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Back on Palmetto Time!

We’re back in South Carolina for the first since we started out from Charleston on this little vagabond journey almost two years ago. This time though, we’re at the totally opposite end of the Palmetto state.

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Our setup at Carolina Landing

We’ve been at the Carolina Landing RV campground, in Fair Play, SC, for a little over a week and a half. It’s another Thousand Trails campground … and if you’re keeping score, it’s another one in the “plus” column for them, as far as I’m concerned!

Speaking of that, I’ve decided to grade the overall experience with Thousand Trails. So far, I have to say I’m very impressed! But what I’m looking for may not be what others are looking for, so I’ve included an explanation at the end of this post as to how I’m grading these campgrounds.

We’ve had a really good time here, despite some weather issues. Yep, we just can’t get past the weather. We’ve had a couple of cold days, but that hasn’t been the problem in the grand scheme of things. I’ll talk about that later. The positive experiences come first.

We arrived a week ago Monday, after a pretty easy drive up from Flagler Beach. We stopped and spent most of Sunday night in a Walmart parking lot in Swainsboro, GA, a ways west of Savannah. I said most of the night – we tried sleeping in the car rather than taking everything out of the Nutshell. I woke up around 2:30 in the morning and decided to just start driving. We made it to Carolina Landing shortly after it opened and were set up by early afternoon.

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I love our view!

It actually took a little while to find a site. We had picked one out and started to set up there, but one of the maintenance crew came by and talked us out of it. He noted that if we did get any amount of rain, the runoff would go right through that site. So we wound up moving up the hill and to the side a little bit. And boy, am I grateful we took his suggestion. Again, more on that later.

I’m really excited about the next few months coming up on our journey. We’ve got plans to see quite a few friends between now and mid-July. It’s funny … we’ve been able to visit multiple times with the folks I grew up with in Dallas. But we’re finally coming to a point where we’re going to be able to see the contingent of “Joisey” friends now, too.

It started the day before we left Florida, when Jeanie stopped by for a visit. As I mentioned in the last post, she lived around the corner from my home in Pompton Lakes. Jeanie, as I write this, I’m looking out at my car, where this little solar powered flower is flapping its leaves in the sunlight. I think of you every time I look at it.

But I had two stints in New Jersey … the first growing up and the second when I returned as an adult in late 2001. Our next visitor came from my latter time in the Garden State..

Gary and I met at my last workplace in New Jersey. He was loosely affiliated with the company I worked for and shared an office with us. We became friends over that time, sharing more than a few deep conversations in addition to the office space, along with an appreciation for bad puns.

Gary moved out of his office long before I left New Jersey and wound up moving to the Atlanta area a couple of years ago. So when he came out on Tuesday, the day after we arrived, at least five years had passed since we saw each other.

It was a great visit! He had retired from his everyday business and was focused more seriously on what others might look at as a hobby – philately! It’s a bit more than that with Gary, though. Before he left New Jersey, he had been involved with a couple of major philately groups. He’s now in the process of writing a book about the overlap between the study of a country’s (or an area’s) stamps and the study of its general history.

We talked about that, along with a hodgepodge of other things. What I liked about it was that for the most part, the conversation was forward-looking. Sure, we told a couple of stories, but it wasn’t really reminiscing as much as just sharing new stuff.  We spent the afternoon that way, along with having some burgers and beer before Gary had to make his way back to Atlanta.

Several days later, on Saturday, we had our second visitor in camp. Quite honestly, I don’t remember how Mark and I met online. We spent a little time talking about it shortly after he arrived from Atlanta. He thinks he  first became acquainted with us through the blog, after which we became Facebook friends. I thought there might have been some direct association through a Facebook group or something along those lines. Regardless, we’ve been enjoying each other’s posts for probably a year now.

Mark and I are sort of kindred spirits … I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, the fact that we are both originally from the NYC area, that we share a similar political viewpoint, or that we have a mutual love for baseball. Regardless, we had a great visit while sharing some burgers and beverages.

Other than our two visits, the time here had been relatively uneventful until a couple of days ago. Remember  the weather? Well, we had a hell of a storm come through on Wednesday. The worst of it came through late that night, and I’ve got the video to prove it. We were pretty lucky because there were severe thunderstorm and tornado watches popping up all around us. The only one that impacted us was the last one.

Once that passed, we were visited by pretty high winds over the next couple of days. Frank opted to continue spending most of the time inside the Nutshell. He didn’t sleep the entire time the storms were going through and I think the wind was the last straw for him. He sat in my lap for a little while on Thursday morning, but finally decided to head back into the cabin and catch some z’s.

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Frank looks like he didn’t sleep at all during the storms. And he didn’t!

So that pretty much catches you all up to date on our travels. We head out tomorrow morning to continue our reunion tour. We’ll be camping for a few days at Myrtle Beach State Park, next to another longtime friend from Pompton Lakes, Val and her husband Bill. This will be our first time camping with a friend and I’m really looking forward to it.

 

 

 


Here’s our report card on the Thousand Trails experience to date. The ratings are based on a pretty simple idea – how close did the campground come to offering the experience I was hoping to get.

Campgrounds visited – 8
“What I was looking for” experience – 4
“Crowded but natural” experience – 2
“Made the best of it” experience – 2

I just realized this is my first report card release. I also realized that my grading system might not necessarily reflect the things that are important to other people.

Thousand Trails prides itself on offering a lot of amenities. They have things like swimming pools, activity centers, wash houses and laundry facilities. Some of them offer mini golf; a variety of other games like shuffleboard, tennis, or horseshoes;  scheduled activities such as movies, arts and crafts, and social hours; some even have on-site stores where you can buy groceries or other supplies.

Those things are nice, but with the exception of wanting a clean wash house and a place to do the laundry, I don’t really care about all that other stuff! I’ve enjoyed a few of the other things, but I look at them as niceties. The place isn’t going to get a bunch of extra rating points because of those. But because they’re available, I’m not going to fail any of these campgrounds. At a minimum, I feel like I can make due in any of them until one comes along that proves otherwise.

So with that in mind, here are my three grade definitions:

The “What I was looking for” experience

We’re camping. We’re out in nature, and not feeling as if we’re in the middle of a mobile home community for RVs.  It doesn’t feel like we are right on top of our neighbor. Someone else might be close by, but I don’t feel like it. There’s a certain rustic feel … it may not be the same throughout the entire Campground, but we’re in a section where I’m able to feel like I’m getting away from everything. To me, this is the equivalent of an “A” letter grade.

The four campgrounds I would put in this category are Circle M (Lancaster, PA); Lake Whitney (Whitney, TX); Peace River (Wauchula, FL); and this one, Carolina Landing (Fair Play, SC)

The “Crowded but natural” experience

In this case, it feels like we’re out in nature, but it’s compromised a little bit because someone is right on top of us. Or the park is just so damn big that you just can’t feel like you’re totally away from it all.  This is equivalent to a “B”

The two campgrounds in this category are Sea Pines (Swainton, NJ); and Orlando, FL.

The “Made the best of it” experience

Either you’re out in nature … crowded or otherwise … or not. In this category, you’re not! Either the place is equivalent to a mobile home park or you’re camping on concrete while staring at a bunch of RV’s instead of trees. This is a “C” in my book. (I’m not going to fail any of these places because even where we’ve had to make the best of it, the people have been incredible and the experience enriching. The other reason is because of money – unless I’m having to grin and bear it with the majority of locations, I’m going to be a happy camper simply because of the cost benefits of the membership.)

The two places I would put in this category are Lake Conroe (Willis, TX) and Three Flags (Wildwood, FL)

So as far the basic feel of the eight campgrounds we’ve visited so far, they’re averaging better than a “B”. That’s pretty damn good in my book.

What’s funny is that while Lake Conroe didn’t provide the environment I was looking for, it was probably one of the more enriching experiences we’ve had because of the people we encountered. In most every case, the experiences we’ve had with the surrounding campers has been an A+! So that’s even more of a reason to be happy with these places.

One last thing, and I think this is important if you’re thinking of using my ratings to decide if Thousand Trails is for you. You need to keep in mind that I’m living in a teardrop trailer. There’ve been sites we’ve used that a much larger RV wouldn’t have been able to access. In other cases, part of the rustic feel was because the roads were narrow and unpaved, or there might have been hills.

If you are traveling around in a teardrop, those things don’t mean as much. But if you’re in a big RV, you’re not going to be too happy dealing with hills, or narrow roads. Just keep that in mind. Oh yeah,  and if you are camping with kids, then you’re going to love all the amenities and activities! 

We’ll continue to add to the ratings as we go forward. We’re coming up on a stretch beginning in May where we’ll be visiting eight or nine Thousand Trails campgrounds in a row.  I’ll probably put out another report card around the 4th of July. And if you have any questions about any of these parks in the meantime, please feel totally free to send me a private message and I’ll be more than happy to give you whatever information I can.

One last thing – I’m not being paid or getting any special benefits for endorsing Thousand Trails. I just felt that needed to be said.

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Posted by on April 8, 2017 in Travels

 

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Life’s a Beach … Then You Leave

Today is moving day. As far as I’m concerned, this is the symbolic beginning of the New Year. By leaving Florida, we’re marking an official end to Winter. Later on this morning, we begin the slow trek northward. 

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Downtown Flagler Beach, plus a little road maintenance

Earlier this week, though, Frank and I visited the ocean. As far as I’m concerned, too long a time had passed since we last saw the Atlantic. That would have been last June, when we were staying near Cape May, New Jersey. And even then, we only saw it from a distance – we weren’t able to go down and feel the sand or touch the water.

So on Wednesday afternoon, we took the short drive over to Flagler Beach. It’s a pretty cool little town. Unlike its more popular neighbor to the south, Daytona Beach, this place is not highly developed at all. There are a couple of small condos, a few bars and restaurants that are more geared towards the biker crowd than college kids coming down on spring break, and really not much else. A couple of cheesy tourist stops. A winery outlet. We passed a 7-Eleven and an ice cream stand that looked like it had been there forever … or at least long enough to have been washed over by a few hurricane surges. Not much else except residences. Nothing all that fancy on that front, either.

Relatively speaking, this part of Florida doesn’t get many hurricanes, by the way. It’s located about where the coastline starts to turn westward, creating a big convex lens of ocean that reaches its furthest point west just north of Jacksonville before it begins to turn back out East around Savannah, GA. There’s something about that geography that protects northeast Florida to some degree. Flagler Beach is brushed by a hurricane about once every 2.5 years and goes a little over 11 years on average between direct hits. Compare that to Miami, which gets brushed buy a hurricane more than once every two years and suffers direct hits almost three times as often has Flagler Beach. Or Wilmington, NC, which suffers on average about twice as many direct hits. (There’s a pretty cool website that has all sorts of hurricane information, if you’re interested – hurricanecity.com. for good, detailed research on coastal towns from Texas on up to Massachusetts, this is the site to use.)

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Very little wave action

Anyhow … the beach itself is not like a lot of the other Florida beaches you may have seen. No vast expanse of sand, which is probably why it’s not that popular with the spring break crowd. The tide was coming in when Frank and I were there, but even at low tide, I can’t imagine this beach to have grown to the point of what you see down at Daytona. But the coolest thing about it is that Flagler Beach has opened up almost all of its beachfront area to dogs!  With the exception of about a 15 block area at the heart of town, everything North and South has gone to the dogs! It’s just a shame that Frank didn’t have any four legged buddies to run with while we were there.

And run he did! I was really happy to see him have a good time. I used to bring Frank down to the beach when we lived in Charleston, SC, but he wanted nothing to do with it! The waves were just too much for him. By comparison, these waves were next to nothing, as you can tell by following the links to the videos I posted on YouTube.

I don’t need to say much about what we did – I’ll let the videos do the talking. We were there for over an hour and Frank was pretty much running the whole time.

20170322_175451.jpgDid he have fun? I think the look on his face pretty much tells it all!

Yesterday, we spent a real enjoyable afternoon visiting with a longtime friend from the old neighborhood in Pompton Lakes – Jeanie. Jeanie pops out of the block every now and then to say and routinely comments on Facebook. She and her family lived around the corner from my house. I used to deliver newspapers to her folks, and played football with her older brother, Mike. I’m glad she finally had a chance to meet Frank, and that we had such a good time visiting with each other.

That’s it for now … it’s time to start loading everything up. We spend tonight camped out in a Walmart parking lot in Swainsboro, GA. It’s a little bit more than halfway towards our next campground on Lake Hartwell, which makes up part of the border between South Carolina and Georgia. We’ll arrive there sometime in the late morning on Monday. We could have made it today, but like I’ve written before, I’m trying to take our time. I’d rather get out and stretch our legs more and travel the back roads than to haul ass down the interstate.

We’ll post again in a couple of days, after we’ve set up camp. Next stop – the Carolina Landing RV Campground in Fair Play, SC.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Frank and I are now in the same spot relative to our NCAA tourney picks. All but one of our Final Four picks have been eliminated, but the one remaining team for each of us happens to be the team that we picked to win it all – the Gonzaga Bulldogs for Frank and the North Carolina Tar Heels for me. His Bulldogs have already advanced to the Final Four, their first in school history. North Carolina has to beat Kentucky this afternoon to join them. I pray that happens. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Frank isn’t a very good loser. But he’s an even worse winner! If North Carolina loses today, that little beagle isn’t going to let me forget that his picks went further than mine this year. I’ll have to double his daily treat allowance to get him to shut up!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2017 in Travels

 

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Warm At last!

Almost a week’s gone by since our last post and we’ve since moved to a new park. On Sunday we arrived at the Bulow RV Campground in Flagler Beach, FL. It wasn’t too bad to drive …  we were in the car for about 3-1/2 hours.  We’re actually only a couple of miles away from Tomoka State Park,where we attended the Tearjerkers gathering over Groundhog’s Day weekend.

Frank and I are both enjoying being close to the beach. We’re going over tonight after the temps cool down just a bit. That’s right, you heard me right! The first morning we were here, we had to deal with it being cold outside. But for the most part, the daytime weather has been glorious. I don’t mind having to put a fleece throw over my legs in the early morning or evening when it cools down if the daytime temps are warm enough where we have to run our little electric fan. And that’s been the case the last couple of days.

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Guess who’s been tracking dirt into the Nutshell again …

Frank’s resorted to his tried-and-true approach to dealing with warmer weather – he’s been digging a few inches of topsoil away from under the Nutshell so he can feel cool dirt on his belly when he lies down.

The park itself is nice. It’s big, but nowhere near the size of the Orlando Campground we were at a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago! I can’t believe how fast the time has been going. While it seems like it was just yesterday that we first crossed the border into Florida, it was actually almost three months ago! For all the bitching I’m done about being cold, at least it didn’t seemed to drag on forever. But I digress…

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I love the Spanish moss!

Like a few of the other parks, we’re in an individual campsite that gives us a bit of a rustic feel. Sure there are other RVs around us. Lots of RVs. But when nestled in under a few old growth trees that are covered in Spanish moss, it creates a bit of a different feel. Besides, I recognized the compromise we were making when we bought the Thousand Trails membership to save money. I’ve added a few photos of our setup at the bottom of the post. Yes, it looks pretty much the same. But what’s coolol is that it seems setup and teardown are getting easier with repetition.

It ain’t camping in the forest. But for the most part, it’s not been living in RV City, either, where your neighbor is only 10 feet away and nothing grows taller than a utility pole! Speaking of utility poles, we’ve also lucked out a little bit – the one in the campsite right next to us is broken, so it will remain vacant during our stay and we’ve got a little bit more separation between us and our nearest neighbor on the canopy side. I don’t mind if someone is right next door when we have the Nutshell acting as a buffer, but it’s extra nice to not have someone right on top of where we sit under the canopy.

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The Vagabonds

We had one really nice experience the afternoon we arrived here. I was taking a break from doing the setup and sat at our picnic table to rest a bit. Frank joined me. If you have been following the blog for a while now, you’ll remember that Frank loves to sit on top of picnic tables. It’s the easiest way for him the survey his domain. Anyhow, he and I were sitting there for a little while when one of our neighbors came over from an RV across the street and holding a camera. She introduced herself as Lynda from Quebec. She said she had been in the park for a few months doing the snow bird thing and that she had been taking photographs of people with their four-legged friends. She asked if I wound mind her taking  our photo. I told her that would be fine … I also managed to convince Frank that posting a photo of the two of us wasn’t necessarily going to make his specific whereabouts known to the authorities in Hilton heas, SC. I don’t know the details. Frank only refers to it as the “cat incident”. Even with me!

Anyhow, the shot  in shown  above and I have to say it’s the best one yet of the two of us together. My buddy Michael in Dallas has taken some great shots of Frank while posing solo. But this is the best posed shot that anyone has taken of the two of us together.  I love it! Lynda also gave me a hard copy of the photo on some heavy stock paper. I’ll pick up a frame before we leave the area. Thanks again, Lynda!

We’re only here for a week before heading north. Frank and I made a special point of stopping in this area so we could see a longtime friend from Pompton Lakes. Jeanie’s family lived right around the corner from our first home there. I used to deliver the local paper to their house; played football with one of her older brothers, Mike; and used to play stickball, kickball, and all sorts of other games with another brother, Ray.  it’s funny that Jeanie and I would become good friends online. She was the proverbial little sister … accordingly, none of us would have really paid much attention to her except to say hello. But we’ve maintained an ongoing friendship that started back with the old Classmates site and has now extended to Facebook. So it will be nice to see her.

Other than that, we don’t have much planned for the rest of the week. Frank has a teeth cleaning appointment at the local Banfield. It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned them, but that’s turned out to be a pretty good deal. They are located all across the country in different PetSmart stores. Frank’s probably been to a dozen of them – everywhere from Charleston to Mission, TX to Colorado Springs to Lancaster, PA.  No matter where we are, they all have access to his records. And they offer some great discounts when you buy one of their and your plans, TOO.

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No, it has an “H” at the end, and it’s  a possessive noun! Yelling isn’t going to make you right!

While he’s going through that on Thursday, it’ll give me a chance to get some grocery shopping done. I’m also going to fulfil a sort of “mini-quest” I’ve been on for over 15 years now. I have been dying for good Vietnamese food. Something beyond pho and banh mi. There was a dish I particularly liked at Khanh’s, a Vietnamese restaurant I used to frequent in California. It’s a ginger infused rice, mixed with cilantro, mushrooms, spicy pork sausage, and onions … all baked in a clay pot and topped with a piece of barbecued boneless chicken breast.

I swear to God, I probably ordered that dish at least once a week for 10 years. And aside from a short visit I made to San Jose about 10 years ago, I haven’t found it since. It certainly isn’t for wont of looking. I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in New York City, Boston, Dallas, and pretty much everywhere else you can imagine. The closest I found to that dish was in Amarillo, believe it or not! It was all of the ingredients, but not cooked in a clay pot. So it’s still left me with a craving

About two months ago, when I was looking for the dish in Orlando, it dawned on me to go back find the name of the dish in Vietnamese. Sure enough, it was listed on Khanh’s website – com tay cam. And when I did an internet search, I found a restaurant in Ormond Beach with that dish listed on its menu. Judging from the description, it’s not quite the same as what I am used to. But I’m going to give it a shot. And the best time to do that is when Frank’s not with me, making me feel guilty for not sharing. Sorry, buddy. I share a lot with you, but not this time.  : o)

Speaking of Frank, he is gleefully lording it over me that three of his final four picks in the NCAA tournament are still alive. He successfully picked Wisconsin’s upset of Villanova; joining the Badgers in the Sweet 16 are two Bulldogs, Gonzaga and Butler. I have to be satisfied that I still have both my picks for the championship game still alive – Arizona and North Carolina. But my other two teams, Villanova and Iowa State, were out before you could say, “Dogs (and other creatures that are ‘close enough’ in Frank’s eyes) Rule!”

All I know is that one (or both) of us is going to be minus another one or two picks before Saturday morning. Butler plays North Carolina, and Gonzaga plays Arizona. Fortunately, no money is exchanging hands in these wagers. : o)

That’s it for now. We’ll check in again before we leave town. Unless you’re associated with the Hilton Head authorities. If that’s the case, Frank says he might be leaving town tonight, to whereabouts unknown. He just felt that needed to be said. And I don’t know “no cats”!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2017 in Travels

 

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Travel Plans 2017

Now that you’re all caught up on where Frank and his chauffeur have been, here’s an idea of what we have in store for 2017. We’ve got the year planned out through the end of August. Actually, it’s the second itinerary we’ve created! But I’ll talk about that down a ways.

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Our last encounter with the Atlantic – Avalon, NJ

First stop, Flagler Beach, FL. We’ll be there for a week. This little town supposedly has some of the nicest dog beaches on the Florida coast, so Frank and I plan on staring into the Atlantic as much as we can while we’re there. We’ll also get a chance to visit with Jeanie, whose family lived around the corner from my old house growing up in Pompton Lakes. We’ve communicated online for almost 20 years now, going back to the old Classmates website. But I don’t think we’ve actually seen each other for 50 years. So that will be cool!

Next stop will be at Lake Hartwell, on the South Carolina / Georgia border. There’s a Thousand Trails campground on the north side of the lake, where we will be staying for almost two weeks. While there, we have plans to connect with Gary, a former business associate up in New Jersey, who recently relocated to the Atlanta area; and Mark, a Facebook friend who I’ve only “met” online. I actually don’t remember how that came about, or who our mutual friend is.  But I’ve enjoyed talking sports and current events with him quite a bit . As an aside, it’ll be pretty cool, putting faces to names. That’s going to happen quite a few more times over the next year.

By the way, it’s a bit of a juggling exercise in managing our length of stays at each campground. Ideally, whenever we stay at a Thousand Trails Park, we would stay for the full 3 weeks we’re allotted per visit. But because we have a couple of “fixed” items on the calendar, that simply wasn’t doable. So I’ve tried to manage the itinerary where we aren’t feeling rushed while staying at any particular place.

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Backroads are so much better than Interstate!

The other thing we’ve decided … Frank had a lot of influence in this … is that we’re going to hold our drive time to no more than six hours a day. This allows us to travel back roads as much as possible. It also helps keep me in the “present” rather than the future. I want to focus on enjoying the moment and not feeling in a hurry to get to some particular place by a certain deadline.  That’s become my personal goal for 2017.

With that in mind, there will be a number of times along the way where we’ll be taking advantage of a Walmart parking lot for an overnight stay. For you RVers out there – most of you already know that Walmart parking lots are a great place to stop while en route to an end destination. What you might not know is that not all Walmarts allow this! The ones that don’t are typically located near tourist attractions (like Orlando or Anaheim, for example), or are at a natural stopping-off point (like Homestead, FL, the last town in Florida before heading out into keys).

I plan ahead because I’m on a tight budget, and it gives me the illusion of control. So when I made our itinerary, I figured out which drives would take more than 6 hours between campgrounds and then found Walmarts in between where we could potentially stay. I also called ahead to find out if that particular Walmart was cool with overnight campers. For the record, I batted  about 90% – there were places that actually said they didn’t allow it. That’s something for you RVers to keep in mind. Even if you’re not planning out your trips to the degree that I am, I’d strongly recommend you call ahead while you’re driving to make sure the Walmart you selected for that evening will let you stay. It would be a real pain in the ass to get rousted at 10 p.m. and be told, “No overnight parking” and then have to scramble to figure out what you’re going to do. (You can buy an online guide that gives you this information. But it costs something like $50. My genetics includes a bit of Scottish DNA, which means I’m a cheap bastard- there’s no way in hell I’m paying $50 to be told something that I can find out myself with a phone call!)

Anyhow, back to the itinerary. We’re going to drive cross-state to get to our next stop – Myrtle Beach State Park. I’m really looking forward to this three days because we’re going to be camping with another old high school friend from New Jersey – Val and her husband, Bill. They purchased an RV last year, but weren’t able to use it as much as they wanted. So they’re going to drive down from Wilmington, NC with their three standard poodles and camp alongside the two of us!

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Easter, last year – at Lake Park Campground, Lewisville, TX

From there, we’ll drive up to Littleton, NC, and the Lake Gaston RV campground, another Thousand Trails Park. We needed a place to light for Easter and this seemed like the best location for that. My birthday happens to fall on Easter this year, by the way. Frank wanted to make me a treat for my birthday. But after asking me, “Where does one purchase poultry by-product meal and dry beef pulp anyhow?” as he was reading the back of his dog food bag, I figured I’d cut him some slack and told him that a treat wasn’t necessary!

Once we leave Lake Gaston, we have two more 3-day stays that I am really looking forward to! The first is another Tearjerkers event – this one at First Landing State Park, near Virginia Beach, VA. Frank and I had a great time at the Florida chapter’s get together in February and if this one is anything like that, I’m sure we’re going to have a great time.

From there, we head out to the North Carolina headlands for a stay at the Bells Island Campground. We’re going to see another old friend. Dave lived around the corner from me in Pompton Lakes, across the street from Jeanie. He and I used to walk to school together and talk baseball. I  like to think that Dave and I are an example for the rest of the world. If a Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan can become lifelong friends, then surely world peace is possible! LOL

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Our last Pennsylvania campground – serenity and peace, riverside

After that, we head back to Thousand Trails campgrounds. In succession, we plan on staying at campgrounds near Williamsburg, VA; Gettysburg, PA; and then finally in the Pocono Mountains, right across the border from New Jersey. That’s where we’ll spend Memorial Day weekend. I’m really looking forward to that stay – we’ll have a chance to get together with guys from the men’s group I belonged to at my old Parish in Wayne, NJ. Frank and I also plan on visiting  my old hometown of Pompton Lakes (about an hour away) and see other old high school friends while there.

After that, the plan is to stay at Thousand Trails campgrounds near Lake George, NY; Wells, ME; Bar Harbor, ME; and Rochester, MA, with a possible stay near Sturbridge, MA. Again, the beauty of this membership is that I won’t have to pay anything extra beyond my monthly membership fees while visiting these campgrounds. I’ve mentioned it earlier, but this is really saving a ton! Without that savings, managing this little vagabond journey would be a lot more difficult. There are a couple of little things we have to deal with, though. For one, I can’t reserve 4th of July until we’ve begun our Memorial Day reservation – you can only have one major holiday reservation on the books at any given time (major holidays are Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day). So I’m not quite sure which one of those parks we’ll be at for the 4th of July. It will depend upon availability. But it’s all worked out so far, and I’m not going to allow myself to stress over this one little thing.

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While in Massachusetts, I hope to make a pilgrimage to Fenway Park, too.

If everything works according to plan, this takes us up to the second weekend in August. We’ll spend that weekend at another Tearjerkers event. This time, it will be with the New England chapter at a campground in Central Connecticut. I actually planned on going to this event last year, but had to cut our travel short and return to Texas due to a medical issue. So I’m really looking forward to finally getting to meet these people!

Remember my mentioning that this was the second itinerary we had planned for 2017? This is where we veer off from our original plans, which had us working our way back down the East Coast over the remainder of 2017, to winter again in Florida. Then I heard about the big solar eclipse that will occur in August. When I was a kid, I loved astronomy! Actually, I’m just a big kid now, and STILL love astronomy! I’m one of those idiots that would go out at three in the morning to watch a meteor shower. Well, when I heard about this solar eclipse, I started to stress a bit. How could we fit this into the schedule?

About the time this was all having a muddling impact on my brain, I talked to my buddy Larry out in California. It’s funny how I can get all bothered by something and Larry has a way of just cutting right to the chase and help me see something that I need to see!

“You realize the only one who is holding you to this itinerary is you, right? I mean, Frank doesn’t give a shit. And isn’t this why you chose this lifestyle, anyhow … so you can basically go where you wanted to? If you want to see the eclipse, go see the eclipse! If you don’t, then don’t. But don’t stress over it!”

Now for most of you, this is a no-brainer.  Larry’s advices something you already know. But for me, this was a major breakthrough! I think it goes back to my not being able to live in the present for most of my life. To getting so tied up in “plans” and becoming so rigid that you wind up hurting yourself.  I know it seems contradictory to be talking about that in the post that is totally about our plans for the upcoming year. The Breakthrough though, is seeing them for what they really are – just plans.

So,  if the plans materialize, we’ll be heading to Western Kentucky after the Tearjerkers event to see one of the biggest solar events that’s occurred in the last 30 years, and possibly won’t occur again while I’m alive.

After that? We’ve got to figure that out. Right now, it looks like we’ll head back through Dallas and visit with friends from my second high school again. When we left last November, I told them that we weren’t going to be back for a couple of years. From the looks of it now, that won’t be the case.

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No more freezing my tail off? Sounds good to me!!!

After that, we’ll be heading west. We’ll incorporate a few stopover visits with friends in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona along the way.  I’d also like to spend a little time in Western New Mexico. I’d like to check that out as a possible landing spotFor when we come off the road at some point in the distant future. Ultimately though, we intend to spend next winter in Arizona and Southern California. There are a whole lot of Thousand Trails campgrounds there so that makes perfect sense. Quite frankly, given how cold it’s been in Florida, I’ll be ready for some better temps. And I’m quite sure Frank will agree!

So that’s it. And you know what? The beauty of all this is that I know things will potentially change between now and next winter. And that I don’t have to stress about it! The planning will help us maintain our budget, but it won’t be the end of the world if we have to go a different direction. Again, that may be a “well, duh” idea for most of you. But that represents a huge breakthrough for me! It’s not the first one I’ve had over the last couple of years on the road. I’m grateful for that! Here’s hoping it won’t be the last.

By the way, if any of you are interested in meeting Frank and his chauffeur, you now have a general idea of where we’re headed. Drop me a line and let’s see what we can work out. Or if you just have questions about where we’ve been and want to compare travel notes, drop me a line on that, too. We’re always willing to help out a fellow vagabond.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2017 in 2017

 

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They’re baaaaack …

Yes, we’re still alive! Yes, I’ve been incredibly neglectful with the blog. Chalk it up to issues with inertia. One thing led to another … first, it was dealing with two months of incredibly cold weather, where we had no respite at all during the day time. Then, it was not having a laptop and having trouble dealing with voice to text on the phone. After that? I guess the only thing I can say is “inertia happens”. But now that we’re finally in decent weather and are getting ready to travel north in a couple of weeks, I figured it was time to start things back up. So, here’s what’s been going on with old Frank and me:

November

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Our setup at Lake Park Campground

We headed back to Dallas on November 7th. Back to one of my favorite parks, the Lake Park campground in Lewisville. I love this place, and highly recommend it to anybody traveling through Dallas. It’s clean, inexpensive, and offers a view of Lake Dallas from just about every site in the park.

Our time there started out well enough. The first week or so was decent weather. We had a chance to visit a lot of old friends. I had lunch with the same group of guys that got together the last two times Frank and I were in town. We also got to visit with the few other folks that we didn’t get a chance to see during our two previous visits.

But it wasn’t just seeing old friends again that made this stay so enjoyable. Frank and I made some new friends, too. There was a woman named Pam, down from Missouri to visit family.  Pam walked by our campsite most mornings and would stop to pet Frank and talk to me.  We really enjoyed her company and I so got to looking forward to those morning conversations. Pam, we’ve missed seeing you ever since!

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How we spent most of our November stay in Dallas … can you say, “Brrrrr”?

Then there was Ray and Kelli, from Oklahoma, who had parked their camper behind us and a couple of spots to the south. They came by one night towards the end of our stay and offered the most delicious beans, ham and corn bread you could ever imagine! It was certainly appreciated, because the weather had already turned cold and it was exactly what the doctor ordered for dinner that night.

What they didn’t know when they stopped by, though, was that I had inadvertently left my car open the night before and someone had stolen my last bit of money out of it, about $140!  I had another 3 days to go before my social security deposit would hit the bank account. Granted, I had already done an inventory and figured out that we could stretch the food we had for a few days …  it’s not like I couldn’t live off of my blubber for a month or so, too. But for them to just stop by and make the offer? At that particular time? From my perspective, it was just one more Act of Divine Providence which has graced Frank and me.

By that time, Frank and I had been reduced to sitting in our camp chair underneath the canopy, wrapped in a comforter and a blanket. And before they left, Ray and Kelli stopped back by and gave us a really warm fleece blanket. I have to say that Frank and I have made quite a bit of use out of it since then. Thanks very much, from the bottom of our hearts, you two.

Before leaving the area, we had dinner with another old high-school friend, Debbie. Debbie was helping out a friend who was managing an estate sale. She came away with 3 heavy scarves, a couple of wool caps, and a wonderful pair of heavy gloves for me. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time! Things only got colder from there.  God bless you for thinking of us, Debbie!

December

In one of our last posts, I mentioned something about extending our membership in Thousand Trails, the company that has campgrounds located throughout all the country. That’s going to work out pretty well for us, I think. I’m paying a flat amount of money per month, which entitles us to stay up to 3 weeks at a time at any of their campgrounds across the country. No more having to stay outside their system for a week before going to another campground, either. We can move from one directly to another … something that will benefit us greatly as we hea up the East Coast this year.

Based on what we were spending since we left Charleston in early 2015, the upgraded membership will save us an average of $165 a month this year on Campground fees. Not only that, our membership is an asset that we can sell whenever we finally come off the road. Based on the weather saw on eBay before buying the upgrade, we could potentially recoup all our Campground fees when we settle down. But who knows when that’s going to be?!

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MAN, but it was cold in Texas this past December!

Anyhow after leaving the Dallas area, we headed to our first Thousand Trails campground at Lake Whitney, just south of Fort Worth. I thought it was cold and Dallas, but that was just a teaser! We had two weeks where the daytime temperatures never got out of the forties and on most days just barely hit freezing. Night time temps were down into the teens, but the nights weren’t a problem because of our sleeping bag. We slept warm as toast! But then we had to get up and go outside during the day. There’s just no way we could stay inside that tiny cramped up space day in and day out! We managed, though.

There weren’t a lot of people at this Campground, and I don’t think Frank and I had a visitor the entire time. So we spent most of the time just buried in the covers trying to stay warm.

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With all the cold weather, Frank was not a happy camper. Literally!

We were only there for about 10 days before heading on further south to the Thousand Trails campground at Lake Conroe, just outside Houston. It didn’t get quite as cold there, but we were still dealing with chilly days. I remember sitting there thinking, “we’ve seen the best and worst of Texas weather – heat indices consistently over 110 degrees during the East Texas summer, only to be freezing our ass off now!” That was when I started rethinking plans for next winter. More on that, later.

The first good thing about our stay at Lake Conroe came the day after we arrived. Frank and I drove down to Houston where we got a chance to visit with Mike, a great friend who I’ve mentioned before. Actually, this was our second visit with Mike in the last month. His sister lives near where we camped up in Lewisville and he stopped by the day after Thanksgiving with another old high school buddy, Greg. The afternoon was supposed to involve a lot of guitar playing, but basically turned into three old friends reminiscing and talking about “stuff”.

This time though, there was a purpose to our getting together. Back when I had my heart procedure at Houston Methodist Hospital, Mike and another high school buddy, Nathan, brought me back from the hospital to the nearby motel I was staying at. This time, it was Nathan who had had some back surgery about a week before. So after Mike treated me to some fantastic biscuits, gravy, and freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast, we eventually headed over to Nathan’s house to check in on him and see how he was doing. He was actually doing fairly well, much better than I would have expected someone to be after having their back worked on! The three of us sat there and shot the breeze about our shared high school experiences while chowing down on some barbecue that Mike had stopped by to pick up on the way.

Frank was the only one who didn’t have that great of time. He spent the afternoon in a crate back at Mike’s house. Fortunately, Frank doesn’t have too long a memory. By the time he started chowing down on the Chicken McNuggets I picked up for him at McDonald’s as a treat, he had forgotten all about his ordeal!

That was the end of our visits with old friends for the time being. I figured that we weren’t going to be back to Texas for about two years and these visits would have to last us. As it turns out though, it looks like we’ll be back there towards the end of this year. More on that to follow.

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Christmas lights courtesy of fellow teardrop camper Rena from Delaware – little light-up campers!

Back at camp once again, though, we were treated to yet more wonderful neighbors. Because this campground was pretty full, we were relegated to a tiny section mostly for tent campers. And it was right outside a section of bungalows, where people live on a full-time basis. I found out later that a number of the women living in that section decided they were going to make sure that the solitary old man with the dog  … the one who smiled and waved “Merry Christmas”  to everyone as they drove by  … was going to be well taken care of for the holidays.

The day after our visit with Mike and Nathan, Frank and I came back from the dollar store to discover we had a secret Santa visit. There was a plate of about 9-10 Christmas candies sitting on the camp table, along with a big cup of hot tea. It hadn’t been sitting there long because the tea was still pretty hot.

I found out who our secret Santa was the next day. A young woman and her daughter slowed down in their truck as they were passing by. The woman lowered her window and shouted, “Merry Christmas” to me. I asked, “are you the person I have to thank for my gift yesterday?”  She grinned,  shook her head, and said, “You looked cold as we drove by the other day, all covered up in your blankets. So my daughter said that we should bring you something hot to drink. And since I just finished making the candies, I thought they’d be a nice addition to the tea.”

Her daughter … who looked like she was about 10 or 11…  stuck her head over from the passenger seat and yelled, “You look just like Santa Claus! Merry Christmas Santa Claus!”

I just smiled and said, “Merry Christmas, darling! Thank you for the treats. That was a real nice thing you did.” That’s the second time since leaving Charleston where I’ve been accused of looking like Santa Claus. I’m planning on keeping the beard for a while. I guess I’ll have to do something about the gut, instead! Lol

Shortly after that, a woman came out of an RV across the street and introduced herself as  Linda. She said she was making tamale pie for dinner and wanted to know if I would like some. It’s been tough, but I have been working harder at learning how to be gracious and accepting offers of kindness from other people. So I told her yes, thank you … but asked if there was anything I could pick up for her and her husband to enjoy as dessert in exchange. She wouldn’t hear of it! I have to say, it was absolutely delicious and the perfect thing to have for dinner on a cold night.

But it didn’t end there! Over the  remainder of our stay, Frank and I received many blessings from other neighbors, too. The next day, a young couple stopped by with 4 or 5 bags of cocoa mix, some doughnuts and treats for Frank. And later that same day, Linda came back but this time accompanied by two other women. They told me that I should NOT make dinner plans for the next several days because they were all going to take turns bringing dinner by.

So, over the next three evenings (the last one being Christmas), I enjoyed homemade spaghetti and meatballs and strawberry shortcake for dessert; roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie; and lastly, some delicious baked ham accompanied by green bean casserole, two buttermilk biscuits, and a huge slice of sweet potato pie. Sweet potato pie! I don’t think I’ve had that since managing the pie store 40 years earlier while going to North Texas State in Denton! Oh yeah, Frank wasn’t left out – everyone thought to include some treats for him along with my dinner. All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas, one of the best I’ve experienced in my life!

You meet the nicest people camping. When I first started out, one of the rangers I met … I think it was at Toledo Bend State Park in Louisiana … said something along those lines to me. That campers tend to look at each other as family. Not having come from a great one, it’s been heartwarming to have experienced so much friendliness and generosity from the people Frank and I have met. It does feel sort of like a family. All I know is that I have some “Pay it forward” obligations to meet.

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Frank was pretty happy, thinking we had left the cold weather behind in Texas. Not so fast, buddy …

We left Texas two days later, on our way to Winter in Florida. The trip out was fairly uneventful. We spent the first night at a campground outside Baton Rouge, LA. The second night, we stayed at a campground in the Florida Panhandle, east of Pensacola. After one final long day of driving, we made it to the Peace River RV campground, in Wauchula, FL.  We’re actually back at that Campground right now for a second visit.

We’ve been in Florida ever since, going back and forth between Thousand Trails campgrounds, with a weekend stay at Tomoka State Park on the Atlantic coast  thrown in for good measure. But I’m going to leave things off here for the moment. Tomorrow, I’ll fill in what’s going on between then and now.

No really. I will. Trust me! : o)

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2017 in Travels

 

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Why, Why, Why, Why, Why?

Why do I invest so much heart and emotion into the teams I root for?

I am a long-time fan of the Golden State Warriors … started rooting for them when I moved to the Bay Area in 1979.  Before that, I had rooted for the Knicks, a leftover from when I lived in New Jersey. But seeing as how basketball was somewhat down on the list of sports I cared about, it was a relatively easy switch to simply root for the “home” team.

For some reason, I got invested in them.  I tell you, there were years that they were so bad, I think that on any given night, they could have lost to Duke, North Carolina or Kansas, three perennial college powerhouses.  I lived through the “Run TMC” period, named for Timmy Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullen, the three stars of the team back in the early 90’s.  Those teams were fun to watch, but they had as much defense as Switzerland … it was nothing for them to score 125 points in a game, and then wind up losing by 10 points!

So the Dubs resurgence (“Dubs” as in “W” as in “Warriors”, for you non-basketball enthusiasts) over the past 3-4 years has provided a great deal of sports joy. Unfortunately, “sports joy” is fleeting. It’s like a sugar rush: when they win, especially a championship, the feeling is incredible. But it’s short-lived.  Not only that, it doesn’t translate over into the rest of your life.  A couple of days later, if you get a ticket, or if you get into an argument with your boss, you don’t really sit there afterwards and say, “Yeah, but man, those 49ers are Super Bowl champs!!!!”

What’s even worse, is that when they lose, it does seem to translate over to the rest of your world!  I’ve gone through times when, after one of my teams lost in the playoffs, it would affect my mood for weeks!  So that being the case, why, why, why, why, why do I invest so much heart and soul into rooting for a team?

Last night’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers sucked. Big time.  I mean, the Dubs were up three games to one!!!!  I was already celebrating, which was stupid, seeing as how I know “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings!”  I experienced the other side of that “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” experience a dozen years ago, when the team I root for – the Boston Red Sox – came from four games down to sweep the hated New York Yankees in the AL championship series and then went on to win their first World Series in 86 years!  At a gut level, you know that anything’s possible … that having a commanding lead doesn’t mean squat.  That’s why they call them “upsets” or “miracles”.  But when your head says, “Jeff, you know they haven’t won it yet,”  your heart steps in and tells your head, “Shut the hell up, will you? I’m celebrating here!!!!”

After they lost last night, my Facebook post was, “Shit. Shit. Shit.  Wasted season.”  Here they had set a record for the most wins any team had ever had in a season.  They were now part of the, “Who’s the best team ever?” debate.  And then last night, they shit the bed!

Funny thing, though.  I woke up this morning … and the world hadn’t ended!  The sun was shining, Frank was licking my face, and the coffee tasted pretty damned good!  Huh.  What’s going on?  And that wasn’t meant as a rhetorical question, either?  After finishing my morning meditation, I really thought about it … “What’s going on?”  Why wasn’t I feeling the way I felt in 2003, after Grady “effing” Little left Pedro in too long and the Red Sox had yet another kick-in-the-gut loss?

My first thought was, “They won last year.”  As bad as last night’s loss was, they did win the NBA championship last year.  They’re part of what could go down as one of the top five “Game 7 of the Finals” of all time, albeit on the losing side.  They didn’t get blown out, being in it until the end. They had a record-breaking season this year and were one game away from a repeat.  Maybe this loss will give them reason to improve the team, perhaps go after free agent Kevin Durant in the off-season.  Either way, they’re set up for potentially being in the finals for the next 6-7 years, given the team’s talent.  Yeah, they lost, but it could be worse.

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“Mickey Mantle don’t care ’bout youse … nobody cares!”

Then I thought about one of my favorite movies, A Bronx Tale. Everything in life can be explained in a movie … and I am one of the biggest movie buffs (literally and figuratively) of all time.  Here’s the scene I was thinking about – where young Calogero is heartbroken after Bill Mazeroski’s grand slam gives the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Series over his beloved New York Yankees …  and Sonny the gangster imparts his sports perspective. “If I can’t pay my health insurance next month, maybe I should go ask Steph Curry and see what he tells me.

Then I thought about the Cleveland fans and how they must be feeling right now.  Not only had the Cavaliers never won a championship, no sports team from Cleveland had won any championship for over 50 years!

I remember when the Red Sox won in 2004.  I sat on the end of my bed and cried.  I mean, I had both hands covering my face, with tears streaming out between my fingers!  How could I begrudge that feeling to some Cleveland fan who was stupid enough to invest as much into his teams as I had in the Red Sox?  And by the way … what I wrote about sports joy being fleeting at the beginning of this post?  The 2004 Red Sox championship is the exception that proves the rule.  That championship provided sports joy that will last me the rest of my life!

So, I’m cool.  I’m surprised as all hell that I am … but I am!  Only thing I can chalk that up to is the perspective of coming so far out of the valley I was in only 19 months ago. Of feeling an overriding sense of inner peace after being on the road for more than a year.  There’s a lot to be said for that.

I root for four teams:  the Boston Red Sox; the San Francisco Giants (out of deference to my grandfather, who introduced me to baseball – the greatest game ever invented;  the only time I ever saw the man cry was when the Giants left New York for the west coast); the San Jose Sharks; and the Golden State Warriors.  If I had to pick a football team – I’m a semi-interested New York Football Giants fan, so five teams.

Since the beginning of 2004, those five teams have won nine championships.  Nine championships … in twelve years!  Maybe I should go ask a San Diego sports fan if I have any right to be unhappy about the Warriors failing to make it ten last night.  What do you think he’d say?

Yeah, this “inner peace” thing is pretty cool!


Frank and I took a drive over to see the ocean yesterday.  I’m planning on taking him to the dog beach in Wildwood, NJ this afternoon, but it was nice day yesterday, and I’ve been missing the ocean ever since we left Charleston a year ago.

Avalon-by-the-Sea is the closest beach town. It’s right across the bay from where we’re staying, so that’s where we headed and drove a little ways north from there. The bay was on the left, the ocean on the right, and we were approaching a waterway connecting the two. We caught a break … just after crossing a tiny, two-lane drawbridge over the inlet, I noticed a cruiser approaching from the bay and knew they were going to have to raise the bridge to let him through. So I sped up a little and made a U-turn at the next chance to head back over the bridge in the direction from which we had come.  Sure thing, we were the first car in line as the bells started ringing, lights flashing, and the safety arm lowering.  I got out of the car and snapped a few shots.  What a great vantage point it was, being up over the water instead of at sea level.  Here they are:

A view looking towards the southeast, out into the Atlantic.  Lots of surf fishermen out today:

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A view looking to the northeast. I was surprised there weren’t more folks out on the beach celebrating Father’s Day.  The weather was glorious!  By the way – check out the rust on the bridge.  Pretty scary, huh?  What do we need to do as a country to develop the will to address our failing infrastructure?  There are like, what … 70 thousand bridges that are structurally deficient in this country?  We’re waiting for a disaster before we do something about it?  Why can’t we get our elected officials in Congress to do their freaking jobs instead of focusing on bullshit??? (Hmmm … where’d that “inner peace” go?)  :o)

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A view over the car looking due west, into the wetlands.  The NJ mainland is in the distance.

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A view to the southwest and the “Great Bay” separating Seven Mile Island from the mainland.  The cruiser in the foreground was the reason we were sitting on the bridge.  All because of those outriggers!

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Five years ago, if you would have bet me that I’d be happy sitting on a drawbridge waiting for a ship to pass underneath, I’d not only have taken the bet … I’d have given you odds!  Isn’t it funny what perspective can do for your psyche?  :o)

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This last shot was taken after we crossed back over the bridge and were back on the island. The view is from behind a seawall in Avalon, looking north.  I’m pretty sure the buildings in the distance are the south side of Atlantic City, about 20 miles due north as the seagull flies.  By the way, if a seagull spends all his time on the sea, what would you call a bird that spends all his time on the bay?  Answer:  a bagel!!!  (Don’t shoot the messenger – I ran across that little dandy a few days ago.  Nothing in this world is as good as a bad pun!  And yes, I know – “bad pun” is redundant!)  :o)

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Posted by on June 20, 2016 in Musings, Play Ball!, Travels

 

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Miscellaneous Photos Part 2

The leg’s much better … thanks for the emails and private messages you all have sent. They’re very much appreciated.  It’s only been a couple of days and already the pain has subsided substantially – I can get around without having to rely on my walking stick for support now.  The redness has started to recede from the line the nurse put around my leg to show the upper point the infection had reached.  (I hope she wasn’t a practical joker … I’d hate to find out she used indelible ink.  I can see it now: “That’s an interesting tattoo. Is there a story behind it?”)  Here’s hoping the issue becomes a distant memory shortly after I finish the antibiotics course I’m on.  Another eight days …

Anyhow, here are the rest of the photos I promised earlier this week to post.  There aren’t a lot of them,  I’m sorry to say – the phone continues to act up.  Hopefully I’ll have a new one  before we leave New Jersey at the end of the month.

Antietam / Sharpsburg

Depending on whether you’re a Yankee or a Southerner, you know this battle site by different names.  If you grew up a Yankee like me, you were taught “Antietam” in school.  As with other Civil War battles, Southerners refer to the site by the name of the nearest town, hence “Sharpsburg”.  I had ancestors that fought on both sides of the war. More importantly, I have dear friends in both parts of the country.  I will refer to the place as “A/S” from here on out in order to show no deference.

This site wasn’t even on my radar until one of my Texas friends suggested that I visit there after I had posted about going to Gettysburg on Facebook.  We had run out of time for a visit while staying at Circle M, but then once I realized that our next campsite was in the same general area, that was the first thing I planned on Frank and I driving to see.  Chris, I’m really grateful for the suggestion.  Like you said, A/S is nothing like Gettysburg.  It’s much more pristine, very well preserved, and completely devoid of the “tourist” feel  surrounding the latter.

We arrived around 11am and stayed until after 3pm.  Visitors can see pretty much everything via a car tour.  We were given a very detailed map, with descriptions for each of the various stops they suggest during your drive.

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Dunker Church today

For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, A/S was the bloodiest, single-day battle that’s ever taken place on American soil.  At the end of the day, almost 23,000 Americans were dead, wounded, or missing … 12.5 thousand Union soldiers and 10.5 thousand Confederates.

The battle had three distinct phases: in the morning, it was centered around a cornfield in the northernmost part of the site and in the woods to the west; in the afternoon, the battle moved further south and was centered around what’s become known as the “Bloody Lane”.  In the evening, it moved further south still and was centered around a bridge that the Union army had to capture in order to flank the Confederates.

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Dunker Church, in background

In the morning, the Union planned to attack from the north, aiming for Dunker Church, visible atop a small hill to the southwest. (I think it’s ironic that the church was used primarily by German immigrants that were known to be extreme pacifists.) You know, so many of the sites we saw here and at Gettysburg were given the moniker “bloody” – The Bloody Wheatfield; the Bloody Lane; and here, the Bloody Cornfield, which stood between the Union position and the church.  To me, it almost diminishes the ferocity it’s supposed to represent, being used so many times to describe these battle scenes.

The battle raged all morning, back and forth through the field and through the woods to the west.  It started with artillery barrages from both sides and ended in hand-to-hand combat.  The Union Commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, had this to say about the morning battle … and to me, gives a much better understanding of what it must have been like to witness the horror of that day:

“In the time that I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield.”

By the way, the historical photos are courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and were taken by two assistants to Matthew Brady, considered by many to be the first photojournalist.  The photos were displayed in New York City and were the first time  average citizens could view actual scenes of war.  I found them in doing some research before visiting the battlefield.  What I read though, was that the photos didn’t have the effect everyone was expecting.  Instead of repulsion, they created a fascination amongst the people visiting the photo exhibition.  What is it about humans that we’re drawn to the macabre?  As an aside, I’ve never understood the popularity of horror films either, especially those that are violent and gruesome.  But I digress …

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Chaplains of the Irish Brigade … not very “priestly” looking, are they?

By midday, the battle had moved a bit further south as the Union advanced on the Confederates, whose men had taken position in a sunken road that had been worn down by years of wagon traffic.  The Union attacked, sending several waves of troops.  This included the First Regiment of the 69th New York Infantry, better known as the Irish Brigade and comprised mostly of immigrants.

They attacked directly at the center of the Confederate ranks, and while their maneuver allowed other parts of the Union Army to flank the line, they lost almost two-thirds of their men. I read that of all the regiments that fought in the Civil War, only two others suffered more losses over the course of the war than the Irish Brigade – one from Vermont and the other named “The Iron Brigade”, made up of units from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.

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Monument to the Irish Brigade at the Bloody Lane

 

Anyhow, at some point, a weakness developed in the Confederate line and two regiments of Union soldiers were able to gain control of a small hill overlooking the sunken road.  Again, fierce fighting took place.  The three hours of battle that occurred in this little section of land resulted in over 5,600 casualties and the “Bloody Lane” label.  I came across this quote from a private in the 9th New York Volunteers and was quite moved by his observation of the scene he witnessed after the battle was over:

“Before the sunlight faded, I walked over the narrow field. All around lay the Confederate dead…clad in `butternut’…As I looked down on the poor pinched faces…all enmity died out. There was no `secession’ in those rigid forms nor in those fixed eyes staring at the sky. Clearly it was not their war.”

When we visited the Bloody Lane, I was struck by how small an area it is.  I was picturing it in my mind as some long highway, but on arrival, I was taken aback at discovering that it couldn’t have been much more than the length of a football field!  The road took us past the start of it to the west and circled around to a parking lot on the east side.  There, I got out to take a few photos and to stop for a moment just to try and envision what it looked like years ago.

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Aftermath of the Bloody Lane fighting

A previous post mentioned the “Ghosts of Gettysburg” and how it seemed they were absent the day Frank and I visited.  That wasn’t the case here.  After snapping a couple of photos, I was hit by the eeriest feeling of the presence of dead souls.  The hair on the back of my neck and on my arms were suddenly … and literally … standing on end.  I tried to laugh it off as I walked back to the car.  But as I opened the door, I saw that Frank had curled up into a little ball on the passenger-side floorboard … he was shaking and would not get up on the seat! That really freaked me out.  I got back in the car and started driving to the next point on our guide map, and it wasn’t until we had been moving for about five minutes or so that Frank finally got back up on the seat.

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The Bloody Lane, today

Take a look at the photo to the left.  It was shot from the eastern end of the sunken road.  It extends to perhaps fifty yards beyond the tall monument you see in the distance.  Look at it for a moment and then consider that in that little patch of ground, almost 2,000 men were killed or wounded per hour … and that went on for three hours straight!  I recognize that in certain cases, war is a necessary evil. I hate that, but accept it. I wish though, that the war hawks in Congress … the ones who are responsible for sending off our boys to battle … were required to visit this place first. I doubt that many of them have any real inkling as to what war is really like, or the impact it will have on the young men who are the ones risking their lives.  It reminds me of a verse in one of my favorite Jackson Browne songs, “Lives in the Balance”:

I want to know who the men in the shadows are;
I want to hear somebody asking them why
they can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are,
but they’re never the ones to fight or to die.

Odd, I have no idea where that soapbox came from.  I’ll put it away now. Back to A/S …

I don’t have any photos from the rest of our visit.  About ten minutes after we left the Bloody Lane, it started raining.  After that, we saw the bridge that was seized by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and thereafter named for him. Then we drove through the back area that was controlled by the Confederates and from which they retreated towards the Potomac River at the end of the day, followed by a drive past the national cemetery on the southeast edge of the battlefield.  All along the route (actually, all throughout the the historic site),  we stopped to read the placards that identified positions of the various regiments of each army along with the action they saw at each particular location.

The Road to Sharpsburg

CF State Park

Cunningham Falls State Park, MD  … I love roads like this!

We traveled through some absolutely wonderful countryside on our way to visit Antietam / Sharpsburg.  To get there, we had to pass close by Gettysburg again, after which we were treated to more farmland … beautiful, expansive fields with silos and farm buildings in the distance.  It reminded me so much of the farmland in eastern Tennessee I used to visit when I was a kid, going to see my grandparents’ farm outside of Knoxville.  I love how they lie nestled among wide, rolling hills. There’s just something so “America” about it, to me.  But as soon as we got off of interstate, we entered a thick woodland and began driving through Cunningham Falls State Park.

appalachian trail sign

Have you watched the movie, “A Walk in the Woods”?  I happened to watch it about a week before seeing this sign and was reminded of it.

I’ve mentioned before that I absolutely love driving on roads like this, especially when there’s no other traffic, like the day Frank and I traveled this one.  You get a chance to slow down to 30mph or so and really look at what you’re passing.  There were a couple of times where we had cars come up on us (fortunately, the speed limit here wasn’t much higher than what we were driving, so it’s not like I was a hazard).  When that happened, we just pulled off onto the shoulder and let people pass so we could continue to dawdle.

We also drove by an egress point on the Appalachian Trail.  I’m including this photo, despite its “suckitude”.  The grey blotch you see at the bottom was actually mist rising up from the gravel walk you would follow from the parking lot to get to the trail itself.  There have been more than a few times where I’ve wished I was traveling with a professional photographer, one who could show me the proper way to shoot some of the things Frank and I have come across.   I’ve read and read about photography – I bought a couple of “concept” books that were more about approach and less about settings, along with reading innumerable online “How you shoot ‘X'” instructions.  They just don’t seem to take (pun intended).  As I read them, I’m thinking “Ahhhhh” … but when I’m faced with a situation, I can no more remember what the book said than I can remember what I had for dinner last night! Alas, I have too small a hard drive inside my skull. One that’s near capacity and no longer benefits from any attempt to  “defrag”!  Ask what David Ortiz’s OPS was during the 2007 World Series, though (.945) … who can explain this shit????   :o)

I feel bad that I’m not doing our subject matter justice … that these shots do a disservice to you folks who are following the blog.  Anyhow, take a look at this photo and imagine how it might have been captured by an Ansel Adams or a Jim Brandenburg …    :o)

appalachian trail mist

Mist coming off the walk into the Appalachian Trail

Frank Makes a Friend

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Say hello to Moose!  :o)

I can’t put Otter Creek behind us without mentioning Moose … a basset hound that was camping a few sites away from us along with his humans, Bobbie and Mike.  This was Frank’s first encounter with a relative and he really seemed to understand how close in breed they were!  Frank’s normally the standoffish one when he meets another dog. It’s funny to watch him in a dog park … he’ll run up to a group of dogs, but then stay on the outer fringes.  He’ll happily jump up and down along with the rest of them, but he’s always on the perimeter. Never in the middle of the group.  It’s like he wants so much to join in, but he’s afraid he’ll get trampled or something.  Hilarious to watch!

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Is this a trick mirror or what???

But that wasn’t the case when he and Moose met.  In a matter of seconds, he became really excited, as if he was fascinated by the physical resemblance.  I think Moose was a little bit taken aback at first.  He just stood there while Frank was seeing if he could set a world record for the number of times he could circumnavigate a bassett hound in 60 seconds!  The blur in the shot to the left isn’t the fault of the camera … none of us could slow Frank down! I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen him this wound up!

In the “small world” department, Mike came back for a visit after finishing his walk with Moose.  We started talking about where we were from and places we visited.  Mike mentioned that he was from a little town in the San Bernardino valley east of Los Angeles … Glendora.  I said, “I know Glendora!  My uncle lived here at one point.  You don’t happen to know anyone with the last name ‘Tice’, do you?”

Mike replied, “Yeah. Mike Tice. He and I were friends in high school.”  I think you could have knocked him over with a feather when he found out that Mike was my cousin!  I’ve had a few “small world” experiences over the past year and never fail to be amazed by any of them.  There were a couple of others that happened just his week!  A woman was admitted to the ER while I was laying on my gurney with some antibiotics dripping into my arm through an IV.  As it turned out, she was from San Jose and lives only a half mile or so from a home I used to own back there.  Not only that, one of the nurses was from Pompton Plains, a town right next to where I grew up in Pompton Lakes!

Anyhow, Frank and Moose had another chance to visit later in the week.  Bobbie walked him one morning and as they neared the  Nutshell, Moose took a detour up our driveway and let out a bay.  Frank heard it and jumped out of the Nutshell to scamper over and greet him as quickly as he could manage!  Both their tails were wagging a mile a minute.  Later that morning, the two of them had a short play date at the playground across the road, where Bobbie was watching her granddaughters on the swings and slide.  They ran around each other as much as their leashes would allow (Moose and Frank, not the granddaughters … I felt that needed to be said).  Bobbie and I spent most of the time doing a little dance as we tried to keep the leashes from getting tangled.  Moose was baying like crazy and Frank had the biggest smile on his face I’ve ever seen!  A good time was had by all.

That’s it for now. It’s Saturday morning in south Jersey.  The campsite is near capacity now. We have tent campers on either side of the Nutshell and Frank has been straining at the end of his lead in order to capture as much activity as he can.  He is one nosy neighbor, figuratively and literally!  We’re about to take our morning walk, after which I’m sure Frank will hop back up into the Nutshell to take another of his midday naps.  I’m pretty sure that in an hour or so, I’ll be joining him in Dreamland.

I hope everyone enjoys their weekends!  :o)

 

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in Travels

 

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