and they emailed him the manual which allowed him to identify where a ground connection was loose. He replaced the connector and I’m ready to travel the roads of life once again. During the few hours that it took Jamie to perform his magic I had the opportunity to talk with Boyd, my sales representative. He shared stories about his son (it is his 18th birthday) and his desires to join ROTC in college next year. Of course as a retired Army officer who also joined ROTC in college all I could do was support this decision. He learned of my enlistment just out of high school, my 2 tours to Viet Nam, my college time at New Mexico State University where I earned Distinguished Military Graduate honor, to assignments in Texas, Germany, Korea, Wash DC and Indianapolis. He was most interested in the 3+ years I spent in Afghanistan working to teach the Afghan government officials how to build the national budget for the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army. The owner of MHS has not served in the military but his family has and he has great respect for those that have. He provided me with a full tank of gas (55 gal tank) and a full tank of propane (12.2 gal) to start my journey!

My first stop was Star City, AR where I stayed two nights with Margaret. We went on a shopping spree to outfit ‘Harry’ with some of the basic items needed. You know, coffee pot, tableware and dishes, pans, cutting boards, etc. I still have some items to purchase to organize groceries and items in the cabinets to keep glasses and dishes from moving around and breaking. I left Star City, Arkansas ignoring the GPS as it didn’t want to take me the quick way out to Little Rock!

The origin of ‘Harry’ as the name of my RV. I named my RV for a person that I respected greatly while I worked in Afghanistan. MG Harold Greene was my boss and over a 6 month period we built a close working relationship. I would joke with him about Andrew Luck – #12 on the Indianapolis Colts team and he would jibe me about Tom Brady – #12 on the New England Patriots team. General Greene believed in me and would say ‘I trust you, get it done’. He was killed in action on August 5, 2014 and I know that he is still looking out for me and so I want the both of us to travel to the National Parks and historic sites, meeting people and sharing a story of bravery and promise. So in honor of the memory of a friend I have named my RV ‘Harry’!

Arkansas has the absolutely worst major highways for pot holes!! Bone jarring holes that make your teeth snap together and dishes come flying out of cabinets as the RV slams into these tire eating holes in the road. To give Arkansas their fair due there was a sign that stated ‘Pot holes, slow down’. Then for the next 10+ miles it is smooth sailing on a brand new road! Complacency is not a good thing. The traffic is back up to normal speeds, there is only a light rain and then ‘GOTCHA’ these holes from a horror movie appear and the traffic is trying to dodge around them – but that is impossible! For about 50 to 100 feet the road is so bad and eaten up that the state should sue the company that laid that stretch as the rest of the pavement is doing just fine!  Oops, that doggone complacency set in again and now things bang around again and I have to wonder if my tires and rims are ok as I see some of the passenger cars and trucks are on the roadside changing their tires.  WOW!

I decide to continue driving to Indy even though it is late as I am anxious to get this vehicle registered in Indy, put the tags on and hit the road.

It’s Tuesday and I’ve just returned from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles with a paper plate in hand. I’m so disappointed that I didn’t get regular plates but the rules in Indiana have changed and the metal plates will be mailed to me. So now I can’t go too far from Indy until I get these metal plates as I don’t know where I’ll be for how long! Life is Good!

This gives me time to shop the ‘Container Store’ and Lowes to find storage and organization solutions that will work for me. I’m a week away from starting my adventure and it is raining in Indianapolis!!

Pentagon IG: No effort by Afghans to prevent waste of billions of US aid funds

By Tony Capaccio

Bloomberg News

Published: March 11, 2015

WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars in U.S. and international aid for Afghanistan’s security forces are at risk because the ministries that manage the money aren’t preventing waste and corruption, the Pentagon inspector general found.

“Future direct assistance funds are vulnerable to increased fraud and abuse” because the Afghan government has “had numerous contract award and execution irregularities” and procurement-law violations, according to an audit labeled “For Official Use Only.”

The Afghan National Security Forces remain dependent on U.S. and allied financing as foreign troops depart. The Pentagon has provided $3.3 billion in payments directly to Afghan ministries since October 2010, and an additional $13 billion in such direct military aid is projected through 2019, three years after President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw all but a small number of U.S. troops.

The Feb. 26 audit bolsters previous assessments by the separate office of John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, that the country’s Defense and Interior ministries aren’t ready to manage the funds going to the military and national police force without major U.S. help.

“The ministries did not adequately develop, award, execute or monitor contracts funded with U.S. direct assistance,” Michael Roark, assistant inspector inspector general for contract management, wrote to U.S. and allied commanders in a letter submitting the new audit.

In one case cited in the report, the Combined Security Transition Command of U.S. and allied forces refused to provide a $15 million, or 25 percent, increase to an Afghan Army fuel contract that was requested five days after a contract was awarded. The command called it a “possible vehicle for corruption,” according to the report.

The Afghan defense ministry also “significantly overestimated fuel requirements” for military vehicles, generators and power plants last year, according to the audit.

In another instance, an audit by the combined command concluded that the defense ministry “lacked controls to provide reasonable assurance it appropriately spent” $120.5 million of direct U.S. assistance for clothing, the inspector general’s report found.

The audit criticized the transition command for inadequately training the ministries to manage U.S. assistance and instead doing the work itself, creating a “continued dependence.”

Officials with the command said “pressure to maintain hard-fought gains” on the battlefield “and not compromise” Afghan military operations” with poorly executed support contracts “resulted in the coalition overlooking ministerial shortcomings.”

The audit didn’t say what U.S. or allied entity was bringing such pressure to bear.

U.S. Army Major General Todd Semonite of the transition command, wrote Jan. 28 in a response to the audit that his organization will continue to withhold funds when necessary as leverage when documentation is suspect.

Semonite also said he was ordering new steps to improve capabilities, including imposing tighter temporary controls and hiring the Washington-based Oxus Consulting Group to work with the ministries.

“Improvement is expected in decision-making, procurement of goods and services and financial management,” Semonite wrote.

The command also is strengthening its program to train the Afghan military’s financial management personnel at the corps and regional headquarters level, he said.

18 Mar 2015

Greetings all!

I have not yet hit the road as my metal license plate has not arrived L. While waiting I received a note from my dentist for an April appointment, knowing I wouldn’t be here I went in yesterday. A perfect checkup with one exception: A crown was loose and upon investigation there is a little decay and so a new crown is going to be necessary. I don’t want to wait for 2+ weeks for a new crown to be made so I asked about the one day service that my dentist in Bloomington, IN had back in 1999. My dentist doesn’t offer that but tomorrow morning I have an appointment with another dentist that does so by tomorrow afternoon I should be ‘golden’ and ready to go as soon as the license plate arrives.

I have ‘tricked’ out the RV as much as I can in anticipation of my extended trip. I have purchased a 2 person Kayak and paddles, a dash cam to record the highways I travel (share with you when edited and of interest), a GoPro movie camera to catch the hiking and biking adventures, a 35mm digital camera with zoom lens to catch the beauty of a sunrise or sunset or to provide you with a view of one of nature’s beautiful monuments that I visit. I have everything in the RV except the food I will acquire on the day I depart. Fully gassed up at $1.95 a gallon! Still cost $72 to fill it up though. I’ve washed the rig to get rid of the travel scum as I went through the ice/snow/rain from Dallas to Indy. I can’t think of anything else to do before departing.

I know that everything happens for a reason and this delay must be a good thing, maybe to allow the weather to improve and parks to open? But I’m anxious and excited about getting on the road to experience fully this journey in my life.

Alexis has finished her first phase of Chemo and in a couple of weeks will begin the second phase consisting of 12 weekly treatments before radiation and reconstructive surgery. I thank each and every one of you for the prayers and well wishes you have expressed for her treatments and recovery. There are people from all over the world sending her good, positive healing energy. Emily continues to be the consummate care giver and I’m so very proud of her for being there for her twin sister.

The only two events I have scheduled is the May 2nd wedding for Maile and a June 27-28 festival in New Jersey with Jennifer. As the weather improves I’ll change my GPS to ‘no highways’ ’no tolls’ where now I’m traveling highways through the Smoky Mountains as some of the roads won’t open until May. I guess I’m jumping the travel gun, so to speak!

More another day as I begin the journey, I just wanted to answer collectively the questions about ‘how the road is’ when I’ve not yet started.

21 Mar 2015

My journey begins! I’m departing Indianapolis this morning. I have prepared ‘Harry’ as much as I can. Based on Karen’s observation that the bed wasn’t up to the standard of my home bed (after so much time in Afghanistan sleeping on inferior bedding I agreed with her) I purchased a 3” memory foam mattress to go under a 1 ½” pillow top mattress pad. I’ve not slept on it but know it will ‘heaven’. I have placed my new RV Indiana tags on the RV using a US Army Retired license plate holder. I’ve placed the bicycle rack on the rig and both of my bikes; one city and one mountain bike.

I went to the dentist and he could not replace the crown so he extracted the tooth and found an abscess that needed to be cleaned out. I guess it was a good thing that he couldn’t replace the crown as the abscess would haunt me later. But now I have to fly back to Indy on July 9th to receive an implant. Still all good! I’ll be with Jennifer the 27-28 of June and then I’ll decide if flying or driving is a better option. I still want to travel Maine and the Northeastern United States this summer.

My first nightly stop is in Knoxville where I will visit with friends before moving along to Asheville where I hope to stay a week and enjoy the area sites. I’ve been asked to attend a singles gathering in Sevierville, TN on the 12th -17th  of April. I’m thinking about it but it will depend on the weather and whether or not I have adjusted to the routine of being in the RV.

This first stay in NC and TN will help me to get organized and in a routine. I have received my Senior All Access Pass for all National Parks! Woo Hoo! This means free admission to all National Parks and 50% off most services. I also purchased a CB radio but haven’t had it installed yet. I’ll also purchase a satellite radio and have it installed as radio on the road is hit and miss and the cabover sleep area is blocking the radio signal (I think).

Anyway, I’m off on an adventure of a lifetime, thanks for joining me.

24 Mar 2015

Asheville is awesome! I arrived on Sunday afternoon and set up camp and just chilled. I had been on a Facebook solo RV women site and a woman named Cindi volunteered to show me around Asheville one day while I was here.

Yesterday was that day. How wonderful to have a local show me the places here that I should see and even a few that I should come back to for a greater look. We went to the Biltmore Village District and viewed the historic district and the multitude of shops – this is definitely a tourist area! We drove by 12 Bones BBQ where President Obama ate while here – of course it was another of his golfing vacations. We had stuffed ourselves at breakfast so passed on eating there. Then found out it was closed for dinner, oh well, maybe next time. We toured the River Arts District which appears to be inside old warehouses. Cindi took me to Grove Park Inn. This beautiful hotel was built in 1913 and room 545 is said to be haunted. We took an elevator that was built into the chimney to keep the sound away from other guests to view the haunted room and the elevator operator was freely giving us a history lesson.

Then we hit the Pisgah National Forest looking for places for me to park the RV after next Sunday. The park doesn’t open until April 1st and some of the roads are still closed. It was a much more peaceful place than the park I’m in, Bear Creek RV Park, which is just off I-40 and all its noise. Cindi had a lake RV park that she likes and wanted to show me a particular spot that is fought for as it is isolated and is on the lake where the sun rise comes across the water and you have a perfect view. Alas, the park is closed until April 1st and that spot is not available. So I settled for another wonderful location that is up a little with a view of the lake and surrounding mountains. It is a little isolated and I have a feeling it is going to be just perfect for me and Harry. You know me, I’m a bit of a bargain hunter. Well at the Cascade Lake Recreation Area where I’ll be staying I asked the woman in the business office if they had any discounts. She tells me that they honor Passport America memberships. I ask her how much of a discount and she tells me it is 50% of the $40 per day site charge. So I tell her that I’ll go online that night and sign up for membership. She tells me that they also sell memberships so I ask her how much the Passport America membership costs. I pay $109 for a 3 year membership and get $100 off my stay!  Is that not awesome! We return to Asheville, or more appropriately Hendersonville where she lives and pick up her daughter and go eat in downtown Hendersonville at a terrific Mexican restaurant. When Cindi takes me home and her daughter tours the RV I share a piece of Afghan jewelry and scarves with them for being so kind to me.

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Back at Bear Creek RV today I’m asking about the cost of tickets to the Biltmore Estate and if she knew of a taxi service she would recommend and Glenda tells me to call her in the morning and she will come pick me up and let me use her car to go to the Biltmore Estate. WOW, this is truly great southern hospitality that goes above and beyond.

I thawed out a rib-eye steak to grill, cut up potatoes, onions and garlic to cook in an aluminum packet on the Weber electric grill – another first! Yumm, tasted great!

For Karen, the mattress is great! No regrets! On Thursday I take the RV to have a CB radio installed. Per Jennifer’s recommendations I’m holding off on the satellite radio as I purchased a cord that will connect my iPhone to my Bose Wave radio to have Pandora or other music through the Wave radio speakers and I can already play the iPhone through the RV’s radio speakers, even if they are difficult to hear when driving down the highway. But all is good. Life is good and I’m enjoying meeting with fellow campers and sharing a moment or two.

25 Mar 2015

The Biltmore Estate

Today was chilly and overcast with constant drizzle or fog, depending on your definition. So much for the weather report J. I bought a discount ticket $59 for two days from the Bear Creek RV center and Glenda, true to her word loaned me her Ford Escape to drive to the Biltmore Estate. True southern hospitality above and beyond. When I returned from Afghanistan after my first two years there I had purchased 10 small lapis boxes and placed a typed note in each of them that reads;

“This is a ‘Pay it Forward’ gift for you!

I lived and worked with the US Military and NATO forces in Afghanistan for 2 years. To show my appreciation I had this lapis box made specifically to give to you when I met you. You are receiving this gift made by women in need from Afghanistan because you have provided exceptional service to me today. I want to thank you for being such a special person. The value of this lapis lazuli box is in your spirit and in your giving of yourself to others. I wish you success in your life!”

I brought 4 of these with me and today I gave one to Glenda for exhibiting a genuinely true spirit of generosity and customer service that is definitely above requirements using anyone’s standard.

So I get to the Biltmore and take a picture or two from the walkway.

The Front Entrance

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Just to the side of the main building are spring flowers!

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The Biltmore is a beautiful if not opulent building. I was disappointed that many of the rooms had the appearance of being on the tour but were not. When I asked I was told that I could purchase additional tickets to see different areas of the home. This reminds me of some of the castles in Europe where much is cordoned off and not visited by tourists. I read the pamphlets for the Biltmore prior to going there and knew much of the history and did not purchase the self guided audio tour but the visit would have been enhanced, I think, if I had.

This estate is 8,000 acres large! Imagine that this house was built for just one family and provided 33 guest rooms with swimming pool, bowling alley, libraries, gardens, living rooms, etc.

The front entrance is surrounded by gargoyles and intricate decorative themes that continue throughout the estate.

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The gardens were just beautiful and you can see what they will be soon but I’m about 2-3 weeks too early to get the full benefit of all that is the Biltmore Gardens.

At the Biltmore village I ate a very tasty lunch at the ‘Bistro’. The calamari and local pils hit the spot for me.

I went onto the Biltmore village and the Winery. As I waited for the 1pm tour of the winery I spoke with a young woman who had migrated from New York and her husband was from Zimbabwe. Her son is in the Army so we just chatted to pass the time. Then I was the only one on the winery tour to start and was only joined by another couple. This meant I received a great introduction and history lesson and I did ask lots of questions. At the end of the tour wouldn’t you know it, the wine tasting was facilitated by the same young woman I had spoke with earlier. I bought two bottles that I hope to share with Ken and his wife in Wash DC and perhaps one with Don. I can never repay all the wine that Don served me at the US Embassy in Kabul but I can share a special bottle from my travels! (I was a State Dept contractor for those questioning why I drank wine in Kabul, Afghanistan!)

There are sheep and fowl growing on the estate as well as horses. If the weather had been nicer a walk or bike ride around the estate would have been wonderful and I would have actually spent the two days enjoying everything this beautifully maintained estate has to offer.

I asked Glenda to join me for dinner and she has accepted. A couple from San Diego moved into the slab next to me and during a conversation I asked them if they were going to the Biltmore and when they said yes I gave them my ticket as it is good for tomorrow also. That will save them $63 (taxes, you have to love them) and they only need one ticket now.

26 Mar 2015

The southern hospitality continues to overwhelm me in Asheville, NC! While showing me Asheville and some of the Piqua Forest Cindi had mentioned a man named Todd that would probably be able to help me install the CB radio and antennae that I had bought and brought with me. Todd tells me that he isn’t the right person to do the best job but that a guy named Phil used to work for him and now has his own shop and to call him and use his name as a referral. I did and my appointment was today to have the CB installed.

Phil wasn’t there when I arrived but Jimmie started helping me out. As we discussed where the CB should be mounted we went to the antennae and we realized that I didn’t have a mounting bracket. We discussed where I wanted the antennae and I told him that the ideal position would be on the ladder in the back peeking up over the roof no more than what the air conditioner reached. So off we go to the truck stop where I buy a long coaxial cable and the bracket. He attaches the antennae and David (a retired US Air Force NCO) installs the CB and powers it up. Jimmie crawls under the RV and uses zip ties to secure the coaxial cable to the wiring for the taillights as they are up and away from the road and hazards. David discovers a plugged hole that we can run the cable through without drilling a hole or even widening another one out. For awhile I had the opportunity to speak with Kim and I think she is somewhat envious of me taking a trip like I am. But she has a grandchild she is caring for while his parents are going through a separation and feels stuck here. Jimmie even tells me that he has never lived anywhere more than 5 miles from here.

Magic happens and a couple hours after I arrive I have a CB radio with 7 weather channels to help me stay safe and informed on the highway. These are a great bunch of guys and we kept an ongoing conversation during the install. Now Phil had told me the cost would be $90 per hour and that he had anticipated 1 hour for the install. What I have is 2 men working 2 hours and he still only charges me $90. When I pull out my credit card to have him scan he tells me that the machine on the desk doesn’t work so I look in my wallet and all I have is $80 cash left from visiting the Biltmore. He tells me that the $80 will do! He’ll tell Kim, his wife and bookkeeper, that he gave me a military discount because she wasn’t here to run the credit card! WOW! I’m continually overwhelmed by the sense of belonging and of the hospitality extended.

The couple from California that I gave the Biltmore ticket to thoroughly enjoyed their time at the Estate. Because they were already $60 ahead they purchased the extra sightseeing tickets and toured the areas I could almost see on my tour. I’m glad I could help them have a better experience.

My other neighbor has invited me to coffee in the morning. He and his wife are settling down here in Asheville as their grandchildren are here and they have been traveling for two years. What nice and wonderful people I keep meeting.

I have paid for an additional 3 days here because it is supposed to get down to freezing temperatures this weekend and early next week. I’d rather be hooked up to electricity and water rather than in a National Forest with no support as things freeze.

30 Mar 2015

On the 27th a Mercedes with New Zealand tags checked into the RV campground. The trailer has an outside kitchen that pulls out from the side and a refrigerator/icebox in the front compartments. Held down by guylines the 27th was the night everything froze and even the bananas in their car froze.

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I spoke at length with this couple, Fred and Elisabeth. They arrived in Los Angeles and have been on the road for 8 months seeing the southwest United States, New Orleans, Florida and they are now in Asheville, NC. Their journey is a five year tour of the Americas, Europe, Australia and then back to New Zealand. Contact info: http://www.classicstrider.com Facebook / Classic Strider (most of their postings are here)

Yesterday I was able to attend church with Cindi and her daughter and then spend the afternoon in their home to end the day enjoying a pork rib dinner! Of course each time I venture out I find something that I don’t yet have in the RV that is necessary. Wal-Mart for shower shoes, aquatic shoes for the kayak and of course a Biltmore wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, to share over dinner.

Today was spent catching up on reading manuals and club magazines as the day started out chilly but really turned into a wonderful sun shiny day!

Wednesday I will relocate to Cascade Lake and have a more primitive camping experience. Quiet and remote on a lake! I’m excited! I’ll post an update Wednesday evening or Thursday morning with a photo of the campsite. I know there are those that worry about me if I don’t post everyday so I’m forewarning you that it will be a couple of days and not to worry.

I spoke with Alexis today and she is still most appreciative of your prayers and well wishes. This Thursday she starts the 12 weekly chemo treatments of Taxol. She is still incapable of self support and her gofundme site is still open and accepting gifts.  http://www.gofundme.com/AlexisKC

Emily has flown back to Indianapolis today after having cared for Alexis this past few months. I know that Devin will be happy to see her back home.