Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #3

Bill and Kit's Camping Rig

Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #3

Travel at its truest is thus an ironic experience, and the best travelers seem to be those able to hold two or three inconsistent ideas in their minds at the same time, or able to regard themselves as at once serious persons and clowns.

Paul Fussell

Wednesday, January 16, 2013:  Up and sadly left Oak Grove Campground on the shores of Pensacola Bay.  Starting today we head pretty much due west for the next month or so…..or until Lucille guides us into the Pacific Ocean.

The morning is warm, overcast and a bit drizzly…..great weather to be cooped up in a truck and making miles.  A cold front is coming into the Florida panhandle so it is also a great day to leave the beach.  I noticed on my morning walk that the temperature seemed to have dropped some 15 degrees since sunrise.

At 0900, as we pulled out of the campground, it was a cool 59 degrees and a steady rain was falling.  Piecing together a variety of back roads that kept the trucks compass on the “W”, we soon passed through the schizophrenic village of Florabama as we once again entered LA…..which stands for “Lower Alabama” in these parts.

Cruising on US-59W we noticed a sign for a Camping World store and made a stop to see if there were any “can’t live without” items that we have been living without over the past five years.  Kit and I have been thinking of a bathroom remodel, so since a Jacuzzi garden tub is out of the question, we checked out some fancy commodes.  Had an interesting conversation with a sales clerk about the advantages of upgrading to a porcelain unit.  He was quite knowledgeable…..he was definitely number one in the number two business!

Back on US-59 we jumped up to I-10 in order to roll through Mobile, Alabama before dropping back down to US-90 to continue our trek along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

US-90 MS

 Passing through my old haunts of Pascagoula and Gautier, Mississippi.  I was a bit surprised that little had changed, considering that hurricane Katrina had devastated this area pretty bad.  In fact The Bamboo Lounge, better known as the Aegis Test Team Field Office, was in its original location but renamed Just One More.  The attached trailer park where I lived for three months in 1987 is long gone.

Continuing west on US-90, we noticed the new bridge over Biloxi Bay provides a nice gateway to the gambling resort area.

Road to Biloxi, MS

The original bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina back in August 2005 as chronicled by the following news photo.

Old Biloxi bridge

 The gambling resorts of Biloxi and Gulfport are the economic life blood of southern Mississippi.  And as such the area was quickly rebuilt…..even the world famous Sharkheads tourist trap was built anew, right on its original vulnerable location.

Sharkheads

It always amuses me that the merchandise one finds after entering through a gift shops fake animal mouth is representative of what emanates from an actual animals tail.  At least the Beijing owners had the sense to put their valuable merchandise in a building on stilts (yea, I know I’m China bashing this trip).

Stopping for a quick lunch we happened upon this interesting fellow.

US-90 Biker A cycling tourist from Connecticut, he had been on the road since March of last year.  He has seen a large part of America up close and personal from the seat of his 27 speed, Trek 520…..a classic touring bike.  Said he hoped to get back home by this March.  His biggest challenge?  Road debris…..he has gone through countless inner tubes and tires.  It seems a lot of US automobiles are losing a lot of sharp and rusty components that get bounced to the shoulder of the highways.

Being on our preferred back-road route, the drive was a bit slow but far more interesting and picturesque than hurdling down I-10 which is a few short miles to the north.

US-90 Biloxi, MS

Around 1500 we pulled into Covington, Louisiana and stopped at the home of our oldest Navy friends, Johnny and Eileen.  We all met as teenagers back in 1965 while stationed in Key West, Florida and were neighbors for over a year.  Although we stayed in touch we only had sporadic contact until five years ago when we visited them on our first Excellent Adventure.  We have visited nearly every year since and a few years ago they came to Maine to visit us.

Offering up their dooryard for a few days of freebie camping, we gratefully accepted the kind gesture.

Camp Laurences

That evening, Eileen made an incredible Louisiana feast of Jambalaya and French Bread which we shared with their delightful granddaughters, Katelyn, Shelby and Gracen.

The Girls

Thursday, January 17, 2013-Covington, LA:  A beautiful “Visitors Bureau” day in Louisiana.  We spent it with Johnnie and Eileen, catching up on each other’s lives and reminiscing about the early days in Key West.

As is customary when we enjoy the hospitality of friends we stop to visit along our travels, we treated Johnnie and Eileen to a meal at one of their favorite restaurants.  Bear’s Restaurant is a small non-descript eatery off a busy side street that likely has the best Po-Boys on the planet!

Bear's Menu

PO-Boy’s are Louisiana Sub Sandwiches, Italian’s, or Hogies……but bigger and better, or so they say……and from what we experienced today, I’d say they might be right!  The term Po-Boy came about in the 1920’s while during a labor strike by street car workers in New Orleans, the out of work strikers stopped buying lunch at Clovis Martins restaurant.  So old Clovis piled a bunch of fried oysters and shrimp on a baguette and handed them out, free of charge, to his former patrons.  The cooks in his restaurant started referring to the sandwiches as oyster loaves for the poor boys…..in Louisiana dialect this was naturally shortened to Po-Boy.

Bear's Shrimp Po-Boy

That’s a Shrimp Po-Boy we each enjoyed and it came loaded!  As were the diners!!

Kit, Johnnie and Eileen 

But not nearly as loaded as this writer!!!

Belly Bill 

I fully intended to eat only half of that huge sandwich and save the rest for later…..then, next thing I knew it was gone!  So much for good intentions!!

If that wasn’t enough caloric intake, our hosts insisted we sample some traditional New Orleans King Cake.

King Cake

Some good and some rich.  It was so large that there was actually a baby hiding inside…..honest, don’t believe it, then Google “King Cake”!

Thursday, January 17, 2013:  Up early and on the road.  Sunny skies, temperature of 35 degrees and no wind…..ah, just like a summer morning in Maine.

On the way out of Johnnie and Eileen’s neighborhood we came upon a Café Du Monde…..yep the same folks that provide the perfect morning hangover remedy down in the French Quarter now have satellite locations.

Cafe Du Monde

 I think I really made an impression on the young Cajun lass when I ordered some of “dem dar big nets”.  So we enjoyed a few Beignet’s chased by chicory coffee and we were wired for the mornings drive.

To escape the madness of rush hour traffic, we jumped on I-12 which then merged with I-10 heading west.  It didn’t work…..it was congested and crazy.  I often wonder why folks commuting  to work speed.  Going home, I guess I can understand it.

Soon we were crossing the Atchafalaya Basin on an 18 mile bridge which was suspended a few feet from the continuous bayous and swamps that make up this, the largest wetland area in the US

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

Within an hour we crossed the Mississippi River and were officially in the Wild West.  This was  further verified as we crossed into Texas three hours later and strapped on our six shooters.  Hey…..six rounds in a Texas revolver, six targets in a pack of beer…..coincidence?  I think not!

Since we have explored this particular Louisiana-Texas corridor during the past four Excellent Adventure trips, and since we wanted to make Kyle, Texas by nightfall, we stayed on I-10 to maximize the daily mileage.

As we entered the Houston megalopolis area we were confronted by this massive and confusing structure.

Houston Flyover's

Yikes!  It is midafternoon on a weekday and all these folks were going somewhere very fast.  That’s a five layer traffic cake…..unbelievable!

The problem with heading west late into the day is that you’re staring into the sun…..the advantage to traveling west late into the day is that you’re enjoying a spectacular sunset…..kind of a cup half empty/cup half full thing!

texas Sunset

Nearing San Antonio we escaped I-10 and took a variety of back roads toward Kyle, which is a neat little Texas town just south of Austin where Kit’s sister Charlotte and brother-in-law Donald were awaiting our arrival.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of Bill and Kit’s Excellent Adventure, coming to a computer near you!

Kit’s Corner:  Well, I guess we have no more secrets.  Leave it to Bill to blab to the world about looking for a new commode for the camper.  I should have just ordered it on Amazon and be done with it.  Of course, I would have had to scout out someone to install it but that’s not too hard.  I seem to be losing my independent Navy Wife ways of getting things done on the sly.

I am looking forward to a nice visit with my sister while Bill and Donald entertain each other for a few days.

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Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #2

Bill and Kit's Camping Rig

 Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #2

 

There is nothing stronger in the world then gentleness

Han Suyin

 
Aunt Mary and Uncle Don-Younger Years

As I closed the previous journal with a few words about the passing of my father, little did I realize that our family would suffer another great loss.  My wonderful Aunt Mary, my mother’s sister-in-law, passed away recently with her beloved husband of many years by her side.  Aunt Mary was the gentle matriarch of the Byrnes family, a large Irish catholic clan that all reside near their Pennsylvania home.  It always seemed to me that Uncle Don was the “engine” of the family and Aunt Marry was its “compass and rudder” gently overseeing the daily operation and providing inspired guidance and leadership.  They raised 8 great children including Mathew, a remarkable special needs adult.  Aunt Mary was the most gentle, kind, giving soul I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Don-2010 (H&S)

Kit and I will miss you deeply Aunt Mary and always love you.

Well, let’s go back a few days and see where we left our intrepid sojourners.

Friday, January 11, 2013:  We greeted this morning at the military campground on Maxwell Air Force base.  Sometime over the night the humidity soared so one of us got up, closed all the windows and turned the AC on.  Over breakfast Kit and I conducted one of our traditional “whichwaynext” meetings.  Kit desired to head to the Florida Gulf Coast and I wanted to head a bit more westerly and intercept the gulf coast near Pascagoula, Mississippi.  So being a unanimous opinion we headed for Pensacola, Florida.

Other than the first few days of our annual winter escape trips, and a few other times when miles are more important than smiles, we stick to the back roads while ping ponging about the countryside.  Today we decided to follow the compass south as we pick various roads of interest which we hoped would eventually lead to our destination.

Back Road

For the record we travelled US-31S, County Road 47, County Road 43, AL-29S, and a few other roads that had no discernible names.

At one point we stumbled into the small town of Flomaton, Alabama for fuel and a walk-a-round rest.  While I pumped gas, Kit went into the little store to poke around.  Looking at a bin of funny looking objects, the storekeeper asked if she wanted some “bald peanuts”.  After learning that peanuts in this part of the south were boiled in salt water and seasonings then sold as a snack, Kit brought some out for my sampling, they are pretty danged good as it turns out.  So another regional food was notched on my culinary belt…..now I’m on the lookout for chitlins and black eyed peas!

Rolling through the true heart of the south we passed through many small towns, some appearing prosperous, and some not so much.  Many of the latter made this Irish-American feel a bit like a minority.  Each town had a unique character and appeared that not much had changed over the past many years.  Needing another break from driving and a comfort station stop, we pulled into the parking lot of a small church on the edge of a small town.

Willie Randolph's Zion Missionary Baptist Church

Willie Randolph’s Zion Missionary Baptist Church looked like a place where rousing gospel music would flow out of the doors and windows on a warm Sunday morning.  Which was likely followed by a fried chicken dinner with lively conversation and fellowship.  Many of the surrounding homes were neat but old and in need of paint and repair.  The few folks that took noticed of us sitting in their red dirt parking lot eventually sauntered off figuring we had to be lost.

Late in the afternoon, we pulled into Oak Grove Campground on the shores of Pensacola Bay and scored a premium site on the beach…..the first occurrence on this trip of “road magic”!  Just to be smug, we checked the weather…..72 degrees.  Upta home it was currently 37 degrees and out west, our eventual destination of Tucson, Arizona it was a balmy 29 degrees…..think we will stay put for a while.

Saturday, January 12 to Tuesday, January 15, 2013-Pensacola, Florida:  Woke the first morning to an incredible sunrise over Pensacola Bay.

Sunrise over Pensacola Bay

Out early for a long walk on a long, lonely stretch of beach.  My only company was a few Seagulls and this fellow scampering along in formation with my every step (ID please Dave).

Bird

Pensacola Bay, located in the Florida panhandle, is an inlet off the Gulf of Mexico.  The intercostal waterway runs between beach and the various barrier islands a few miles off shore.  As such there is a lot of water traffic, both commercial and private, that ply these waters.  The pristine beaches seem to spread out forever in both directions…..at least it seems as such as one realizes the one hour walk in the soft sand has to be repeated to return to the campsite.

Pensacola Beach Front

The brilliant white and fine grain sand, known locally as sugar sand, is reported to be an ingredient in a concoction that Major League Baseball uses to condition new baseballs before use in league play.  Ironically invented in the mid 1900’s by a gentleman named Ulysses “Sandy” Butz…..OK, I made that last part up.

We originally planned on only staying 2 days in Florida.  However we discovered that the campsite was available until Wednesday morning so we decided to hunker down here for the next four days and get some of the weary road miles off of us.

Kit and I spent part of each day out on a walk, either along a six mile wooded path that paralleled the shore, around the campground on “scout and patrol” to see where everyone hailed from, or on the sand along the beachfront.

Bill and Kit at Pensacola Beach #2

For the most part, during our stay the weather was cool in the mornings (50’s) warm in the afternoon’s (70’s) and humid throughout (90%).  On one morning, the weather app on my phone reported a temperature of 72 degrees and a dew point of 72 degrees.  During these times of high humidity, water droplets dripped from the trees and sounded like rain as they encountered the flat roof of our trailer.

As spectacular as the sunrises were…..the sunsets were beautiful as well.

Sunset over Pensacola Beach

Our days were spent shedding the weariness of travel miles, seeing the sights within our little paradise, bike riding, knitting, reading, eating, drinking, visiting and other important chores of the retiree.

One of the days, we left our Shangri-La and went into town to do some shopping and oz’ing around.  As Kit received a heavy dose of much needed “retail therapy” I did my usual voyeuristic people watching.  Yeah, I know, it sounds a little creepy, but I really like to observe humans in the wild and try to figure out what their individual story might be.  Occasionally an opportunity arises so I can introduce myself and see if I am even close to what their real story is.  Some of these chance encounters have appeared in these journals.  Ordinary folks seem to have extraordinary stories.

One such story is from one of our campground neighbors.  Noticing a trailer the same make, model and size as ours we had to meet the owner.

Scott's Arctic Fox

After introductions, Kit and I learned that Lloyd was a former Navy Seabee and a retired US National Park Ranger.  His particular story revolved around his seven tours in Vietnam…..yep seven!  Assigned on a Navy River Patrol Boat in 1966 he met, married and settled down with a local woman.  Staying in country for consecutive combat tours was easy as most everyone wanted to get the heck out of there.  As he put it…..“I was looking for some land to buy and build a house; I thought we were winning the war and that Vietnam would be an American ally”.  As Saigon fell, Lloyd, his wife and three children were evacuated.  I could tell he was a bit uncomfortable sharing so much personal information so I didn’t ask my usual barrage of questions, nor did I feel comfortable taking his photo, however I did tell him that he should put his experience in print…..I bet it would be a fascinating read.

One afternoon we took a walk along the jogging trail down to the nearby Pensacola Lighthouse.

Lighthouse

This 150 foot navigational aid was built in 1859 and manned by the US Lightkeeper Service and later the US Coast Guard until it was automated in 1965.  The first navigational aid to guide ships into Pensacola Bay was a lightship…..however due to the rough seas in the gulf the lightship was anchored in the bay, successfully guiding ships into the barrier islands protecting the bay.  Notice I said “in to”…..not through!  When the Pensacola Lighthouse was constructed it included a series of Range Lights that guide ships across the Pensacola Sandbar and into the bay.

Saved from demolition, restored and open to the public in 2009, the lighthouse is listed on the Florida Register of Historic Places and is now a museum featuring the tower and the light-keepers home with recreated rooms and original artifacts.  Visitors can freely climb the 177 steps to the light platform up a narrow and steep spiral stairway.

Lighthouse Steps 177

If you tripped anywhere on that thing you would corkscrew right into the base floor.  These same steps had to be climbed by the early light-keepers every few hours while carrying gallon pails of lamp fuel.   They were also charged with keeping the lens clean and winding the clocklike mechanical rotation device.

Walking the perimeter platform around the first order Fresnel lens affords a spectacular view even on an overcast and humid day.

Lighthouse View

Apparently this same view was coveted by the early inhabitants of the area as they constantly badgered the resident light-keeper for permission to climb the tower.  Seizing a Tom Sawyer opportunity one enterprising official charged each visitor 5 cents for access.  And to enhance the experience “allowed” them to carry a pail of fuel up the 177 steps…..pretty smart!

Another interesting side note is that this area has variously been under control of the Spanish, then French, then British, then Spanish again, before becoming American, then Confederate, then Union, and finally American, at least so far……this is Florida after all.

After 200+ hours of constant togetherness, Kit needed some Kit time.  My cue to make myself scarce.  So off for the day I went…..to the nearby National Naval Aviation Museum.

Naval Aviation Museum

It’s been four years since I last toured this world class facility and during that time a lot of new features and displays have been added…..there is even a whole new building, Hanger One!

The museum showcases the history of Naval Aviation from its inception to current times.  One of the earliest planes featured is this A-1 Triad.

Triad

Called such, as the aircraft can operate on land, sea and sometimes even in the air.  Built by Glenn Curtiss, this is the Navy’s first operational aircraft.  The two wicker seats originally did not feature any belts but after a few involuntary ejections, ropes were added for crew security.  How would you like to fly this contraption, Tony, Stan, Walt or Bob?

Here is a small representative sampling of the over 150 Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aircraft on display.

FA-18 Blue Angel

 NNAM, Pensacola #2

NNAM, Pensacola #1

NNAM, Pensacola #3

NNAM, Pensacola #4

NNAM, Pensacola #10

NNAM, Pensacola #11

NNAM, Pensacola #13

The national Naval Aviation Museum owns over 500 aircraft, some are on loan to other museums such as the Smithsonian, some are on the bottom of Lake Michigan and others are waiting attention at the restoration shop, like this basket case.

NNAM Waiting Restoration

Lake Michigan?  Yep, during WWII our new pilots needed to qualify on aircraft carriers.  Taking a carrier out of the fleet and devoting it to training missions wasn’t feasible, besides a carrier is a large, slow attractive target to enemy submarines so escort craft would be needed for protection.  No sub’s in Lake Michigan so a few cargo vessels were converted to flat tops and the student pilots would land, takeoff and sometimes crash as they earned their wings of gold.  Those sunken aircraft are still in inventory and still belong to the US Navy.

An interesting factoid I learned was the evolution of the insignia on our aircraft.  

Insignia

During the war, our anti-aircraft gunners were trained to engage any aircraft with a red dot…..see the problem?  Notice the date the insignia was changed?

In the new hanger sits Marine One, the presidential helicopter during the Nixon administration.

Marine One

Standing in the cockpit area and looking aft through the presidential suite, I noticed that Nixon was still aboard!

Marine One & Nixon

He looked more lifelike than most of his appearances on television…..which I’m convinced were really the earliest occurrences of Claymation.

A great day being immersed in the history of Naval Aviation.  A must see if in this part of Florida…..it’s free and open to the general public!

Back at camp, and tiring of our own cooking I had a hankering for local seafood.  So canvasing the locals about their favorite places, a name that came up consistently was Triggers. 

Triggers, Pix #1

We were not disappointed!  You know how you find a place that is so good, and has large portions, and you are convinced that some of that is coming home with you but it doesn’t?  

Triggers-Captains Platter

Well, this isn’t one of those places…..it is even better than that!  That’s homemade coleslaw and cheesy grits in the background!!

Throughout our stay we took time to sit about and discuss the important topics of the day.

Kit and Bill Relaxing

Like, is it time for a nap, go for a walk, eat something, have a cocktail, read from the Kindle, or perhaps take a break and just goof off.  Kit usually had a great suggestion and it usually involved disappearing for a few hours.  On one occasion she said “Go fly a kite”…..so I did.  And a video opportunity was born.  The results can be laughed at over at the following URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2g4yi7Dknw

 

We were on Pensacola Bay during four sunrises…..with the beach, clouds and humidity each was unique and spectacular.  

Sunrise over the Campsite

Couldn’t pick out my favorite, so I’m closing this issue with the remaining……enjoy. 

Sunrise over Pensacola Bay #2

Sunrise over Pensacola Bay-Humid

Well, soon we must travel on,  There are new and exciting adventures ahead!

Kit’s Corner:  Good thing Bill found lots to do in Pensacola because, I see a longer stay at that campground in our future.  With the nice warm balmy weather, it was a perfect location to stop and spend a few days.  He can go out and play with all his toys while I catch up on some “quiet” things that need to be done.  Maybe I will sign him up as a volunteer at the aviation museum?

Stay tuned……

Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #1

Bill and Kit's Camping Rig

Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #1

 Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.

Lawrence Block

 

Saturday, January 5, 2013:  Departed this morning for parts southwest.  It’s 0405 and yep…..really, really early and really, really darkly.  However at 30 degrees it isn’t nearly as cold as departure mornings in past years.  The sky is clear, stars are bright and there is a half-moon to the south east casting a cool glow on the snowy landscape of our dooryard.  The lure of warmer climes, new and interesting places to explore, the renewing of old friendships and the discovering of friends yet to come excites us about this, our Fifth Annual Excellent Adventure Winter RV trip.

It is symbolic that there is a half-moon hanging in the sky on this morning.  Considering that the word “moon” is a euphemism for derriere, and we really have no fixed agenda or itinerary for these trips, one can say, and many frequently do, that our approach to travel is “half derriered”.

We leave at a ridiculous hour of the morning as it usually allows us to miss the heaviest congestion around Boston and New York City.  And against our normal path of travel we stick to the Interstates the first few days in order to get south, and warm, as quick as possible.  However, staring at a multi-lane ribbon of asphalt and hundreds of taillights buzzing about our slow moving escape vehicle soon becomes quite monotonous.  In addition, pulling 5000 pounds of winterized trailer knowing we will have to seek overnight accommodations in a hotel makes the task a bit more onerous.  However that is the price we gladly pay to stay in Maine late in the snowbird season to enjoy family and friends during the Christmas holidays.

On a brighter note, I learned from our travels through Canada last year that kilometers are shorter than miles, so…..we will be making this year’s trip in kilometers!  Pretty smart, huh…..saves time and fuel.

I like to stop at the Kennebunk rest area after an hour on the road to check for anything amiss, or missing, on the truck or trailer.  I pay particular attention to the wheels and hitch, walking about the rig as I look and feel for anything that doesn’t look or feel right and pretend that I know what I’m looking at or feeling for.  However there is no one to impress with my diligent looking and feeling as this massive rest area is nearly deserted at this time of the morning.

0500 Saturday 01-05-13

Yep, Fifth Annual Excellent Adventure!  Hard to believe!  That’s a grand total of 497 days on the road, traveling 51,512 miles while living in a 176 square foot box.  And so far we are still talking to one another…..sometimes even civilly!

New this trip is Kit amusing herself by sending out tweets as we cross state lines.  So not wanting to be left out, I sent out a couple of toots…..Kit was not amused.

As in past years, we travel the eastern traffic corridor, better known as “El Routeo de Rubbisho” (that’s Spanish…..heading to the southwest I’ll once again be using my Spanish a great dealeo).  By sticking to this route we get south as quickly and efficiently as possible and see very little of the frozen northeast beyond eyesight through the roadside detritus.  Not that I mind this area, after all we live here in the upper right hand corner of the US for a reason.  It’s just a lot more pleasant ambling about the area in shorts and sandals in July…..sometimes even in August.

Oh, in case you haven’t heard…..Lucy finally retired!  After four years the old girl needed serious updating.  Our new GPS has lots of new, high tech features which allow us to get lost more elegantly.  So, we had to come up with a new name.  We really liked the name Lucy, however this baby is so sophisticated I think we will call her Lucille!

A somber moment of remembrance as we passed Newtown, Connecticut.  Sure hope some good comes of this American tragedy…..maybe we can figure out how to protect our children at school like we were able to do the traveling public in the air.

Trundling south on I-95 near Orange, CT we noticed a sign for the Pez Factory and Visitors Center.  Well, there’s another must see for the old Bucket List!  I’ve often wondered about the appeal of a cheap plastic limbless body capped with a grotesque head that regurgitates inedible candy.  Is it a toy?  Is it a candy?  Is it some kind of tongue torture device?  The Chinese are laughing all the way to the Bank of China…..also known as the US Treasury.

Hey Katie…..we just passed Iona College in New Rochelle, NY.  Looks like it might be a really nice place and by our calculation, only 6 hours away!  The schools name sounds about right…..after tuition one’s parent can proudly boast, “I own A College”!

Since it was a Saturday, and since Lucille strongly recommended it, we decided to hug NYC a bit closer and cross the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge, rather than crossing further to the north, like say……Nunavut.

Geo Washington Bridge

See Kit waving from her side of the truck?  See all those houses on both sides of the river?  Well they all have cars and they all decided to take a drive across the George Washington Bridge at precisely the same time we did.  And, oh yeah…..a few of them decided to run into each other snarling traffic for a while.  Now Lucille, with her newfangled Traffic Alert System, warned us of a slowdown ahead and even computed a few detours around the mess for us to choose from.  However leaving the interstate and pulling our 8’ x 22’ foot box through Manhattan didn’t seem like a good idea so we played bumper cars in the traffic along with all the other hapless souls.  Well, except for those who figured they could back up the on ramps and escape.  Basically, the whole experience was like playing naked Twister with a porcupine!

Once successfully on the Jersey shore (no, not that one) we had a decision to make…..south through Philly and DC or more westerly through the Virginia’s.  Worried that we didn’t know exactly where that Fiscal Cliff was that everyone is talking about we decided to give Washington a wide berth.  I guess the cliff turned out to be a bluff.  Anyone else wish that our senators and representatives would all do the Thelma and Louise thing right off that there cliff?

As in the past we adorn the rear of the trailer with a Christmas wreath.

2013 Wreath 2

This is our winter home finder….. “When it’s brown, we slow down”!  This particularly fine specimen was liberated from the doorway of a local meeting house.  We can usually get all the way to Arizona before the thing dries to its flashpoint and spontaneously erupts in flames.

At 1745, after 13 hours on the road covering 541 miles (a whole bunch when towing a trailer!), we pulled in for the night at a nice comfortable Fairfield Inn just south of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, January 6, 2013:  Up after a restful evening we tanked up on the Continental Breakfast (wonder if anyplace ever serves a Coupe de Ville Breakfast?).  By 1000 we are on the road under sunny skies and a temperature of 31 degrees.  Back on I-81 South we continued our trek toward warmer weather and our first opportunity to commission the trailer for camping.

We passed into Maryland, through West Virginia and on into Virginia within the first 30 minutes.  Not much to see and or do at this time of the year so we just continued to motor south and Kit decided to take a kat nap (pun intended).

Kit Day One

Sounded like a great idea, so I put the truck in cruise control and followed suit.

Bill Day One

Everything was going fine until Lucille’s chattering woke me!  Then I couldn’t get back to sleep what with Kit’s snoring and Lucille’s jabbering!!!

As the sun was setting in the southwestern sky we decided to call it a day, you know, before it got too dark and then we would have to call it a night, then…..well, you get the picture (see below).

Sunrise Day One

Since the overnight temperatures were predicted to be well below freezing and the trailer pipes were still filled with anti-freeze we decided to stay in a hotel for another night.  We found another nice Fairfield Inn near Christiansburg, Virginia.

Monday, January 7, 2013:  Another restful evening…..gotta love the Fairfield Inn chain, and they give substantial military discounts!

On the road by 0915 under cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper twenties.  If this part of the US is the Bible Belt, then Christiansburg, Virginia has got to be the buckle.  There were many large crosses along I-81 each trying to outdo the other for sheer size and prominence.

Cross Bristol, TN

Not a church in sight…..just these huge white crosses!  And occasionally displayed beside an American flag…..must drive the ACLU nuts!

Pulling off the interstate for fuel I noticed that in Virginia that Ethanol isn’t mandatory…..a motorist actually has a choice!

No Ethanol

And appropriately, the gas station was called Liberty Service Center…..kind of appropriate I’d say.  Somehow the Corn Lobby missed this corner of America and we have the choice of ruining our engines the old fashion way.  Being Virginia, I guess I’m surprised the gasoline isn’t blended with tobacco.  However then the tailpipes would really smoke…..I mean really smoke…..get it?

After an hour on the road we crossed into Tennessee near the town of Bristol.  And an hour later we moved over to I-40 heading west for a short time to connect to I-75 which we took toward the ????.  Any guesses?

The afternoon temperatures were in the 50’s and all indications were that it might be a mild evening weather wise.  Decided to try our first night of actual camping and began to look for a suitable spot.  Using her Apple iEtch A Sketch, Kit found a Tennessee State Park that was open for camping so we made our way to Harrison Bay SP near Chattanooga, TN.

Of the 163 camp sites in the park only 6 were occupied at this time of the year.  We had little problem finding a nice secluded spot near the lake.

Harrison Bay SP Canpsite 22

Harrison Bay SP is located on Chickamauga Lake and was created in the 1930’s as a Tennessee Valley Authority Recreation Project when the wild Tennessee River was damned (pun intended).

The state park features a 198 slip marina, owned and managed by the state of Tennessee which can accommodate boats to 60 feet in length.

Harrison Bay SP Marina

It looks like the most popular watercraft at the marina were houseboats.  I noticed a for sale sign on the board near the marina offering a 55 foot houseboat with two bedrooms, full kitchen, one and a half bath, air conditioning, heat, washer and dryer and a bunch of electronics to make life on the water pleasant.  Now that’s an RV!

The campground was very old, being designed way before large RV’s came into vogue.  Most of the sites were not level or very well laid out…..fortunately our little trailer fit just fine.  The overnight rate with full hookups was $8.00.  The park ranger that came by to visit said that the campground was to be totally rebuilt this year and will be the showcase of the Tennessee State Park system.  Bet the overnight camping rate goes up!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013:  Since today marks the official start to the 2013 Bill and Kit Excellent Adventure, we quickly converted to casual travel mode.  Lounging around the campground enjoying temperatures in the 50’s, we pulled chocks around noon and slowly made our way via a variety of local and state roads toward Huntsville, Alabama.  At one point we crossed from Tennessee to Georgia, then back to Tennessee, then on into Alabama……all in less than 40 minutes.  And, at some point we also converted to Central Standard Time!

Why Huntsville?  Funny you should ask.  Well last year, after traversing this very same area of the country we received an e-mail form a friend of our Vermont days that we passed within a stone’s throw of her house, and we didn’t bother to stop, wave, or even throw a stone!  Well this year we are making it a point to see Debbie, and her southern gentleman husband Sam, and accept their kind offer to door yard surf at their very nice home in Meridianville, a bit north of the city.

Campsite Posey

As you can see it began to rain, which didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for reconnecting with an old friend.  Debbie was actually a friend of our son Joe and future daughter in law Ann’s back in the mid 1980’s.  They, with a gaggle of other locals used to run the roads of rural Vermont in Joe’s old Chevy Van.  Oh, the tales that van could tell.   As is customary with us when we dooryard surf, we treated Debbie and Sam to a meal out at their favorite steak house.

Tucker's and Posey's Out to Dinner

Then we retired to their home and continued reminiscing, learning what our son and his cronies were really up to way back when…..is there a statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013:  Pulled out of Debbie and Sam’s dooryard at 0945.  It is in the mid 50’s with a persistent rain.  One of the spots I had wanted to explore in this area was the US Space and Rocket Center and the Marshal Space Flight Center.  However with the steady downpour, and the fact that a lot of the exhibits are outdoors we decided to delay this bucket list item for enjoyment at a later date.

Needing fuel, we pulled into a local BP service station and immediately noticed something quite odd.

BP Serviceless Station

That BP oil spill had a bigger effect than we were led to believe!  Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that wet pavement is indeed rain and not gasoline.

We meandered our way south on a variety of back roads toward Montgomery, Alabama.  Around 1500 we found our way to a campground on Maxwell Air Force Base and decided to stay over a few nights for some downtime and to take care of a few chores.

Thursday, January 10, 2013:  Well, the rain has stopped.  However the heat and humidity has taken over.  Broke out the shorts, t-shirts and sandals for the first time this year!

Maxwell AFB is a major Air Force training facility.  Yep, only Majors……all the rest of the Air Force officers go untrained.  Even though there is a large 8,000 foot runway the only aircraft based at Maxwell are C-130 transport planes, I guess to carry the large Majors around in.  There is an interesting historical fact that ensured the long term viability of this base.  When threatened by the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission), the US Air Force had Maxwell AFB merged with nearby Gunter AFB, then intertwined their operational missions and both bases were spared the BRAC Axe.  Pretty smart!

The campground is across the runway from the main base and one has to pay particular attention to the signs warning of active barriers ahead when the lights are red.  You just wait for the aircraft to pass and the light turns green and the active barriers lower back flush with the roadway.  Still a bit disconcerting crossing those imbedded pogo sticks.

The place is a pretty basic military campground but neat, clean and well run.

Maxwell AFB, AL Fam Camp

Yep, it’s on a lake and yep, the lake is square…..gotta love that military precision and uniformity!

Maxwell AFB campground was a convenient location to clean the road grime and salt off the truck and trailer, do a few loads of laundry, stock up on necessities and vitals at the base exchanges and just goof off…..so, that’s what we did!

Before closing this, the first issue of Bill and Kit’s Excellent Adventure a brief personal note:

The year 2012 brought some great times to the Tucker family and some that were not so good.  In the latter category we experienced the loss of a number of close friends and neighbors.  In addition my 87 year old father passed in September after battling a number of health challenges.  Dad led an interesting and purposeful life and passed away at peace and under his own terms.

For much of my teenage years and through mid-life we had a very strained relationship and an isolated existence.  About 15 years ago, Kit convinced me to make positive overtures to him and we reconnected.  Those last years of his life we said the things that needed to be said and learned a great deal about each other.

Growing up poor during the depression and living in the segregated south, my father never exhibited a prejudiced attitude.  Graduating in 1941 from Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama he wanted to join the navy, but at 17 was unable to do so.  On December 6, 1941 he turned 18 and was on the recruiter’s doorstep to enlist.  The next day was December 7th and his life as well as many from the Greatest Generation was changed forever.

Dad, age 18

Following recruit training and technical school he was assigned to a destroyer which deployed to the Pacific Theater of Operations.  Dad saw combat in Truk, Iwo Jima, Wake and The Philippine Sea while earning 12 battle stars.  After VJ day, my father met my future mother while on shore leave in San Diego.  They were married and transferred to Hawaii were I was born.  Following 22 years on active duty, dad retired as an E-9 and immediately started work with Sperry Univac building new computers for the Navy using the new NTDS technology.  Later he was hired at 3M Corporation in Saint Paul, Minnesota where he worked on a number of technical innovations before retiring in 1985 and remaining in Minnesota.

Dad, age 87

My father was a brilliant man, very talented and able to see any project through to a successful conclusion.  He really loved to read these journals and anxiously awaited our arrival in Minnesota as we traveled back home.  In addition to Kit and I, three grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren, dad is survived by his longtime companion Henrietta.

I regret all the lost years but will forever cherish the time we spent getting reacquainted.  Love you, dad.

Kit’s Corner:  Back to my editing duties.  Little did I know, we were now using kilometers, and speaking in Spanish!  You would think that, after being married nearly 50 years, you know each other like a book, cover to cover.  I am still learning things about Bill that I had no clue about.  He’s always full of surprises!  So far, the trip has gone well.  The highlight for me of course, was seeing Debbie and meeting Sam!  We were so comfortable with them; you would never have thought it had been 25+ years since we’d seen each other.  Sam is quite the Southern gentleman, with his heavy southern accent.  We loved getting to know him!  Also, fun remembering out time in VT, 1980-1985.