Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #2
There is nothing stronger in the world then gentleness
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Standing in the cockpit area and looking aft through the presidential suite, I noticed that Nixon was still aboard!
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.
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?
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.
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.
Couldn’t pick out my favorite, so I’m closing this issue with the remaining……enjoy.
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?