Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #3

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty, his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.

Aldous Huxley

 

Wednesday, December 14, 2015: Up, breakfast, and on the road by 0930.  The temperatures are in the 50’s but with the bright Texas sun, it felt a lot warmer.  At this stage of our trip, we enter the part of the United States that features more cows and oil wells than people…consequently there are few towns of any size to explore along the route.  But, occasionally, we will come upon another traveler with an interesting vehicle…and today there were a few…like this bad boy!

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The perspective of the above photo is a bit deceiving…but that rig is a lot longer than the standard 18-wheeler!  It features 34 tires, and the cargo actually formed part of the truck’s chassis!  There were a half dozen of these rigs lumbering down the road with pilot cars leading and trailing the pack.

A bit further along this quirky RV sped by.

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Looked to be a Casita camper on a utility trailer frame, with a boat shaped bow and a funny doghouse style storage box at the rear.  Along the side, it sported a mural with the phrase “Free Spirit” emblazoned upon…no argument there!

And lastly, at a truck stop, we spotted this very, very, long hauler!

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That rig is transporting just one blade of a three-bladed wind generator…not too heavy but at 155 feet, very long!

All very interesting, about the only thing interesting in this part of Texas!

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Yep, miles and miles of straight as an arrow roads, or that we have been calling “pointy roads”.  To break up the monotony, an occasional tumbleweed would tumble past and for a real thrill, a gaggle of oil wells pumping Texas Crude would come into view off in the distance.  With this vast expanse of nothingness, one would occasionally view a mirage.

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This vision of deliciousness was so realistic we followed it for hours in the hopes that the rear doors would swing open and the hidden bounty would be ours!  But our attempt was thwarted by an escort of three police cars, two highway patrol vehicles and the local sheriff, who guarded the truck as if it was carrying the gold of Fort Knox!  Just as quickly as it appeared the apparition and its law enforcement escorts shimmered in the afternoon heat and slowly vanished.

At 1200 we passed into the Mountain Time Zone and our spirits fell with the realization that we just added another hour to our day of travel in the vast emptiness of South Central Texas…however, there was a bit of excitement in the day when our cell phones alerted us to this incoming Text Message:verizon-in-mexico-2

What!!!  Did we take a wrong turn?  Did Lucy, the GPS lead us astray, again?!  Now don’t get me wrong, we like visiting Mexico, we have friends that live in Mexico, I can even see Mexico from my house, but we had no desire to visit Mexico today!  A detailed look at the trucks navigation system revealed that we were mere inches from the border.

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Fully within the confines of the United States, but apparently closer to Mexican cell towers then US ones!

An hour later, the pointy road led us toward the mountains of west Texas.

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And a few additional hours found us nearing the city of El Paso…which when translated from Spanish means: “Pass Through, Do Not Stop, There is Little of Interest Here”.  But stop we did as El Paso, which is nestled along the eastern slope of the Franklin Mountains, is the home of Fort Bliss…at 1,700 square miles it is the second largest US Army post in the world.

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Fort Bliss has an outstanding RV Park, and one of the best military shopping malls in the country.  Considering it had been a while since laundry was done, or groceries were procured, or Kit had enjoyed any intensive retail therapy, we pulled in to their RV Park for a short stay.

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With beautiful blue skies, and warm temperatures, Kit and I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside and reading until darkness fell.  Finally, some time to relax!

 

Thursday, December 15, 2016-Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas:  Today is devoted to getting some groceries, fueling up the truck, performing preventative maintenance on the trailer, doing a large load of laundry and enjoying a relaxing day off the road.

Kit also spent time finishing up some Christmas stockings for the Vegas Tribe that our daughter Kim had started, all while enjoying a nice French Vanilla stogie (Pirouette cookie said Kit).

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And I worked on editing photos and writing this journal…yep, we lead exciting lives!

Before nightfall, the truck was reconnected to the trailer, the levelling jacks retracted, the water and sewer hoses disconnected and the main camper slide brought in…basically readying everything for an O-dark-thirty departure.  Our goal is to be in Tucson by tomorrow afternoon for a nice weekend stay with my bruzzin and the lovely bride-of-bruzzin before heading to Las Vegas to spend the Christmas holiday season with our daughter and her family.

Kit and I went to bed with excited anticipation…we are only a day away from completing our transit across the widest part of United States and looking forward to the next 4 months of bouncing about the American Southwest!

 

Friday, December 16, 2016:  Woke up to a scene out of The Wizard of Oz!  Winds so strong the camper was dancing on her springs and everything that wasn’t tied down was flying past the windows!

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Realizing that we weren’t going anywhere today, the alarm was silenced and we allowed ourselves to be rocked back to sleep.

As the morning wore on, the winds increased in velocity…with the truck and trailer connected, we felt pretty secure, however the camper was really shaking when the wind gusts topped 50MPH!

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Kit mentioned that the movement of the camper in the wind felt like being on Jeff and Catherine’s sailboat in the Gulf of Maine…except, of course, their rig is designed to heal over…ours is not!

During a lull, I made a mad dash outside, lowered the levelling jacks, reconnected the water and sewer and snapped a photo.

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You may recall that yesterday the mountains to the west were clearly visible, and the tree on our site was full of golden leaves…what a difference a day makes!  Kit and I spent the rest of the time relaxing inside the camper with an occasional venture into the storm to get some exercise.  As evening fell, we were mentally prepared to leave in the morning to continue our journey but the weather forecast did not look promising.

 

Saturday, December 17, 2016-Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas:  This morning the winds are as strong as ever, and the interstate highway we would take into Arizona had a severe wind alert posted for high profile vehicles, like ours.  As I registered for another day, the RV Park manager mentioned a motorhome had blown over last night on I-10 heading East…minor injuries, motorhome likely totaled.  Yikes…guess we made the correct decision to hunker down!

Spent the day inside the camper tending to some modifications we had previously planned when time permitted…and boy did we have a lot of time on our hands now!  Around midafternoon, I checked the Wind App I use when engaged in kite flying and discovered the following wind history graph for the El Paso airport.

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Yep, around 0900 the wind gust topped 60 MPH!

As nightfall fell, the gusts were still pretty bad but the forecast was for diminishing winds and calm by sunrise.  So, once again, we made preparations for an early departure…with that, we hit the sack and hoped for the best.

 

Sunday, December 18, 2016: Yay!  Woke to calm winds and the prospect of a sunny day!  Made coffee and hit the road by 0630.

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I usually trust the GPS to guide us through a city, unless of course the human navigator that sits in the passenger’s seat contradicts said electronic navigator.  At these times, when I must make a split decision, I generally abide by what the human navigator is telling me.  In this case, I didn’t….and I was wrong!  Driving a few miles out of our way until I came to an exit to loop around and retrace those few miles brought us to exactly where we should have been ten minutes earlier…if I had listened to the human navigator!  During this detour the human navigator kept repeating the word “recalculating” in that condescending, I told you so, voice.

Pulling off on the Trans-Mountain Highway Kit and I made our way over the 7,129-foot Franklin Mountains into New Mexico where we merged with I-10 heading West.  Within a few hours, we encountered the first Border Patrol Checkpoint of the trip.

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Take notice of the three white poles on the left that are affixed with cameras and sensors.  Those feed a national database and allow the agents to know the origins of the vehicle…a huge time saver compared to stopping everyone and asking for identification.  In addition, fugitives are apprehended frequently through the system…a win-win!

Since we left before breakfast, and we were nearing the sizable town of Deming, the decision was made to treat ourselves to a meal at Denny’s.

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The above photo is only half of my breakfast…the better half I might add!  Not that the eggs, bacon, and hash browns were substandard, but the pecan pancakes with caramel sauce and bananas were incredible!  Following breakfast, we continued down the I-10 Business route in order to see if our motel from 1965 was still standing!

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Yep, it sure is…however, today it’s a flop house.  One can still make out the Travelodge logo in the second story railing design.  As a newly married teenage couple, this is where we spent the first night of our transcontinental motor trip to Key West, Florida some 51 years ago.

Leaving town, we merged onto Interstate 10 and continued west.  Since we had tanked up, both the truck and ourselves, Kit and I decided on minimal stops today in order to make good time on our journey to Tucson.  Usually we stop every hour or so, but todays mission is to get to Dewey and Bea’s place by early afternoon.

I’m frequently amused, yep easily amused, by the graphics on the trucks GPS.

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And how closely it replicates what we view out the windscreen.

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With that piece of fascinating insight, the rest of the day was not nearly as exciting except for maybe crossing into the state of Arizona.

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Around noon we came to the small dusty outpost of Bowie, Arizona, population 449, including the infamous John Rambo.  Needing a pit-stop we pulled into Dwayne the Jerky Man’s large parking lot…since there is not much else around, the vast desert is their parking lot!

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Dwayne’s is the town’s main attraction consisting of a gas station, Jerky emporium, Pistachio seasoning factory, and RV Park.  Inside was an opportunity to shoot the bull, which I did using my Canon S-95, double action.

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Dwayne’s is a perfect place to pick up some, “sorry were late in getting there” gifts for Dewey and Bea…some world famous spicy Pistachios.

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Yep, they’re as hot as they look.  Red ones are chili pepper seasoned, yellow are lemon tequila, green is jalapeno flavored, and the white are lime tequila, and my favorite!

After the brief stop, Kit and I were back on the road continuing West and shortly before 1300 hours found us passing through Texas Canyon.

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Texas Canyon lies within the Dragoon Mountains…the name was derived by the many Texas settlers that made the area their home.  Just to the south is where the famed Apache “Cochise” was laid to rest following many years of conflict with insurgent forces that sought to eradicate the Apache Tribe.  Uncaptured and undefeated, Cochise died of natural causes in 1874 and was buried in the mountains he loved…the precise location of his final place of rest is unknown by modern man so the surrounding area has become known as “Cochise’s Last stronghold”.  Texas Canyon is a traditional stop off point on our annual treks into the Tucson Valley, however since we were anxious to get to town we continued to motor on.

Nearing the city limits of Tucson, we ran into traffic…more than normal for this time of the day.  Kit logged onto the WAZE App and discovered there was an accident ahead in the right lane near a freeway onramp.  With this information, we moved over to the extreme left lane and made better progress than folks who had no clue what was ahead!  Love the Waze…thanks Catherine for letting us know of its existence!

Arrived at our destination for a brief but surely enjoyable stay.  Dewey, Bea and brother Dan were all there to greet us.  Dewey, I’ve known forever as we were once cousins, then….um well, you know the rest of the story by now?!

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Today was an emotional reunion, as Dewey suffered a devastating loss in July.  His only daughter Erin succumbed to the terrible disease of Cancer.

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A sweet beautiful soul, Erin lived life to the fullest and valiantly fought the insidious disease.  Kit and I have been thinking a lot about Erin over the past few days and her zest for life so tragically cut short.  She was truly a special person and the world is less bright with her absence…rest in pain free peace dear Erin…we love you.

Kit and I were unable to make the trip out west for Erin’s memorial service as we had our two Las Vegas grandchildren visiting us…but we intend to honor her spirit in our own way when we visit the coast of California in a few months.

Then there is my sister in law, Bea…she is like the sister I always wanted.

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Fun and full of energy, Bea is also an excellent cook…she had planned a Sunday morning brunch with some of their friends.  Sadly, we were unable to make it to town in time…so she thoughtfully put on a special spread for us!

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An excellent cook in the Mexican tradition, Bea prepared an incredible Chile Relleno Casserole, which she excellently paired with Lime Margaritas…a fabulous meal!

We were also joined by brother Dan who had a rare day off work from his chef job at a high-end resort just north of town.

The rest of the day was spent sitting around and remembering the good old days of our youth until the wee hours of the afternoon when everyone retired.

 

Monday, December19, 2016-Tucson, Arizona:  Up to a beautiful Arizona winter morning!  Following breakfast and coffee in the camper, Kit and I joined Dewey and Bea in the house for more visiting.  Dew and Bea are animal lovers and in previous episodes you have meet their gaggle of puppies…. however, there are now a few new additions to their menagerie.

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Speedy Mesquitey and Axel Rod are desert tortoises and reside in a large living room based terrarium.  They subsist on the flesh of cactus and are constantly in motion…if you watch closely enough.  Dewey and Bea alternate taking their new charges for daily walks around the block.  Dew took Speedy for his walk yesterday afternoon and has yet to return.

A neighbor, who you may remember from past episodes, came by to say hello.  Manny is a retired creative writing professor and an historian on the Mexican art of Mariachi Music, as well as an accomplished musician and singer of that legendary musical craft.

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It is always a pleasure to visit with Manny and hear his stories of growing up in a Mexican home in south Tucson and his frequent trips south of the border to visit kinfolk.  Much to our pleasure, Manny gifted us with a DVD recording of the latest Mariachi Fiesta which featured professional and amateur musicians…many of which are from his own extended family.  Thanks Manny, I’m sure we will enjoy viewing that DVD for years to come!

The rest of the day was spent helping around the house and installing Dewey and Beas new bike rack to the back of their camper for their upcoming trip to the coast.  Later, we all went out to a local Favorite, Grumpy’s Café for an excellent meal.

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The Octogenarian Photo Bomber in the background was noticed by the waitress photographer, so she waited for the gentleman to shuffle past before taking a second photo.  However, I thought the original was funny enough to include…he may well be the oldest photo bomber in history!

The family spent the remainder of the evening enjoying some great conversations and a few drinks before Kit and I called it a night and prepared for an Alpine Start in the morning.

 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016:  Up at 0530 hours and on the road under cover of darkness as we headed toward Las Vegas and a Christmas visit with our daughter and her family.   After a few minutes on I-10 West, which in these parts of Arizona heads more northerly, the sun began to illuminate the horizon.

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As we neared the big city of Phoenix, big city commuter traffic became an issue.

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Leaving the congestion and skirting the west side of Phoenix, we came to this troubling sight.

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This is unacceptable!  The one who will soon occupy the Pennsylvania Avenue Golden Throne wants to spend our tax dollars on infrastructure projects, when he should be focused on fixing our roads and bridges…please write your congressman and help bring a halt to wasteful infrastructure spending!

Moving over to US-93 and heading north, we stopped in the town of Wickenburg for breakfast at a quirky little place that Kit discovered on the internet.

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The Pie Cabinet had, in addition to some delicious looking pies, a small but nice selection of breakfast offerings.  We both had their quiche of the day and homemade muffins…very tasty.

Back on the road, we noticed that the further we traveled north the more sparse the population centers became.

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The day would be rather boring if not for having my lifelong traveling companion to keep me company with her sparkling conversation.

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Oh, um…never mind!

Nearing the southern border of Nevada, we began to encounter the foothills of the McCullough Mountains Range.

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Where the terrain morphed into High Desert with its attendant vegetation and rock formations.

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Kit and I soon crossed over the Pat Tillman Bridge into the state of Nevada and the Pacific Time Zone before stopping at a roadside casino for lunch and some walking around time.  Back on the road we soon encountered the city limits of Las Vegas and headed toward our home base for the next few weeks, Oasis RV Resort.

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Now this fancy, full featured kind of place is not our preferred style of camping…however, it is just a few minutes from daughter Suzie’s house where these two hooligans reside.

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And Christmas without children around just isn’t as much fun…stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s:  Well, other than being delayed two days by a fierce wind storm, the last week of travel was quite enjoyable!  Finally, making it to Las Vegas to see our two youngest Grands, Jack, age 12 and Tucker, age 9.5, they are indeed a couple of hooligans!  Jack, now a Middle School student is very conscientious and LOVES computer games like a lot of kids nowadays.  Tucker, on the other hand, being in 4th Grade, likes to stir things up! J  He’s quick witted and NEVER misses an opportunity to create a bit of chaos.  All in all, they are very good boys and always fun to be with.  We are very fortunate to be able to spend time with them each winter and summer, considering they live so far away.

 

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure Christmas Message

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Sunday, December 25, 2016:  Good Morning!  Kit and I pray our Christmas message finds each and every one of you healthy, happy, and enjoying this special time of the year.  We hope you are celebrating this day in whatever way you desire…that’s what makes America special, we all have deeply held spiritual beliefs and can freely follow our conscience in celebration of those beliefs.  And please say a prayer for the men and women who are protecting our right to worship as we wish.  Many of them are far from home and serving in harm’s way to protect our freedoms.

Kit and I are celebrating Christmas with our daughter and her family.  And yes, I know the journal is a few weeks behind…we have been spending more time enjoying life than documenting the adventure!

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Actually, I’ve been waiting for a rainy day to catch up!

Kit and I also would like to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year!  Love you all and hope to see some of you while on the road, and others when we return home in the spring!

Have a blessed day!

Bill and Kit

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #2

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler; you’re a tourist.

Guillermo del Toro

 

Tuesday December 6, through Thursday 8, 2016-Oak Grove RV Park, NAS Pensacola, Florida:  A wild night of thunderstorms battered the Gulf Coast.  However, Kit and I woke to a stunning sunrise…well, I did, Kit will see the sunrise in photo form.  The glorious morning glow filtered through the trees bordering our campsite on Pensacola Bay.

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Apparently, the storm abated sometime after midnight and today looks to be a bright and warm day on the Florida coast!

Spent the morning finishing the setup of the rig by connecting water and sewer lines, disconnecting the truck and levelling the camper.  We have a very nice site with a path behind that leads through a stand of Coastal Pine and Live Oak trees to the beach.

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And, the sparsely populated beach on this late fall morning is calm and serene.

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Since Kit needed some quiet time to work on her Christmas card project, I took a stroll down the beach to scout out a suitable kite flying location.  Unfortunately, the area that I’ve used in the past has changed to the point where attempting to fly would have been risky to the somewhat delicate and pricey kites.  However, I did come across a nice little hidden lagoon that had likely been created by the torrential rains of days’ past.

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In addition, there were several pieces of driftwood that had found their way to shore during the storm.

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And, a few of these little fellows flitting about my feet as I walked along.

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Then, I came to one sight that reminded me of home.

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Yep, the lowly pinecone partially buried in what looked to be snow…an image I often viewed in the dooryard of my Maine home.  However, today on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the temperatures are in the low 70’s!

Naval Air Station, Pensacola has been our host on many Excellent Adventure trips.  Since we need to head south to escape winters grip, the Florida panhandle is a convenient and comfortable place to rest a bit and prepare for our trek toward the west.  The base is known as The Cradle of Naval Aviation and as such is the initial primary training facility for all Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard pilots.  Established in 1914, the first flight was made from a crude runway later that year.  In the early years, about 100 cadets per year were trained in aviation, then, following the breakout of WWII that number exploded to 1,000 a month!

During our stay, numerous training aircraft flew over the campground…some so low that the pilots helmet could be clearly discerned. In the morning, a number of them would take off, fly offshore and loop back to the airfield only to land a few minutes after they left!?!?  I’m guessing they forgot something, but I’m willing to bet it was not a bicycle!

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A short walk from the campground lies Pensacola Lighthouse.

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A historic structure we have enjoyed and written about in past Excellent Adventure Journals.

And, another 15-minute stroll from the lighthouse, one comes to The National Museum of Naval Aviation.

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This too has been discussed heavily in past journals as Kit and I have toured the magnificent facility close to a dozen times.  The museum features aircraft from the earliest days of aviation to the vehicles used in the space program.

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Being as NAS Pensacola is the home of the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, The Blue Angels, many of their historic aircraft are featured in the museum such as the Delta Formation hanging majestically from the glass ceilinged atrium.

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There are a few new displays, one of which documents the Navy warships that protected the aircraft carriers and provided shore bombardment during the Vietnam War.  This gaggle of old WWII era Gun Destroyers, two of which I was deployed on, was known as The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club.

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Small, fast, agile and dispensable, these rust buckets spent many hours only a few hundred yards offshore lobbing 55 pound projectiles at targets inland.  The ships were also outfitted with .50 caliber machine guns to engage the various VC sampans that bobbed about the gulf.

Another new display is one that we heard about from a neighbor out at our family camp in Maine.  Jon and Jan were tasked to represent a departed family member who had left an endowment to finance the remodeling of a portion of the museum and establish an interactive display for Navy Squadron VA-52…The Knight Riders.

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Jon’s uncle, LT. David Webb, flew for The Knight Riders during the Vietnam conflict and desired that the museum honor the men and women he served with.

At the ribbon cutting, Jon and Jan were hosted by the museums president, Lieutenant General Thiessen, a former Marine pilot.

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Great job, Jon and Jan…thanks to your family for helping support this venerable and historic institution.

Since Kit needed some more Kit Time, I took my bike and rode about the base.  A short spin down the road from the campground is the NPS Visitors Center for Gulf Islands National Seashore and the historic Army outpost, Fort Barrancas.

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The original fortress, called Fort San Carlos, was constructed in 1787 by the Spanish on a high bluff overlooking Pensacola Bay.  Known as a “water battery”, the three gun ports were arrayed along the front of the masonry fort at a relatively low elevation.

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This configuration allowed the guns to fire at a low angle which caused the shot to ricochet across the bay and hit marauding warships…similar effect to skipping a flat stone across a placid pond.

In the early 1800’s after Florida became part of the United States, Pensacola Bay was selected as the site for the Washington Navy Yard and a larger fort was constructed behind and above the original.

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This structure, sited on a high promontory was built of more durable brick and named Fort Barrancas, the Spanish word for “bluff”.  They then connected the two forts by a tunnel.

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The newer portion of the fort was heavily armed with huge cannons designed to expel “hot shot” against invading ships trying to enter the Pensacola Bay.  Hot shots were cannon balls heated red hot in a nearby furnace which would wreak havoc on wooden vessels of the day.  There were forty cannons of various displacements arrayed around the perimeter of the fort and another fifteen mounted in the water battery including the three low angle cannons mentioned previously.

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Fort Barrancas was completed in 1844 by sixty African American slave laborers.  The slaves cut and laid over six million bricks, all by hand.  Where necessary, the bricks were filed by hand and many surfaces show the marks of the slave’s work.  Considering their harsh servitude, the slave craftsman did remarkable work.

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Ironically, the imposing fortress complex, built to protect Pensacola Bay and the Navy Yard from invading foreign forces, was only attacked once…By the US Army during the Civil War trying to expel the occupying Confederate Army.

The Pensacola area is ripe with American history and bears a considerable time investment to fully explore and appreciate…Kit and I have camped in the area many times over the past nine years and still have not seen it all.

Speaking of Kit, she is a marvelous cook and traveling in an RV affords her the opportunity to prepare many home cooked meals, for which I am grateful.  One of her techniques is to fill a Crock Pot with Beef, Pork or Chicken and slowly simmer the meat overnight.

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Waking to the aromas is like heaven and the prospect for many great meals is well worth the effort.

Well, our stay in Pensacola has come to a close.  As in the past, Kit and I have thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the beach while preparing for the next leg of our journey.  As the setting sun filters the last rays of light through the majestic trees, we bid you a goodnight.

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Friday, December 9, 2016:  Woke to sunny but cool weather and following breakfast we prepared to depart Pensacola, Florida.  Part of my routine on a travel day is to check the rig carefully for any potential problems.  A few days ago, I noticed unusual wear on one of the trailer tires and have been monitoring it since.  Well, this morning it appeared worse and felt soft even with the required 80 psi pressure!  Looks like a new tire is in store (no pun intended) for us.  RV’s use a special tire that can handle the load and stress of its specialized use…as the rig turns a corner it exposes the tire sidewall to high levels of stress.  So, the first order of business is to procure a proper RV tire.

Underway at 0950 and heading west toward an RV store Kit located online.  In a few minutes, we were crossing Perdido Bay and entering the state of Alabama.  Then pulled into a Camping World store that advertised RV tires only to find out they do special order only.  However, they referred us to a “shade tree” tire shop a short distance away.  Arriving at Gulf Coast Tires, we were pleased to find plenty of room to maneuver the rig into their work area.

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Run by a Hispanic family, they were very accommodating and efficient in servicing the camper.  I asked for the spare, which is virtually new, to be mounted on the ailing tires rim and thought I may be able to use the bad tire as the spare…however upon taking the weight off the tire it was evident that the tire was shot.

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A good tire should be relatively flat across the tread.  The bulging in the middle is a clear sign that the tread had separated from the carcass and the tire was ready to detonate, likely at an inopportune moment!  The strange wear pattern along the edge is also likely due to the tread separation exacerbated by the lack of tire balancing from the factory.  This tire is one of the few remaining originals and with 26,000 miles of arduous use has held up pretty well, by trailer tire standards.  So, a new (cheap/foreign) tire was purchased to serve as a spare and within a half hour the job was finished, complete with new valve stems and balancing…they even checked tire pressures and set lug nut torque on the remaining tires…all for a nominal fee!

By 1200 Kit and I were back underway and ninety minutes later merging onto I-10 heading west…a few minutes later found us crossing Mobile Bay as the Austal shipyard came into view.

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This Australian owned yard has partnered with General Dynamics, the parent company of Maine’s Bath Iron Works, to build some of the Navy’s new LCS warships.

At 1414 we crossed into Mississippi and started looking for a place to camp.  Last year Kit and I made a stop at Kessler Air Force Base to visit the son of friends who was in training as a member of the Maine Air National Guard.  Ken is back home, so this year we decided to stay overnight at the Navy Seabee Base in Gulfport for the evening.

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You may think I am obsessed with photographing our rig in its natural habitat…in reality, these journals are also a log book and I use the photos of where we stay to help document the campsite for future reference.

Kit liked how clean and well run the park was and mentioned that with a cemetery across the road the neighbors were very respectful!  After a nice meal and a relaxing glass of wine, it was time to hit the sack…goodnight.

 

Saturday, December 10, 2016:  Up to sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-fifties.  Today is a short travel day so we lounged around the campsite a bit and accomplished some housekeeping chores.

Finally, on the road at 1220 hours and headed west on US Highway 90 through the coastal communities of the Mississippi Gulf.

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On past adventures, Kit and I have taken this route all the way into west Texas.  It takes a lot longer, but it is infinitely more scenic and enjoyable than hurtling down the ribbon of asphalt known at I-10.

By 1320 we were crossing the border of Louisiana and connected to the I-12 for the trip around Lake Pontchartrain to the town of Covington, the home of some old Navy friends, Johnny and Eileen.

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These fine folks were our neighbors in Key West during the 14 months I was attending school there.  We have featured them many times in past journals and it is always a pleasure to spend time visiting and reminiscing about the old days.  As a special treat one of their granddaughters stopped by to see us.

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Shelby is a high school Junior and a very accomplished artist, as you can see by her original oil painting above.

Johnny and Eileen invited us to stay a few days and we gladly took them up on their kind offer.  After an excellent home-cooked meal of authentic Cajun Jambalaya and creamy coleslaw, we retreated into the living room to visit for the remainder of the evening.

 

Sunday, December 11, 2016-Covington, Louisiana:  Lazy Sunday morning in Southern Louisiana.  The weather is beautiful…sunny and warm!  While Johnny and I spend time in his very nice workshop, Eileen spent several hours showing Kit the power of Ancestry.com.

Traditionally when we take advantage of the hospitality of friends to engage in some “dooryard surfing”, we reciprocate by taking the owners of said dooryard out for a nice meal.  It’s a real win-win situation as we enjoy a free campsite and we all enjoy a great meal at a local establishment…this year’s visit resulted in a trip to the famous Copelands Restaurant.

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Copelands is well known for seafood done the Cajun way but they have many other signature dishes as well.  Kit enjoyed the Pecan Encrusted Catfish and I the Shrimp Alfredo with Crab Cakes…both were excellent, as was the company we shared it with.

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However, toward the end, there was a little slight-of-hand on Eileen’s part as she covertly grabbed the bill and paid for the meal before I could react.  Pretty sneaky…but thanks!

The rest of the evening was spent at their beautiful home where we continued to talk about our shared history over a fantastic homemade Cherry Pie!  Tomorrow we resume our push toward the west…thanks for a great visits folks, please come see us in Maine again real soon!

 

Monday, December 12, 2016:  Kit and I were on the road very early, for us.  After a quick stop at the neighborhood Café du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee we rolled down I-12 at 0630 hours.  Soon we rejoined I-10 continuing west before encountering the town of Baton Rouge, home of the Palo Rojo, and crossed the Mississippi River on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge.

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By 0900, Kit noticed we were crossing the Atchafalaya Swamp, the largest wetlands in the United States, and suggested a stop at the visitor’s center parking lot for a camper prepared breakfast of scrambled eggs and fresh beignets.  The temperatures have risen to the mid 70’s so I took the opportunity to don shorts for the first time in two months.

Back on the road at 0933, the skies ahead looked threatening and rain began to fall.

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But we soon punched through the storm front as we crossed into Texas and at 1300 hours, arrived on the outskirts of Houston.

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I despise hauling a truck and camper through a large city, but sometimes it’s necessary.  The advent of the multi-layer overpasses does help traffic move better but nothing can fix the rude and aggressive behavior of the average big city driver!

On a more pleasant note, there are some friends from Maine that winter over near Austin, Texas and contacting them we were pleased that they could spare some time for a visit.  We agreed to meet Rey and Darlene at the San Antonio Cracker Barrel early tomorrow morning.

As it neared 1530 hours, our unofficial time to begin looking for a place to camp for the evening, Kit mentioned that we were only a few hours from the San Antonio Cracker Barrel.  She called the store about their overnighting policy and was told to come on in, they would be glad to accommodate us!  So onward we drove, arriving at 1715 and backed into a remote corner of their large and level parking lot.

Whenever we take advantage of the kindness of a manager to camp on their store property, we make it a point to patronize the business.  So, after setting up we visited the restaurant for a great meal followed by some reading time in the camper and an early turn in.

 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016:  Woke to a report from our daughter Kim that it’s snowing back home.

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It is cloudy here but the temperature is a balmy 64 degrees!

Kit and I had a very restful night.  Dry camping in a commercial parking lot is frequently plagued with light and noise…but this spot was ideal and suffered none of that!

Rey and Darlene arrived a few minutes early…it was great seeing them, especially since Rey was preparing to undergo cataract surgery in the morning and the eye drops he was using made him a bit uncomfortable.

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We all had a very nice breakfast and great conversation while lingering over coffee, but all too soon it was time to go…they had things to do and we had to hit the road.

My only regret was that I failed to snap a photo of our parking lot campsite.  Fortunately, Rey took a photo with his phone that shows the camper in its overnight spot and two well fed road warriors in the foreground.

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Thanks Rey, for sending it along!

At 1030 we pulled out and jumped on I-410 to circle around downtown San Antonio.  Within a few minutes, we were rolling through Texas Hill Country heading west.

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Today was an easy and uneventful drive but after a long day yesterday, and a late start this morning, we decided to stop early at an RV Park in Fort Stockton, Texas recommended by Rey and Darlene.

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This park is a nice, clean and well run facility…as an additional bonus they have their own café on the premises.  Shortly after setting up the camper for the night, Kit and I visited the dining room where we enjoyed their signature Texas Style Barbeque with all the fixings!

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After which a walk about the park was in order as the sun set on another great day on the road!

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Tomorrow we continue toward the west…stay tuned!

 

Kit’s Bit’s:  Well, other than the tire issue, this part of the trip has been very enjoyable.  Always so good to spend time with Johnny & Eileen!  She’s quite the expert at Ancestory.com so gave me a good start on how to navigate the system.  This is something I’ve been thinking of doing for quite a while, just haven’t had the time.  I’m looking forward to getting started with it after the holidays.  We also enjoyed our short visit with Rey & Darlene.  Fortunately, we see them during the summer too, as one of their daughters lives in Topsham and the other in San Marcos, TX.

 

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #1

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself

William Least Heat Moon

Thursday, December 1, 2016:  It’s 0415 hours and we are underway for our ninth consecutive winter RV trip for parts of America yet to be decided.  The temperature on this late fall morning is in the mid 40-degree range and the skies are gloomy with a steady rain.  The only plan we have until Christmas is to head south and at some point, hopefully when the weather or our mood allows, make an abrupt right turn.

Leaving on these trips in early December has become the new normal for Kit and me.  A few years ago the family decided to merge Thanksgiving and Christmas into a unique Festivus style celebration we call Thanksmas.  We had a great time last week celebrating Thanksmas with our resident Maine family.

Oldest daughter Kim, oldest grandson Joe, and granddaughter-in-law-in waiting Abby, brought joy and food to the celebration.

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In fact, Joe and Abby planned and prepared the Thanksmas meal!

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And an incredible feast it was!

Also in attendance were our son and his family, Joe, Chris, Ann and Katie.

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Who provided some delicious items to add to the Thanksmas groaning board as well.

Also in attendance were our grand-pets!  Mosey, waiting for some delicious food to escape, the countertop…

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…and Finny wondering what all the fuss was about.

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And a special guest from the Coastal Humane Society shelter was cute little Lola.

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A foster kitten being cared for by Abby who works as a Vet Tech at the shelter.

It was great having most of our family around the Thanksmas table.  We look forward to sharing the formal Christmas holiday with the remainder of the family, including our two youngest grandsons, when we make it out west.

I love the beginning of these trips and looking forward to the surprises and unexpected adventures that lie ahead.  And on this morning, I was feeling smug in the way this year’s trip came together.  Using a check sheet for preparation gleaned from past Excellent Adventure trips made the process easier.  However, I had this nagging feeling that I had forgotten something.  Looking to my right, I noticed, much to my relief, that Kit was riding along….so what could it have been?  Oh nooooo…this is embarrassing!  The following is an excerpt from the handwritten journal that Kit keeps as we roll along…it painfully describes the FUBAR.

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There are many excuses that I could provide for this slipup but really no plausible reason.  With all the preparation, and checking, and rechecking, how could I forget something so large, so important, and so obvious!?!?

So, a quick exit and return to the point of departure was necessary…yes, necessary!  I don’t travel without the essentials, and in my world, a bike is essential!  Had it been a few hundred miles further south before I discovered the forgotten bike, it would have been an opportunity to go shopping for a new one!

I found my forlorn two-wheeler propped up along the garage wall where I had left it yesterday after airing up the tires, and lubricating all the moving parts in preparation for hanging it on the camper’s bike rack.

Fortunately, none of the neighbors were awake at this hour so my dignity remains intact….at least for a little while.  Underway once again at 0501…the detour added an additional 45 minutes to what has historically proven to be a long first day on the road…oh well.

The above photo is also an excellent example of the teamwork in putting these travel journals out every 10 days or so.  Kit does an excellent job in documenting our doings as we meander about, then I use her logbook as a reference for composing the journal and adding photos.  And before posting the journal to the website, Kit proof reads and edits the final product.  After which it is uploaded to our website for all the world to see what a numbskull I can be.

At 0600, Kit and I pulled into the Kennebunk rest stop as is customary practice.  I like to check the temperatures of all eight tires and do a visual check of how things looked on the rig.  Plus with the camper winterized, it’s a good place for a pit stop.

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As you can see, it is still raining which stayed with us until reaching the town of Ogunquit.  Trundling along I-95 heading south we crossed the border into New Hampshire at 0640 and into the State of Massachusetts some 15 minutes later.

At 0730, as Kit and I were nearing the city of Andover the skies began to clear and the sun peeked out.

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Day one of our annual winter RV adventures is always a long, tedious, drive through five states…there is no other route to efficiently depart New England, at least this time of the year. On a normal Excellent Adventure travel day, we average about 250 miles…but on the this first day we endure a 550 plus mile day.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many interesting things to see and do in New England, many of which we have enjoyed over the 35 years we have lived in this area of the country.  However, it is far more pleasant to explore the northeast in summer than winter and factor that with the unpredictable weather added to the desire to get in warmer climes, we have only one mission…head south rapidly!

Merging onto the Massachusetts Turnpike we encounter an interesting change to the method of collecting tolls…the toll booths are gone!  Payment for passage is now facilitated by electronic monitoring with bills being mailed to the traveler…good luck finding us in the Desert Southwest!  I’m guessing, the toll takers jobs were moved to Mexico where confused locals are unable to understand Mass Speak or why they’re suddenly paying for travel in a country they don’t even live in!  Can’t some politician do something about this?!?!

Rolling across the Connecticut border at 1100 the weather had turned perfect for travelling!

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Sunny with a few clouds, light winds, little traffic and the sun over our shoulder.

At 1130 Kit and I piloted the rig into New York and 45 minutes later were transiting the Hudson River near the town of Newburgh, NY.

At 1350 hours, the State of Pennsylvania came into view and an hour later found us on the main north-south US artery, Interstate 81…also known as the Truckers Route.  Around 1730 hours, after a 13-hour travel day, we noticed a roadside billboard (remember those?) for a Cracker Barrel Restaurant and decided to treat ourselves.  Yea, I agree, the food at Cracker Barrel is not high cuisine, however they are RV friendly, provide plenty of caloric intake for the money, allow Kit to engage in some retail therapy, and consistently OK.

Back in the truck for the short hop to our favorite first night stopover, The Fairfield Inn located in Carlisle, PA.

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These folks have consistently accepted us, and our rig, on their property and the convenient location makes for a great stop after a long day.  In addition, they feature fresh baked cookies, fresh fruit, and drinks to the weary traveler.  We are beat!  Today’s statistics…14 hours since departure and 594.4 miles driven!  Goodnight all!

Friday, December 2, 2016:  Up early, spent some time on our iPads, then enjoyed a rather nice continental breakfast before filling the travel mugs with fresh coffee and hitting the road.

One unusual item I noticed in our motel room was the following lockset on the bathroom door.

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Yep, the latch-bolt appears to be installed backwards!  Kit thought that maybe it was done intentionally so anyone locked in the bathroom could be rescued by simply pushing on the door, but I think not, someone messed up!

Jumped back on I-81 South under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid 40-degree range.  Since today is our grandson Jacks 12th birthday, we gave him a call on speakerphone and sang in the most off key way possible, in other words, normal.  Jack thought it was funny, or maybe weird…. either way is OK with us.

At 1105 hours Kit and I crossed into Maryland and twelve minutes later found us crossing the Potomac River and entering the State of West Virginia…the top portion of the Southern Bible Belt.

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These “yuge” Christian crosses are interspersed along I-81 throughout the south…many are associated with a church, but others sprout out of a random farm field.  It appears that a competition of piety is going on as each cross is “yuge’r” than the one before.

Clouds start to gather to the south (hope this isn’t the result of my crack about the crosses!?!?) and we notice how green it is at this latitude at this time of the year.

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Nearing 1600 hours, Kit found a convenient campground in the town of Salem, Virginia and a Food Lion grocery store in route…. a win-win!  After filling the camper’s larder, we made our way to the Dixie Caverns RV Park and set up for the night.

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While visiting with the campground owner as I registered, he mentioned that there is a cavern on the premises that one can explore…hum, might be a late start tomorrow!?

Saturday, December 3, 2016:  Woke following a restful night, had a quick breakfast and met Matt at the cavern’s entrance for a guided tour of the cavern that honeycombs the adjacent hillside.

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The cavern was discovered in 1920 by two young boys and their dog.  While messing about on the wooded mountain, the dog fell down a small hole and was unable to get out, so the boys climbed in to rescue the pup and noticed a series of interconnecting caves.

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The cavern is primarily limestone and was carved by an underground spring that eroded the soft material.  Today the cavern continues to evolve due to surface precipitation that seeps in forming various dripstone features such as “The Wedding Bell”.

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The large bell shaped feature with stalactite dripstone formations encircling its rim is a popular venue for weddings.  As the bride and groom stand under the bell, drops of water, known as “Cave Kisses”, land on the couple promoting good luck…I guess a fitting occurrence  if your marrying a drip!

After notifying the farmer who owned the land, the boys were allowed to explore the cavern even more thoroughly.  Permission that would never be allowed to happen in today’s world of liability and litigation.  Eventually, the boys persuaded the owner to explore his cavern with them and he realized that folks would pay good money to see the formations within.  The farmer, hired the boys to act as tour guides, and advertised the attraction.  Needing a name, the young tour guides suggested Dixie.  Not because it was in the south, but because it was discovered by Dixie, the dog!

One of the more striking elements in Dixie Caverns is what became known as the “Bat Tubs”.  These are hollow formations that collect water that has percolated down from the surface.

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These pools are a mere few inches deep but appear much deeper when viewed from an acute angle.  So, why call them Bat Tub’s, well where else would the resident’s clean up?

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These cute little fellows are hanging by their heels throughout the cavern and give flight each night to exit the cavern and forage for food.

I enjoy caves and caverns and have toured many them throughout the US, however this small cave system is one of the better privately owned caves I’ve explored.  If you ever find yourself in Salem, Virginia, make time to see Dixie Caverns!

Underway shortly before noon and headed south once again on I-81.  Two and a half hours later we crossed into Tennessee and by 1540 hours few were on I-40 heading west.

Readers of this journal will remember that I like to snap at least on photo of my traveling partner, with neck pillow in place, and cocooned in her bright red blankie, slumbering the miles away.  Well as the camera sent out the focusing beam of light, the intended victim was alerted and caught me in the act!

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Oh well, there’s always another day and another opportunity to capture that embarrassing photo.

It’s been a short travel day but Kit discovered an interesting place to stay using the app “All Stays”.

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Yep, Dumplin Valley Campground is on a farm, and not just any farm, but the regional venue for the great southern fiddler’s convention held each fall.  At other times of the year, Joe the Farmer, rents out the campsites to the traveling public for a small fee.

After a nice meal, and some journal writing, it was off to bed…goodnight.

Sunday, December 4, 2016:  Experienced an overnight rain and woke to a soggy campground.  While pulling out of our site the rear wheels began to spin, but a quick application of four-wheel drive solved the problem and we were on our way.

For the second day in a row we found some interesting places to explore in the area before making progress toward the south.  Kit has taken up cooking with cast iron (again) and the Lodge Factory Store is just down the road a piece.  And since what Kit wants, Kit gets, especially considering her arsenal of cast iron frying pans and a pretty accurate throwing arm.  So, we delayed our morning departure and headed to the store.

Arriving, I noticed the Smoky Mountain Knife Store right across the way!

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So, I had my morning set!  This place is huge…containing every knife manufacturer and every product they sell; even a variety of fully custom hand forged knives selling in the four-figure range!

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It was entertaining to look at all the merchandise and the customers that were drooling over said merchandise while extolling the virtues of the various brands.

After an hour, Kit and I met back at the rig and shared our purchase choices…Kit’s was far more practical but I bet my selection will prove to be much more entertaining.

Finally, back on the road shortly before noon we continued south on Interstate 40 until the outskirts of Knoxville and then merged onto I-75 headed south toward Chattanooga.  Then I-59 took us further south into Georgia, where we crossed the border at 1500 hours.  An hour later we stopped for fuel at a Pilot Truck Stop in Rising Fawn, GA and discovered an excellent overnighting opportunity.  The store parking lot was large and away from the long-haul truckers that were filing in.

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So, we parked out of the way and enjoyed an ideal free camping opportunity for the evening!

Monday, December 5, 2016:  Up at 0700 and grabbed some trucker’s coffee from the store before hitting the road.  Kit and I agree that this truck stop was the quietest and most RV friendly of the many we have stayed at over the years!

Back on I-59 we joined the traveling public heading south…the weather is drizzly but warm for early December.

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Within the hour, we crossed into the Central Time Zone gaining an hour in the travel day…so we decided to use that bonus time to enjoy a nice breakfast at, you guessed it, The Cracker Barrel!  The further south we travel the thicker the southern accent becomes, and here in Gadsden, Alabama the accent is as thick as Tupelo Honey!  And all the waitresses call us “Hon”.

Following a substantial meal and enjoying the southern hospitality of the wait staff, who by the way laughed at our strange accents, we once again, were headed south.

1000 hours found us circling Birmingham on I-459 as the threatening clouds finally let loose with torrential rain.  Bringing up the trucks weather app we discovered that the rest of the day’s travel was destined to be wet and stormy.

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Soon, we moved over to I-65 South as the rain picked up in intensity and I slowed the rigs speed proportionally.

At 1330 we jumped onto US Highway 113 and within a few minutes received a Tornado Watch Warning via the weather app…Yikes.  Thirteen minutes later found us crossing the northern border of Florida and under increasingly threatening skies we wound our way through a variety of back roads toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Arriving at our destination for the next couple of days it was still raining hard accented by numerous lightning strikes and the wind had picked up in intensity…a real Southeaster!

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Backing the camper into our assigned site, I quickly plugged into electricity and left the rest of the camp setup for later.  Since we had come from drier and cooler temperatures in the north to the warm and wet panhandle of Florida, every surface inside the camper immediate developed condensation.

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Kit and I had to open many of the cabinet doors to air out.  We then settled in for what promises to be a noisy but hopefully uneventful evening…read as, NO TORNADOS!!

Will our intrepid couple visit the Land of Oz?  Stay tuned!

Kit’s Bits: Hope you all enjoy my “sleep photo”.  It will be the LAST one for this trip.  Never mind, I couldn’t even find my neck pillow and had to improvise with my blankie.  For some reason, (maybe his Navy days) Bill has ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’.  It usually takes me a week or so to get things rearranged to my liking.  I often wonder if he stashes things per the ABC’s.  Other than forgetting his bike, the first few days went well this year.  Looking forward to a few days of “down time” in the Panhandle of Florida before heading west at an easier speed.