"When I get to a place
for the first time and know it like home, this is when I know my journey
will be over"
"There are always two
people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."
"I was born lost, and take no
pleasure in being found"
"The strongest reason for the people to retain
the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect
themselves against tyranny in
- Thomas Jefferson
"If I am fortunate, I will live 80 years on this amazing planet, so I will throw caution to the wind, strive to make a difference, and seek out adventure with every breath, as I am far more afraid of regret than failure!"
- Scott Brady
"A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of 4x4's, handguns and tequila."
- Joaquin Suave
"A tourist does not know where they have been, a traveler does not know where they are going."
Pat's March 2009 Blog
If this is your first time here, you might want to start from the beginning of our fulltime RV Journey with our Past Blogs
Camper Check List - A list of things we do before leaving camp. Again, this isn't gospel, but its a good start for those who might not already have a list made up.
Sunday March 1st, 2009 Nasty Day in Georgia Weather Wise
We've been in Georgia for 3 days now, and it's never not been raining. We should have thought of this before today, but parking the camper in a horse/cow pasture and letting Mother Nature wet it down for 3 days straight isn't the smartest thing I've done.
We had gone over to the camper from Fonda and Juergen's house yesterday to change out clothes after our day of hiking in the pouring rain, and driving back to the coach we had to switch the truck into 4 wheel drive.
Then while watching the weather channel last night, they told us the rain was going to turn to snow and the temperatures were going to drop down into the 20's by tonight.
I just wanted to get out of this weather and get somewhere we can be camping with shorts and a t-shirt on. I've been wearing winter coats, long pants and sweatshirts for way too long this year.
When we woke this morning to hear the rain still pounding on the tin roof of the mountain retreat, I joked with Cindy that there was no way we were going to pull the camper across that pasture without getting stuck. I never thought it would get as bad as it did.
Cindy made the four of us a big breakfast before we piled into our trucks to head over to the farm. Fonda and Juergen came along in their truck just incase we would need some help.
Juergen even brought some chains incase we needed to be pulled out. Can this guy see into the future or something?
When we pulled into the farm, I knew right away we were in trouble. By this point, the rain was coming down in buckets, and the truck was sliding around like it was on an ice rink just trying to back it up to hook up to the camper.
We got everything situated, and gave one last round of hugs thanking Fonda and Juergen for all their hospitality and generosity. These two are amazing when it comes to showing us a good time and making us feel at home.
We promised not to lose track of one another and would keep in touch as much as we could.
Well it only took about two minutes before we got back in touch with them.
Half way across the field the truck started sliding sideways down a slight incline before it just squatted and buried itself in some thick Georgia mud.
I got out and about crapped my pants when I saw that the driver side of the camper was buried and looked like it could tip over at any minute.
You know that if I'm a bit worried, Cindy is hysterical. She adds her drama to every situation to make sure my blood pressure stays elevated.
Juergen backed his Toyota over to the front of the truck to see if a little help from another 4x4 might give me the strength to get through this slop, but that just resulted in our truck burying itself even deeper.
We thought if we unhooked the camper from the truck, I would be able to pull away from the stuck RV, reposition myself so I wasn't in deep ruts, and pull it right out of the hole it was in.
It was while I was unhooking the hitch set-up when I found what had caused us to get so stuck.
I had pretty good momentum coming across the pasture, and all of a sudden, it seemed like we just dug right in. Well it was because the safety cable for the brakes had gotten stuck on a stick or a rut or some form of debris and locked the brakes up on the camper.
I'll bet if this wouldn't have happened, we would have been able to make it out to solid ground. But pulling an 8,000lb coach across a wet cow pasture with all four brakes locked up is a sure bet to bury yourself in the mud; even if you are in four wheel drive.
Once I unhooked the camper, we realized that I had dug my tires too deep into the mud to do any good. They were so gooped up with red Georgia slop, they looked like a set of slicks.
Juergen finally went up to the farm house and asked Bob to come down with his Kubota tractor to see if he could pull us out. Here I am camping in this guys field for free, now I've rutted the entire place up and he's coming out on a Sunday morning in the pouring rain to pull me out.
What a way to make a first impression! But with that true Southern Hospitality, none of them ever once complained about the nasty conditions we were all standing around in.
I was pretty upset with the performance of my Goodyear tires till I watched Bob's huge tractor tires slick up just like mine did while he was pulling me up to solid ground. Something tells me if the four inches of tread depth he has on those tires are going to fill up with thick Georgia mud, then my little tires are a joke in this slop.
Bob had tried to pull me out while I was hooked up to the camper, but his tractor just kept burying itself in the mud. So he just pulled the truck up and out of the way and called his neighbor Joe who he told us "Has a much larger tractor than I do."
Joe came pulling up in a hulking John Deere with a beer in his hand, a big Handlebar mustache and a cowboy hat on looking like my knight in shining armor. Well maybe more like a soaking wet cowboy, but today he was my hero.
After getting him caught up on how we had achieved such a task, and why this camper was sitting at such an odd angle in the middle of a cow pasture, he backed up to the camper, we lined up the hitch onto his brush hog and he pulled the stuck coach up to dry ground like it was nothing.
While I hooked up the muddy truck to the even muddier camper, Cindy made one last round of goodbyes and we crawled into the truck, as soaking wet as you could imagine. Two hours standing out in the pouring rain isn't that good for clothing.
I asked the gang if I could pay them for their time and apologized for taking up their Sunday morning; but they all refused to accept any money. Joe and Bob both just said to make sure I 'pay it forward on down the road.'
Thank you guys and I promise I'll do my part to help out someone in need if and when the time comes around. You guys went out of your way to make sure we were on the road before the snow started falling, and Cindy and I thank you for it.
If you think that's a rough way to start out a day, wait, it gets much worse.
It didn't take but a few minutes driving South on HWY 441 when the snow started flying. First the rain drops just started to bounce off the windshield. Then they turned into big, wet flakes and before you knew it, the roads were a sloppy mess with cars sliding off in every direction.
I know a bit about driving in winter conditions, but these Southern folks driving all around us had no clue how to handle this slippery white stuff they rarely see. There were no trucks on the roads throwing salt, sand or anything else to give traction to our sliding tires, so this meant the average speed was about 20mph.
Cindy said "Don't you think we should just pull over and wait this storm out?"
But I'll have none of that! Nope, I don't care if I have to drive 10 hours straight, I'm not going to be camping in this stuff right now. Our one goal was to get away from winter, and I'll do what ever I have to do to put some shorts on.
The rest of the day was spent avoiding accidents, driving around downed power lines and doing my best to not hit anyone. At one point, when a car slid off the road which caused about ten cars in front of us to lock up their brakes, it was all I could do to not slam into the back of a little Ford Escort.
I'll bet the girl in the passenger seat crapped her pants when she saw the hood of our truck come inching up beside her passenger side window stopping only centimeters from taking out the side view mirror.
It was either put us in the ditch, or cause a chain reaction starting with me rear ending them. Luckily for us, I was able to keep my driver side wheels on the pavement, so with a little bit of wheel hopping and a whole lot of mud slinging from the tires that were in the ditch, we pulled the truck and camper back onto the road without anyone getting injured. Just a few skid marks in my shorts, that's all.
South of Macon, the heavy snow eased up and the roads went back to just being a bit sloppy. From here on down, we had a pretty un-eventful rest of the day.
That is if you don't count the herd of deer we had to lock up the brakes to keep from hitting, or the raccoon that met his maker when he decided to dart out in front of us once it got dark.
Around 9pm, after almost hitting two more raccoons and a few stray dogs, we remembered why we hated driving at night, and decided to pull over.
So we don't have shorts on yet, but we're only a few miles from the Florida border. Tomorrow we'll be up early and on the road making our way farther South.
I don't plan on stopping till I can slide these two pale white legs into a pair of shorts and work on that callus between my toes. You know the one from wearing Flip-flops for the first 18 months we were on the road.
Hopefully tomorrow we wont need anyone pulling us out of this parking lot we're sleeping in tonight. Thanks again Juergen, Bob and Joe for all your help, and I hope you boys have dried up by now.
Monday March 2nd - We See Sunshine!
I wanted to talk a bit about our solar panels and how much of a help they are for us. The last few days with the camper, while sitting in the rain the entire time, we've never had to worry about plugging in to shore power or run the generators.
On the 3rd day of non-stop rain, Cindy asked me to look at our charge controller to see if during a rainy day, we actually had any power coming in from the limited light in the sky. Remember we had NO SUN to speak of, just a dreary, wet, rainy day.
I was amazed when I checked the charge controller and it said we had .06 amps of power coming in. I would have thought as dark and nasty as it was outside, it would have read 0.00. Granted, .06 isn't much, but its something, and something is better than nothing when you're living off grid.
Last night, just to be on the safe side, we pulled out one of the Honda generators and let it run for about 45 minutes. In that short amount of time, it usually recharges the bank of batteries up to full charge and we know we're good for another 5 days if the we cant find sunshine.
Then we woke up this morning to bright blue skies and had 11 amps of power coming in off the solar panels. I know that the weekend warrior type of camper would probably waste money to install a full solar set-up like we have, unless they camp off the grid every time they go out.
But for us, it just keeps saving us money. Let me explain a little.
For the month of February, we were on the road for 18 days straight. Every one of those nights we dry camped, which means we did not stay in a campground. One night we looked into it while we were in Charleston, but the campground wanted $48, and that was without hook-ups. Way beyond our budget!
We chose to sleep in a parking lot, and spend that $48 on a night out visiting with our friend Dan Wright. So really, it was a break even.
We did have to stop twice to empty our black and gray tanks during the month of February, and one placed ripped us off with charging $12 while the other charged what is the norm at a nominal $5.
So for the 18 days we spent on the road in February, it cost us a total of $17 in the camper. If you were to average out a nights stay at a campground at $20, which is impossible to find anymore, it should have cost us $360 for those 18 nights on the road. What we've found is $27 to $35 is the average cost of campgrounds these days.
So the solar panels help us to not have to worry about finding campgrounds or ever worrying about our lights, pumps or heat not working. Granted, with the temperatures being as cold as they have been, sleeping at night has been a little bit on the chilly side, but think of all the electricity we've saved by not running a little space heater all night long like we would have if we would have been plugged into shore power.
For Cindy and I, we cant imagine camping, or living in an RV full time without having the luxury of solar panels and a good bank of 6 volt AGM batteries to supply our power. I guess at this point, we wouldn't even be able to be out roaming around the country if we had to spend money at campgrounds every single night. It would just suck that bank account dry way too fast.
Luckily the fuel prices are lower than they've been at any point while we've been on the road. I don't worry as much when I see a station advertising fuel at $1.99 when we have to fill up the tank. The joke we keep saying to one another now when we get lost (Something that happens at least twice a day) is "At least we're only wasting $1.99 fuel and not $5.89 fuel like when we were out West."
Not that we ever want to be wasting fuel, but at least now we're not screaming at one another like we were out West. Before, those mistakes with the co-pilot's directions were very costly, now they're just a reason to let off some steam.
Another thing we're going to start doing is listing what each month costs us in basic costs. Cindy is going to keep track of the daily expenses since she does the shopping and buying of groceries, but I'll list the simple things that I'm in charge of.
I know we've been slacking on the Expense Report Page, but that is a pain in the butt, and I cant figure out a way to copy and paste a graph from an excel doc. into Front Page without it looking stupid like it does now?
So at the end of each month, I'll list something like this. I'll list February here, but I'll also go back and put it at the bottom of that Months Blog also.
Total Miles Traveled for the month of February = 2046.8
Total Water Used in Coach = 118 Gallons
Total Fuel Used in Truck = 222.99 Gallons @ a Cost of $464.78
One Propane Tank Used @ a Cost of $2.79 per gallon or $18.80 total
That is probably our cheapest month for fuel to date! The least expensive fuel we found was $1.83 in Northern South Carolina, and the most expensive we found was $2.59 in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I know it wasn't a full month with us leaving Michigan on the 10th, and February only having 28 days, but it's still a very cheap month for us.
We figure if we can keep our costs more around this range, we should be able to stretch out the adventure quite a bit longer.
Tuesday March 3rd Happy Birthday Donielle!!
First I'd like to say a big "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" to our daughter Donielle. The big two three! We used to joke while she was growing up because she would always tell my little brother when ever she had a birthday that she was catching up to him.
Like somehow he was not going to have a birthday and she was going to be as old as he was some day.
So I sent her a txt message this morning saying "23! Wow, you're almost caught up to Joe!"
Yesterday while sitting in a Flying J parking lot for the entire day, it was like having front row seats to America. I've never seen a truck stop this busy, and there never wasn't a line out the entrance.
Being right on the Georgia/Florida border you get to see so many RV'ers and custom rigs pulling through. This gives me plenty of ideas and I actually got some new leads to check out for Kayaks from a fellow RVer.
If you want to see some cool boats, check out Native Kayaks. We're trying to find one of these dealers to see if these might be our next boats we get. Just the accessories they offer are enough to tip the scales for me. I'm an accessory whore, and if there is a product I'm looking into getting that already has a host of accessories offered, it just makes me want it all that much more.
Like having a AR-15 rifle, or a Glock pistol or a Canon camera. The accessories are limitless for these products and you can almost never have too many accessories. Trucks, RV's, Motorcycles and Boats are other items us men love to own, then accessorize, so they become unique to us. Almost like women with their shoe and purse collections.
While sitting in the Flying J parking lot, I talked with one family of Mennonites who was pulling their Travel Trailer with a Dodge Sprinter van. I've been looking at these models for awhile now because of their great fuel economy. I had yet to talk with someone who had actually pulled a heavy load with one to see what they thought of the fuel efficient turbo diesel motor.
The young man told me while pulling, he finds it faster to get up to speed than he remembered from when they used to pull with the 6.0L Ford Powerstroke. The one complaint he does have is the mid-range and high end torque.
He said if trying to pass something while driving down the expressway, the motor lacks the power that the Powerstroke had, but the tradeoff for his fuel mileage is well worth the lack of high end power. He told me he's averaging 15-18mpg while towing. If unhooked from the camper, he's up in the mid-20's when it comes to his MPG!
That is some serious savings over our 8-10mpg average we getting now. Although rolling through Florida, I noticed the motor let out a big sigh since there is no such thing as an incline in this state, at least nothing like the inclines of the Smokies or the sheer madness of the Rockies.
Once we left the Flying J, and who knew spending the day in a Truck Stop parking lot could be so much fun? We drove a few short hours to Manatee Springs State Park in North Western Florida.
It's rare that I take a nap during the daytime unlike Cindy who takes about 4-6 20 minute naps each day. But when we pulled into this state park, I just felt exhausted. Cindy made some lunch and said "Why not just lay down for a few minutes to see if you feel better?"
An hour later I woke up feeling like a million bucks and back to my chipper self again. Cindy had been walking the dogs around the nature trails and was now sitting outside in a lawn chair in the Florida sun.
First thing she asks me "Do I look like a bronze Goddess?"
"Oh Yeah Honey, I thought you were getting ready for a Coppertone photo shoot!"
In all reality, it'll take a few weeks of being in this warm sunshine before we tan this pasty white skin of ours. Right now if I was to take off my shirt, anyone within 50 feet would have to put on sunscreen from the reflection.
Once I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, we grabbed the cameras to head out for a short hike.
I'm not sure if you could call it a hike, since they're all paved trails and boardwalks. The spring in this park flows 100 million gallons of fresh water per day into the Suwannee River at a warm 72°.
The West Indian Manatee uses these warm water springs as their winter habitat. You might remember a few years back when we stayed down in the Crystal River area paddling and snorkeling with these docile, harmless sea cows.
As soon as we saw the turquoise waters of the spring with 4 manatee swimming in it, I said to Cindy "I want to get in that water right now!" Remember we were both wearing hooded sweatshirts and had gloves on due to the 50° temperature outside, but that water was calling me like a sea nymph calling to a sailor.
I'll bet if I was to get in a bathing suit right now, people would be snapping pictures yelling "Look, it's an Albino Manatee in the water!"
Since we don't have to meet our friends Jeff & Jen for a few days, we just left the park and found a Wal-Mart where we could stay for free for the night.
Flying J truck stop one night, 24 hour Wal-Mart another night. It doesn't get any better than this! Cindy and I love to go walk around the Wally Worlds we stay in just to look around and people watch. This is real America and provides for some of the best entertainment you could ask for.
I've overheard some of the best conversations while walking around Wal-Mart isle ways. I almost always come out laughing and repeating some crazy conversation I've just overheard to Cindy. Most of the time she looks at me like I'm making them up, but some things you just cant make up, you just have to jot down notes!
Saturday March 7th 2009 Having Too Much Fun in South Florida
Sometimes I wake up and have to pinch myself. I mean is this real? Can you really go through life having this much fun? Aren't we supposed to be at work, or living like the NORMAL people?
Let me explain our last few days and it might help you understand my questioning of reality.
We were up in the Northern parts of Florida and were planning on waiting around for a week till Jeff & Jenn could come up to camp with us.
I was looking around online at different models of kayaks when I found a guy who had some of the Native kayaks listed for sale. I called him up and he said that he has a Kayak touring company out of the West Palm Beach area and this weekend they were hosting a Kayak Expo.
He said it would be right on the water in a little park, and if we wanted to come down this way, we would be able to paddle any of the boats in the water to see how we liked them.
This is also right where Jeff & Jenn live, so in talking with them, he mentioned that he had a nice concrete pad beside the house that we are more than welcome to camp at.
Kicking around our options and checking out the campgrounds up in Northern Florida, we realized it's spring and every campground we checked into was full.
So we figured it was one tank of fuel, and a days drive and we'd be in Palm Beach for the Kayak Expo and have a free place to camp.
Now Jeff's back yard is every mans dream yard. A tiki hut that is larger than our camper with an ice machine, keg cooler, dueling flat screen televisions and a stereo system that has speakers hidden all around the tropical back yard oasis. Fire pit with swinging benches under palm trees and a hammock hung between two palms!
When we came pulling up, Jeff, Jenn and their new son Evan were all waiting out in the front yard with balloons and cold beers and a big welcoming smile. That was two days ago and I'm thinking I need to check myself into Betty Ford already.
Jeff is the type of guy that lives life large, but in a great kind of way. Not the type that throws money around or has to one-up you when talking, just a laid back, easy going, great guy. He always has hilarious stories and can turn any time into a memorable experience.
Yesterday while Jeff was at work all day, Cindy and I spent the day fixing up things on the camper that we've been putting off due to cold weather and fear of losing fingers from frost bite. Lotta 'F's in that last sentence wasn't there!
Remember when we were in Virginia and that tornado blew threw and I was complaining about the roof vent that had come loose. Well I had bought a hinge kit that allows the roof vent cover to swing open so you can clean out the screen and attend to the fan.
This sort of solved two purposes. One, it allows me to fix the loose bolts that was allowing the vent cover to make noise in windy conditions, and the second is lets me get to the fan that wasn't working for some reason.
I think the fan had just gotten stuck from sitting still for so long. Once I took the vent cover off, I had Cindy turn the fan on, and as soon as I spun the blades with my hand, it took off almost slicing off a finger tip. Maxx Bracket Kit can be found here.
So that was fixed quick enough, onto the next repair. Not really a repair, more of an upgrade. Our main door we use has a catch on it to hold it open. When ever a strong wind gust would come along, it would swing the door shut which usually resulted in scaring the Holy Hell out of me, the dogs and who ever else was near the camper.
When I bought the hinges for the vent cover, I also bought a door catch that locks in place, so you have to physically unlatch the door if you want it to close.
Then another thing came in the mail while we were here. Amazing how things can be overnighted when you want something, and for so little cost.
With us having two computers in the camper, we're always fighting over who gets to use the Broadband card that we use to access the internet.
A few nights ago while we were having one of our arguments about this, I went online and found a little device from More Mobile Internet that allows you to plug the broadband card into it, and then acts as a WiFi Hub.
I ordered it thinking we'd give it a try and see if it solves the arguments. While I was ordering it, it was $5 for shipping, or $10 for overnight service. What's another $5 to have it the very next day?
It even comes in a little metal briefcase thing that holds both the Verizon Broadband USB card and the Router safe and sound! I'm such a nerd when it comes to technology.
By the time I was finishing up with all my daily chores, Jeff came home from work and we jumped on the scooters buzzing around town checking out one of his favorite watering holes before the night started.
He had invited over a bunch of friends to hang out around the Tiki Bar in the backyard. Cindy and I joked that a campsite with all these amenities would probably cost us $75 and we'd be sandwiched beside a few other campers.
One of the guys that came by was a friend we had met the last time we stayed at the Backyard Campground. I've kept in contact with Mark ever since through emails and it was cool to sit talking with a fellow traveler who has roamed around the country like we do. Mark was telling me about a adventure he took back in the 70's where he spent 6 months hitchhiking through Mexico.
Just when you think it couldn't get any better, Jeff brings out Jenn's new Karaoke machine with dueling microphones. Now you all know by this point that Cindy is a Karaoke Addict something awful. You'd almost think she was from Japan or something.
Well the night got a bit blurry from hear on out, but I know that Jeff was the first one to hit the sack. Something like "I'm going inside to check on Evan." As we're all lounging around the Tiki bar, we see the baby monitor that is displayed on one of the plasma screens above the tiki bar go fuzzy and Jeff fall into his bed. He was out for the count.
A little while later I pulled the ol' "I'm going into the camper to get another beer" move. When I got inside, I saw my bed calling and fell into it.
Monday March 9th 2009 Recovering from a Long Weekend
These guys are just too much fun to spend time together with. Saturday night Jeff and I jumped on the scooters and rode 20 something miles up to Jupiter to go to a party at Frankie's house. Jeff's partner in the dental business.
We're talking live band, big tiki bar like Jeff's and a fully catered BBQ dinner. Good stuff and didn't cost us a dime which makes it even better. Riding home, Jeff and I were having a blast on the scooters.
I mean the top speed is around 40mph and the streets were empty for some reason. We were catching air off the speed bumps in downtown West Palm Beach, jumping off curbs and Jeff was riding wheelies while taking off from the stop lights.
I'm sure if we would have gotten pulled over by the police, they would have been shocked to find two grown men and not a couple of kids riding like idiots. But Jeff's like me and comes from a long background of motorcycle riding, so these scooters are just a tease when it comes to getting crazy.
We also stopped by Mark's house to say 'Hello' and go over some supplies we will need for this coming weekends camping trip. For Cindy and I, we're a rolling home and have everything we need. But for the weekend warrior type of camper, they have to get all their things together and see what works from the last camping trip or what can be used out of what we all have together as a collective.
Both Mark and Jeff will be camping out of Pop-Up style campers, so showers are the big topic for this weekend as we're going to be boondocking out near Lake Okeechobee.
I was telling them about something that Cindy and I had been looking into for our Baja Adventure, but never bought it due to the high cost. I think Cabela's wanted over $100 for this shower enclosure. Then last week while wandering around a Wal-Mart people watching, I found the same thing for $30!
This Shower Structure along with a 5 Gallon Black Solar Camp Shower is all you need for a hot shower while boondocking in warm weather. Plus you don't have to worry about your gray water as it will just soak into the ground. You just need to make sure you're using Bio-Degradable soaps that are safe for the environment.
They both are going to check out the local Camping stores to see about getting these shower enclosures and I'll let you know how they work out after this weekend is over.
Sunday we spent the day at the Palm Beach Zoo in Dreher Park. Jeff & Jenn know how much Cindy and I enjoy photographing animals, and this would be a good way to spend the afternoon and keep 8 month old Evan amused. I think it was more for mine and Cindy's benefit, as Evan fell asleep on the car ride there, and woke up just before we left. But Cindy and I had a great time taking pictures, so it was a great day at the zoo. You can check out the Pictures here on our Palm Beach Zoo Gallery
Both the Detroit Zoo and the Cincinnati Zoo have fenceless enclosures for the animals. This makes for better viewing, better photography and provides the animals with a more natural-like surrounding. Granted, both of these landmarks are the size of small towns, and the Palm Beach Zoo is just a little community zoo, but we had a blast none-the-less.
After we got home from the zoo, Cindy and Jenn went out for the evening for some Girl-Time as they called it, leaving Jeff and I home with Evan. This was some time for us to clean up the campers, start getting Jeff's pop-up ready for the weekend and organize some of his camping gear.
We threw my trickle charger I keep for the motorcycle on his trailer battery to make sure it was full, and Jeff got out some fiberglass cleaner he has for his boat to get the tire scuff marks I had on the side of the camper from a tire blow out last year.
I had tried numerous solvents to scrub it off, and the rubber marks just wouldn't budge. Jeff brought out some 3M cleaner and they washed off like it was just dirt. While we sat around in the beautiful Florida weather, I cleaned off the motorcycle which still had dirt on it from the last time I had rode it in Michigan last November.
When the girls finally walked home from the local bar, we all had some dinner and sat talking till the sleep fairy finally came a calling.
The next few days will be spent visiting with some of Cindy's family that lives in this area, getting ready for this weekend and just enjoying the warm weather we've been searching for. Finally, sleeping with the windows open and just a light blanket on during the night. My favorite kind of weather.
Tuesday March 11th 2009
Today was a day of visiting with ol' friends and family we haven't seen in years.
Cindy and I drove up to North Palm Beach to visit with her brother who took us out to lunch at a great little Mexican restaurant.
It was nice to see him again and catch up on all the crazy things life throws our way.
After lunch, Cindy and I drove along A1A, down through Palm Beach looking at the 1% of society who lives along the ocean in those multi-million dollar mansions. It's hard to believe that we used to live near here, and I used to work on the Island catering to this other half.
I think it might have been one of the catalysts that pushed me away from wanting to collect materialistic things and really made me want go out traveling, rather than sitting still. Although driving along the ocean, looking at the tropical blue water, we did relive some great memories we had down here.
For the longest time when I lived in West Palm Beach, I worked at valet parking cars at some of the highest end hotels over the bridge on the island of Palm Beach. 5 star, 5 diamond type of places that charged $1000 per night. There wasn't a make or model of exotic car that I hadn't driven and many times the owners would let us take them down A1A just to run em' through the gears. Other times we did it without the owners knowing, but don't tell that part to anyone.
I find it ironic that I now meander along empty back roads in our big diesel usually crawling at a snails pace. But I wouldn't change the way things have turned out for all the money in the world.
After our little drive down memory lane, we went over to some friends of ours who we've known for years. Sonya and Ken Prather have been friends since I first lived in Florida.
Sonya and I worked at a Ritz Camera store in the Palm Beach Mall and after becoming friends, she introduced me to her husband. She told me we had many of the same interests and at the time, we were both really into riding Mountain Bikes.
Ken and I made a trip up to North Carolina one year to ride the legendary trails around the Tsali area in the Natahalia Forest; it would be one of many trips I made back to those parts to ride that amazing single track.
Sonya has went on to become one of the top child photographers in the area, and ol' Kenny is still riding those bikes around South Florida.
I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned it on this site before, but I know I did a long story on Ken and his crazy bikes over on The Lowdown website. A few years back, Ken started what is now known nationwide as the Freak Bike Militia.
This was where a couple of guys, Ken being the unofficial Grand Puh-Bah of the crazy bunch, got together for a bike ride on rolling pieces of salvaged metal. They came up with a theme they would have to build bikes around and everyone involved would dress up in costumes to go along with the theme.
They would meet in downtown West Palm Beach and ride their wild creations along the city streets stopping traffic, passer-byes and anyone else who came into contact with their cool rides.
To see these bikes online is one thing. Ken has been sending me photos and keeping me up to date on each new creation for a few years now. But to be allowed into the cellar, the place where these rolling masterpieces are conjured up, the garage of this skilled craftsman was a whole nother level all together.
Walking into his small garage was like popping a Viagra and slamming a few Jager Bombs. My heart started beating rapidly and the smell of fuel, which seeped from a few of his motorcycles he's built from garbage piles, made my blood run hot.
This was a Man's Room if I had ever saw one. There were a few dozen bikes hanging from the ceiling, a unicycle with over 10" of travel, two tall bikes that you would need a step ladder to mount, a scooter built to look like a vintage Cafe style race bike and Kenny's Suzuki motorcycle that he took from a relative who was going to throw it away, then converted it into a rat bike that would make Jesse James envious.
For the next few hours Ken and I circled the block of his quiet neighborhood riding various creations he's come up with.
Each one takes about 15 minutes to look over while Ken explains where each part was salvaged from and how little the bike actually costs. The one key component on the Freak Bikes it to make them as inexpensive as possible, yet still turn heads where ever you ride.
You'll hear him say things like "This was a piece off a hospital bed they were throwing away." (Ken works at a local hospital)
Or when I question a certain tube on a bike he just laughs saying "Oh my neighbor had that lying around left over from a fence project, so I welded it up as the main frame."
Now you have to remember that Ken didn't go to school to learn welding. Nope, he bought an inexpensive welder one day and started blending metal scrap pieces he would find on garbage night into a craze that would sweep the nation. Although you'd never know that he wasn't a professionally taught welder when you look at the detail he's put into the craftsmanship of the frames and the ingenuity of the designs.
Best part is everything is recycled. The rides the Freak Bike Militia put together have gotten so big, he showed us a video from one ride that had a Pirate theme with over 250 riders rolling down the street!
For that ride Ken built a tall bike with a sidecar where his two young boys could ride along to be involved with dad and his crazy friends.
Ken told Cindy and I some stories that brought goosebumps to your skin.
A neighbor asked what he was working on one day and Ken shared his crazy ideas with the guy. He told us at the time the neighbor was overweight and smoked 4 packs a day.
That first ride he went on, he had to make a bike that had a motor on it because he couldn't pedal the 8 miles the group would ride downtown.
Now he told us the guy has quit smoking, lost over 70lbs and rides along on every Freak Bike Militia outing there is.
I was in my glory riding these bikes with Ken. I mean Ken is 'The Man' when it comes to the Freak Bike crowd. Here I am just some ol' friend, and I'm getting to ride the bikes that started the craze.
He brought out two of the tall bikes and after helping me get on one of them, we rode around the block.
Riding a bike like this stops people in their tracks. Cars driving by aren't looking at the road, they're staring at us.
Kids come running out of their house when we roll by. People sitting on their front porches ask questions and I find it impossible to take the smile off my face the entire time.
One reason I find it so funny is Ken is one of my only friends who is the same height as I am. We're both around 5'5". So seeing these two 'short guys' on bikes that are over 7' tall just looks goofy.
After drooling all over Ken's bikes, we finally put everything back into his fabrication lair and came back into the real world.
For anyone who is near the West Palm Beach area, Ken and the South Florida Chapter of the Freak Bike Militia is planning a big ride this Friday Night! Be on Clematis street and you'll get to see some outrageous bikes in person.
Thanks Kenny for the chance to ride these creations of yours and keep up the good work!
Thursday March 12th - Moving out to the Farm
After sitting still for a few days catching up on fixing little things around the camper and more visiting with family and friends, we packed everything up and left Jeff & Jen's today.
It's funny to watch and help in the packing process for a couple that is just going away for the weekend, and bringing a 8 month old child along on the weekend excursion. Camping can be a chore for us adults, but bringing children is a whole nother ballgame. Bringing one that is still in diapers and cant walk only adds to the mess of items needed to keep him occupied.
I find the playpens, strollers and everything else that has been designed to 'Bring it with you' as fascinating as I do when looking at Expedition Gear. I'm thinking I should be either an Engineer or a Product Designer in my next life.
I love to study the way things work and in my head, make up ways to make them work better.
Anyway, getting back to the fun stuff. We left Palm Springs and headed West across the cane fields and big farms of in-land Florida.
Jeff took us down this one road, HWY 98, that was so bumpy, one of the straps holding the motorcycle broke and we almost lost the Supermoto.
The road had a canal that flowed beside the cane fields that was loaded with alligators. Jeff had radioed us on the walkie-talkies to say "Watch for Alligators in the water!" By the time we got to the end of the road, which might have been 20 something miles, Cindy had counted 31 gators sitting on the banks sunning themselves.
Something tells me you don't want to go swimming in these areas. We also saw a big buzzard sitting on the edge of the road munching on a baby gator that had lost the battle while trying to cross the bumpy road.
Early Thursday afternoon we pulled into Reed and Shannon's farm just as the cowboys were finishing up with a day of running cattle. This is a true working farm, and Reed is true Cowboy in every way you look at it.
Remember when Cindy said she wanted to meet up with a farmer in her blogs? Well what she should have said was she wanted to meet up with a rancher. She wanted to learn about the ways that a true working farm runs, and Reed is just the guy to let her know.
After we all sat around introducing ourselves, Reed and Shannon grilled some pizzas on their big smoker. I had never tried grilled pizza before, but after eating about 5 pieces I can say it tastes delicious. Still the same pizza flavor, yet it has a Smokey flavor to it that only a grill can give it.
After dinner and a beautiful Florida sunset, Reed lit up a pile of wood he had chopped up and the rest of the night was spent around the roaring fire telling lies.
Cindy sat asking a million questions about what the daily life of a real cowboy was like as I just sat enjoying the cool breeze blowing across the pastures. There are very unique scents that go with a working farm.
Sometimes the breeze would have aromatic scents from the local bushes and tropical plants growing in the fields, other times the wind might be coming from the direction of the stables and those times the scents were not so enjoyable. No complaints here as the scenery and conversation would make up for any scent on earth.
Sitting around a roaring fire with a giant moon rising behind some cabbage palms sure makes for an awesome way to enjoy a night.
After many laughs, a bunch of shooting stars and a few beers, we all started nodding off. Reed and I were the last ones to call it a night, and I'm really looking forward to this coming weekend.
Reed told me he might take us out on a hog hunt and by the stories he was telling around the bonfire, things will be one memory after the next.
Friday March 13 - Be Careful, it's Friday the 13th!!
Reed and Shannon both had to work today, so Jen, Cindy Jeff and I just hung out on the farm enjoying the beautiful weather during the early morning hours.
Jeff and I got down the scooters and rode around Okeechobee checking out the sights. I found a cool old RV that was on the side of the road that I had to take a few pictures of. You know how I am with collecting pictures of unique rides.
Cindy called me to tell me that a Ferrier was coming over to shoe a few of Reed's horses, and I needed to come home to check this out.
I'm not sure if you know this, but I'm fascinated with the cowboy culture and could stop traveling to live this lifestyle at any point. I'd also love to specialize in Cowboy Photography.
While we were sitting around the fire last night, Reed had gotten up to grab another round of beers and as he was walking back from the cooler, I told everyone "Now don't take this the wrong way, but hearing the sound of spurs jingling when a cowboy walks has got to be the coolest sound on earth!"
Reed just chuckled and said "I agree, but I like it better when the spurs are on a cowgirl." Amen to that, because the best thing about cowboys are the cowgirls!
After the Ferrier was finished with the horses, and we had pelted him with a million questions while he was trying to work, Reed took us all over to a local restaurant in town called what else - 'Cowboys'.
The place is decorated in true Western Style with pictures on the walls and inlaid into the bar top of Reed and his family working the cattle and going about their daily lives.
After a big lunch, we headed back to Camp (Reed & Shannon's front yard) where everyone packed things up to get ready to leave this farm, and head over to a 350 acre ranch where we will camp the rest of the weekend.
This ranch we're headed to sits right along the Kissimmee River and is something out of a story book. Huge live oaks draped with Spanish moss gave us some nice shade to camp under and we were only a 100' from the river.
We circled up the wagons and made camp just as the sun was setting. Mark and his daughter Kinzer had came out from West Palm for the weekend, so we now had almost one of every type of camper or way to camp in our group.
Reed and Shannon have one of the big Horse Trailers with living quarters in the front, Cindy and I have a Travel Trailer, Jeff and Jenn have a Pop-Up and Mark converted his Cargo Trailer into a makeshift home for the weekend.
Reed's son and one of his friends borrowed our tent so they could have some privacy and not crowd up the Horse Trailer/Camper.
In no time at all camp was set up and the boys jumped in one of the pickup trucks to go scout out some firewood. By the time everyone was sitting around cracking open beers, the sun had set, the fire was roaring and the stars where shining down bright from a ink black sky.
Mr. Bill, who is another friend of Reed's came down with some Wild Turkey he had shot on the ranch a few days ago. Reed has one of those Turkey Fryers, so as he sat slicing up fresh bird, I dropped the tender chunks into some breading Shannon mixed up and we filled our bellies with awesome food.
Bill also had a pound of Frog Legs he had caught earlier today and for the first time in my life, I sat eating tender Frog Legs deep fried in Peanut Oil.
Could life get any better than this?
With full bellies and a nice buzz settling in, we all sat around the fire till most of the girls and all of the kids had dozed off to sleep.
It was at this bewitching hour when Reed asked if we wanted to jump in the truck and go out on a Hog Hunt. Remember it was probably 12am by this point.
Jeff, Mark and Cindy all sat in the bed of the truck on top of the Diamond Plate dog boxes, and Reed and I sat inside the cab with spot lights. As we slowly crawled across the bumpy property of the ranch, we followed the dog with its nose to the ground. Every now and then Reed would let out a short whistle or a call and the dog would come a running back into the trucks headlights.
Cindy later said it was "More like taking the dog for a long walk with the truck" but we failed to find any hogs.
One thing that amazed me was how well Reed's dogs are trained. At one point, the dog came running up to a opossum that was blindly stumbling across the pasture, gave it a sniff and walked off without bothering it in the least.
I was shocked at this because I know our dog Luca would have killed the thing in a second as soon as he saw this rodent. When I told Reed about this, he said "The dog is hunting Hogs, not trash."
He explained that if they're out on a Deer hunt and the dogs come across a hog, they wont even bother it because that's not what they're hunting. That just amazing to me that they can train the dogs this well.
So we never found any hogs, but we did find was some very cool stuff lying around on the ranch and had one hell of a time.
Reed took us out to one section where an old school bus had been left decades ago. Mother Nature was doing her best to reclaim the steel and palm trees were growing up out of sections of the rusted carriage.
Of course we couldn't pass up a photo opportunity and the guys all climbed in like they were out driving around town. Cindy had enough Whiskey in her to crawl up on top of the bus to pose for a picture. She said she was too afraid to get inside after hearing Reed's stories of snakes, spiders and other things that go bump in the night.
By the time we got back to camp, Jenn had extinguished the fire and had long hit the sack. We all said our goodnights to one another and headed for the comforts of a soft mattress.
What a way to spend the evening, and this was turning out to be one amazing weekend already.
Saturday March 14th 2009 - Kissimmee River Ranch Adventures
Waking to the sound of 60 head of cattle stampeding beside the camper is a new experience for us.
I opened my eyes thinking I was dreaming we had parked on a train track as Cindy sat up yelling "What the hell is that?"
We looked out the window as the herd of cattle came thundering past the camp literally shaking the camper.
What a way to wake up!
Mark and Kinzer where already fishing on the Kissimmee River and to Mark's dismay, Kinzer still holds the record for the biggest Bass caught for the weekend.
Jeff and I hopped in his dinghy and motored down the calm waters scouting for gators and hogs, but only got spooked by some cows in the brush. Reed had told us around the fire last night that he has been hunting a 15' gator that has been eating some of his cattle for the past few years. When I asked why he wanted to kill a animal that was so impressive, Shannon said "Because that thing has killed at least 6 heifers per year, and at $4000 per head, that gator is costing us a ton of money!"
Now I understand that he doesn't want to just go out and kill the thing because it's soo big, he wants to kill it because it's soo big, it's eating whole cows on a monthly basis and I don't blame him one bit.
As the day heated up, friends of Reed and Shannon's dropped by the Ranch to say hello and sit with our group of goofy campers under the shade of the oak trees.
Stories were told and laughs shared as we all sat just enjoying a fine Saturday afternoon.
By late afternoon, our group, which had now doubled in size, headed up to the ranch house where Mr. Bill had some prime rib ready for dinner. He had came down earlier in the afternoon to invite us all up for dinner and told us he had been slow roasting some meat all day long.
This here folks is true Southern Hospitality at its best!
The group loaded up into a long train of pick-up trucks and four wheel drives and made our way across the bumpy fields to the house.
The ranch house is a very cool home that was built back in the 70's. It's still decorated with browns and golds; lots of Formica and shag carpet. It has at least 6 bedrooms with as many bathrooms and its own walk-in cooler.
Something straight out of 'Knot's Landing' or the TV series 'Dallas' which was popular in that era.
While everyone visited and us men threw some horse shoes, Jeff decided to bath in the fresh water spring behind the house. He said the water was toasty warm and stripped down to his birthday suit to wash off the days sweat and dust. I'm not lying when I say this guy has got to be one of the funniest people on the planet. Best part is he's not trying to be funny at all, it's just his personality.
With stuffed gullets and a warm feeling of comfort only found when spending quality time with friends, the group made their way back to camp. We got a roaring fire going with wood Mark and Jeff had collected earlier in the day.
Just as Kinzer finished her show for the group, a great little dance set to some classic music of Journey and REO Speedwagon, the sky opened up and let out the days humidity.
The rest of the night was spent with us huddled under the awnings listening the the rain drops bounce off the vinyl. Not that it mattered by this point. The days activities had been more than enough and who doesn't like going to bed listening to rain drops on the roof?
I had told Shannon that of all the places we've visited in our travels, I've never felt this comfortable and could picture myself settling down in a community like this.
There is something about the cowboy way of life that is so appealing to me.
Sunday March 15th - Packing up and Saying Goodbye
I don't think it was even 9am when I heard Jeff yell across the camp circle to Reed, "Are we Drinking Yet?" which was immediately followed by that distinct sound of a beer cracking open.
You have to remember that this is the weekend and for these guys and they're on vacation. Cindy and I travel every day of the week for months on end, but when we used to work day to day, we took our vacations serious like these guys do.
Next thing you hear is Jeff start up his scooter, come riding under our awning, lay on the horn for about 10 seconds straight while he sits spinning the back tire in the sand. This was followed by a "Wake up you crazy Mofo's" which came out at the top of his lungs.
He then races off across the pasture to go answer the call of nature behind a tree.
Let me explain a very funny back and forth quarrel that has been going on all weekend long.
Jeff and Jenn have a Pop-Up camper. They don't have a bathroom in it, but brought along a small porta-potty with strict rules that only #1 was allowed to be put into the small cassette toilet.
Mark's daughter had to use the bathroom at one point and asked if she could use the toilet. Jeff said "Sure go in mine, but only go pee-pee, not any poopy!" Mark yells out across the camp, "Kinzer, go poop in Jeff's toilet, he doesn't care."
This is where it gets funny! Jeff said the reason no one was allowed to go #2 in there was it makes him vomit if he has to empty it. Jeff said it will literally make him throw up on the spot of seeing any dookie. He had asked Reed if he could go use his toilet earlier in the weekend to which Reed said "No, use your own damn toilet!" So Jeff grabbed a roll of toilet paper and said "Fine, I'll go poop in the woods like the bears do" and rode off into the woods on his scooter.
Well when Kinzer used his little porta-potty, she followed her dads advice and left Jeff a little present in the bottom of the toilet. Jeff came storming out of the camper yelling that he doesn't even use his toilet and telling Mark that he needed to go empty the cassette.
Remember that this is in front of our entire group to which every one of us are rolling on the ground laughing at how Jeff was going to get sick. So this morning while we all were packing up camp, Kinzer asked to use the toilet again and Jeff warned Mark that he would have to clean up any left over surprises.
While Reed held Jeff's attention, I ran around the back side of the camper and laid a Hostess Chocolate Roll beside the toilet.
Mark then called Jeff over saying that they couldn't get the toilet to flush. Jeff comes storming over cussing Mark out the entire way (These two argue like brothers) and when he comes around the corner, he sees the Chocolate Roll topped with nuts lying on the ground and jumped back like it was a giant Cobra ready to strike.
He covers his mouth and runs backwards saying that he's going to get sick. It was at this point I think I busted something inside my stomach I was laughing so hard.
Camping with this group has got to be some of the funniest back and forth antics I've ever had and I'm sure gonna miss them when we leave.
When the day heated up to the boiling point, we finished packing things up and headed back over to Reed's yard. Saying goodbye to the Kissimmee River Ranch almost brought a tear to my eye. This property was so beautiful. Thank goodness it is in private hands so hopefully it wont get developed any time soon.
After such a long weekend of partying, Sunday night was spent relaxing in front of the television in Reed and Shannon's house rehydrating with glass after glass of cool ice water. Jeff had left to head back to West Palm leaving Jenn in Okeechobee at her parents house to visit.
Reed and Shannon had invited us to stay a few more days with them, so tonight they ordered pizza's and we rented some movies. Sitting inside in the A/C was a little slice of heaven. The heat of middle Florida can be brutal and sitting out in it all day long takes a toll on your body.
Our only interruption was a phone call from a friend telling us to look outside as the Space Shuttle launched. It was cool to see the trail of smoke from the rockets sending the shuttle into orbit.
By the time we had finished our movie (Hancock = cool movie with some great special effects) the night time breezes had blown in and the camper had cooled down. I think I hit the pillow and never moved again till I heard Reed leaving for work at 5am.
Monday March 16th Getting the Tour of Okeechobee
Shannon had played hooky from work today to spend the day with us and give us the grand tour of Okeechobee.
We met Jenn for breakfast over at a little diner that sits beside the banks of the Big Grassy Lake the town draws its name from. Lake Okeechobee is the filter for much of the Everglades and is the second-largest freshwater lake wholly within the continental United States, second only to Lake Michigan and the largest in the southern United States. Okeechobee covers 730 square miles, approximately half the size of the state of Rhode Island and is relatively shallow, with an average depth of only 9 feet. The Big O is home to thousands of migrating birds, alligators and various species of fish. It draws anglers from all over the country to come down and try to pull that big lunker out of its waters.
I would say the town is a mixture of cowboys and fisherman with most of the truck license plates proudly displaying 'BEEF, It's what's for Dinner' on the front of the trucks. Throw in a bunch of tourists trying to escape the great white north during the winter months, and you have Okeechobee.
Shannon is a great tour guide, especially since their family has been here for generations and knows everyone in town. We stopped by the Western Store the family owns but Cindy and I needed to get out of there quick. I could spend thousands on beautiful boots, cowboy hats, denim and things to make me look as authentic as George Strait. The intoxicating aromas of leather and denim was enough to satisfy any cowboys senses.
We stopped by Jenn's parents house to visit with them for a bit, then headed over to a friend of Shannon's who runs a little produce stand that also happens to offer Air Boat rides. Check out Okeechobee Air Boat for their site
Shannon had called Jason asking if we could hitch a ride on one of the air boat tours to which he replied "Sure, come on by!"
The next few hours were spent buzzing along the top of the water with big gators snarling, hissing and doing their best to scare the crap out of Cindy.
We floated up to one momma gator with a bunch of babies swimming around here in the shallow water. She wasn't too thrilled with us tourists getting that close and showed it with bright white teeth and a loud hiss that sent Cindy clawing into my arm when I tried to stand and get a better picture.
At one point while we were flying through the cat tails and lily pads, Cindy started screaming and smacking something on Jenn's leg which sent them both into a tizzy.
The air boat captain, with his scratchy southern drawl stopped the boat asking "What's a matter ladies?" Cindy was trying to get a horse fly off of Jenn's leg that was the size of a Humming Bird. When Jenn finally saw what she was smacking, they both started slapping and flinging their hands around the way girls do when they see any insect that size.
But in all honesty, if I would have had that giant bug on my leg, I probably would have been flailing around like a little girl too.
After the Air Boat tour, we sat enjoying some fresh strawberry shortcake at Jason's road side fruit stand topped with cold frozen yogurt. What a way to cool down after being out on the water.
Shannon asked us what our plans were as we had told them we were planning on leaving today at some point. By this time it was late in the afternoon and I saw no need in getting on the road only to pull over in an hour or two when it got dark, so we asked if we could stay for one more night.
Her reply was a rewarding "Great, now I can show you a little bar we like to hang out at."
The KOA Campground in Okeechobee is like a small city in itself. They have a few pools, a golf course and a few hundred snowbirds who call this campground home each winter.
Shannon said they like to sneak in and sit at the bar named 'Shanty's' and watch the old people get drunk. When we walked in, there wasn't an empty seat in the place and the small pool side bar resembled any watering hole mid-way through a busy Happy Hour.
Cindy, Shannon and Jenn sat for the next hour checking out the hot legs on the old timers who were coming in off the golf course. I told them these guys probably walk 36 holes per day and was why their legs were so ripped and bulging with tight muscles.
After a few cold drinks to wind down the roasting afternoon temperatures, we got a call from Reed that he was on his way home so we headed back to the homestead.
Man would I love to go to work with Reed for a few days. Not that he didn't ask me too, but I'd be way too afraid that I'd hold them up and these boys aren't just out there fooling around. They're working and and riding and something tells me by the look of his horse, they're working pretty damn hard.
While Reed pulled his horse down off the stock trailer, the sweat was pouring off the dark red hair. He told us they probably rode 15 miles today moving 500 head of cattle into a new pasture so they could be loaded into cow pens tomorrow to be shipped off to market.
Like I said, I'd love to go to work with them, but something tells me about 5 miles into that saddle, my white butt would be falling off in the dirt.
Reed and Shannon are the type of people that make you feel like family from the first moment you meet them. When Cindy said "Pat, I need to go into town to get dog food, will you unhook the truck."
Reed cut right in saying "Nonsense, we'll take you into town, there is no need to unhook that truck of yours!"
So they drove us into town to get some food for the pups. After a stop at a Mickey D's drive through for dinner, we headed back to their place for an evening on the front porch with good friends.
Much like our friends Marc and Cathy in Virginia, this journey of ours is all about meeting and making new friends. Reed and Shannon have welcomed Cindy and I into their home for a few days now, stopped their hectic lives to show us an amazing way of life and made Okeechobee one of the hardest places to leave.
Shannon keeps joking that we should stick around and follow the Rodeo Circuit for photography, and I keep telling her to be quiet, she had better watch out what she's saying unless she wants us parked in her front yard permanently.
Tuesday March 17th Happy St. Patty's Day!
Man did I want to go to work with Reed this morning. I know that sounds funny, but when I heard him loading up the horse at 5am, I was actually out of bed sitting in the camper thinking "I should just go, I know I'm never going to get a chance like this again!"
But I stayed sitting there worried I'd just get in the way, and I know these guys are working for real, not just fooling around like so many of us do in our professions.
Me getting in the way could get someone seriously injured and we dont want any of that now do we.
By the time Cindy woke up, we knew today would be the day to shove off, so we got to our normal chores of packing everything up and going over our check list to make sure we haven't forgotten anything. Yes, the Jack Stands were put up this time!
We had made plans to meet Reed and Shannon over at the Livestock Market for lunch since that's where Reed would finish his days work. He and his friend Randy had spent the last few days rounding up cattle to bring to market.
Shannon called saying she couldn't get away from work since she had missed yesterday, so we just drove over and met Jenn, Reed and Randy.
While sitting in the little cafe above the cow pens, you can feel the floor rumbling as cows are shuttled from the trucks into the chutes. In the background you could hear the auctioneers voice rattling off a slurry of words that made no since to me, but then again, I'm just some city boy. What do I know about a Cattle Auction?
We ordered up some Fresh hamburgers figuring where else can you get meat this fresh? The burgers lived up to their reputation and were some of the best I've had in ages.
After we finished up with lunch, we sat above the square rows of seats lined with cowboy hats and spurred boots watching as cattle was led into a opening, bid on by its weight then sent off to be loaded on to the winning bidders truck to be sent off to market.
I know all of this because Reed sat explaining it to me while we watched the action from the top row.
After an hour of watching cattle shuffle across a sawdust floor, we finally said Goodbye to Reed and Okeechobee Florida.
Its funny how meeting up with ol' friends can lead to new friendship. Meeting with Jenn and Jeff introduced us to two people I now consider to be great friends. Reed and Shannon are amazing people and ones I hope to meet back up with along our travels. Hopefully their daughter will make it to the World Finals in Rodeo which is out West this summer.
If so, we told them we'd come watch her bring home the Buckle!
Thanks guys for making our stay such an enjoyable one and adding so many great memories to our journey.
We all know that the second Cindy gets in the passenger seat, she reclines the seat and is sawing logs within seconds. Well I HATE the faces she makes while sleeping! I pick up the camera from time to time and snap pictures of those goofy faces, then show them to her at a later time.
This usually infuriates her so she has now come up with one of her goofy new inventions. A few miles down the road from the Livestock Market, I see her pull out a few pins and a hand towel from the camper.
I ask what she is going to sew, but she starts sticking the pins in the headliner of the truck. She then pins the hand towel to the headliner like some sort of partition so I cant see her while she sleeps.
She does all of this, looks over from her now hidden seat and says "Goodnight!"
I gave it a few minutes, picked up the camera and just started taking pictures of her face anyways.
Driving across Central Florida is pretty boring. Surprisingly it's quite hilly for Florida landscape, but not too much to look at. I was supposed to be on Route 98 the entire way North, but an hour or two later when Cindy finally woke up, she asked "Why are we on Route 27?"
I dont pay too much attention to the road signs other than the speed limit ones and the cars around me, so I just told her that "Maybe she should stay awake more often and I wouldn't always be getting lost."
Within a few minutes she had us on some much nicer back roads that offered much better scenery and no stop lights or strip malls for miles.
Although just below Ocala, she spotted this car and I pulled over real quick to grab a shot for our Weird Vehicles Gallery we've collected along the journey.
Finally towards late afternoon, with only a few hours before the sun dipped below the horizon, we saw the sign for Cedar Key. You might remember this from our first few months on the road.
We had stopped on our way back from Jeff and Jenn's in our second month on the road. Never had heard of Cedar Key in the entire time we had lived in Florida, but thought "Who cares, lets go see what this little island has to offer."
We ended up staying four nights and meeting some great people. We camped right on the waters edge at Cast-Aways and feel in love with the place. We tried calling to see if they were still open and see if Dan was still running the Tiki Bar. Each phone call told us the number had been disconnected and the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce had nothing listed on their website either.
Well we figured we'd check it out anyways, there are a few other campgrounds on the island, just none with the memories we have of our nights spent at Cast-Aways.
We pulled past seeing the place looking deserted, but there was a work truck out front with a cargo trailer hooked to it and it looked as if someone was rebuilding the place.
We keep rolling past and went into downtown Cedar Key to see what was going on down there.
The shoreline was filled with Horseshoe Crabs by the hundreds that were mating along the waters edge. The sun was setting and you could hear music coming from the row of bars that line the waters edge.
Remember it is St. Patty's day. For Cindy and I, the last thing we wanted to see was anything with alcohol in it, so we just grabbed the cameras and went for a long walk.
Returning back to our truck, a guy pulled up on his golf cart to tell us about a big Osprey's nest that can be seen right from the roads edge. We sat talking about photography while he told us about his years working as a professional photographer and traveling the world.
When I asked if I would be able to drive the truck and trailer combo to the nest, he told us "Just take my golf cart over there."
Mark O'Brady runs the Gulf Kart Company Rental on 1st and A Street so I figured he was trying to make a sales pitch. I asked him how much he was going to charge us and he just laughed saying "No charge, you only have an hour till the sun goes down, and you cant drive them on the roads after dark anyways."
A little confused by Mark's hospitality, Cindy and I jumped on the gulf cart and followed the map he had made for us to the Osprey's perch. Sure as shit, the giant pair of birds were sitting on the dead branches of the old tree that held the huge nest.
I mean this nest was so big, I could curl up and lay down in it and wouldn't have any of my limbs hanging out the sides.
As Murphy's Law dictates, as soon as we got out of the golf cart, the birds opened their wings and took to flight. They soared a few trees away from us taking cover in thicker pine branches that made it impossible to photograph.
No big deal, it's just as cool to sit and watch them eat the fish one of the birds had in its talons from our very close vantage point. I did snag a few shots as it was flying away from the nest with the fish in its talons!
After an hour of watching and daylight dwindling, we got back on the golf cart and headed back to town just as the sun was dipping below the Atlantic Horizon.
Pulling back up to the Gulf Kart Company, we sat talking with Mark about photography and the history on Cast-Aways.
He told us Dan had let it go after getting strung out on something or another, and it had sat vacant for some time. Recently a new young couple had taken over and was in the process of refurbishing the place.
He told us the RV slots are still available for nightly rentals and to go knock on the door and ask for Terry or Barbara. They would take care of us for the night. Mark even offered to take us out on his boat tomorrow if we wanted to go explore some of the surrounding islands.
What are the chances we pull into a place after two years of being gone and find someone so nice right from the start.
We pulled into what is now called Sunset Point Motel & RV and rang the bell.
Barbara came to the door and we asked about the RV slots. She told us they were still available and we sat talking about their renovation of the Motel and the Tiki Bar.
She told us they plan on having the Rooms available within the next month, with the Tiki Bar to open up at the same time. The RV Slots have always been available since they needed nothing down to them. They still have full hook-ups available with water, sewer and 30amp service at each of the four slots.
Great to see one of our favorite sites is still available, just a change of names was all. Barbara told us they're still working on their website, so that link just sends you to her email, but when they get it updated, I'll swap out the link and update it on our Campground Review Page.
We backed into the slot and while I tended to the dogs, Cindy got to updating her much overdue blog. When ever we are around people, Cindy doesn't like to work on the computer at all.
She's the type that will not pick up a camera or type a word as long as there are people to visit with. I'm the type that likes to jot down my thoughts daily or I tend to let them get overrun with new pieces we've seen or encountered.
As for the camera and picture taking, I've got that bad, so one of them is never far from reach no matter where we are or who were around. No need to apologize for that, I'll be the first to tell you "If you dont like your picture taken, then let me know right up front, because chances are you're going to be in the picture at some point."
Cindy spent the rest of the night updating her blog and I fooled around with the stupid dogs. Yeah, can you believe that crap!
Wednesday March 18th 2009
Even though Mark had offered us a free boat ride around the islands this morning, Cindy was in one of her moods today and spent the majority of the morning updating her blog.
When I got on her about getting ready to go out, she snapped back with "I'm not going, you can go if you want to, but I dont feel like going out today!"
In other words this means that I'm not going either. I've played that game before when she tells me to go ahead without her, and it always turns around to bite me in the behind.
I'm thinking she's in a bit of a depression after having so much fun with Shannon, Jenn, Reed and Jeff for the past few weeks that the reality of being stuck in the camper with me again has given her the blues.
Dont get me wrong, I'd love to stay around Okeechobee photographing the Cowboy Lifestyle, but not until we're finished with this gypsy lifestyle of ours.
While Cindy sat typing away, I walked the dogs, edited some pictures and made a gallery from our past weekends fun. Check out the Okeechobee Gallery to see the pictures we put together from the camping at Kissimmee River Ranch and the time spent at Reed and Shannon's farm.
Once she finally finished up with her rants on the computer, it was 2 in the afternoon. We drove the camper over to the Osprey's nest to see if we could get a few shots since the birds were so close to the roadway and we've yet to fool around with the Canon 400mm
Once there and parked along the side of the road, which resulted in me almost burying the truck and camper in some sugar sand when I needed to turn around and drove off the paved roadway, I put the big lens on the Canon 30D body.
Cindy was playing around with the 5D and her 28-300L lens, but like I said, she wasn't in too good of a mood today, so after a few short minutes of watching the birds, she reclined the seat in the truck and sat reading her new book Shannon had given her.
For me, I learned a few things today after a short time fooling with the big lens.
First thing is, this lens is amazing. Its lightening fast and will focus on a bird flying past in a split second. There is no hunting for a focus spot or hesitating to lock on to the subject. When you press the shutter button to focus the camera, it locks on to what ever you have it pointed at.
The second thing I learned is, Hand Holding this 12lb lens is out of the question when trying to do it for any length of time. I can pick it up, snap off a few frames and set it down all day long. But trying to steady it for a few minutes to wait for a bird to take off from a branch is just way to hard for my wimpy little arms to hold still.
One might think "12lbs, that isn't that heavy." Well that's what I thought too. It's more the length of the lens and the weight combined. After realizing I was shaking too bad to get a sharp shot, I got out the monopod, but not having a good Gimball Head to mount the lens on only resulted in me wrestling with trying to get the right angle on the subject.
Now I didn't get discouraged, because this is my first time using the lens out in the field, and not just playing around with it in the house or in my back yard. The few shots I did take all turned out better than I expected, and I'm sure much of it was due to the performance of the lens and not anything to do with my abilities.
So I'm sure with a bit of practice, I'll be shooting much more with this bad boy of the White Lens line-up. My good friend Joe Sulliman who lives back in Milford always jokes with me about the power of the White Lens.
Joe is a fellow photographer and after buying a Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens for his camera bag he has always thanked me for recommending the quality of the 'L' Glass in the better quality White Lenses. We joke that the White Lens draws attention that can sometimes be unwanted when trying to take pictures. Other times they can open doors when trying to get access to shoot an event or something that shows you are professional about the gear you choose.
Well let me tell you something about having this 400mm lens on a monopod and standing on the side of the road. ANYONE who passes stops to talk about your gear and what you're trying to take pictures of.
Luckily for me, I dont mind talking to anyone willing to talk and if they want to talk about photography, all the better. When I finally walked back to the truck, Cindy was laughing at me asking "Did you even get a chance to take any pictures or did you just talk to everyone on the island?"
We packed up the gear into their storage bins and headed out for HWY 19 North. This little road should lead us right into Northern Florida and the Panhandle which will bring us over to Louisiana and our next destination.
Cruising along, I was trying to shop around for the lowest price on diesel which can vary by .50¢ for some reason. In doing this searching, I almost ran us out of fuel in the truck.
When we finally found fuel at a reasonable rate ($2.17 per gallon. Our lowest so far has been $1.83 and we've seen it up to $2.75!) I topped off the tank and told Cindy I was going to try a new strategy to save us some money.
We have one of those Scan Gauge II devices that will tell us our current fuel mileage to the instant that I play with the throttle pedal.
Since we left Michigan over a month ago, we've been averaging some of the worst fuel mileage of our entire two years on the road.
I'm not sure what the deal is and have been trying to reorganize the weight of the stuff we have in the bed of the truck and thought not having the kayaks on the roof would increase our fuel mileage, not make it worse!
So after I filled up with fresh diesel, I didn't pay any attention to my speed, I only watched the fuel mileage indicator on the Scan Gauge. I should say that we're on some two lane back roads that in almost 70 miles of travel, we only passed a few cars and most were going in the opposite direction. I wouldn't be able to drive like this if we were in busy traffic or on main roads.
What I did find is that we have a sweet spot on our truck that will keep us right around 15mpg if I keep the RPM's between 1500 and 2000 on the tachometer. This is 10 times better than the 8-10mph we've been averaging the last month.
So I'm going to keep fooling around with these experiments of mine to see what I can find out and see how much I can better my fuel consumption with strictly playing with the throttle pedal.
Hopefully I wont piss off too many people who will have to pass by me with a middle finger out the window because I'm making them late for work.
One thing we also found was if you take HWY 358 West to HWY 361 North, you'll find some very cool little fishing towns along the Gulf Coast that we never knew existed.
Thursday March 19th
Meandering North along HWY 98, we kept passing signs for Big Bend National Wildlife Refuge. I always thought Big Bend was in Texas, but I guess you learn new stuff each day on the road.
When we passed a sign that said "St. Marks Light House" and by this point, I was bored with driving, so I locked up up the brakes, turned the rig around and we figured we'd go check it out.
Driving down the narrow road surrounded by marsh, we right away started counting off alligator sightings. We spotted a big hawk hovering over some lunch in the reeds and spotted a few Osprey diving for food.
Both of us couldn't wait to get out of the truck to start snapping pictures. This is a birders paradise.
I asked Cindy if she wanted to play around with the big lens, but she complained that she cant hold it up unless it's on a tripod or monopod, and we still dont have the head to mount it yet. So I was able to use it which makes for a great arm workout.
While walking around the elevated dykes that line the various ponds along park, we kept spotting too many birds to list before Cindy yelled out "Oh My God! Look at that Eagle!"
Just then a huge bald eagle came swooping down right above us with an Osprey right on its tail. Neither had anything in their talons, so I'm wondering why the two predators were fighting one another.
This is where the speed and the good glass of the 400mm makes it worth its heft. In a split second I was able to find the bird in the viewfinder and snap off a few shots with them in perfect focus.
Poor Cindy was standing beside me trying to focus, but her lens was having trouble locking on to the moving bird. And I'm not lying when I say it was moving fast.
Cindy's lens is a great lens dont get me wrong, its just that the 400mm is that much faster and made for sports/action photography.
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but mosquito's and any bug for that matter absolutely love me. Well right now I have over 40 bites on my legs from No-See-Um's that attacked me last night and its all I can do to walk around without scratching my legs till they bleed.
We can be walking around in the woods, and I'll have swarms of bugs around me while Cindy isn't bothered by one single insect. I'm not sure what type of odor my body gives off that attracts the insects so much, but it must be the same odor that works for the ladies....Just Kidding! I know that's my devilish good looks. Ok, Now that I've really got you laughing, lets move on.
While we were walking, this lady comes walking up to us and asks, "Are the bugs bad out by the water?"
Cindy laughs saying "Look at his legs!" The woman takes one look at my legs and turns around running back for her vehicle. I must look like some sort of leper.
After a few hours of wandering around taking pictures and donating blood to the local insect population, we headed back to the camper for lunch.
Little breaks like this are the perfect way to break up the monotony of long drive days. This Wildlife Refuge is a haven for birds, so if anyone is into bird watching, put this on the top of your list.
While Cindy went into the camper to make some lunch, I was wandering around the St. Marks Lighthouse snapping some pictures when I heard a woman scream at the top of her lungs.
I looked over to see a large gator arching up with it's mouth all the way open. It was letting out a deep stomach growl and its body was fluttering in the water. I've seen this on the National Geographic Channel and is usually a sign they do when they're mating or calling in a female.
I thought it was funny because here you have a normal woman who thinks the gator is growling at her and is sprinting in the opposite direction and I'm in a full sprint towards the gator.
As luck would have it, by the time I got to it and had my lens swapped (I had a wide angle lens on while snapping pictures of the lighthouse), the gator had submerged itself back into the water.
I sat in the knee high weeds waiting for the gator to arch up again, thinking "I have patience, I can withstand the bug bites for a good shot of a gator."
But after about 20 minutes and a quart of blood, I thought to myself, "These creatures have been around since the dawn of time, and haven't really even evolved. Something tells me he has more patience than I do!"
Once we finished with lunch and got back on HWY 98, Cindy was asleep within minutes and I was alone to watch the beautiful Panhandle beaches glide past.
By late afternoon we pulled into St. George Island State Park only to find the campground full due to spring break. Damn, this place is one of our favorite places to visit.
Oh well, off to find a Wally World parking lot for the night.
Update on the daily Fuel Mileage. I paid attention to my RPM's today and never let them get out of that sweet spot. After a full day of driving, some 250 miles, we averaged 15.2 MPG!!
Friday March 20th 2009
Driving North along HWY 98 through Destin and Pensacola Beach can make for some beautiful sights. Destin has some of the bluest water I've ever seen.
There is a big bridge that crosses the bay and from atop the bridge, the water looks so inviting you want to jump right off the tall bridge into it.
Its while crossing the bridge when Cindy says "We should stop here!"
I look at her and ask, "Do you think we'll be able to find a place to park a Travel Trailer in that city for under $100 per night?"
Of course like any woman, she just turns and looks out the window without saying anything. An hour later she's mad that we didn't stop so she could go swimming in that water.
Now you have to remember that she was looking out over a turquoise blue bay filled with million dollar yachts anchored to a sand bar and thinking that by some chance, if we would have stopped there, she'd be one of those ladies sunning themselves on the front of one of those yachts.
In reality, Cindy doesn't swim in the water, she just lays out on the beach which has got to be the most boring thing in life to do. I can not stand to just lay out in the sun. It's like torture for me to just sit there doing nothing.
Play paddle ball, swim or snorkel, do anything at the beach other than just lay there.
Of course I'm the A-Hole for not stopping and never heard the end of it for the rest of the day.
After hours of sitting in a traffic jam because of a little fender bender, we made it to Gulf Shores and our days destination, the Flora-Bama Roadhouse.
Like many of my pea-brained ideas, I had been hearing of this bar for years now. A little Roadhouse right on the Florida, Alabama border that has been called "One of the best bars in the South"
So I figured we're on our way to Louisiana and can stop by to see if it's all it's cracked up to be.
Maybe because Cindy was in such a bad mood or the fact that we have no money to just sit at a bar and drink weak drinks at $5 a piece, but the Flora-Bama wasn't as wild as we thought it would be.
Since it was late in the afternoon and the parking lot was completely empty, we both just said "Lets just stay right here tonight."
So Cindy laid in bed finishing her new book while I uploaded photos to stock photography sites all night long.
Around 10pm, the sound of closing doors and kids yelling across the parking lot to one another was all you heard till last call.
The bar was hopping now, but paying a cover charge and dealing with drunk college kids on spring break wasn't my idea of fun. Especially after our last weekend of partying, something says anything going on in the Flora-Bama wasn't going to be too impressive at this point.
I would like to come back for one of their famous Mullet Toss competitions where patrons see who can throw a Mullet across the State Line the farthest.
Oh well, I guess its all what you perceive of it, and at this point in my life, a rustic tourist bar isn't my cup of tea. Bring me back with a group of beer drinking, shot throwing buddies, and I'm sure this place would hold a fond memory for us, but that'll have to be at a different time and a different song in our lives. Check out Jimmy Buffet's tribute to the roadhouse - Bama Breeze which shows what the bar looked like before Ivan wreaked havoc on this section of the coast.
Saturday March 21st 2009 Touring the Bellingrath Gardens
Cindy was dead set on spending the day at the beach today. This was why we had spent the night in the Flora-Bama bar parking lot. She figured I could work on the computer all day long and she could relax by herself on a beautiful white sand beach and get some sun.
I was fine with that, so while she was getting her beach attire ready, I set my stuff up to have a productive day in front of the laptop.
She kissed me goodbye and headed off with her beach bag towards the ocean. When I heard the door opening up only 15 minutes later, you can understand the shock on my face when I saw her come walking back in.
She looked like she had gotten into a fight with someone on the beach and had been rolling around in the fine Alabama sand. I'm not lying when I say she had it everywhere on her body, and I mean everywhere!
I think it took her longer to get the sand off than the entire time she was gone from the camper.
We had planned on heading over to Alabama tomorrow and spending the day at the Bellingrath Gardens, but I'm thinking it looks like we're going to spend today there instead. Hopefully Cindy wont get too chafed while walking around with all that sand in the private parts.
Since we had literally spent the night with the ass end of the camper in Alabama and the front section of it in Florida, crossing the border took all of 2 seconds and we were on our way. We had checked into taking the Ferry from Ft. Morgan to Dauphin Island which would save on miles traveled, but would probably take longer due to the loading and unloading of the ferry. That and when I asked a few people at the Flora-Bama about taking the ferry, they all looked at me like I was some kind of idiot (I get this look alot).
Pulling into the Bellingrath Gardens, the first thing we spotted was a Ring Necked Pheasant crossing the road. It paid no attention to the vehicles stopped on each side of the road as it made its way across the little two lane entrance.
Luckily for the Pheasant, Luca is tied into the truck with a harness or we would have been having fresh bird for dinner. The amount of drool he left on the side of the truck where his head was hanging out the window was enough to wash the truck down.
Walking up to the door of the Garden entrance, Cindy exclaimed "Great, we drove all this way and they close at 5pm!" Our watches told us it was 4:50pm, but that's because we had forgot to move them back when we crossed the Time Zone line back near Panama. It was actually only 3:50 in the afternoon.
We asked at what time we would be booted out and the woman behind the counter told us "You have till the sun goes down, we just lock the front door at 5pm."
The entrance fee was $11 per person, but well worth the cost. If we would have gotten here earlier, they offer a tour of the house and also have a Paddle Boat River Cruise available if you want to make a day of it.
I've always dreamed of having a property and landscaping it into a magnificent garden. Cindy and I have both always enjoyed working with plants and sculpting where ever we've lived into a backyard oasis. So we always enjoy seeing other gardens and getting ideas incase we ever fall into a pile of money and could spend the remaining years designing a dream garden of our own.
I was in heaven with my tripod and Macro Tubes which allow me to focus extremely close on the mass array of flowers that were in bloom.
The azaleas that lined the walk-ways were 8' tall and bursting with color and fragrance. Every time Cindy or I would pass one another, we'd both be breathing in as much of the glorious scents as our lungs could handle.
If I heard Cindy say one time "Oh My God, these smells are intoxicating!" I heard her say it a hundred times. Intoxicating doesn't do justice to describe it, but I cant think of any other way to explain how engulfing the smells and colors were.
You couldn't look in any direction without thinking you were looking into a kaleidoscope of neon colors. Some of the flowers were so bright, they looked like they had to be fake. Either that or they were plugged into something that made them give off that warm glow.
Each time I thought I'd seen everything there was to see, we'd walk around a hedge and into a opening that would reveal a whole new section with different species of plants and trees.
Bamboo gardens, coy ponds, a boardwalk that wound its way through a estuary with old growth cypress lining the marsh. Beds of tulips, rows of ornamental cabbages, snapdragons, Roses, azaleas, pansies, dianthus....the list goes on and on.
The hot house alone which had so many varieties of orchids could have kept me busy for the entire day. Something about photographing flowers is very erotic to me. Maybe its just my artistic mind, but how can you look at a blooming flower and not think its just plain sexy?
If I could recommend for anyone to come visit Bellingrath Gardens, I'd suggest you do what we did. Come late in the afternoon. The heat of the day was gone, there was a slight breeze that was filled with aromas to satisfy even someone who has lost their sense of smell, and the afternoon glow of the setting sun only added to the landscape.
By the time the sun went down, I was still trying to catch the gardens in their glory with my camera. Something that tells me I have a serious problem and I've found just cant be done until they invent a computer that will spit out scents while you're looking at the pictures.
When we finally got back to the camper, we contemplated spending the night right in the parking lot. It alone is lined with giant oaks and looks like some sort of city park.
But after looking at a map, we realized we're only a few hours from Cindy's sisters in Louisiana, and decided we could break up tomorrows day of driving if we inched a bit closer.
If you'd like to see our photos from the Bellingrath Gardens, check out the Bellingrath Garden Gallery
By the time we pulled into Wally World in Pascagoula, it was completely dark. We both got out of the truck and I instantly thought there was two guys fighting around the side of the building.
We got out the dogs to take them for their nightly walk and realized the sounds we were hearing was a preacher standing in an open field beside the Wal-Mart parking lot.
He had a little P.A. System set up behind a podium and was spouting off about how the devil has made its way into our lives and how we need to repent in order to be saved.
It was hard to understand him because he injected 'Amen' in between every other word. So a sentence might sound something like this "God told, Amen, us to follow, Amen, Jesus, Amen, and we would be saved, Amen."
I guess each of us have to find our way in this world, and this old preacher thought that standing beside a Wal-Mart parking lot spreading the word was his ticket to heaven. Amen!
Sunday March 22nd
Driving through the lower sections of Alabama and Mississippi, I was completely appalled that we're still seeing sections that are trashed from the Hurricane season of 2005.
I mean this is the spring of 2009, four full years later and there are some sections that look like the debris has been cleaned off the streets and taken out of the yards, but the homes, businesses and devastation is still very prevalent.
I'm at a loss for words that our government would be spending millions upon millions of dollars on foreign countries to help them pick themselves back up, when our own country and our own brothers and sisters are sitting here cleaning this mess up.
Driving through downtown Gulfport, we were both awestruck at how desolate this whole area still is. If you own an RV and want a free place to live, this would be it. Sort of like the Quartzsite of the East Coast.
Many of the parking lots for the Casino's and businesses that used to be right along the beach are just that, empty slabs of concrete with nothing left on them except for free places for the RV'ers to park.
We saw two businesses open for breakfast on a Sunday morning. An IHOP and a Waffle House, and both had lines out the parking lots to even try to find a place to park. Forget the line out the door to eat.
Driving through the older section of downtown, the Mississippi Historical Museum has the steeple that once stood on the roof of the building sitting on the ground beside the boarded up structure.
The downtown itself looked like a ghost town. I'm just so confused why this is still sitting so ruined after almost 4 full years since that deadly Hurricane Season?
Once we got out of downtown, the roads roll like a roller coaster with plenty of ups and downs. We're definitely out of Florida and the flat as pancake style of roads.
Passing one lot, I locked up the breaks and whipped into the median to make a u-turn. I've never seen the amount of crap in a front yard that wasn't either having a yard sale, or collecting vehicles to sell as scrap.
I love to see the little mountain homes and it makes me think of Mexico where people just store everything right in the front yard. No such thing as getting rid of the old car or tractor, nope, just put it to the side and leave it for another time. Sort of reminds me of some of my relatives.
When we finally got to Cindy's sisters, a 4 hour drive that she had said we could have made in an hour if we would have taken I-10, I couldn't wait to relax and not have to worry about where we were going to camp for the next few nights.
Not that I really ever worry about that, but its nice to know if you're going to be sitting still for a few weeks, you can unpack a few more things and really get comfortable.
We've been talking back and forth with Cindy's sister and she has some construction work lined up for us to earn some money while we're here, so I cant wait to actually do some physical labor.
Sitting behind the wheel for so long isn't too good for the gullet.
We also got to see our daughter this evening which was a great surprise. She stopped by on her way out of town to go visit some family up in Tennessee.
This was the first time I got to meet her new boyfriend, and I'll be the first one to say I was thoroughly impressed. I've known every one of them since her first one, so I have a good idea of what to expect, and Allan is unlike any of her past boyfriends.
Very funny, talkative, and gave nothing but compliments the entire time we spoke with him. He also recently bought himself a DSLR camera because he told us he loves photography, so I dont know if that was just some serious ass kissing or if he was for real, but it added some points on my chart.
They'll be gone for a few days and when they get back, we're really looking forward to going out on a swamp tour, walking around downtown New Orleans t check out the architecture and maybe wander around a few of the old historic cemeteries the city is so known for.
I'm really looking forward to our stay here this time. Hopefully, we'll have plenty to talk about in the next few weeks.
Friday March 27th 2009
What a wild week we've had. The beginning of the week we worked around the yard at Cindy's sisters, then Wednesday, we drove into downtown New Orleans to walk around the historic French Quarter and get our fill of Dive Bars and VooDoo shops.
Neither of us were in the mood to do any drinking, not that the smell of stale beer wouldn't get anyone in the mood, but I really think we're partied out from our stay in Florida. I think my liver is just now starting to be able to process my daily intake of fluids without quivering for fear of more alcohol.
Hopefully the bottle of Milk Thistle I've been taking will rebuild some of those damaged liver cells.
We wandered around all afternoon admiring the unique buildings and window shopping the expensive art galleries. The French Quarter is a great place to people watch, and home to some of the strangest people you'll run into during the daytime hours.
With its blending of cultures, you have such a mix of nationalities that it's hard to pinpoint the vibe the city gives off. I will tell you that I love the Cajun accent the locals have down here and like to sit and listen to them talk. Its fun to pretend you're looking at something in a window and eavesdrop on a conversation between to locals, especially if they're older and have the heavy accents of the true Cajuns.
It's unlike the deep southern accents you'll encounter in Tennessee, Georgia or Alabama, and very different from the accents the cowboys spoke with back in Okeechobee. The Cajun accent has a blending of French, Southern and Creole that is unique to the Bayou and unlike anything you'll hear outside of Southern Louisiana.
We wanted to stop by some of the historic cemeteries on the outskirts of town, but by the time we got out of the French Quarter, the main gates to the cemeteries were closed. I guess most of them lock their gates at 4:30pm and you sort of have to know your way around to know where to park a car and walk in through the entrance gates after hours. We dont know our way around!
If you've never been to a New Orleans Cemetery, you're missing a true piece of art. The cemeteries in Louisiana are all above ground tombs and built like small shrines. Some stand 20' tall with life size angels or gargoyles perched atop the cement mausoleums.
I cant even imagine what a tomb like these must cost? Some have centuries of families buried behind their cement walls. I remember when we buried my older brother a few years ago, I overheard my parents commenting on the grave stone costing a few thousand dollars for a simple 1' by 3' piece of marble. Looking around at these grave stones I'm thinking I couldn't even afford to die if I lived in New Orleans.
When we made our way back across The Causeway and talked with Cindy's sister Teresa, she told me that she'd bring us back down on another day because she loves to photograph the angels. I'll be sure to put together a full gallery from our day exploring the cemeteries.
One thing I forgot about Louisiana was my love for their style of food. We've gone out to eat a few times with Teresa and Don and I've yet to have a meal where I didn't scrape the plate clean.
Louisiana cuisine is probably my favorite style of cooking, second only to Cindy's home made meals.
Everything is covered in thick, creamy sauces with spices and herbs that have my mouth watering just thinking about them. We've been talking about making a drive over to Prejean's (Pronounced: Pray-Jon's) in Lafayette.
If you've been reading the blogs since we first started, you'll remember the last time we visited Teresa and she took us to a Native American Sweat Lodge over in Lafayette. (If you dont remember, Click Here for my April 2007 Blog)
After that amazing experience, we went out to dinner at Prejean's and I've never had a meal to top the cuisine we experienced that evening.
I've told countless people about our experience there and anyone who has traveled through Louisiana will usually agree there is nothing to rival a meal at Prejean's.
We've even spoke to local restaurant owners at nationally acclaimed establishments and when asked if their food compares to Prejean's they all will hold a hand up exclaiming "Nothing compares to Prejean's!"
Thinking back to our first visit to Louisiana, we also thought about our visit to the Sugarena where we attended the Cajun Hot Sauce Festival. This was where we heard one of our favorite Country acts, Jaryd Lane, and got to talk with him back stage.
Well we looked online to see if we had missed this years event and were both excited to learn that its coming up the middle of next month. If you're in the Louisiana area and want to hear some awesome music, taste some local hot sauce and mingle with some down home people, head over to New Iberia, April 17th thru the 19th and you'll be sure to have a good time.
If you've been watching the Weather Channel this week, then you know that the Seep South has had some crazy weather. Luckily we haven't had the nasty tornados Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama has had, but we're getting close to the flood stage due to all the rains.
When we got home on Wednesday night, it started raining something awful. It rained all night long to the point that Cindy got up and put our Sheepskin Pillow, normally used for insulating the roof vent during cold weather, in the vent opening to quiet the sound of the pounding rain.
The lightening was so powerful, it looked like some jokester was sitting outside the camper with a bazillion candle power spotlight shining it into all the windows.
It rained all day Thursday and by late afternoon we headed into Mandeville to have dinner with Teresa, Don and Teresa's two daughters. They have a beautiful condo right in town where they stay during the week.
Teresa had told us to drive her Mini Cooper because it is so much better on fuel than our big diesel. About half way into Mandeville, I looked at Cindy and said "I hate not having my big truck!"
The Mini is so low to the ground and the rain was causing so much flooding that we had to drive down the middle of the road most of the time to avoid submerging ourselves in the deep puddles.
If a tree was to come down from the heavy winds or we hit an area where the water was too deep, we'd be stranded in the little Mini Cooper. In our truck, we would have to hit some serious high water in order to be stranded or could drive over all the largest downed trees.
Luckily we made it without having to break out the paddles and spent the evening enjoying some good company.
On our way home, the rain held off right up to the point we pulled into Teresa's driveway.
Cindy's phone was ringing and Teresa was telling her we should probably sleep inside the house tonight due to the Tornado Warnings.
I told Cindy "If the wind gets too rough, we can always run into the house. Heck we're only 50 feet from her back door."
The rest of the night was spent holding on to the side of the mattress from the heavy winds, the sleet pounding the windows of the camper and the crazy guy with the spot light shining the windows again.
Being used to sleeping in truck stops, I was able to sleep right through the storm and woke to what else.....more rain.
The back yard that we're supposed to be grading for Teresa and Don is now flooded and looks like any work will be pushed back till we get some sunny, windy days to dry out the saturated soil. We had checked on the weather before we rented the Bulldozer which is why we were just fooling around this week rather than dozing up the yard.
Next week we will hopefully have some better weather and can get to work changing the grade so the yard wont flood anymore. Oh, I also uploaded our photos from the Bellingrath Gardens Visit. Hope you like them!
Tuesday March 31st - Drawing a Close to Our 2nd Month Back Out
Time flies when you keep busy. It seems like only yesterday that we were leaving Michigan for the 3rd time on our journey.
In the past month we've spent time with old friends, made plenty of new ones and had a riot with every mile traveled. Well not every mile, there are always a few that we argue the entire time. We always like to say "Every Miles A Memory! They might not all be good memories, but they're memories for sure"
With so much devastation around us with all the spring rains, Cindy and I got into the truck yesterday and headed a few towns North of Teresa's house to see some of the flooding going on in the town of Franklinton.
The Bogue Chitto River has crested its banks from the spring rains and is trying to reclaim much of the land homes have been built on. Roads are impassable, police have set up road blocks and more rain is in the forecast.
To see Mother Nature raging like this really makes you realize how quickly life's materialistic things can be taken from you in the blink of an eye.
With all this rain to wait out, I've been sitting in front of the computer working on galleries. Its amazing to me that after all this time on the road, we still have photos that we haven't either posted, or even looked at yet.
I got an email from someone asking about the El Malpias area in New Mexico and when I started looking for a photo to show them, I realized we had never even posted any of our images from this area.
I mean we spent a week wandering around out in the lava fields of New Mexico, climbing sandstone formations and admiring giant Arches that leave you standing their with your jaw open.
So I sat down and put together a few new galleries for your viewing pleasure. First there is the Gallery from El Malpias National Monument, then there is the El Morro National Monument which was worthy enough of its own Gallery all together.
I cant believe I've neglected these photos all this time, especially since one of my favorite pictures of Cindy is in the El Morro Gallery. The one where she is standing on top of the rock and the clouds look like they're coming from her head. Even our daughter saw that picture and replied "Mom, it looks like you're glowing and you look so strong! You just emanate 'woman' in that shot."
Once I started working on them, I realized why I had been putting them off for so long.
This was before I had learned how to clean the sensor on our cameras and they were filthy. Looking at the image in Photoshop, there is so many dust specs and dirt particles on each shot, that every time I would look at them, I'd just get frustrated and move on to something else.
I think it was right after we left this area that I bought our Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly Brush Cleaning Kit so I could keep the cameras clean without having to send them in to Canon. Something about boxing up your camera and knowing you're going to be without for a week just doesn't sit well with me.
So I worked on the dirty images and cleaned them all up so they're nice and the way they should look, without all those black orbes floating in the picture.
Once I started working on these galleries, I realized we had never posted any of our photos from our short visit to Organ Pipe National Park down in Arizona.
We planned on staying here a little longer, but it was raining and half the park was closed because of illegal aliens crossing the border. The Border Patrol was scouting out one half of the park while we were there looking for some Mexicans that had gone missing while trying to make the deadly journey.
I remember having the Park Ranger tell us while we were buying a map "If you see any people who are wandering around in the desert, dont approach them, just try and mark the location and let us know immediately."
We drove the one loop that was open and left the next day not wanting to sit in the rain waiting for the 2nd loop to open.
And while I was on such a roll working on photos, I went ahead and put together a March Gallery for any of our images that didn't fit into the specific galleries we created for the other places we visited this past month.
When it isn't raining, we've been keeping busy helping to repair Teresa's greenhouse that collapsed earlier in the year. I'm not sure if you remember when Louisiana got a freak snow storm and Mother Nature dumped 8" of snow in a few hours time?
Well her 20'x40' greenhouse frame couldn't hold the weight of the wet snow and fell inwards. We've been taking apart all the framing and moving out all the plants that were under the collapsed roof and sorting out what can be saved compared to what needs to be pitched.
Teresa also bought us a cool sticker that she said reminded her of us. I couldn't think of a better place to put it so I stuck it right above our bed. I figure it'll be something nice to think of when I go to bed each night and even better to recite each morning when I wake up.
Total Miles Traveled for the month of March = 2204
Total Water Used in Coach = 133
Total Fuel Used in Truck = 147.35 Gallons @ a Cost of $358.56
No Propane tanks needed to be refilled last month since the temperatures are getting warmer and I dont think the heat has turned on since we reached South Florida. I'd also like to mention that we've yet to plug in to shore power since we left Michigan back in February. We ran one of the generators 2 times for about an hour each time back in February when it was raining non-stop, but other than that, we've run solely off the solar panels and our bank of batteries.