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?
Love your blog! Can’t wait for your next visit to Alabama when you add a couple of days! 🙂
We will be sure to hang around a bit longer as we meander through Huntsville next…..had a great time with you folks and want to explore more of your area. Take care of each other.
Great pictures and stories! Stay safe as you drive west….enjoy!!
Marcelle & Ralph
Thanks! Hope you two are doing well!! Looking forward to seeing you all at the lake come spring!!!
Bill, you are quite the raconteur, and a phenomenal flyer of kites!
OK, I have to look that word up…..oh, Thanks! Yea, I’ve been a bit of a storyteller throughout life. The kite thing is fairly new…..took up the sport about five years ago. I currently have seven kites…..yep, its an obsession!
GREAT SUNSET PHOTOS,
WE’LL BE IN MIAMI FOR TEN DAYS IN FEBRUARY. THE GULF SURE LOOKS INVITING.
SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR AUNT MARY’S PASSING AWAY..
The weather in Florida was great…..i’m sure you all will have a great time in Miami! Thanks for the condolences for my Aunt Mary…..she was one great lady!
Bill, my best guess from your picture would be a Willet.- but I could easily be wrong. Great sunset/rise pictures. Keep up the good work, and safe travels.
Thanks Dave, I’d bet on you bird ID skills anytime, so a Willet it is! Also thanks for the kind words concerning my photography…..coming from you, they mean a lot! Take care of each other and enjoy the winter in Florida…..looking forward to seeing you all up in Maine come spring. Hi to Betty.
Thank you for the wonderful words of mom on your site. We appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers. She loved to talk about all of your adventures and and always looked forward to you visits to our area.
You are certainly welcome…..it’s the least I could do. We felt really bad we couldn’t figure out a way to get up there for the service. Kit and I have fond memories of your mother and father, and all the good times with the Philadelphia clan. Your folks always made us feel welcome and a part of your lives. As the family matriarch, you mom was a true inspiration and will be deeply missed. Her kindness, compassion and love of family will long be her legacy.
Hi guys its -9degrees in Vermont totay I have day off so I’m catching up your trip Fay and i are envious of the day we can pack up our rv and hit the road. We went to Hawii for 10 days in Oct had a blast but now settled into our routine for the winter. Our to grandaughters have been keeping us pretty busy Kameron now has to oxen she showed at the fairs last fall they are Brown Swiss she got them at about 6months old in aug they weighed about 300lb then,now they weigh about 800lbs each. big boy’s. Kate is stiil working on her racing career she has two new race snowmobiles from the Artic Cat factory. Artic Cat is Kate.s sponser and so she gets some financial aid in return for advertising for Artic cat.For your info Bill she;s racing two divisions age 8 to 10 380cc and age 10 to 13 500cc limited needless to say we are very proud of the girls acomplishments and there good students also. well I hope this note finds you guys doing well and having a great winter. catch you another time Bob&Fay
Hey folks, great to hear from you. Well, since your bragging about the weather, I should mention that it is 76 degrees and sunny here in southern Texas. We are continuing to meander westerly and may eventually make the left coast in a month or so…..time will tell. We actually do not know from day to day where we are headed or what we may encounter that peaks our interest along the way. Glad to hear everyone is doing well and the girls are as active as always…… grand-kids are so cool! Take care of each other, would like to hook up with you guys sometime this year…..its been way too long since our last visit. Please let us know if you make it into Maine this summer.
Sorry to hear of Mary’s passing. Loved all the pictures and hear it is just perfect in Florida these days. Sister Penny…remember meeting her? she lives in Al just outside of Huntsville if you need a pit stop…they would love to have company from Maine.
Thanks…..my aunt Mary was a great lady!
We do remember Penny, didn’t know she was now a southerner.
The weather has been perfect…..for days……almost boring! We are in southern Texas and gonna head westerly in a few days.
Take care…..hi to Lee.
Love your kite-flying, Bill. I knew you flew kites but didn’t realize how fascinating it can be! Kit, you spend your Kit time well. Both of you keep enjoying. Love you both.
Thanks, just a silly hobby that I get a lot of pleasure from. Kit does Kit stuff, and Bill does Bill stuff, and sometimes we even do stuff together…..pretty workable plan i’d say. Love you guys as well.
Kit ‘N Bill (one of your play on words…),
We thoroughly enjoy your journal and happy to see it’s published again with both of you in good form. Chuckles aside, we always learn much from your travels and become inspired to take to the roads as well (south and warm, of course)–most of all, we love hearing from you and keeping up with what’s happening in your active, retired life. Please keep up the great work, we look forward to each chapter!
Hey folks…..good to hear from you. I’ve updated the mailing list with your new e-mail address. Thanks for the kind words concerning the journal. As you know it all started rather simply, however over the past five years it has taken on a life of its own. Take care…..enjoy the sunny weather at your winter home.
Bill, I am so sorry to hear about your dad and Aunt Mary. They sound like they certainly had a big impact on your life……how lucky you were to have them in your life …… and vice versa…..
I had forgotten how beautiful Florida was….thanks so much for reminding me.
Thanks…..she was a great lady. Florida is beautiful, but so is Arizona……so many great places to see and explore in America and so little time!
When you have consumed something that is not yours, you owe a debt, or a Bill as it were. But you have consumed something that belongs to us all, yet few take the opportunity to enjoy it like you have. Of course I speak of the daily shows where our Sun shows itself, provides us life, then gives us one last display on its way out. All without Billing us. Those moments are truly brief, yet awe inspiring, each one different, but all equally special. I am glad you can enjoy the good times and share in such a way we are seemingly there with you.
WOW! What a great way of describing the suns impact on our lives. Thanks for putting into words the feeling I get while watching those spectacular displays. Thanks!
Bill and Kit,
Thank you for the kind words about my mom. She was a wonderful person and will be greatly missed. I am so glad that we have such a large close family to be able to share all of the happy memories with. There is a new angel in heaven this week.
I love hearing the stories about the beautiful sunsets and the warm beach. It is 12 degrees currently in York, Pa headed down into the single digits. Enjoy your travels and keep the stories coming.
Don and Pat Byrnes
Nice way to phrase it…..there definitely is a newly arrived angel in heaven. Now, our challenge is to continue her legacy of compassion and kindness in her honor. I am certain she will be watching over all of us.
Hope to see you all later this year…..its been way too long.
Looking good! I suggest you make a trip to Cedar Key on your way down the Gulf Coast. Cool little town, and has an RV park.
Good morning. Thanks for the tip…..however we will have to explore Cedar key on for a future adventure. Pensacola was as far as we penetrated into Florida before heading westerly. Kim tells us it is a bit cold upta home…..it was sunny and 76 degrees here in southern Texas yesterday.
Hi Bill & Kit, Love reading your adventures, maybe one day I will be as lucky to be able to trave the world. Enjoy hope to see you later this year.
Jane Morrissey Simonsen
Thanks, and great hearing from you. Yep…..we highly recommend bouncing about this great land to see the sights and meet folks. In our opinion, it is the best entertainment! Hope to make it up your way this year and be able to see you guys.
Hi Bill & Kit,
Love traveling thru your experiences. We also experienced “bald peanut” delicacy when we moved to Statesboro, GA (by Savannah). They are served in various flavors too. On your way back, Savannah is a great town to visit w/lots of military paces in the area. You could fly up I-95 & surf in Cary, NC??
Joanna & Bill
Thanks for the comment. We have really enjoyed the Savannah area in the past and plan to explore it more thoroughly on future trips……you’re right, it is an incredibly historic and beautiful area. Thanks for the dooryard surfing invite……I do owe your PA family a visit soon so may be on that side of the US that far south…..time will tell!