30 December 2012

At Last

Our first meal in Florida

We are back in Florida. Crossed the State line today at 11:01 AM. We are dry camping at NS Mayport until tomorrow when we move next door to Hanna park and my sisters join us to welcome in the New Year.

it was interesting seeing all of the RV's heading south on I 95. It was flooded with them and other vehicles with Northern license plates and luggage on the roof!
Our first stop after parking RV was Singletons Seafood Shack in little Mayport Village on the St Johns River. OMG, it was worth the wait.  My sister Marla  is bringing up the New Year's Eve feast tomorrow and then BJ is preparing traditional New Year's hog jowls and black-eyed peas to welcome the New Year and bring good luck to all that partake. If you cannot make it, I will gladly eat your share. Thanks
Always at home nomatter where we are parked!

26 December 2012

A Hard Days Night

We left JEB Little Creek about 0930 this AM in light rain.  We headed west to Emporia VA to take I-95 south bound.  Because weather forecast was so adverse we opted not to take US 17 as originally planned.. It is a good road, but with heavy rain and winds forecast we figured I-95 would be a better alternative - distance and travel time were not forecast to be greatly different!

The rain continued increasing as we approached Emporia and as soon as we headed south the rain increased and was intermittently heavy and very heavy with a few, but very few breaks.  We had decided we would stop by lunch at Parkers Bar-B-Q on 301, just south of Wilson NC.  It was about 6 miles east of I-95 but right off I-795 so it was an easy and short detour.  40+years ago when we lived in Hampton and traveled back and fourth to SC and or FL.  This section of I-95 was not completed so we were on US 301 and could not just pass by Parkers!!

The detour and anticipation were worth the wait!  Oh, what a wonderful lunch we had and we got 2 pounds of the bar-b-q to take with us.  There was a large truck parking lot on the south side of Parkers so parking the RV was not an issue!  However, when we got to the door to leave the wind and rain were really coming down hard, very hard AND it was a long way to the RV!

After about 10 minutes we said "To Heck With It".  The wind quickly blew BJ's umbrella inside out.  I took off in a sprint and water was running rapidly and well over ankle deep across the parking lot!   I wanted to get to the RV first so I could unlock the door by the time BJ got there!  Nonetheless, we were both were pretty well drenched by the time we got in the RV.    We changed clothes and hit the road, still heading SOUTH!

About 50 miles down the road the sun broke through and clouds started breaking up!  It quit raining and things were looking up as we continued SOUTH!  We arrived at the campground, which has a winery as part of it, after dark and got parked.  We are looking forward to seeing BJ's siblings Thursday and Friday then we will move on SOUTH.  May take US 17 this time.  We are closer to it then I-95 and the weather is going to be a lot better then today!

It was a long hard trip today but we are only a day's drive from Jacksonville FL and we are getting better and better by the day!  

But, we do miss the girls!

Always at home, no matter where we are.


Is SOUTH of here!  At last we are really, really SOUTHBOUND.  The Keys are in site (well nearly)!

We have enjoyed out time in VA, but we have been here 4+ months and that is too long. We enjoyed our time on the Eastern Shore and really enjoyed the time with the girls here in Norfolk.  But, it has been too long since we were in the Keys and we are really looking forward to returning there by the end of January!

We depart Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Ft Story Famcamp later this AM and will stop through the Carolinas to visit BJ siblings, then in Jax to see Garrett, our son, and Gary, my brother and then on to Melbourne for doctor visits and to see friends and family and then on to the Keys.  We plan on being there until mid-May or so. 

Always at home no matter where we are!

07 December 2012

South bound at last (at least a little bit)

Well we finished the volunteer gig at the Eastern Shore of VA National Wildlife Refuge last week and have moved over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT in local parlance) to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Ft Story in Norfolk so we can spend Christmas with the girls.  We are thinking we should have promised them we would spend Labor Day with them as we are really getting tired of the cold!  But, it seems to warm up so rapidly whenever we are around them!
The Girls
From the water the CBBT heading out to Fishermans Island

Crossing the CBBT is always an interesting event.  It is sort of like a sea voyage in your car.  The bridge is 20 miles long across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at the Atlantic Ocean.  To your east is the vast Atlantic Ocean and to your west is the vast (but not as vast as the Atlantic) Chesapeake Bay.  There are two tunnels that are part of the CBBT, each one is a mile long and they are out of site of land when you approach them!   The tunnels are about 2 miles apart.  The southern one is for ship traffic destined for the Hampton Roads area and the other one is for ship traffic destined for northern end of Chesapeake Bay.  We did take a weekend trip up to the northern end of the bay and there the Bay Bridge is a very high rise bridge and there were definitely  ocean going ships in the bay up there.  We crossed the CBBT every week to go see the girls but only crossed it in the RV going north to the volunteer gig and then returning last week.
Always a bunch of fishing boats hanging around
Our volunteer gig was here!

The bridge portion of CBBT is two lanes each direction

The CBBT heading south from Fishermans Island
Entering one of the two tunnels!
On the way over in September it was a little disconcerting when we kept hearing this intermittent scraping sound as we went through the tunnels.  I knew it could not be serious and I knew we were within one foot of max clearance.  It turned out to be the CB antenna!  While on the Eastern Shore I switched out that  antenna for one that hooks up to our USB modem that we access the internet with and it improved our signal strength and was a little shorter (we do not have a CB radio so no loss there)!

However, our excitement on the return voyage in the RV was provided by and unexplained/unexpected pinging alarm.  It started when we stopped short of the bridge to say good by to some friends.  We pulled into the Welcome Center Parking lot and spent an hour plus trying to figure out what it was!  Since there was no warning messages on the engine control panel and all tires and jacks were in order I really was not too concerned but BJ just knew the RV was going to stop dead in the bottom of one of the tunnels!

Once we got to JEB Little Creek-Ft Story and set up camp we found it was the leveling jack alarm.  I found out thru the Tiffin Owners Forum that sometimes a jack will lower slightly as the hydraulic fluid warms and the sensor will set the alarm off even though if you look at the jack as I did, you will not notice the slight drop!  The fix is to recycle the jacks.  My better solution which I will follow from now on is to stay where the jack fluid is always warm!

At any rate we are in Norfolk until 26 Dec and are looking forward to Christmas with the girls and to my sisters, Marla & CC, joining us for the event.  They are bringing Marla's RV up for the holiday and we will have a caravan party on the way back to warmland, aka FLORIDA!

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

29 October 2012

Dancing with Sandy

Well we have found a few leaks this AM, but nothing too bad!  Have not lost power but genset is ready if we do.  High tide was about 0830 and I have some pics I will include but it was no threat at all to us.  Highest winds are supposed to be late afternoon/early evening then it starts to get better; if you see the Eastern Shore mentioned with dire consequences they are talking about the northern part, not where we are on the southern tip.  We are nearly 100 mi south of there and they are that much closer to the center of Sandy.  They are projecting hurricane force winds near  Chincoteague and we are told gusts to 50 maybe.  They have quit giving updates on the SW portion of Hampton Roads as it is out of the action and starting to return to normal and that is the route out for me & the Gray Ghost in the AM as we head to FL for my BIL's funeral. 

However, my brother advises me it is going to be 37 degrees – what the hell is that about!

Kayak launch yesterday at low tide, except this is where water level is normally at high tide.  Some extra water due to Sandy.

This is the road to/from the kayak launch when the pic to the left was taken.  You can see the edge of the parking lot for the kayak launch there in the lower left hand corner of the pic.  If you go up this road and just past the turn you can see then turn right and go about another 150 yards you will be in the RV parking area. It has 5 spots with 4 currently occupied .  It is for volunteers only and has full hook ups for each.

The road past the kayak launch leads to the boat launch about 200 yrs. further & it is closed due to Sandy!

This was the road to the kayak launch this AM!  The pics above were taken at the far end of the road in this pic looking down the road.  While the Grey Ghost was bucking to head down the road I reminded her I was now an old man and could not get away with such lapses in judgment that would have been routine just 35 years ago!

This is the volunteer's RV park at Eastern Shore of VA National Wildlife Refuge.

So all is well with us – we have pulled in 3 of the 4 slides mainly to protect the slide covers from getting ripped by the wind.  The only one out (DS-rear) has the smallest cover so least chance of damage.  I think they all would be fine, but best to err on the safe said!
BJ is fixing hot chocolate and my laptop is telling me to get off my tail and plug her in!  So that is all for now.
Always at home no matter where we are!

27 October 2012

Waiting on Sandy

We are buttoned up and battened down here at the tip of the Eastern Shore waiting for Hurricane Sandy to visit.   She is due in late Monday night/early Tue AM but  We seems to be on the very southern edge of her landfall and most projections are putting her even further north by the time she gets here.  This would be to our benefit.  Last year the Refuge required the volunteers to evacuate and two of those folks are here this year.  They claim they got "beaten up" worse in WV then if they stayed here!  It will not be an option if we wait too long because they close the bridge-tunnel if winds get too high and then our evacuation route would be to the north into the worsening weather for 100+ miles before we could turn west/inland. 
Of course there is always the kayaks.  We could float our way out of here! 
Kayak launch still an option!

Boat launch is closed however!

Refuge is getting lonely!

Yesterday and today has been mainly rainy and windy but that is part of the cold front moving in from the west that is supposed to meet up with Sandy for the really big party!  They are forecasting that we will be feeling the front edge of Sandy by tomorrow afternoon and then it will start mixing with front moving in from the West.  
Always at home no matter where we are!

11 October 2012

Eastern Shore of Virginia

The Eastern Shore of VA (ESV) is on the Delmarva peninsula and extends from the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay south to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  Delaware, Maryland, & Virginia each have part of the Delmarva  peninsula and the VA part extends south from the Maryland line which is just north of Chincoteague Island, home of the famous ponies.  We are 75 miles south of there at the very southern tip of the ESV where the northern end of the Chesapeake-Bay Bridge Tunnel lands on the ESV. The bridge-tunnel complex crosses the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and is a 22 mile long bridge, tunnel complex connecting Norfolk to the Eastern Shore.

We are volunteering at the National Wildlife Refuge until early December.  We are responsible for operating the Visitors Center Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.   The refuge's mission is to maintain safe habitat for  birds, especially during migration season!   Also, the Mexico bound Monarch butterflies come through about this time each year and they and the migrating songbirds that have been arriving the last few weeks hang out here waiting for favorable winds to help them make the leap across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
Surveying the area

One of the residents of the NWR!

An early Monarch

BJ is going nuts with all the birding she is doing.  In addition to several Bald Eagles, there are several types of hawks and dozens of kinds of songbirds.  She is trying to know them all.  Also, since we are at the tip of a peninsula there is plenty of kayaking opportunities around!

Kayak view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel!

BJ on Smith Island stalking some baitfish!

This is a historic part of our country.  The courthouse in Eastville, the county seat, was an old building when the Declaration of Independence was read to the residents 5 days after it was signed!   County records  have been maintained in the courthouse continuously since 1632!  However, nearby there is a modern courthouse with most offices in it!
The original Northhampton County Courthouse built in 1631! And still a storage facility for county records! 

Historic Cape Charles is about 10 miles north of the NWR and is a quaint little town now but 100 years ago it was a bustling railroad town. In the late 19th century a railroad was built from New York city, through Philadelphia to Cape Charles.  There the rail cars were loaded on barges, a dozen to the barge, and moved to Norfolk.  This was a quicker route then the inland route around Washington DC and for until after WW II it was heavily used.  800 rail cars a day were shuffled through Cape Charles.  Today maybe a few each month! More about this nice little town in a later post.

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

10 October 2012

Coon Dog Cemetery

While in NW Alabama in August we saw a number of interesting things.  One day while riding down a rural road going from nowhere to somewhere we saw an interesting road side sign pointing to the next right turn.  It sounded interesting, so right we went!  About 6 miles down the road we found the Coon Dog Cemetery.
It was an unadorned, but well maintained sign along side the road.  We entered the woods and found many coon dog graves in the area.  Most were carefully tended with headstones ranging from the plain to the ornate!
One of the monuments!
One of many graves.
Another monument
The history and rules

This is now a county facility.

The grave of faithful hunting companion!

Always at home no matter where we are!

01 October 2012

It is about time

I updated the blog with some current info.  We have been at the Eastern Shore of VA National Wildlife Refuge since right after Labor Day.  We are volunteering here until early Dec and loving it.  Great kayaking, friendly people and the granddaughters just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Norfolk.  We are close enough to spoil them, but not close enough to be responsible!
As mentioned in the previous entry we were tired of the cold weather in OR & WA and wanted to join our fellow citizens in the heat wave that was burning up the rest of the country!  So on 12 July at 1721 hr. in Coos Bay OR with the cold Pacific Ocean on the DS we turned EAST for the first time since leaving the FL Keys at 1015 hrs. on 14 Mar 2011.  We had enjoyed our Western Tour and extremely glad we did it but we were homesick for the Atlantic Seaboard we both finally realized.  We will be back out West!  We loved our trip and will use the info to plan our next one probably in 2014 for just 12 months or so!  We are looking forward to spending some more time in fewer selected places on that trip.  But, it will take us a year plus to winnow that list of "selected places" down to a manageable size!  But, time we have. 
Tucson on the road!

A real refrigerator! 

Stacked washer & dryer!
Another thing we both agree on is we remain happy with the unexpected upgrade in our accommodations!  Lucy, our 2003 Holiday Rambler, was an able and wonderful travel companion.  She served us faithfully for 6 years to the day but BJ's continuously growing rock hounding collection was beginning to sway her back and we felt we needed more capacity, plus we discovered we would like a few more amenities! So our upgraded RV, Tucson, is a 2009 Tiffin Phaeton with 4 slides and 42 ft. long.
 Amenities include a stacked washer and dryer,  a real residential refrigerator, a dishwasher, and a 10 KW generator if needed!  We are much more comfortable in our new "house"!  Its GVWR is 42,000 pounds vs. Lucy's 32,000 pounds and BJ is working on filling her spacious basement up with more rocks, except here back on the Eastern Seaboard she has dramatically changed her collection direction, more seashells then boulders for her to chose from!  But, when we return back to the West she will resume the boulder collection, I am sure!
First thing we did after turning EAST was to stop in Grants Pass OR to visit our AF friends from our days at Mather AFB, Jim and Judy.  What a great time we had with them.   They took us down to CA for a day and we walked thru the giant Redwood forest.  How spectacular those giants were!  And, we took another day to visit Crater Lake National Park.  Part of the boundary road around the lake was still closed because of snow – and that was mid- July!  The lake was beautiful and clear and all I could think about was diving in it, which is allowed!  But, you had to manually haul your gear down a footpath to the lakes edge.  That footpath was a steep 750 ft. drop from the rim to the lake shore!  I did not relish bringing my 65-70 pounds of scuba gear back up the that path which the park service did not allow any wheeled carts on!  Of course the 45-50 degree water was also somewhat of a deterrent!  But, maybe next time....!
Dry, warm western Oregon on the way EAST!
BJ & Allie at Red Rock Center near Denver!

We left Jim and Judy and continued EAST across western OR where it was high and dry and warm, approaching hot!  We were headed to Denver for a visit with our niece, Allie and her family.  We had not seen them in 8 years or so!  What a joy it was to see Allie and Schyler and their two boys, Benton and Karsten!
 We had a wonderful time that passed all to quickly!  Benton is interested in scuba so maybe we can entice him to visit us in the Keys and maybe bring the whole family!  We hope so!
Restaurant in Castle Rock- good food  with great friends! 
On our last day we enjoyed lunch with Bill and Susan from Colorado Springs.  We met at Castle Rock which is between C Springs and Denver at a former church that is now a restaurant,   

From Denver we pressed on EAST, dropping down from I-70 in Kansas to I-40 in Oklahoma!  Stayed a few days at Foss Lake State park west of OK City.  Water level was pretty low and many people were concerned about the continuing drought!  And, we were out in the boondocks.
While there we decided to head to Red Bay AL, the home of Tiffin Motor coach and Tucson's birthplace.  I had thought Red Bay was in south AL, but found it was in far (remote) NW AL, not that far south of I-40.  We had a continuing problem with our satellite TV system and figured they could service that and a few other items we had on a short list.
One side of the Tiffin Service facility!

 We didn't have an appointment and none was available so we just showed up.  We ended up spending 18 days there and they worked on Tucson 4 of those days.  But, we had to be there each day in case we got called to a service bay!  They replaced the entire satellite TV system and did two factory recalls we did not know about and several less significant items. but we left with Tucson in top notch condition!
While in Red Bay we did take an afternoon and drive over to Tupelo MS, about 40 miles, for some shopping and so BJ could see Elvis' birthplace!  It was an interesting day!   And that led to us leaving Red Bay and heading west (temporarily) back to Memphis so she could visit Graceland!  I agreed to this because I wanted some good Memphis ribs and she did too.  We were headed to the Rendezvous Restaurant in downtown Memphis after visiting Graceland when the GPS gave us a wrong turn to Payne's Ribs.  It was a "plain" little family restaurant with minimal seating but boy were the ribs good!  At any rate after we enjoyed the ribs we headed back to Tucson, who was patiently waiting for us in a Pilot Truck Stop on the east side of Memphis and continued on EAST along I-40.
Our good friends, Frank and Maggie drove up to Cookeville TN (east of Nashville) and we had a great lunch and visit with them then headed on EAST again.  We were planning on spending a few days in Waynesville, NC but decided to continue on as we could feel Reagan and Addison tugging on our hearts and were getting more anxious to see them as each hour passed!  We did stop in NC briefly to visit with Frank & Maggie's daughter, Kirsten and her three wonderful little ones!  Weston was a work so we missed him, but next time...!
We finally arrived in Norfolk and pulled into Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek (recently renamed to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek) and settled into spot 35 in the Famcamp.

Reagan & Addison
 We were only a few blocks from the water's edge and at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  While it is not the FL Keys it is the Atlantic Seaboard and we were at last ready to rest and start stuffing real seafood down!  Which we did as soon as we say the girls, Reagan and Addison have grown so much since we saw them last! Reagan enters kindergarten this year and Addison moves up to pre-school!  We feel fortunate to be with them at this change in their lives.  More about them in later posts.
So after 10 days there we moved across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, a 20 mile bridge with two tunnels, each a mile long, to the Eastern Shore and we are on the very southern tip of the peninsula.  First exit off Hiway 13 after you leave the bridge-tunnel.
So that gets us up to date.  I promise posts will be shorter and more frequent now!  With more pics too!
Always at home, no matter where we are!

15 August 2012

Grants Pass and Crater Lake National Park

We left Newport and headed south along the coastal highway (OR 101) to Coos Bay where we turned east at 5:21 PM on 12 July.  At that point we were officially EASTBOUND and headed back to the Atlantic Coast from the Pacific.  As we climbed into the coastal mountain range the sun came out, it got warmer and the fog dissipated!  Our long hard cold summer in the NW seemed to fade quickly in the rearview camera!

The next day we arrived in Grants Pass OR and stayed in a county RV park on the Rouge River.  We were looking forward to spending several days with good friends from our AF days at Mather AFB, Jim and Judy.  Now that we were on the eastern slope of the coastal mountains the weather was quite pleasant, sunny and warm, clear & warm, dry & warm, blue skies and warm!  You get the idea - it was warm!

One day Jim & Judy took us south to the Redwood Forest in northern CA.  BJ had been particularly interested in this trip and once we got there I understood why.  What magnificent trees these are!
Growing into the clouds!

Magnificent giants!

BJ had understood much better then I what awesome giants these Redwood trees were.  Now we both are looking even more forward to out next trip west when we will include the Sequoia forests in out must see list!

On another day Jim and Judy took us to Crater Lake National Park.  Lots of snow still on the ground in late July and the perimeter road still had not been completely cleared of snow and was still impassable!

Nonetheless the lake was beautiful.  The actual lake is about 700 ft below the rim where the visitors center and most of the support facilities were located.  While I was not interested in doing it during this visit I was interested in maybe scuba diving the lake on a future visit.  On the way to the lake we stopped at a Forest Service service center and while talking to one of the rangers I found out he was a diver and went to the Keys most Springs on  a dive vacation.  He had dived Crater Lake and gave some interesting facts.  First of all it is cold (that was not news), second it is excellent visibility (clear water and little if any current to stir things up).  However it is a 700+ ft trail down to the water and Park Service does not allow any wheeled vehicles, e.g. carts, on the trail.  You have to haul your dive gear down the trail and after the dive you had to haul it back UP the trail!

Crater Lake

Crater Lake Hotel

Visitors overlook built by CCC

Crater Lake from the rim!  That is snow, not white sand!

BJ with Jim & Judy

Imagine carrying your dive gear down & UP this path!

The trip to and back from Crater Lake was equally enjoyable and a little warmer then Crater Lake!

One of several beautiful water falls we visited on the way to Crater Lake!

Jim & Judy's friend, Peking Duck was with us and really liked the geocache we found on the trip to Crater Lake!

The Living Sutmp - an interesting pheonome they showed us.  After the tree was cut it continued to grown and "repair" the cut by growing over it!  The roots of the stump and the adjacent tree were intertwined and it got nutrition from the joined roots!

A river was narrowed and running rapidly thru gorge!

Always at home, no matter where we are!!