Spring Interrupted…

No one will be talking about their spring travel in 2020 without getting to the part where the novel coronavirus COVID-19 blew everything up.

We were a long way from home on this trip. In fact the whole point of the trip was to get as far away from home in the Pacific Northwest as was humanly possible in the Lower 48 states. That meant we went all the way to the end of the road in Key West.

But we were never out of touch, and were following along with all the news about the outbreak of this new virus in China and we too watched as other countries started to have issues. As we moved North in Florida to see the sites, ride our bikes and canoe the rivers in search of manatee, there was always the news to see what was happening. As the first US cases arrived, in our home state, and then started to climb in the nursing home near our niece’s home, we watched, and wondered if it was time to stop our journey and get home.

We started preparing slowly in case things got worse. When we stopped in the grocery we bought a few more supplies than we needed for a week, added hand sanitizer and soap, and we even bought a few boxes of flu medications, just to have that on hand. As we moved North, we spent more time bicycling trails and canoeing, and less time in crowded cities.

As the number of cases grew, as the CDC recommended, we started new regimes of hand washing, cleaning, wiping the common surfaces, handles and knobs on the trailer with Clorox wipes.

We went for rides, but started very actively distancing ourselves from other people in beautiful places such as Savannah.

We were outside Charleston, SC riding bikes on paths to stay active when Karin’s leg started bothering her. She arranged a chiropractor visit in Charleston on Monday March 16th. By that time, the news was getting much grimmer around the novel corona virus. Washington state was in the full grips of dealing with the virus, and other west coast states were seeing case numbers grow.

We decided then it was time to begin making our way back west. We were going to try to do it in an orderly way, knowing that the further west we were, the closer to our parents and Christian we would be, and if we needed to we could start moving very fast.

The next morning, March 17th, St. Patricks Day, we started. On the way to our first stop, of course a winery that would let us stay the night, our week long Florida panhandle private rental cancelled on us. Then New Mexico became the first state to close all campgrounds. The time for a fast run across 4,000 miles had come.

The next day we put in an epic pull, from Georgia, to the Florida pandhandle, across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and into Texas. We arrived at our niece Sarah’s house outside Austin at midnight. We stayed just one day to rest and play with the kids. Hard to social distance with them. We left as they were all sleeping at 4am Friday morning and pulled all the way past El Paso to another winery in Southern New Mexico. Two long days of driving and we were back in the West. Saturday we ended at a distillery in Kingman, AZ (Route 66 stop for you fans).

Sunday we were at an RV park on the lake in Provo, UT. We will be going back there. It was perfect for exploring around that area. Monday we drove to my sisters place on Jake’s Corral Creek Ranch in the Camas Prairie in Idaho. Tuesday, one week after leaving South Carolina, we got up early again, and drove the last 800 miles home to the boat in Anacortes.

We had a few impressions of the road. First, traffic was light. There were the normal semi-trucks on the road, but a lot fewer passenger cars and SUVs. Some places, Beaumont, TX and Baton Rouge in LA had a lot of full parking lots around pubs and bars. Latest stats on the virus outbreak show those were poor local decisions.

Downtown Seattle was spooky quiet as we drove through at noon. Normally it’s pretty busy Tuesday midday, but not in the age of pandemic.

So, for now, we’re home on the boat. Lots of NW marinas are closed, so there’s not much going out. That’s also the point of a Stay at Home order. But we’re close to Mom and BD, and Christian is just down the road in Seattle.

If anyone needs help we’re now in a much better position to provide it than four thousand miles away in Savanna or Charleston.

We fill our days with boat projects, keeping up on cleaning and cooking, doing conference calls with family and friends, making masks, going for walks and bike rides close to the marina. Spring is coming to the Northwest….and it’s our third spring this year. That’s what you get starting at Key West in January and heading North with the sun.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands, wear a mask, and #flattenthecurve.

St. Augustine, Brunswick, Savannah and Charleston

Yes they each deserve their own post, but there’s a theme here.

After the manatee at Crystal River we moved over to be close to St. Augustine so we could begin to explore the historic cities of the Southeast coast. And first on our list was the oldest in the US, St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish in 1565. It’s a lovely, low slung city on the North Florida Atlantic coast.

As most of you know, the entrance to St. Augustine is dominated by The Castillo de San Marcos, built in the 1600’s to protect the Spanish from the horrible English to the North. They wouldn’t want the English to steal all the gold they had just stolen from the natives in Central America. The more you wander the fort, the more you realize what a precarious existence it was for those early settlers. They were a long way from home.

After the fort we wandered historic St. Augustine, which is interesting and kitschy at the same time. The narrow pedestrian only street is lined with restaurants, bars and shops that cater to tourists. At the same time, some of those bars and shops are in legitimately historic buildings that have been here for centuries. It’s just an interesting mix.

After a little time to also look in on Jacksonville, we headed North to Brunswick, Georgia. It was a fun smaller town on the way to the fancy island resorts. We found a killer distillery, Richland Rum, in Brunswick, It was fun to ride bikes on Jekell Island, where the rich folk from the late 1800’s came to play. There’s also a great Sea Turtle hospital there.

We then moved north to camp in South Carolina, in the Low Country, so we could access both Savannah and Charleston.

Savannah I’ve been to before, but Karin had not. We parked the truck and pulled the bicycles out so we could get the feel of the dozens of tree shaded squares and parks that the city is known for. It’s just lovely. And since the concerns about virus are rising, we have been doing a lot of bicycling. It’s great way to see an area, but also not get to close to folks.

Charleston was next on the list, and here we broke the rule of social distancing for what will probably be the last time in a long time. We took a horse drawn carriage tour of downtown. There were other people near, but not too close. We had our own row. But as I said, it’s likely the last folks we’ll get that close to for some time.

Karin’s issue with walking has been kicking up (need to find her brand of chiropractor) so this was really the only choice to learn a little about the city. And we did. What a lovely city. So many historic old homes, renovated and preserved. We loved it, and want to come back.

Speaking of coming back, one thing we’ve been doing in all these stops is seeing how far the towns are from their marina facilities. Answer, not far at all. St. Augustine, Brunswick, Savannah (Well, close) and Charleston are all along the Intracoastal Waterway. That’s a series of channels, rivers and dredged canals running from Boston, Massachusetts, southward along the Atlantic Seaboard and around the southern tip of Florida, then following the Gulf Coast all the way to Brownsville, Texas. There’s a route people do called The Great American Loop, where you go up the east coast, up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal, through Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan over to Chicago, and down the Chicago, Illinois, Mississippi and Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway to Mobile. Then its around the Gulf coast to Key West….and back to where ever you started. We’d love to do that loop one day and stop in each of these cities for a while along the way.

Well, it’s time to point West-ish. We have a week to spend at a solitary beach spot in the Florida panhandle, then we’ll be heading for Texas. How long we get to stop there will kind of depend on the craziness around the novel corona virus. #washyourhands #flattenthecurve

(All of this was written before the shit hit the fan. Just posting 4/1 as I’m catching up)

West Side, Best Side?

So after our two weeks over by Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Miami we’ve retreated back to the Gulf Shore part of Florida; first a week down by Bonita Springs, then up to Crystal River…where the manatee winter.

Before we get to the latest on the west side. A bit of a view on the east part of the state of Florida. Top line review; from Miami up the coast to Palm Beach, not our cup of tea. Southeast Florida has all the amenities of a big, big, city. If that’s what you like, have at it. That means it also has all the drawbacks of a big city. Basically; we found it hot, too crowded, has terrible traffic, flat as a pancake, lacking in bicycling amenities (in fact it’s dangerous to ride a bicycle in many places), and basically not our style. If we had a boat here it might be better, but I suspect I’d just be prepping the boat to escape over to the Bahamas.

Sure, we liked Butterfly World, riding on a few trails near the beaches, riding the rail transit to Miami for the big Boat Show and using this stop as a base to jump off and see the Everglades, which are very cool. I liked being able to get good bagels. Unless we have a specific reason to be in that area, I suspect we’ll avoid it in the future.

But as I said, Butterfly World was pretty neat.

We were able to find a few bike rides among the rich houses in Palm Beach with views of the beaches.

Our best ride was in Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park. There’s a long paved trail that leads out 8 miles to a raised observation tower. All along the route you’re near the water, and that also means you’re near the gators. We saw a lot of them. The only one that looked dangerous was a mother with two foot long babies. If you stopped and looked like you might walk near the babies.

We were in the area long enough to get a little work done on the RAM truck that pulls our home. In addition to normal oil and filter work, we needed some front end adjustment.

Then we were off again, back to the West side and Bonita Springs. It was funny to notice how as we got back West, where there are fewer people and less development, that we began to relax more.

We were able to pull the canoe off the roof in Koreshan State Park and drift downstream on the Estero River. There were tons of fish to see in the river. Then we went out to the Lovers Key, the barrier to the Gulf of Mexico, where we found the most friendly manatee. You’re supposed to keep away from them, but it’s hard when they keep coming back to you and diving under your canoe.

After a week we headed north to Crystal Springs, stopping along the way to spend a quiet night at a goat farm. Let’s just say we now know how to milk.

The area North of Tampa is dotted with dozens of natural springs, many of which used to be Florida highway tourist stops back in the last century. Families driving down would stop for ice cream, to dip in the springs, or to see the crazy, kitchy, shows. After the 70’s opening of Disney World started to suck away all the tourists, many of these little places started to fail and go out of business. Good news though as the state has taken over many of the springs and turned them into small state parks.

We stopped at Dripping Springs state park as a jumping off point for bicycling the trail across the Suwanee River. Yes, this is THE Suwanee River from Old Folks at Home by Stephen Foster, Florida’s State Song. And yes, I was singing the song as I rode across….though not the original racist lyrics. I go with the new improved standard version without all the racist stuff. You can look it up on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

Then we stopped at Homosassas Springs State Wildlife Park. This used to be an odd little zoo but when the state took over they got rid of the rag tag collection of zoo animals (except the little hippo, everyone loves him; though I suspect he’ll not be replaced). Now the State Park uses the renovated enclosures to show off Florida native wildlife that are injured in some way, and can’t be released. Here you can see native Panther, Bear, Fox, Birds and fish in the spring. They also have a full Manatee rehabilitation program to take care of those when they are injured. Very cool.

Finally, it was time for the pilgrimage to see the mermaids at Weeki Wachee State Park. Since 1947 the mermaids have been doing their dance in the springs for the audience behind the glass. It could all have gone away when these small attractions started failing, but now with State Parks Department management and investment you can see they are keeping this iconic piece of Florida alive.

Is it a bit kitchy and tacky? You bet! Proudly so. And your mother and grandmother may have come for the same show. And if you want to know why it needs to keep going just bring a 4 year old girl who loves The Little Mermaid, and watch her eyes as the curtain raises and the bubble screen drops, and there’s a real live mermaid floating just a few feet away, smiling, waving and blowing kisses at her.

Mermaids are real

And it’s not all about mermaids. The state parks department has added more programs around native Florida wildlife and about the importance of all the springs to the Florida’s environment. You know, the good stuff you need to know, and that you expect from your State Parks. (But lets not kid ourselves; its still really about the mermaids).

Next up we’ll be crossing again to the East Coast, but this time we’ll be way North of the crowds, heading for historic Saint Augustine.

Finally, Florida

Well, we made it. On Wednesday, January 8th we crossed the border into the Florida panhandle, passed Pensacola and Destin, turned right just before the capitol in Tallahassee, and made our first night stop on the beach near Panacea on Ochlockanee Bay. That’s just down the road from Sopchoppy, home of the annual Worm Grunting Festival. Someone has to get the bait.

Not a bad first impression of Florida.

Since this was our first time in Florida (aside from business meetings where you see only airports, convention centers and hotels. I’m looking at you Miami Beach) we first went to a campground near Zolfo Springs. That’s sort of in the middle of the state, south of Clearwater. The great thing about that location is it’s only about an hour from Tampa, an hour from Sarasota or an hour from Punta Gorda. It made a good place to rest up, while we poked around looking at different areas. We found lots of places we liked.

While we were looking for interesting things to do we realized that in a few days the worlds biggest RV Show would be taking place in Tampa. Sweet. We were disappointed in how small the Seattle show was in terms of RV add ons, classes, vendors, etc. Tampa had lots to look at. What’s more, it’s where David and Gyung Huntsman’s daughter Jenny lives with her family. She came to meet us for dinner on the riverwalk downtown. It was easy, as the restaurant was only 5 minutes from the ballet studio where she needed to pick up Noelle. Its was a blast to see them both so far from home.

One thing we’ve been doing a lot of is bicycling. Now bicycling in Florida means peddling all the time. No really, all the time. It’s flat as a pancake and you never get to stop and coast like you do where we’re from. On the flip side, you never have a hill, except for a street overpass. At least when you’re at the top of those you can see where you are. They are the highest points around. In Venice, we found the holy grail for bicyclists….a Bike and Brew shop. Bike parts…and beer. Actually we found another of them in St. Petersburg. Liking this aspect of Florida.

Of course, you can’t go to Florida without doing some beach time. Being the fair skinned, NW/Scottish/Scandinavian folks that we are we knew we had to get some protection. I love the web sites that let you research the very best beach umbrella, and chairs, and then order them. Prime delivery works at the campground when you’re staying two weeks. So in just days we had the tools to be beach bums. Ah, the life.

As we’ve rolled across the country we’ve been keeping our eyes out for a good used canoe. We knew we needed a way to enjoy the lakes and rivers we’re finding out here. The search went on with little success until Sarasota where we finally found our girl. Her name is Flo. We’ve had a couple of chances to take her out. She’s a nice red Old Town canoe. I think Karin likes it, but she still has her head on a swivel looking for gators and snakes. We did find lots of birds, fish and even spotted a Manta Ray under us in the keys. I think Flo is a great addition to “Team Endless Song.”

The Florida Keys were exactly what we hoped they would be, warm and reasonably quiet. Until, of course, you get to Key West. We were staying at a park called Fiesta Key, just North of Marathon. It’s about halfway down the Keys, so it was a great base for us to jump out and look at the areas North and South. All the way south, at the end of the road, is Key West. I’m torn. Downtown is a cruise ship, tourist, destination. Sure everyone’s laid back…but it’s too commercial now. Not like it “used to be.” But if you look hard, and get away from that downtown core. The older, slightly seedy, live and let live part is still around. You just have to look a little harder to find it.

And since we’re in the Keys…we had to make a Key Lime Pie. Mmm. First we bought a piece from a shop in Key West that is really known for it. Kermits. And it was lovely…and as it should be, not green. We wanted to taste theirs so we had a standard to judge against.

We also decided not to kill ourselves trying to find and juice Key Limes. They are not everywhere, and if you don’t find them and try to use the normal limes we get in stores it’s not going to work. We bought a bottle of Kermits concentrate. We also got a commercial crust as we realize we don’t have any pie tins on the trailer.

So this pie is a cook and then chill it pie. Since we didn’t want to stay up, we decided the best strategy would be to bake it….then chill over night. I’d get up and whip the cream. Pie for breakfast. Mmm. Don’t judge me. It was fantastic

After most of a week in the Keys it was time to turn the rig north toward the busy Southeast Florida coast. This is our next base for two weeks to explore Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, etc, and it’s our jumping off point to ride and canoe in the Everglades National Park.

One last point about the Keys, we want to come back. We’re already looking at places to stay, but next time we’ll book a year out so we can get a site for a whole month.

Harvest Hosting to Florida

As I’ve said before, when you’re doing a series of one night stops on the road to somewhere, the best stays we’ve had have been at Harvest Host locations. Harvest Host is an RV membership made up of wineries, breweries, farms, museums, golf courses, and other similar places where you can stay the night for free. Sure you might by wine, beer, soap or honey…but that’s not a bad thing. They are way better than pulling into some RV Park next to a freeway or camping in a Walmart Parking lot.

After Austin we had a quick run over North of Houston to Fortress Brewing, where we had a pint and watched the Seahawks last playoff game. Sigh.

Go Hawks

The next night we stopped again at Bayou Teche Brewing in South Central Louisiana. They aren’t normally open on Mondays, but the guy in the office said, “Nah, we always open up for you Harvest Host Folks, any day.” Nice. We got to chat with the founder Karlos Knott about how microbrews are growing in Louisiana.

Our last stop before Florida was at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch just east of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Now I had spotted this on our route, and told Karin, “Yep, we’re spending the night on a gator farm.” She was willing, but a bit nervous.

It was great. Marty and Sam our swamp boat driver were good ole boys, but were so nice and welcoming and explained how the ranch was working to raise Gator to continue re-population after a hurricane all but wiped out the gators in the area.

We got to see the gators in pens they were raising, but also went out in a swamp boat to look at a few basking in the sun out in the wild. I’d never been on one of these boats before, so even that was fun for me.

Karin, she’s still not to keen on gators. You really can see it in her eyes as she was petting the baby one. Ewww!

Karin, still not liking the gators

Next up, Florida.

East, ever East….to Texas!

One of the great thing about having family in Texas is that it’s a great place to go to play with all the kids….and also a great break from the road to Key West.  With Sarah, Ryan and their kids in San Antonio and Amanda, Brandon and their brood in Austin, we have ample reason to stop in the Lone Star State.  It’s not all about H-E-B and Buc-ees.  (You’ll understand if you visit).

The road East to Texas from Tucson was easy, with a stop first at a winery in El Paso for a night, and then New Years Eve in Marfa.   Marfa’s an interesting place in the middle of nowhere West Texas.  It’s where the film “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean was filmed. Also, No Country For Old Men and There Will be Blood, if you need more recent references.

Today Marfa is a combination of very rural agricultural town with a hipster enclave from all the artistic types who have moved in, lured by the low cost of land…and the West Texas light.  Makes for an interesting mix.

We pulled into Bulverde, north of San Antonio, to squeals and hugs from Brooklyn, Jaxon and Ryder. Love Sarah and Ryan and the kids.  It’s so nice to just hang with the kids, once the excitement of arrival wears off.  You actually get time to talk to them…a little more quietly.

Brooklyn, Jaxon and Ryder Winger

After a few days it was time to point the rig north to Austin to see Eleanor, Hendrik and Lennox. Oh right, and Amanda and Brandon. 

The Mueller District in Austin where they live is such an interesting experiment in redevelopment….with homes, townhouses, apartments and retail all being built in walkable neighborhoods.   They live right on the edge of the “current” build.  Infill is happening all around.  Easy to park a trailer on the street today, but it will not always be so.

One thing I love about Amanda is her practical side. She was thinking about hosting a big Tuesday evening New Years Eve Bash for friends. But then she looked at the calendar, and the idea of staying up past midnight, and said “The heck with that.”  We’ll have the party early on Saturday evening so it can end at a reasonable hour for people who have kids.  Love it.   Adding spice was that it was a 1920’s Murder Mystery Party.  Everyone had a role, and someone was going to be “bumped off”.     Knowing she could trust my big mouth, Amanda cast me as a Gangland Mob Boss.   As you might guess, I did not survive the night.

After hugs and kisses the next morning, it was time to point the rig east toward Key West.   Well, first to a brewery North of Houston where they let you stay the night.  Have I mentioned Harvest Host?

Parking at Fortress Brewing

Christmas in Idaho

One reason we went to Tucson was it was the perfect place to stash the trailer while we drove up to Idaho to spend a few weeks for Christmas with family at Fairfield and Corral Creek Ranch. Weather is so nice all we had to do was clean it, park it, and leave the refrigerator door ajar. No winterizing needed as we’d be back in just a few weeks.

We broke up the trip staying the night in St. George, Utah. As I’ve said before, we’re old and don’t like fourteen hour days on the road anymore.

We arrived in Fairfield on a Saturday night, just in time for the American Legion’s Christmas party, with none other than Joe Henry Valadeo tending bar down in the dungeon.

Karin pours her own drink, so she can drink it. They have a heavy hand on the bottle down in the Dungeon.

Time in Fairfield is always filled with fun, family, and food. And this time, since we arrived early, we also got volunteers at the local Senior Center to help with lunch, and got to go to our nieces and nephews high school basketball games.

Christian flew in from Seattle in time for the big party celebrating Josh’s Birthday and Karin and my fortieth wedding anniversary. Really, forty years? Yep. And we decided to glam it up for the evening. Champagne went to our heads I guess. Still, it made for another fantastic Christmas in Idaho.

Quiet Christmas Morning at Corral Creek Ranch
Snowing in Fairfield

After Christmas it was time to jet back down to Tucson to get the trailer moving toward Key West again, stopping for a night in St. George, Utah….where they had a lovely light show.

Tucson and Saguaro National Park

Driving down to Tucson was pretty easy and weather was good. The only real issue was trying to avoid all the traffic in Phoenix.  But once through that, it was quick down to Tucson.

So we were a little worried as Phoenix was hot, kinda flat, very busy, and not very interesting to look at.  But Tucson was none of that.  The desert floor had green foliage (yes it’s cactus but so many kinds) and the mountains closed in on the valley, making everything seem closer; more intimate.

You have to love a city bracketed by National Parks.  In this case, the Saguaro  National Park.  It’s in two parts….one East of town and one West.  We took time to go for a walk in the Eastern most park.  It was lovely.

Then of course we went to find a beer.

We talked to the brewer, and she said there were 23 breweries in town, and we visited a few while there.  Oh, we need to come back.  We need to be here for a month, maybe more, and hike the other half of Saguaro National Park…and, of course, find more of the breweries.

Bicycling is also a thing in Tucson.  Bike paths all over the place.  We, unfortunately, did not bring our road bikes just our town bikes.  Something to consider for the next trip…but can we get away with bringing 2 bikes each?  It seems like overkill. Only not.

So in Tucson we said in a place called Voyager RV Resort.

This was our first real encounter with the world of snowbirds, the older folk who leave the cold North in the Winter and camp for months in Arizona…and as we’ll learn later Florida. Calling it camping is a little silly actually. This is a resort where you park your rig, hook up to every and all service available, and then wait out the winter.

This resort is amazing. It has three pools, sauna, spa, massage service, and a small hotel if you have visitors and you don’t want them in your rig. It has tennis, golf, pickle ball, shuffleboard, boccie, basketball courts and horse shoes. It also has the most amazing collections of hobby rooms I’ve ever seen. Woodshop, better than pro. Photo studio, got that. Computer room, and services on site. Pottery, three kilns. Sewing, bring your machine or use theirs. Think I’m done? Not by half. They have silversmiths, jewelry making, lapidary, stained glass making, oil painting, watercolors, quilting, knitting, crochet, and if your fingers are sore, machine embroidery. Amazing.

The place has it’s own store and it’s own Bar and Grill. But, we’re all older now. The busy time is five pm, and when we went there was already a crowd in the bar doing karaoke….and I mean really getting fired up.

But this being older folk…by nine PM…it’s a ghost town. Ah, cruisers midnight.

Now the truth is, this is not really our kind of place. It’s a little sterile. And we felt like we were younger than this crowd by at least years. We like being in the woods, or the desert. That said, I can see the allure of a place that caters to your needs as you age, and where you can meet all kinds of other folks going through the same things you are. I get it. We’re just not there…yet.

 

Joshua Tree National Park…watch for jumping Cholla

Just East of Palm Springs is Joshua Tree National Park.

Everyone says they love Joshua Tree National Park and for good reason.  What a wonderful area.  We were able to spend a night in Cottonwood Campground with only a few other campers in the entire campground. 

This part of Joshua Tree has quite diverse flora and fauna.  The flora we were impresses with.  Unfortunately the fauna viewing was limited to a desert rabbit and a few birds.  We clearly need to work a bit harder on this.   

We took a short hike from Lost Palms Oasis.  This is an easy hike with lots of interesting views and cool plants.  We had to keep it short due to my bum hip but hope to return and have a longer walk in the wilderness. 

Rock formations in Joshua Tree

We were able to drive up from the southeast entrance (Cottonwood Visitor Center) almost to the northwest entrance (Joshua Tree Visitor Center).  The Rock formations were interesting (very round) and we would like to try camping nearby next time we visit. 

The micro-climates allows for lots of similar plants to congregate in certain areas.  For example, the Joshua Trees are only in the northwest section of the park, not the entire park. 

There’s also a cactus garden that has a natural concentration of the Cholla cactus.  You can find them all over but here they’ve taken over a small area.  The conditions must be just perfect for them to thrive at this density at this spot.

This is certainly a place to visit if you ever get a chance.  We’ll go back.