Pandemic Summer Drags on

Sigh. 2020 blows, and not in a way sailors like.

After knocking out a few boat projects, we started to get itchy to get off the dock and spend some of the waning summer in the San Juan Islands. We hadn’t been to Fishermen’s Bay on the West side of Lopez in a while, so that was the first destination. After a few days there, we hopped over to Parks Bay on Shaw. That’s a little bay just across the channel from Friday Harbor. You can’t go ashore here as it’s a UW research area….but it was peaceful.

Next up we thought hey if we sail way out toward the US/Canada Border, then tack back North we’ll be able to sail up to Patos Island to check in at the tiny bay there to see if we luck into one of the State Park Bouys, and if we didn’t get that it was an easy cruise around to Echo Bay on Sucia….where there is always room. Again, there was no room at Patos (Sigh, one day we’ll get to visit) so we motored over to Sucia for a few nights to start Labor Day weekend.

By Sunday the forecast for the Islands called for 40 knot winds out of the North that night. Looking at the chart we said, “Best way to hide from this wind is snug up to an anchorage facing away.” So we sailed down Orcas Island to West Sound and went all the way up to Massacre Bay at the top of the Sound to drop the hook next to Skull Island, put out the big bridle, and batten down for a blow.

The winds were late….but they finally came with a vengeance on Labor Day itself. We spent the day reading, cooking, and monitoring the radio and internet. There were so many stories of boats having problems, going on the rocks, bucking really high winds and current driven waves. It was a day everyone should have just stayed put…but people with a schedule who needed to get back to work will often make the wrong choice and go any way. We are blessed not to have to make that choice.

Tuesday winds were back to normal in late summer. The forecast said “Winds 5-15 kts, variable” Which is kind of the meteorological equivalent of saying “Uh, we don’t know. We know there will be weather.” Sadly, those winds that blew up Monday also sparked the round of wildfires in Washington and Oregon and the smoke was really starting to get set in even in the islands.

I also started to wonder about our upcoming weekend plan to meet Jen and Monica and some other friends for our 2nd Annual Cruisers Campout. Jen and Monica have a little piece of land over by the Columbia River the other side of Wenatchee. The plan was to meet there again, pull the RVs in a circle and tell tall tales. With fires blazing the entire West Coast I wondered, “Is this really a good time to go there?”

When Jen sent around a photo of firefighters setting backfires at the Highway 2 corner where we were all supposed to turn to go to RimRock Meadows the answer to my question was clear. No, this is not a good time for camping in Eastern Washington. But no worries. Jen and Monica also have a little cabin at Lake Tyee near Concrete on the Western slope of the Cascades. Everyone could just go there, and they had a neighbor’s RV spot about 100 feet away where we could park.

So we transfered our flag to Dewey and headed up Highway 2, stopping only to fill the growler with beer at the brewery in Birdsview.

Lake Tyee was a hoot. It’s basically an RV park in the woods around a lake, where most of the RV’s have had covers built over them. Their installs where semi-permanent. They get to stay up there 6 months out of the year, and store their RV there when they are back home. Each site has power, water and a sewer dump. There is a clubhouse and pool, but those are Corona-closed. Still, it made a great spot to use as base while we all struck out with kayaks and canoe to poke around nearby, and much bigger, Baker Lake

Baker Lake is long and narrow, and the fire smoke was definitely making it a big hard to see the vistas. But we set out with three dogs and 4 boats to check it out anyway. It was still lovely.

Back at the cabin, we ate, drank, made ribs, and played a massive game of Train Dominos. Hint, just don’t play with Karin. She’s really a shark.

Monday morning it was back to Anacortes and the boat. This week we’ll see Jim and Shirley who are staying in their RV nearby. And at the end of the week we host Christian for a night on the boat before he heads off for a 5 month stint in Hawaii working on a museum. I know, tough assignment for him. Less tough though as his girlfriend Kim is going to go there and spend the time there with him. Company is paying for his apartment and has no issues with a guest.

We were thinking about running down to Idaho to see kids play football and soccer, but Camas County has had an outbreak of “The Rona” finally, and it hit school kids. So everything there is in a hold. We’ll see if we get to actually go.

Sigh. 2020 blows, and not in a way sailors like.

Sheltering on the Road for a bit

We love being on the boat in the Pacific Northwest in the Summer. It’s magical. But there are other places that are magic too, and we really miss our family during this pandemic. So everyone has to weigh the risks, and decide what it reasonably safe. In late July we decided it was time to hit the road and run up to Corral Creek Ranch on the Camas Prairie in Southern Idaho.

As we’ve mentioned before, we used to do this run in one day when the kids were little; leaving at 2am to get lots of miles under the wheels before the kids woke up. Yeah. We’re older now. We don’t do that crazy stuff any more, at least not very much. Instead we find a winery somewhere near halfway to Idaho that allows you to spend the night. A winery such as Copper Belt in the dry hills East of Baker City Oregon.

They had great wines and a great view. Lovely.

The view from Copper Belt Winery

Waking up the next day we only had a 4 hour drive; two hours to Boise, then two more up to the Ranch. Which, as you might imagine, with all 5 of my sister’s kids visiting was a 12 grandchild mad house. It was epic.

Karin kept saying, “I don’t remember it being this crazy when all our kids where this age.” Which prompted my sister Rebecca and I to look at her with that quizzical look on our faces. “What are you talking about? It was exactly this crazy when we all got together at the ranch.”

Part of the reason to come up at this time, late July, was to finally see Braden, Breanna and her buddy Laura compete in the 4H livestock shows at the Camas County Fair. We’ve always come earlier in the summer and never got to see the final showing. This was to be our year, and it was a lot of fun to see the kids show their animals.

The Camas County Fair was a little subdued this year because everyone was trying to keep reasonable distance and stay in family groups as best as possible. Idaho has bit hit hard in some areas, but Camas County has only had one case of Corona Virus. Folks were being mindful while still trying to have a good time.

Part of the fun was the parade through town, with everyone spaced out. It was short…but still fun for the kids….as a small town celebration should be.

The only thing we missed was the big main street dance. They usually close down main, put a band up on a hay wagon, and party into the night down town. It’s all ages and the little kids love dancing with mom and dad, and grandpa too. This year they decided it was too risky with the pandemic. The Iron Mountain Inn did a smaller thing in their dirt parking lot….but it wasn’t really the same. We’ll come back again when we can do the dance right.

But boat chores call in early August, so it was time to head home. And yes, another trip, another winery where we could stay the night. This time it was Analare Winery near Benton City in SW Washington. It was another magic place, half way, where we could socially distance and support a local business.


Sheltering on the Boat in Puget Sound

As the pandemic rolled on into late spring, the urge to get off the dock started building. Educator John Shedd said it best, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.”

The week after Memorial Day some parts of the state with low virus numbers started to loosen the stay home restrictions. That included a lot of the counties on the West side of Puget Sound. We realized that if we, mostly, kept out of Seattle we’d be able to anchor out off semi-open towns, and even get dock space if we needed to come ashore to shop for supplies.

So on May 27th, Endless Song hoisted her new swallowtail banner and left her harbor in Anacortes. Since the US/Canadian Border is closed to non-essential travel, we decides it was time to explore a little deeper into the Sound Puget Sound below the Tacoma Narrows.

First we went to the south end of Lopez Island for a night, and then it was a quiet crossing of the straight of Juan de Fuca.

Anytime I can stand up here it’s been quiet on the Strait of Juan de Fuca

We passed Port Townsend, but rather than our usual stay at Point Hudson we crossed the Bay and wound our way for the first time into the tricky entrance to Mystery Bay. There are two state marine parks inside here and we wanted to see them.

After a lovely night at anchor in Mystery Bay, we took of to push through Admiralty Inlet into Puget Sound. We sailed down to Port Madison at the North end of Bainbridge Island for another quiet night. Weather through this period was a little drippy, but hey, it’s the NW. This is what we get in spring. We woke up realizing that is was just a short hop across to Shilshole in Seattle, and they were open. We knew it was a chance to see Christian so we dashed across for a night.

We had a lovely Saturday afternoon at the dock at Shilshole catching up with Christian. We were only interrupted by an alarm on all of our phones noting Seattle was undergoing a riot and that a curfew of 5pm had been declared. This was the start of the protests of police killing in Minneapolis. Clearly, it was time for Christian to go home and for us to get the heck back to the other side of Puget Sound.

We sailed in the morning for Poulsbo, one of our favorite anchorages. Liberty Bay is a lovely place to park. The bottom is a uniform 15 feet for miles, with good holding. You can just motor in with your garbage and as Kitsap County was in stage 2 of re-opening we were able to sit, distanced, in the outside garden of Valhol Brewery and have our first draft brew in three months. Mmmmm.

On this trip we made a habit of looking for new places to anchor. South of Poulsbo we had never sailed through the Port Washington Narrows to Dyes Inlet and Silverdale. What we discovered is that it’s a bit loud and industrial. OK, live and learn. If there’s an event we want to attend in Silverdale, sure. Otherwise, meh. Off to Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island for a few nights of looking at the Seattle skyline, then Winslow to resupply and do laundry. Bainbridge Island/Winslow is a great stop with a super city dock. The grocery is just uphill, and the laundry just a few more steps around the corner.

The other benefit of Winslow is that Christian could swing by on his way home from Portland for a few hours of chat and food. This is becoming a good habit.

After Winslow, we sailed south for a few days at anchor in Gig Harbor, a favorite spot. Then we sailed through the Tacoma Narrows and on to Penrose Point State Park…off the Lakebay Marina for a few days of waiting out the rain. After two days there it was time for the state capitol, Olympia and the head of Budd Inlet. We approached in rain, taking time out for fuel and pumpout, before we finally found a spot on Percival Landing…just steps from downtown and resupply at the local market. Olympia also had a killer farmers market that was operating with Virus Rules in place. It was easy to resupply with fresh vegetables and meats of all kinds.

After a weekend in Olympia, we took off for a loop of Hope Island State Park, and a final landing on a buoy at Jerrill Cove State Marine Park. Karin’s cousin Mike and his wife Karla live on the cove, as does Karin’s Aunt Shirley. Even better, Mike and Karla’s granddaughters Lyra and Etta Rose were “in residence” with G-ma, and G-paw. We finally got to meet them in person after years of following Liesel, their mom, on Instagram and watching them grow up. They’re great! Sitting for hours chatting with Shirley, Mike, and Karla was also fun. Great to catch up on everything. We need to sail back here, clearly.

After that it was a long reach down Case Inlet to Anderson Island and Oro Bay. This is a sweet little anchorage tucked in right across the way from the Nisqually Flats. Think of it as the bend at the end of Puget Sound. The skies were clearing nicely and the views of Mount Rainier were fabulous.

After a few days there, we decided to pop through the Narrows to the North to Quartermaster Harbor at the South end of Vashon Island. It’s a great protected anchorage, but man it’s gotten developed. There were speedboats, jet skis, sailors, power yachts galore. There were even two unlimited light hydroplanes that came out to practice. It was busy.

David and Gyung called and they are hanging with Noelle for a few weeks, and were up at Blakley Harbor, heading for Poulsbo. So after one night at Quartermaster, we pulled up the anchor and headed for Poulsbo. It was a blast seeing Noelle, whom we last ran into in Tampa in January. We distanced as we could in the cockpit, staying in our 6 foot corners. But we still had a blast BBQing out on the hook with friends.

The next day we went in for a night at Poulsbo Marina. Power, Water, resupply. They were all nice to have. Taking off again for Winslow/Bainbridge Island we decided it was time to resupply and prep for heading North. It was also Christian’s 39th birthday. He and Kim came over for dinner they next day.

We took off to the North the next day and made it all the way up the inside route to Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. Just past Coupville, out toward the Captiain Whidbey Inn, there’s a lovely cove that makes for a comfortable anchorage. Tucked in close to land you’re sheltered from the winds coming down the Straight of Juan de Fuca, which is just on the other side of the landmass, probably only really about a mile away.

Motoring North, we stopped in for a night at Hope Island State Marine Park. It’s just inside Deception Pass at the North end of Whidbey Island. From here you can see the backside of Fidalgo Island and Mount Erie, which is basically Anacortes. In the morning it was just a quick motor through the Swinomish Channel and La Connor and we were back in Anacortes.

Boat projects, medical exams, dental check ups and some RV repairs will take our time in July. Then we hope to go to the Camas County Fair in Idaho in late July. But stay tuned. Covid 19 seems to have a mind of its own and doesn’t think much of our “plans.”

Shelter in Place…on a boat

Everyone will have the story to tell about where they “sheltered in place” during the novel coronavirus outbreak in the spring of 2020. For us shelter was aboard our Passport 40 sailboat, Endless Song, at our dock in Anacortes, WA.

First day back on the boat. Tuesday March 24th, 2020

The first step, of course, is getting the boat systems back on line. When we leave for an extended time we have to store all the equipment, empty out the refrigerator and freezer compartment, remove any stores that could go bad, set dehumidifiers, open all storage cabinets so mold doesn’t develop, etc. When you come back you need to reverse all that and hope no strange leaks and smells have developed. Lucky us; when we opened up all the hatches and entered the boat it was clean, dry, and there were no bad smells or mold. All we had to do was close all the lockers, turn off and stow dehumidifiers , turn on the heaters for the cabin, turn on the refer system, and wait for it to get warm or cold. We brought all the perishables from the trailer, popped them in their normal storage areas, and within minutes the boat was toasty warm and we were home.

All was well. Well, maybe not “all.” The one thing that had happened while we were away, and only just in the last few weeks, was that the local river otters decided, “Hey, here’s a boat we haven’t pooped on yet.” That’s correct. Two weeks before we came home our mechanic friend that we pay to come over every month to check the boat and run the engines called to say, “Um, Dan…problem. The otters got into your enclosure and pooped all over.” Arrrrgh. Otters. They’re cute, right up until they come aboard to poop on you.

Damned otters!

Shaun is the best of mechanics, but he’s also the best of friends. And he cleaned up the otter attack for us and tightly sealed the full enclosure again….making sure there were no gaps the otters could work on to get in again. When we got there, they had not been back….and there was only a slight lingering odour de Otter. A washdown with soap and water…and then bleach took care of that. We did however toss out all the cockpit cushions and order nice new ones. It was time anyway.

I bought Shaun a bottle of old Scotch, Karin’s favorite brand from Islay. He earned it.

Those otter creeps don’t give up easily. The first few weeks they came back on three different nights. When I heard their little feet skittering on deck I bounded out of bed, flipped on the super bright decklights, and made all kind of yelling noises as I burst out of the hatch. The goal is to scare them half to death as they dive over the rails into the water. Karin, of course, just looks at me through groggy eyes at 2am….and laughs.

So now that we’re home, have checked in with parents and our son Christian, we’re doing what everyone else is doing…hunkering down to wait. We, like everyone, have been learning the ins and outs of ZOOM, Facetime, and other types of online conferencing software. It has actually been fun to have reunions with old co-workers and family, online birthday parties for kiddos, and, of course, extended drinking binges with the Fencing Team. Nothing like a pirate family reunion to make a Saturday.

With Endless Song’s galley once again operational, what can we make? Karin and I didn’t want to give up the Florida sunshine too fast, so we pulled out the Key Lime Pie supplies one more time. Mmmm. Worked again.

Karin has also been working on Sourdough bread, like everyone in America it seems. Flour is very hard to come by on the store shelves.

Thanks to Lang, a fellow resident of the “D” dock Karin has her own “starter”….what a baker calls “The Bitch”. You have to feed it and care for “The Bitch” or she’ll die on you….and then no more warm bread. Karin has been feeding hers, and is being rewarded.

The other thing we’re doing is riding our bikes. While we’re all supposed to stay home as much as possible, one still needs to take walks and rides close by your home. Lucky for us the Tommy Thompson Bicycle trail runs from downtown Anacortes, right by our marina, and out south along Fidalgo Bay to the trestle across to the March Point oil refinery. Once you get across that trestle, you can turn right or left and do the loop road around March Point. It’s great to get to the tip of the point and turn your back on the refinery and see all the waters, islands and mountains stretching away to Bellingham, Lummi Island and beyond. It’s also the only view around where you don’t have to see the refinery. We have been lucky through April as there have been some lovely days to ride.

The real question for us is “When can we go sailing?” We really don’t know yet. As we get into early May, the state is finally starting to ease back to some activity. May 5th most State Parks and boat ramps open for day use. Ok, we figure that means local day sails are ok…so we’ll do a few of those. The larger re-opening of overnight camping, both at land state parks, and at the marine state parks, is what we’re waiting to see. If all goes well we may see that sometime in mid to late May. Once that’s ok, then we can begin to think about sailing down into Puget Sound.

Endless Song on a bouy at Jones Island State Park in 2017

This photo is more aspirational than anything. It’s from Jones Island State Park in the San Juan Islands. There is no visiting the Islands at the moment…but we can’t wait until we can go back.

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.