Thursday, January 7, 2016

Florida Dec 2015 2 weeks is too short: Or what we did for Richard's Christmas break

I could hardly believe it had been 8 months since we drove away from Richard's new apartment (and life) in Winter Park to hit the road.  Neither of us are big telephoners and Richard is even less of one, but we have texted some and talked some in that time and I was so excited-like over the moon, jittery, couldn't sleep for 2 nights excited-to see him again.  We knew he'd been doing well in school, had a nice group of friends and reportedly had cut neither the hair on his head nor his face in that time.  I texted him about once a bock for the last 15 minutes of our ride from Alexander Springs but first: that ride.

We really ended up liking Alexander Springs and had changed a reservation for later in the month (on the west coast of FL) to Salt Springs, Alexander's northern spring campground.  We got going a bit earlier than our normal time (yeah, that excitement thing gets me moving) and drove out onto the road when we heard a thud like we'd run over something in the road.  But nothing felt different and the edge of the roadbed at that point was sort of jagged and we figured we'd just hit a bump. We really don't ever learn, do we???  We drove blissfully along for about 1/2 hour (25 miles!!) when we got to the town of Eustis.  As we came up to a light a car passed us honking and gesturing wildly.  We decided to stop as it looked like they were trying to tell us something was wrong with the MoHo.  Don hopped out the driver's side and was making his way around when I came out the main door and right away saw what they meant:  the right front tire of the car was not just flat it was torn to shreds and we were riding on the rim.  As we got to it, a guy pulled up in a car and said he'd been trying to flag us down for about a mile.  He'd been in a parking lot when he "heard us coming" and being an RVer knew immediately what the problem was.  He then suggested we invest in a TireMinder and I was half embarrassed to tell him we have one, but it's the model that can't turn off and beeps constantly which drives us crazy, so we stopped using it. Clever is as clever does.  We had been discussing upgrading when we are in Jupiter, which is near the TireMinder store, and now it was a no-brainer.  OF COURSE, I have read numerous blogs of Full Timers ALL of whom say this is an indispensable item but...yeah, old dogs and all that. The good thing is that both Don and I know how to change a tire (Ha! We'd just practiced last month.) and within 1/2 hour we had the new one on the car, the old one (really the rim with a gatherings of rubber strips) on the back of the car and the bikes, which normally mount on it, inside the MoHo because the bike rack had nothing to latch to, and we were once again on our way.  I texted Richard and let him know we'd be a little later but still within the window of getting there before he had to leave for his last day of classes (1pm-9pm) before vacation.  We made good time and  that's when I started texting...

So, we pulled into the same spot in the parking lot at the apartments that we'd used in April and Richard came out to greet us.  How wonderful it is to hug one's child after a long separation!  Yes, his hair, as curly as mine and reaching his collar and beard, reds and golds and brown like Don's when he was young, were different but other than that he is still the guy we know and love. He was dressed in nice slacks and a dress shirt and it turned out he'd be making a presentation in class and needed to get there early.  He immediately made us welcome, we brought Cadbury and Phoenix in to reestablish their relationship with Chloe, Cadbury's sister and the cat who LOVED Phoenix, but she was having none of it.  She's not a hisser or fighter, she just went and sought sanctuary under Richard's desk. I then drove him over to school before heading to do some shopping then back to finish the laundry I had started virtually the minute we walked in.  When I got back from running errands Richard was home-the professor had let them go after their presentation was done and would text later to say Richard got an almost perfect score! Nice way to start vacation. Having Richard there was for dinner a bonus and then to make it even better he cooked it-his specialty: chicken fried rice. Delicious!!  He then convinced us to watch a movie, Whiplash, which was engrossing enough that I stayed awake through the entire thing, a rare event.  We retired for the evening then to the MoHo with plans to quietly enter to make our breakfast the next morning (the MoHo was completely shaded and would therefore not recharge the batteries the next day) and then get on with the various other tasks and shopping we needed to do.

The first thing on the agenda was finishing the laundry and by then Richard was up and we went over to Target to get him a new phone.  His old one was about to bite the dust and is his sole means of communication unless he is at home on a computer.  So, we found the one he wanted, got the cover and protector and when the guy finished ringing up the sale he handed me a slip and said, "Our special right now is a $200 gift card with the purchase of a new phone."  Well how great!  So, because I really did not like my clunky, heavy and difficult to manage bike, Don suggested we use the card to buy a new one.  After much trying and lifting to see weight and me pouting about not wanting racing handlebars or a "stupid crotch digger seat" we found the perfect bike.  And what a dream it is.  I have ridden it more miles in the past 2 weeks than I did the other in the past year.  Chores complete, we decided dinner out was the way to go.  Richard knew of a good Chinese restaurant so that's where we went and he was right.  China Garden serves fresh, delicious, made to order meals and that night the cook was busy also preparing and order of over $1000 of take out food.  (Full Sail University graduation had been earlier that day and we suspected someone's graduation party must have had Chinese take out.) 

Mid-morning was our launch time and so we drove off to Blue Spring State Park, only an hour away, after a stop at Costco to fill up with cheap gas.  The trip was uneventful and back along some of the same route we'd followed down.  The park is beautiful and with a cold spell upon us the manatees, for which it is known, had been flocking in all day.  Blue Springs is a designated manatee refuge and is becoming more and more of a home for the West Indian manatee. When we arrived the number stood at 155.  This meant there would be no swimming but we could kayak in the  waters of the St John's River downstream from the spring which is protected.  Richard and Don had changed the seat on my bike for me but still had to raise the handlebars so they went for a ride while I finished setting up.  They got back in time to do the needed work before the mosquitoes began their bombing runs and we retreated to the safety of the inside of the RV.

Now, one of the things we have noticed about virtually every RV we see is the number of TVs. Really, 40-42 feet and some of them have 3-Living Room, bedroom and outside.  We have 1-it's in the living room and it had not been on since we were at my sister's last January and watched a few movies.  But, we would watch it the first night at Blue Spring to see a DVD I picked up at a thrift store which was a Leonard DiCaprio thriller.  We also had to set up our Christmas lights laser projector that I'd ordered after seeing the one at Davis Bayou.  It projected 1000 green and red lights into the trees which looked pretty cool and had Cadbury intrigued since some of the dots of light fell inside the MoHo on the dash.

Our Christmas tree 

On Tuesday, since Don and Richard had finished my handlebars, we all rode over to the refuge area to see the manatees assembled.  It was an amazing sight to see groups of 10-12 huddled together near the shore or lazily swimming out into the center and then slowly swimming back.  There were other small fish and some larger ones, like gar, so an old dead tree held an assortment of birds but none of them were fishing, simply preening and drying their wings.  One lone cormorant finally swam around for awhile diving and surfacing after a few minutes and then sitting and drying his wings before flying off again. 

On Wednesday, Richard and I went into town to do some shopping and when we returned decided to go paddling on the St Jon's River.  With 3 of us we had to rent a kayak and had only 2.5 hours before we had to return it which turned out to be a perfect amount of time. I was floating along watching and trying to photograph a blue heron when I heard what sounded a like a bull frog.  I had floated a bit into the vegetation near the shore and then my thought process went like this: hmm I didn't realize there were frogs around, oh wait, Karen said alligators make a sound like bull frogs, OMG I am almost on shore and can't see anything in the vegetation, that bird just took off- Paddle! paddle fast!  I took some solace in remembering that a ranger had told us that our 14 foot kayaks are probably too big for an alligator to risk attacking but the adrenaline rush gave me power to catch up to Don and Richard without even getting winded. We sat in the kayaks for awhile next to the rope marking the refuge area and a cow and her calf swam under me making their way slowly out into the river.  We'd been told that morning that another 150 manatee had come up so there were over 300 but the weather was starting to get warmer and some of the manatee were starting to leave.  With almost 300 that morning their numbers had decreased by the next day and when we left on Monday there wold be only 72 left.

The bathrooms at Blue Spring are brand new and very nice and I was happy to see a washer and dryer there.  BUT, they cost $7 to wash and dry a load and after I decided to bite the bullet to do our bed linens I found out the hard way that the dryer was only 30 minutes and did not dry the stuff so even though it was Christmas Eve...I went to town.   Having dumped my ENTIRE large mug of coffee on my pajamas that morning I figured it would be a good idea anyway. So, while I did laundry Richard and Don did another kayaking trip in the river. 

Christmas Day was a subdued day with Eggs Benedict for breakfast and then Richard and I reading and writing while Don went for another paddle and a bike ride.  As he rode along the bike path he spied a 13" snake which he though looked like a rattler and indeed Googling it reaffirmed that he'd seen an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.  Even writing about it is making my toes curl and tingle.Richard went for a shorter ride later but I sat writing all day and getting ready to leave the next morning for our next stop Manatee Springs Sate Park.

What a disappointment.  We arrived at our site at Manatee Springs to find two things right away: our supposedly gravel site was actually dark grey sand with numerous leaves scattered about and there is absolutely NO cell reception.  The first was a minor irritation only because the one thing we didn't like at Blue Spring was the fine sand of the campsite which sticks to shoes like glue and tracked in each and every time one of the pets re-entered.  (People can be and are trained to remove footwear) But having no cell reception is a pain.  It is not something we haven't had to deal with it is just an irritation, especially when it took driving to to town to get it.  But, hey, we figured, we'll only be here for a few days might as well make the best of it AND there was a "concession" that sold food and drinks and rented kayaks/canoes where they had WiFi.  So really, with a minimum of effort we had what we needed/desired, why complain.  I guess it's because we have now been to over 35 RV parks-most of them state or federal parks and this is the first about which none of us found much to like.  Hiking trails? A few with nothing that we haven't seen before.  Swimming? Yes, in the spring where there were no manatees because the weather was warm. Boating? Yes, but only Don went and he said the paddle was boring and hard since the current was strong going back.  So what else?  Well, town is a long strip of road with mostly auto parts stores and fast food restaurants, although the laundromat was fine.  We drove over to Cedar Key to see Don's cousins' old property (they lived in Gainesville where their dad taught and had a small house right on the water which was lovely) but other than sitting on the old dock to eat lunch and watch and osprey and planes taking off from the nearby airport we chose not to do anything else.  The water is muddy, which is rare for the west coast of FL and being a hot and muggy day, a walk through the preserve was not attractive.  So we three whiny spoiled people went back to the campground.  I really hate not being able to find something about the park/campground that we liked but we really didn't.

We did get to see some wildlife that we hadn't seen in other places...this armadillo came snuffling through the site one evening 

Our not gravel site

Manatee Spring is a first magnitude spring

There were a few short walks along boardwalks in the park

Looking down the river from the spring

The concession where there was WiFi

It was with high hopes that we then set off on the 29th for Hillsborough River State Park, another 3 hour drive.  It is Florida's oldest state park and much of it built by the CCC  (Civilian Conservation Corps) which, as we have seen in so many places, was a phenomenal organization.  Started in 1933 as one of the first New Deal programs it was established to promote environmental conservation as well as provide n opportunity for "vigorous, disciplined outdoor labor.  (cue images of strapping young men digging, moving boulders, building rock dams, walls, culverts and buildings) We have seen CCC projects in our travels through the years and in several places during our year on the road, and the house my family lived in for a year in the mid-50s on St Croix was a CCC house-now gone.  From the moment we arrived we knew this was a nicer park. Aside from cell reception, which in the scheme of things is nice but not essential, the entire entrance road was well kept.  There are 4 parking lots for the various day activities, which include a 1/2 acre size (about 2000 m2) pool which was closed for the winter because the water temperature went below 70F/21C.  The river running through the park has a small rapids which Don ran with his kayak.  Richard and I limited ourselves, in our one short day there to bike riding and I spent a long time talking to our wonderful neighbors, Bucky and Linda and Ed and Linda-both couples from nearby but who come here frequently.  We could hear them having fun with a game that Bucky designed and built called Holey Hole (Holy Hole?) which is sort of like Corn Hole but played with large metal washers.  (I was invited to play but when I went over I ended up simply yakking and we all got into various state park campground recommendations.) we had originally scheduled our stay until Jan 1 but I realized Richard would miss an opportunity to see the family in West Palm and Jupiter so we were leaving a day early.

Richard and I took a bike ride along one of the trails

 Richard taking a picture of...
 ...this tree
 The rapids that Don ran in his kayak

The evening before we left, Jim, our campground host and a great and funny guy, came by to invite us to the weekly coffee and doughnut breakfast.  We expected to run over, pick up a cup of coffee and a donut or two, and then head out onto the road.  But, the breakfast is hosted by the volunteers and Rangers and we were treated to a gathering of many of the campers and lots of information about the campground.  One of the volunteers, a man of 83 who looked more like 63, told of coming here every year since 1961.  I found myself regretting more and more that we hadn't scheduled more time here.  But, we had to get on the road so after wishing goodbyes to our neighbors, who were off to tour Ft. Foster-a replica of a fort built  by the US Army to defend the bridge crossing on the Hillsborough River during the Second Seminole War, we drove on out to cross Florida to the east coast and family...To Be Continued next year:-)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Pennsylvania July 2015 Laurel Hill State Park, Somerset PA and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater Jul 29-Aug 1 2015

Setting off early from Catawissa we drove somewhat of a diagonal through much of PA.  We stopped at Penn State since it was time to give the pets a break and walk but then drove on.  One of the things concerning us was that our GPS, which is specifically for RVs and trucks, kept giving us a warning that there was a restricted route ahead and the weight limit was 10 tons.  We weigh close to 11 towing another 1.5.  I was finally able to figure out how to find the specific stretch of road and was dismayed to find that it was the last stretch before the campground and the restriction was for a bridge.  OK, I do not always follow the "suggestion" for the speed limit alongside the highway and I have driven in places I should not have BUT the prospect of being on a bridge that collapses because we are too heavy for it was not appealing.  I finally resorted to calling the campground to ask if there was some sort of mistake.  The woman on the phone was as flummoxed as we were but assured us that many heavy rigs have traveled the route without mishap.  We resolved to continue and we did.  The topography changed in several places and we were in hill country again as we neared Somerset where the park is located.  We entered the park which was beautiful and lush and found that our internet and phones had lost connectivity.  Having had the experience of losing our phone connection in Keene Valley we now had a Verizon hotspot which I turned on and still no signal.  When we got to the entrance station I asked and we were told that there is no reception in the park but that there was a pay phone at the store.  

It was mid-afternoon and when we have been traveling the heat coming off the "doghouse" (the hump that covers the engine between the two seats) is unbearable.  Our site was such that we were broadside to the sun which was bearing down on us.  Luckily, we were able to park so our awning side faced away from the sun and into the trees.  There was a little breeze and we took refuge in the shade and waited for the coach to cool off.  Don took a short bike ride down to the swimming lake and I tried to summon the energy to change to go swimming but opted to make dinner instead. After dinner we walked down to the store to call Richard to let him know we were out of range.  Lo and behold the phone took phone cards and not change.  And luckily, the ancient card from AT&T that Don had been carrying around for decades (well, 2 of them) he had kept.  We were unsure how much or if there was money on it but there was.  Richard did not answer but we left a message and then took a walk around the park.  

Our reason for coming to Laurel Hill was to see Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house he designed for the Kaufmanns of Pittsburgh.  What a phenomenal work of art and engineering.  Pictures, and they can only be taken outside, cannot do it justice and part of that is that it is an experience for all senses, not just a visual.  The cool air coming from the rushing brook that is a constant and pleasant background noise, the smell of trees with a hint of moss and moist earth combine with the utter beauty of the house.  The details-the way the windows open and do not block the view from any direction, the way each and every room brings in and is part of the nature it sits within is just too much.  At every turn I felt my hands grasping at my camera as they begged to take a picture.  However, as much as I would have liked to simply stay and live there the tour ended and we went to the cafe for lunch and then back out to the car where Phoenix, asleep in the shade with the car windows open, woke up and greeted us ready to take a short walk.  We took another route back to the campground which was just as beautiful rolling and turning through the Laurel Highlands. 

Every so often in our travels I need a day to veg so on Friday, our last day and my youngest brother's birthday, I stayed in the MoHo reading, doing some cleaning and generally being a slug while Don took a hike around the park.  It was too bad because it was a park I had looked forward to exploring but he took pictures and I had to content myself with them.  We'd be off again the next morning so that was my last chance.  Next time...because there will be.  We didn't stop in Pittsburgh and we want to go back.

New York July 2015 Ulster Park NY Redux Jul 16- 28 2015

We had not planned to go back to Ulster Park.  We'd planned to be in Canada (see: Harpswell and Button Bay) but after changing our plans we realized we'd have a great opportunity to have the grandkids visit us and spend a night or two in the MoHo.  We figured that rather than driving somewhere the parents would have to find their own place to stay, it made the most sense to go back to Ulster Park and asked Kiki if we could stay in her yard again.  Then the parents could stay next door and visit with their own grandfather.  Best laid plans.  Don III and his wife already had plans to go away with the kids so only David would be able to come up.  That meant we got one granddaughter.

So, when we left Nancy in Hinsdale, we drove to Ulster Park and set up, once again in the yard of the Quonset.  This time though, since Kiki's daughter had visited, the water was on and we could use it.  That was a welcome message since we hoped to spend more than a week and it meant we wouldn't have to drive somewhere to fill up if we ran low.

The other thing we would do is celebrate our birthdays with another get together with friends and this time we'd invited our friends Joanna and Sam to come over from CT.  We had talked about having them over numerous times while still living in West Park and it had never been possible so it was exciting to finally be able to show them where we had lived.  They made reservations at a hotel and drove over 2 days later, on my birthday.  It was a Saturday so Don and I went early to the Farmer's Market so we'd be home by the time Sam and Joanna arrived but traffic was worse than they expected and they arrived after lunch. It was hot and muggy so after a hike down to the river, where there was some relief with a tiny breeze and where Joanna took some beautiful pictures, we went over to Don's father's to swim in the pool.  From there it was back to the MoHo to await the rest of the guests and then enjoy a nice evening.

Phoenix is always popular with little kids because she is so sweet and calm

Joanna and Sam came back the next day and we drove them down to the old house in West Park and walked to the river and our old beach there and then we took them to the Walkway Over the Hudson.  Of course, by now it was high noon and a hot and sunny day and none of us wanted to do the whole walk.  They had to get on the road and it was far too hot to take Phoenix, or their dog, Max, all the way across.  So we walked to about the center and back and then bid them adieu.

When we'd visited in May I had tried to contact another old friend, Mary, but had been unable to find her.  This time I resolved to see if I could and directory assistance gave me a number on the other side of the river.  My attempt was successful and Mary and I agreed to meet the next day.  We had a wonderful time catching up and then decided we would have to renew our tradition of great movies in small theaters and made a date to see Jimmy's Hall an excellent film based on a true story of an Irishman's return to Ireland during the Depression and his attempts to help his friends and neighbors. Before leaving for the film I got a tour of Mary's new place which is fantastic and I left feeling wonderful that a friend, to whom hard times have visited more than once, is moving forward is such a good way.

Scenic Hudson is very active in the area where we were and years before Don and I had joined his family on a New Year's Day hike on the Shaupeneak Ridge.  There was so much of it that we had not seen though and after a thwarted attempt our first afternoon (heat, lethargy and lack of sustenance make for reasons NOT to go for a multi-mile hike) we went out early to hike one of the longer trails.  As always, nature did not disappoint and we saw wildlife, ate berries along the way and enjoyed a bit of exercise.

Laundry loomed though and before our granddaughter arrived I had to get it done.  I love the Port Ewen Laundry Mat for the social atmosphere.  There are no strangers here and before leaving each time I have spent a few hours sharing the lives of at least 2 other people.  They seem to have a problem keeping all the machines working but there were plenty the day I was there and between socializing and actually doing laundry my plans for taking advantage of the excellent WiFi went by the wayside.  As usual, though, having that task out of the way was good and we could prepare for our guest.

It was time for L to visit.  She arrived with her suitcase all ready and very excited.  This would be a big adventure for her and she was handling it very well.  We had her parents and great grandfather for dinner and we all spent the waning hours of the day enjoying the changing colors on the river and each other's company before we ate and then it was time for them to leave and all of us to retire for the evening.  I set up her bed, she said goodnight to Grandpa and then she and I climbed into her bed for a goodnight story.  I had to laugh because after that she asked for a glass of chocolate milk and that is exactly what I drank every night as a child.  She went right to sleep and then Don and I climbed into bed ready for the next morning when both Phoenix and L would be up early.

Phoenix was up first and I took her for a stroll around the yard in the early morning stillness and crisp air and then L woke up and we all had breakfast and texted her parents with silly pictures and reports of positive outcomes.  I was going to the Kingston Farmer's Market again and L had agreed she would like to come so we got going so as not to waste the day ahead.  We had a great time looking at all the produce and L picked out another book from the stall with the lovely children's books and then we had an ice cream and made our way home the long way as I showed her some of the places her Uncle Richard had loved to visit.  Everyone was up when we got back so we went over to Don's dad's and jumped into the pool.  L is only just starting to swim but her mom has never really learned so we had "swimming lessons" and with much hilarity all managed to stay cool and have fun. 

Sunday David and Ley would have to leave and L decided at the last moment that she wanted to spend that night with her parents but before they got on the road we went for a walk at another of Scenic Hudson's parks: Black Creek Preserve.  Don's grandparents, when they bought the house there in the 1920's had also purchased many acres along Black Creek that was on the west side of the state highway-that is to say not the river side.  For as many years as Don can remember his family has gone for hikes there.  It is a forest primeval with waterfalls and the creek running through it.  At hunting times we didn't go as his grandfather had given hunting rights to a local group but Richard would grow up knowing those woods.  On the east side of the highway though the creek empties into the Hudson River and jut before we'd left West Park Scenic Hudson had created a park on the land.  With trails meandering through it down to the river (and the family having sold their holdings to Scenic Hudson a decade before) it was a great opportunity to introduce L and her mom to this beauty.  The day was a little cooler than the past two but still warm enough that the shade from the trees was a welcome respite.  We walked along trying to find wildlife and saw 2 snakes and a bald eagle flew overhead as we got to the river.  Where Don's father's house is there are mudflats where the river meets the shore but here it was like our old "beach" with large slabs of stone (there are still marks in some of them from when they were harvested to build the sidewalks in NY City) and enough eddies that we could take off our shoes and wade in the cool clean water.  Thanks to the efforts of several environmental groups and despite the negative impact their work had on the fishing industry, the Hudson River-that stream of pollution that flowed down to the ocean when I arrived in 1970, is now potable at this level.  The strong tide stirs up the brown sand and at times the water is turbid but in the shallow areas it is pretty clear.  When the river traffic, pleasure boats, waterskis and tugs pushing or pulling ocean barges and freighters passes there are waves for splashing.  L had a great time and we convinced a family visiting from the city that it was well worth wading and not being shy about taking off shoes and getting wet.  Then it was back to the cars for the goodbyes.

Our last day in this beautiful spot was spent readying the MoHo for our journey into the "unknown", places neither of us, for the most part, had ever been.  On July 28 we bid adieu to Don's dad and drove south and west...