Crossing Ontario, Canada

An early sunrise greeted us as we showered and pulled up to head into Canada.  Crossing over the bridge at Sault Saint Marie (oh and it’s Soo, not salt), we looked down on the locks, the rapids and the power canals.  And then we were at the border crossing, handing over our passports. A few questions about where we were headed, firearms and did we have alcohol (yes, just two bottles) and we were waved through.  Wow a lot easier than we thought. Shoulda bought that Kentucky Bourbon after all.

The day was a long drive across the upper shore of Lake Huron and the North Channel, but the scenery was spectacular.  There is so much water: ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, bogs all of which look like they would be perfect for wildlife, especially moose.  We even saw several moose crossing signs, but alas no moose. Plenty of beaver lodges though. We are also seeing the first signs of fall color among the spruces, firs, aspens and birch.  Just some pops of color among the dark evergreens and white trunks.

The first part of the drive had small towns and farmland.  We saw some more sandhill cranes in the cornfields and plenty of geese.  One flock might have had some snow geese mixed in. In some of the farming areas we saw horse and buggy warning signs and we weren’t sure why until we passed a horse and carriage trotting along the wide shoulder.  Neither of us knew if there were Quakers or Mennonites locally, but it seems so. As we got closer to our destination, Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, the terrain was more rocky, with outcrops along the road covered in reindeer moss and spruce.  Canadians must love stacking rocks, as there were many rock cairns (or totems or hoodoos) on the outcroppings. Some were rather artistic creations, one even had a yellow cape.

The campground was a very nice wooded spot, but the entrance road was way too bumpy – we were pitching left and right and up and down and… well everything seemed to be rattling.  Our site was just across from a stream that ran from a nice lake to the Matawa River, with a nice overlook down 50 feet or so to the water. Once settled in and after a walk with Kodi to find bear or moose (no luck) we sat with our drinks at a table on the edge of the stream.  As we reviewed the day’s travel, we watched several mergansers swimming along. It was really cool.

 

Of course it rained again overnight and the fabric footstools we left outside to dry (from our plumbing adventure) got soaked once again.  But since it was a pull-through site we didn’t have to disconnect the car and it was easy to leave in the moring for our final leg to Ottawa.  The road we travel goes along the Mattawa River, the northern border of Ontario. Lots of water again, ponds, lakes, the river, bogs, several beaver lodges, but no wildlife.  It was an easier day of driving and we got to Wesley Clover Campground, just outside Ottawa and right off the interstate just after noon. Disconnected the car and set up in camp. 

One fun thing in camp are these oversized picnic tables with carved animals on the ends.  It seems that Kodi was quite taken with one.

Jackie discovered (somewhere along the trip in Ohio) that Bernat yarn had come out with special color blends for Christmas, but would only be available in Wal-Marts in Canada.  Well isn’t that lucky for us? So a mission, once we got into Canada, was to find a Wal-Mart and get that yarn. Of course no stores until Ottawa, so once here we hopped in the car to get to a Wal-Mart close by.  Alas, all out. Ah well, guess we will do the brew tour instead.

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Three breweries within 4 miles (er kilometers), so we sampled a little at each.  Covered Bridge brewing had a nice raspberry wheat; Big Rig was a very cool set-up and pretty big, with a delicious pumpkin porter, grapefruit shandy and a porter Jackie liked.  Last stop was Small Pony Barrelworks. All they brewed was barrel-aged sours, so Jackie was kinda out of luck, but I loved it. Sampled all sorts of blueberry, raspberry, sour cherry, elderberry, hibiscus sours, each with a different color and flavor.  What fun. 

Back in camp now, after grilling a nice dinner of boneless chops and brussel sprouts.  Our footstools finally dried so I put them away – which was a good thing because it is now raining once again as I write this blog.  Ah well, at least it really hasn’t rained in the afternoons when we arrive at destinations. Tomorrow is a full day in Ottawa seeing the city and then we pick up and head east just a bit to stay outside Montreal.  Looking forward to a nice Saturday in Ottawa.  

Check back as we post more pictures and stories of our trek to Maine.  Thanks for following along so far.

Doug

 

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Sleeping Bear to Soo Locks

Sleeping Bear Dunes is pretty amazing. Once we made camp in a nicely wooded spot (meaning acorns hit the roof regularly), we had time to unhitch the car and drive to spots along Lake Michigan (this was a back-in site anyway).  The first stop was the Dune Climb.  From the parking lot it didn’t look too bad, just a big pile of sand in front of us, so up we went. Yep, just like walking in soft sand at the beach, except not carrying the chairs, umbrella, towels, etc.  Well, puff puff, maybe a steep beach. Ok then, we made it to the crest … oh but not really. It flattened out a bit and we reached the one mile marker. But it continued onward and upward. We asked another couple coming back down if the next crest gave you a view of Lake Michigan, and they said “no, just the next hill.”  Ok, that was enough. Back down we went. Good thing, cause my toes were cramping in my shoes from all the added sand. It was very fine and had this nasty habit of filling your shoes and socks.

 

Back in the car we drove on another scenic drive that had some overlooks of the dunes area and then we found the best overlook for the lake.  Lots of sand and a pretty steep slope down to the shoreline. You got a great view of the lake and dune from the overlook, but some folks insist on sliding down the sand and then trekking back up the steep slope, despite warning signs.  It would have been nicer if it was not overcast and windy, but it was still a wild view.

Overnight it rained again and in the morning we drove around the corner to hitch up the car in the picnic area along the Platte River.  Once connected, we walked to the river’s edge to watch some morning canoeists heading downstream. The water was clear enough to watch some of the salmon heading upstream to spawn.  How cool.

The drive east took us through Traverse City (darn, too early to sample breweries) along the lake.  One block back from the waterfront is a river that runs through town like a canal, filled with powerboats and waterfront homes.  That seemed really cool for the summer. We headed northeast toward 1-75, across farmland, and I asked Jackie to scout out a place for lunch.  She found Petoskey Brewing along our route. They had ample parking for the motorhome, so naturally that meant we were in for lunch and a flight.  What a great choice it turned out to be! Jackie ordered a Reuben sandwich and I chose a black and blue bacon burger, both with beer batter fries. Totally delicious food.  And our flights (one each this time) were some of the best beers so far. Two favorites for me were Beach Slapped (pineapple, coconut blonde ale – awesome flavor) and grapefruit shandy.  Jackie thought the brown ale was the best. Good pit stop.

 

As we continued north, the day changed from drizzle to sunny/partly cloudy, but the temperature dropped into the mid 50’s.  What a nice change. Pretty soon we could see the Mackinaw Bridge ahead of us and we were driving up and over the connection between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  Cross winds were strong, so we kept it at 25 mph.

Crossing into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the rain started up again. However the scenery of farmland, barns, wineries and orchards continued until we reached Sault Ste. Marie and the Soo Locks.  Our campground was just along the waterway, where we could watch the tankers moving to and from the locks. Actually, the waterway is a rapids downhill between Lake Superior and Lake Huron with several locks for boat traffic. A large canal runs through town and joins Lake Huron through a hydroelectric power plant.  

Since there were supposed to be two breweries in town and we didn’t want to disconnect the car, I decided to walk the 2 miles or so to town after dinner to check them out.  It was a straight shot to downtown that crossed over the canal at the power plant, but otherwise a pretty grassy wharf area. Kinda chilly, so I had a jacket over my hoodie and long pants on.  First stop was Soo Brewing – located in a storefront, tanks and all. They only had three beers on tap, so I had their summer wheat. Not bad, but not a particularly “mature” brew. Next stop was Lockside Brewing and Winery, which was really more restaurant and bar, with only 2 beers on tap and no brewing tanks that I could see.  Their Goldilocks blonde was a clever name, but nothing special. Time to head back to camp.

About the time I reached the halfway point over the canal I noticed a large cat running across the road in the streetlight.  Out for a prowl no doubt and headed for the grassy areas. Further along, I looked left to see the same animal running my direction under the lights.  That was no cat – it was a fox. Around the next building I hustled to catch up, then waited, but it started to drizzle. As I turned away, I saw the fox headed back, bushy tail straight out and trotting along.  What a cool sight. Ah, but the drizzle became real rain and I had to trot my way back to camp before I got soaked. But it was worth it.

In the morning we plan to head out early, what with the crossing into Canada and a long stretch of driving ahead of us.  Still a bit leery of what the crossing will be like, but we have all the paperwork and not much alcohol to declare. Next stop, Canada.

Thanks for following us on our journey to the fall colors of New England.

Doug

 

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Moving along in Michigan

Fort Custer State Rec Area

With a nod to Jimmy Buffet, our changes in lattitude have changed our attitude for sure.  It dropped the temperature considerably – we left the low 90s and are now in the upper 60’s.  We will take that for sure.  We are about to head out, continuing our trip north to Michigan.

But I need to share another “oops” moment.  In Wapakoneta we actually did not have rain overnight, but Jackie woke me in the middle of the night saying she heard water running.  Under the kitchen sink water was spraying all over — I hopped out the door, squish, and ran around to shut off the the water supply.  Well it seems we must have had a pressure burst overnight, which dislodged the plug under the sink water filter, so water was streaming out of the bottom storage bin, which fortunately had only the outside chairs and tables.  But it was a pretty good puddle and some mopping up to do under the sink.  Never a dull moment.

On the road in the morning, again with drizzle and clouds, headed up and across Indiana, bypassing Fort Wayne and into Michigan.  We made it to Kalamazoo area rather early in the afternoon and set up at Fort Custer State Recreation Area. It was a really nice site in a pretty empty campground.  We had filled our water tank in Wapakoneta, since this was electric only. Since the weather cleared, we took Kodi for a walk around the trails and nearby lake. We were surprised to see trumpeter swans in the lake, feeding among the pond grasses.  Kinda cool. The fields were filled with purple asters and milkweed stems that were releasing their silky seeds. Not much fall color yet, but we are hopeful.

Of course the highlight of this stop was going to be a visit to Bell’s brewery – in this case their Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo.  But before we got as far as Bell’s we found Arcadia Ale Brewing and pulled in to see what they had on tap. What a great spot! The tap room opened up to a wide garden area with outdoor seating along the Kalamazoo River.  Although it was still cloudy and a bit drizzly, it was still a wonderful afternoon sampling a flight of their scotch ale, stouts and a very tasty Michigan raspberry and blueberry witt.

Just across the river was Bell’s – not much from the outside but a very cool tap room inside.  We ordered a flight each and a food order. Jackie had mostly stouts, I had some of their tap-room-only brews and liked a saison they featured from a local homebrewer.  The Imperial Octoberfest was great with the meal, but Jackie loved their Brown Ale. Doug paired his beer with a grilled Michigan trout sandwich, Jackie had a burger with cherry jam and bacon.  Good stuff all around.

Next day was another travel day further up the “mitten.”  Another overcast start to the day as we headed up toward Grand Rapids.  Unfortunately it was too early to stop at Founder’s Brewery – we just had to watch as we drove by.  But as we rolled over the hills and farmland, we spotted a harvested cornfield that naturally had plenty of Canada geese.  But in the midst of them was a pair of Sandhill cranes . Rrrrrrppp. Stop the van. Get the shot. Get back in and keep going.  

We were taking a 2-lane road through the country that had some really nice farms along the way. One was a field of gourds and pumpkins being harvested, others had self-serve farmstands at the end of the driveway.  Nice. We also realized we would have time to stop in Frankfort just before checking in at our campground. Frankfort is a lovely town on Lake Michigan that looks like it would be very busy in the summer. The wide main street had plenty of room for the motorhome to park, so it was quite easy to stop and check out yet another brewery for a flight.  Stormcloud Brewing had a nice patio and we had some nice beer. Oddly, our favorite was their Georgia brew with peaches and pecans. Actually better than similar ones we have had back home.

We pulled in to the Platte River Campground in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and set up.  Plenty of time to head up to see the dunes and shoreline of Lake Michigan.  But more on that in the next post.

Platte River Campground

Thanks for keeping up with us as we head to New England and the coast of Maine in search of fall colors.  Stay tuned for more.

Doug

 

 

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Kentucky headed to Michigan

Off to a good start here – once we made it through Knoxville on a football Saturday with half of Tennessee headed for the game.  Our first night was a nicely wooded KOA in Corbin, Kentucky.  Got all hooked up just in time for the rain to start.  It continued well into the next day as we made our way to Cincinnati, Ohio.  Showers stopped just in time for us to get caught in a construction delay and we kinda got turned around in search of a distillery on the Kentucky side of the river from Cincinnati, but once we found New Riff Distilling we knew the brew tour had begun.

We had a nice sampling of their newly released bourbon and an amazing Wild Gin, which was locally sourced and bourbon barrel aged.  Truly an amazing flavor, unfortunately we are on liquor purchase restrictions.  You see, we will be crossing into Canada by the end of the week and you can only bring one bottle per person of alcohol across.  Kinda crimps our style, since we packed for a month’s trip and gosh, here we were in Kentucky Bourbon territory!

However, this was a special afternoon after all, with a huge liquor store in the same parking lot that had a brewery attached: Braxton Labs.  We had a small flight with a cream ale, tropical stout, New England raspberry milkshake IPA and blueberry strudel.  What a wild assortment.

Before we left, Jackie noticed the growler fill station and got herself a 32 oz. of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, one of her personal favorites.  Lunch in the motorhome with some iced tea, then back on the road.  Rest assured, we don’t drive impaired.  Most of these flights are about 16 – 20 ounces total, and we split them.  So don’t worry.

 

 

 

We arrived at Wapakoneta KOA just off 1-75 and celebrated the cool temperatures (low 70’s) with the crowler of beer Jackie bought.  A good day was capped off by a gorgeous sunset.  Off to Michigan tomorrow.

Thanks for following along – hope to have more posted soon.

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Leaf-peeping Journey to New England

Maine Route

Seems like It’s been a long summer at home and we have been itching to start out on our next adventure: leaf peeping in New England. Last fall Jackie declared that she missed the bright fall colors of the northeast, so we started to plan out a route that would culminate in Acadia National Park in Maine.

As plans developed, we learned that our nephew was planning an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and there was a possibility we would find ourselves in Maine just as he was finishing the hike. How cool is that? Unfortunately he suffered an ankle injury in the Pennsylvania/New York section of the trail and has had to postpone the final section of the hike. But he tells us he is planning to restart the hike from there and see how far he can go before cold weather stops his progress, so maybe we can meet up in New England after all.

If you have been following our posts, you know we have had a few repairs that were needed on the motorhome. The refrigerator is now back in operation – turns out it was a small fuse in the back of the unit (who knew?) that failed. Now I have several spare fuses onboard, just in case. We also had a growing crack in the passenger side windshield that meant that half of the windshield needed to be replaced. A few dollars later and we have a new windshield, for the second time (hey, it’s a lot of glass in front!) Such is life in a motorhome.

As we prepare to head north, what is on the list? This trip seems pretty well suited to a true “brew tour.”  Besides some wonderful state and national parks, recreation areas and scenic drives, there are a number of craft breweries on the way that you just can’t pass up. So with a pretty straight shot up to Michigan we can begin our quest with stops at Bell’s, Founders and New Holland Breweries.

The trip will take us across into Ontario, Canada, with stops in Ottawa and Montreal before crossing back into the US and across New Hampshire and Vermont and into Maine and Bar Harbor for our Acadia stay. Magic Hat, Harpoon, Sea Dog, Shipyard, Sam Adams– all breweries along the way. Plus the White and Green Mountains, Franconia Notch, and the coast of Maine, then the return through the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Should be a very different type of trip for us.

So we have the RV packed, have health certificates for the pets (border crossings), reservations made and a full tank of gas. The open road beckons! Check back or “follow” to get an alert about new postings — once I have some good stories and some awesome pictures, that is.

Thanks for joining us on our latest adventure.

Doug

First night is a nicely wooded KOA in Corbin, Kentucky:

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RV Fixes and some Frisky Dolphin

Oh, you’re back home already?

So when we last checked in with our non-cruise adventures, we were headed back home from Panama City Beach with oil pressure problems (ding, ding, ding – can’t drive faster than 45 mph) and no hot water flow in the motorhome. It was a great beach vacation, and we were welcomed home by our herd of deer (at least 3 – 4 fawns this year), but we did have a few “oops” moments.

The Fixes

Back home we quickly changed gears, put the motorhome away and packed our bags for Alaska. If you read that posting, you know how awesome the cruise and whale-watching were. But soon we were back home again, taking stock and figuring what came next. Well, there were several fixes that were needed, and thanks to a visit by Jackie’s brother John, we had one more adult scratching his head over the hot water problem. We all agreed it must be the backflow check valve, but the solution still evaded us.

The previous week I took the motorhome back to the folks who changed the oil just before we winterized and they said the only thing they could figure was that there was too much oil in the engine, causing oil pressure problems for the regulator. I confessed to adding one quart, but they drained an extra 5 to 7 quarts out of the engine (which by my reckoning was their fault for not properly draining and refilling the oil in the fall). They did find a bad spark plug and performed a tune-up, so now the engine runs much smoother and we don’t seem to have the oil pressure problems. One problem solved, then.

Back to the hot water — it seems the check valve is at the very back of the hot water tank and nearly inaccessible. We could barely reach around the tank and found the elbow fitting as it left the tank, but beyond that, pretty impossible to mess with. John took a small hammer and tapped at the elbow a while, hoping to dislodge the ball valve, but no luck. On to the slideout problem then.

You see, just as we were packing up to run ahead of the tropical storm that was about to pound Panama City Beach, the slides barely retracted, squealing all the way. Something was not right with the hydraulics. But it took us several YouTube videos and internet searches, plus looking all over and under the engine and chassis to actually find the hydraulic fluid reservoir. Some mechanics we are! Once found, it was very low on fluid. So three quarts of transmission fluid (recommended) later and we had operational slides and jacks that worked just fine.

But still no hot water flowed through the pipes. Plenty hot in the tank, just not leaving the tank. “Hand me that hammer one more time,” John said. Tap, tap and presto! We finally had hot water flowing through the pipes. Yes, that was one tricky problem that was finally solved. I still wasn’t happy with the water pressure using the water pump, so I ordered a stronger, quieter replacement, and we had much better water pressure while off city water service. Ok, then, we were ready for another short trip to be sure everything was working fine.

On to Hilton Head Island …

Campsite at Hilton Head Marina RV Park

It was time to check in with Dad in Hilton Head anyway, so we booked a couple nights at the HIlton Head Marina RV Park. This is a park where the sites are owned but rented out by the owners when they are not in town. Very nice location of the Intracoastal Waterway just as you land on the island. Found a great spot and hooked up, leveled up and checked in with my brother and Dad.

Some sites have dock access

 

Low tide at the dock

We were lucky that Jeff wanted to head out in his boat, so we spent Saturday on the water. He put the boat in from the Oyster Factory in Bluffton, ran down the May River and we met him at our dock — what service! Vicki and her sister Sharon were onboard and we headed out to Harbor Town and South Beach on the Sea Pines tip of HHI. Nice sandy beach along the inlet, with very refreshing water to bob along in. We gazed at the houses along the shore of Daufuskie Island and then along the waterways of Hilton Head Island on our way back. The tide was up as we motored down Broad Creek and into Shelter Cove marina to drool over the gorgeous boats in the harbor.

… and the Frisky Dolphin

As we passed under the causeway bridge we spotted some dolphin, something we are all pretty used to seeing. Except that these were very active. It must have been a pod of 20 to 30, with youngsters mixed in. They were tail-flipping, rolling on their backs and just pinwheeling all around us. A little chat back at the dock and we learned it was mating season, so that explains the frisky behavior. We really had not seen that much activity from so many at once before.

Frisky Dolphin Video:  Click HERE

Next day we met up with Dad at his apartment for brunch (two omelettes!) and shared stories. Good visit followed by some time in the pool at our RV park and talk of maybe spotting some manatees in the marina (no luck, however). While floating in the pool with some good craft beer (Holy City Pluff Mud Porter) we struck up a conversation with some other craft beer lovers from South Carolina and Virginia. A lot of suggestions were shared, plus good reports of the campsites at Devil’s Backbone Basecamp. We are going to look at that, since we already planned to stop there on our way back from Maine this fall. Always fun to make new friends in camp!

Later, while taking pictures of the beautiful sunset, a father and son were at the fish-cleaning station working on some nice size Cobias. Never caught them, but they were reminiscent of some of the big bluefish and tuna we would catch off the New Jersey shore.

I couldn’t stop snapping sunset pictures, since it was such a great evening on the water.  Nice time so far, even though the temp was in the 90’s.

Oh, but we did have another one of those “didn’t expect that” moments.

It was almost too good — engine was running nice and smooth, slideouts working just fine, hot water flowing in the shower and sinks. Life is good. Oops, the fridge doesn’t feel so cold, in fact that beer is almost warm! Hmm, looks like an error message on the display. Try to run the fridge on LP gas – nope, that didn’t work. Go back to AC or Auto – nope, still a “reset” error. Oh, the book says that one requires a technician to repair. Great. Ran to the store, bought a cooler and ice and did things the old-fashioned way. So, everything is cold, just not the way we expected. And another trip to maintenance shop, since I don’t think I can solve this one by myself. The more I read about it, it seems to be a lockout problem, where the power board needs to be reset.  Well, at least this didn’t happen on the first day of our fall 6 week trip to Maine and back. Now THAT would have been a big down arrow.

Not complaining here, just explaining how life with a motorhome goes, for all the newbies who might be reading.

So goodbye until the next “oops” moment, or better yet the next amazing adventure!  Be sure to roam around the site and check out all the photos of our past adventures. Our next trip is north to Maine and the fall colors, but I can’t guarantee how quickly I will be able to post about it. Just “follow” us and you will get a note when it happens.

See ya ‘round.

Doug

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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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