Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Blue Ridge, Florida, and southeast coastal road trip, April through August 2011In 2011, I spent over four months traveling in the eastern United States. Going south, I traveled the length of Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Cherohala Skyway while visiting friends and doing trail magic for thruhikers along the Appalachian Trail. I then spent a couple of months in Florida exploring everything from the Keys, to the Everglades, and the Space Coast. I returned by following the southeast coast until hurricane Irene threatened the Outer Banks just as I would have arrived in the area.
April (Boston to the Blue Ridge)
May (Blue Ridge Parkway to Florida)
June (Florida alligators, Keys, Tortugas, and manatees)
July (Florida, including the Space Coast)
August (Georgia and South Carolina coast)
Well, I got to Florida almost two weeks ago now and have already been to the three day Florida Folk Festival, visited with friends, and marveled at the Spanish moss strewn Live Oaks forming arches over the designated "Canopy Roads". My alligator count is up to about six including seeing a large one violently chow down on what was probably a medium sized 'gator though it was too far away for me to be positive.
Anyway, I never intended to get this far behind on transcribing and mailing my journal. I hope to get more out soon, but here's the first week... More soon, I hope.
Monday, April 11, 2011: Boston to Hartford, CT
Tuesday, April 12, 2011: Hartford to Edgewater, NJ
My next visit was also a familiar stop at my friends, the Gordon's place. On the way, I stopped on the NY side of the George Washington Bridge to eat lunch at Guanaco Pupuseria. I don't often come across pupusas in my travels so it's nice to stop there every now and then. What I still haven't figured out is why an El Salvadoran restaurant uses a purely South American animal in its name.
My friend, Michele, was busy today, so after crossing into New Jersey, I did some shopping, stopped at her place to get the keys from her parents, and made my way to a favorite hiking spot, the Flat Rock Brook Nature Center. I had spent the month of March of this year house sitting in the nearby community of Teaneck and got to know the county green spaces quite well. It took a while to get there as a bad accident with a dump truck landing on top of a small car blocked the major thoroughfare near my friend's house so I had to detour. I happened upon the accident before any emergency personnel got there but just followed the lead of the cars in the traffic in front of me and did a u-turn to get away from the fray and make room for the emergency personnel on their way. Here's the NorthJersey.com article.
Once again, this was a mostly rainy day but radar showed a break and I managed to hike for about an hour before the rains came again.
And since this was a Tuesday, rather than heading for Gordon's, I grabbed a bite to eat and went to the Dekorte Park in the Meadowlands for an Astronomy class. While I was house sitting in Teaneck, NJ in March, I stumbled into an open observatory night and was invited by the Dr. John Sloan, the director, to come to a class the next night. It was really nice to have something interesting to do once a week while I was there. That was a planetary astronomy class. That class has since ended and another one started. This time a four week class on Meteors, Comets, and Asteroids. I could only make the one class but John, the director, handed me both the handouts from the previous class as well as the next class before I left for the night.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011: Edgewater
After Abe made breakfast of scrambled cheese omelet with toast, I spent the dreary day shopping and running errands in the morning. I bought a Red Ledge rain jacket to replace my Dick's Sporting goods (almost identical) jacket that had lost most of its repellancy. Then I ran into the local IRS office to pick up the 1040 Instructions I would need now that I, in theory, had all the paperwork I would need to complete my taxes. Staples was a useful stop and I picked up their “Markings” brand of journal book on sale for just $3. Moleskine costs so much more and doesn't offer any advantages I could see. During these errands, I ran into traffic just behind an accident. Two in two days. Yikes!
I had lunch back at the house with Michele and then followed her to her mechanic so she could drop off her car. It was a rainy afternoon so Michele and I played Gordon rules Scrabble. Three of any letter and you can just put extras back and pick something else. No challenges, just use the dictionary to check whatever words as you plan your play. Etc. We had an early dinner and then I babysat as Michele went with her parents to get her car and then went to an appointment.
Thursday, April 14, 2011: Edgewater, NJ to King of Prussia, PA
I did some laundry and got on the road, stopping at Flat Rock Brook for one last hike in familiar territory. I stopped at a local grocery store for some Passover goodies to bring to Ruth. By the time I got through with all that, it was lunch time so I hit the salad bar at Whole Foods.
I had a mostly uneventful drive though there was one overpass I went over that had black smoke billowing up from underneath and some contraction workers taking pictures from on the overpass. It looks like I've come across the immediate aftermath of bad accidents three days in a row now. Ulp! I got to Camo Jack's house just about when he woke up. I was able to help a bit as he did a bit of work on the house and then we went for cheese steaks (when in Philly, right?) and fries. I watched a bit of TV when Camo went to work and then crashed on the couch.
Friday, April 15, 2011: King of Prussia
When Camo got home at around 6:30 in the morning, we went for an early breakfast with his Dad, Jack Sr. I ate delicious French Toast made with challah. Back at the house, we hung out while Camo's Dad picked out some books from the piles Camo was getting rid of and then Jack went to sleep. By now, my stomach wasn't feeling right and I was too tired to get out and go to the library like I had originally planned. I had thought that would be a good place to work on my taxes. (I don't owe so am not worried about penalties but it would be nice if they were just done so I wouldn't have to think about them any longer.)
So, I settled in for a nap, too. A couple of hours later I woke up and my stomach was still bothering me. I quickly realized Camo's bathroom was going to be getting a workout. Plus, my complaint had now grown to include body aches that made it extremely difficult to get off the couch. And, I'm not usually prone to nausea, but I grabbed a plastic bag to put near the couch – just in case. Uh oh! This was not a particularly good place or time to get sick. While Camo and his girlfriend were going away for the weekend and he would have no problem with my staying at the house if need be, I have plans for this upcoming Monday. Sigh.
When Camo got up, he was running errands so I had him pick up some Gatorade for me. I couldn't eat anything but I knew I had to sip liquid to keep from getting dehydrated. Plus, I really wanted to try to eat something so I could take some ibuprofen for my body aches. It took two hours to eat the first half of a fruit bar but then I was able to eat the rest fairly quickly and took the ibuprofen with no side effects. Phew!
Saturday, April 16, 2011: King of Prussia, PA to Bethesda, MD
I woke up in the middle of the night and was a bit confused. I knew where I was but something was different. And then I realized I had just turned over quickly, easily, and with no pain. My body aches were gone.
I went back to sleep and woke up around 7am and was happy to wake up feeling so much better. No body aches, no stomach issues. Just some residual weakness and unsteadiness from having eaten very little in the previous 24 hours. I was still very tentative about eating anything so I got on the road having had just a few sips of leftover Gatorade.
The driving was a bit challenging today. There were many changes of maps, quite a few tolls, and nothing really at all familiar as I made my way to a friend's house I hadn't visited before.
I stopped at a rest area to get some yogurt and a banana. That made a good breakfast considering that I was still a bit tentative about eating.
I had no problems finding Scott, aka 30-30's, house. Still recovering from yesterday's 16 hour flu, I wasn't sure what I could eat so I opted for half a turkey sandwich for lunch. It was too rainy to do anything so we just hung out. For dinner, we went to a good Italian place. My order of lasagna may have been pushing it for me on a mostly empty stomach, but it tasted good and went down without a hitch though I couldn't quite finish it. Back at the house, we enjoyed Ben and Jerry's while watching a movie.
Sunday, April 17, 2011: Bethesda
The rain finally cleared out last night so once it warmed up today, we ate a quick lunch at home and then did a small hike on the Maryland side of the Potomac at Great Falls. With all the rain we've had, the river was in flood and the bridges closed so we couldn't get to see the Great Falls but it was still quite spectacular. The river was a muddy torrent over the dam and was overflowing its banks everywhere. The water in the canal was placid and a great contrast to what was going on along the river just feet away. It was also a great habitat for many water dwelling animals. We saw turtles, a snake, turkey vultures, great blue herons, hawks, some tiny grebes, mallards, cormorants, and more. While the trails away from the river had very few hikers, the towpath along the canal was packed. At one point, a toddler got away from her Dad and probably would have gone over the edge had I not grabbed her. Thankfully the Dad saw what had happened and thanked me rather than berating a stranger for grabbing his daughter.
Monday, April 18, 2011: Bethesda
Scott had to work today but my friends Dawn and Jeremy and their kids Bianca and Ethan are in town from the Boston area so I met up with them, left a car at a local mall, and went out to the Udvar-Hazy part of the Air and Space Smithsonian Museum at Dulles Airport.
I got to see the Enterprise (the shuttle that never went to space), a Concorde, a Blackbird, the Enola Gay (which may have been downtown at one point), a plane designed to be launched off of a submarine, and a great many other aircraft too numerous and large to fit in the museum on the Mall. I took part of a tour but left midstream when I realized I wouldn't have time to finish it and see everything else I wanted to see. I could easily kill a couple of days at the museum.
Back in Tyson's Corner where we had left the other car, I said good-bye to my friends, found a place to take a snooze in the car and then went to my friend, Ruth's, place for Passover Seder. She had put together a great haggadah and it was great to see her and the rest of her family. I just wish I had more time to hear about her latest trip to Afghanistan.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011: Bethesda
I took up Scott's offer to stay another night to run errands, rest, and try to get some of my taxes done. Since I returned from Peru in August of 2009, I've been struggling with a fatigue issue. Small efforts wipe me out quickly and if I put in a big day, it can be days before I feel like I have any energy. It's beginning to be apparent how this is going to affect my travels.
Specialists haven't been able to track down the problem and I'm hoping it resolves itself. In any case, as frustrating as traveling like this is, it'll be a nice break from lots of doctor's appointments.
So, I managed to get some new custom Superfeet made, I didn't buy a hard drive from Micro Center, and I shopped for food to keep in the car. I managed to complete my federal taxes but need some information from home to complete my state taxes. Those will wait until I get home.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011: Bethesda, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV
I did laundry again this morning. Every easy opportunity means that much more time until I need to do laundry again. I made one more supermarket stop to get fresh baked trail magic goodies and made my way to the highway. It was a mostly easy ride to the Washington Monument State Park. At the very end, there was a sign indicated the road was closed – open to local traffic only. Not knowing if the monument was on the local side of things or not, I drove up anyway and encountered the construction worker who waved me through. Phew! I really didn't want to have to drive all the way around.
I found the AT crossing before I got to the park entrance but it was muddy and while there were fresh prints there, it was unclear if they were Gabe's, aka 3Stove, the thruhiker I had been in touch with who was due to come through today with White Fang.
So, I pulled into the park, put a note on the trail, and just watched and waited. I was surprised at the number of section hikers who passed by (the Spring Break crowd as it turned out) but it was pretty obvious when a couple of thruhikers wandered out of the woods. I called out “3Stove” but neither were him. They were Renaissance and Bundy. It turns out 3Stove hadn't left Harpers Ferry at 4:30am like he had indicated in his email to me. Instead, he left four hours earlier, just after midnight, to attempt the four state challenge. The challenge is a 40 miles stretch of trail from West Virginia through Virginia, Maryland, and into Pennsylvania. I had figured 3Stove would pass through the State Park based on the later starting time so ended up missing him completely. Oh well.
Bundy and Renaissance were the very happy recipients of the trail magic and sat down and took at least an hour long break, chowing down on the donuts, cookies, candy, fruit, and soda I had brought, before moving on to try to finish thirty miles for the day.
I went straight from there to Mark and John's, my friends in Harpers Ferry. It's always so relaxing to hang out there. I wasn't the only company they had this time around so after dinner, when Mark and John called it quits at 9pm, David and I stayed up to talk another hour.
Thursday, April 21, 2011: Harpers Ferry
This morning, I walked around the grounds for the first time ever, surprising given how many times I've been there. Then after breakfast, David and I helped John make short work of some of the mulching he needed to do. With me refilling the wheelbarrows when emptied and David forking mulch into the spots John pointed out, John was free to just put it where he wanted.
Then I went into town to see if anyone at the ATC office wanted to go to lunch. I saw Baboo there. He's a regular volunteer there and one of my paddling partners from my 2008 aquablaze of the Shenandoah. Laurie was swamped but when I told her I could spend some time volunteering that afternoon, and the project of the day was doing QA for the new ATC web site for which I actually had some qualifications, we had a quick lunch together and then I went to work looking for problems or consistency issues with site navigation. Even though I was told to concentrate on navigation and not content, I did spot a few problems with content along the way.
Friday, April 22, 2011: Harpers Ferry to Bear's Den Hostel
With rain forecast for all day, I decided to put my entry into Shenandoah National Park off for one more day. So, I went back to the ATC and volunteered my services once again. And when they had yet more computer work to be done, I brought my own laptop in, rightly thinking it would be faster than the dinosaur they have available for public use in the visitor's center. I spent about six hours capturing as many of the informational pages relevant to hikers as possible and creating Word documents out of them. Originally, they had split the work amongst the three professional staff in the Information Center but it ended up being a busy day so one by one, I was able to take each of their assignments and after establishing a routine of sorts, do all of them quickly and easily.
It was late by the time I finished these but it had to be done. Then a late lunch again with Laurie.
By the time we got back to the ATC offices, the new site was up.
After some more shopping, I made my way to Bears Den Hostel. It was good to see Hopeful and Redwing again. Hikelet now has a little brother.
The only available bunks were top bunks, not my favorite given my knees, but I was able to make it work by finding a table to use as a step stool. I wasn't hungry so kept putting off making dinner. Then Hopeful offered me some leftover squash filled ravioli which turned out to be delicious with tomato sauce on it and just enough to make a good, light dinner.
I stayed up late enough to hear part of a talent show that a group of Korean kids put on. They were staying at the hostel while in the area to work on a Habitat for Humanity project. I don't know if they were from an Arts school, but there was quite a bit of talent in the group. The only problem is they were out late and didn't start the talent show until after many of the other hostelers had gone to bed and were trying to sleep.
Saturday, April 23, 2011: Bears Den Hostel to Gravel Springs Hut, Shenandoah National Park
It was another rainy morning and as long as I made myself useful, Hopeful was glad to have me around even though this hostel is usually closed during the day. I stripped beds, wiped surfaces, swept floors, etc.
The rain finally showed signs of quitting later in the afternoon so I eventually took off, stopped in Front Royal for some more trail magic treats, and drove into Shanandoah National Park. As expected based on a bnews article I had just read, there were no fees for entering the park this week and I was told that I was good to stay in the park for up to a week without having to pay an entry fee.
I stopped at the Dickey Ridge Visitor's Center and got a free backcountry permit for Gravel Springs Hut and was soon rearranging my backpack and car. I had a sort of progressive meal, preparing bits and pieces and then eating bits and pieces as I drove further into the park and stopped at overlooks along the way. By the time I got to the nearest parking area to the hut, I was ready to hike in.
It was an easy and short hike in and I was surprised to find thruhikers Foster's and Victus there. As such, I hadn't come prepared and had left everything in the car. So, since there was plenty of room in the shelter, I dropped my pack and went back up to my car and brought down a bunch of stuff for the hikers.
Gaia, Foster's dog, met me on the trail and walked back up to the trail junction with me. I went to the car, grabbed munchies, and when I came back to the junction, she wasn't there. When I got back to the shelter, she wasn't there, either. I told Foster where I had last seen her as she had gotten off leash accidentally and he was going to have to go find her. She normally stays with him but doesn't like smoke so had gone off on her own. It's a National Park and she's supposed to stay on leash.
There were some section hikers there including two women, and a man and his son. With permission, I gave the son a soda and left the rest of the sodas on the table for those who wanted them. The chips were a welcome addition to the beer the hikers were already drinking.
Some maintainers thought they were doing the hikers a favor by cutting some logs into short enough sections to fit in the fire pit but they did no favors when they didn't split them. These hikers had decided to burn three huge logs. They were nowhere near burned when it was time to hit the sack. And, the hikers weren't even going to try to put out the fire when they went to sleep. When I said something, they said “it's in a fire pit, there's no need to put it out.” I pointed out that it was windy and a bad idea to leave it burning. I didn't bring much with me so had nothing to go get water to use to put the fire out. They finally brought some water over and were about to pour the whole thing on the fire which wouldn't have done much good. I stopped them and started sprinkling the fire, turning the coals and the logs as I went. It was apparent that I was able to extinguish most of the coals and two of the logs but I went to sleep wondering about the third log.
Sunday, April 24, 2011: Gravel Springs Hut to Pass Mountain Hut
Sure enough, I woke up at dawn with that third log coming back to life. But, having slowly burned from the inside out all night, it broke into three small logs and would likely burn itself out before we all left the hut. I did my best to help them along but left before the rest and encouraged them to ensure that one last log was out cold before leaving.
Back at my car, I changed and then waited for the hikers to come up to give them some fresh fruit I had in the car. I took their garbage, too.
I then started driving slowly, watching for wildlife and turning into the overlooks on the way to Elk Wallow wayside. I got there shortly before 9am when the bathrooms usually open but a nice lady that I recognized from my time at the wayside during my 2008 hike came out and opened them up early. I then made my way to Thornton Gap to get a permit for four more nights in the huts and with plenty of time to kill, went back to the wayside. I hung out, ate lunch, caught up on my journal, read more of Jared Diamond's “Collapse” and ran into Solitaire, another thruhiker. [This may have happened on the 25th.]
I eventually made my way back to Thornton Gap, made sandwiches for dinner and packed them along with all sorts of trail magic and humped all that up the hill to the Pass Mountain Shelter. Diggit was apologetic for taking the trail magic because he was going to be getting off the trail in Harpers Ferry. But he had walked there from Georgia and I assured hime that he had nothing to apologize for. I shared the trail magic with a section hiking couple, Nimblefeet and Bearchaser and enjoyed swapping tales with a Dad and his two kids out for a first but obviously not last backpacking trip with his kids.
Monday, April 25, 2011: Pass Mountain Hut to Rock Spring Hut
I took my time leaving the shelter today and by the time I got back to Thornton Gap, it was too hot to walk the road to the parking lot so I stuck with the trail for a bit longer. As I started driving, I saw my first deer in the park alongside the road and was surprised to have not seen any sooner.
A short while later, while parked at the Tunnel Overlook, a man told me about a bear cub in a tree a couple of overlooks further on. Sure enough, when I got there, it was easy to find given the tourists with their cameras pointed in its direction. But it was high up in a tree, well off the road, and not being bothered by the attention. I walked the road to a better vantage point, got some pictures and just watched it for a while. Then back at the overlook, I saw a family hanging out on some rocks. When I went over to see the view from their rocks, they mentioned they were watching a bear. Sure enough, there was another bear. I had only heard about the one I had already seen so I mentioned I was happy to see two. They didn't even know about the bear everyone else had been looking at so I pointed that one out to them. As I watched this second bear, it climbed further up its tree, and then down out of sight. So, I think this family and myself were the only ones to have seen both bears. Needless to say, I feel very lucky.
At Skyland, I got some ice for my cooler, got online, and eventually went for a ranger led talk about “Ancient Volcanoes.” Our guide, Mara, (yes, she had my name, too) showed us the difference between different types of volcanic rock along the A.T. as well as the hexagonal basalt columns on the A.T. that many of us are more familiar with from places like Devil's Postpile, Devil's Tower, and other similar locales. I recognized similar formations when visiting a dry waterfall in El Salvador as well as during my Overland Track hike in Tasmania, Australia.
This was also the stretch of trail where I remembered seeing a sow and cub during my 2008 hike.
Back at Skyland, I ate a quesadilla and eventually left for the trailhead only to find it closed and under construction. So, I ended up parking a mile down the road and had to do the mile road walk just to get to the fire road into the hut.
I got in much later than expected and was surprised to find only two hikers at the hut, Magic Bag, a thruhiker, and Jim, a man who gave me a funny look when I introduced myself. It turns out we know each other electronically. We're both on the AT-L, the Appalachian Trail backcountry.net mailing list. He recognized me when I gave my trail name but mentioned I wasn't thruhiking now. We were soon joined by Tigger, Red Rider, and Flying Squirrel, three more hikers getting in very late for thruhikers.
Do four thruhikers, one former thruhiker, and one wannabee in one place on the trail qualify as a mini-Ruck?
There was a lot more lightning but no rain here. But it did remind me that I was here on July 4 in '08 watching the fireworks in the towns below from the cabin just below the shelter. There was also thunder and lightning storms around that night but also pouring down rain in '08. Glad not to have that on the trail this year.
The salty chips I brought in were very welcome after a very hot and sweaty day for the thruhikers.
Bedtime was after 10pm – very late for hikers but not surprising given that some didn't get in until nearly dark.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011: Rock Spring Hut to Bear Fence Hut
While not very early, I did want to get out before the heat of the day hit the road as I had that road walk to reverse – this time going marginally uphill. I was hoping to get a ride but nobody offered so I just walked. I went back to Skyland to use their internet and saw Flying Squirrel and Red Rider there. Flying Squirrel needed to recharge his iPod so we plugged it into my computer's USB port while I got online. We sat and talked until lunchtime. At one point, Red Rider mentioned hitching from Partnership shelter to Marion and having an old lady in a small car going the other way stop and ask them “Trail names?”. Before he could get any further, I stopped him and much to his amazement asked “Kinnickinic?” Sure enough, it was a trail angel I know from the AT-L mailing list who also did trail magic for me in 2007. She turned around and brought them to town, too.
At this point, I moved on to Big Meadows. I ate at the Wayside, spent time at the Visitor's Center exploring their display about Shenandoah, and tried to nap in the car but it was too hot sitting in the sun in the parking lot.
I eventually went on to the trailhead for the shelter and got to watch a road painting crew do their thing.
There were on and off showers all afternoon with rumbles of thunder mixed in. I sat out one shower in my car and then made my way to the shelter – the shortest hike so far at only .25 mile or so.
There was nobody at the shelter but a Nikon lens cap was on the table. I put it in my camera bag to bring out the next day but the owner showed up to reclaim it – that's much easier.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011: Bear Fence Hut to Pinefield Hut
I woke up to fog and dripping trees which was no surprise after my early morning, when it was still dark, run to a tree. It was very wet then, too. There was no real rain this morning but just a lot of mist and everything was wet.
I took my time this morning, eating, packing, and reading before heading back to my car. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was nearly 9am when I got to my car. I had feared it would still be much earlier. The fog was so dense on the parkway that I rarely approached 35mph while driving to Lewis Campground.
When the staff there couldn't confirm one way or another whether the Birds of Prey program at Big Meadows would be on or not this morning, I drove back to find out. It turns out, they hold the programs even when raining as long as there isn't thunder and lightning. I dressed for the wet but was happy when John Manko, the ranger, pulled out a squeegee and towel to dry off some of the benches. One of the kids from a family there for the program dried off a few benches (optimistic!) and then we sat down to a program featuring a Barred Owl and a tiny Saw-whet Owl. There was a family of four, a couple and myself there for the program. All of the birds they use for the program are rehabilitated but deemed unfit to survive in the wild on their own. A few deer wandered past during the program, too.
It spat a little and the sun came out every now and then, but mostly it was a cool and windy day. I read and listened to NPR in the car and then had lunch in the wayside where I met Waterbear on his way out as I went in. I met Rev, an eight year and counting section hiker who came in and joined me as I ate lunch.
Then I made it to the “All About Bears” talk given by Mara, the same ranger I had met a couple of day ago, which mostly reinforced information I already knew but I was glad it was more about bears than what to do during bear encounters. At 3:00 with the weather mostly clear, I went on the “Meadow” walk and learned how Big Meadow is kept cleared in thirds by mowing, burning, and just leaving fallow for one year at a time. The meadow itself is much smaller now than it once was.
The history of the meadow is interesting but Kate, our ranger guide, didn't delve too deep into the prehistory. She mostly concentrated on the CCC camp and history of the local family that lived here at the time the CCC came in.
Tornado watches for the entire state and warnings for some specific areas didn't bode well for the weather tonight but I managed to drive to the trail head and get to the hut before the weather turned ominously dark and it started to thunder.
Like last night, there's nobody else here at the shelter so I'll likely have it to myself tonight. The whippoorwill that just started up seemed to be chased off by my poor imitation. That's a good thing. If you've ever tried to sleep with a whippoorwill calling not far away, well, let's just say it's annoying.
One shower did come through this evening and more is likely but with the limited sight distance at this shelter, it's hard to tell. The lack of views here are more than made up for by the burbling streams here.
Thursday, April 28, 2011: Pinefield Hut to Waynesboro, VA
Wow! What a day! Last night's thunder eventually turned to lightning before I went to sleep. Then, at 3am, the rain came pounding on the roof and woke me up. Of course my bladder kicked right in so I waited for a lull and made my way out of the hut to find a tree. Sometime after I crawled back in but before I fell asleep, I heard a loud metallic clang. I couldn't imagine what could have caused such a clang in the vicinity of the shelter in the middle of the night so I looked around and when the shelter looked OK and my food bag was still hung on the bear pole, I shrugged and went back to sleep. It was about 5am.
When I got up at 8am, I realized at that point that while my food was still hung on the pole, the incredibly heavy poles they leave to help hang food bags was off its own hook. Given that it was too heavy to blow off and extremely unlikely to fall off, I assumed a bear may have knocked it off though the ground was covered in needles so there were no prints.
It was a rainy morning and I made it back to my car mostly successfully between showers. I went to the Loft Mountain Wayside only to find they had a blackout. Not only that, but Lewis Mountain and Big Meadows were also affected. It turns out they get their power from the town below and the entire town was without power having been knocked out by the storms.
As the day went on and news that almost 300 had been killed, a blackout, as annoying as it might be, didn't seem all that bad though I did feel for the thruhikers I met at the wayside who had been hoping and maybe counting on lunch at the Wayside.
I had a permit for two more nights camping in the backcountry but decided to head for Waynesboro instead so that I would get there during the week. As is my wont, I pulled into every open viewpoint along the way. Many are closed in preparation for the 75th anniversary of the park this year. Many of the southern viewpoints have the AT going through them. At one, I met Niners, Stillwater, and Katmandu. At another, Spam and his Dad, John, then Kodiak and Teddy (two of the three bears), and d'Artignon (sic), followed by the Corsican who was surprised and a bit disappointed to find out he wasn't the first Corsican to have thruhiked the trail, and then Ghost pulled in too.
At Rockfish Gap outfitters, I met the Red Team (Riding Hood and Wagon), a couple who needed a ride to town. After dropping them off, I was on my way to the YMCA when I ran into the Three Amigos, Sgt. Pepper, South Butt, and Leaf Guy, who were looking for a nearby B&B. They had know each other since kindergarten and were celebrating one of their birthdays. I got them piled into the car and drove to the B&B only to find out they didn't have room at the Inn. So I brought them with me to the YMCA.
The Y is still putting hikers in awe at their generosity. They provide free showers, will allow hikers to leave their packs there during the day, give them goodie bags with everything from toiletries to munchies, and provide a free place to camp along the river. While in town, I would be hanging out at the river a lot in order to help out hikers.
Waynesboro also has a listing of trail angels and phone numbers so that hikers could make phone calls and get a local to come drive them to or from the trail and then around town if they needed to go somewhere beyond normal “town” walking distance.
So, I drove over the the campsite and there, I met Sqush (sic), Polo (from Spain), and Silver Heels, a guy I knew from marathon porch sitting at Miss Janet's in 2007.
Used the wifi at the library and then had AYCE dinner with the guys at Ming's. I mostly ate peel and eat shrimp and sushi, leaving the Mongolian barbecue, Chinese, pizza, and other options for others. I dropped off the guys at Oasis, a bar, so that they could celebrate with South Butt who was legal for the first time that day.
I found ice and wireless at the fast food central part of town then talked with Polo for a while before turning in. I set my alarm for an early wake up in case I felt like getting up for the Royal Wedding.
Friday, April 29, 2011: Waynesboro
I got up to my alarm and decided to hit a wifi hotspot to watch the Royal Wedding. Along the way, I started listening to the silliest BBC broadcast I had ever heard. While the wedding may be news, the coverage of the wedding was the biggest fluff piece I've ever heard on the BBC. Even still, when I finally got online, I realized the radio had much better commentary than the video feed. For about five hours, I watched and listened to the analysis of the clothing, hats, transport, ceremony, and crowds. When it was done, I was disappointed to find my inverter hadn't worked as promised and depleted my battery to the point where it wouldn't start the car. With nobody around, I called AAA and quickly got a jump. Live and learn.
Back at the campsite, with no hikers needing shuttles, I went and did laundry. I also made dinner plans with the Radney's, a couple I knew first from the PCT, then CDT, and finally from my 2008 AT section hike.
I ran some errands and hit the library, typing until I was too tired to type any more.
At the campsite, I met V-8, a 28 year old Japanese man finishing the Triple Crown with his AT thruhike. He's doing Ray Jardine proud with very lightweight homemade gear, and moving 20+ miles per day. V-8 ended up joining me for dinner and there was no surprise that he knew some of the same people Walt and Pat knew, especially the prior Japanese hikers.
After dinner, I took V-8 to do his laundry and ran into Rusty at the laundromat. I had been planning on visiting him the next day. He has a homestead on the Blue Ridge Parkway and has been hosting hikers for years. I stayed there in '99 and hadn't managed to get back since. I know he enjoys when us old timers and alumni stop by.
Saturday, April 30: Waynesboro to Rusty's Hard Time Hollow
I woke up with a hankering for Weasie's, a greasy spoon type of diner popular with thruhikers for their large portions and AYCE pancakes. Thinking it might be my big meal of the day, I had the three smaller pancakes, one egg, and bacon. Kevin, Windscreen chowed down on humongous omelets and V-8 did the chipped beef gravy on two biscuits proud. He likes the variety in American food and described the typical breakfast in Japan with rice, miso soup, and maybe some fish which to most Americans sounds nothing like breakfast food.
Went to the library for a couple of hours then packed up and met Grizz '10 and his girlfriend who were hanging out at the campground and going to lunch with the other couple of hikers who had come in the night before. I went to Riverfest, a one day festival in town. Much was geared towards kids but not all. There were plenty of groups there espousing environmental protection. Reptile World was there introducing kids and their parents to an Alligator Snapping turtle, American Alligators, Nile Crocodile, Spotted Lizard, Albino Python, Anaconda, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Copperhead, and a Pakistani Cobra. The Wildlife Center of Virginia was also there with an opossum, screech owl, broad winged hawk and more.
A hot dog sufficed for lunch after my big breakfast and I used the opportunity to recycle the cans from my car at the recycle bins at the festival. The local supermarket had taken my cardboard earlier in the day. It's getting harder to find recycle opportunities as I get further south.
I saw Venudo's father at the library. He's still finishing up the section of trail he didn't do last year while accompanying his eight year old son on his successful thuhike.
I stopped at Martin's Supermarket, then got gas for $3.69 (it's getting cheaper as I go south), grabbed a quick sandwich at Wendy's and finally hit the Blue Ridge Parkway after 6pm. It was too late to spend time at the Humpback Rocks Visitor's Center and overlooks though I did drive through most of them. I did stop to talk to one thruhiker, Ali Baba, who was already talking to the park rangers who had stopped just ahead of me to make sure he was OK. He was eating the last of five cans(!?) of Chef Boyardee's and was too stuffed to eat any of the donuts I offered to him. We all grinned at at the next comical moment when I turned to the Rangers, the police of the Parkway, and asked if they would like any donuts. They laughed and one said thanks but he just couldn't perpetuate the stereotype. LOL
The hiker did accept a soda. My current selection is orange and birch beer. I never buy the typical colas or lemon-lime flavors and hikers are always surprised and happy for a change of flavor.
The rangers were able to direct me to Rusty's, giving me landmarks that turned out to be very helpful. I had last been there in 1999. It was easy to find and going very slowly, I made it down the long drive even in my front wheel drive vehicle without high clearance. It wasn't quite as bad as the Steens Mountain road I drove on in eastern Oregon with my Mazda Protege back in 2003
It was good to see Rusty. I know he misses hikers and wishes more would stop by, whether first timers or alumni like myself stopping in for a short visit or to stay awhile. Having run into him yesterday, he was looking forward to my visit so he could get some work done topping an apple tree that had grown too tall. He didn't want to do the work when he was alone in case there was a problem so I just watched as he climbed the ladder into the tree and took off the top. Thankfully, there were no accidents and the work was done in short order.
We then did some good porch sitting until it got too cold and then moved inside. By 10pm, it was bed time and I got situated in the alumni hostel to sleep. I had stayed in the same room as a thruhiker but things have changed. The Hollow now has electricity. The Hollow is also for sale. Whoever buys it will have the only address actually on the Blue Ridge parkway.
Sunday, May 1, 2011: Rusty's Hard Time Hollow to Punchbowl Shelter
I woke up and managed to get to the privy and my car without waking Socks, the dog that barks a lot. I did some fine porch sitting, writing in my journal and reading until Rusty got up. We brainstormed about the state of things for a while and eventually went to brunch at Shoney's. I managed one breakfast plate, one salad, one chicken plate, and one dessert plate. I joked that it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It rained on and off on the way back to the Hollow but mostly stopped by the time we got there. I hadn't taken pictures of Rusty the night before so he went and posed for some pictures up the apple tree. Then I took more for myself around the homestead.
I left around 4pm, headed for the Punchbowl Shelter but giving myself time to stop here and there along the way. One couple turned me onto a turnout with some historic railroad and a beautiful waterfall. Without their guidance, I probably would have missed it because there was no real indication of the waterfall from the sign at the parking area.
While only .5 mile from the trail head, I neglected to look at the terrain and the Punchbowl Shelter was .5 straight UP from the trail head. Four section hikers at the shelter from Indiana, Beacon, Salty Hiker (Larry), Jim, and Bailout Betty, know some of the Indiana hikers I know. A southbound hiker came in when it was almost dark. But most were tenting and only one Indiana hiker and I were in the shelter.
My Shoney's brunch, as it turns out, was dinner, too. At the shelter, I was still too full to contemplate eating a meal so I forced a few Fig Newtons to ensure I didn't wake up hungry in the middle of the night. With no bear reports in the shelter, I just mouse bagged in the shelter.
The Indiana hikers had bear bagged but at least one just hung a bear pinata. LOL I figured that would be easier pickings than even the stuff in the shelter.
Punchbowl Shelter has a small pond known for its frog population. It didn't disappoint tonight. There were three different types of frog calls. The usual peepers, something that trills, and something that croaks. There were no bullfrogs here tonight but I've heard them here before.
The privy here is quite a haul. It's literally over the river and through the woods. Well, sort of anyway. It's across the creek, through the woods, and along the edge of the meadow. I hope I don't need it in the middle of the night.
Monday, May 2, 2011: Punchbowl Shelter to Thunder Hill Shelter
After a night of being serenaded by the three different types of frogs active in the pond, I walked down the hill back to my car and waited there for the section hikers to come down a short time after me. They helped make short work of the donuts in my car that didn't seem like they were going to find any thruhikers to eat them.
Moving south along the Parkway, I found the only open campground along the Parkway but they had very little information to offer me. But the caretaker told me to hop in her car and she drove me down to the Visitor's Center which would still be closed and opened it up for me. We went in and perused the offerings there even though it hadn't been stocked yet for the season. There wasn't much there but the concept of her doing this for me was really nice and I knew I would just figure it out as I went along.
I then went into Glasgow. I met a trail angel there from Lynchburg. Tried to find a place to eat in town and failed so ate in the car. I made some phone calls and it looks like my friend Tom will be joining me for at least part of my Florida trip. He's the friend who also joined me for part of my southeast Asia trip. I went back to the library to try to catch the shuttle launch on my computer but found it was postponed until at least May 8. I met Ducky there, a thruhiker likely on his way to a Peace Corps assignment teaching math.
I stopped at the James River Appalachian Trail crossing but there was no activity there so I didn't hang out for long. Then I stopped at the locks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Visitor's Center is on one side and you walk on a walkway under the bridge to get to the lock along the canal on the other side. I stopped at the restrooms before walking across and saw one of the most unusual moths I've ever seen. It was a very pretty yellow and pink moth, the colors of Easter and little girls favorite things. The wings were striped and the body mostly yellow though the belly was pink. The legs were pink and there was a black dot-like eye mark. It was very fuzzy. It was literally hanging out under the “Women's” sign and had to shift each time the door opened but didn't seem at all perturbed when the door did open. [Later research showed it to be the Rosy Maple Moth.]
Walking across the river, there were a lot of cliff swallows nesting under the upper bridge so I could see them coming and going from their nests. Sometimes the little ones would poke a head or beak out of the nest.
The locks here looked similar to those at the C&O Canal.
Moving on, I met Dr. Zhivago at Petites Gap who was happy to munch on soda and Fig Newtons. Then I passed the trail crossing a could of times before I found it. Usually, broken grass can signal the trail but here, the grass wasn't all that stressed but I did eventually find the trail head. As directed, I was told that as long as all four wheels are off the pavement, I was parked legally. So, I parked on the grass a little way down from the trail so it wouldn't be immediately obvious why the car was there and walked in to the shelter for the night.
Along the short walk to the shelter, there was Trillium, Azalea, and some cool looking spiraling flower.
At the shelter, I found a hiker who looked like he might be squatting but he wasn't. He just wasn't at all knowledgeable and didn't seem interested in learning from others. He wasn't thruhiking and he wasn't carrying the type of gear I would expect a computer programmer to have.
Handstand showed up just shortly after me and while being more fit that I ever was or will be, seemed to think very much like me in terms of gear and hiking style. He's willing to learn and we had a few laughs when I would mention something gearwise and he would pull the item out of his pack. I mentioned a pot cozy and he pulled one out of his pack and then mentioned using a medicine bottle rather than a bottle that could be mistaken for someone's water bottle and he pulled a medicine bottle out of his pack, too. There were other instances like that, too.
The three of us shared the shelter and talked tech stuff for a while and then Handstand and I journaled before calling it a night. There were a few peepers in the vicinity but they would quit peeping every time the wind blew.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011: Thunder Hill Shelter to Bobbletts Gap Shelter
I was taking my time in the morning until I remembered I was heading to the Peaks of Otter to do some hiking. Even still, by the time I got back to my car, drove to the lodge to get information about the hike, ate breakfast, changed, and got to the trail head, it was after 10am. The trail was easy even though it climbed 1,200' in only 1.5 miles. There was Mountain Laurel blooming and one Tulip Poplar dropping flowers already.
It was a nice hike though very hazy. There were a lot of millipedes on the trail at one point. There were not very many people on the trail though the forecast for afternoon thunderstorms may have contributed to that. On the way down, I saw a grouping of dead trees that seemed to be a favorite roosting place for a number of vultures. If they weren't roosting, they would fly around and then return.
Back at the car, I realized that the Visitor's Center across the street was open. There, I found Penny to be very helpful. She was able to give me information about when campgrounds, visitor's centers, and other Parkway attractions would be open. She also helped me with the initial identification of the pink and yellow moth I had seen yesterday. It was the Rosy Maple Moth.
She was then able to tell me exactly where the next few A.T. crossings would be along the Parkway. At one crossing, I met a local trail angel and three hikers, Catfish, Blaze, and Darvey. Darvey stayed and talked for a while but with an impending storm, we both wanted to get to shelter before getting wet.
Finding Bobbletts Gap was easy. There was even an A.T. sign along the parkway marking the parking area. But once parked, finding the trail was another story. There were no directional signs in the parking lot and the trail didn't actually come to the lot but I finally found one long disused access road leading to another rarely used fire road that lead to the trail crossing. From there, it looked familiar.
I didn't really have to walk on the A.T. as the access trail to the shelter lead off from this point. It was all downhill to the shelter. I laughed when I saw a hammock hanger who had put his hammock, right across the unfortunately cut switchback that could perhaps use a bit better brushing out. But at least with the hammock there, others would be less likely to cut that switchback.
At the shelter, there was quite a crowd. I found four section hikers and a thruhiker there. The thruhiker, Cosmic Zian, had already eaten, was lying down, and had no interest in trail magic. He seemed rather taciturn and didn't contribute to the conversation. It was too early for anyone to think that maybe he wanted to sleep and was mad that we were making so much noise. Who knows? Another thruhikier, Savage, soon came in and was extremely happy to partake of a few extra goodies. He even wanted suggestions for ways to lighten his load. For example, when I saw he was carrying lots of fully hydrated pudding cups, he was very happy to find out he could make instant pudding on the trail and carry powder instead.
The rains came as anticipated around 7:30pm and by 8pm thunder and lightning were moving through and the temperature was dropping. It is shortly after 8pm and the shelter is going to sleep already. This is crazy to me. I'll be up for at least an hour, reading, just so I don't end up waking up at 4am.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011: Bobbletts Gap Shelter to Cloverdale
I woke early to a wet and dripping but not raining morning. I couldn't believe it when Cosmic Zian started smoking in the shelter. When I asked him not to, I was even more taken aback when he refused to put out the cigarette or go outside and instead defiantly indicated that he wasn't going to stand in the rain. I was flabbergasted as I don't think I've ever seen a hiker smoke in a shelter when others were present much less seemingly be surprised when someone indicated displeasure. Unfortunately, nobody else said anything.
When Tennessee Ted and I walked out at about the same time, he indicated that he was leaving in such a rush because he didn't want to be around Cosmic either. I just wish he had said something earlier, too.
I stopped at one overlook not far from Bobbletts Gap for the spectacular view of fog racing up the ridge on either side of the overlook but not on the overlook. I stayed there so long that Tennessee Ted, a section hiker going southbound, caught up to me there. He then caught up with me at two other overlooks, too, when I stopped for the views and to do trail magic for other northbound hikers. I met Frank the Tank at one of the overlooks and then Sargasso at the other. At the last overlook where the A.T. intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway, I met Mainiac (from Maine), Battlecat and her husband or significant other Over the Top, Wobegon, Sniffer, Shoefly and Nero (a couple), and Cayenne, a woman I met in 2008 out trying to thruhike again after an injury forced her off the trail on her first try.
In town, I ended up hanging out with Enzed, a woman from New Zealand, Mammoth, a very large man from Germany, Colonel, Cascade and his dog Sierra, Lego, and Redwood. I also met four other southbound guys doing a section, four other northbound thruhikers, saw a young couple, and were joined at dinner by Firefly and Crank Daddy.
I did some running around town for the hikers. I did a HEET run with one hiker, ran to Gander Mountain with a carfull of hikers, and ran a hiker from the local outfitter to her hotel and back to the outfitter when she had forgotten something she needed.
The gang I hung out with let me use their shower which was nice. I had been trying to find some hikers to share a motel room with but the groups I found were either couples not looking for more or already full up. So, I'm doing the Walmart lot thing for the first time on this trip.
It was this group of hikers I went to dinner with. We went to the Mexican Restaurant so that some of the gang could watch the soccer match while eating dinner but the TVs were only in the pub. Unfortunately, they still allow smoking in the bar portion of restaurants here and it was too smoky for me so we ended up splitting the gang up. I sat in the restaurant with a couple of the other guys who were equally averse to smoke and that's when we were joined by Firefly and Crank Daddy. They just wandered in and as they were looking around they spied us as we spied them and I guess we all looked enough like hikers that we just asked for their trail names and that broke the ice. So we invited them to join us.
As for hikers, I am no longer meeting those that started on March 1. There were more than 20 by one hiker's count and I probably met more than half of them. When I leave this area, I'll be following the Blue Ridge Parkway which is no longer concurrent with the Appalachian Trail so don't expect to see many hikers. That should mean that I start moving a bit faster. But, I do expect to make a bunch of side trips along the way to see friends along the way.
Thursday, May 5, 2011: Cloverdale
I slept well last night with my car tucked between an SUV and a travel van. I grabbed a yogurt and banana for breakfast when I went into the store for my usual morning routine. The local library was nearby and I was happy to be able to use their wireless from the car even before the place opened. I spent the morning and part of the afternoon dealing with the type of personal administration stuff that just couldn't wait any longer. I took a break at one point and pulled into a Sonic for the first time ever. I had once before eaten at Sonic but as a walk-up hiker in Erwin, TN. This time, I realized that my car was well shaded and while there were plenty of available stalls, I could just stay there and make my calls in the relatively cool environment. I stayed for two hours.
At that point, I ran some more errands and by the time I was done I gave up on getting back to the Blue Ridge today. So, I went into Roanoke and found a barbecue place for dinner. But I saw a spectacular looking salad on the way in so instead of pulled pork, I ate a wonderful taco salad. I miss salads when I travel. At home, I eat salad for at least one meal almost every day.
After dinner, I wandered the Railwalk that I had last visited in 2007 when I got off the A.T. Then I walked over the Martin Luther King Bridge and sat at one of the benches and listened to his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech which in some ways was more inspired, if not more inspiring than his "dream" speech. Moving on, I found a group of Virginia Tech students (mostly graduate students, I think) showcasing a variety of vehicles using new technology. One was an unmanned plane used for search and rescue. Another an electric motorbike and and third a human powered submarine. There were more.
I eventually made my way back to the library and watch some TV online. Then back to Walmart for the night. This might have been my first day without a thruhiker contact since April 20. I should have one more opportunity to hang out with hikers at Kincorra.
Friday, May 6, 2011: Cloverdale to Axton
After another good night's sleep, I woke up early and went back to the library to check email and kill time until I could make a business call. I hit the road and got back to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Roanoke Mountain loop was a nice diversion and I was glad to get there early enough to finish long before the promised rain threatened.
I got to one viewpoint with views to both the east and west. I stayed there to watch a spectacular storm come in and visibility turn to near zero for a few minutes with heavy wind that rocked the car quite alarmingly. I moved on and was glad to have the protection of the trees alongside the road and then stopped opposite the Rocky Knob Visitor's Center to let the rest of the storm pass by. I used the time to update my journal.
After the storm passed by, I moved on to Mabry Mill, probably the most photographed place along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The water in the races was turning the wheel but there would be nothing ground at the mill under Memorial Day. Still, it was interesting to see a working mill with grindstone, sawmill, and lathe. They can only run one at a time, moving the fabric belts to turn the desired element. A series of pulleys, belts, and a clutch controls which of the wheels in the mill are turned and a control lever in the mill determines how much water runs through the races and therefore how fast the mill wheel turns. Then 10:1 and 5:2 ratio wheels magnify how fast the mill machinery turns.
Other than the mill, a blacksmith shop, whiskey still, sorghum evaporator, and more rounded out the items of interest at the mill site.
Saturday, May 7, 2011: Axton, VA to unmarked road along the Parkway, NC
Spent most of the morning in Axton before moving on. Before getting back on the Parkway, I bought a couple of pounds of fudge, partly courtesy of the section hikers I met at Punchbowl Shelter. I knew I would be getting to Kincorra within a day or two and there would be a lot of hungry hikers there.
I pulled off the road for lunch at one point and ran into a bunch of motorcyclists. There was one individual and one group giving each other tips. The group left and I talked with the individual a bit. He also gave me some tips including that the Cherohala Skyway I had been reading about was a worthwhile side trip.
I continued south, stopping at all the overlooks including all those that are no longer overlooks. Whether on purpose or through budgets cuts, the vegetation below the overlooks is growing to the point where the overlooks no longer over look anything below. Many have no more views. While I believe there are many areas with too many overlooks and therefore have no problems with letting some grow, I think many over the overlook signs should either be removed or changed to “parking” signs so that those traveling like I am don't waste gas and cause delays as we wait to cross traffic to pull into these parking areas that no longer have views. Not only that, but all of us that cross traffic to pull into overlooks only to just pull back across traffic to get back on the road cause that many more opportunities for accidents.
I pulled into the Music Center Visitor's Center and was surprised to find a National Parks Ranger with a variety of instruments, giving a bit of history of each, and playing each of them. The ranger played a hammered dulcimer, a dulcimer, an auto-harp, and a dobro. I had never thought of a musician as having a skill sought after by the National Park Service.
I crossed into North Carolina and soon noticed the trail markers for the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). I knew the trail went over Mount Mitchell but I hadn't realized that it paralleled the Parkway for that long. Given that, it made me wonder where MST hikers camp and I realized I could probably stealth the same way they do. At route 421, I saw a car with an MST sign on it. Then just a mile or two down the road, I saw a man walking the road and sure enough, it was the local maintainer for that section. He had just walked a section of trail and was walking the road back to his car.
After a brief talk, I turned the car around and parked so I could ask him some more detailed questions. He was able to give me suggestions for camping and even a place to park and sleep in the car. Given the forecast for yet more violent storms, I elected to find a place to park off the Parkway property and sleep in the car. I grabbed dinner at an overlook and walked a short trail at the Jeffers Brook Park before it got dark. As it started to get dark, I pulled into the place I selected for my overnight that I had scouted a few hours earlier. I knew the Parkway property wasn't very wide so pulled well off the parkway but just to be sure I didn't attract attention, I essentially went to sleep once it got dark.
Sunday, May 8, 2011: Unmarked road along the Parkway to Kincora Hostel, Hampton, TN
After going to sleep early, I was up at daybreak. I waited until it was light enough to see without headlights and then pulled back onto the Parkway. There had only been a few light showers overnight and there were still dry patches on the road under overhanging vegetation. A couple of deer and a turkey were early morning roadside foragers. I kept my speed down to give the best chance of spotting animals by the side of the road. A couple of overlooks sported views with undercast or fog.
I was soon off the parkway and heading through Boone. A bathroom break at McDonald's told me that Appalachian State University was having its graduation day. I was glad to be getting through town so early. They were already beginning to put out cones for alternative traffic management.
As I drove on, I was glad I hadn't tried to get to Hampton the night before. I was very tired and it would have been a difficult drive. Plus, my overnight parking spot was much better than Walmart had I only gotten part way.
I followed 321 to Hampton and was glad to recognize Dennis Cove Road. Sutton was out at Braemar Castle so stopped to say 'hi' and was surprised to find the castle closed for the season. Some personal issues made keeping the hostel open this year difficult but they are expecting to open again next year.
Up at Kincora, a popular A.T. hostel, it was nice to see Bob. Baltimore Jack was also there and Otto pulled in, too. Jack made me an egg on toast before leaving for Damascus where he was helping out at the outfitter for Trail Days. Ramblin' Man, someone I've known for years, was also there, volunteering for a while. I met Seiko, a multiple offender – someone who has hiked the A.T. more than once – in his case, quite a number of times. We have a number of mutual friends but had never met.
Being the weekend before Trail Days, it was no surprise that there were a lot of thruhikers there. I was surprised at the number of smokers there though. There are always thruhikers who smoke but to see so many in one place at one time surprised me.
The hikers made short work of the fudge I brought.
I eventually cooked one of the “hot” meals I've had in the car with me for weeks.
Later, I joined the group going to town and kept Bob company while the hikers shopped. We picked up a few groceries and I found some cinnamon rolls for the crowd to have for breakfast.
I then joined Bob, Seiko, Ramblin' Man, and Otto for dinner in Bob's house, somewhat of an honor for me to be included. Then it was time for some more porch sitting with a lot of interesting company. I moved my car to the flattest part of the driveway to go to sleep without taking up a hiker spot in the hostel.
Monday, May 9, 2011: Kincora
I woke up at 5:30 and found both Seiko and Ramblin' Man up. But I went back to sleep as the other did, too. I was surprised to wake up at 7:15 only when Otto and an early hiker greeted each other as they passed my car in the morning. I put the cinnamon rolls out for the hikers and let them know that there were only enough for one each.
I went into Elizabethton only to find the library closed for the day. So, I made some phone calls, found Sycamore Shoals/Watauga Fort which played a critical role in the war. I grabbed a pizza at L'il Ceasars and a bunch of donuts for the hikers for the next morning. I grabbed a pint of ice cream for myself and then drove back to the hostel. On the road up to the hostel, I passed Bob, the MRO van, a UPS truck, a motorcycle, a pickup, and more. The Caramel Kettle Popcorn ice cream was delicious.
Otto took his leave today.
I went back to town to keep Bob company again. It's not that he needs company but it's rare at the hostel to have any time to just talk with him given all the other demands on his time there. Back at the hostel, I once again had dinner in the house. This time, I stayed up until 11pm, late for hiker time.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011: Kincora to Asheville, NC
I was up before 7am and hung out for a little while before saying my good-byes and hitting the road. I'll miss Bob and Ramblin' Man. I met Anklebear at McDonald's for breakfast and while there, I checked my email. Then I hit the road. I stopped in Boone again to make some phone calls and find a Staples so I could receive and send a fax. It's amazing how easy it can be to get stuff done from the road now.
It was about noon when I finally got back on the road. I did a hike at Linville Falls, a beautiful falls with kettle holes and multiple levels. My next stop was the Cane House, a beautiful house with a large network of trails. The house is now an adjunct to the primary Folk Craft Center near Asheville. Late in the afternoon I drove up Mt. Mitchell and walked the path to the summit. This is another state high point for me and the highest point east of Mississippi.
There is camping on the mountain but given the severe shimmy my car has been experiencing every time I have to brake coming down hills, a frequent occurrence on the parkway, I wanted to get to town so I could have them checked in the morning. In town, I found the local Meineke so I could get there first thing in the morning. I settled in to the local Walmart lot only to have it start lightning as I was about to go to sleep. It was a warm and muggy night so I was loathe to go to sleep with the windows shut but I'm glad I did. It started to storm as I dropped off but it didn't keep me from falling asleep.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011: Asheville to Franklin
I woke up at 6:15 and made it into the store just as it started to pour complete with lots of thunder and lightning. By the time I was done using the bathroom and doing a bit of shopping, it had let up again. So, I made it to the Meineke well before the opening time of 7:30. I ate and waited for them to open. They opened late and then told me their mechanics wouldn't be in until 8am. Oh well. So much for getting there early. By 9am, I knew it was the rotors. Since he said I should replace the pads which still had ~10,000 miles left when I replace the rotors and that there was no danger or loss of braking power with the warped rotors, as long as I could stand the shimmy when I was driving, I decided to put off having the brakes fixed. Besides, the problem was barely noticeable in town and I would soon be out of the mountains. Before leaving, I left the mechanics some donuts that I shouldn't have bought to begin with.
I was soon backtracking on the Parkway to go to the Southern Highland Guild main building which just just a mile or so north of where I had gotten off yesterday. This building housed a much larger display than the Cone house, much of it for sale, but most of the second floor just for display as a museum might display items with interpretive displays. Here, they represented types of crafts and the history of these crafts. They were beautiful. A woodworker was on site turning ornaments and a brush maker was on site making decorative and functional brushes. This Blue Ridge Parkway Folks Arts Center was built by the guild and given to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I then continued south and stopped at the Visitor Center where I took the time to watch a 20 minute video. There were a few other stops where it would have been nice to stop and take a walk but I was tired today and there were Severe Storm Warnings in the area. Plus, I was running short on time to get to my friend's place in Franklin, TN. I did stop for a nap when I found an overlook that had some shade. It was only when I woke up that I realized that two guys perusing a car in the lot were doing so because the car had been broken into. One of the guys owned the car and the other had been here when I pulled in but I just hadn't realized what had happened. The damage was done before I pulled in.
For the most part, I've had few problems and seen few problems on the Parkway. I've had one person tailgate me so slowly I just took my foot of the gas and slowed to ~20mph until they were able to pass me. Other than that, only one vehicle, a motorcyclist, passed me illegally going so fast there was no time to tailgate before catching up and passing me. But mostly, everyone is reasonable and patient. If I see someone pulling closer behind me, I pull off when possible to let them pass. Likewise, others have done the same for me. I did see one car almost knock a motorcyclist off the road when they pulled back onto the road from an overlook without checking for traffic. I stopped at the next overlook where she had stopped and talked with her to make sure she was OK. I think she appreciated that someone would stop and ask.
It's buggy on the Parkway. When I park, I often have to close the windows to keep the gnats out. But since most of the overlook parking areas are in full sun, it get very hot in the car very quickly.
It was a long descent into Cherokee and my radio was on seek the entire way without finding anything. I got a station in Cherokee that went away again for the 40 minute drive to Franklin.
I met Nina in town and got the key to the house so I could go clean up and rest before she and Dan came home. Anne, their young daughter was brought home and then we went out to eat at a local barbecue place with friends of Dan's. They had been out to one of the local tourist mines and actually found some small gemstones.
It was great to see Nina and Dan again. I had last seen them when they were living in Maggie Valley north of Cherokee. At the time I was on the A.T. and record cold for early April moved in and I was caught off the trail for almost a week.
Thursday, May 12, 2011: Franklin to Camp 7, Long Hungry Road, Robbinsville
I spent the morning doing laundry and catching up on personal organization. After lunch, I packed my car and left for town where I visited the indian mound and outfitter, and got wifi. Finally, I hit the road again.
I drove the mountainous road past the turnoff for Wayah Bald to Robbinsville. In town, the Visitor's Center directed me to two areas of primitive sites on this side of the Cherohala Skyway. Some on the shore of Lake Santeetlah and some along a creek. I grabbed dinner in town and then made my way to Long Hungry Road where I found a beautiful “primitive” campsite complete with picnic table, grill, pole hook, and tent pad in the most beautiful setting along the lake. I guess their definition of primitive is that there are no privies around. Anyway, it quickly became my home for the night.
The fish are big and jumping and except for the fact that the site isn't set back from the road and has the road between the site and the parking, it's the best site on the lake for my needs. Shortly after I got here, another car stopped by to ask if I was staying the night. They had passed all the free sites I had and apparently liked the site I had chosen, too.
For some reason, I got cell phone reception here and since my site wasn't within site or sound of any other campsite, I talked with my sister. My tranquility was interrupted by a passing power boat. But I guess that was better than mosquitoes which were noticeably and thankfully absent. No black flies to speak of either.
Given that I always find other things to do when I can get online, out here, I can't believe I pulled out my laptop to start transcribing my journal. But what a setting to type up my journal. I'm glad I had a couple of laptop batteries. I would have a least a few hours of power without having to go plug in again either in my car or maybe at a library somewhere.
I did have to keep an eye out for passing storms though. I can hear thunder in the distance already and while the sky is mostly blue, there are some building clouds. Between peals of thunder, there were plenty of bugs, birds, and frogs making a racket here, too.
As it got dark, I packed up my computer and slowly realized the hill behind where I was sitting at a picnic table was crawling – literally. Frogs. Lots of frogs. They were crawling down the hillside towards the water. It got to the point that even though there was a lot of moonlight, I didn't dare walk around without checking the ground for frogs before taking a step.
Given the threat of rain, I set up my car with just one back seat window and the rear window open and my mosquito netting covering both. If it rains, I can pull the netting in from inside the car and close the windows without having to get out of the car.
Friday, May 13, 2011: Robbinsville
I wish I didn't start this entry until later or tomorrow. It's not that I'm superstitious but it is Friday the 13th and I've got one interesting road to drive today.
I woke up after 7am having needed and gotten a lot of sleep. It's a beautiful day, the water glassy. And feeling no rush to go anywhere. A Muscovy Duck meandered by. I talked with my sister this morning, going through the buildup of mail that has accumulated for me. Thankfully, there was nothing that needed addressing. We caught up on other stuff, too. Her vacation plans, my travel plans, family contacts, etc.
I went back to town for lunch and to recharge my laptop batteries. I ended up staying in town all afternoon to let passing thunderstorms clear the area. It didn't seem a good idea to hit the Cherohala Skyway in bad weather. When I left my campsite this morning, I was loath to leave such a beautiful site but I didn't have anything I was willing to leave there in my absence. So, since I wasn't going to hit the Skyway today, I figured if I got back to the campsite and it was otherwise occupied, I would head for the sites along the river.
After the library kicked me out before their closing time of 6pm (they kicked everyone out – a bit overeager to get home, maybe?), I grabbed some take-out and went back to the campsite. I was happy to find it available and quickly reoccupied it. But I found the picnic table wet after all the passing storms and the trees still dripping so I ended up sitting in my car. With no wind and more storms in the offing, it didn't seem like it was going to dry out anytime soon.
I typed until 8:30pm, taking frequent breaks to admire the dragon's breath on the water. The storms seem to have dissipated. The frogs started calling well before dark but I wasn't going to stay up all that late tonight.
Saturday, May 14, 2011: Robbinsville, NC to Madisonville, TN
I woke up to a gray and dreary morning. Not wanting to go over the Cherohala in bad weather, I delayed my journey by driving along the National Forest Service road where I hadn't been camping the last couple of nights. There were nearly 20 sites spread out over miles of dirt road along a beautiful steam. Some were large enough for sizable groups. Some sites were clustered in groups. Others were solitary sites. One had an outhouse. One had a yucky looking shelter that I would avoid. The large site near the outhouse was also near an historic cabin.
After exploring the area, I had lunch and finally started over the Skyway. Like the Blue Ridge, there were plenty of overlooks. Some had trails to explore. The Benton MacKaye Trail criss-crossed the area, too. But, I stuck with the short trails given the threat of rain.
Once along the Forest Service road and one along the Skyway, I encountered butterflies that seemed to be newly emerged and still drying the wings. The first one I thought was dead and picked it up before I realized it was alive. It then crawled on my hand but showed no sign of trying to fly. So, I found a safer place to leave it. The second was posing on a rock and I realized it was likely in the same condition given that it wasn't flying anyway so I let it crawl onto my hand and moved it to a safer place, too.
The butterflies are out in great numbers in the area now, especially the big yellow ones and the large black and blue ones.
Near the west end of the Skyway, I visited the Tellico Ranger station, site of the very first CCC camp. Even though the Visitor's Center was closed, Joe, a 70's something woman there directed me to some free sites that ended up being fee sites. But they weren't all that expensive so I thought I might stay there but I needed food and that meant going into town.
But first I visited Bald River Falls and then Baby Falls. Both were beautiful and well worth the stop.
Then I went to Tellico Plains, the town on the west end of the Skyway. From there, it was closer to crash in Madisonville than to go back to the campsites. So, I drove to town, scouted the Walmart, and then decided to hit the A&W Drive-in for dinner. I pulled in and ordered before I realized there were all sorts of unusual cars in the lot. It turns out I hit the 2nd Saturday “Cruise-in” night. There were maybe 20 cars of various vintages in the lot. Some weren't that old but were custom dune buggy types and more. It was fun killing time talking with the car owners. Then I got online at a local McDonald's and crashed at the local Walmart.
Sunday, May 15, 2011: Madisonville, TN to Blairsville, GA
I supplemented my usual Walmart breakfast of yogurt and banana with some cereal today. I went back to Tellico Plains but was disappointed with the Visitor's Center there. Moving on, I couldn't resist a brown sign pointing to Conesauga Falls. I had no idea how far in along a dirt road it was. It turned out to be three miles to a dead end. Once there, I didn't find the falls but did find a trail head with no indication whatesoever about how far it would be to the falls. So, I started down the trail figuring I would give myself ten minutes. But only a few minutes in I could start to hear the sound of rushing water. It did end up taking 15 minutes of hiking very much down hill to find the falls. I wish I brought my hiking poles but I just went slow and it was OK.
The falls were beautiful and well worth the hike. On the way back up the hill after passing a like minded couple who drove in not knowing anything other than the name on the brown sign, I started encountering cigarette butts that hadn't been on the otherwise very clean trail on my way down. So, I picked them up as I went and once back at my car, wrote a nice note suggesting they look into “Leave No Trace” ethics, wrapped the butts up in the note, and left it on their windshield. I can only hope they take the message to heart.
Moving on, I drove to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. It's within a day's hike of the Appalachian Trail but I was never so inclined to take the detour on any of my three hikes along the Georgia stretch of the A.T. Once there, I drove up to the lot, parked in near zero visibility fog, and walked to the summit where I saw absolutely nothing other than the tower. Of course, by the time I came down, it was already starting to clear. Sigh.
I then made my way to Mountain Crossings, an outfitter in Neels Gap and the Walasi-yi Center. I was surprised to see thruhikers still starting the trail. It's weeks late for them but if they move fast enough, they can still make it. Spent some time talking with them and then hung out at the store for a while. I eventually made my way to a stream side campsite near yet another beautiful waterfall. For the first time, I cooked my dinner while camping. It was cool enough to eat hot food and saved my going all the way back to town for other food.
Unlike the last “primitive” campsite I went to, there were no picnic tables, tent pads, grills, or poles here. Just a place to park my car and set up camp next to the stream for those that choose to or in my case, just sleep in my car with the windows open.
Monday, May 16, 2011: Blairsville to Atlanta
I woke up after another great night's sleep. I really do seem to sleep best in the woods. Back at Mountain Crossings, I watched the space shuttle launch from their hiker PC and grabbed a shower. Driving down the hill, I almost stopped short when I came across a huge area of devastation. I did pull off the road to try to understand what I was looking at by walking the width of the destruction. It didn't take long to realize a tornado had struck here. Trees broken like matchsticks blown in one direction on one side of the swath and blown in the other direction on the other side of the path of destruction. Obviously tornadoes do strike in the mountains.
I stopped at Josh and Leigh Saints hostel and didn't even recognize them when they climbed out of Earl Shaffers restored VW van. They were just returning from Trail Days. I didn't stay long and was soon on my way to Atlanta to visit Sanne and Chris. Sanne treated me to lunch at the Flying Biscuit. When they found out it may have been my first time there (I may have been to one ten years earlier when visiting my friend Michele), they started treating me to all sorts of extras. A small bowl of delicious grits, a free appetizer of fried green tomatoes, and a biscuit even though I had ordered a burger. I especially liked the cashew and incredibly creamy feta cheese topping on the tomatoes. The biscuit came with apple butter. The burger came with home fries seasoned with rosemary. Not being a fan of the nutmeg or cloves in the apple butter or the rosemary on the fries, some of the appeal was lost on me though for those that like those herbs and spices, I can see why they would like the options.
After lunch, Sanne gave me a bit of a tour around town. I got to see the five corners area which reminded me of Harvard or Central Squares in Cambridge. We stopped at Chris' woodworking tools store. And ran a couple of other errands.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011: Atlanta to Luverne, AL
It was nearly noon when I finally got out of the house after spending and enjoyable morning chatting with Chris and Sanne. I don't know what came over me when I stopped to buy a dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme. I ate the two hot ones I included right away but then drove another 45 minutes before stopping at Wendy's for a baked potato and chilli.
I'm pushing it again and by the time I got to the Alabama border, I was beat. I stopped at the rest area there for a nap and got woken up by Cliff when he called half an hour later. I'll see him tomorrow. I stopped at Tuskeegee to see one of the three hanger displays that is completed at this point. When I did my southern states road trip in 2004, I stopped at the temporary display which indicated the hanger displays were supposed to be completed in 2005 but they only started building last year. Maybe the second hanger will be completed next time I visit. I continued through southern Montgomery and got as far as Luverne hoping to find a Walmart. No Walmart but I did find a gas station/truck stop where I could sleep for the night.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011: Luverne, AL to Tallahassee, FL
I slept well but got up early to hit the road. The setting full moon had me looking for photo opportunities along the way, as did the low lying fog as the sun rose. I finally got to Florida and soon made my way to Britton Hill, the 345' highest point in Florida. Like so many other high points, it was indistinguishable from the area around it. There was a couple from Ontario there getting one of their first high points. I signed the register and did the long walk in the area.
Moving on, I went back to Alabama and stopped for some fresh strawberries on my way to Cliff's place. I got plenty to share, too. At Cliff's place, it was great to catch up with him and have a proper conversation with Carol, his wife, who I had only met briefly and distractedly at ALDHA Gatherings. I knew Cliff had been a horse trainer but to see all of their kudos in the form of trophies, ribbons, plaques, and even saddles from their winnings was remarkable.
After lunch, Cliff put me up on Star (Color me Starbird), an award winning Palomino. I've ridden English and a variety of Western before including neck reining horses but this was the first leg reining horse I had ridden. She was also voice controlled. Cliff had to give me a lesson first and then I was on my own. I noticed anytime Star did something unexpected, I thought back to what I had done and realized Star did exactly what I asked her to and I was the one who had given her the wrong signal.
I mostly rode her in the paddock but then Carol who was also riding and prepping for an upcoming show, and I went out and rode on the short trail they have on their property. In all, it was great. I've always loved to ride but rarely make it a priority. I think the last time I had ridden was in Chile, a couple of years earlier.
Alas, time was too short and once again, I had a friend expecting me. I drove to Tallahassee and soon met up with Linda. We made plans for a zero day tomorrow. I needed a break from pushing myself and she needed a day to do prep work for the upcoming Trail Days event she's involved with. We spent the rest of the evening catching up before calling it a day.
Thursday, May 19, 2011: Tallahassee
I spent the day emailing and catching up on my journal. I still needed a two hour nap but felt much better afterward. Pizza and cardinals (we were watching the birds in the backyard) for dinner. The Mentalist season finale for our evening's entertainment.
Friday, May 20, 2011: Tallahassee
I spent the day off-roading with Linda. Linda works in a local park and therefor has keys to the gate and is able to drive around on the dirt roads that are usually reserved for hikers, mountain bike riders, and horseback riders. With her Jeep, we were able to see so much more of the park than we would have had we been walking. We saw Linda's lagoon, Lake Jackson with its Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, humongous bat house, and more.
We went to the Atlanta Bread Company for lunch where I had a great salad with salmon. We put posters up for the upcoming Trail Days event and then grabbed an ice cream at Marble Slab Ice Cream. Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter ice cream with Butterfinger mix-ins in a waffle cone. Delicious! The we went to see Rio, an amusing cartoon about an unamusing subject matter. The reuniting of the last two Cerulean Parrots in the world. One has spent its entire life as a captive in North America and the other recently caught from the wilds of the Amazon.
Saturday, May 21, 2011: Tallahassee
Sunday, May 22, 2011: Tallahassee
I spent the day on my own visiting Mission San Luis, one of the hundreds of missions established in Florida and the only one requested by the local Indians of the area. In this case, it was the Apalachee. While built on the actual site, the current version is a replica complete with huge Council House, fort, and a number of other buildings.
Workers or volunteers in period costume take on the roles of period people and stay in character. While not to the same degree as places like Plimouth Plantation, the sentiment is the same.
I had lunch at a great Puerto Rican place near the mission.
On the way home, I stopped to refill my prescription only to realize my insurance has changed and I didn't have the new information with me.
Monday, May 23, 2011: Tallahassee
After getting my insurance information from my sister so I could get my prescription filled, I ran errands including dropping off some posters for Linda. When I went to the library, it was closed on Mondays as were two of the bike shops I had gone to. So it was back to the house for a nap and to hang out with Linda.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011: Tallahassee
I spent the day with Linda going to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. We hit a section of the Florida Trail at a sluice way where I saw my first alligator of the trip. It was a small one. Maybe four or five feet. We visited the lighthouse but had no chance to go up so we walked around the area. At one point, we realized we were in an area with thousands of sand crab holes. Then we looked up and saw this huge army of sand crabs running sideways away from us, leading with their oversized claw like Popeye's oversized forearm. If they had been coming toward us, it would have seemed like something out of a horror movie.
While the breeze in the shade was nice, it was too hot in the sun to take much of a walk.
We went for lunch at a riverside eatery where I had a shrimp Po'boy. I guess northern Florida is still considered “the south.” Moving on, we went for a short walk along a section of the Florida Trail called “the Sinks.” The killer spiders had it well guarded but Linda, with her found stick, did an admirable job of clearing them even though I have a few inches on her. I almost went for an unintentional swim at one of the holes when I slipped on some dry leaves along the bank.
All of the storms that have plagued the midwest and southeast have skimmed past northern Florida. The fire danger is extremely high now and the water levels are extremely low.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011: Tallahassee
I dropped a couple of posters at the bike shops that had been closed a couple of days ago. Then I checked out hard drives at Best Buy, ate lunch at Chipotle's, and spent the afternoon at the library. Tagliarini for dinner.
Thursday, May 26, 2011: Tallahassee
I had planned to spend the day at the highly recommended antique car museum. But things change...
I've been planning on spending this weekend at the Florida Folk Festival when I found out the local public radio station had gift certificates for sale. So, I decided to buy a ticket from the WFSU (Florida State University) radio station which meant I had to drive across town to pick it up. Once there, I realized they were giving me a gift certificate for two people for the price of one. I guess they realized they were unlikely to get rid of all their gift certificates given the late date. Once at the radio station, I found they had a large collection of almost 300 antique radios with a few TVs thrown in for good measure. I spent almost an hour looking around.
By the time I finished there, it was lunch time so I found Crispers and got a delicious Thai Chicken Salad for lunch. It was after one o'clock when I was done so I gave up on the auto museum and went to the Florida History Museum instead. I saw everything from a mammoth to a tin can car to a replica of a Florida citrus grove complete with cleaning machine, sorting machine, etc.
After I "found" the phallic view of the Florida State House, I drove up Moccosukee Road, another Canopy road. These roads have Spanish moss draped live oaks arching across the roads. The trees are protected and driving down these roads is absolutely beautiful. The roads are shady and cool compared to treeless roads.
Friday, May 27, 2011: Tallahassee to Lake City
Not being in a rush, we went out for breakfast. Then it was time to take off and make my way to Lake City. Ominous clouds made good on their promise and gave my car a good washing as I drove east. Thankfully, the shower didn't last too long. In White Springs, I got directions to a Florida Trail trailhead but realized when I got there that it would not be a good place to spend the night seeing as it was in a residential neighborhood. So, I resigned myself to Walmart and then made my way to the Festival where I found someone to share the cost of the gift certificate.
I quickly realized there would be a contra dance this evening so changed my plans. I decided to take it easy. I enjoyed some of the music at the various venues, visited the craft area, ate a quesadilla, went to a contra dance, ate a frozen chocolate covered piece of key lime pie, and got to see Billy Dean, a Grammy award winning singer. While at the Billy Dean concert, I rescued a frog hopping across the grounds that was under constant threat of being squished by the thousands of feet wandering around the concert grounds.
Saturday, May 28, 2011: Lake City
I made a Japanese Washi egg under the supervision of Miki, a multi-talented artist who was also doing brush painting and would also be giving at least two demonstrations of Japanese dance. These eggs are emptied out, decorative paper is pasted on, and then the egg is varnished. Miki is a hoot who still retains her Japanese accent but combines it with an attitude best described as American gregariousness. It was fun to hang out at her table, watch her paint, and listen to her.
Shrimp Creole from the church lady food gazebo for lunch. It's a much better deal than much of the food carts in the food court part of the festival. I had corn bread and sweet potato pie, too. I caught a few random acts but spent a couple of hours in the air-conditioned carillon tower catching up on my journal. The Tower is a story-telling venue but I was only peripherally listening today. Mostly I was tired and trying to conserve what energy I could for contra dancing.
But, I ended up skipping the contra dancing in favor of Cajun dancing and then caught Ben Prestage's act. He's a one man band that everyone's been raving about.
For dessert, I was debating whether to get the strawberry shortcake which had a chocolate option or the brownie sundae until I found out the chocolate version of the shortcake was made with the brownie. Problem solved.
McDonald's for internet access and Walmart to crash.
Date: Sat Jul 9, 2011 3:50 pm
Subject: Update link! (Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, July 8, 2011 shuttle launch)
Despite a lot of rain on the 7th and a less than great forecast, the shuttle launch went off as planned yesterday. I was on hand to see the launch as it took off and disappeared into the clouds.
Here are some pictures in Picasa from the launch and the 24 hours in Space View Park leading up to the launch.
If anyone happened to be watching the launch on BBC, you might have seen me interviewed live just a few minutes before the launch, not something I had anticipated when I posted about taping the event two days ago.
Date: Thu Jul 21, 2011 1:24 pm
Subject: 5/29-6/4: Lake City to Pompano Beach (and another shuttle encounter)
Long story, but I was back in Titusville this morning for the shuttle landing. With Jupiter shining bright near the moon, we saw the ISS (International Space Station) go overhead first, like a salute to the last shuttle. Then it was only a few minutes before we heard the twin sonic booms when the shuttle slowed to subsonic speeds.
I looked where others pointed but never made out the shuttle. As someone put it, it was "a black dot on a dark background," vaguely visible to some of the crowd before it descended below treeline. It doesn't matter if I didn't see it. It was worth being there, anyway.
More details when today's journal gets uploaded.
Sunday, May 29, 2011: Lake City
Up early after falling asleep late and fighting off an (that is ONE) annoying mosquito.
There was lots to see and do today at the Festival. I started by having a breakfast of grits, fried fish, toast, eggs, and orange juice all for just $5. Can't beat that. Once again, the church ladies gazebo comes through. After breakfast, I watched a Thai dance performance which was followed by a healthy sampling of Thai food in the form of fried spring rolls, pad thai, and fruit. At the tasting, it was interesting to talk with one of the Thai women and a 1969/70 Peace Corps volunteer that had spent a couple of years in Thailand. Then it was fun to watch a couple of Thai women preparing the food behind the sampling table. They were cooking over the same stoves I had seen being used on the streets in Bangkok. Then there was a Klezmer band with maybe one or two Jewish musicians (out of eight-ish) and some Israeli dancing. I went to see Radio-Free Carmela and the Transistors after Carmela invited me and Tom to couchsurf at her place the previous day over lunch. I ate a brownie sundae while watching and listening. Delicious. Better without the overly soft and mushy strawberries. I took in the museum on the grounds of the Stephen Foster State Park where the festival is taking place. The museum building plus the carillon tower are the only open buildings with air-conditioning on the grounds. Foster wrote Swanee River, the Florida state song even though he had never actually see the Suwanee River for which it is named. He also wrote My Old Kentucky Home, the state song of Kentucky, as well as a number of other recognizable and popular songs of the time.
The museum has eight extremely detailed dioramas that took 15,000 hours to build. They use appropriate foreshortening to portray the Camptown Races diorama and turn the wheels of the paddleboats at the appropriate rates, too. Once again, I took time cooling off at the Carillon Tower. There was a performance of English Country dancing as well as Morris Dancing. After the Morris dance, one of the dancers recognized me from Brasstown Bald. Small world. Participatory Cajun dancing was next.
By the time I got back to the Church ladies gazebo for dinner, they were out of most of the best of the food so I opted for a hot dog and mac and cheese from two different booths. For some reason, they put two dogs on my bun. While eating dinner, I overheard a conversation and was able to explain to some festival goers what the orange blazes in the area were for. The Florida Trail goes right through the grounds.
I stopped off at the Florida Trails tent to get a pen and ticker.
Too tired to dance, I opted for the main stage amphitheater. “Man of the House” was fun. One of the players played his fiddle upside down. Err, the fiddle was upside down, not the fiddler. Ashokan Farewell was their swan song as the group was breaking up after this performance so they can go their separate ways to go to college.
Tom Shed has a six time Florida Fiddle champ, a FSO Bass player, and two female singers backing him up while he sings and plays guitar. He's great while singing but I quickly grew tired of his pseudo science while expounding on environmental causes that I just had to leave. It's not that I didn't appreciate his message, but the way he was delivering it, was likely to turn more people away from his causes than to educate them.
So, I went back to the contra dance before returning to Walmart for the evening. In Florida, the bathroom stalls designed for the handicapped all have their own sinks. It makes for a bit of privacy while trying to clean up after a day of sweating and dancing in a dusty environment.
Monday, May 30, 2011: Lake City to Ocala
I had a bad night's sleep after not taking my medicine. So I got up and on the road early.
I passed through Gainesville mostly without stopping after realizing that libraries would be closed today, Memorial Day. Payne's Prairie Preserve was a nice stop along the way. There's a long boardwalk going out into the prairie from route 441. With the drought, the large area which would normally be wetlands was mostly dry. I could see one pool not close but just close enough for me to see alligators and birds. One of the alligators was huge – definitely more than 10 feet and maybe as large as 12 or 13 feet. At one point, it almost did a flip as it grabbed something for dinner. It made a huge splash colored red – blood, I assume. I could see what I thought at first may have been a large fish but realized later that it may have been the tail of a somewhat smaller alligator.
With this drought, the alligators are being corralled into smaller and smaller pools of water. That means more 'gators in smaller areas leading to more conflict.
I expect to see many more 'gators on this trip but I never expect to see another 'gator attack. I can always hope though.
Moving on, my next stop was at Sandy's place, another hiker I know through A.T. circles. I grabbed a much needed shower and nap while she finished her work for the day. Then we caught up with each other and socialized with her friend Kathy while I did laundry.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011: Ocala
I ran some errands, got AYCE lunch at Cici's pizza, and spent time at the library. I needed a relatively down day and since Sandy works from home, getting online at the library means many fewer opportunities for us to distract each other.
Plus, I got severely chafed at the Festival and can use one more day to recover from that before trying to do much other walking around. Found a great product to deal with chafing though... It's this powder gel that goes on like a gel but feels like a powder once on. Much easier to apply than Gold Bond and no powder trail to worry about. LOL.
I met Sandy, her mother, niece, and Kathy for dinner at Abio's where I didn't really like my lasagna. Oh well. Can't win all the time.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011: Ocala
Went to Ocklawaha to go for a walk on the boardwalk to see Sandhill Cranes, Florida Scrub Jays, and lots of other wading birds. Surprisingly, we didn't see any alligators though we did see a pair of mating lizards (anoles), each about 5” long. They were right on the boardwalk as we passed by – twice – and were too preoccupied with each other to care about passing them by.
We went to the Dam Diner (it's near a dam) for breakfast and then went to Juniper Springs Recreation Area to visit the springs. There, we did see an alligator, a large gar (fish), a turtle, and lots of very colorful “boils” where water wells up from below.
Everywhere I've been in Florida, I've seen Osprey nests, often with Osprey on or near them. They are here in great numbers.
Back at the ranch, quite literally as Sandy lives on a ranch, I took another nap and then left for the library again. As much as Sandy needs to work, I also get more done in libraries than when visiting friends.
Thursday, June 2, 2011: Ocala
We went back to Payne's Prairie this morning. At the boardwalk, we could only see one large 'gator where I had seen four a couple of days ago in the incredibly shrinking pool. Then we stopped at the Florida Trails Association building so Sandy could talk with the director.
Then it was through Gainesville to get to the northern part of the Prairie. At the La Chua part of the Prairie, we walked along a short stretch of trail through a forest to the edge of the prairie. At the edge was a barn that the trail led through. There were warning signs there about not approaching the bison that live in the area, not approaching the alligators, not feeding the wildlife, and state prisoners working in the area. Hmm.
We were soon walking a boardwalk and came upon the workers who appeared to be erecting a roof over a corner of the walkway. At the end of the boardwalk was another covered section overlooking a large pool. We stopped to look around and were soon seeing alligators everywhere. There must have been a dozen or more in the pool. But, while the boardwalk ended, the trail didn't and we stepped of onto the dirt trail that continued along the creek leading into the pool. Most people who visit the area assume the trail ends at the boardwalk and after seeing a bunch of alligators happily return the way they came.
But, Sandy knew better and having seen someone else approaching with binoculars along the creekside trail, I would have figured it out, too. We started walking along the trail and were soon picking out more and more alligators down below in the stream. Then we got to the dam and kept going. On the other side was a wider stream that was equally shallow but perhaps with more vegetation in the stream or river bed.
What was more striking was the number of alligators there, there wasn't just one, there wasn't just ten, or even a hundred. There were many hundred of alligators there. Wow! They were literally on top of one another. Hmm, well we did see two rather large alligators that appeared to be copulating. The others were mostly packed very close together, trying not to bump into each other.
Not just alligators, but this area had heron, ibis, egrets, limpkins, and even a pair of roseate spoonbills. It's amazing what those that stop at the boardwalk miss out on. But given the requirement for self-restraint once beyond the boardwalk, it's probably a good thing more don't venture further. I can only imagine how many would fall in trying to get a better look.
We stopped for a lunch at a great little cafe in Micanopy, the oldest inland Florida settlement. Back at the ranch, I once again gave Sandy her space and headed out for the library. I stopped along the way to see many of the painted horses (a la horses on parade) around town.
At the library, I watched the chilling video footage of the tornadoes that hit Massachusetts. Amazing! Especially since one went right through Springfield, the third largest city in the state. They hit far from where I live but only about half an hour from where I grew up in Connecticut.
For dinner, we went to Stumpknockers where we had a bunch of laughs. We know an A.T. hiker who's trail name is Stumpknocker. Reading about Stumpknockers, a small fish that lives amongst the roots of the cypress trees and trying to apply any of their attributes to Stumpknocker just didn't work.
Then I managed to pick Sandy's brain and got a lot of good information about where to go and what to see as I continue my travels through Florida. And Sandy really should know her stuff having written a bunch of guidebooks about Florida.
Friday, June 3, 2011: Ocala to Pompano Beach
I got up and out knowing I had a big day ahead. I hit the highway for a while but then hopped off on the four lane road with lights every now and then. My first stop was Bok Tower Gardens, the highest point in the Florida peninsula, topped with a beautiful carillon tower called America's Taj Mahal. The gardens were beautiful with an endangered plant garden, ponds, views of Florida all around, and a window on the world where we watched eight wood ducks, 12 ducklings, squirrels, a little blue heron, turtle and more. There were no alligators in evidence.
Moving on, I got gas for $3.57 even though I should have held out for $3.47. I drove through Sebring where I didn't visit with second cousins who were out of town. Maybe I'll return on my way north. I drove through Highland Hammock State Park. Without enough time to stop, it was a waste of time and money but if I had enough time to spend half a day or more, it would have been a nice stop. There are some short trails that would have been nice to explore.
On my way to Lake Okeechobee, I saw a sandhill crane by the side of the road. There were also a lot of Black Vultures around. They seem more common than Turkey Vultures here.
At the lake, I stopped at a couple of the parks on the lake side of the levee and saw white ibis, great blue herons, moorhens, and some birds flying overhead that I believe may have been Wood Storks.
Continuing southeast, I saw a huge fire off to the east of the Lake that may have been burning since Memorial Day.
I finally hopped on I-95 as I got closer to the coast to avoid the lights and traffic. In short order, I made it to Dare's. It was the first time I had seen her since Bangkok and it was nice to catch up.
It was no surprise that her place was gorgeous. With a south facing view along the beach from the 25th story, Fort Lauderdale was laid out in front of her place. Plus, many of the pieces she had in Thailand were brought back to decorate her place here.
Saturday, June 4, 2011: Pompano Beach
I read on the balcony for an hour before Dare got up. I watched the huge ships going in and out of the Fort Lauderdale port a few miles south of here.
As I watched, a small grader-type vehicle went down the beach just below the high water mark. I realized later that it was raking and burying seaweed so that people would have a nice “clean,” un-yucky beach on which to walk.
I hung out with Dare in the morning, getting the lay of the land in the apartment.
At 10:30, I left to go meet my Aunt Natalie. I haven't seen her in many years. It was a fortuitous time for me to visit with her as her car was in the shop. So, we ran some errands and went out for lunch and caught up with each other. I was thinking it was the first time I had ever spent time with her outside of family functions but then remembered a time over 20 years ago in Connecticut when I surprised her when I rode my bike from where I grew up to her place in Avon. I hadn't planned on stopping by but did once I realized I was in the neighborhood.
Needless to say, it is unusual for me to spend time alone with extended family members.
After lunch, we were both tired so I dropped her off and went back to the apartment to nap. But sleep wouldn't come so I just relaxed. I finished reading “Collapse” by Jared Diamond, a book that I had started last November. It's probably the longest I've ever taken to read a book. But, I didn't want to read it fast and wanted to take the time to read and absorb the thought provoking book over time. I came to read the book after so many travelers I had met along the way in the past few years recommended it to me. It's not that it's a travel book or memoir, but Diamond uses so many of the places I've traveled as examples of how “Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” as the book's subtitle goes. That plus the types of discussions I've had about the anthropology of places I've visited as well as comparisons of those same places have led others to think I would like the book. They were right.
Kite surfers came out in droves this afternoon. Bicyclists were out in the morning riding up and down Ocean Boulevard, also known as A1A. Signs along A1A indicate the reason for no or reduced lighting from March to October is the sea turtles nesting along the beaches. Bright lights would otherwise confuse nesting turtles and the hatchlings when they emerge 45-60 days later. Each morning, new turtle nests are surveyed and marked on the beach with yellow tape.
For dinner, I stopped in my aunt's second story apartment before going out to dinner. It's beautifully decorated, near the intercoastal and practically within sight of Dare's building. I picked up my aunt again and we went to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. After calamari with a delicious garlic dipping sauce, I had no room left for cheesecake. I'm probably better off for it.
Eye rolling sight of the day: We were sitting outside to eat dinner. At the next table were two women, each with a tiny dog. One of the dogs, a chihuahua, was dolled out not only in a dress and diamond collar, but had its claws painted blue to match the dress. Ugh. Poor dog.
From Dare's apartment, I can see the same intercoastal. Down the coast, Dare thinks she can see Hollywood and Hallandale, the places where I spent my childhood winter vacations each year when my family visited my grandparents. Miami is just out of sight from here though.
Sunday, June 5, 2011: Pompano Beach
I've been sleeping about eight hours a night but I'm still having a hard time recovering from relatively active days. I thought I might be doing something with Dare today but she needed a down day and I did too. We watched TV, I transcribed a lot of my journal, and I finally managed a nap when Dare went out to run errands.
Monday, June 6, 2011: Pompano Beach
Tuesday, June 7, 2011: Pompano Beach
I stayed in bed all morning and then took a long walk (~2 miles) along the beach to Commercial Avenue. It was perhaps more than I should have done but I got to check out some of the beach-side cafes and ice cream shops. I also checked out a dive shop to see if they had any used equipment for sale. No such luck.
Walking back, another two miles, I met some people along the way. One was picking up garbage. Another thought the turtle nesting sites looked like crime scenes. The sites are delineated by four stakes with yellow tape. One stake for each nest has a notice about the turtles nesting at that site along with the date the site was established. That will give them a better idea when to expect the turtles to hatch.
I would love to take a walk at night with a red light and see a turtle nesting but the likelihood of actually finding a turtle coming out of the water is so small, it's not worth trying.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011: Pompano Beach
Breakfast with Aunt Natalie and then ran some errands together.
Thursday, June 9, 2011: Pompano Beach
Friday, June 10, 2011: Pomano Beach to Key West
We left Tom's truck in long term parking near the airport in Fort Lauderdale and headed south. We took our time, taking I-95 and route 1, stopping in Florida City for gas, knowing it would only get more expensive in the Keys. Once on the Keys, we kept passing spots we wanted to visit but didn't have time. We had lunch plans in Marathon.
I had met a couple from Marathon Key while at the Florida Folk Festival. We kept running into each other so exchanged contact information. Tom and I met Cynthia and a friend of hers, Keith, at a restaurant in a huge tiki hut near the seven mile bridge. Peter, Cynthia's husband was out of town working on an archaeological dig in St. Petersburg. I had a sushi grade tuna sandwich cooked as rare as they could. Delicious. Our lunch turned into more than three hours of sitting and chatting about all sorts of things. Cynthia's knowledge of the local and not so local flora, Keith's job flying helicopters spraying for mosquitoes, and all of our collective experiences sailing.
We didn't get into Key West until after 5pm. Our hotel, the Marquesa, was a beautiful hotel, just a block off of Duval Street. We had a huge room with a separate area with couch and seats. The only other times I've stayed in rooms like this were during business trips.
Tom's friends from Louisiana or Texas soon joined us at the hotel. Tony and Randy had specifically asked all of their friends to join them this weekend of Pridefest, a gay pride festival on Key West this weekend. Other than Tom, Bill was the only other person to join them.
After relaxing in the hotel room for a while, we wandered the street and found it surprisingly tame given the weekend's theme. We wandered to the Atlantic end of Duval Street and only then found out the reason for the cryptic invitation to be on Key West this weekend.
While Tony and Randy have been together for 21 years, they very informally asked each other to spend the rest of each others lives together. No gay marriage yet in Florida. That was the reason they asked their friends to join them in Florida.
Walking the town during the festival was interesting. Lots of gay bars, gay housing where women aren't welcome, and only a few downright lewd men, some in drag, trying to get us into their establishments. At one point, we stepped into a gay bar so the men I was with could get beer. A man wandered in and from behind me and gave me a “side hug”. I'm guessing that from behind, he just assumed that I was a guy in drag. He probably didn't realize until afterward that I was just a very tall female. We joked about putting a scarf around my neck and passing me off as a guy in drag. It probably would have worked but most of the men in drag were much better dressed.
One thing we did observe was that most of the men in drag were very tall. They were not only tall but then they put on very high heels. How come there weren't shorter men in drag?
Tony, Randy, and Bill, already three sheets to the wind, were eating it right up. I (and I think Tom, too) were mostly amused. But it's a rare community where such acceptance not only abounds, but doesn't even raise an eyebrow.
Saturday, June 11, 2011: Key West
The guys joined us for breakfast around our gorgeous pool. Then we walked to the other end of Duval Street on the Gulf coast. We walked through Mallory Square and then Tom and I took in the Little White House in the Naval Yard. Truman had spent almost six months of his presidency here and plenty of other presidents have also spent time here.
In the afternoon, we walked the street fair where I grabbed a sweet corn cheese “sandwich” from the Columbian stall. It was very reminiscent of the sweet corn treats I had eaten in El Salvador.
In the evening, we watched the street performers as the sun set behind them. There were no bagpipers as I had once been led to believe. Tom and I grabbed a delicious grilled chicken, broccoli, and feta pizza for dinner. I soon headed back to the hotel while Tom hung out with the guys for a while longer.
Sunday, June 12, 2011: Key West
Once again, the guys joined us for breakfast at the pool. I had leftover pizza for breakfast while the guys ate from Fausto's, the local market across the street. Then, Tom and I shopped for the Dry Tortugas and repacked our gear. Then it was time to go watch the parade. It was essentially a gay pride parade with a lot of candy getting tossed to the spectators as well as lots of mardi gras beads, pridefest bracelets, and even individually bagged cookies from the Doubletree Hotel. There were rainbows galore, falsies on display, men making out, drag queens, and police on horseback to get things going.
There was a lot of yelling back and forth from those on the floats and the spectators. It was obvious that many knew each other. My chair was great while waiting but once the parade started, I was on my feet and it mostly became a catchall for all the stuff we were catching.
After the parade, Tom and I finished packing, put as much stuff in the car as we could, and caught sunset again. But my exhaustion soon caught up with me. Tom wanted to find an air conditioned place to eat and there weren't any. I finally gave up and went into Wendy's to grab a salad. Tom followed me in but didn't want to eat there. I was having a hard time having been pushing myself too much over the last few days and finally just grabbed my salad to take back to the room. Tom went to find his friends.
Monday, June 13, 2011: Key West to Garden Key, Dry Tortugas
We got up at 5am and were at the boat and loading our gear by 6:15. While our camping gear was minimal, we had to bring two gallons of water per person per day plus an extra day's worth of provisions just in case there was a delay with the boat. Since we were going to be there for two nights and three days, that's a lot of weight. Then we had an hour to kill before we were to board. So we found some street parking and found an open diner with local color and period music in which to have coffee and juice.
On board, we had time for breakfast including yogurt, bagels, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, deli meat and cheese, and more before we got underway. We were soon passing the Marquesas Islands. Along the way, we also passed the boat from Mel Fisher's organization. Fisher was the treasure hunter that discovered the Spanish galleon, the Atocha, 25 years ago. Fisher has since passed away but the organization he started is still salvaging the find.
I was in the pilot's cabin when we passed the salvage operation so the captain was able to tell me they've been in the same location for two weeks now. When each site runs dry, they move to a new location.
I remember seeing a documentary about the Atocha shortly after they found it. It's amazing that the wreck is still yielding salvageable silver, gold, and other artifacts.
As we passed the East, Middle, West, Loggerhead, and Bush Keys, we were given information about each of them. As campers, when we arrived on Garden Key, we had to stay on the boat for an orientation. By the time we disembarked, our gear had been deposited on the pier. Having packed relatively lightly (both of us being long-distance hikers helped), we quickly loaded all of our gear into a cart and were the first to the campground and had the choice of available campsites. While we chose one of the more enclosed sites, it unfortunately had a great deal of afternoon and evening sun exposure.
It was extremely hot and I was all too happy to return to the air-conditioned boat for lunch. After lunch, I took the self-guided tour of Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry (brick) structure in the west, and then cooled off again in the Visitor's Center.
After snorkeling the southern coal pilings with Tom and seeing a large nurse shark as well as a lot of other fantastic fish, we found a shadier unoccupied tent site and snacked on leftover munchies. I then cooled off in the Visitor's Center again and walked the moat walk around the fort for sunset. It was beautiful and the fish both in and out of the moat were active. We ate dinner at the picnic table on the beach and later left our tent site to fend for itself while we slept on the slightly cooler beach to take advantage of the light breeze.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011: Garden Key, Dry Tortugas
I slept great last night and woke up early, relatively well rested. We did the moat walk again this morning which, as it turns out, isn't just a description of the walkway, but also a description of the way people walk when on the walkway. We were all walking slowly, leaning over the edge of the walkway to look at the fish along the wall. We would walk a few steps on the moat side leaning over the edge in that direction. Then cross over to the ocean side and walk a ways leaning over on that side.
I made a remark about the moat walk to one of the others on the walkway and she laughed, knowing exactly what I meant as soon as I said it. We would then laugh about it the rest of the time we were there, anytime we saw others walking along the moat.
It's amazing how much life there is in the water and in the air here. Bird list: Magnificent Frigates, Sooty Terns, Brown Noddies, Brown Pelicans, White Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Cattle Egrets, Pigeons, and more. In the water, we would be snorkeling with millions of tiny fish, ocean surgeonfish, barracuda, yellowtail snapper, french grunts, nurse sharks, tarpon, parrotfish, silveryfish, wrasses, bluehead and spanish hogfish, and so many more.
This morning, Tom and I did a long snorkel trip out to the large coral heads by the buoys and long the moat. I tried to do some skin diving but couldn't get my ears to equalize. It's nice to be camping here and able to see the place both before and after the crowds from the boat are crawling over the place. During the height of the day, I took refuge again in the galley of the fast catamaran. I ate lunch on board and spent more time talking with Jim who I had met yesterday when he was cleaning the fish he had caught from his kayak. I was also talking with Brandon and his Dad, Wayne, who were also camping.
Jim was heading out in his kayak again so I jokingly asked what was for dinner. I remember him saying he was hoping for grouper but would settle for the yellowtail snapper he had been cleaning yesterday.
One of the people working on the boat after hearing I could use some ice for my tiny cooler offered me some. They actually sell ice from the boat these days so don't give it away but since I only needed a little, that seemed like overkill.
I saw a large loggerhead turtle from the boat. Then when it started to try to rain, I went back to the campsite to help Tom ensure our gear was protected only to find he was already on top of it. So, rather than get all my clothes wet, I stripped down to my bathing suit in the hopes of getting some nice cool rain. But our neighbors saw fit to protect their camp and perhaps that little bit of insurance on their behalf staved off the rain. Oh well. I think all of us would have welcomed the cooling rain.
I eventually got dressed again and made my way to the Visitor's Center where I found Brandon and Wayne cooling off, too. Apparently, it's pretty common for the campers to kill time in there. The volunteer told me campers often read, play cards, or otherwise find ways to kill time and cool off.
Wayne told me that Tom and I were invited for dinner to Jim's site. It turns out Jim did, in fact, catch a grouper and was going to treat the rest of us to dinner. Cool! That would beat the sandwich fixings we brought by a long shot. Tom and I brought chips and cookies. Wayne and Brandon brought beans. Altogether it made for a very nice dinner. Afterward, we all joined Jim on the seaplane beach and kept him company while he fished for tarpon. While he didn't land one, he did hook one which jumped in the reflection of the full moon in the most spectacular way. We were all in awe – including Jim.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011: Garden Key, Dry Tortugas to Key West
I woke up to Tom poking me. Apparently I was snoring and he was afraid I would disturb the other people who were also sleeping on the beach. Not only that, but he told me that it was the third time that night he had poked me. But it was the only time I remember. Oops!
We got up and packed early so that we could snorkel without having to worry about getting our gear to the pier. We dropped our stuff on the dock and then I went snorkeling. Tom had decided not to. This time, after the wind that came up last night, the surf was a bit choppy and the visibility a bit lower but the snorkeling was still good. I started by going in the north beach. Tom was great and brought my sandals back to the south beach. I explored the northern coal pilings where I saw a school of large parrotfish. I've never seen that before. I then snorkeled around the island, back out to the buoys, and to the south beach. It's not possible to completely circumnavigate the island as the area by the pier and seaplane beach are off limits to swimmers and snorkelers.
With some of the extra water we had, I took a pretty good shower when I got out, changed out of my suit into clothes, and then made it to the tour. I made it through the first two levels but just couldn't face going out on top of the fort and into the sun again.
Even still, I learned a lot. For example, why would an ocean fort need a moat? The moat not only kept interlopers from getting to the walls of the fort but perhaps even more importantly, it acted as a breakwater from the wave action from the tropical storms. We learned about Dr. Mudd, a prisoner condemned for treating John Wilkes Booth who took over care of the prisoners when typhoid killed the doctors. He was eventually granted a pardon.
I spent the rest of the day in the galley of the catamaran where it was cool. I even tried to go back to the coal piers at one point but just couldn't face the heat.
On the way back to Key West, Tom and I sat with a friendly 60ish couple from Ohio. He races motorbikes.
I also spent some time talking with Tom, an employee on the boat, as he's interested in living on board a sailboat in Central or South America. He picked my brains about learning Spanish and sailing into ports in Central and South America.
Back in town, we found a reasonably priced (for Key West) motel. We showered, changed, and went for dinner at Carolina's. We split both a quesadilla and a salad. Both were delicious. Then we crashed.
I'm going to miss the columns of Magnificent Frigatebirds circling up thermals. The sooty terns and brown noddies, too. While I see pelicans from areas other than the Dry Tortugas, the sheer numbers on the Tortugas was impressive. Another thing I'll miss is seeing the smaller terns using pelicans as floating islands. It was strange to see birds landing on the pelicans and the pelicans just didn't seem to care.
Thursday, June 16, 2011: Key West
I had a terrible day today. We had only expected to spend the night and then move on up the keys but I've been pushing way to hard for way too long. I could barely get out of bed today. Since I wasn't able to do much, I babysat the laundry while Tom wandered town. We met back at the room for lunch and hung out together for a while. Then Tom took off while I stayed in the room.
I did eventually get out for sunset and managed to find the elusive Catman who performs in an area near to but not with the other street performers. The cats are amazing but the performer is just plain weird. Outside of the performance, he seems perfectly normal but I guess he has to be weird to keep the attention of the tourists.
Friday, June 17, 2011: Key West to Bahia Honda
Tom's inability to sleep woke me up early. Perhaps we're not the most compatible of travel partners? So, I went to the southernmost point to get pictures without all the crowds that would soon show up. Tom went for a run. Then we packed, checked out of the motel, and went to the Mel Fisher museum. It was better than I anticipated and wasn't exclusively about the Atocha. Tom got a sandwich and I got a yogurt and banana for lunch.
We drove to Bahia Honda, stopping on Pine Key for information on Key Deer, the smallest version of white-tailed deer.
Knowing it wasn't too far to backtrack, but knowing the campground might be running out of space, we continued on to Bahia Honda and got the last campsite. I tried to nap but wasn't able to. Eventually Tom decided to stay in camp while I went back to Pine Key. I stopped in the Visitor Center again to get even more information. Eventually, I headed out armed with good information about where to see a variety of birds in addition to the deer.
My animal and bird lists: Long Pine Key: Blue Hole: Anhinga, Great Egret, Alligator, Turtle, fish, Green Heron, Purple Ganinule. Refuge area: key deer, white crowned pigeon. No Name Key: Great White Heron (a local morph of the Great Blue Heron), Tri-colored heron, and Little Blue Heron.
It was more than a successful trip and I'm so glad I went back and made the effort. Knowing Tom had leftovers from lunch, I grabbed some chicken and broccoli in garlic sauce and went back to the campsite. Tom ate the rest of his sandwich and then helped me with my Chinese food.
Saturday, June 18, 2011: Bahia Honda to Marathon
We got up early to do some of the walks before the heat of the day got too oppressive. We walked the old bridge, perused the butterfly garden, and spent time reading the interpretive displays along the trail in the far end of the park. Then we packed up before going swimming. Finally, we showered but got out of the showers so sweaty we needed another, had lunch, and finally got on the road again.
We checked into a motel at the Pelican RV park but were too tired to go back and visit the Turtle Hospital as we had hoped. We hung out in the air conditioning and eventually went for dinner at a Cuban restaurant.
Sunday, June 19, 2011: Marathon
We went for brunch at Cynthia and Peter's place. Keith joined us too and once again, the conversation flowed. With Peter going diving, we only spent three hours chatting. Then we spent the rest of the day at the Dolphin Research Facility. While much of it seemed somewhat like the tricks at Seaquarium, and I wasn't so thrilled with the options given to have people swim with dolphins, it was a research facility and the atmosphere was nothing like a typical tourist trap. The numbers of people there were small. We could wander the facilities and watch the trainers giving the dolphins unstructured time. The dolphins who weren't working with the trainers were engaging and would often come over to edge of their pools to gaze at us just as we were gazing at them. They had pretty eyes surprisingly similar to ours.
For tricks, the dolphins floated on their backs, “stood” on their tails, made flips, double flips, flips coordinated with the other dolphins, squirting water, making noise, and more.
When the facility closed, we relaxed in the room before taking a picnic dinner down to the park near seven mile bridge. I had Chinese food. The sunset wasn't nearly as good as yesterday's but it got better after the sun went down.
Monday, June 20, 2011: Marathon to Pompano Beach
We skipped a lot of interesting looking attractions, parks, and other areas of interest today to get to John Pennekamp State Park to go on a snorkeling tour today. It was a three hour tour (cue Theme to Gilligan's Island) but we didn't get stranded on an island. Instead, we had a 45 minute ride out to the reef, had over an hour of snorkeling that got cut just a bit short due to an electrical storm in the area. We went to Dry Rocks, the most popular destination for snorkelers. It's where the statue “Christ of the Deep” was placed.
While on the reef, we mostly drifted over the reefs with occasional dives to look under some of the overhangs for lobster and other fish.
I also managed to dislocate my left shoulder a couple of times shortly after getting in the water but since it popped right back in and I didn't really need it while snorkeling, there was no need to cut short the snorkel trip. Unfortunately, it was the same shoulder I injured in 2007 so I should probably restart the physical therapy I was doing then to strengthen the shoulder again. Thankfully, even hours later, I had full range of motion and apparently full strength, too.
When our boat left the reef, all the other boats left, too. We led the flotilla of boats all the way back to the park. It was raining along the way but had let up to a drizzle by the time we got back. So, we rinsed off and changed. Then, even though we had taken in the little aquarium and Visitor's Center before our tour, I spent a bit more time there while Tom shopped for souvenirs after we got back. Mostly I watched the movie and then dozed a bit, too. With the rainy weather there really wasn't much else to do in the park.
Tom did almost all of the driving today and I was glad. I was exhausted.
We ran into traffic on the way north so stopped for dinner at an AYCE Chinese restaurant. It was one of those places with more than just Chinese food for not much money. I ended up eating mostly sushi for dinner.
Then we detoured through Hallandale on our way north so I could take another little trip down memory lane. I was able to find the building at Meadowbrook Towers where I had spent many winter vacations with my family as we visited my grandparents. But the rest of the area didn't strike any bells with me. The most familiar restaurants we visited when I was a kid were all gone. The beach area and other roads I would have best remembered were long built up and very different.
As we continued north, I spotted a concert at a beachside stage in Hollywood. So we parked and wandered up to the stage area. We did a bit of wandering along the beach and then listened to the rest of the concert. It was a wonderful mix of Latin music.
We soon arrived back at Dare's apartment in Pompano Beach and settled in just before Dare arrived back with her fiance Trent. It was great to meet him. We visited a bit before making plans for the next morning.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011: Pompano Beach
Tom got up early and went running with Dare and Trent while I tried to sleep some more. With my sore shoulder and having forgotten to take my sleep medicine until sometime overnight, I hadn't slept well at all. When the runners returned, we all went to breakfast at a place Tom and I had found before we went to the Keys. We were surprised to find all meals 50% off. It was the anniversary of the place.
After breakfast, Tom and I went to Cocoanut Grove. We struck out when we got to Vizcaya Gardens which is closed on Tuesdays. Then we struck out again at Barnacle Gardens which was also closed. So, we drove around town and found Cutler Road, a beautiful drive worthy in and of itself as a destination. The parks along this road are also worth exploring.
They we drove to Key Biscayne and drove out to the lighthouse only to find they have no tours on Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm getting the impression that tourists and travelers should view Tuesdays and Wednesdays as the weekends here. Argh!
Then we went to Jaxson's Ice Cream, the only restaurant that is still open that I remember from my childhood visits to Florida. It was another blast from the past to eat ice cream here. It was a smaller place than I remembered but it “felt” the same. Well, it would have felt the same had there been a crowd of people there and a line out the door. But, I had always been there during a high season holiday week and this time I had made a point of going mid-week, midday, and it's off-season. We wandered right in and found most tables empty so we ended up with a booth to ourselves. The long tables where parties might end up joining others are still there but were mostly empty today.
The ice cream menu options are still the same and they still come with extra fudge though now in a shallow cup instead of a jug. I think you get as much but it's easier to get at now. The “Kitchen Sink” is still an option on the menu and I have to wonder what a thruhiker would do to it. Of course, the prices are significantly higher now but for my first visit in nearly thirty years, I was perfectly happy to spend about $10/sundae. Yikes! Besides, this was going to be dinner for me, too. LOL
Wednesday, June 22, 2011: Pompano Beach
I woke up after a good night's sleep feeling so much better. My shoulder is healing rapidly so hopefully won't affect my travels, activities, or sleep from now on.
Tom and Dare both went off to work/school so I did laundry and straightened out some paperwork with the IRS. It's amazing what you can get done over the phone with them. I spent the afternoon transcribing my journal with the TV keeping me company.
Dare came home early having taken some potent medicine for a recent back strain. Tom came back also a bit early and we hung out before going to meet my cousin and his girlfriend for dinner. We went to the Capitol Grille, one of the nicest places in town and not my usual fare. It's known mostly as a steakhouse but they had seafood and chicken as well. Tom and I both had sushi quality tuna with mine ordered rare and his medium rare. David had a huge Delmonico and Kelly a filet or ribeye.
It was really nice to spend time with David and meet Kelly. Once again, I think this was the first time I've ever spent time with my cousin outside of larger family functions. I think we sat and talked for 2.5 hours.
Thursday, June 23, 2011: Pompano Beach
Argh! I didn't sleep so well last night. I had a lazy morning while waiting for Frank to call. Tom surprised me by coming back to the apartment at lunchtime. He had left his phone. While Tom was there, Frank called so we made plans to meet for lunch. I was delayed when I tried to leave the building only to find that two of the three elevators were temporarily out of commission for routine service. In a 28 story building, waiting for one elevator to service all the floors can take a long time. So, I was 10 minutes late. Oh well.
We ate huge Philly cheesesteaks and fries. They were delicious but I was too tired to make a day of it so went back to the apartment and tried unsuccessfully to nap but did manage to get a lot of transcribing done.
Tom and I brought dinner in. He wanted to carbo load for tomorrow when he was going to have to don heavy firefighting equipment and I wanted something light after my greasy protein lunch. So, we found an Italian Restaurant and I dropped him off there. Then I went to Panera to pick up a salad. Tom had his meal by the time I got back to the Italian restaurant. Perfect. We went back to Dare's, ate, watched TV, and had an early night.
Friday, June 24, 2011: Pompano Beach
I didn't sleep well again last night. Maybe it's a function of going to sleep too early. Tom and Dare both crashed early last night (10pm) and so I did, too. I had a nice morning session on the balcony, writing in my journal and eating breakfast. Then I went for a walk to the Atlantic Boulevard Pier. Unlike the Commercial Avenue pier, this one is open to the public.
There were a lot of fishermen on the pier and I could tell why. When I walked out on the pier, I could see a lot of fish in the clear water below. I saw a large snook (a type of fish), a school of tiny fish being herded to shore by a group of five or six fish that looked like parrotfish, and a ray that was only visible when the parrot-type fish cleared the path of the tiny fish.
I got back before 10am and made lunch plans with my aunt. She picked me up at 1pm and we went to Aruba, a nice beach-side restaurant. I had a huge chef's salad. Delicious.
After my aunt dropped me off, I errands.
Saturday, June 25, 2011: Pompano Beach
Tom and I took a down day, trying to figure out what to do next and how. He's got a lot coming up and is feeling the pressure to get back to Louisiana so will be leaving quite a few days earlier than than I had expected. I'm a bit disappointed but it is what it is. We'll try to make the best out of the couple more days we are likely to have and then I'll continue on my own after Tom returns home.
So, this morning, we took a walk to the Atlantic Boulevard pier. As we approached the area, we realized there was a race going on. It was a one mile swim. When that race ended, there was a one mile paddleboard race, too. We couldn't find any place to go for breakfast in the area so we walked back to the apartment, got in the car, and went back to our usual breakfast place, the Country Eggs, and Ham Restaurant.
Back at the apartment, I looked up some options for things to do in a day or two while Tom did some planning for his upcoming trip. Dinner was catch as catch can – chips, dip, spread, crackers, PB&J, etc. Chatting and T.V.
Sunday, June 26, 2011: Pompano Beach
A BIG day today. We got up early to try to get to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge before it got too hot. We spent the morning going from site to site seeing alligators, birds, people fishing and alligators trying to get what the people were catching (yes, really!), butterflies, and more. At the Visitor's Center, they had an extremely well done “nighttime at the refuge” exhibit where in a very dark room, a silhouetted image of a grandfather and grandson narrate the telling of sounds and what makes them in the swamp under the guise of the grandfather explaining it to his grandson.
The much touted virtual air-boat was technologically more interesting but I found the accompanying video to be less interesting.
The boardwalk in this area was crawling with gorgeous, red, yellow, orange, and black grasshoppers. We even got to see two copulating. Assuming the female was on the bottom, she was much larger than the male.
From Loxahatchee, we stopped for lunch. I had a salad from Panera and Tom grabbed something from the supermarket.
Then we went to Green Cay in Boynton Beach. It's a tertiary filtering site for highly treated water turned into a beautiful wetland habitat criss-crossed with boardwalks. It was here we saw a mama 'gator guarding her nest, a large pile of dried grass.
The weather turned threatening and we had a few sprinkles but it was hot and I had a plastic bag to protect the camera so we wandered anyway. There were turtles, birds, and flowers. The wading birds were fishing, preening, or spreading their wings to dry.
Moving on, we went to Wakodahatchee, essentially the same type of wetland and boardwalk area. We weren't there long before the lightning chased us out. We got a bit wet on the way back to the car but the brunt of the storm waited until we got back on the road.
Both of these wetlands are also stocked with mosquitofish which eat the larvae of mosquitoes so it was really nice to be able to walk around here without having to swat.
I really liked both of these sites and think they are well worth the visit.
Once back in Pompano Beach, we stopped at Dundee Donuts so Tom could grab a Cappuccino and doughnut. Back at the apartment, Dare suggested we go out on the balcony to watch the storms to the south. So we all went out, and were chatting when Dare asked “what are those dark shadows near those people in the water?” I took one look and exclaimed “Manatee!” We watched for just long enough for me to realize they were going so slow we could probably get downstairs and go swimming with them. Tom and Dare ran out “as is” but I needed to get out of the skirt I was wearing if I wanted to go into the water. So I changed quickly and ran down.
We didn't think we had time to get goggles so went without. There were maybe six other people taking notice of the manatees. Thankfully, everyone respected the manatees and didn't reach out to touch but just swam beside them. I went ahead at one point to hold out my hand and let the manatees come to me. While we're not allowed to touch the manatee, the manatee are allowed to touch us. But, the manatee chose not to touch my outstretched hand. That was OK. I still couldn't believe I was in the water with two manatee in Pompano Beach.
There was a little girl there with her Dad. He was trying to put her mask on so she could see but she was scared. So, I asked if she liked kitty cats. She shyly nodded yes. So I told her the manatees were just as gentle as kitty cats but just much bigger. So she agreed to the mask and went under to look. She came up all grins and with no more fear. Phew! Maybe another naturalist, environmentalist, etc. in the making.
I had sort of been lamenting that it was the wrong season to see manatees. And now, they came to me. Wow!
Tom's camera got great pictures and video even though he couldn't really see what he was shooting. This just topped off an already great day. I'm so glad. But, there was one dark cloud today. I ended up losing 1gb of pictures today when one of my SD cards gave up the ghost. Thankfully, Tom shared his pictures with me.
We had pizza delivered for dinner today. Dare even joined in.
Bird list: Anhinga, Green Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Black-necked Stilt, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Moorhen, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron (on the beach), immature Black-crowned Night Heron. There were many more that I didn't include here either because I'm just not including pigeons and grackles on every list or because I just couldn't identify them.
Monday, June 27, 2011: Pompano Beach
Laundry, lunch, and a Thai/sushi place for lunch. The best thing was putting together a gift for Dare. Tom had gotten a great picture of her and Trent together and I had noticed there were no good pictures of Trent in the apartment. So we got prints and frames for both her and Trent. We also got one of her swimming in front of her building and put it on the fridge. We left the two for her and Trent on the table to find after her nap but it was funny to see how long it took for her to find the one on the fridge. I think we were halfway through Chinese takeout dinner when she noticed.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011: Pompano Beach to Naples
Breakfast with Tom and Dare. Then Tom and I cleaned the bathroom and got on the road, traveling in separate vehicles this time but meeting as planned at a rest area in Big Cypress. From there, we basically caravanned to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. We walked the buggy boardwalk to the Village but found they had mostly packed up due to the rain in the area. The museum and video presentation were well worthwhile.
After the museum, Tom and I went our separate ways. Him on his way back to Louisiana to prepare for his trip to England, France, Turkey and more. Me to continue my slow trip through Florida.
After leaving the museum, I stopped for a short stroll in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge but I didn't see any panthers. I wasn't expecting to but it would have been a nice surprise. Instead I got chased out by hoards of mosquitoes.
In Naples, I found the library, the McDonald's, the Walmart, etc. I found Tom's hammock in my car so called him to let him know. On the off chance he had decided to call it an early day and was still in Naples or Fort Myers, I could have gotten it to him. No such luck. He's already in Gainesville. So, I'll hang onto the hammock until I hear from him – likely after he returns from Europe.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011: Naples
I woke up ready to get on the road by 7:30 or so but immediately “found” the Rookery Bay Environmental Center which wouldn't open until 9am. So I killed time online at McDonald's and then made my way to the Center where I killed a couple of hours looking around the small museum and walking just one of the trails as it was too buggy to walk more. The place had some typical aquarium displays but it also had cameras on microscopes pointing to phytoplankton enlarged 400 times, plankton enlarged 100 times, and barnacles eating plankton enlarged 40 times.
Then I drove to Marcos Island intending to take Route 92 to the Everglades but missed it. No problem. Along the way, I heard about the Ghost Orchids at the Corkscrew Sanctuary. I had wanted to get to the Sanctuary yesterday but ran out of time and steam. So, I decided to go today anyway. I took the 2.5 mile boardwalk which had remarkably few mosquitoes. About halfway around, I found the place with the Ghost Orchid. It was right where it belonged. About 50 feet up a tree. This one may be a record setting orchid – or maybe a record setting orchid for the U.S. According to someone with a scope better than my binoculars could resolve, there are now 14 blooms on the one plant. I could only resolve maybe 10 or 12.
The Corkscrew Sanctuary is known for being a Wood Stork nesting site but it's past the time of year when the storks nest. I did see a mama gator with a couple of baby gators. I was also able to point out a yellow bellied woodpecker to a bunch of birders that had “lost” it.
It was too late to head into the Everglades today and after having practically bathed in DEET today, I sprang for a motel. It's the first time I've done so on my own this entire trip. I checked in, cooled off, and walked to the nearby Burger King for a quick dinner. Then I showered and hung out watching TV for the rest of the evening.
Thursday, June 30, 2011: Naples to Mitchell Landing Primitive Campsite, Big Cypress National Preserve
I loaded my cooler with soda and ice and got on the road. I kept striking out as it really was too buggy to get out and walk at most of the places I tried to visit. At the Marsh Trail in the 10,000 Islands national Wildlife Refuge, I made it to the observation platform. At the top, I was high enough to have a breeze which kept the insects at bay. But once I descended, it was a race back to the car. Needless to say, I wasn't the first one back and was bitten a few times.
At my next stop, the Big Cypress Bend, I tried putting on socks, shoes, pants, tucking my pants into my socks, and wearing a headnet. Even that didn't work. Any exposed skin just felt like it was getting bombarded with mosquitoes and it was much too annoying to gain any sort of enjoyment from the walk or even pay attention to what I was seeing along the way. It took less than five minutes before I was back in the car. That was too bad. This was another place I had hoped to see Ghost Orchids and here, they might have been closer to eye level.
I stopped at the Everglades Gulf Coast Visitor's Center to check out the options for getting on the water. They offer tours – either to the islands or up the river, but I had really wanted to paddle. Either way, it's just the wrong time of year due to mosquitoes. I had better luck at the Big Cypress Visitor's Center on route 41 where they had a 20 minute video worth watching though there were some mosquitoes in the auditorium.
I drove on the Jane Scenic Drive through the Fakahatchee Strand. It was a long road to nowhere or rather to a networks of roads where a housing development never took shape. It reminded me of the network of roads in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I had walked some of the Mojave roads during my southern PCT section hike in 2003. But there's a lot more vegetation – and mosquitoes in Florida. There were a lot of the colorful grasshoppers at the open grasslands section of this road, too. I've been seeing them most places but some areas more than others.
Each time I got back in my car, no matter how fast I got in and shut the door, I still had to spend the first five minutes slapping mosquitoes. And if I tried to push it and get on the road, I was always sorry. Mosquitoes flying around the car are a dangerous distraction when you're trying to drive. That also means there's no driving with the windows down so the air-conditioning gets used all the time.
I also drove the loop starting from the H.P. Williams Picnic Area at Turner River Road. It was there that I finally got a ground level view of an alligator. Everywhere else, I was “safely” on some sort of elevated area. Here, there was no levee or boardwalk to protect me. I just needed to be able to get away if it decided to chase me. I had been driving by one of the many areas where cars pull over at a shallow entry/exit point to the water and I saw an alligator haul itself out of the water. So I stopped, got out, and always kept in mind that alligators may look unwieldy on the ground but can move surprisingly quickly if and when they want to. So, I kept my distance but managed to get some interesting pictures.
Moving on, I could see something in the road quite a distance in front of me. So, I went slow and realized it was a snake. It hadn't moved the entire time I had been watching it as I approached slowly in the car so I stopped the car and put on the blinkers to keep the few other cars on the road from running it over.
I had a snake ID card but couldn't be sure what kind of snake it was other than poisonous. I knew that from the shape of the head. [I found out the next day that it was a juvenile Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin. The pattern on the skin changes as the snake ages. Hence the difficulty in identifying it.] It wasn't going anywhere so I got some good pictures hoping my activities would encourage it off the road. No such luck. So I went back to the car thinking I would give it some time and then get out my hiking poles to use to encourage it off the road. But just a minute or so after I got back in the car, it saw fit to move back off the road on its own. Perfect!
This loop had a lot of great wildlife and a lot fewer mosquitoes than everywhere else I had been today. That said, it still wasn't a great area to spend a lot of time outside.
I finally got to do a short walk today. The Kirby Starter Roadside Park had a short boardwalk. When I saw a family emerge without slapping too much, I thought there was a chance it would be walkable. The walk goes to a gator hole through a cypress swamp. It was a nice walk out there but I never saw the large gator the family that had been there before me saw. It was nice to be outside without being chewed up. The late day sun through the cypress was beautiful.
I turned around to return to my car and hadn't gone far when something caught my eye. I stopped, turned, and saw a deer standing just a few feet from me. It looked at me but wasn't at all startled. I watched it, it watched me, I took some pictures while it fed and wandered around, and almost laughed out loud when a pig frog (sounds like a bull frog) startled the deer. The frogs had been calling almost nonstop so why one would cause it to startle when the others didn't, I have no idea. This deer, like the Key Deer, are also in the White-tailed deer family but are much smaller than those we see further north. That said, this deer was much bigger than the Key Deer I had seen.
I stopped at the Oasis Visitor's Center but it was closed that late in the day. I did see a couple of cute meadow voles.
Moving on, I got to the Pinecrest Campground and was surprised to find it to be one large field. So I tried the other campground and found more smaller sites, much more to my liking. It probably didn't matter as I was the only person at either site. There were still a lot of mosquitoes so I was glad to be able to camp in my car and not have to take the time to set up my tent. I set up my car with the mosquito netting for ventilation, ate dinner, and settled in for the night. Thankfully, it cooled off a bit before I went to sleep because it started to rain and I had to pull the netting into the car and close up the car.
Friday, July 1, 2011: Mitchell Landing Campground to Florida City Everglades Hostel
With the mosquitoes thicker this morning than last night, I didn't even try to fend them off with repellent and instead just put on my fleece jacket, pants, and headnet. My butt got bitten just going to the bathroom even though the port-o-potty did a fairly good job of keeping most of the mosquitoes out.
I drove to the end of the open part of the loop road. The rest is under construction. Unfortunately, the head of the Florida Trail begins in the middle of the closed section so I couldn't go visit the trailhead. I made my way back to the Oasis Visitor's Center where the Florida Trail crosses Route 41. I was there an hour before it opened so I took pictures of the FT signs and the blazes on the road that were disconcertingly marred with skid marks, I walked the alligator boardwalk, and then settled into my car to wait for the center to open.
When I saw the ranger come out to raise the flag, I got out to head to the Visitor's Center. When I got out of the car, I could hear a deep rumbling. It turns out the alligators were rumbling. The ranger finished putting up the flag and then we both walked the boardwalk to go look. We could see them inflating the skin under their chins and hear their rumbling. If their backs weren't submerged, we could see the water dance on their backs. When I asked the ranger how often this happens, she said it was more normal during mating season earlier in the spring. She had last experienced it two years ago. Whoa! Did I get lucky or what? There were at least six alligators bellowing back and forth to each other, possibly more.
I ended up bringing my computer into the Visitor's Center so they could help me identify the snake and vole I had seen yesterday. They were very helpful.
I then stopped at the Clyde Butcher Gallery. Butcher is an amazing photographer who works solely in black and white, primarily with large format negatives. I had an interesting conversation with John who works there. If I ever make it to Venice, FL, I'll try to visit Clyde's studio there to hopefully see how he manages to make such large prints.
I skipped the kitschy looking Miccosukee Indian Village and went to the Shark Valley. The bikes were too small for me to ride and I didn't feel like taking the “tour” so I took a walk, saw a gator eat a fish, another get aggressive at anything that moved near it – enough to make us jump every time it jumped, a bunch of baby gators, and more. When the distant rumbles of thunder got closer and the lightning started flashing nearby, I turned around and headed back. There was no cover nearby and I had no intention of being a human lightning rod. What shocked me was how few other people seemed to take notice. Granted, Florida is the lightning capitol of the US, that doesn't make lightning any less dangerous. Even when I mentioned it to people, a few turned back with me but I gave up when most just didn't care and continued on.
I grabbed lunch in Florida City but was too tired to continue on to Flamingo so I checked into the Everglades Hostel. The hostel and grounds reminded me of the hostels in Central America. It had indoor rooms to sleep but people hung out outside for the most part. Thankfully, the rooms had air conditioning. Sitting outside, my ankles were getting chewed up so I sprayed my legs and feet and put on my jacket. That worked though it was a little warm.
Saturday, July 2, 2011: Florida City to Pompano Beach
I got up and out early and ended up having to wait at the visitor's center for it to open. This one, unlike the other Everglades Visitor's Centers had a nice display area.
Then I went to the Royal Palm Visitor's Center to take a guided walk. Having already spent a few days in the Everglades, I probably could have led most of the tour. But our guide certainly knew more about the flora of the area.
A couple of weeks ago, Florida was in the midst of a drought. Everything had dried up so much the animals were concentrated in the few small areas that still had water. With the rains that came within the last couple of weeks, the animals have dispersed again in many areas. And the rain brings the mosquitoes. Argh! After the tour, the only other walk I managed to take today was at the Pa-Hay-Okee overlook. The rest were too buggy.
But, my primary goal for today was Flamingo. A couple of people had given me hints as to where to find the critter I was seeking. When I got there, it was raining so I traded in the fleece jacket for the rain jacket. I even had to wear the jacket and headnet in the Visitor's Center. I finally made it to the marina and sure enough, the critter was right where it was supposed to be. Across the river. With the rain, I didn't get a good look at it, but it was unmistakably different from the alligators. American Crocodiles are endangered and live only in the very southern tip of Florida and I managed to get a glimpse of one. Some of the locals said the rain often brings more out but I waited around and none of the other crocodiles made an appearance. I think there may have been too much activity at the marina.
Then it was time to head back to Pompano Beach. I stopped once I got back to town to do a bit of shopping. I couldn't resist and bought some Magnum bars. They are ice cream bars that I had eaten often in New Zealand but were only just introduced to the US. While the ice cream inside may not be quite as good as Ben and Jerry's, the bar is better than any other bar I've had in the US. I especially like the ones with the double shells. Imagine ice cream wrapped in a hard chocolate coating (nothing new there) but then enrobed in gooey fudge and then dipped in another layer of hard chocolate. They have similar options with caramel, too. Yum!
Note about the mosquitoes: I seem to be less reactive to these mosquitoes than others. If I can ignore the bite, they stop itching in an hour or two. The insects seem smaller than the ones we have in New England, too. Chigger bites take weeks to go away though. Ugh!
Date: Wed Aug 3, 2011 7:18 pm
Subject: 7/3-9: Pompano Beach to Oviedo
Just back from a week spent camping on Cumberland Island National Seashore with no TV, radio, or internet access. I went with reservations for two nights and stayed seven. Feral horses on the beach, white deer in velvet at the Dungeness ruins, manatee in the marsh, shorebirds, sea turtle nests in the dunes, shells, shells, and more shells, turkeys, walking and hitching to Plum Orchard Mansion, marine forests of Spanish moss draped live oaks, sharks teeth and more. Details to come.
Sunday, July 3, 2011: Pompano Beach
This morning, when I woke up and went out to the balcony, even from 25 stories up, I could see new turtle tracks leading out of the water and then back in, I only hoped the turtle found another place to dig a nest. I have to wonder what disturbed it and prevented it from finding its first location suitable for nesting.
I then went down to take a swim and walk. When I got to the beach, I could see a new nest had been dug just behind the hotel in a location I couldn't have seen from the balcony. I could only hope it was a nest dug by the same turtle.
Other than the swim and walk, I didn't do much of anything today. Chinese take-out for lunch and a day of transcribing. Tom called. I left my cold weather sleeping bag in his car. Since I won't need it while traveling during the summer heat, I had him mail it to my Mom's place. I'll stop there on my way home.
Monday, July 4, 2011: Pompano Beach
Cousins I planned to visit asked me to arrive tomorrow so I spent one more night at Dare's place. While I had the option of watching the fireworks from the 28th floor, there was no way to get outside so instead I went down to the beach and watched from there. I could see both the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and Pompano Beach fireworks from there. The Pompano Beach fireworks reflected nicely in the ocean. When they finished, I went back upstairs and watched the Boston Pops and fireworks on TV.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011: Pompano Beach to Sebring
I woke up, packed up, and finally got on my way. It's no surprise I'll be missing Dare's place. It was a beautiful and comfortable place to hang out.
I had a nice drive to Sebring along Route 27. I got my last glimpse of the Florida Trail/Okochobee Trail today as I drove around the southern and western part of the Lake.
I arrived in good time at Sherman and Marilyn's place. They are my mother's first cousins and I've only ever met them a few times. For whatever reason, my extended family never did a great job of keeping in touch. We just spent the day in their place, talking and catching up. Marilyn took me for a tour of the community in their gold cart. We went to the pond on the premises that are often visited by wading birds. The Sandhill Cranes were there as were some ducks.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011: Sebring
We went to breakfast at Denny's where I had the nice value meal: 2 eggs, 2 bacon, and 2 pancakes for $4. Not bad. I hadn't been to a Denny's in years. They have internet access, too. I'll probably be back as I travel.
After breakfast, we drove south to Lake Placid, a sleepy little town with a wonderful mural project. There are 44 murals in the town. Many are small but some are huge. There's one that is 30' high and 200' long on the side of a Winn Dixie Supermarket. That one even has sound associated with it. In addition to the murals, there are also garbage cans (or facilities) that are decoratively done. Some looked like garbage cans painted with the local flora and fauna but others were more creative. One in the form of a school bus, another an old car, and yet another a train engine complete with train sounds.
Some of the murals represented the history of the town, the environment in the area, the social structure, wildlife, etc. It was hot so rather than stand and look at each mural trying to find the hidden element or the missing element, I took pictures knowing I could look later.
Back at the house, we had a light lunch and then I crashed for a couple of hours. It felt great to nap.
Thursday, July 7, 2011: Sebring to Titusville
I had breakfast with my hosts and then said good-bye as I was heading for Titusville to see the last shuttle launch. There was a lot of traffic going through Orlando but it was smooth sailing after that. I drove straight to Titusville and went directly to Space View Park. I was surprised to get a good parking space, apparently legal, on the street just a block from the park. I was planning on perusing the park before bringing any of my gear but a passerby told me to bring my tent now as the space was getting limited.
So, I grabbed my gear and headed to the park. Just as I got there, it started to pour. So with a bunch of like minded people, I took shelter under the small roof at the bathroom building. The storm was violent and I was glad I hadn't started setting up before it came through. The thunder got closer and closer and eventually there were quite a few lightning strikes in our immediate vicinity. It was certainly an adrenaline rush. The rain was so heavy we could barely see the Titusville end of the bridge. I think we stood there for about an hour.
After the storm, I looked for a tent site and eventually decided not to tent. So, after going out onto the pier, I found a place to set up my chair with an unobstructed view of the launch pad. Using chairs to reserve spots was apparently the time tested way of saving a space. Given the rain, I ended up draping my tent over the chair just to keep the chair dry.
I was only a little surprised to see the size of the crowd that had gathered nearly 24 hours ahead of the scheduled launch. By now, I was getting a feel for the crowd. Everyone was mostly friendly, helpful, and eager to share information if they had it. Many looked things up on their ipads, tablets, laptops, and whatever other electronics they had with them. Some with scopes allowed others to take a look though with the rain, there wasn't usually much to see. Often, one would say something like “I heard they're going to open the RSS at 2:00.” and then someone else would end up confirming it. It seemed like most of the information being passed around was accurate.
Most of us wandered around and talked with others. The standard questions are “how many?” as in how many launches have they tried to see and succeeded in seeing, often somewhat different numbers given the prevalence of delayed launches. The next most common question was probably “where are you from?” With people coming from all over the world, the answers ranged from locals to Australia and Japan. Some came just for the launch, not knowing if it would go off on time. They often had tickets to go home on Sunday. There is only a 30% chance of it launching on Friday and 60% on Saturday. Imagine flying here from Germany on Thursday, having the launch be delayed, and maybe having to go home three days later without seeing the launch?
I know people in the US who take those chances on seeing a launch but overseas flights are that much more expensive and time consuming. Wow!
I took a walk around the area of town near the park. There's a Caffe Chocolat that looks nice if I end up here for the weekend. There's also a nice looking bakery, the Sunrise Bread Company that also looks good.
I returned to my car to get out of the on and off rainy weather for a while and ate dinner there. I eventually went back to the park to find my chair unmolested and staying dry under my tent. I stayed at the park for a few hours chatting with others. As it got darker and the lights came on at the launch pad, I got some pictures of the lights playing off the clouds, the pictures ever changing as the clouds raced by. It was 11pm or so when I left to try to get some sleep.
Friday, July 8, 2011: Titusville to Oviedo
I woke up at 2:30am after getting three hours of sleep. I startled three young men walking by when I popped open the back door of my car (where I had been sleeping) to sleepily ask them “Are they fueling?” I knew they were making a decision about whether or not to fuel the shuttle at 1:30am and they were to start fueling at 2am if the decision was to fuel. Once the guys realized where I was and what I was asking, they let me know the shuttle was in the process of being fueled. That's one more step to an on-time launch. I tried to go back to sleep for a while but unable to sleep, I got up and wandered back to the Park.
I was taking more pictures and eventually borrowed a tripod to try to get some vertical shots of the light playing off the clouds again. While taking 7, 15, and 30 second exposures, I had to use something as a tripod. My cooler worked well for landscape mode shots but portrait shots needed a tripod. The tripod was crooked though so maybe a bit of photoshop may clean them up a bit.
It eventually dawned and we watched as the Coast Guard helicopter patrolled the area. Then the NASA helicopter flew low over the crowd, it's side door open and I'm sure it's cameras rolling. It waved at us to get us to wave at them. Eventually two Air Force jets flew overhead but very high overhead, perhaps to keep the air space clear and maybe to observe the shuttle as well.
This was a huge event so there was plenty of news coverage not only at the Kennedy Space Center but here in Space View Park as well. There was plenty of local coverage as well as international. We saw Russian crews, Japanese crews, the BBC and a bunch of crews out of Orlando. The BBC crew set up near where I was sitting. All morning long, they kept pulling people from the crowd to interview. Two guys near me got interviewed no fewer than three times by them. Then, I was asked if I would submit to an interview. It would be at 11:15. Upon seeing my face, she assured me that the interview would happen feet from my space and others around me would make sure I could get back in time for the actual launch.
Wouldn't you know, the sun came out at around 11:00 on our side of the river. My sun screen was in the car and there was no way I was going back for it now. So, I started sweating and I could only hope I could get through the interview before becoming soaking wet from sweat. The clouds had been nice cover.
So, at 11:15, I was interviewed live and worldwide by Laura Trevelyan of the BBC. She asked a few questions and liked my “I'm a child of the space age” comment. One of my earliest memories was being brought down to the family room to watch the first moon walk. I think she also appreciated that while I think it is important for the US to keep investing in the space program, I don't think it's because we (the US) have to maintain its dominance in the field. The US is part of a much broader global economy and culture now. This is a big change from 40 years ago during the height of the Cold War. Now, we should aim to work with those from other countries, not against, and use strengths from around the world where best they fit. This country did not progress by doing our best to maintain the status quo, it only progresses when we are willing to take a few chances and invest in the research that will lead to scientific advances.
After the interview was over, I quickly made my way back to my seat only to discover my view blocked by a late arriving large boat. The crowd was livid. Most of us had arrived the day before to get spots with a view of the launch pad only to have a boat pull up 10 minutes before launch and block our view. The launch was delayed three minutes and as we watched, I realized that the boat wasn't anchored properly and was drifting on its anchor. It slowly drifted north and eventually, it drifted to my left and allowed me to see the launch pad again. Meanwhile, the boat was drifting into the field of vision of the folks standing to my left and they were just as upset as I had been. They were yelling out trying to get the boat to move. There were certainly plenty of areas of coast line they could have blocked without blocking the view of thousands of others. The pier had been shut down shortly after I had been on it the day before. I was surprised the water near the pier hadn't also been declared off limits for the short duration of the launch.
So, the launch went off today despite the 30% probability it had been given. It was amazing. The steam, the smoke at the pad were cues for the crowd to start roaring. Eventually, the fire from the engines reflected in the smoke and finally the shuttle appeared over the pad and accelerated incredibly quickly. Watching it liftoff live was amazing! It didn't take long for the shuttle, with it's long contrail, to reach the clouds and after penetrating the clouds, the glow of the burners reflected through the clouds for only a moment. And the clouds were thick enough that there was no seeing the shuttle after it disappeared above the clouds. Only then did the sound start to reach us from across the river. The sounds traveled much slower from 10 miles away than the sight of the shuttle. The sound was a deep rumbling that got louder and louder. We could feel it almost as much as hear it. It didn't take long and then started to taper off again.
Because of the low clouds, I had kind of hoped it would have been delayed a day or two to give it a much better chance of having a longer view and maybe see it long enough to watch the boosters fall away. But so many in the crowd would have been horribly disappointed that I guess I'm glad it went when it did. Or, if only they could have waited another hour or two. Then maybe the sun we had in Titusville would have made it the ten miles across the river.
In all too short a time, it was over. I exchanged email with others I had been hanging out with. Then, I was in no rush to get in the traffic but I did want to get out of the sun. So I packed up and moved to the shade and waited a while. Eventually, after the crowd mostly dispersed, I wandered back to my car where I dropped off my stuff before heading to Burger King to kill more time while I ate lunch. I downloaded my pictures from my camera to my laptop, ate lunch with Art, and four hours after the shuttle took off, I got on the road. I was only going to Oviedo, about 45 minutes away, but it took nearly two hours to get there given my one stop for a nap and then maybe 45-50 minutes worth of traffic that was still backed up from the launch.
I found Joan's place and remembered her from Appalachian Trail functions. We enjoyed catching up with each other over dinner. But, I was exhausted after having gotten only three hours sleep the night before.
Saturday, July 9, 2011: Oviedo
I slept late – almost 10 hours – and then got up to join Joan and the group she had led on an early morning hike. They were having breakfast at Cracker Barrel. After breakfast, Joan went shopping so I went to the library to upload some pictures. I got lost in time until Joan called me. I thought an hour had passed but it was nearly four hours. Oops! Then it was back to Joan's for another nap, dinner, and evening chatting.
Sunday, July 10, 2011: Oviedo
I woke up early so refreshed I decided to join Joan and her friend Joanne on their walk to see the Florida Scrub Jay, a threatened species that lives only in Florida. It's habitat is under threat and even with its current status, it is still thought to be on the decline.
We went on our walk and basically had given up on seeing the birds as we hadn't seen much of anything given the heat. But, we were most of the way out and we bumped into a pair of the jays. Then another pair. How cool! A successful morning.
Monday, July 11, 2011: Oviedo to Titusville
Rather than rush to the Kennedy Space Center, I took my time going back to Titusville and returned to Space View Park where I could now see the park through the visitors. There were only maybe five people there today whereas there were maybe 5,000 on Friday. The park has tributes to veterans and walkways honoring those involved in the space program over the years. There are statues, hand prints, plaques, and more. Then I went to the U.S. Space Walk of Fame museum, a free museum near the park. It was filled with memorabilia and artifacts from the space program. For the most part, the Smithsonian has the right of first refusal but after that, museums like this one are able to amass quite the collections.
It was hot so I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the library before spending the night at the local Walmart. This particular Walmart has a nice dark corner with good visibility, an unusual element in a Walmart lot.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011: Titusville
I got up early but didn't find the Air Force Museum so went straight to Kennedy Space Center. I was early so I got the closest parking spot. That would make it easy to come back to my car for lunch, snacks, whatever.
When the Center opened, I bought my ticket and only then realized that it was good for two days. Since the tour I had wanted to take today wasn't available and the first available slot would be Thursday, I made the reservation knowing I wouldn't have any problems sticking around that long.
Then, I went right to the information desk and got some good tips for how to approach the park. I started at the launch experience which obviously can get long lines at times. It was kind of cheesy but surprisingly well done all the same. It was much better than I expected. At 10am, I went to see the 3D movie about the Space Station. I was concerned that the 3D movie would give me a migraine but the movie was only 30 minutes long and I knew I could leave in the middle if necessary. I hadn't tried to see a 3D movie in so long because I knew I was prone to headaches. The shadows next to the images were a bit annoying. I wonder if others see the same thing. The movie ended just as I was beginning to think I might get a headache but I was OK. I would have preferred a 2D movie.
I went from the movie to the Astronaut Encounter only to find it had already started, 15 minutes early. It started early because is was a special program including two astronauts from the most recent STS-134 shuttle mission. Gregory H Johnson, pilot, and Michael “Spanky” Fincke, Mission Specialist. It was a bittersweet meeting as there are no more shuttle missions. But, it was great to see the pictures from their time in space.
As a matter of fact, the only manned space flight for Americans currently planned will be courtesy of the Russians. For $63 million dollars a seat, the U.S. bought twelve seats on the Russian Soyuz rockets going to the space station for the next few years.
Then, in the same venue, I stayed for the Star Trek Encounter. It was a hokey attraction with a few laughs. I had time to grab lunch and then took the regular tour included with admission. The tour for which the Center says to plan two hours took me over three hours. We went to the LC 39 Observation Gantry where we could see both Launch pads 39A and 39B. After seeing it from 10 miles away, it was nice to see relatively up close.
Then I spent over an hour at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Back at the main campus, I got an update on the current shuttle mission though I was surprised the mission status center was less about the current mission than I had hoped. Earlier in the day, I knew the astronauts were on their space walk. By the time I got this update, the walk had been completed successfully and they were back inside the ISS. I had time to take a look inside the full size mock-up of the shuttle. The astronauts had even gone in there to put the levers in realistic positions for one portion of the shuttle flight.
I paid my respects at the Astronaut memorial. I noticed there was plenty of room for more names to be added and I truly hope all that blank space on the wall stays forever blank.
The Hubble 3D movie repeated much of what I had seen on a NOVA episode.
It was fun looking through the Star Trek Exhibit with many original clothes from the TV series. They have the original bridge there so many of us took turns in Kirk's chair, or pressing buttons at Uhura's station. It was all the more fun because there were others there having just as much fun.
I left the Center when it closed at 8pm to a lightning storm. By the time I got back to Titusville, it was raining. I went to Denny's for dinner. I knew I could get online, plug in and recharge all my electronics, and sit a while over dinner and beyond, all the while using the wifi to stay occupied. Thankfully, it had stopped raining by the time I left. Then it was off to the Walmart lot to sleep.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011: Titusville
I had yet another good night's sleep at Walmart. I then stopped at the Wells Fargo bank near Space View Park for my best view yet of a couple of wood storks. There was also a tri-colored heron, a few ibis, and a great blue heron there, too. I spent the morning slowly navigating the Wildlife Trail. As usual, it was too buggy to spend much time out of the car but the drive was nice and I did get to see a lot. There were pull-offs every now and then or I could just stop in the road. I only saw one other car the entire time I was driving the six mile route.
Osprey carrying fish, spoonbills, killdeer, a semipalmated plover (I think) and a host of the other usual suspects all made it interesting.
Thursday, July 14, 2011: Titusville to Cocoa
I spent another whole day at the Kennedy Space Center. I took in everything I had missed on Tuesday. I started with a tour of the rocket garden and then met another astronaut, Rick Searfoss. I got to chat with him after the talk and it turns out we've both spent time hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I then took the Then and Now tour which I had scheduled during my first visit. This tour goes onto the Air Force base. While there, we got surprisingly close to the launch pad for the Delta IV rocket that didn't go up last night. Now I really want to stay long enough to see it launch. It was clear as mud whether or not we were supposed to be able to take pictures or not. So when it became obvious to me that the tour guides didn't mind when others were taking pictures, I took pictures, too. The robot hall was geared towards kids. And while I saw the Star Trek Exhibit for the original series on Tuesday, this time I got to see the rest of the Star Trek Exhibit mostly from The Next Generation but also included elements from the movies and other series as well.
It was going to rain again so I took my leave and went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame. By the time I got there, it was pouring. Of course, I couldn't find my new umbrella so I did the best with my old one and got inside without getting too wet. I didn't have much time, but I did manage to take in the g-force simulator. They brought us up to 3 or 4 Gs which wasn't all that bad. I think the video made me more uncomfortable than the pressure. It reminded me of the flight I took to see the Nazca lines. I have to wonder if it was the motion that made me feel woozy or if we were pulling Gs there, too. Come to think of it, I think we were pulling at least the same Gs there. In a Cessna? [Just googled it and I'm guessing we were pulling between 3 and 4 Gs in Peru. No wonder it felt familiar in the simulator. Hmm, I may have done the same with other small planes I've been in, too.]
I went to Cocoa after leaving the Space Center knowing it would be a better place to watch a military rocket launch than Titusville. I went to Denny's for dinner and to hang out and get online. I left there at 10:30pm knowing the launch was scrubbed and went to Walmart only to discover no overnight parking signs. But I parked anyway hoping that my car would be less conspicuous.
Friday, July 15, 2011: Cocoa
I didn't sleep well last night. At 3:30am, the police came to deal with some other situation in the parking lot. They completely ignored me but I never really slept well after they left.
After having pushed too much yesterday and not gotten any refreshing sleep, I was too tired to try to do anything today including any long drives north. So, I killed time looking for a good spot to watch the launch if it goes tonight, driving around the old town of Cocoa, went to the library, ate at Nelson's, a local haunt, and then checked into a motel where I spent the rest of the day and evening mostly watching TV and napping, just letting my body recover from having pushed too much. I'm hoping third times a charm for the launch tonight.
Saturday, July 16, 2011: Cocoa to Palm Coast
I got up for the first time at 2am to go see the Delta Four launch. It was a quick drive to Cruise Terminal A on Cocoa Beach and I was surprised to see a long line of cars parked at the location I had scouted earlier in the day. I guess I was in the right place. There was still plenty of parking so I pulled in. I got a few pictures and then took video of the launch. I was surprised at how bright (daylight bright) the launch was as night. It was beautiful and I'm really glad I stuck around to see it. It was a much clearer night and I watched until the boosters separated and the rocket was no brighter than a faint star.
On the way back to the hotel, I looked south towards Melbourne and saw a fireball. It was green and certainly brighter than anything other than the moon, including Jupiter which is also bright in the night sky. When I got back to the motel, I actually reported the fireball to the American Meteor Society web site. Given the number of others out for the rocket launch, I was wondering if anyone else had seen it.
I was glad to go back to sleep knowing checkout time was 11am. When I woke up for the second time, I still had time to grab a shower and make it to breakfast, included with the motel. I made a waffle, and then had eggs and cereal, too. I figured I easily turned my breakfast onto brunch.
As I drove north, I got a much needed oil change for my car and had a bit of other preventative maintenance done as well.
I found my way to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse with it's eight associated buildings. Many of these buildings are now museum buildings. One houses a collection of Fresnel Lenses, another information about the history of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and another for Lighthouses in general, shipwrecks, etc. Climbing the lighthouse reminded me of climbing the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston.
After spending time at the lighthouse, I continued on route A1A north to Daytona Beach and while there have been plenty of beaches that allow driving on the beach here in the northern part of Florida, the sheer number of cars on the beach in Daytona was amazing. This beach is where the car racing started in the area. Racing on the beach is no longer allowed so I stopped by the raceway. But, I don't have enough interest in racing so decided not to try to stick around for a tour.
Sunday, July 17, 2011: Palm Coast to Dupont Center
Leaving Palm Coast, I followed another brown sign toward Fort Matanzas. Along the way, I passed the Mose Conservation area. Had I known about it, had it not been summer with lots of mosquitoes, and had I had my usual energy level, I would have preferred to hike in and camp there. Oh well. Too many conditions not met. I made my way to Fort Matanzas and was delighted to find that it was a small fort across the river on an island. The National Park Service operates a free ferry to go to the fort and then conducts tours. It was a really nice way to start the day. This fort was built to protect St. Augustine from those that would otherwise approach from the south.
I was not surprised at the bird life on the island but was surprised to see deer tracks.
I was interesting to see how the fort had been restored. It wasn't done to current standards and is rather drooping on one side but at least it was stabilized. We were allowed to enter the fort, go up to the second floor, and then climb up a ladder through a small hole (I almost didn't fit) to the roof for a great view of the surrounding area. The nature walk back at the Visitors Center creeped me out. The number of huge spiders with their multiple smaller male attendants just got to me. I was very glad I had seen someone taller than me on the trail. When I head out on such short flat trails as I've been finding here in Florida, I don't bother with my hiking poles. Normally I would use them to break the webs instead of using my face. But the thought of one of those huge spiders on my face...
I continued north on A1A, sticking to the beach as much as possible to get to St. Augustine. I stopped at the lighthouse to get information about their hours and options for visiting the site. Then I went to the Fort, better known as the Castillo de San Marcos. I got there in time to get a feel for the place and make it up to the top level in time to get a good view of the cannon firing. It was loud and either exacerbated a headache that I hadn't realized was building or gave me a new one.
I did overhear one small boy's description. He said “Whoa! It's a castle of army guys.” Perfect!
Given my new headache, I spent the rest of the day just hanging out. On the off chance my headache went away, I went to the lighthouse. They had a nice shady parking lot but the headache was slow to depart and left me feeling off afterward and I didn't want to climb the lighthouse and visit the museums feeling like that.
I spent part of the evening at an ice cream shop reading.
Monday, July 18, 2011: Dupont Center
For the third night in a row, I slept really well in my car. Woohoo!
I made my way back to town and since it was too early to go back to the fort, I took the time to walk over the bridge and get a look at the fort from over the water. I then returned to the fort and had a chance to do a more thorough examination of the rooms and facilities. I had the time to listen to one of the volunteer speakers and see another cannon firing, this time covering my ears better than yesterday. No headache ensued.
After lunch, I visited the lighthouse and museums. At the top, I spent maybe an hour just enjoying the breeze and talking with the woman working up there. The audio tour was interesting.
I went back to the pedestrian zone in the old town and had a delicious shrimp UFO (a concoction from the local burrito place. It was a 12” flour tortilla wrapped around a crispy corn tortilla, shrimp, rice, beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, and more. Filling!
I wandered the river front for sunset and circumnavigated the exterior of the fort.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011: Dupont Center to I-95 rest stop
Another good night's sleep...
I checked out the redoubt in town and wandered by the old cemeteries on Cordova St. I then made my way to Flagler College and took in a tour of the old Ponce de Leon hotel building now used as a campus building. It was built by Flagler to offer the nation's elite a place to spend the winters. At $90/night with a three month minimum, it was extremely pricey back in the early 1900s. The building itself is extraordinarily ornate. The carvings. The paintings – in gold. It was only the second building Edison wired for electricity. They had a staff of 60 just to go around and change the bulbs that would burn out in only 6 hours each. Plus, apparently people were uncomfortable flipping switches so the staff would be available for that, too. The symbolism within the paintings was included everywhere. The building has the largest collection of Tiffany glass in their windows and fixtures. Gorgeous!
Afterward, I wandered by the gym and on a whim, went in to ask if I could use the showers – for a fee or free. They said sure so I quickly went back to my car, moved it, and grabbed my gear. It felt great to shower there. I had an interesting experience there in that the motion detector couldn't detect motion while I was in the shower so I ended up finishing rinsing off in the dark.
I drove to Mose Fort only to find the building was closed today so I wandered the grounds. It's the site of the first free black community in the country.
Then I went to the library to cool off in the A/C for a while.
St. Augustine does enjoy a nice breeze and was generally more comfortable to walk around than other communities I had visited but it was still hot. The pedestrian zone, the buildings with the balconies overhanging the sidewalks and roads, and the way people were out and about made it different than most of the other “mall”ified places I've visited here in Florida. Now it, too, has those same establishments but away from the city center. But, like other gentrified communities, the city center is expensive. I would have liked to sample some of the other restaurants there but satisfied my craving with the UFO.
For dinner, I went back to Denny's for a cheap meal with wifi and power. But the internet access was useless so I moved on and got online while sitting in my car at McDonald's.
I was heading south again so I stopped for the night at a Rest Stop on I-95. I had heard of people being able to spend the night so I figured I would try. If worst came to worst and I get kicked out overnight, I could always go to the Palm Coast Walmart
Wednesday, July 20, 2011: I-95 rest stop to Titusville
I woke up 7.5 hours later quite refreshed. Today was to be a day off. I drove the rest of the way to Palm Coast, found a laundromat, did some food shopping, hit the library, and found a local theater and watched Zookeeper. It wasn't a great movie but it was a nice distraction and anyway, how could I resist seeing a movie that ostensibly took place at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston? Besides, I once knew a zookeeper there and had the opportunity to see the zoo with her as a guide. Well, some of the long shots were definitely of Boston but I'm not sure if any of the other shots of the zoo were taken on site or just reproduced in Hollywood sets.
Thursday, July 21, 2011: Titusville to I-95 rest stop
It seemed hotter than usual last night so I slept fitfully. I got up at 4:45 and made my way to the bridge. There were a lot of people (hundreds) heading up but not enough to feel crowded like the launch. I got a parking spot in a park where others were parking and walked up the bridge. There was plenty of space along the railing so when I heard someone with a speaker broadcasting the ham radio broadcast from NASA, I stopped and settled in. We could see Jupiter as the bright “star” near the moon. The ISS (International Space Station) traversed the sky about 10 minutes before the shuttle came in. Then it was time for the twin sonic booms as the shuttle returned to subsonic speed.
I didn't see the shuttle even though I was looking where others were pointing. As someone put it, it was a small black dot against a dark sky. There were many of us who didn't see it and quite a few who did – or said they did. Oh well. I'm still glad I was here.
As “a child of the space age” as I had told Laura from the BBC, one of my earliest memories was being brought down to watch Neil Armstrong take man's first step on the moon. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was in grade school and even went to a special science program for astronomy. Then I was in my teens when the shuttle program started. I was in high school for the first shuttle launch and in college when the Challenger disaster happened. Even though I haven't actively followed the space program as an adult, I've always remained interested in the space program and astronomy. Star charts get packed when I know I'm going to be in areas with good night skies. I visit observatories whenever my travels take me near ones that allow visitors.
As a backpacker, if I'm in an area where sleeping out under the stars doesn't mean I'll wake up drenched from rain, dew, or eaten by insects, I've always preferred to sleep under the stars and usually try to stay awake until I've seen at least one satellite and one meteor.
I'm hoping the private space program gears up rapidly. With 4,000 shuttle workers already laid off and another 2,000 scheduled for as soon as this week, it would be nice if some of them could find work in the private sector now.
I'm hearing a lot about the heat wave hitting much of the eastern part of the country. Perhaps I'm better off here where it's only 90 degrees with a heat index of only 98 due to the 59% humidity.
I drove back to Palm City and spent eight hours transcribing my journal, catching up on email, all while reruns ran on hulu.com to keep me company. For such a hot day, I grabbed an egg roll and a pint of egg drop/wanton soup for dinner. Then I crashed at a rest stop south of St. Augustine.
Friday, July 22, 2011: I-95 rest stop to Dupont Center
I got up and out early and did a walk around St. Augustine before traffic came and things got busy. It's a beautiful city in the early light. I “found” sections of the old town that I hadn't seen before as well as a number of museums I had read about, some on narrow cobblestoned streets. I walked out on the pier with all the tourist boats like the tall ship “Freedom,” the pirate galleon, and the “Conquistador,” a fast cigarette boat.
When things got busier, I went to the library and spent the rest of the day transcribing my journal.
I realized for the first time, nobody is expecting me and I don't have any goals or deadlines looming. Going back to Boston is my ultimate goal but there's no time frame for my return.
I finally bought a new portable external hard drive. My old 80GB one is full and many of my pictures from this trip aren't backed up anywhere. So, with a 1TB drive, I'm hoping it'll take a while to fill.
I went to Panera for dinner and a nice place to hang out while I backed up my pictures. I got all the pictures from my computer backed up and I started on the 80gb hard drive but I'll have to wait until tomorrow to finish them.
Saturday, July 23, 2011: Dupont Center to Jacksonville
Breakfast at Denny's only seemed fair after having spent at least three nights sleeping in their lot. The staff there was great but there was no internet access, or rather, no free internet access. The truck stop charges for internet access and didn't want Denny's offering free access within range.
I drove through St. Augustine one last time. As a city goes, it has more character than any of the other towns I visited in Florida. The pedestrian zone, the cobblestone roads, balconies overhanging the roads and sidewalks, and the accessibility of historic sites and museums is unlike any of the other towns here.
Moving north, I drove over the bridge to Vilano Beach and immediately started running into lots of bicyclists. There were always a lot on the roads but this was ridiculous. It turns out it was some sort of organized ride, complete with safety vehicles but the bikes themselves could have done a better job. As a bicyclist, I was dismayed at some of the behavior I saw. I could hear some cyclists yelling “car back” to let others ahead know to pull over but some still ignored the warnings and refused to pull over or at times, pulled out in front of me. This was especially bad when I was trying to pass a large group.
I finally got beyond the ride and stopped at the Pointe Viedra Library where I saw a sign for the Wild Bird Park. It was a beautiful little park behind the library with a pond with rookery island, boardwalk, turtle maze, and more. There were lots of birds, turtles, and even a pretty dragonfly. I spent a bit of time at the park and then went into the library to try to plan my day. Once there, I found I couldn't get my new hard drive to work reliably.
So, I stopped at Staples to see what they could do. When they couldn't get it to work on their computer either, I had to go through the process of "exchanging" the drive. Once I did that, we could open the new box, pull out the cable, and sure enough the drive I had partially filled yesterday was fine and it was just that I had a bad cable. So I left with the original drive and the new cable. It was a bit of a relief knowing that I didn't have to worry about leaving a drive with all of my files behind. Hopefully that will be all the problems I have with that drive.
I continued to the Timucuan Ecological and Historical preserve. It was mid-afternoon when I got there and too hot to wander to Fort Caroline so I looked around the Visitor's Center, did a short walk in the forest but it was still too hot, so planned to come back in the morning. I drove around Jacksonville and explored the area. I went to a Krystal for the first time ever. They did a fantastic drive through business but inside was mostly deserted so I had the fast wifi all to myself all evening. It gave me ample opportunity to backup the rest of my old hard drive onto the new 1TB drive.
Sunday, July 24, 2011: Jacksonville
I've gotten used to seeing ibis flying overhead in V formations. This morning when I got out of the car, I noticed what looked like goose droppings. But I hadn't seen any geese in months so I started wondering what other types of birds I've seen might leave similar droppings. Then I heard a “HONK” and looked up to see a gaggle of Canada Geese on the grassy islands in the parking lot. I guess I'm back in goose territory.
I returned to the Park and spent the morning touring Fort Caroline and then exploring the one mile nature walk. What struck me as funny was the gentle hills on this walk. It was probably the most elevation gain and loss in a natural setting I've seen since I got to Florida. In the Everglades, a one foot difference in elevation could mean a very different ecological zone. Here, it's maybe a five to ten foot elevation gain that means an ecological zone change. I think my hike varied in elevation by maybe 20' so I saw a few zones along the way.
After leaving the park, I took the St. Johns river ferry ($5) to get to Fort George Island and visited the beautiful Ribault Club Visitor's Center, now a state park but originally a get-away for the well-to-do. It recently went through a multi-million dollar renovation and is now used for weddings and other gatherings. To get to the Club, I had passed a number of posts with tour stop numbers. As I left the Club, I grabbed a paper version of the tour (they also had CDs) with interpretive information that corresponds with the tour stop numbers. I had only passed three stops on the way to the club but there were over twenty stops. Moving on, I stopped at various tour points to learn about both the natural and human history of the area.
At Kingsley Plantation, stop six and also a National Park, I stopped at the cotton field and got to see cotton plants up close. For some reason I was surprised at how pretty the flowers are. A couple of weeks later, and I could have seen the cotton, too. I visited the kitchen building and then stopped at the Visitor's Center where I signed up for a 3pm tour of the house. It's only open to those on a tour and there are only 10 people allowed on each of two tours a couple of times a week.
I had time to kill so I took time to go to the river where I saw a dolphin, then ate lunch in my car and ended up waiting in my car until a heavy downpour and electrical storm passed through. The 2pm ranger talk was canceled due to rain so I wandered through the slave quarters, examining the tiny tabby houses. They were spread out in a large crescent so each could be seen from the main house and each house also had a back door, a feature almost unheard of in slave housing. A back door could allow a slave to sneak out without being seen. This layout was very different from other plantations.
The house tour was interesting with details about the house and renovations as upgrades were made over the years. Things like, when the house was built, they were taxed based on the number of rooms so hallways were left out and rooms opened onto the porch which being outside, wasn't taxed.
I took the long way back to town even though I went to dinner near the ferry. Singleton's a seafood place was recommended to me. Sure enough, the food was delicious. There were fishing boats docked just behind the restaurant which looked more like a bait shop than a place to eat. I got a seat in the enclosed deck where I could watch gulls, pelicans, egrets, a great blue heron, a black crowned night heron, and even a wood stork perch on the dock and the shrimp boats.
Back to Walmart for the evening.
Florida note: While I spent very little time driving on Florida interstates, the one thing I did notice was the preponderance of billboards. The other thing I noticed is that very few of them are lit up at night.
Monday, July 25, 2011: Jacksonville
I started the day at Planet Fitness where for $5 I could use their shower facilities and have 24 hours of access to their equipment. So, I started using their equipment to do some physical therapy for my knees. Then I got a much needed shower in nice clean facilities.
Then I spent the day at the library. At the end of the day, I met a lady there who was also sleeping in her car at the Walmart I intended to go to tonight. But she was just waiting to move into her apartment. We ended up going to Denny's together but she was more interested in talking with a policeman we saw eating there than enjoying her own dinner. Oh well.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011: Jacksonville, Florida to Saint Mary's, Georgia
After over two months, I finally left the state of Florida today. I started the day with another physical therapy session and shower. I had to go a bit earlier today than yesterday as my 24 hour pass would otherwise lapse.
I drove north to Amelia Island to visit Fort Clinch State Park. From there, I could see but not visit another lighthouse. I spent time at the Fort with its passageways, hallways, and stairways, ramps, and buildings. It would be a great place to play hide and seek but nobody would ever get found.
A volunteer in period dress was there to answer questions. The Fort was from a similar time period as Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas and was built of brick as well. I took a break and went to T-Rays, a wonderful lunch place with mismatched tables, gas station, sports, and other memorabilia (or junk), and great burgers. Mostly locals go there as there's no signs. Someone has to tell you where it is unless you happen to usually stop at abandoned gas stations with lots of cars in the lot.
I went back to the park to see what I missed in the morning but didn't stay long after a phone call had me moving on to Georgia. I made reservations for tomorrow night and the next night on Cumberland Island.
So I drove to St. Marys, hit the library, went shopping, and grabbed some soup and egg roll for dinner. It was raining so I went to sleep early in the Walmart lot and left the packing for the morning.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011: St. Marys to Cumberland Island
I got up at 6am and moved the car so I could pack under the lights in the parking lot. I then drove to the Cumberland Island National Park Visitor's Center, checked in, loaded my gear on the boat in the gentle rain, and moved my car to the lot behind the National Park building.
Thankfully it stopped raining before we left. It was a 45 minute ride to St. Marys on a slow boat. We pulled into Sea Camp dock where there was a ranger station that has a small room that serves as a Visitor's Center with a touch table, shadow boxes with fossils and sharks teeth, and some posters for a survey being done there. It was also air conditioned and has benches to sit and enjoy the cool air. There is also an attached room where camper orientation and site assignments are made as well as where presentations are made. The porch at the Ranger Station is also designed to hang out. It's nice and wide. There are benches along the building, and a number of comfortable rocking chairs.
Once there, we had an orientation similar to the one on Dry Tortugas. I was assigned a campsite so loaded a cart and pulled my stuff to the campground. It was about half a mile across the island to the campground.
My site is flat, has a picnic table, and a wire mesh sided box up on a pole at about 5' high. Apparently, raccoons are a problem so coolers have to be tied shut, other food and scented toiletries have to be stored in the wire mesh box, and all garbage must be hung at least 6' up off the ground.
My cooler is small enough to fit in the mesh box with all my other food stuffs and as I eat my food, my garbage should also fit in the box.
There were bathrooms with cold showers (who would want hot water when the heat index is around 110?), sinks for kitchen duty (but not sandy shells or feet), a water fountain with COLD water, and a trash barrel but only for food. All other garbage is carry in, carry out.
I had lunch at my camp site and took the boardwalk over the dunes to check out the beach. I took a little walk but it was too hot so I returned to the boardwalk. I saw a skinny non-poisonous black snake in the sand below the boardwalk. It was about 2.5 feet long.
I went back to the Ranger Station and got there in time for about an hours worth of good porch sitting before the afternoon presentation.
After the presentation, I spent some time on the porch. It started raining and the temperature dropped dramatically. It was probably in the low 70s and the coolest temperatures I've experienced since being in Georgia on my way south.
Just a few minutes after the late ferry left (there are only two a day), a woman walks up. She had missed the boat. So she was stuck and had no idea what to do. She called her daughter to let her know of her predicament. While she was on the phone, I was amused to hear her describe the willow trees to her daughter. She meant the live oaks draped in Spanish moss. I didn't correct her.
Anyway, when she asked me for ideas (I was the only person around), I suggested she try to flag down a passing boat knowing most would be heading back to St. Marys. But being from New York, she was reluctant to trust strangers and didn't think it would be safe. I assured her it was very likely safe and would be what I would try to do had I been in her situation.
I also told her what camp site I was in if she didn't get a ride. I would help her approach other campers to borrow enough gear to get through the night so she could take the first boat back tomorrow. So she started down to the dock and as she got there, the National Park Service boat (the fast little boat, not the big slow ferry) pulled up. In short order, they put her on board and took her back to St. Marys. She probably beat the ferry back to town.
The rain let up so I beat a hasty retreat back to the campsite. It started raining lightly again so I sat under my umbrella reading until the rain stopped.
Thursday, July 28, 2011: Cumberland Island
I got up before sunrise and made it to the beach just a few minutes afterward. I was delayed by a couple of deer at the edge of the campground and dunes. I went slow enough so they wouldn't be startled by me. They continued grazing off the plants in the area as I went past. I walked south along the beach, sharing it with gulls, terns, and a pair of oystercatchers. There were crab holes, oyster holes spitting water, and the prints from many of the islands animals. The cutest of all were the prints from this year's foals, just a couple of inches long next to their parents larger prints.
I easily found the Dungeness dune boardwalk and started in only to find a big buck and a few does. These deer look much bigger than those I had seen in southern Florida but perhaps not quite as large as the White tailed deer at home. The trail to Dungeness is part boardwalk, part sandy road walk, and part dunes walk. While walking on the dunes is difficult, the short stretch of dune walk was nice in that it's generally not allowed to walk on dunes on the island. The dunes are an important part of the environment in that they provide a stabilizing buffer between maritime forest and beach. The plant matter on the dunes is otherwise easily damaged by errant footfalls.
The second boardwalk on the way to Dungeness went by the marsh. I could see some unusual bubbles coming up from below and as I watched, a manatee came up to breath making pretty good time. They usually seem to move slowly so I wasn't sure at first.
Moving on, I regained the road and approached Dungeness. There were fields along the way and I looked across to see a white statue of a deer. Only as I watched, it moved. I realized I wasn't looking at a marble statue but at a white deer. It was a buck in velvet and it was beautiful. Too bad it was far across a field. It was with a herd of other deer, most normal colored but I saw at least one mixed color fawn. Moving closer to the ruins of Dungeness, I saw an all white doe. There is apparently a population of the white deer here on the island.
[I found out later these are not albino deer, but rather piebald deer. Most apparently have mixed color but in deer, it's not uncommon for some to be all white. Standing against the dark forest, the deer stood out, but perhaps in the dunes, the white or piebald versions would blend in even better than typically colored deer.
All along the way, I've seen a wonderful variety of footprints – even more than just the horses. I've seen bird prints, raccoon, deer, a possible coyote trail, and more. I've been told that farriers come here to find out the ideal shape of horses hooves as the feral horses here maintain perfect hooves just from running in their natural environment.
I walked through the Dungeness ruins knowing I would be back in a couple of hours with a tour guide. But first, I wanted to get to Raccoon Key where there are dredge piles from the channel. I was told yesterday of the many fossils found there. And those fossils are free for the taking. Some get lucky and find great white shark fossils or even better, megalodon fossils, the larger versions of those from the predecessors of the great white.
When a couple of guys came by to look for fossils, I got a better idea what to really look for. The shark's teeth they were finding were tiny. Once I saw what they were finding, I managed to find a couple of teeth, too. I also found a couple of other interesting rocks or fossils.
I got so distracted at the piles, I ran late for the tour. So, I caught up with them shortly after they started.
It was a great tour with a National Park Service guide who was as much as storyteller as guide. She managed to draw everyone into her monologue.
She told the story of how Lucy Carnegie and her husband, Thomas (brother of Andrew), who built the mansion and named it after the previous residents, the Greene's, four story tabby house called Dungeness. One year after building the mansion, Lucy's husband died leaving her with nine children. As her children grew up and married, Lucy built a cottage on the island for each of those children. In my parlance, those cottages were mansions. The two sons that didn't marry had quarters in the gym building, I think. She also stipulated that none of the Carnegie land could be passed to others until all of her children had passed. In the late 1950s, just two days after a poacher had been shot, Dungeness burned. No cause was ever proven. The mansion was not rebuilt and eventually the grounds and much of the original Carnegie estate were given to the National Park Service along with $50,000 for its upkeep.
We also learned about the island's earlier inhabitants and how the southern live oak from the island was used in the building of the USS Constitution, the world's oldest fully commissioned warship and one I have visited a number of times as it's stationed in Boston. The wood is strong enough to repel cannonballs which bounced off the Constitution's hull and gave the ship her nickname, Old Ironsides. The twisted shape of the limbs, more broad than tall, also allowed ship builders to use solid pieces of wood in areas of the ship that would otherwise have required the joining of multiple pieces of straighter wood.
Our guide also told us about the horses. I had been surprised not to see any on my way from Sea Camp to Dungeness but they came out by the time of the tour. Being island horses, I was expecting them to be smaller ponies, perhaps similar to the ones I've seen in Grayson Highlands. But, these horses were large and looked very much like taller horses. It turns out that many of the original island horses were in fact, smaller ponies, but the Carnegies brought Thoroughbreds, Mustangs, and other larger breeds and when they left the island, turned their horses loose to turn feral and interbreed with the original wild horses of the island. They look like they would now make great riding horses.
After the tour, I took in the former laundry building which still has some of the equipment from the day but also has modern restrooms and a cold water fountain. I spent time in the Ice House Museum, seeing pictures from the history I had just learned about. I checked out the cold room, a small room with air conditioning near the dock but then went out to wait at a picnic table for the boat to come in. I figured I might as well catch a ride back to Sea Camp dock when the next boat came in. Besides, it gave me time to commune with the wild turkeys and horses in the area.
By the time I got back to the ranger station, I had a headache so did some porch sitting for a couple of hours where I could get into and air conditioned building and drink cold water. While there, I managed to extend my stay another day. I figured I had enough food to stretch to three days. I really liked the island, even if I was just porch sitting at the ranger station. After a couple of hours, hunger and a persistent headache forced me back to my camp for Excedrin and lunch.
Back in camp, I found ants had gotten into some of my food. There went my third day's worth of food. Oops! So, I figured I would try to find some campers heading back the next day to see if I could find any with extra food they would be willing to part with. I was certainly willing to pay for it.
I was feeling a bit better later in the afternoon so changed for a swim. On the way to the beach, I talked with my neighbors and they had extra food so I figured I would get it in the morning. I went for a short swim and on the way back to my campsite, one of my neighbors, a large family group, waylaid me. They had saved me a plate of food. How sweet was that? So for dinner, I had a burger, fried onions and peppers, scalloped potatoes, beans, and fresh picked corn. It certainly beat the tuna packet I probably would have had in camp. Back at my campsite, I found my other neighbors had put a bunch of food (bread, chips, and humongous marshmallows) in my food cage.
I read for a while and then went to see if any of the sea turtle nests were hatching but after a nice conversation with a linguist originally from Serbia, I gave up and called it a night. The problem with turtles is that they typically hatch and emerge from their nests between 10pm and 3am. The hours are rather inconvenient for this tired hiker type even when I'm not hiking.
Friday, July 29, 2011: Cumberland Island
After yesterday, I was tired so I took the day off and spent the morning in camp. I got even more joy from the group that fed me last night. They had extra ice in their cooler so I was able to refill mine. They also gave me some ham and a box of apple cider doughnuts. Yum!
There are a lot of forest type birds in the camp area. Pileated and downy woodpeckers, warbler types, chickadees, and more. Squirrels and raccoons have tried their luck at others campsites but not mine – at least not yet. Perhaps because even my cooler fits in my food cage.
I now had plenty of food and not enough time on the island so I thought I might stay even longer. I wandered over to the ranger station and was in luck, they were able to extend my time on the island until Wednesday, making my stay a full week. I spent the rest of the afternoon in camp, trying to keep everything dry from the thunderstorm that promised rain but managed to skip the island. I was also hoping the cute little armadillo that wandered by camp yesterday might come back.
While in camp, a squirrel did climb around my food cage but failed to get in and left quickly. Sometime later, a raccoon wander through my camp threatening nothing, but just looking cute and a lot fuzzier than the armadillo. Then in the evening, the armadillo wandered through again, unperturbed by me, my camera, or even the flash on the camera.
Saturday, July 30, 2011: Cumberland Island
I spent this hot morning on the porch at the Sea Camp Ranger Station. With a forecast of 96 degrees and a heat index of 107, it just wasn't a good day to do anything. Though the breeze was constant, there wasn't enough wind to fly my kite so I went for another swim. I showered and went back to the ranger station to wait for sunset. It was beautiful over the riverside marsh. I had a late dinner and went to bed early hoping to wake up early.
Sunday, July 31, 2011: Cumberland Island
I did get up early today and got out of camp just after 7am. Rather than walk the Parallel Trail, I hit the road. I was aiming for the Plum Orchard Mansion, 7.5 miles north of Sea Camp. I really didn't want to walk 15 miles today and was hoping for a ride like might be typically offered along roads in small communities. One small gas tanker truck passed me in my direction. A ranger going in the other direction told me I was almost halfway, and then a few minutes later, a pickup going in my direction picked me up. Since this was National Park land, I wasn't hitching but given that I wasn't walking on the trail, it's normal for vehicles to check on pedestrians on the road.
So, when they stopped I just told them I was going to Plum Orchard and when they told me they were going there, I was offered a ride. Perfect! I rode in the empty back of their pickup and remembered some of the best rides in Chile were from the back of the pickup where you can take good pictures as you're riding.
When we got to the mansion, they mentioned they were there to wait on a barge bringing their horse trailer with four horses. It seemed an interesting sight so I waited with them and one of the caretaker/guides from the mansion who also came down to watch. When the barge came, I was surprised to see that it was being pushed by what looked like small pleasure boat. I helped load some of the loose bales of hay into the back of the pickup and then watched them hookup the pickup and pull the trailer off the barge.
Then I went with the volunteer caretaker/guide to see the mansion. Given the lack of transportation on the island, there aren't a lot of people clamoring for tours so I ended up with a private tour. Tiffany lamps, early and very dangerous ice machines, huge rooms, and closets so big I could live in just one. After the tour, I sat and talked with my guide for a while and learned more about the house and the politics of the National Park Service on the island (not all good). Then I had lunch, accepted a banana from some day trippers on bikes, watched the horses and foals on the front lawn, and finally got on the road again.
I had walked maybe a mile when the same pickup that had picked me up on the way out stopped again. I was surprised to see them again. I knew they had to make two trips to get all their gear to their house but I was surprised it had taken them that long to have made the second trip. Needless to say, when I was offered a ride assuming I could find a place to hang on, I managed. They had filled the back with more hay, a number of bicycles, and a variety of other items. I ended up finding a place for each of my feet but then had to sit on the ledge on the side of the truck. It really wasn't bad and was so much better than walking. Besides, with the washboard roads and the full load, they weren't going very fast anyway.
After they got back to their turnoff, I walked the rest of the way. The dredge piles are also used as material for paving the roads. So, while walking back to the ranger station, I found a shark's tooth. In all, I probably walked about 6-7 miles, much better than the 15 I might have otherwise needed to walk. I wasn't feeling well while on the walk back so I happy to seek out the air conditioning and cold water back at the ranger station.
When I felt better, I went back to camp, ate dinner, read, and crashed.
Monday, August 1, 2011: Cumberland Island
I took another day off. I spent most of it at Sea Camp Ranger Station. I watched the armadillo program. I talked with Maika a lot. She's one of three young SCA (Student Conservation Association) interns working on the island for the summer. She's from Tokyo and is the only one of the three who is not only friendly but engaging. Lindsay is friendly but not so engaging, and Maria is neither. I wonder why Maria is even here.
I spent the evening on the beach looking for shells and waited until after 10pm, hoping some turtles might hatch during the earlier part of their usual time window. Generally, they emerge from their nest between 10pm and 3am. No luck. There were both deer and bats in the dunes.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011: Cumberland Island
My last full day here. I got up early and found no sign of the turtles hatching at the nests I've been visiting. I talked with Betty, a caretaker for one of the local properties that I've seen on the beach in the morning a couple of times, and learned what it's like to live on the island full time. I'm not sure caretaking would be for me though house sitting for a couple of months would be a nice option.
Back in camp, I cleaned the smelly shells I picked up today and last night, soaked them, read, napped, rinsed and soaked the shells again, etc. I ate lunch and then put the shells out to dry. This time, I brought dinner with me to the ranger station and spent the rest of the afternoon on the porch and attended the Turtle girls presentation on the sea turtles they are monitoring. I've seen them out on the beach in the mornings going around and checking on each nesting site. It's nice to have a chance to talk with them. I wish I could have seen their presentation last week but they only give their presentation on Tuesdays.
I enjoyed the air conditioning today, the presentation, talking with Maika some more. I had seen a turtle skull on the beach this morning and had left it because while you're allowed to take shells off the island, I knew you weren't allowed to take bones off. But then talking with the folks at the ranger station, I realized it might be nice to have the skull on the touch table. I told them if I saw the skull again, I would bring it in.
I watched the last ferry depart, read, ate dinner on the porch, and then decided how to spend the evening. I had really wanted to get back to the dredge piles and I knew the tide was out so I could get to the island. (That first day I got there at low tide on pure luck.) So, I walked the River Trail back to Dungeness dock where I saw a bunch of horses, deer, turkeys, and at the pier, manatee. I ran into a ranger, her friend, and the friend's young daughter and walked with them the back way to Dungeness. From there, I went to Raccoon Key and found four shark's teeth and a couple of other fossils in a very short period of time. I would love to get back here some time when it's not so hot.
Then, I walked back to Dungeness and met up with the same group of people and walked with them past the cemetery where Robert E. Lee's father had once been buried. Then we walked to the boardwalk along the marsh where we found Maika and we all watched sunset together. It was beautiful. I didn't hang out for long as I knew I would have to get past the dune walk before it got dark. I made it back to the beach just after passing some horses in the dunes. I was almost dark but I knew I could get back to the camp in the dark. There wasn't rain in the forecast but there was a storm in the southwest that lit up the skies beautifully with each flash of lightning. Overhead, it was all clear skies and stars. I didn't dawdle because I didn't know when or if the storm would get to the island and I had left my tent wide open.
But when I got back to Sea Camp, the storm was still far off so I visited the turtle nests again and there was still no activity. It was only 9:30 but I was beat so I couldn't wait until 10pm or beyond to see if the turtles hatched.
So I went back to camp and crashed.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011: Cumberland Island to St. Marys
I got up early so went to check on the two turtles nests I've been watching. No luck. Neither had hatched last night. They are now both past the 45-60 days of the usual duration.
I also found the turtle skull I had seen yesterday so collected it to bring to the ranger station.
Back in camp, I packed, showered, and made my way to Sea Camp dock. I gave the turtle skull to the ranger for the touch table. I put my stuff on the boat and then helped Dick and Kathleen, the caretakers from Plum Orchard Mansion load their stuff. Their three month stint at the mansion had come to an end and they had a bit more to load than the campers. Others saw me helping and also stepped up to help. Many hands made quick work and with the extra help we only had to make one additional run each.
I talked with Dick and Kathleen more on the boat and then back in town, after unloading my gear, helped unload theirs with the same help that loaded at the other end. I got lunch at St. Marys Seafood, recommended to me by repeat campers, did laundry, and then spent the rest of the day at the library.
Thursday, August 4, 2011: St. Marys
I spent the day at the library. One of the turtle girls was there. I took time for lunch at Pepper's, recommended to me by the rangers and volunteers. I had a tasty taco salad. Their salsa was heavy on the cilantro but good. I poured a some on my salad and got extra to use on the chips that came on the table.
Friday, August 5, 2011: St. Marys to Brunswick
I got up and on the road to St. Simon's Island. I visited Fort Frederica National Monument. It's been interesting traveling from fort to fort and seeing how each relates to the other forts along the coast. I toured the island, saw where the very wealthy live, and then made it to the lighthouse. With only 129 steps, it's much smaller than the lighthouses I visited further south. The museum here is also smaller than the other museums.
I arranged for a tour of the Sapelo Island and its lighthouse tomorrow. I'm glad I called for reservations. They only had two spaces left and they only offer one tour a week of the lighthouse and a ferry ride is required to get there.
After lunch, I went to the Coast Guard Maritime Museum. Then I found Moos, an ice cream place that reminded me of Toscanini's, a Boston area favorite ice cream shop. It also has super premium ice cream and unusual flavors (avocado, corn, Southern Comfort Peach, salted caramel). They also had plenty of what would be considered “normal” flavors.
Saturday, August 6, 2011: Brunswick to Richmond Hill
Sleeping in Walmart lots, I've learned to go to sleep early enough that I wake up before the sun turns the car into a sauna. So I was up and driving plenty early and got to Meridian an hour early. Meridian is the town with the dock for the ferry to Sapelo Island. Given the time I had, I explored the area a bit, ate breakfast, applied sunscreen and bug spray, and then when it opened, explored the Visitor Center until it was time to head to the ferry. It was a 15 minute ferry ride on the fast catamaran. Those of us on the tour then boarded a white shuttle bus. It holds 25 and there were only 8 of us on the bus. Given that it was supposed to be full and they only get paid when those with reservations show up to pay, it seemed unfortunate that they may have turned some away who might have otherwise showed up and paid for the tour.
We drove around the island, seeing the cemetery, using the leaves of a plant to numb our tongue and gums, used by the locals for toothaches. We saw the site of an old mill, now part of a research center, the college in the old beautiful barn doing research in the marshes, the mansion which if it hadn't been occupied today, we might have been able to see, and the initial reason why I went, we climbed the lighthouse. We could only climb 77 steps or so. The top was locked and off limits.
We were too rushed to be able to read much of the information in the oil shed. Our next stop was the beach where we had maybe 30 minutes to kill before having to leave to get back to the shuttle. I wish we could have had a few extra minutes at the lighthouse instead of the beach. Nobody else on the tour was enjoying the beach either.
We also learned a bit about how the current residents, known as the Gullah Geechee and descendents of slaves, now live in the one remaining community on the island called Hog Hammock. There are wild cows on the island though the only ones I saw were domesticated. While the Carnegies bought most of Cumberland Island, it was the Reynolds, as in R.J. Reynolds, that were the last of a series of owners that bought large tracts of the island from the former slave holders. The Reynolds eventually sold to the State of Georgia. Their mansion is now operated as a State Park. NOAA operates SINERR (Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the University of Georgia Marine Institute also does research and education on the island.
When I got back to Meridian, the island residents were having a fundraiser for SOLO, Save Our Land Ourself [sic], an organization dedicated to helping the residents of Sapelo Island keep their culture alive. The fund raiser looked more like a rummage sale than anything else. As a matter of fact, one of the workers at the Visitor's Center indicated that much of what they sell is what visitors leave behind on the island each year.
They also had food for sale so I got lunch, some delicious but very greasy pulled pork, and sat down to enjoy the band that was also playing. I would have stayed longer than an hour and a half, but the thunderstorm that was threatening started to rain big rain drops.
I moved on to Fort King George but with the storm, I decided to forgo the fort and just watched the video and took a look around the museum. Even with the light rain, the storm never materialized but I wasn't going to take a chance.
Sunday, August 7, 2011: Richmond Hill
After a good night's sleep, I woke up tired after having a couple of full days of pushing myself. So I decided to take a couple of days off. Libraries were closed today so I checked into a motel and crashed. I took the opportunity of using the bathtub to try to find a suspected leak in my sleeping pad but found none. So, if nothing else, it got a much needed washing. Mostly, I just napped and watched TV with only a short trip to the local supermarket to grab something for dinner.
Monday, August 8, 2011: Richmond Hill
I cleaned my cooler. It really needed it. Blech! My motel came with breakfast so I ate enough for brunch and eventually hit the library for another easy day. Given the forecast for upper 90s, it was a good day to stay inside. I stayed until closing at which time it was pouring out. Even the librarians were reluctant to leave given the deluge so they let me stay while they did. Eventually, they were going on their way but offered me the option of staying in the conference room section of the building. I would have access to their wifi, a table, and a bathroom but not the books. Since I wasn't there for the books, I settled in and kept working for another hour or two until the rain let up and I was too tired to keep typing. The door locked behind me as I left. The parking lot was still wet and there were things jumping all over. Those things were little frogs. Lots and lots of little frogs. It was almost like some sort of Hitchcock movie. Not much I could do except hope that if I drove slow, they would be able to get out of the way of the car before I would run over them.
The rain left it so cool out that I was happy to sleep with my windows partially open. It was, by far, the coolest night I've had in months and one of the most comfortable, too. I'm never sure if a security vehicle circulating around the parking lot means that Walmart is more or less secure than others. I can think of arguments going both ways. And this one seemed to have a lot of police cars, too. Some were just parked like the like they were using the lot for extra storage but others were coming and going though not with lights and sirens.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011: Richmond Hill to Savannah
I spent the day at the Roundhouse Museum learning about the rail system in the Savannah area and seeing the roundhouse which became obsolete when diesel engines came in and rendered steam engines obsolete. This roundhouse was used to service only steam engines and in its time would hold nothing but engines.
As a museum, it now houses a collection of rail cars, engines, executive cars, box cars, and at least one caboose in addition to some engines. I took tours of the executive cars where rail executives traveled in style, box cars, and even had an opportunity to pump a hand car. The hand car was a lot of work to get going but momentum helped keep it going once it was rolling.
After lunch, I took in the History Museum at the Visitor's Center. I was hoping to get some idea of what I might like to do in town. It seemed most people take a trolley tour and then visit one or more of the house museums. The house tours just don't seem to hold any interest for me but perhaps the history imparted in the trolley tour will. But the tour will wait for another day.
I hopped on the DOT, a free shuttle that circulates around town. I figured it would be a nice intro to the historic area of town. And though it's not supposed to be a tour, my driver immediately started volunteering information about the area we were traveling through. When I got back to my car, I drove through River Street, stopped at Leopold's to see what type of ice cream they had to offer and sampled one flavor. Then, I was about to leave the historic district when I found a Panera. I so miss salads when I travel so I stopped for dinner there, brought in my computer, and spent the evening there. Once again, it rained heavily when I was there. When the restaurant closed, the rain had mostly let up so I didn't get too wet getting back to my car. I really like these late day storms. They cool everything down and make it so much more comfortable, especially when I'm sleeping in my car. At yet a different area Walmart lot, it was raining again so I couldn't open the windows but it was still nice and comfortable to sleep in the car given the cooler temperatures.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011: Savannah
I took the 90 minute Oglethorpe trolley tour this morning. I did like the historic overview the tour provided and felt no need to take a house tour. For example, I can appreciate that the woman who started the Girl Scouts was born and lived here but that doesn't mean I feel a need to tour the houses where she lived. I also read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” but I just don't feel like I have to go see the houses from the book. The city is beautiful. The squares are tiny but green and traffic operates more like traffic circles where the cars in the square have the right away over those entering the square.
After the tour, I did use the on/off shuttle to visit some of the squares and wander around a bit. I visited the large bell rung when/if a firefighter's life is lost in the line of duty. I saw the Jewish burial ground, now just commemorated with one monument listing the names of those known to be buried in the area, the Colonial Cemetery with it's combination of above ground mausoleums and regular burials with headstones that are either barely legible or completely illegible, and the church steeple from which the Forrest Gump feather floated down to where he was sitting, philosophically discussing life being like a box of chocolates – you never know what you're going to get. I had seen the bench where he had sat yesterday, in the museum. It's a prop and though there are other real benches sprinkled around town, only the prop was used for filming that scene.
I walked around and went to Leopold's for ice cream and to see the film memorabilia in the shop. Then I took a walk along Factor's Walk (how could I not walk on something with that name?) where the cotton merchants conducted commerce on the bluff over the river, and went down to explore some of the shops and restaurants along River Road.
I took the ferry on it's full three stop circuit to get to see the city from the river. I could see the Waving Girl statue from the ferry near the Olympic monument.
For dinner, after having been unanimously being warned away from Paula Dean's restaurant, and having heard mixed reviews of Mrs. Wilkes, I left the historic district to go to another restaurant that had been recommended by a few people. I ended up happily eating at Three Sisters of the New South, a place with delicious food. A meat and three sides for about $10 +/- $1 depending on the meat. I had delicious fried chicken and my candied sweet potato side was delicious. The corn was good but not special and and mac and cheese also good. I just couldn't bring myself to get the okra, or the greens, neither a favorite of mine.
I had gotten a ticket for a baseball game with my museum admission yesterday and since I had just passed the stadium on my way to dinner, I headed back there after dinner. I didn't really want to go to the game so I sold my ticket. I got a few dollars and someone else saved a few dollars.
Thursday, August 11, 2011: Savannah
I took an early drive to Tybee Island but decided against the Marine Center guided beach walk. It was too hot and seemed like it was mostly going to rehash much of what I've already learned along the way. So, I went to the lighthouse and found my admission also included a typical Tybee stilt house and Fort Screven, a more modern fort than I've been visiting that I didn't even know was there until I drove past it.
So, I explored the ubiquitous keeper's house museum, oil shed, and watched the typical movie that most of these sites seem to have and eventually climbed the 179 steps of the tallest lighthouse in Georgia. After lunch, I explored the museum house typical of the stilt houses of Tybee. I was curious about what was different about that house and the other stilt houses typical of most coastal areas where storms can cause a surge. The understory of the Tybee houses were originally used not only for storage, but for slave quarters. There was certainly a typical layout to the houses. Later in the day, I passed a few other houses which, as far as I could tell from the road, seemed to have a very similar layout. Other than that, I didn't see anything particularly different about the Tybee Island stilt houses and those from other coastal areas. After the house, I explored the fort. It had a very tall fixed periscope through which I could see not only well out into the ocean, but back around to the lighthouse and across the river. This fort was last used in World War II after which technology rendered fixed location forts obsolete.
After Fort Screven, I made my way to Fort Pulaski, a fort of a similar age as Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. This was one of the last forts of its type built before the rifled artillery with it's more powerful and accurate projectiles rendered masonry forts obsolete. Rifled projectiles are ejected through a tube with spiral bored lines, The spin they impart on the projectile makes them travel further and more accurately than cannon balls.
With the new accuracy, walls could be pinpointed to such a degree that repeated hits at the same part of the wall would be able to pick apart the walls. Here, the Union soldiers who were able to take Tybee Island were able to set up their guns and fire at will on Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island. They eventually breached a wall and were able to fire through the wall towards the powder magazine. They got lucky and had one shell hit at the corridor to the magazine at which point, Fort Pulaski surrendered and the Union soldiers took over. The Union took six weeks to rebuild the breached wall and held the fort for the rest of the war, using some of the casements to hold prisoners of war.
I took a “Ranger's Choice” tour which allowed me into the quarters areas of the fort. I also had chances to see the rifled musket demonstration. I would have liked to see more of the fort but it was too hot to explore much. I'll return in the morning.
I had dinner at Papa's another one of those places recommended to me by multiple people. It was a barbecue place so I had pulled pork, what they said they're known for. They also had wifi so I sat until closing, downloading my SD cards onto my hard drive, recharging batteries, etc. I was also hoping unsuccessfully that it would rain again to cool things off. I anticipate a hot night.
Friday, August 12, 2011: Savannah
I woke up early and went back to the bridge to Fort Pulaski to watch sunrise over the river, with egrets fishing along the riverside marsh and terns wheeling overhead. Moving on, I explored the fort on my own while it was still relatively cool, or rather, not particularly hot. It would have been nice to do the guided walk to the Cockspur Lighthouse but it was too hot for a very exposed walk.
I checked out the YMCA on Wilmington Island and decided to go back after visiting the library. I spent the afternoon at the library, staying cool, and avoiding the thunderstorm that raced through. Then, instead of going to the Y, I went back to the historic district to see the Waving Girl statue and ride the streetcar. I had seen the streetcar driver a couple of days ago on the ferry. He works two jobs. And, he remembered me. The waving girl commemorates a girl, Florence Martus, who waved at every ship that came into Savannah. During the day, she waved with a handkerchief and at night, with a lantern. It is said that she never missed a ship for 44 years.
Near the statue of the girl was the Olympic torch for the yachting venues.
On the way back to Wilmington Island, I stopped at Sisters restaurant again to get a side of sweet potatoes. They were so good the other day, I had to have more. Plus, they went well with the leftover chicken and corn I had in the car. It was a good dinner.
Saturday, August 13, 2011: Savannah, Georgia to Hardeeville, South Carolina
I finally got to the YMCA this morning. Since I have to buy a day pass, I made use of the pool while I was there. It was a 25 yard pool, outside, in the full sun. The lifeguard said he measured the temperature at 91 degrees. I managed to swim 20 laps before deciding it was just too warm to enjoy the swim. So I only swam 500 yards. It was a very short swim. I didn't feel like using any of the fitness equipment but it was nice to get a shower.
I then drove into South Carolina to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. It was buggy at the Visitor's Center so I was surprised that it wasn't all that bad along the newly reopened Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive. This drive reminded me of many of the others I had been on in Florida. Well, one difference was the number of cars along the route. There was practically a traffic jam here. It's a four mile, one way road. It follows a series of levees with a variety of wetlands and forests along the way. I was surprised to see how many alligators there were. I had always thought of them as prolific in Florida and getting as far north as Georgia, but have since been told that they were historically as far north as Virginia and that they are now being found in Virginia again after some lengthy absence.
I was wiped after all this so spent time online at Burger King. Then I decided to backtrack a bit to go to the Welcome Center on the highway. It meant driving south back to Georgia just one exit away and then north again. I drove into a violent storm on my way south and then outran it coming north but didn't dawdle at the Welcome Center as the storm was coming north. I just grabbed the fliers I was interested in and drove north to my exit. I managed to get off the highway before the storm finally caught up with me. I was happy to just sit in my car and watch it pass on by.
The Walmart I stayed at tonight was the first to not use the Food Center doors as their 24 hour doors.
Date: Mon Aug 22, 2011 9:24 pm Subject: 8/14-20: Hardeeville to Charleston
Hmm, I just left Charleston today and have realized that I'm being chased up the coast by Irene. Somehow I think Irene is going to win so assuming the current forecast and expected storm track holds, I expect to be looking for a place to hole up by this weekend. Hmm, I hope I won't be competing with the locals fleeing coastal areas for places to stay. I'll probably be in North Carolina by the weekend, but probably not as far as the Outer Banks. Needless to say, I won't be thinking about going out there until the threat passes.
Sunday, August 14, 2011: Hardeeville
The route from the highway to Hilton Head Island reminds me of the roads in the Palm Coast area in Florida. With few exceptions, the businesses are set well back from the road with a screen of trees making them almost invisible from the road. Here, even the signs are understated, usually made of wood, in neutral colors, and only lit externally at night. Especially during the day, I found it hard to see many of the buildings. I expect they lose quite a bit of business but I suppose, if they are primarily relying on locals for their business, then the locals would, of course, learn where to look. I'm guessing it's local laws that keep their signs in such muted colors.
But, I wasn't looking for any of the businesses so just kept on my way to Hilton Head Island.
First, I made my way to Leamington Lighthouse. The directions I had from online didn't work well but I managed anyway. The lighthouse is in a private gated resort community. The large houses, all beautifully landscaped and different from one another, are nestled between large live oaks and other trees. It's really nice that the trees weren't cut down in order to make construction easier. Those interested in visiting the lighthouse get passes just for the asking. They'll also give directions if necessary.
The lighthouse is on the golf course in an area near houses and with easy access and a path from the road. It's surrounded by pine trees with a lot of birds. There's no climbing the lighthouse but I figured I might as well go see it, anyway.
From there, I went to Hilton Head Harbor where there's a “fake” lighthouse. A private lighthouse was built here and houses a museum. While it's not a coast guard lighthouse, many of the local pleasure boaters do use it to find their way back to the harbor at night. I climbed the lighthouse and took in the history of the area in the museum. At the top, I found a web cam so I called my sisters. One of them was home and was able to pull up the web site and see me on the camera. It was fun to talk to her and the rest of the family there. My other sister wasn't home but I did talk with another friend, too. By then, it was getting hotter so I moved on.
I had lunch and then drove around the area to see what it was like. It occurred to me that most of the people who worked in the area couldn't afford to live there.
With an afternoon storm in the offing, I took refuge at a Panera, had a smoothie, and eventually had dinner, too. Back to Walmart.
Note: Moving north, I've been noticing the changes in the vegetation. Even on Cumberland Island, the palms and live oaks on the southern parts of the island gave way to pines in the north. Here, there are a lot of other taller trees than I had seen further south. Even the marshes look different. I don't know if that's because the vegetation is different in the marsh itself, or if the surrounding vegetation makes it look different.
Monday, August 15, 2011: Hardeeville to Beaufort (pr. Byuford)
For breakfast, I went to Blackstone's, a local restaurant, for their Shrimp and Grits. I'm not that much of a grits fan but I do like trying local specialties and this qualifies. I got a generous plate of grits with lots of butter, shrimp, and cheese. It was delicious though I suspect it would have been just as delicious with just the shrimp, cheese, and butter. Some versions apparently have onion, pepper, and/or sausage, too.
The only official lighthouse open to the public to climb in South Carolina is on Hunting Island at the State Park. That was my destination for the morning. On the way in, I stopped at the Visitor's Center. There was a short boardwalk over a stream and alongside a pond on the way to the building. An eight foot alligator and a couple of basketball sized yellow sliders (turtles) call the area home. The rest of the inhabitants seemed well hidden in the vegetation or below the duckweed.
The climb to the top of this lighthouse reminded me of one I had climbed in Florida. There were half circle landings frequently on the way to the top, providing plenty of opportunities for people going up or down to pass one another. This lighthouse, having been built in the 1800's had been moved just 13 years after it was constructed when the shore approached too closely. But it was built to be relatively mobile so it was dismantled and shifted 1.25 miles. A spotting scope at the top was aimed at the former site of the lighthouse, now well under water. There were a few interpretive displays in a couple of the smaller buildings but nowhere near what most of the other lighthouses I've climbed have had to offer.
After the lighthouse, I wandered onto the beach where people find fossils but it was too hot so I just looked for a couple of minutes and then called it quits.
Moving on, I went to the Nature Center. They had snakes, fish, turtles and a classroom for teaching groups. In talking with one of the rangers, I was told of a group that would be walking the turtle nests in the morning and excavating two nests that had hatched three days earlier. Obviously, practices vary from place to place. On Cumberland Island, they wait seven days before excavating nests that have hatched.
I hadn't planned on sticking around, but there was an offer to accompany them so I signed up.
When I took a walk out onto the pier at the Nature Center, I ran into Dixie, an Appalachian Trail section hiker and former ALDHA member. He's a photographer and his work can be seen at photographsbydixie.com. He was fishing so I was shocked when he threw a cigarette butt into the water.
I went to the local St. Helena library in the afternoon only to find they had no wifi. I was shocked. I think that's the first time I've seen one without. They are attached to a school that has its own secure wifi system that they didn't want to undermine. They couldn't or didn't want to find a technological answer to that problem. I stayed to get some typing done and ended up with restaurant recommendations.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011: Beaufort
I got up very early today in order to get to the Hunting Island State Park Visitor's Center by 6:30 in the morning. I got there plenty early to apply both bug spray and sun screen. The bug spray was needed immediately. It was still dark when I applied the sun screen so that was only anticipated as I would be out on the beach in the sun for a couple of hours.
It turns out I was one of a few visitors to join a larger group of dedicated volunteers that have, for months, been walking the beaches and monitoring turtle nesting activities. When I mentioned to the organizer that I had been seeing nests all up and down the coast and really wanted to be present when the nests were excavated, she put me in the group that would be walking the beach with the excavation sites. The group then split up to go monitor their assigned sections of beach. A group of us caravanned to the campground where we got on the beach and then walked along, checking each nest. We were looking for signs that each nesting site that was due to hatch might be getting ready and also checking those that weren't yet ready to see if there had been any predation. While ghost crabs burrow into nests on occasion, they rarely take more than a few eggs. The worst of the predators are the raccoons and feral pigs which can dig down and destroy the entire nest. Beyond predators, we were looking for depressions in the sand over nests that hadn't yet hatched. Depressions are an indicator that a nest might be ready to hatch within a few days. But not all nests get them. We were also looking for tiny turtle tracks. Since most turtles emerge between 10pm and 3am, finding little turtle tracks leading from the nest to the water is often the only sign that a nest has hatched. The hatching is noted, the nest left alone, and then three days later, the excavation takes place.
We did have an unexpected treat unrelated to turtles during our beach walk. There was an area with a number of beach logs. Some unknown artist had taken beach mud, applied it to three of the logs, and sculpted or molded each. One was a friendly looking monster, another a small lizard, and a third, the head of a genial looking man. Shells were used to great effect as embellishments to form eyes and teeth. We all stopped to admire the work.
Along the way, I got to talk with some of the other volunteers. Betty and Sy were among them and it wasn't long before Betty offered me a place to stay that night. I was delighted to accept.
Back near where we had started were the two nests to be excavated today. Both had hatched three days earlier and it was time to see what was left in the nest. Those who were to dig or otherwise handle the eggs, hatched or otherwise, put on gloves to protect from bacteria such as salmonella. Only a few of the regular volunteers got to help. The rest of us just watched. One volunteer started digging carefully with his hand. He dug down and soon came up with egg shells. Every now and then he would find a whole egg. All of those were discolored, an indication of bacteria, and wouldn't have ever hatched. In all, he pulled out about 105 hatched eggs and only five unhatched. That's a great success rate for a nest. Turtle eggs are not hard shelled like chickens, but relatively soft, almost like parchment paper.
One thing that surprised me was how deep this nest was. The volunteer only stopped digging when he could no longer reach. He had dug the hole as deep as his arm was long.
Betty and Sy were leaving after the first nest so I got their number and would call them later.
I went with the group to watch the excavation of the second nest. This one had a few surprises in store for us. Almost as soon as the digging began, he disturbed a ghost crab. Both startled each other and the crab, normally nocturnal, seemed perturbed at having to face the daylight. Not only that, but it was surrounded by people and didn't know which way to go. It eventually just aimed for one of us and we were happy to let it go on its way.
Very soon thereafter, a tiny turtle emerged – alive! It was so cute. We just let it be and it took a few few steps, did a 360, and then started making its way toward the water. You've never seen a group of mostly adults with a few children from the campground, oohing, and aahing over such a tiny thing. We all urged it on and held our collective breath when it flipped onto its back when trying to negotiate some dead beach grass. But it righted itself and kept going. It was a trouper. We continued to keep our distance as it made its way to the water. To see a 2” (if that) turtle entering the ocean, with tiny waves towering above it and tumbling it around was something.
Meanwhile, a second turtle was found. This one, a few minutes behind its sibling, had a problem. Its front left flipper was obviously not working quite right. It would use that flipper only occasionally and as a result kept turning to the left. But it eventually learned to compensate with its rear flippers and also made it to the water on its own.
These turtles emerged from their nests so sandy, they almost looked more like a walking clump of sand than a turtle. But after the first little wavelet washed over them, they were washed off, seemed much darker, and looked just like a tiny version of the massive turtles a very small fraction would eventually turn into.
Of this second nest, the numbers were about the same as the first with just over 100 successful hatchings and about five that didn't hatch. Two very successful nests.
After the turtle nests had been excavated, I wandered the beach again with a couple of the rangers. We went back to the sculptures but the ranger that hadn't seen them earlier was out of luck. The sculptures were high and dry but the tide had come in and we couldn't get to the best vantage point without getting our feet wet. Mine were already wet so I got some more pictures but the ranger will have to get back there at lower tide.
With the nests excavated, when I wandered back, it was unclear where to leave the beach to find my car but the ranger set me on the right track. I actually left the beach closer to my car than where we had started. Perfect.
I then went back to the pier and watched a couple of fishermen pull small, foot long, sharks out of the water and a few others pull a few tiny fish out only to toss them back, a couple of whiting as keepers, and one fish they were calling bluefish but someone else said wasn't. That one was maybe 15” long. It was the Gullah women who were pulling in the biggest fish. It was interesting talking with both visitor and local Gullah women alike.
I'm glad I came back another day. Not only did I get to see the turtles, but it was high tide today and I got to see the tide sweeping through the sea grass. It was beautiful. It was the wet version of wind sweeping through tall grass in the plains.
I also stopped and walked along the marsh boardwalk. It was also inundated with water and beautiful. The walk went over flooded marsh and along an island of sorts sticking up in the marsh with different vegetation. It was hot so I didn't dawdle too long.
I stopped for lunch at the Shrimp Shack, a local institution. I had their shrimp burger and sweet potato sticks. Both were delicious. The burger was mostly chunks of shrimp with just enough filler to hold it together when it was fried. The sticks weren't fries, but more like mozzarella sticks with a creamy sweet potato filling – soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Delicious.
I finally made my way back to Beaufort and called my hosts. Sy gave me directions to the house and I was soon settling in. I showered, did laundry, and chatted with my hosts. I had time to empty my memory cards onto my computer so I could show Betty and Sy the little turtles from the morning but as volunteers, they had seen a great many baby turtles so it wasn't as exciting for them as it was for me.
Later, Betty cooked an amazing Low country boil for dinner. It was shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes all boiled together with seasoning. Delicious.
Earlier we had figured out that we were all Jewish so the usual jokes about low country shrimp being kosher were bandied about. I had heard the same thing about Louisiana crawfish.
Another connection we found was that Sy has a daughter named Mara. She's just a few years younger than me, too. Another of his daughters lived (or lives?) in Kenya, near the Mara River and the Masai. Apparently when she had gotten married in Africa, the King of the Masai along with a number of other tribe members came to the wedding.
We had a great evening but since we had all gotten up early for the turtles, we went to sleep relatively early, too.
I enjoyed my time at their house with its double driveway, lots of stairs, comfortable accommodations, plants, and bird feeders. Casey, their huge Maine coon cat also made friends with me and gave me kisses. Aw!
Wednesday, August 17, 2011: Beaufort to Charleston
We were all up and out by 8:30 or so. I went back into town to get a few pictures of the town that I had been either too rushed or too tired for before. I stopped at the visitor's center in the old arsenal building.
Moving on, I passed a Friendly's, an ice cream shop that I associate with home but not the south. I think it was the first I've seen in months. I stopped at another shop to sample some peach cider though I was more partial to the blackberry cider. I tried Benne wafers there, a local food that's like a cross between a cookie, cracker, and a chip.
In Charleston, I found a place to park near Battery Park and wandered the historic downtown. It's another beautiful town with pretty houses, historic buildings, cobblestoned streets with the largest cobbles I think I've ever seen used in a street, and horse drawn carts with drivers giving tours.
I tried soup from Chick-fil-A for dinner. It was OK but not my favorite. The Walmart I chose is apparently near a military airfield and has a steady stream of huge C-5 Galaxy or other similar transport aircraft taking off. They're so large, they seem to be going impossibly slow while low to the ground but in fact are higher than they look and going faster, too.
Thursday, August 18, 2011: Charleston
I took the early boat out to Fort Sumter in the mouth of Charleston Harbor. It was a 30 minute ride out there and we were then given one hour to look around before the boat returned. The rangers gave a 15 minute presentation which then left only 45 minutes to look around. As usual, it wasn't long enough for me. I didn't even have enough time to see everything outside, much less the museum. So, I asked if I could stay and return on a later boat. Since it wasn't high season with full boats, I was given permission to stay. When I mentioned that I hadn't planned on staying and would get hungry but it would be worth it, someone reminded me that I could get food on the boats. Perfect. I got a hot dog and chips from the next boat but had to wait for the third boat to get one that would return me to the port where I started. I was glad I had stayed.
In between boats, I twice had periods where for about 15 minutes, I had the place all to myself with the exception of a couple of rangers and a few maintenance workers. It reminded me of visiting Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas earlier on this trip.
The woman who worked in the gift shop was a wealth of information and when she didn't know something, her husband, an historian, could answer. So, after hearing a number of people incorrectly referring to Fort Sumner, I asked if such a fort exists. Apparently, there are a few Fort Sumners so it's no surprise that mistakes are made on occasion.
Friday, August 19, 2011: Charleston
I started the morning visiting a local park honoring Cold War submariners and then going to Fort Moultrie, one of the forts that together with Sumter would provide crossfire preventing threatening ships from entering the harbor. With the advent of rifled guns however, it proved the downfall of the Sumter. Moultrie had a 170 year history though. The first rendition was an earth and palm trunk fort that successfully withstood bombardment from the British but succumbed to the elements.
The brick fort was current for the civil war but obsolete afterward. And the concrete and earthen fort was the last of the coastal forts and abandoned after WW II when static forts could no longer provide protection from increasingly mobile warfare.
Various parts of the fort were restored to different eras. It was an interesting way to present the history of the fort.
Fort Moultrie is on Sullivan's island. This is where former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford lives. He's the one that infamously said he was going to hike on the Appalachian Trail when in fact he was traveling to Argentina to pursue an affair.
I went to lunch at Page's Okra Grill where I had She crab soup and shrimp and grits. The soup was delicious, with the salty roe, pieces of crab, and creamy bisque. The shrimp and grits were completely different from the last restaurant I tried. This one had grits that were formed into a cake, sliced into a wedge, and then fried with shrimp, sausage, and gravy spooned over the grits wedge. It was also delicious. But I found the soup dish and grits dish didn't compliment each other so I was happy to finish my soup first and then move on to the shrimp and grits.
I spent the afternoon at the library and then made my way to the Felix Davis Center in North Charleston for a contra dance. It was a very young crowd but they were all enthusiastic. There were also a lot of new dancers there with the start of the college year. I had a couple of offers for a place to stay and while Judy's house sounded great, it was a 60 mile round trip from Charleston. When David offered a futon in Mount Pleasant much closer to Charleston, I was happy to accept.
I followed him and Kathy (I might have the name wrong) back to Mount Pleasant and got settled into his form of group house. It has a rotating crowd of associated people and pets. It was late so I didn't meet many others but there were four people in the house along with three very cute dogs and a black and white cat that matched one of the dogs.
Saturday, August 20, 2011: Charleston
With everyone having their own morning routine, I was up and out with David at around 9:30. I visited the Charles Pinckney Historic site. There was more to read than see there so I learned quite a bit about the South Carolina delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
I spent the afternoon in the library and went to a swing dance in the evening. Once again, it was a young crowd.. I was among the five oldest people there, I think. And maybe only 30 people total there. I had a good time dancing but it wasn't much of an inclusive crowd.
Date: Sat Oct 22, 2011 8:01 pm Subject: 8/21-9/2: Charleston, SC to Malden, MA
So, I've been back for almost two months and I still sometimes notice Massachusetts license plates as if they were unusual.
After the usual delay or perhaps unusually long delay when I finish a long trip, I finally finished transcribing the last week and a half of my journal. It's not that I hadn't had time, it's just that I hadn't wanted to deal with it.
When I returned to Massachusetts, I spent a couple of weeks staying with friends and family and then moved into my current place in Lexington, MA. I'm renting a furnished room in a townhouse here. I'm not sure for how long I'll be living here, but at this point, I have no travel plans. Of course, I hadn't planned on being gone over four months on this last trip so you never know...
Sunday, August 21, 2011: Charleston
I intended to visit the USS Yorktown this morning but waking up with a migraine this morning put the kibosh on that. Even after taking Excedrin to make my headache go away, I know it can come back easily. So, I didn't want to pay admission if I was only going to have to leave with a pounding headache.
Instead, I walked up the new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. It's a beautiful cable stayed bridge with a pedestrian/bike lane that quickly gets you into the breeze and gives a great view of the city. The original plans for the bridge didn't include the extra lane but a grassroots effort had it added and as a local told me, there's no time of the day or night when there aren't people walking or riding over the bridge.
Later in the day, I realized I had just missed out on seeing the Hunley. It was a Confederate submarine that was recently recovered. It's been going through a painstaking process to removed years of sedimentation to try to determine what happened after it successfully sunk the USS Housatonic only to disappear itself. It's currently only open to the public on weekends. Oh well.
Monday, August 22, 2011: Charleston to Georgetown
I took another walk on the bridge this morning but got chased off by some light rain. The rain stopped before I got off the bridge so I made my way to the nearby Yorktown.
I spent six hours on the Yorktown, taking most or all of the self-guided tours available on the ship. I started on the flight deck so as to get it out of the way in the morning, before it got too hot or the rain returned.
I took some time to talk with the volunteers on board. They were surprised at my knowledge of the USS Constitution. Living near Boston, I've toured the Constitution a few times. They even insisted on giving me a poster of the Constitution that I think they usually reserve for those that make some sort of donation on top of the usual $18 ticket.
Areas of the ship I toured include the flight deck and bridge, engine room, brig, living quarters, galley (is it still a galley when it serves over 2,000?), medical facilities, and more. Areas of the ship have also been turned into museums which I visited including the Medal of Honor Museum and the Shipyard Museum. There were also plenty of aircraft to see both on deck and in the hangar bay.
The USS Clamagore, a submarine, was docked with the aircraft carrier and available to tour. Quarters were close and ducking through the hatches while stepping over the bottom of the hatch was a challenge for both my knees and my 6'1" frame.
I have to admit, I was very happy and surprised to get through the day without once hitting my head on low bulkheads endemic to ships and subs.
I also had time to visit the Vietnam Support Base but kept it quick as rain was moving into the area again.
I walked back to my car at the Cold War Memorial, where I had visited the sub a few days ago. By being willing to walk across the street, I saved on the a $5 parking fee. Thankfully, I got into my car just before it started pouring buckets. It rained so hard that I didn't even try to drive for a while until the rain slowed down.
I then had a late lunch/early dinner at Cici's where I did eat all that I could. Oy!
Moving on, I drove north through the Francis Marion National Forest. It started raining again and at one point, it was raining so hard I pulled off the road until it calmed down again. It was while I was driving that I heard about Hurrican Irene heading for the US coast. I made a mental note to find out more tomorrow. Continuing on, I eventually got to Georgetown and settled in at the Walmart for the night.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011: Georgetown, SC to Wilmington, NC
After hearing about Hurricane Irene heading towards the US yesterday, I stopped into a library today to find out more about the storm. It seems positioned perfectly to ruin my plans to spend time traveling along the Outer Banks. I considered finding a place to hang out for a week or so, thinking that after the storm passes, I could continue my travels, but realized that if there is a direct hit, or even a glancing blow, the Outer Banks are unlikely to be fit for tourism next week. So, after a few more phone calls, I gave up on sticking to the shore and decided to speed my return home.
It was while I was at the library figuring all this out, that I started hearing people talking about an earthquake. I never felt it but others in the area did. I returned to the library to find out more and was surprised to find it centered in northern Virginia and felt from New England to the Carolina's and maybe beyond. There were reports of buildings being evacuated in DC and damage to buildings and monuments in the area.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011: Wilmington, NC to Richmond, VA
It's been so long since I've done a relatively long day of driving I wasn't sure what to expect. Sure enough, one hour on the road was enough to tire me out so I'm glad I planned two days to drive the 7.5 hours to Harpers Ferry. I took a lot of breaks, stopping at libraries, a laundromat, lunch, and most of the rest stops along the way.
In Richmond, I drove down Monument Avenue, a place I would like to visit more slowly sometime. There are a lot of statues of people like Lee, Maury, Arthur Ashe, and more. The stately houses along the street are beautiful and would be nice to see at a walking pace. The internet speed in town seems incredibly slow. I checked a few places and rebooted my computer just to be sure. I couldn't do much more than check email.
Thursday, August 25, 2011: Richmond, VA to Harpers Ferry, WV
The drive today was a repeat of yesterday with a lot of stops to take breaks along the way. As usual, I sought libraries as places where I could get online during my down time.
Once in Harpers Ferry, I went straight to Mark and John's and enjoyed catching up with them. I met their new roomer, Martha, and got to see Arthur who was recovering there after breaking his foot while on the A.T. Arthur's heading north tomorrow and found Ken, the Witch Doctor, at the ATC office. Ken's a hiker looking for a ride north. They'll take turns driving to Massachusetts tomorrow.
The never ending projects continue at Sycamore. There's a trench alongside the path to the house and the dug up dirt doesn't make the trip to the house any easier. It must be a joy for Arthur, on crutches, to navigate.
I slept in my car in the darkest setting since before I arrived in Florida. I used mosquito netting to keep the bugs out and enjoyed the coolest night time air I've experienced in months. Now that I'm moving fast, it's becoming more and more apparent how hot the south was. This is especially true in the evenings when things cooled off so slowly down south but so quickly here.
Friday, August 26, 2011: Harpers Ferry, WV to Ardmore, PA
After a great night's sleep and the potential for a full house at Sycamore, I moved on to Pennsylvania today.
I started out by visiting the ATC office in the morning. I ran into Javier when using the bathroom and got invited to a breakfast he was throwing for a departing intern. Then I hung out for a few hours, using the internet, and talking with a few visitors.
It was early afternoon when I started driving to Pennsylvania. The driving was all easy going until I left Maryland and entered Pennsylvania. Then the traffic came to a standstill. I believe it was much worse traffic than normal Friday afternoon. I suspect the threat from Hurricane Irene was to blame even though it wasn't due to arrive for another 24 hours.
I pulled out my map, got off at the next exit and after few doubts when the side street was jammed for a while, I managed to zigzag my way to Ardmore without significant delay. What should have taken me 30 minutes once I entered Pennsylvania, ended up taking me 1.5 hours. Ugh! But, I had given myself enough time so still arrived when expected.
I met Steve at his place. He's someone I had met briefly at an ALDHA Gathering a few years ago but we've stayed in touch since. He's also a traveler who has been to many of the same places I've been and who has been following me on my Travels and Trails mailing list.
After picking up a pizza, we went to his girlfriend, Debra's place. She has very generously offered to put me up during the hurricane. We spent the evening catching up, swapping travel stories, and wondering what to expect of the hurricane.
Saturday, August 27, 2011: Ardmore
I slept late and woke up to nice but deteriorating weather. The breeze was freshening and high, thin clouds only hinted at what was to come.
I spent the morning running a few errands. I stopped at a local supermarket, then perused the offerings at a local permanent farmer's market that included both meat markets and bakeries, and finally went to Trader Joe's. Surprisingly, while the stores either couldn't keep some items on the shelves or had run out, the crowds were understanding, surprisingly friendly, and well behaved. Even the lines weren't too long.
Back at the house, Debra and I made lunch for the three of us. It was so nice to be able to make a salad. For dessert, we shared some special treats that Debra picked up this morning. The pastry shop where she had stopped this morning was running short but she grabbed three very pretty items garnished with edible gold.
I napped in the afternoon as the weather deteriorated. Outer bands from the hurricane were finally winding in. The wind was picking up and it was raining on and off.
Debra and Steve had prior dinner plans so I made dinner with some of what I had left in my car. I spent the evening watching TV for a while but as the weather got worse, I left the TV on the weather channel and got online. Tornadoes were embedded in some of the outer bands of the hurricane and some were fairly close to this area. But, not knowing the area, as the warnings came up, I scrambled to look up the town and county areas being announced on TV. When I realized some were close to here, I explored the stairs down to the basement, left the door open, and put my day pack with the things I would prefer not to lose at the top of the stairs, ready to grab as I went down.
At one point, a tornado warning was posted for this area. I should have gone straight downstairs but instead just decided to turn off the volume on the TV and just listen for any changes in the wind outside. About halfway through the warning period, Debra came home. I explained that we were in the middle of a tornado warning which she didn't really seem to believe until she saw the warning posted on the weather channel. I explained my plan to go downstairs at the first weird noise and she joined me to wait out the rest of the warning. The warning expired about 20 minutes later and we wondered what to do when we went to sleep.
We ended up just shutting blinds and curtains in the hopes of preventing glass from flying too far should the worst happen and then went to sleep, knowing we would have no way to know if another tornado warning was announced for our area.
Even before going to sleep, I realized there was a small leak against the chimney which was exposed in my room. It wasn't a new leak but Debra hadn't known about it. So, we put towels down on plastic bags to keep water from causing more damage below and I went to sleep.
Sunday, August 28, 2011: Ardmore
I woke up to much improved weather and an intact house. The leak hadn't gotten any worse and the towels were barely damp.
After breakfast, Debra and I took the dog for a walk. We had to avoid downed power and cable lines and marveled at the large branches that were down here and there, but didn't see any whole trees down or damaged houses.
Steve was able to rejoin us for lunch. During the afternoon, we watched Indochine, a story about a French woman who raises a Vietnamese princess in the 1930s when French colonial rule is ending. After the movie, we took the dog for another walk. Then it was time for dinner so we walked to the local Vietnamese restaurant of course.
Monday, August 29, 2011: Ardmore, PA to Edgewater, NJ
I waited until 9:30 to leave in the hopes of avoiding most of the worst of the traffic but still get to NJ in time to meet my friend Michele for lunch. It was great to see her and her family again. Her parents are doing great and her kids are growing so fast and changing significantly each time I see them.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011: Edgewater
Michele was moving her stuff into storage from the Dome, her parents second house so that her parents could rent out the Dome. We dropped the kids off at daycare and headed up to the Dome.
We were delayed somewhat by a road closed due to damage from a normally small roadside stream that had raged from the rain associated with the storm. Water still coursing in the roadside stream only hinted at the volume from a day or two ago that had undermined the road. Since Michele wasn't all that familiar with the area and there were no detour signs telling us how to get around the problem, I got out to scout the situation.
It was clear that only a portion of one side of the road was undermined and since there was a pull off on the opposite side leaving a large margin for safety, I told Michele to drive slowly around the problem area while I walked ahead. There was one other area on the road that was also damaged by the storm but not quite as bad so we slowly got around that area as well and continued to the Dome.
Thankfully, we knew the movers would have to come the other way so wouldn't have to navigate the problem road. That said, they were still an hour late.
Once in the house, the movers were OK getting the stuff into the truck. Then they followed us to the storage facility. Once there, things went downhill. The movers were slow, inefficient, and it took hours to get the truck unloaded into the storage facility. Then they tried to get more money out of Michele because they hadn't reserved the truck in advance and had to pay extra. She gave them a bit extra but only what she might have given them in tips had they done a good job anyway.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011: Edgwater, NJ to East Hartford, CT
Picked up bagels for my sisters, waited until rush hour ended, and then made my way to Connecticut. I had lunch with my sister at Mitchell's, picked up some stuff for my Mom, and then went to visit her. Hung out, grabbed dinner, and then watched TV.
Thursday, September 1, 2011: East Hartford
Spent the morning at the house. Had Indian buffet with my sister Sharon and nephews Simi and Jared. Then I spent the afternoon in the library, grabbed a bite to eat, did some shopping, and went back to my Mom's to have dinner and watch TV with Finoula.
Friday, September 2, 2011: East Hartford, CT to Malden, MA
This was the last day of my road trip - always a bittersweet day. I will miss seeing new things but look forward to a bit of stability and the ease of staying in one place.
I drove back to Boston and reunited with my sister Lori and her family.
Last updated, December 3, 2011.
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