Amazing Alaska Adventure – Part 2

Skagway to Vancouver

The great Alaskan adventure continues for the four explorers: Doug, Jackie, Jeff and Vicki.  This June trip-of-a-lifetime had a great start in Anchorage and Seward, Alaska and continues south through the Inside Passage aboard the cruise ship Celebrity Millennium.  This was our first time aboard a Celebrity ship and we were well impressed.  The food and service were just wonderful, our oceanview staterooms were generous and the vibe onboard was relaxed and comfortable.  Blankets on the upper decks were handy on chilly, wet days and the pools and hot tubs were refreshing on a couple of rather warm sea days.

  

Arriving in Skagway, the rainy, cloudy weather began to clear and we could see the mountains that surrounded this gold rush town and the valley up the White Pass.  The rocky wall alongside the dock was painted with the names of ships that had visited this port and we could see the rail cars of the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow guage railway lined up alongside our ship.  Jackie and I had tickets booked for this ride and Jeff and Vic were hoping their helicopter ride to glaciers was still going to happen that day.

Our trip up the White Pass was great fun, as we climbed through the valley, across trestles and through tunnels, tracing the route of the Klondike gold rush stampede.  We crossed into Canada and stopped at Fraser to have a look at the surrounding glacial tarn (lakes) and till (rocks).  That’s also where we hopped a bus for the return trip back down to Skagway.

We spent the rest of the day exploring town, one that retains its gold rush charm, and peeled off a layer as the day cleared and got rather warm.  The Red Onion Saloon and brothel, Klondike Brewery, (Trail Coffee Blonde and Lost at Sea Coconut Brown Ale) and Skagway Brewing (Spruce Tip Ale and Blue Top Porter) were highlights.  Klondike Brewery had just opened a month earlier and had some really good brews.

  

When we met up with Jeff and Vicki back on board, they recounted how exciting their flight to the glacier was, with about 40 minutes spent on the glacier observing a moulin (vertical shaft with meltwater) and tasting glacial water.  We had another great meal in the dining room a return visit to the martini bar and watched our departure for Icy Strait Point from the upper decks.  The views as we pulled away from shore and down through the fjord were just breathtaking!

On day 5 we were headed to Hoonah, a small town that has an upgraded wharf and dock courtesy of the cruise line that is now rebranded as Icy Strait Point.  It is a wonderful spot to shop in the converted salmon cannery, try the long zipline, wander through old growth rainforest or catch a whale watching excursion.

The whale watching is what Jackie and I were ready for as we motored out of the Hoonah marina on a beautiful, calm morning in a small boat.  A pair of bald eagles watched us leave the dock as we sped off in search of humpbacks.  The boat slowed as we passed patches of kelp and spotted a sea otter with youngster just feet from the boat.

Look!  Over there, a whale blow (puff of steam) and we were in the midst of several humpbacks.  We drifted about quietly as we listened to them surface, blow and then dive down, treating us to several views of tail flukes.  Among them were porpoises bobbing up and down and then suddenly up ahead we had a full on breach of 15-20 feet of water and whale up out of the water.  It went by so quickly that it was almost missed by most of us.  Altogether we probably spotted a dozen humpbacks, plus a sea lion lounging on a channel marker.  Another great day on the water.

Once back on shore and walking around the old cannery, I lost Jackie but caught up with Jeff and Vicki. Jeff had done a toe dip in the water off shore and declared it cold.

When we finally found Jackie she was in a panic about lost binoculars – did she leave them onboard the excursion boat? Shuttle van? Restroom?  A bit of a scramble led to the lost and found desk at the excursions desk and luckily they had been found and turned in.  Ok then, crisis averted.

It was an early afternoon departure from Icy Strait, as we made room for another Celebrity cruise ship to dock.  The sail away was another beautiful one as we scanned the water for more whales and the shorelines for bears.  We were not disappointed, as we saw about 8 – 10 humpbacks cooperatively feeding in the distance, but only “rock bears” on shore.

Ketchikan was our next port of call and the beautiful weather continued.  Ketchikan is a busy port and we were joined by another cruise ship along the dock.  We were in search of totems in this town, plus a visit to Creek Street, home to many brothels that operated into the 1950’s.  Each couple headed out to explore town and do some souvenir shopping.

Jackie and I wandered up along the Creek Streets boardwalks, stopping a moment to read about Dolly’s Place and several of the business women of the area.  Salmon are an important part of the local economy and the upper area of the Ketchikan Creek had a cool salmon ladder that bypassed the waterfall.  We stopped in at the Totem Heritage Center to learn more about the story poles.

On our walk back to the wharf we passed a cute cottage with an artfully designed rock and container garden.  We met the owner, Cora, and had a good conversation about gardens and the challenges of keeping deer and slugs away from the plants.  It seems deer are one critter we have in common.  I told her about my glass totem hobby and suggested she consider trying her hand at the glass sculptures.  (I later read her nice comment on the blog).

As we crossed the Ketchikan Creek there was a bit of commotion.  We noticed a fisherman on the bridge had a salmon hooked with a pretty light spinning rig and was trying to keep him hooked while moving off the bridge and down the rocky shore – in sandals.  We got to see the big fish as he wrestled him ashore and we were pretty certain he would have to hurry before an eagle snatched it up.  But he walked off with his trophy – a darn nice catch!

Onboard was our second “chic” night and I wore a totally appropriate tie given to me by a student a few years back.  The tie featured Tlingit art salmon – perfect tribute to the places we had visited.  However, it seems we were hitting some really cold air as we left Ketchikan and the ship was surrounded by thick fog.  Made for an unsettling night, with the ship’s fog horn blowing regularly (umm, no big ice I hope!)

The day at sea through the Inside Passage was next, as we sailed into Canadian waters surrounded by green mountains in our narrowest fjord.  It was such a nice day that much of the time was spent around the pool deck as we continued to scour the water and hillsides for wildlife.  We spotted some whales blowing in the distance and saw a few porpoise in our wake.

The poolside grill featured an Alaska Crab platter for the second time, so we cracked into three big Alaskan crab legs, two crab cakes, crab bisque and a garlic roll — of course accompanied by our onboard favorite Alaskan White Ale.  It was also Jackie’s birthday, so we made a fuss at dinner as she blew out the candle on her cake.  The evening was delightful on the upper deck as we watched the sun actually set later that night.  What a great last evening aboard as we approached our final port in Vancouver.  (Well, it was still a scramble as we packed our bags for departure that night).

Next morning I was up early to watch our approach into Vancouver harbor.  Quite the contrast from the small Alaskan towns we had visited.  The port was busy with ferries, helicopters, seaplanes and many tankers in the harbor waiting their turn.

After breakfast we watched the load-in of fresh vegetables and fruits as we awaited our call to depart the ship.  Changeover days are definitely bittersweet – you head off as a new group gets ready to board and receive their welcome champagne.  Was it really only last week that we had ours?

We caught a taxi to our Best Western Sands hotel in the West End, zipping through downtown skyscrapers, midtown neighborhoods and eventually a block from the seawall.  We checked our bags and hiked off in search of rental bikes to ride around nearby Stanley Park.  We couldn’t really decide once we got to the rental spot and thought we were hungry, so we made our way past so many different eateries, though most were not open.  Indecision led us back to our hotel and the restaurant next door, The Park Pub, where we ate another breakfast (it was barely 11 am).

 

This one was deliciously hearty: Vic had poutine (potatoes, eggs, cheese), Jeff had a version of steak and eggs, I had oatmeal with fruit and Jackie had fruit with yogurt.  We were able to check in to our room, so up we went and promptly all crashed on the beds.

Two hours later we were up and much refreshed.  So of course we had to go explore.  It was a fair day along the seawall, so we walked and people-watched and discussed plans for the next day.  Our flight didn’t leave until 10:30pm, so we had another whole day in town.  The conversation and indecision about places to eat continued until dinner, until we found out that our hotel restaurant had $4 hamburgers for happy hour.  Decision made!  And it was a good one.  We had burgers piled high, more fries than we could eat and cold beer to drink as we sat along the sidewalk and enjoyed the evening.

Next day we split up with instructions to meet up for an early dinner at TapShack on the harbor and then catch a cab to the airport.  Jeff and Vic headed out on bikes to explore Stanley Park and we tried the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour of the city.  Biking is a big deal around Vancouver, with lots of rental shops, bike lanes and a long route along the seawall and Stanley Park.  Our open-air bus trip around town took us to so many places we had to do the loop twice (with walking tours here and there). We saw:

When we met up at TapShack on the waterfront under Burrard Bridge we had a delicious meal of fish tacos, yummy fresh salad, chips and salsa.  Of course local beer selections, too.  Probably the best beer of the trip for me was a mandarin radler.  Jeff liked the Hoyne Brewing Dark Matter, a Guiness style ale.  Back to the hotel, catch the cab, head through security and out to the gate to await the flight home.

Just over four hours later and we were dragging our bags to customs and a very confusing checkpoint then back home to hot and humid Atlanta weather.  Another crash on the bed and visions of whales in our heads.  What an adventure!

Where are we off to next?  Well, we still have a few minor fixes for the motorhome before we head out in September for fall leaf spotting in the northeast and Maine.  Plus, we will be watching our nephew Adam’s progress up the Appalachian Trail to see if we will meet him there in October.

Otherwise … who knows what adventures lie ahead?

By the way, if you are planning a cruise, give our travel agent Cynthia Long (617-587-6000 x 38584) at CruisesOnly a call.  She was a great help booking the trip and getting us some onboard credits and extras.  Mention us and we can earn points.

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Amazing Alaskan Adventure – Part 1

  

It’s pushing 90 degrees with high humidity as I sit to organize my thoughts and photos of our Alaskan adventure, but I am thinking of the cooler temperatures and amazing views of the mountains and waters of Alaska instead.  This seven day cruise with Jackie, my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Vicki was planned out almost a year ago and it exceeded all our expectations and has left us with great memories.  Now to reassemble those thoughts amid the muddle-headedness of air travel and time changes…

  

Part 1 – Anchorage to Juneau

Our June trip-of-a-lifetime had a great start in Anchorage and Seward, Alaska and will continue south through the Inside Passage aboard the cruise ship Celebrity Millennium.

  

We arrived in Anchorage barely 3 hours after we left Atlanta, but of course that was actually 7 hours of flight time later.  We picked up our rental SUV at the airport and drove into town.  The night was young and we were pumped, after seeing some amazing snow-covered mountains and glaciers from the plane already.  This was going to be great!  We dropped our bags at the Voyager Inn and walked the streets of Anchorage in search of breweries on Doug’s list, plus a recommendation for good eats at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse.

 

Humpy’s didn’t disappoint as we toasted the adventure to come with local brews and shared a delicious platter of cod tacos. Yummy!  (Midnight Sun Oosik Amber and King Street Stout beers)

 

We found the 49th State Brewery, one of the craft breweries on Doug’s list, and took a seat on the rooftop terrace to sample craft beer and watch locals fishing along the nearby riverbank.  And of course the backdrop of snow-covered mountain peaks still seemed unreal. (Baked Blonde and Prospector’s Gold beers).

  

Getting up early was no problem, since we were still on Eastern Time, and we tucked into a delicious breakfast at the hotel.  Jeff and Vic were up early in search of a coffee shop, to no avail, but had a nice walk along the waterfront.  I grabbed my camera and wandered about, snapping shots of hanging baskets and … ouch, I rolled my ankle pretty good on a sidewalk crack. Dangit, we had barely started the adventure and already I had an injury!  Oh well, keep moving and carry on.

  

The big day began with our 3-hour drive to Seward along Turnagain Arm (the big bay).  There was almost nobody on the road as we wound around the cliffs and along the rocky shore.  All eyes were on the water for whales, but Vicki suddenly blurted out that she saw something on the rocky cliff.  Off to the shoulder and out of the car, binoculars scanning.  Soon we found the Dall sheep that she spotted, way up on the hillside.  A little further on we stopped at Bird Point to scan the water again, but the excitement was back on the hillside again.  This time there were young Dall sheep among the adults, and not far above us looking down.  Good spotting.

  

So onward we went, the clear blue skies above, white, blue and green mountains all around us.  As we recounted our sheep spotting, Jeff declared “all we need now is a moose” and just ahead someone must have heard us and pushed out the moose, because a cow and calf appeared out of the bushes at the edge of the road.  No way!  The little guy scampered in and out of the shrubs around mom as she munched on grass and dandelions.  Wow how cool.

 

The rest of the drive to Seward we tried to muster up some bear, but instead got gorgeous scenery.  We did spot a huge eagle nest with dad standing guard over mom and youngsters in the nest.  Once we pulled into Seward we dropped our bags at the Best Western and headed to the docks for lunch and to check out the departure point.  We sat outside and shared baskets of fried rockfish, salmon, calamari, halibut and cod along with some Alaskan beer.  We walked back along the seawall, past a shoreline city campground and RV park and spotted some sea otters feeding on mussels along the shore.  Suddenly our spotter Vicki said she saw whales off the shore, blowing puffs of steam.  Well, it sure looked like that, so we ran to the rental car, drove out along the shoreline to get closer and had a great look at what we learned were humpback whales, possibly bubble feeding (the gulls were a giveaway).  Wow, what a day for wildlife!

Jeff and I returned the rental car and we met up with Jackie at the van for Stoney Creek Canopy Adventures.  Vic was off to explore Seward by foot and along the seawall again.  Our afternoon zipline was great fun.  There were tons of zips and a few really long ones over ponds and mossy woodlands.  A couple of suspension bridges and two rappels down to earth added to the fun.  I opted to skip the gopro and phone for pictures, since our guides promised to take several shots.

Back down in town we found Vicki, grabbed binoculars and headed out.  Dinner was wood fired pizza and Rockfish Red Ale at Seward Brewing Company, another one of my craft beer destinations.  Good stuff.  We still had time to see eagles and otters and Harlequin ducks along the shore, since sunset was a long way off, plus Jeff spotted Dall sheep on the hillside across from our hotel balcony.

  

The next morning was embarkation day and it started with another delicious breakfast at the hotel.  We took the town’s free shuttle to the pier and waited for boarding instructions.  It was a dreary, colder and rainy morning, not at all like the gorgeous day before. Fairly soon we had our ship credentials and were headed across a windy, rainy dock to walk up the ramp and onboard the Celebrity Millennium.  Cheers! We were handed glasses of champagne and noticed that we were the first four people aboard.  Ok then, let’s find a cool spot to hang out.  Pool bar was open and not at all busy.  The crew looked like they were fishing in the pool with their yellow slickers and nets – really?

 

I know we had lunch on deck 10, lots to drink at various bars as we explored the ship, a fabulous dinner in the dining room, a brief rally in the casino (I lost), but all I really recall was our sail away as we passed rocky cliffs and saw swarms of Kittiwake gulls circling and covering them.

 

Next morning was our day at sea as we headed to the Hubbard Glacier.  We crossed through some pretty bumpy water overnight and the day started cold and rainy again.  Darn, where was that great weather from Seward?

 

Below decks we had a chance to do the galley tour along with nearly everyone else.  Wow, what a big operation behind the scenes.

Our approach in toward the glacier was filled with glacial ice and the captain had to make his way gingerly through the icefield.  But the colors of the floating ice were a treat, with the deep blue indicating the oldest, most compact glacial ice and black/grey stripes containing rocks and sediment.  We did have a nice long look at the Hubbard Glacier as the ship spun around and the rain stopped for a bit.  Some of us saw some of the “calving” – chunks of ice breaking off the front.

Heading inside to warm up, we discovered the poolside grill had great burgers and really good fries.  Jeff and Vic opted for the Alaskan Crab Feast while watching the glacier and we all found out that Alaskan Brewing White and Amber ales were a good choice with lunch.

After a bit, it was time to head out to Juneau and hopefully better weather.

 

Yep, about that weather.  Jackie and I had a morning excursion by helicopter to several glaciers and a dogsledding trip, so we were up and off the ship early.  Just one thing though, the low cloud cover and drizzle meant our helicopter tour was cancelled, no chance at a re-booking later in the day. Drats.  We wandered around town a bit, checking Alaskan Brewing (which was only their storefront), the Red Dog Saloon, complete with sawdust on the floors, then decided plan B would be to book a whale watching excursion.

So that afternoon we went on our whale watch, Jeff and Vic went on theirs and we all met back at the ship to trade stories and sightings.  One added benefit was a trip through town, a loop in front of the Mendenhall Glacier and an eagle-filled marsh as we made our way to and from Auke Bay, the excursion harbor.

Each of us got to see humpback whales blowing, diving (with great looks at their hump) and tailing.  Several whales and some good sightings.  Jeff and Vic also saw sea lions piled on a channel marker.  It turned out to be a good afternoon.

We really wanted to take the Tramway to the top of Mt. Roberts, but the cloud cover just made that unrealistic.  Another great meal in the dining room, fancy desserts for Father’s Day, visits to the Martini Bar and we were off to Skagway.

  

 

It had been a great cruise so far, and more adventures lay ahead.  Stay tuned, the adventure continues …

Part two of our adventure, from Skagway to Vancouver will follow soon.  By the way, if you are planning a cruise, give our travel agent Cynthia Long (617-587-6000 x 38584) at CruisesOnly a call.  She was a great help booking the trip and getting us some onboard credits and extras.  Mention us and we can earn points.

 

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Of Devil Rays and Dolphins

As promised, I am writing our next blog from Panama City Beach – a camping vacation in our favorite spot on the gulf coast: St. Andrews State Park.  Since this is our fifth visit, (see 2015, 2016, 2017) it might be hard to find some unique stories and shoot some new photos, but these two weeks have a lot of special meaning, so let’s recap the adventure:

It starts with Mother’s Day.  We traveled and arrived on Sunday and went straight to the beach — found it just as beautiful as we remembered.  The soft white sand beach, while narrow, sloped gently into the water with almost no waves and clarity that beats most pools.  Jackie says she had a perfect Mother’s day, sitting on the beach with drink in hand, sunlight sparkling off the turquoise water.  The colors are as beautiful as the Caribbean and the snorkeling along the jetty was nearly as good.  Lots and lots of fish (blue tang, bluenose wrassie, mullet, sheepshead, angelfish, sergeant major, yellow tail) can be seen on the gulf side and the lagoon side.  Just amazing.  Click on the word link:  Snorkeling highlights video

It continues with our anniversary.  We celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary at Sharky’s, a perfect beach bar and restaurant.  You can sit beachside and enjoy what we swear is the best fried grouper sandwich.  Since we remembered to bring our Fat Tuesday cups from last year, we got our fill of tropical drinks much cheaper.  It was a perfect, magical evening as we watched the sun set on the surf.

The cups also came in handy at Pineapple Willy’s one rainy afternoon when Jackie was searching for wifi to download books to her Paperwhite Kindle.  Jackie consumes books, so this was a “must do” event.

It becomes something special.  Wherever we go we manage to find something special.  This time it was while we were knee deep in the water.  A small raft of dark shapes was headed our way and we watched in wonder as we were surrounded by five or six rays zooming along, mouths open, feeding on plankton.  Up and down they bobbed, wings flapping, sometimes the tips out of the water, moving around us in the shallow water.  We learned they were devil rays, looking like small versions of manta rays, maybe two feet across.  They would move back and forth along the shore in groups of two to twelve and we saw them almost daily.  Every once in a while you would see a splash where one would break the surface, but the most fantastic moment was when I saw one shoot four feet into the air, do a slow flip and then dive back into the water.  What a treat. Check out the videos by clicking on the word link:  Devil Rays Video

And of course this area is great for spotting dolphin.  Sitting on the beach you watch the various dolphin tour boats and jet-ski tours arrive at the end of the jetty and watch for dolphin.  And most times they are not disappointed:  the dolphins appear and jump about for the tourists.  We almost become “ho-hum, another dolphin,” but we were well entertained one afternoon as the dolphin must have found a thick school of fish and furiously zipping through the school and shooting out of the water.  One or two were jumping four to five feet in the air, maybe a dozen times or more.  Quite the show and something that you don’t always get to see.

One evening as the lagoon calmed down I hopped on a paddleboard and paddled along shore to see if I could find some stingrays.  We saw several on a paddle over to the point of the inlet and I was hoping to find them again.  No luck, but on the way back Jackie called to me from the dock and we both spotted several dolphin bobbing around.  One was a mother/youngster pair, easily seen as they sliced up and out of the water.  I just sat on the board as they fished within feet of me, spitting and fluking.

Another afternoon we were similarly treated to a small pod of about 8 dolphin within 25 feet of our boards – bobbing and splashing about.  The water was so clear you could see them beneath the water, turning sideways to show their lighter belly and then breaking the surface.  Very special.

I spotted some spoonbills in the marsh one morning on my way to the beach, but I only had my phone to snap the shot – not my best shot.  Spoonbills have been an elusive bird to get on camera for me, so this was something of a catch at least.  I figured I could find them again the next day, but was treated instead to a turf war between gators.  While snapping shots of one alligator in the marsh, a second male came lumbering in and quickly dispatched the other one out, watching to be sure he got the message, his tail flipping back and forth.  You might be surprised at how quickly these boys can move!

It ends with the school year and a tropical storm.  We know our fellow teachers back home are celebrating the end of the school year and a few teachers in the family are within days of their school year ending.  We congratulate them all on making it through another year and especially Linda, who finished her first year back in the classroom teaching autistic students.

As we pack up camp we are under a tropical storm watch, with nasty weather brewing in the Gulf and heavy rain headed our way.  We returned the golf cart, brushed off the sand, packed up chairs and toys and pulled in the awning.  A good time to be headed away from the coast and back home.

And of course, an “uh-oh” moment.

Jackie and I have come to the conclusion that no matter how well planned you are, each camping trip seems to have at least one “uh-oh” moment.  Somehow something unexpected happens and you hope it is a simple fix, not AC failure or a cracked windshield or blown tires.  This time it was all about water.  With the prolonged cold spring we didn’t de-winterize the RV until late, which meant that this trip was the first of the season.  The week before heading out, we drained the potable antifreeze and flushed the water system.  Into the main water tank went bleach to sanitize it and another flush of the water lines to sanitize and rinse them before adding a few gallons of fresh water to the tank.  We also needed to fill the LP tank, which was no problem.

But there was one itty bitty detail.  The first drinks I fixed in camp tasted a bit off – like gulps of swimming pool water off.  I made ice from the tap and it seems we must have been a little heavy handed with the bleach.  Yech.  Ok, toss that drink and let’s use bottled water for the ice.  That meant a trip to the store for a few more gallons of bottled water for the ice and coffee, but worth it until we flush out more of the water in the system.  Well, at least it is sanitized.  (Note to self: use far less bleach and do a better job of flushing and rinsing the water lines).

The other glitch involves hot water.  We have it — we just can’t get it through the lines. The water tank fills and heats water just fine, it just doesn’t flow from the taps.  Grrr.  A bit of a head scratcher, which had me draining the tank, bleeding out any air, trying the water pump, flipping the bypass valve each way — and then doing it all over again to no avail.  This one will require some research and tinkering at home, maybe a vinegar rinse of the tank and a systematic check of the lines for a blockage.  Since we are using the camp showers, the only need for hot water is washing dishes, so filling a container from the water heater drain outside worked for now.

A plate of oysters and a grouper sandwich at Hunts.

Thanks for following along on our adventures.  Next up for us is our Alaska cruise – in two weeks!  Jeff and Vickie will be along with us to zip line, whale watch and explore the inside passage.  I hope to have some cool pics and video to post after that wild journey, so keep an eye out.

And be sure to check my nephew Adam’s blog about his continuing Appalachian Trail adventure: Adam’s blog.  He has video and stories about the first 300 miles posted now.

Doug

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The Lure of the Trail

We just had a great weekend for several reasons.  First off, it was the best weather we have had all year – cool, dry air that turned nice and warm with the sun and perfectly clear blue skies.  Secondly, my sister Linda was in town from California (where they supposedly have this weather all the time) and we joined our BrewCrew to volunteer at the Kennesaw Beer and Wine Fest (see the update on the “Happenings” page).  It was a really great afternoon spent pouring beer for the masses and then enjoying local brews after our shift ended.

It was a great day for wearing pretzel necklaces. The “BrewCrew.”

Third, and most important, we were joined at night by more family as something of a hostel/trailhead start to our nephew’s AT thru hike.  Let me explain a bit more:

Our nephew Adam has been planning his end-to-end hike of the Appalachian Trail for years.  With his service in the Army National Guard Infantry Division completed and his college degree behind him, Adam was set for this adventure.  He had his gear and his blog (follow him at http://amoodyadventure.blogspot.com/ ) all set.  He and his girlfriend Ashley drove up from coastal SC to stay the night before driving to the AT Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.

Once word got out that he was going to get started this weekend, his cousin Alex (our son) decided to join him for the first day and night of the hike.  How cool.  So we also had Alex and Bethany with us Saturday night.  Good thing Doug had cooked up some good barbecue the day before – that made it a lot easier to feed the crew when we got home from the beer fest.

The night before departure.

Stories and S’mores around the fire.

We spent the evening around the firepit, making S’mores and talking about the hike, and other adventures.  There was a bit of discussion about pack weight and necessary v. unnecessary items.  The camp chair was a point of dispute, however Adam declared that it was essential, even if it added weight and bulk.  Jackie and I told about our two short hikes in the area:  the Len Foote Hike Inn Trail (parallel to the approach trail and documented on the blog “Hike Inn Anniversary”) and the hike up Blood Mountain from Neel’s Gap (Not so Smoky Mountains).

    

   

My sister shared that she helps as a trail angel on the lower portion of the Pacific Coast Trail and had just finished up feeding their herd of hikers who were just three days into the South-to-North trek in California.  Her husband Norm had walked the three day start from the Mexico border with his niece, so Linda had some fresh tales to tell.  And one more mountain trek connection to share is that one of Alex’s best buddies from college has also just started the hike north on the PCT.  So the lure of the mountains and the summer hike has called to many in our circle.

Sunday morning the boys and their driver hit the road to Amicalola Falls State Park after a hearty breakfast.  Their plan was to hike the approach trail to Springer Mountain and go on to the Springer Mountain camp area.  I think they figured that to be about 10-12 miles in.  Soon we had a few pictures of the first night’s camp.  Alex was going to hike back out the next day and return home to work.  Adam is continuing north and should actually hit another spot in North Carolina near his family in about 10 days.

Adam is ready to start his adventure!

Alex and Adam’s first night at Springer Mountain. Notice the “essential” chair.

And if all of that isn’t enough, our fall New England motorhome adventure should put us at Acadia National Park in Maine the second week of October, possibly the time when Adam is reaching Mt. Katahdin (northern terminus of the AT) in Maine.  So, if timing is right, we might just connect with him at the end of his hike.

Hiking Cousins

Adam and Alex on Day 2

Spring is indeed finally here and the summer adventures have begun for our family.  We couldn’t be prouder of all of them, and of course wish Adam good weather, good friendships and good times.

Thanks for following along.  Our next adventure is just weeks away when we head out to Panama City Beach for paddleboarding, snorkeling and grouper sandwiches!  Stay tuned.

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Caribbean Cruising … again!

Let’s see, when we last left “Caribbean Jack” in October he was already talking about the next cruise.  It seemed too early to talk about another cruise, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas he kept checking schedules with various family members until it seemed that Jackie and I were the last ones standing … since we were retired and all.

Ok, I volunteered to research dates and itineraries out of Charleston and soon we had a date booked in April for a 5 day sailing to Nassau and Princess Cay.  Oops, we found out that was spring break for some schools in South Carolina, but by then it was too late.  What’s that Jackie?  Just like the romantic hike in the mountains for our anniversary that involved a gaggle of fifth graders? (see the post “Hike Inn Anniversary“).  Retired teachers can be soooo crabby!

Our “Welcome Aboard” drink!

So with bags packed and adventure awaiting, we set off for Dad’s – leaving freeze warnings at home amid April showers – with visions of the blue Caribbean and warm sunny days ahead.  He was all set, bags also packed and waiting, with a reminder that we needed to get the handicapped hang-tag out of his car and be sure to pack his walker.  That proved golden, as Charleston does not charge mobility-impaired passengers for parking and we were able to use their lift-equipped shuttle van and wheelchairs for a swift boarding process.  With little fuss we were soon on the Lido deck, poolside, with that first tropical drink in hand.

Ready for our day at sea.

Ok, it was a bit drizzly and chilly so we moved inside while we scanned the list of shipboard activities and planned our first day at sea.  Soon after we pulled away from shore and the Carnival Ecstasy was headed out of Charleston harbor and on to warmer and calmer waters.  If you are a cruiser, you know the exhilaration you feel at the sail-away moment, with all the stresses of life left behind and the thrill of the open water ahead of you.  This was going to be fun.

        

The itinerary was for our first full day at sea followed by a stop at their private island, Princess Cay.  That first day brought us into the sunshine, but the water temperature in the pool was still mighty chilly, so it was pretty much just the kids who were splashing about (when they weren’t filling up the hot tubs, that is).  Undeterred, we sat poolside, legs in the water, adult beverages in hand, chatting with other passengers – most from the mid-Atlantic and Southeast region.  I kept a look out for “that kid” who would sooner or later appear, gleam in his eyes, and flop in the pool, sending icy sprays of water over all the adults nearby.  Oh, wait, my glass was empty … time to head to the bar anyway.

Even the towel creatures had their day by the pool.

Those first days also involved casino strategy sessions – well, between Dad and I anyway.  Craps for me and roulette for Dad.  Jackie declared she was going to get to every comedy show and a few of the musical ones and Dad said he might join her.  After a slow start at the craps table, I headed to the room to find Jackie napping and with good intentions of making the evening shows, but we ended up crashing and leaving a note on Dad’s door.  He later said that he went to the musical performance (too loud, no real dancing, just wacky moves), then the casino and stayed up to nearly midnight.

Jackie was proud of the shawl she had crocheted – and it was needed.

What do you do on a five-day Caribbean cruise anyway?  Here is how we kept busy:

  • Talk about meals and food, check menus, and then talk some more about food. This is something of a pastime for my family anyway, but we would hear all about the great omelets, warm pastries, and breakfast dining room service from Dad on those days we went ashore.  Dinner was fun, with great appetizers (mussels, conch fritters, escargot, calamari) and main courses (lamb shank, short ribs, prime rib, crab ravioli, roast duck).  And dessert!

Roast duck and crab ravioli

  • Go ashore at Princess Cay for snorkeling.
  • Talk some more about meals and food. Guy’s Burgers were a big hit and the fresh tacos, burritos, pizza and Reubens all delicious.

Burger run from Guy’s Burger Joint

  • Hit the casino, and in Doug’s case hope for better luck at craps.
  • Go ashore in Nassau and pay to wander Atlantis on Paradise Island.
  • Read a book

Love that new eReader!

  • Hang something special on your door (Jackie has been great at crocheting shells, starfish, palm trees and such for the doors).

Of course mini golf!

  • Wander the ship and play mini golf, look at the fitness center, pass the duty-free shops, sit by the pool and maybe get wet.
  • Hear how well Jack did at the roulette table – again.
  • Check out the Chocolate Fantasy at the Lido buffet.

  • Check to be sure you haven’t hit your 15 drink limit for the day (not even close).
  • Enjoy the sail-away each night and watch for flying fish (yes, there were many of them popping out of the water at the bow as we left Princess Cay this time).

  • Buy the drink package and enjoy yourself for a few days. We bought the special Tervis insulated cups to hold our favorite drinks.

We enjoyed our previous snorkel on Princess Cay and were hoping for just as much fun.  Caught an early tender and walked down to the snorkel reef area.  It is an easy, sandy entry into the water and you can snorkel along the shoreline to see corals and fish pretty easily.

Easy entry to the snorkel area.

Jackie saw a large barracuda and Doug saw a small flounder and eel besides the parrotfish, yellowtails, blue tang, sergeant majors, crevalle and lots of the typical reef fish. It began to get a bit choppy after a few hours, so we tried another spot that was more protected, but more jetty than coral reef.  It was a good morning on shore and we were back aboard by mid-afternoon.

You can’t beat the color of the water in the Caribbean.

The snorkel reef from above. Just beyond and below the waves were fans, corals, and reef fish.

How was Nassau this visit?  Lots of flowers in bloom and fresh paint on most buildings made Nassau a colorful port of call.  We had three other ships in port with us, but we were in the slip right along the embarkation dock.  Easy on and off and a great way to people watch along shore.

   

     

   

This time we purchased tickets to walk the grounds of Atlantis on Paradise Island, so we caught a cab and zig-zagged our way through traffic to the resort.  If you have never been there, I recommend it – even though it is pricey to just walk through expensive shops, a gorgeous casino and tropical grounds.

        

        

 

After wandering through the casino and gazing at the Chihuly glass sculptures, we found our way outside and around the waterfalls and gardens.  And typical for us, we walked in The Dig aquarium from the exit (we managed that by accident in another aquarium).  It didn’t really matter, we were out of the way of strollers for a while.  It is a pretty nice aquarium, with all sorts of artifacts that add to the experience as you gaze at the reef fish, including some spotted eagle rays and a very large manta ray.

       

When you make your way to the lobby above, you can also look down on the pools to see the schools of fish.  In the Predator Lagoon area there are several species of shark and three very big smalltooth sawfish.  We were at the rail where a guest was feeding squid to the sharks and got a pretty good look at the frenzy.

 

Further on we saw turtles and hammerhead sharks before climbing the dunes to the beach.  Hey, we didn’t buy a wristband for beach access … nor did we buy the water park pass, but we somehow ended up next to their signature waterslide.  Darn, we didn’t have our bathing suits on!

       

Another wild ride back to the ship and Jackie headed onboard to have lunch with Dad while Doug walked around town for some photos of the local scene.  From the edge of the harbor it really is an amazing sight of clear blue waters and large white ships, with street vendors and excursion boats sprinkled in.

            

And what about the casino onboard?  Well, Doug had his new craps strategy in play during the week, but was up and down (mostly down).  He would sit and play roulette with Jack for a bit, then Jack would watch him play a while at the craps table.  Dad stood at the rail and played craps one night but opted to return to roulette.  So it went, up and down.  But the last night got a bit more exciting.  While they were both at the roulette table, Dad said “I’m going to do a crazy bet” and he covered one whole column of numbers.  Of course he hit one and got a nice payout.

Aboard Carnival Ecstasy (15)

“You have to have a system …”

Doug heard the call of the craps table for one last time but when Jack joined him his stack of chips was dwindling.  Jack stepped to the end position on the rail and it was soon his turn to shoot the dice. By then, Doug had ditched his strategy and was back to just odds on key numbers.  “So what do I need to roll?” Dad asked.  “7”.  “Okay, here goes.”  Bam, we got a seven.  And another.  Then he hit his point as Doug managed both their bets, and again hit his number.  “Am I still throwing?” he asked several times, to which the entire table replied “hit it again, Mr. Jack.”

That was how the night went on until he crapped out and we cashed in.  Everyone was fist bumping him around the table congratulating him for a great run.  Our stacks of chips were back to respectable size again!.  A good recovery for sure, but these are only $5 tables, so it’s never that much money, just good fun.

Our last night in the dining room was a special celebration, even if a bit teary-eyed.  We ordered a round of champagne and toasted good fortune (finally) and good sailing, with a nod to the memory of Nancy and all the cruises she and Dad enjoyed together.

Nancy and Jack aboard Forbes yacht Capitalist Tool

It had been a great five days at sea and we declared it a success.  I think I heard something about “not sure I have another cruise in me …” but I chose to ignore that one (of course he does).

Leaving the ship was a breeze. Thanks again to Jack’s walker we were able to do a late departure and rolled off the ship to head home.  Yep, rainy conditions again and more freeze warnings at home.  As we look out at the leaves just popping and the azaleas finishing their bloom, we can’t help but compare the low 30’s temperatures to the warm breezes of the tropics and ask ourselves “weren’t we just snorkeling in clear, blue waters three days ago?”  Cruising is magical.

Be sure to look at all the photos below to get a sense of the ship and ports of call.  I should point out that the underwater shots are at the aquarium, not from our snorkel.  Soon I should have snorkeling video edited and posted on the Video gallery.  Thanks for following along on our adventures.  Next trip is Panama City Beach in the motorhome.  Yippee!

Planning a cruise?  You can get a great deal and we get some credit if you book through Cynthia Long at CruisesOnly.  Their loyalty program will give you extras like shipboard and resort credit on top of the cruise line’s best deals.  Give her a call at 617-587-6000 x 38584 and mention that Doug and Jackie sent you.

 

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Spring Arrives!

Orange azalea

Wow, it has been a few months since I last posted – mostly because we have been busy with family (Mom died in January, we welcomed a new grandson in February), meeting up with our “beer peeps” at local breweries, getting better at our hobbies (crochet and glass totems), working out at the gym and planning the year’s adventures, but NOT actually getting out and about in the Winnebago.  Not really anything blog-worthy.

But now that warmer weather is kind of here (still some freeze warnings), we have some fun stuff going on.  Big news is an upcoming cruise to Nassau, Bahamas and Princess Cay with Dad again.  He loves it and we don’t mind being the designated cruisers.  So the next blog post will probably be all about the trip with some cool pictures posted.  Besides chilling on the ship, Jackie and I are looking forward to snorkeling at Princess Cay and then checking out the grounds and aquarium at Atlantis on Paradise Island.  This trip we figure it’s time to have a look.

Other plans for the spring include a return to Panama City Beach with the motorhome and the pets for two weeks.  That should be AWESOME, since we booked our favorite campsite and should have fun paddleboarding, snorkeling and swimming.

Then in June we fly to Alaska for a cruise with my brother and sister-in-law.  We start in Anchorage and travel south to Vancouver.  Whale watching, zip-lining, dog sledding, glacier watching, train rides, tram rides, beer sampling — gosh this one will be great.  So that should be another good posting on the blog page, with pictures and probably some video of whales (we hope).

In early fall we have a long motorhome trip planned for New England to be leaf peepers and catch the fall colors.  Up through Michigan, across Ontario, into New England and over to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park before heading back south through Pennsylvania and down the Shenandoah Valley.  Now THIS trip will definitely include a lot of our soon-to-be-favorite breweries along the way.  Already have them marked on the map!

So, as soon as the pollen stops clogging things up we can take the cover off the motorhome, de-winterize, flush and fill and get ourselves back into camping mode.  It feels like it has been a long winter and too long between our outdoor adventures.

Keep an eye out for blog updates soon.  As always, thanks for stopping by to see what we are up to.  Oh, and if you haven’t had a look at Doug’s crazy new hobby of glass totems, be sure to click the link.

Glass Totems

Happy Adventuring!

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Caribbean Jack

It seems you can’t keep Dad away from a good cruise.  He really needed this respite break and some of the family was happy to join him.  So Jackie, Jeff, Vickie and Doug set out from Charleston Harbor on Carnival’s Ecstasy for 5 days in October to enjoy the sand and sun.

Rat Pack ready for the Cruise

Sail away day is the BEST day of a cruise … you grab your colorful favorite drink and the party starts right away as you leave your troubles behind.  This was our first trip out of Charleston and the weather was just perfect to head past Fort Sumter and into the Atlantic.

Here’s to getting aboard first!

Charleston Harbor

Charleston Harbor and Ft. Sumter

Happy Jack

After a day at sea we arrived off the shore of Princess Cays.  Took an early tender and our snorkel gear to see what we could find.  Since the drink package did not include anything on the island, we all figured to spend just the morning ashore and be back on ship for lunch, drinks and dinner.  The snorkeling beach, however, was quite a surprise.  It was one of the best small reefs we have encountered in the Caribbean.

Princess Cays and the snorkeling spot

A small sandy entry point gave access to a sloping reef that was loaded with fan and pipe coral, sponges and all sorts of reef fish.  Several flounder were spotted, along with plenty of the other colorful reef fish: blue tang, parrot fish, sergeant major, angels … and a good size barracuda.  What a good morning of snorkeling (oops, no pictures).

After a Fine Meal

Dinner each night was in the main dining room and was good service with darn good food.  Dad certainly enjoyed the selection.  After dinner the guys tried their luck at the casino and the ladies did the shows.  Doug and Jeff tried a new strategy at the craps table that started out really well, but ended up working against them.  Overall, I think we all played as much as we wanted to and pretty much broke even.

Cheers!

Back to the “Cheers” program and our handy list of gotta-try drinks.  Some of us were fretting that the prepaid drink program’s limit of 15 drinks per day was going to be a concern — but we must be lightweights, because only one of us hit the limit on one night (and we agreed it was because the day started with a bloody Mary!)

Cruise Oct 2017 (67)

Rough day at the office…

Cruise Oct 2017 (65) b

Popular spot for us on the pool deck

Our favorite bar was the RedFrog Rum Bar, poolside, but we also frequented the lobby bar, the BlueIguana Tequilla Bar, Alchemy Bar (for some wild martini productions) and the casino bar (but that was tricky — had to make your bets last until the drink arrived!)  So, despite our history of craft brewery visits and beer festivals, we were quite happy to try lots of fruity and colorful concoctions.

Freeport shops

The other island visit on this trip was a stop at Freeport, but we all decided to stay aboard ship and just watch the crowds wander the shopping plaza adjacent to the ship – and to giggle at the late arrivals who almost didn’t make the ship’s departure.   It didn’t appear that the recent hurricanes had a significant affect on the two ports we visited.  Jeff and Doug decided that with so many folks off the ship, it was time to try the Twister water slide.  Pretty wet and wild affair, and we hung in there for several runs.

Waterslide awaits

Cruise Oct 2017 (95) b

Yikes!

Oh yes we did!

Overall, a good cruise and a nice ship with friendly staff and good food and drink.

Mango Magic

The point of this cruise was to make sure Dad had plenty of sunshine, good food and companionship — and that he did.

Pretty sure this was one good week for him!

Sleepy Jack

Planning a cruise?  You can get a great deal and we get some credit if you book through Cynthia Long at CruisesOnly.  Their loyalty program will give you extras like shipboard and resort credit on top of the cruise line’s best deals.  Give her a call at 617-587-6000 x 38584 and mention that Doug and Jackie sent you.

 

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Snake River Whitewater Photos

As you read in the post about Grand Tetons, we did a rafting excursion on part of the Snake River outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Had one of our Best Days Ever! thanks to the folks at Jackson Hole Whitewater rafting — and you can see by the crazy expressions on our faces, this was a very exciting, Class 3/ Class 4 whitewater adventure.

Now that we are back home, I connected with the folks who took photos along the way at the Big Kahuna whitewater dunk (Float-O-Graphs) and bought my package of photos.

Doug was “riding the bull” for this section of the river, where you straddled the front of the raft.  Jackie was further back, furiously paddling to keep us moving along, but as you see, she gets equally swamped and ends up bounced into the middle of the raft.

Feel free to chuckle loudly at the “OMG” expressions you see – and watch that foot, as Doug practically disappears.

Enjoy.

 

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The Long Road Back

Vacations are wonderful, until it is time to head home.  That’s the point in our trip for us, making the long drive back east from our fabulous trip to so many great state and national parks …. Glacier, Tetons, Yellowstone, Bighorn, Custer, Badlands … my, it was a lot.  This may sound more like the “lightning round” of game shows, with many stops in many states, but we had a lot of ground to cover.

Tetons Last Day

Wyoming

We left those impressive mountains of Grand Tetons while the air was clearing just a bit and we saw them one last time.  The drive southeast took us along the Hoback River through a very scenic canyon and then into the cute western town of Pinedale.  The streets were wide, the shops all fishing and hunting themed and … woah, was that a brewery we just passed?  What luck, it was lunchtime!  We eased alongside the sidewalk, parked the van and walked back to Wind River Brewing for a delicious lunch of brats, reuben sandwiches and a flight of beer.  One stand-out was their Mango Wheat, which they unfortunately did not have in cans to-go.  Darn.

Wind River Brewing

Wind River Flight

On the nice 2-lane road south again we suddenly saw signs that said “pavement ends” .. what?? Well, one of the area road maintenance strategies is to remove the asphalt from the entire road for miles at a time (5 to 7), leaving a gravel washboard.  This was one of those instances as “whomp” we left the pavement and rattled more slowly along the gravel.  This is no fun in a motorhome towing a car – everything rattles.  After several of these no-pavement stretches we hit Interstate 80 at Rock Springs and kept driving east to reach Rawlins, Wyoming, stopping at a KOA to hook into wifi, cable TV and to check on the progress of hurricane Irma.  

We were pretty deadly on butterflies it seems …

Rawlins KOA

Rawlins, WY

Nothing remarkable, but clearer skies with the smoke of western wildfires left behind.  Next day as we got set to continue east, we noticed that we lost a hubcap on the car somewhere along the washboard gravel roads, dangit!  

Depot in Cheyenne

Accomplice Brewing

Checking in at Accomplice

Approaching Cheyenne, we checked online to find a cool brewery was in town, and since it was lunchtime again, we headed downtown to find Accomplice Brewing in the old train depot.  What a cool area that is being redeveloped.  Cheyenne seems to like their cowboy boots, many of which are decorated around town.  

Great way to serve yourself!

Something special at this brewery was a pour your own feature.  In the tap area you choose the style of glass you want (pilsner, sampler, snifter, pint) and then choose from 14 beers.  You get a plastic magcard to record your samplings, place it against the screen above the tap and it tells you how many ounces you are pouring and what the final cost of your pour is.  You settle up when you leave.

 

Since it was lunch, we ordered a plate of pork nachos (on house kettle chips) that hit the spot, with a couple of pretzels and beer cheese to go with it.  Nice bit of heat to accompany the various brews on tap.  We liked the sours, saisons and hefeweisen.  

Nebraska

Back in the camper again and heading down the road, we crossed into Nebraska, a new state for us, and made it to Ogallala to stop for the night. Driving through southern Wyoming and into Nebraska was pretty much a lot of sagebrush scrub flatlands, becoming a bit more cornfields and crops in Nebraska, but still pretty wide open plains and not a lot of trees.  Ogallala’s campground was in the middle of a cornfield and you could smell the corn on that warm night.

Kansas

Salina KOA

From mid-Nebraska we turned south after following the Platte River and stayed the night in Salina, Kansas.  Lots more cropland, as the land flattened out and you could see hay, corn and soybeans being harvested.  The next day we were approaching Wichita round about lunchtime and lucky for us there were several breweries in town.  Well, you could hardly pass up the chance to stop for gas and then have lunch at one of them, so we found ourselves a nice big parking lot near the Old Town section of Wichita and headed for River City Brewing.  We were very impressed with this part of town, which had brick-cobbled streets and many old warehouse apartment conversions and plenty of restaurants and shops.

River City Brewing

Ordered a flight of beer at RCB and Jackie got a thin crust pizza that was delicious (she shared some) and Doug ordered mac ‘n cheese with Kansas City sausage and barbecue sauce on top – really good food.  Nice spot and easy access for us.  Back at the camper, Kodi and Merlin were quite content and off we went to find a spot for the night further south.  I found myself humming Glen Campbell songs along the way …

Oklahoma

We crossed into Oklahoma, another new state for us, and found an odd city park along a lake just off Interstate 35 north of Oklahoma City.  The city of Perry had this grassy bluff of 10 pull-through campsites, full utilities, on a pay-at-the-box basis.  What fun – just four of us there for the night, listening to cows in the distance and looking up into a dark night sky.  Oklahoma has very few trees, too.  Mostly grasslands and cropland, but you sure can see the horizon easily.

Arkansas

Lake Dardanelle

Ok then, more driving yet to go.  Up and out in the morning, we passed around Oklahoma City and drove east into Arkansas, making our way east on Interstate 40 to Russellville and another cool discovery: Lake Dardanelle.  It is an impoundment of the Arkansas River and the state park that offered camping was quite nice.  Maybe 4 of us in camp that night.  Our goal was to make it to Hot Springs National Park the next day to stay in their campground, but it was not reservable, so we wanted to get their early.  It was not a long trip, only an hour and a half, but it was a “scenic” route, which we know means curvy, hilly and slow going.  But we got there, got a nice spot and unhitched the car (back-in sites) so we could also go into town.

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs can give you the impression that it has seen better days, and indeed it has: around the turn of the century.  The hot baths that sprung up because of the hot mineral springs are all now part of the national park as bathhouse row and you can tour a few of them.  

A few still operate as bathhouses and spas, and one, to our delight, was a brewery.  I think maybe we have the strangest luck, finding these beer joints nearly everywhere.  We had to patronize Superior Brewing, ordering a flight of 4 beers each and texting family about it, when Alex hit us back to say they had been there last Christmas.  Nearly the same seats at the bar, too.

Superior Brewing inside the bathhouse

A flight from Superior

So we walked around town, noticing that the downtown businesses were trying for a turnaround, several of them pretty decent shops and such.  We stopped to splash our hands in one of the open spring pools, only to learn that “ouch” that water is hot!  Unlike Yellowstone’s steam vents, geysers and hot springs, nearly all of the hot springs in the park and town were capped off years ago by the government.  But a few are free spigots for you to fill your jug – just be aware it is HOT spring water.

Louisiana and Mississippi

Still more miles to go, so we set off again the next day toward our destination of Grayton Beach, Florida.  We were still a couple days off, so our next stopping point was south through Arkansas, into Louisiana and over to Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Arkansas really flattens out as you go south and east toward the Mississippi River, with lots of cropland that was being harvested.  The overnight at Vicksburg was a Good Sam campground connected to the riverside casino.  Basic spot with utilities, but we did avail ourselves of the free shuttle to the casino to get something to eat (unfortunately, a less than average meal) and watch the sun set over the river.  That was worth it, not so much the smoky casino.

Alabama

This next day we drove around Jackson toward Hattiesburg and further south around Mobile and Mobile Bay to camp at a spot off Interstate 10 just west of Pensacola, Florida..  It was so hot and humid as we pulled in, all we wanted was to connect to electricity and get the AC going.  It seems that the engine AC lost charge and was only spewing warm air out of the dash for the past two days, and we were now definitely back in the humid south.  As Jackie is trying to connect the electric, a whopper of a thunderstorm was brewing and crackling around us.  All connected, but nothing happened.   Seems the circuit breaker in camp was not working.  Asked the owner to move us, he had to check it out for 10 minutes (uhh, not working, right?) and then we got the ok to move sites.  BAM! The thunder struck, Jackie quickly connected, we leveled up and huddled inside while the rain came down and the temperature inside dropped, finally.

Florida

Still wet and humid the next day, we made our final drive along I-10 into the Florida panhandle and Grayton Beach State Park.  Quick as we could, we disconnected the car, made camp and headed to the beach for a swim.  Gorgeous water, beautiful beach — we cooled off and shed the dusty west.  Dan and Terri from home were vacationing here this week and the plan was to meet up and revisit some of our favorite breweries here.  First night we had a delicious meal at Café 30A, told tales of our bold adventure and watched the sun set over the gulf.  

Dan, Terri, Jackie and I at Craft Bar in Grayton Beach

Another night we drove to Grayton Beer company and enjoyed some of their brews while munching on sub sandwiches.  Plans for Idyll Hounds the next night were to be followed by a visit to a local music spot for open mic night.  Dan and Terri wanted a chance to play a set and have some fun.  Well, the AC repairs nixed plans a bit …

Since the AC in the engine section of the RV seemed to quit the moment we hit Mississippi and the hot, humid weather, I called a mechanic to pay a visit and make repairs.  Steve, the Mobile Mechanic arrived and pronounced the AC compressor bad, in fact bad enough that we would not have made it home without a breakdown. You may recall that just last October we had that replaced, so I will be arguing the warranty with the shop back home.  Two days later we had a new compressor and were ready to roll again.  Thanks, Steve.

Idyll Hounds

Our brewery visit plans were almost ruined, but all was not lost.  We did manage our Idyll Hounds visit and then went on to Craft Bar to try a few other regional beers and have some good eats.  What fun with our really good brew peeps from home!!  Thanks, Terri and Dan.

Grayton Beach State Park is beautiful and you can’t beat the white sand beaches and clear water for swimming.  This part of the gulf and Florida missed the fury of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and, combined with the sunny weather, was just delightful.  

Soon it was time to make one final hitch connection for the car, pull up the leveling jacks, bring in the slides and head for home.  As we drove through Alabama on our way to Georgia, we marveled at this long journey and how far we had come: north from home across the heartland to the Rocky Mountains and nearly over the Canadian border;  back down through the central plains along the Mississippi River to the gulf shores.  We saw so many special places, spectacular scenery, amazing wildlife and had so many unique experiences that surely we will be thinking of this trip for months to come.  

Sixteen states, 5,700 miles, one dented-up Rav-4, one missing hubcap, three grizzly bears, one cracked windshield, seven moose, two bald eagles, six wolves, one AC compressor, three black bears, two weak house batteries, herds of buffalo, several geysers and a lot of hiking … are we the winners of the Amazing Race yet?

Thanks for joining us along the way.  I hope it will help you plan your own adventures and bring you as much fun as we had.  Let us know what you liked!  

Until next time, when the adventure continues …