North Carolina Part II: Tabor City

Hi Folks, since this is a blog about BOTH of our adventures… It is only fair that Mike gets to tell his side of the story once in a while. This option has turned out to be a great one for me when I get behind on writing about our trip. His delivery is much more direct and to the point. We are in South Carolina at the moment, and I will start working on a summary of our stay here beginning in the morning. Thanks for checking in!

 

Yogi Bear Jellystone Park at Daddy Joe’s        www.taborcityjellystone.com

Mon 1/6.         Left Kinston at 11:07 and drove south to Tabor City, near SC NC border.  Rain and wind the whole trip, except stopped raining the last 45 minutes. Sun came out when we parked, but very blustery and temperature falling rapidly.  Unpacked and stayed inside with cable tv on.  Dina baked pork tenderloin with leftovers.  Prepared for temps in teens.

Tues 1/7.         17 degrees at 8:30, so maybe 15 for low.  Less wind.  Stayed inside, except to take dogs to park or walk on trails or beside lakes.  Nice clean park with concrete pads and cable tv.  Drove into town for groceries and other errands.  Snacked and napped and watched tv.  Dina made crab cakes for dinner with salad and asparagus.

Weds 1/8.        Cold start at 19, but no wind.  Warmed up after noon.  Talked to owner Rick and extended our stay here.  Told him about coax problem and he called yearly winterer Jack, who came over with tools and spliced a new end on the cable.  Satellite dish works, but looks like moisture entered tuner box at the connection with cable.  There’s rust visible, so this may be an issue because it won’t lock onto the DirecTV satellite.  More work to be done.  Dina ran errands in town and picked up our first delivery and wrote some.  I cleaned some outside and built the campfire.  Dina grilled sausage and baked potatoes a gratin with salad.

Thurs 1/9.           Warm day with some clouds.  Did some more work on coach outside.  Dina took Cessna to local vet for annual shots.  Planned next trips to South Carolina and made a reservation at a park between Columbia and Greenville.  Started the fire about four.  Baked sweet potatoes on grill, then steaks.  Put most things under cover for rain in the forecast.

Fri 1/10.            Stray shower, warm and windy.  Ate late breakfast, cleaned up, prepared for rain.  Drove with dogs to North Myrtle Beach, parked and walked Main Street up and down to the beach front.  Condo after condo with public access to beach every so often.  Drove further south to dog friendly Irish pub with a view of the ocean. www.mollydarcy.com  Sat out on the patio and had one drink.  The waves were large with the northeast wind, and it got chilly when clouds thickened.  So we drove to Myrtle Beach to another dog friendly bar we found on www.bringfido.com , but we went inside and dogs stayed in car.  No view, so only had one drink. Then we drove on to another ocean view on the beach, but it was closed.  Then went to Sea Captains House restaurant with a nice view till dark, and ate a delicious seafood dinner.  Drove back to site through light rain and arrived at 8:30.  Walked dogs, then I retired, while Dina planned more trips.

Sat 1/11.              Warm and expected rain.   Wind came up before storm, so took screen off the front windshield, so it wouldn’t blow off later.  And went on roof to take down tarp, which wasn’t attached very securely and could have been ripped from the bungee cords and duct tape used for the job.  Stayed inside and read and watched football and ate.  Dina did inside chores.  Strong Storm came about four, then rain till about eight.  Walked dogs, then lay in bed with game on, but read.

Sun 1/12.              Nice, clear, cool, then windy midday.  Around noon, drove to Wilmington for dog food and AutoZone.  Then parked downtown on the waterfront.  We walked the dogs along the boardwalk edge of the Cape Fear river.  A few boats were parked along the small marina and across the river was the USS Battleship North Carolina. www.battleshipnc.com Next, we turned up one block and walked back along street with many shops and dog friendly bars.  Decided to go back to Fat Tony’s Italian pub and grill, which had a large covered deck in the back with a view of the river between two buildings. www.fatpub.com Had drinks and fried calamari appetizer and listened to Carolina NFL game being played on all the TVs in the town.  Drove back to site right at sunset, cooling down with no wind.  Watched next game on tv and grilled BBQ chicken.  Walked the dogs and read before sleep.

Mon 1/13.            Drove south past Conway and Myrtle beach to Brookgreen Gardens. One of the Top 10 Gardens in the U.S. by TripAdvisor. www.brookgreen.org No dogs allowed, so they stayed in coach.  Got there a little after noon and walked the grounds, looking at the garden and artwork.  Then walked along path displaying views and artifacts from a slave-run rice farm.  Then walked through zoo with domesticated animals, wild birds, birds of prey, otters, alligators.  Then went into gift shop to look.  Drove back to site at 4:30.  One dog had accident that Dina worked to clean.  Built campfire with mild temperature, then grilled burgers.  Ate and covered everything for rain that came late.

Tues 1/14.           Rainy day till three.  Sun came out near sunset.  Stayed in.  Read.  Walked dogs.

Weds 1/15.          Mostly sun and warm.  Cleaned some after rains.  Tried to catch a catfish but gave up to build campfire and relax.  Cooked outside: bootlegger beans, Mac n cheese, and hot dogs.

Thurs 1/16.            Colder, hi 43.  Did a few chores till two.  Then drove to Lake Waccamaw State Park to walk dogs on trail. http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/lawa/main.php Left about sunset and stopped halfway back to our site in Whiteville for texmex at San Jose Mexican Restaurant?  Very good and cheap.  Back home read and walked dogs and prepared for 20s.

Fri 1/17.                Decent day to drive to Southport and ride ferry to Bald Head Island.  Sunny, cool, a bit breezy in the lo 50s.  Walked the dogs all over the island, where golf carts only allowed by the residents. No cars except workers. Nice beach, deserted, of course.  Made way to historic lighthouse after two and a half hours, but it was closed.  Finished back at harbor for food and drink at Mojos on the harbor. www.mojosontheharbor.com At 4:30, rode ferry back, then drove home just before dark.  Read, very tired, went to bed to read, left Dina to finish dogs.

Sat 1/18.               Cold and wind till near sunset.  Stayed in and read.  Went out for awhile to pack a few things and tried to wax, but too cold.  Walked dogs at sunset and tried to catch a fish.  Dina made goolash.  Watched tv and read.

Sun 1/19.              Cool and windy, but not as bad as predicted.  Went to grocery store to stock up, back just after noon.  Put away the cache and cleaned outside and loaded car.  Owner Rick Coleman and wife Sandy came by to talk.  They are very nice people.  Watch the first game outside with dogs while working.  Then built campfire and relaxed with second game on muted and music playing from iPad.  Dina made huge feast, including a whole chicken in the crockpot.  Ate, walked dogs and read a little before sleep.  Going to Cummins Atlantic shop tomorrow on way to South Carolina.

 

The riverwalk in downtown Wilmington

The riverwalk in downtown Wilmington

Inside the Aviary at Brookgreen Gardens

Inside the Aviary at Brookgreen Gardens

The Beach at Bald Head Island

The Beach at Bald Head Island

The marshes on Bald Head Island

The marshes on Bald Head Island

One of the beautiful sunsets from Daddy Joe's

One of the beautiful sunsets from Daddy Joe’s

The Battleship USS North Carolina in Wilmington

The Battleship USS North Carolina in Wilmington

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach is lined with condos and beach houses

Myrtle Beach is lined with condos and beach houses

The pier at Lake Waccamaw State Park

The pier at Lake Waccamaw State Park

Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park at Daddy Joe's

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Daddy Joe’s

Outside the Monaco at dusk

Outside the Monaco at dusk

The Cherry Grove District of North Myrtle Beach

The Cherry Grove District of North Myrtle Beach

The Pegasus Sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens

The Pegasus Sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens

Drinks and snacks in the warm afternoon sun on Fat Tony's Patio in downtown Wilmington.

Drinks and snacks in the warm afternoon sun on Fat Tony’s Patio in downtown Wilmington.

Eagles at Brookgreen Gardens. The female only has 1/2 of her right wing. They were rescued and will live the rest of their lives in the bird sanctuary.

Eagles at Brookgreen Gardens. The female only has 1/2 of her right wing. They were rescued and will live the rest of their lives in the bird sanctuary.

The lush grounds of Brookgreen Gardens

The lush grounds of Brookgreen Gardens

Looking down the Live Oak Allee toward the Youth Taming the Wild Sculpture in Brookgreen Gardens

Looking down the Live Oak Allee toward the Youth Taming the Wild Sculpture in Brookgreen Gardens

Sunset from the ferry ride on the way back from Bald Head Island to Southport.

Sunset from the ferry ride on the way back from Bald Head Island to Southport.

Happy Penguins in the Brown Sculpture Garden at Brookgreen Gardens

Happy Penguins in the Brown Sculpture Garden at Brookgreen Gardens

North Carolina Part I: Kinston

When the time came to start our month in North Carolina, Mike started researching possible campgrounds on the eastern side of the state. We were gambling that we would have less of a chance to encounter snow and ice if we stayed out of the mountains and close to sea level. There is no doubt it does still get cold in that part of the Tar Heel State, but snow was less likely than if we set our sights on the mountains on the western side. After lots of research Mike found a place we could not pass up. Primarily because it was only $12 per night. Yes, that is correct! We had paid much higher rates than we expected to pay throughout the summer in New England, and it was time to offset the average when we had the chance. The park was jointly owned and operated by the City of Kinston and Lenoir County. It was attached to a Nature Center and Park along the Neuse River, across a bridge from downtown Kinston. There were only 23 spots, but they had full hook-ups and free Wi-Fi. The only drawback was that they did not take reservations. The sites were available on a first-come-first-served basis, and there was a 30-day maximum limit for campers.

On travel day we first had to take the Monaco into a shop for scheduled service on the generator, something that should be done once each year. Mike had completed most of our travel preparations the day before our departure. He had even disconnected the water and sewer to save as much time as possible on our morning travel prep routine. I set my alarm for 6am and trekked over to the bath house at Davis Lakes Campground to get my shower. The temperature was in the 20’s that morning and I didn’t want to suffer through a navy shower in the pre-dawn hour. I needed LOTS of hot water to wake up and get motivated. We pulled out early (for us) around 9:00 and drove to a place in Chesapeake. They were expecting us, so they immediately got to work while we went to find a place to eat breakfast. Once we were powered up with food and caffeine, we went back to the shop and they were just finishing the service. The timing was perfect. We were back on the road heading for our next destination by 11:30. We usually pull out around 11:00 on travel days, so we were right on schedule. I called Neuseway Nature Park to see if they had any slots open, and they said come on. We traveled south on Highway 17 for most of the way, skirting the Albemarle Sound.  The roads were nice and smooth, the weather was pretty, and we were counting our blessings.

We did not have very high expectations for the Neuseway Nature Center Campground. The online reviews were good, but we still couldn’t believe it would be a very pleasant place at only $12 per night. We cautiously wondered what the catch was. We weren’t worried though. Since they did not accept reservations, we had not paid any deposits and were not tied to how long we would stay. We figured we would check it out, and if it was awful we would move to another location after one or two nights. We didn’t have anything to lose. I am happy to say we continued to count our blessings when we entered our destination. It was nice! The community park section had lots of amenities. There was a giant playground with modern equipment, picnic tables, a little train that youngsters could ride on a circular track about the size of a football field, and a large pavilion for organized gatherings. The whole place was set along the banks of the Neuse River with swinging benches placed by the water every 25 yards, or so. There was a floating fishing pier, a rock climbing wall, and I think they had canoe rentals available. There were also three buildings in the park. The parks hosts were out of town when we arrived so we had to register with the staff people inside the Nature Center. This building was like a taxidermy museum – filled with real stuffed animals indigenous to the region. They also had a live cockatoo inside named Oliver. He loved to sing happy birthday WITH the visitors. Back behind this building were three large sheltered cages. The nature center had rescued two hawks and an owl that were unable to fly due to accidents with automobiles. These birds would be cared for here for the rest of their lives. The owl was a beautiful giant barn owl and the dogs pulled me over to visit him every time we went on a walk around the grounds. Piper wanted to eat him, of course. Cessna, on the other hand, was intrigued and considered making friends. She would sit and stare at him for as long as I would let her. The second building was an educational building, probably used to accommodate programs for school kids on field trips. The last building was a planetarium and science museum geared toward school-age children.

The town of Kinston was the County seat for Lenoir County, but it was a small town with a population of only about 20,000. I was surprised such a little community would have such an impressive city park. The campground section was to the west of the park area. About ½ of the sites backed up to the river and the others across the way backed up to a wooded swamp area. Everything was situated in a small loop. There were about 10 spots that were occupied by both travel trailers and motor coaches. We picked a river front spot next to the park hosts. From this location our coach would be facing southwest, and hopefully we would be able to get a clear DirecTV signal. Mike wanted to be on the water so he could fish anytime he wanted. We figured there would be some big catfish in the muddy water near the banks. It was great! As Mike mixed up our first night martinis we decided we would give it one night to make sure everything worked okay. If we did not encounter any glitches, we would plan to stay for about 2 ½ weeks. This would put us through Christmas and New Year’s. We were feeling settled in for the remainder of the holiday season.

Our first full day at this campground was a typical orientation day. We talked to the staff people inside the Nature Center to see what attractions were around us. They told Mike he was welcome to gather firewood from anywhere he wanted in the adjoining wooded area.  He took off with his chain saw and got us supplied for a never ending campfire. They also gave us some ideas on daytrips to take from this location, and informed us that there was a municipal dog park located just down the street – literally within walking distance of the campground. I told him our dogs were not good with other animals, only humans. One of the guys said he had a dog that was the same way, and he took his dog to the dog park all the time. There were three separate fenced areas, so he could usually find an empty section to let his dog run without going into attack mode. Piper and Cessna were beyond excited about this perk. We ended up taking them there every day that it did not rain while we were at Neuseway.

Later that afternoon, Mike fished from the banks and we built a campfire. After dark we noticed our lights were randomly flickering and my washing machine was acting weird. Mike checked the system controls inside and realized we were getting too much electrical voltage from their main outlet. The lights were flickering because the coach was trying to block the surges and prevent a blow-out of our system. He switched us over to 30-amp power. The problem did not go away, but it was manageable for the rest of the evening. We called the maintenance department the next morning and they came out immediately to check on the problem. After a couple of visits from a city employee and a private sector company, a third group of guys came out with a bucket truck. They went up to the transformer at the front of the park and adjusted the voltage. Once again, I was surprised at the wonderful service and attention we got at this place.  The problem was fixed and we had no other infrastructure worries for the duration of our time there.

Now that everything was working fine, it was time for us to scout out our new community and the surrounding region. The dogs jumped into the back of the car and we drove out of the park with absolutely no agenda. Mike needed cash and he had located a Walgreens with a free ATM machine, so he drove there first. Next we needed gas, so we drove around town looking for a station with the best price. Pretty soon we were all fueled up and still had no agenda. We cruised the streets of downtown Kinston to see what kind of businesses, shops and restaurants were across the river from our camp. It was Saturday during College Bowl season, and we figured we might find a local place with some televisions where we could watch some games. We didn’t get a DirecTV signal at this park after all; only over-air channels – so no ESPN from our couch. Mother Earth Brewing Company is located in downtown Kinston. Two local boys from Kinston started the brewery in 2008. They revitalized a large commercial building downtown to create the brewery, and then bought the abandoned retail space next door for their tap room. The brewery is open for tours and the tap room is open for tasting. We thought maybe they had some televisions at their bar and we could watch football there.  Mike parked by the curb outside, and I ran in to see what the interior was like. They did not have televisions, but I was completely impressed with the interior. Extremely classy. Not at all what I would expect a ‘beer joint’ to look like. It looked more like a chic cosmopolitan hot spot in New York City; very clean, modern, sparse. Low back leather couches were scattered sparingly around the white concrete floor. White silky sheers draped the windows from floor to extra tall ceiling. The bar was in the middle of the room and shaped like a giant horse shoe. The two flat screen televisions that flanked the space above the bar were only showing the featured beers of the day. They had a beer garden in an outside alley area with more modern furniture. This time the space was decorated with big wooden chairs covered in thick red cushions. The whole place looked like they might specialize in champagne or martinis rather than craft beers. We didn’t stay because we were still on a quest to watch football (and I would rather drink cough syrup than beer). However, I was super impressed with such a nice place. As we came to find out, downtown Kinston had several high-end restaurants with tons of personality and big city swank.

I got back into the car and told Mike that although the tap room looked like a fabulous place, it was not what we were looking for on that particular afternoon. I suggested we drive about 30 minutes to our southeast and see about another small town called New Bern. We followed Highway 70 until we started seeing signs for historic downtown, then we followed the arrows for public parking lots. The Neuse and Trent Rivers converge in this 300 year –old community before they empty into Pamlico Sound. I guess we could have jumped in a canoe behind our bus and paddled our way to the same spot where we parked our car! The Chamber of Commerce likes to brag that the city was named one of the Top 10 Greatest Boating Towns by Boat U.S. Magazine. Their downtown area is anchored by water on two sides. One side was a beautiful municipal park and the other was a marina filled with all sorts of boats. Just like every time we encounter a downtown new to us, we took a walk through the streets to see what kinds of restaurants or attractions they had to offer (and wear out the dogs), making a mental note of some of the places we would like to return to and visit inside.

We walked toward the boats first. We like to look at the vessels moored in local marinas and fantasize about which ones would be good to live on after we finish the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. The waterfront was lovely.  A pristine promenade was lined with brick pavers, park benches, new street lamps and public art. Off in the distance we spotted a wedding party having their pictures taken. It was that kind of setting. We rounded a corner near the Convention Center and steered ourselves toward the commercial area. Downtown New Bern had an amazing inventory of historic buildings. It did not look like they had lost many structures at all to demolition or neglect. Another surprising thing is that most of them were filled with thriving businesses. We passed art galleries, retail boutiques, bicycle and kayak rental shops, restaurants, churches, ice cream parlors, bars, furniture stores. The list goes on and on. It was also evident that most of the second and third stories of these buildings were occupied by residents. This wasn’t just a downtown, it was also a neighborhood. We came upon an historic drug store where we learned Pepsi was created! A gentleman by the name of Caleb Bradham created a concoction he called “Brad’s Drink” on the corner where we were standing, and it was marketed as Pepsi-Cola after 1898. Fun! Another charming factor about New Bern was that it was nicknamed Bear Town. I didn’t find out exactly why this was, but they had bear statues scattered all around town. Some were in front of local businesses, and others were situated on street corners. The bears seemed to be concrete, but they were each uniquely painted and decorated. During this Christmas season, they were all adorned with extra decorations like wreaths around their neck or a stocking cap on their head. They gave the central business district so much additional personality.

I have an app on my phone called BringFido. It helps us locate dog friendly restaurants, lodging, or parks when we are in a new place. There is a corresponding website called www.bringfido.com. It is a very useful tool. On this night, bringfido told us we could take our dogs into a pub called Bear Town Marker. They didn’t have an outside patio, but dogs were allowed inside the bar. They also had a few televisions on the wall, so we decided to stop for a drink and to catch up on some scores. Piper and Cessna chilled out under our bar stools and everyone was happy until another patron brought his dog into the bar and let him off the leash. The new dog bounced up to ours before we knew what was happening. We figured it out when our two went BONKERS… and not in a good way. It was fortunate we were done with round one, because it was time to pay the tab and be on our way. The other dog seemed to be a regular, and we didn’t want to draw any more attention to ourselves.

The weather was warm enough that afternoon to sit outside, so we had our second drink with an appetizer at a place we had spotted earlier. Morgan’s Tavern and Grill used part of their parking lot behind the building to create a little patio enclosed by a short brick wall. There were about 10 tables out there and we weren’t the only ones that wanted to take advantage of the crisp December afternoon. We arrived there at dusk and got to enjoy a spectacular sunset completely by accident. Another fun thing we saw was Santa getting toasted on his dinner break. He and his little elf assistant were at the bar having drinks when Mike went inside to find the men’s room. Later they came outside and made their way back to Santa’s little cottage which was situated on one of the main streets in downtown. Families were lined up down the block waiting their turn, so the kiddos could share their gift requests and have their picture snapped. As we passed by the quintessential Christmas scene, I wondered if the little kids would know that hooch was what they smelled on Santa’s breath. It made me wonder about all those annual photos where the kids are screaming bloody murder after being placed in the big man’s lap. Maybe they are crying because Santa did not eat a peppermint after happy hour.

Our last stop was for yummy seafood at a restaurant called The Stingray Café. The dining room was attached to a seafood market, so they pulled our fresh flounder directly from the ice cooler before they fried it up for us. No dogs were allowed at this place, so Piper and Cessna took a nap in the back of the Honda while they waited for us to finish our dinner. New Bern had turned out to be a great place to spend an afternoon. We had seen some wonderful buildings, looked into some cute shops, enjoyed some great food, and had a few laughs at Santa’s expense. After an easy drive home, I put on my pajamas and wondered what other fun we might get into the next time we had no agenda.

After a few days of fishing, running errands, cleaning, writing, reading, cooking, and watching the leak that still dripped water from the ceiling when it rained… it was Christmas Eve! When we were shopping back in Suffolk one afternoon, Mike had said he wanted to get me a heart shaped ring as a Christmas present. He had to tell me when we were together so I could pick something out that fit on my finger and that I liked. We found one with a matching necklace and bought it. He had wrapped the two small boxes and set them beside our metal tree. I had also bought a heavy coat on that particular afternoon, so my Christmas was all situated.  As for his gift, I had downloaded several books onto the Kindle. The list of his new ‘library’ was printed up in an envelope and also placed under the tree. We did not have any last-minute shopping to do this Christmas. As far as I knew, we were just planning to spend the day relaxing until it was time for church services at 6:00 that evening.

When I came in from walking the dogs that morning, I was instructed to get in the shower and get dressed. My usual routine is to pour a cup of coffee and sit down at my desk. I usually waste about an hour looking at facebook, reading and sending emails, and eliminating spam messages from our website. This morning he said I was not allowed to get on the computer because we didn’t have time to waste. We were going somewhere that was a surprise… and they were only open from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm. Surprises from Mike always make me grin. He cannot stand surprises, but he knows I like them so he springs them on me occasionally. I always appreciate the ‘game’ we play when he has orchestrated something. I asked for a couple of hints and he said wear socks. Okay! I got dressed lickity split and we took a short drive east toward Goldsboro. Pretty soon we were pulling into the parking lot of Country View Western Store. Mike told Cessna and Piper to wait in the Honda while we went in and picked me out some NEW BOOTS. I had one pair of black boots and I had been wearing them a lot lately because they were the warmest shoes I had for the winter weather. I would like to have said they were comfortable, but they were the same boots I had had since high school. When we walked long distances on day trips, the top of my foot would be killing me by the time we got back home. They were obviously molded to the shape of my foot, so I was wondering why they were so uncomfortable. A few weeks earlier I had actually looked inside to see what size they were. The markings said size 7. I wear an 8 ½. I guess my foot has grown a bit since I was 16 years old. I tried on dozens of options and selected a chocolate brown pair that had some beige decorative stitching all over. They were still a ‘neutral’ color, but also a little sassy. After Mike paid for them, we had to leave them to be stretched up at the top. Out of the box, they were really tight around my calf muscles, but the sales lady said they could fix that without any problems.

When our shopping was complete, I suggested we find a Mexican food restaurant for lunch.  I spent half of my childhood growing up in South Texas, where there is a serious tradition of eating tamales on Christmas Eve. I had been lamenting the fact that we were not going to enjoy this delicacy in 2013. I had been asking around for days if anyone knew where we could find some tamales, and all the North Carolinians looked at me curiously as they shook their heads. My family was even concerned about this tragic void we were facing. My step-sister Suzanne had offered to send me a dozen via FedEx, but we couldn’t receive packages at our campground in Kinston… so I was going to have to wait until the New Year when we moved to our next spot. It was a serious dilemma. We decided to stop into a place in Kinston called El Norteno to see if they possibly had tamales on their menu. We lucked out. They did! New boots and tamales all in one day. Wow. This was turning out to be one of the best Christmas’s  ever! The masa was a little bit thick on the tamales, but they tasted good and our tradition remained intact. I would have to say that our meal at El Norteno was the best Tex-Mex we had sampled since our trip started back in February. After lunch we made our way back home completely content and took a little cat nap before it was time to go to church.

We went to Queen Street United Methodist Church in downtown Kinston at 6:00 that evening for the Christmas Service. We are always conspicuous strangers when we attend church in a small town. Everyone wonders where we are from and why we are there. The congregation was very friendly and the celebration was very nice. The interior of the historic church was white plaster with dark mahogany woodwork. Lighted garland and wreaths hung from the balconies while red poinsettias were placed about the altar and beside each pew. A tall Christmas tree with white lights and white ornaments sparkled on the left side of the sanctuary. It was a very cozy setting and the service was beautiful, complete with wonderful music from the organist and choir. After we got home from church, we changed into comfy pj’s, mixed up a couple of martinis, and feasted on fresh boiled shrimp while we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. A perfect ending to a fabulous day.

Christmas day was pretty low key. We exchanged our gifts in the morning. The dogs got boiled eggs with their breakfast and then we took them to the dog park. I cooked a VERY southern meal of glazed spiral ham, cornbread dressing, baked sweet potatoes and collard greens. The high was only 39 that day, so it was a bit too chilly to be outside for too long. We finished the day in front of the television and the computer with no complaints at all.

Of course we wanted to see the Outer Banks when we were in North Carolina. Even though we were on the eastern side of the state, we weren’t going to be able to enjoy OBX in a single day trip. The 200-mile long string of peninsulas and barrier islands separate the Atlantic Ocean from mainland North Carolina, and there are only 3 ways to get there: via 2 ferry rides or one bridge. We decided we would make an overnight trip of it so the excursion would be pleasant instead of exhausting. As we started to plan the details of the trip, we realized it was going to make for 2 LONG days regardless of how we approached it. The plan was to start at the south end on Ocracoke Island and drive north all day. We would stay overnight at a hotel in the northern section, and then take another route home over a bridge on the second day. We decided to take the Cedar Island Ferry from the mainland to Ocracoke because the schedule was the best. It was about a 3-hour drive from our camp just to get to Cedar Island, so we made reservations for the 10:00 AM ferry and left our house at 6:30 AM on a Friday morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM to spend a day at the beach seemed a little counter-intuitive to me… but there was no other way to go about it.

We arrived at the ferry terminal about 9:15, which gave us a chance to walk Piper and Cessna before we got out on the water. They loaded us on time and we settled in for the 2 ½ hour ride across Pamlico Sound. We stayed inside our car the whole time because the wind was so cold and blustery. I took the opportunity to take a long nap, and Mike read one of the books he got for Christmas.  We got back on land at Ocracoke Island at 12:30. It had been over 7 hours since the alarm had gone off, and our daytrip was essentially just beginning! Ocracoke Island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and is only accessible by ferry, boat or private airplane. The entire island is owned by the US National Park Service except for the tiny village. In 2010 the census showed it had a population of 948. The notorious pirate Blackbeard anchored his ships off of Springer’s Point on the island. He was killed in a battle there during November of 1718. Legend tells that he was beheaded and thrown overboard, and his headless body swam around the ship 4 times before sinking. There is also an historic 1823 Lighthouse on the island, which is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the nation. Except for the little village area, the island is primarily a narrow strip of unspoiled white sand beach, grassy dunes, and crashing waves.

Since it was the lunch hour, we wanted to get a bite to eat. I had read some brochures and looked online for some good restaurant suggestions while we were on the ferry. The village is set in a u-shape around Silver Lake Harbor, where we disembarked from the ferry. We drove through the narrow streets searching for the restaurants I had pinpointed. Each time we came to one of our target spots, it was closed. If 948 people lived here normally, I was starting to guess that 900 of them had gone somewhere else for the winter. Each establishment had a hand-written sign on the door: “closed for the season, be back in March”. We were originally hoping to have lunch somewhere with a view of the water. After 15 minutes of cruising through town we had seen it all and were not feeling very lucky. Our aspirations changed to just hoping to find somewhere to eat at all! We finally found a place on the main drag called Gaffer’s Sports Pub. They didn’t have outside dining, so we tied Piper and Cessna to a picnic table at the edge of the parking lot and went inside. The fresh fish of the day was drum. I had a fried fish sandwich and Mike had a fish basket with fries and cole slaw. It was delicious. Back in the car we made our way north on the famous Highway 12 until the land met the water at the Hatteras Inlet. We got on another ferry to continue toward Cape Hatteras. This time the ferry ride was about an hour. I took another nap. Mike continued reading his book.

When we drove off the ferry at Hatteras, things looked a little different. We were still on a sliver of land with the ocean roaring to our east and the shallow bay of Pamlico Sound lapping to our west. This seemed like less of a village and more of a destination. We were immediately greeted by rows of enormous beach houses lining the edge of both bodies of water. There are seven towns on Hatteras Island. We would drive through a patch of unspoiled sea shore, then come into a cluster of vacation homes, local restaurants, and home grown retail shops. A couple of miles down the road, the buildings would end and the natural beauty would take over again. We flip flopped back and forth between the two for about 50 miles until we reached the Bonner Bridge. We did make one stop in Buxton to see the famous lighthouse.  An area called Diamond Shores is located just off shore at Cape Hatteras. It is here that a warm ocean current and a cold ocean current collide, creating ideal conditions for powerful ocean storms and sea swells. After numerous shipwrecks, this area was nicknamed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”.  The original lighthouse was constructed in 1802. A second and improved structure was erected in 1868. After three years of construction, its first light shone in 1871. At 200 feet above ground, it was the tallest brick lighthouse tower in the world. It is identifiable by the black and white diagonal ‘daymark’ paint job, which makes it look like a giant barber pole. From the moment the structure was complete, erosion of the land between the lighthouse and the sea slowly made its location closer and closer to the surf. In 1999, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse had to be moved from its original location at the edge of the ocean to safer ground 2,871 feet inland. Due to erosion of the shore, the lighthouse was just 120 feet from the ocean’s edge and in imminent danger. It is the tallest masonry structure ever moved and the project was deemed “The Move of the Millennium”. We did not climb up the 268 steps, but we walked the dogs around the grounds of the park and out to an opening where we could see the foamy white waves waves tumbling onto the beach. After our legs were stretched and we had some fresh air in our lungs, we got back in the car and continued driving north.

We had reservations at the Comfort Inn South in Nags Head, and we arrived to the location just at sunset. When we booked the hotel room, we were mostly focused on a dog friendly place with a cheap rate. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled into the parking lot. It was actually an oceanfront property. I figured we would be located on a slab of concrete along the main drag somewhere, so this was a giant perk. When I checked us in, I asked the desk clerk if we could have a room facing the beach and she said yes! When we got to our room we saw we even had a small balcony. As we unloaded our bags and got situated, we left the door to the balcony wide open so we could enjoy the sound of the waves from the beach below us. The sky was a deep blue with streaks of bright pink slashed across the horizon. The air was brisk, but not cold. The view was great, the sounds were soothing, and the temperature was perfect. It was the wonderful setting for our little post-road/ferry/road/ferry/road-trip happy hour.  As we relaxed, I looked at the urbanspoon app on my phone to try and find us a good place for dinner.

Our streak of luck did not end when we checked into the hotel. Sometimes using the urbanspoon app to help us find a restaurant is a good thing, sometimes it’s a bust. That night it was a fantastic thing! At first I thought we would look for somewhere on the water, but it was already dark so having a view was no factor. Next I had wanted to try a place we saw on DDD, but when I called the number guess what? They were closed for the season… they would be back in March. As a last result we picked a place called Blue Moon Beach Grill. Thank goodness the other options did not work out. The place was located in a strip center on the main drag, and did not look too fancy from the outside. However, when we reached the front door we started to think we might be on to something. The place was packed! Standing room only. We put our name on the list and the hostess told us the wait was about 1 hour and 15 minutes. They had a bar, so we didn’t mind waiting while we had a cocktail. The bar was three deep with other patrons that had the same idea we did, so we muddled our way through the throngs of people and found a bit of space at the other end near the kitchen. Sometimes when a restaurant is packed like this one was, the wait staff can be a little tense and gruff, but not here. The bartender got us our drinks with a huge smile. Everyone was so friendly and gracious, it was like we were in some sort of twilight zone episode where they were trying to demonstrate the true meaning of hospitality. The kitchen was wide open to the rest of the dining room, so I turned my attention to the action in there. I had been craving shrimp and grits, but after I saw all the other dishes they were preparing, I started to waiver. Pans were clanking, butter was sizzling in the skillets, and steam was rising off the dishes ready for the tables. There were about 5 guys preparing and plating the meals. Even they had a great attitude in spite of the obvious crunch they were feeling. They started joking with me because I was so enthralled with what was going on back there. They even let us snap a photo with our camera phone. Once we were seated at a table, I did order the shrimp and grits with a side of brussel sprouts. Mike ordered the Angel’s Delight which was shrimp, crab, tomatoes, onions, roasted peppers, garlic and basil over angel hair pasta in a white wine sauce. We shared each other’s dinner, and I honestly cannot tell you which I liked better. We even had leftovers so we took a to- go box back to the room and stored it in the cooler we brought with us. If I lived in Nag’s Head, I think I would go there every day until I sampled each item on the menu. It was most certainly one of the best dining experiences we have had since our trip began almost one year ago.

We were back to our room by 9:00 PM, and that was good because the day had been an ultra long one. We crashed immediately and slept like babies. Our room faced east so I got up with the sunrise the next morning. I knew it would be a beautiful sight with the nice weather and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. There was no wind so the water was calm. The tide was out, so the surf was breaking onto a much larger palette of sand than we had seen the previous evening. The sky and the ocean were the same color. The horizon was marked by a bright band of yellows and oranges that grew wider and brighter until the sun burst up over the line and sprinkled a warm haze of gold-dust through the air.  It looked like everything was illuminated by a foggy glow of perfect light. We took our time getting dressed. I went downstairs to the free breakfast buffet and brought us back some goodies to snack on with our coffee. The dogs enjoyed the fresh air out on the balcony. Piper was concentrating intently on devising a strategy to capture one of the seagulls that were flying around at his eye level. Cessna just soaked up the view. Pretty soon it was time to check out and head to Kitty Hawk. Of course Mike was interested in seeing the place where the Wright Brothers figured out how humans could fly.

We had a fun morning at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Although the brothers were from Dayton, Ohio, they came to North Carolina for the wind that would help them fly and the sand would cushion their crash landings. They also practiced their theories in a glider that they could fly from the tall dunes at Kill Devil Hills. This was the perfect environment for them to realize their obsession with flying in a heavier-than-air machine. There was an exhibit hall with stories about the lives of Orville and Wilber, details about their trials and experiments as they explored the concept of flight, and a replica of the 1902 Wright Glider.  Except for two small exhibit buildings, the rest of the national park was all outdoors.  There was a replica hanger where they built and then repaired their airplane after flight attempts. There was another replica cabin next door where they lived while they were based at Kill Devil Hills.  There were 4 granite stones marking each of the distances they flew on December 17, 1903 when they finally succeeded in taking flight. The first three successful attempts lasted only seconds and carried them a little over 100 feet (slightly farther each time). On their fourth attempt the plane went 852 feet and lasted 59 seconds. It was very interesting to see the distances marked out on the ground. Off in the distance, several hundred yards from the place where they flew, was the 60-foot granite monument erected in their honor. The location of the monument is atop a 90-foot dune where they would experiment with the gliders they built. There is also an airstrip on the grounds of the park, along with a wonderful life-size bronze sculpture of the whole ‘scene’ from that freezing day in December, 110 years ago. Our field trip was very inspirational. It was a good reminder about important life lessons. These two brothers taught themselves everything they needed to know about an idea that consumed them. We were reminded that day about the power of science, creativity, ingenuity, and team work. All life lessons that warrant ‘refresher courses’ over time. When we left the memorial park we went to eat lunch at a place on the beach called the Black Pelican. We thought this was an appropriate choice of restaurants, since it was from this historic building that the brothers sent a telegram home telling their father of their achievement. That… and DDD said their seafood pizza was very good. We had a great view of the sand dunes and ocean while we devoured a yummy lunch. Mike even spotted a pod of dolphins playing out in the water in front of us. With another long drive ahead, we paid the tab and got back on the road. This time we drove across Roanoke Island and through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. We made it back to our camp almost exactly 36 hours after we had left the previous morning. It was a tiring trip. However, the scenery, the food, and the lessons we learned made it well worth the effort.

The Longhorn football team played in the Alamo Bowl on Monday, December 30th. We never did find s sports bar in the little town, so we watched it at Applebee’s. On New Year’s Eve we walked across the bridge into downtown and had a couple of martinis and some raw oysters at The Boiler Room. This place was a very hip and extremely casual oyster bar. It was named for the actual gigantic boiler sitting off in the corner of the restaurant’s floor plan. We sat at the bar and watched the first half of the A&M vs. Duke Game on the television screens overhead. It started out great and remained exciting until the end. We would have stayed longer and watched more football, but the bar tenders were very eager to close up at 10 PM, in time for their own end of the year celebrations. They didn’t mind telling all of the customers how the boss said they could leave at 10 – unless there was still a large crowd, in which case they would have to stay and continue serving customers. Hint, Hint… they DID NOT want that scenario to play out. By the time we left around 9, the head bartender was taking shots with the customers. She was not even interested in waiting until 10 to get her party started!

New Year’s Day was about as low key as Christmas was for us. Mike worked on the leaky roof from up on top of the coach. We went through the box of mail I had picked up the day before at the FedEx Office in Greenville. Mike built a campfire in the late afternoon. We grilled chili cheeseburgers for dinner and added a salad to trick ourselves into thinking we were eating somewhat healthy. In fact, the first three days of the year were low key because the weather was either cold and windy, or cold and wet. We stayed inside, hovered around the space heater, and kept occupied with the computer and the television. By the time the weekend arrived, the weather had cleared off and we needed to get out of the house. We drove to the small town of Washington, which was northeast of us about 45 minutes away. Their claim to historical fame is that they are the first city in the U.S. to be named for General George Washington.  The small town of about 10,000 was established in 1776, and the heart of its downtown is situated on the banks of the Pamlico River. This area of North Carolina is referred to as the “Inner Banks”. There was a very nice community park along the shoreline. Part of it was concrete and brick pavers. As the path moved away from downtown, the trail turned into a long boardwalk with new waterfront condos built on the left of us and their marina across from us on the right. We walked the dogs along the water and then back through the streets that were lined with historic commercial buildings. There were several restaurants and shops in the downtown area, but not every building was occupied. Some of the older buildings were vacant and in need of some tender loving care. Mike stepped into the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a map, and the lady on duty told us about a dog park not far way. We walked Cessna and Piper through the middle of town until we found it. They played a bit inside the fence until another dog showed up with its owner. Then we left because they cannot play well with others. We had worked up an appetite, so we walked back toward downtown and stopped into a little spot called Down on Main Street for a late lunch. I got a plate of house made fried potato chips covered in buffalo chicken, blue cheese, bacon and green onions. Mike got a fried shrimp sandwich with a side of fried cheese grits. Maybe we should have saved our long walk until after lunch!

Our last day in Kinston was a Sunday. We weren’t feeling like total tourists after living in the area for more than 2 weeks, so we acted like locals for the day. We went back to church at Queen Street United Methodist Church. We saw all of the same people we saw at the Christmas service. Everyone sat in the same pew where they had been sitting on the 24th. Some people were just too curious about us since we were back, and had to ask what our story was. We told one gentleman we were traveling through the area and he asked enough questions to get all the details about the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Then he started bringing others from the congregation up to meet us. When the minister started the service, he whispered our story to the neighbors around him in his pew, and then those nice people started waiving at us. I sort of felt like we were on display in a zoo or something, but it wasn’t bad. The citizens could not have been more polite and welcoming. The church community has lost 2 members of its family since we had been there last, so it was a very sad service on that Sunday. After church we went to a place called King’s Restaurant World Famous BBQ and Chicken out on the highway. They had a buffet on Sunday from 11-2. I’d say 20% of the customers in the place were folks I recognized from church. The other 80% in the building had just left services from churches of other denominations. The family owned business started out as a country store and filling station 75 years ago. They are famous for their chopped pulled pork in Eastern Carolina vinegar sauce, and for their fried chicken. We tried both, along with fried fish, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, turkey with gravy, collard greens, deviled eggs, fried shrimp, crab cakes, hush puppies, chicken and dumplings, sweet tea, pecan pie, banana pudding and chocolate cream pie. We probably should have walked home and returned in a cab later to pick up the car. We waddled out to the parking lot and drove the Honda on the 3 mile route back to the bus . Watching football in between naps was not the healthiest activity to select after that mammoth lunch, but it was the most enjoyable. We eventually mustered enough energy to get outside and pack up all of our gear in preparation for a travel day on Monday.  Our plan was to leave Kinston in the morning and drive to a new park between Wilmington, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC.

 

The Monument to a Century of Flight

The Monument to a Century of Flight

Jennette's Pier in Nag' Head.

Jennette’s Pier in Nag’ Head.

Morning at the beach.

Morning at the beach.

Highway 12 on Ocracoke Island, driving toward Hatteras.

Highway 12 on Ocracoke Island, driving toward Hatteras.

Inside the sanctuary of Queen Street United Methodist Church.

Inside the sanctuary of Queen Street United Methodist Church.

One of the many beautiful sunsets over our campground in Kinston.

One of the many beautiful sunsets over our campground in Kinston.

Queen Street United Methodist Church as we attended Christmas Eve services

Queen Street United Methodist Church as we attended Christmas Eve services

The monument at Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright brothers used to practice with their gliders.

The monument at Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright brothers used to practice with their gliders.

Our fire pit beside the Neuse River at our campsite in Kinston.

Our fire pit beside the Neuse River at our campsite in Kinston.

From the ferry on the way to Ocracoke.

From the ferry on the way to Ocracoke.

Lunch at the Black Pelican in Kitty Hawk before leaving the Outer Banks.

Lunch at the Black Pelican in Kitty Hawk before leaving the Outer Banks.

Cessna enjoyed watching the sunrise from the balcony of our hotel room.

Cessna enjoyed watching the sunrise from the balcony of our hotel room.

One of the many bears in downtown New Bern. This one was outside the Farmer's Market pavilion.

One of the many bears in downtown New Bern. This one was outside the Farmer’s Market pavilion.

The beach at Kitty Hawk

The beach at Kitty Hawk

We were entertained by watching the action in the kitchen while we waited for a table at Blue Moon in Nag's Head.

We were entertained by watching the action in the kitchen while we waited for a table at Blue Moon in Nag’s Head.

Good Morning from the Outer Banks!

Good Morning from the Outer Banks!

 

 

Virginia Part II: Suffolk

Our drive to Suffolk came with a couple of maintenance errands en route. The campground in Milford had a large propane container for refilling canisters. We have a 25 gallon tank in the Monaco, and we had not refilled it since we were in Maine at the end of July. It fuels our grill, my kitchen stove, and provides back-up power to the fridge if we lose electricity. We are doubtful that the gauge actually works, so we never have any idea how much is actually in our tank. Since it was available right there on the premises, we figured it was a good time to top off the reservoir. Mike drove the bus around to the office and backed up to the industrial sized container. The campground maintenance man filled us up and we only needed 7 gallons. We were both surprised that was all it took. I cook A LOT, and we grill almost every evening that the weather is tolerable. I asked Mike if he thought the maintenance man knew what he was doing. His answer was that he wasn’t going to worry about propane for at least another year.

When we pulled out of Milford, we drove directly to a Pilot Truck Stop. We needed diesel and Mike wanted to weigh the bus on their scales. He had made some adjustments to the pressure on the tag axle to relieve some weight on the drive axle. I have no idea what any of that means, but he needed to get a weight measurement to make sure the adjustments he made were correct. We were traveling on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The Truck Stop was a zoo. All the commercial truck drivers were back on the road after a break for the holiday weekend. They needed fuel before they could get on with their routes. The diesel tanks were located behind the building. Everyone was entering and exiting from the same small opening to the right of the building. There were no lane markings and barely enough room for two rigs to pass side-by-side. Total chaos. We pulled in and got in line for the first pump… mainly to try and get out of the way as soon as possible. The Honda was attached to the tow bar, so we were extra long. The guy in front of us was second in line, we were third. Truck number two had left a large gap between him and the rig that was currently filling up. There was lots of chatter on the CB, but we clearly heard the trucker in back of us cussing us because we were blocking the drive. We knew that, but there was nowhere for us to go. Mike calmly got on the CB and stated that he could move up if the guy in front of us would close the gap in front of him. Luckily, his CB was turned on too and he did. We inched forward and everyone behind us was free to play ‘chicken’ in the parking lot again.

When it was our turn at the pump, I handled the refueling while Mike disconnected the Honda. We couldn’t have the car attached to the rear when we drove onto the scales, or our reading would be off. When our tank was full, he did a big crazy-eight in the parking lot in order to pull onto the scales. I moved the Honda to the front of the building where all the regular cars were located. Once the Honda was temporarily out of the way, I went inside to pay for the scales. We have three axles. The scales are divided into three sections – in order to get a separate weight on each axle. I paid the cashier for the read-out and hurried back to the bus so we could get the heck out of there. I briefly looked at our print-out and realized there were only two weight listings. They had combined both back axles into one reading. Great! Needless to say, Mike was already stressed, and I was the one who got to tell him we had just done all that for nothing. I got in and he started to fight his way toward the parking lot ‘extrance’. I calmly pointed out to him that the weight measurement did not seem right. Then the cuss words inside the bus mirrored those coming from the CB speaker. He drove in a big circle to get back in line for the scales. I went back inside to tell the cashier her reading was incorrect. I’m sure I was the only female customer they had seen all day, so they naturally assumed I was clueless. They kept trying to tell me that is ‘just the way it works’. I asked to speak to the manager. After I explained the problem, he used his condescending tone to tell me I didn’t understand how it worked and there was no way to get an individual weight reading for each axle. Isn’t it fun to have a conversation with someone who thinks you are an idiot, when in actuality they are the moron? My attempts to fix the problem were futile. I went back out to the zoo and told Mike he was going to have to go inside and talk to them. He did, we re-weighed. Guess what! This time we got three weights, one for each axle. The manager didn’t want to admit his ignorance though, so he told Mike the reading was probably inaccurate.

Before we could get back on the road, we still had to reconnect the Honda to the tow bar.  There was no way we were going to accomplish this feat anywhere near the Truck Stop. I got in the car and waited until Mike approached the highway in the Monaco. I slipped in behind him and we made our escape. About a mile down the road, he pulled over on the side of the entrance ramp onto the interstate. It was a crazy place to hook –up, but much better than where we had come from. The rest of the drive to Suffolk was uneventful… thankfully. We registered at Davis Lakes Campground on the edge of The Great Dismal Swamp (really) and did the usual unloading and setting up. I can assure you that our first night martinis were extra delicious that evening.

The campground we found in Suffolk was nice, big, clean and pretty. Characteristics that were much appreciated after some of our other recent locations. The price was also reasonable, so on the first morning we decided to extend our stay for an extra week. It was a family-owned park about 3 miles from downtown Suffolk and about 1 mile from the local airport. They had three small lakes that Mike could fish in. There was a swimming beach at the lake located closest to us, although not something we planned to take advantage of in the cold weather. From what I could tell, they had three separate rental rates. The campers surrounding the edges of each lake were semi-permanent. Most of these sites had ‘screened porches’ built onto the campers with decks extending out over and down to the water. They weren’t going anywhere.  The trailers around the lake were either occupied by full-time residents, or they were used as weekend get-a-ways for people who would come and go. The next section was a large ring of sites for 5th-wheels and RV’s. These weren’t near any of the lakes, but they all looked onto a football- sized field of grass. The guests in this section were temporary workers in the area like line-men or construction crews. Our section seemed to be for weekly or daily guests. We had neighbors on both sides, but the area in front of us was empty of any other patrons, so we did not feel crowded at all.  We had plenty of space between us and the RV to our right. We even had a small deck beside us where the picnic table was located. This was great because the dogs could hang out on the deck and stay clean from dirt and fallen leaves.

We arrived on December 2nd, and the family was just finishing with all of the Christmas decorations. They had placed wreaths on every building like the bathhouse, storage sheds, a community pavilion, the office, and the guard shack. In addition to lights and wreaths, they had a huge collection of inflatable Christmas characters.  A 12’ tall redneck nutcracker was located at the entrance. He had a beer belly, a shot gun, and he was missing one of his front teeth. Santa and some reindeer in an airstream greeted traffic as it approached the main section of the park.  This one was automated. The door opened and closed. When it opened, Santa popped out with a huge grin on his face. (Piper barked at him for the first three days every time he ‘appeared’).  There was an inflatable Santa cooking on a bbq grill. At another spot Santa and some reindeer were roasting marshmallows over a campfire. A snowman dressed in hunting gear was out by one of the fishing piers. At another spot, two more reindeer huddled over another campfire while Santa slept inside a tent beside them. They even had an inflatable Taco Truck that Santa drove while one of the elves served customers from the back window. Everything was so cute and festive; it was very easy to get into the Christmas spirit at Davis Lakes.

One of my dear friends, Amy (who happens to be extremely creative and talented in the art department), even made us a wreath for the Monaco and shipped it to us! The surprise box was waiting at the front desk when I checked in. She was worried we wouldn’t have any holiday decorations, so she covered a wreath with Christmas ornaments that were color- coordinated to the bus’ interior. It was made of sparkly blues, greens, teals and purples. I was totally surprised when I opened the box. She was clever enough to include a door hanger too, so we immediately placed it on an inside wall between my desk and the captain’s chair. Up until that point, I had not intended to decorate for the Christmas season. Now I was daydreaming about options for a tiny tree somewhere else in our living room.

Downtown Suffolk was a cute place. There was a good inventory of historic buildings, although not all of them were occupied with tenants.  I had seen a ladies hair salon on Main Street when we arrived to town, so I went back one afternoon to see if I could get a long overdue haircut. One of the stylists told me she could take me in 45 minutes, so I explored some of the streets while I waited. There were only a few retail stores to visit so I had to walk very slowly to stretch the time. I did stumble upon one establishment called the Shooting Star Gallery. They featured works by local artists and I was able to purchase a few small Christmas gifts to send to my friends. There were a handful of restaurants in downtown too, so Mike and I went back another evening to see about them. We stopped in for a drink at a trendy upscale place called Harper’s Table, and then made our way across the street and to the opposite end of the block to check out a more casual place called Baron’s Pub. Finally, we wandered one block over and had brick oven pizza for dinner at an Italian restaurant called Amici’s. I did accidentally find another place I REALLY would have liked to try called Ndulge Eclectic Soul Cuisine, but it was too late before I stumbled upon it. I found it on the outskirts of downtown the day before we left Suffolk, and it was closed.  I was bummed.

Guess what we did on our first real outing from this location? Found the closest DDD restaurant, of course! Our pick this time was a place called Moseberth’s Fried Chicken in Portsmouth. We got there a little before noon and the parking lot was fairly crowded. We noticed two separate cars in the lot had people eating inside of them. That seemed weird… until we got inside. The building was fairly large, but there was absolutely no seating. Take out only. Cash only. We placed our order for a family dinner and asked the girl at the counter for directions to the closest park in the area. We hadn’t planned on having a picnic that day, but luckily the weather was nice. The park we found was a wonderful city park with a playground, several waterfront picnic shelters, tennis courts, and a golf course. The chicken was great, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The potato salad was so so, and the hush puppies were grease balls. After we finished eating, we let the dogs run around on the fenced in tennis courts and then we kept driving east to Virginia Beach.

I have always been curious about Virginia Beach because it seems like you hear about it a lot as a vacation destination. After a couple of hours of walking around, my curiosity was satisfied. It did not make my list of places we want to return. Granted, it was December and it gets cold in Virginia… so most places were closed for the season. I might have had a different impression if we had been there on a warm sunny day when the businesses were open and lots of tourists were wandering the streets. On the day we went, it was more like a ghost town. The atmosphere is what I now know to be typical of an Atlantic Shore beach. There was the water, then there was a big section of sand, then there was a boardwalk (this time it was concrete), and then the hotels bordered the boardwalk. I wouldn’t have picked to stay in any of the hotels we saw on our walk. They all looked pretty grungy. We made our way down the boardwalk for about a mile. It looked like the city had spent lots of money and time erecting metal structures of all shapes and sizes that were outlined in lights. These decorations were located on the hotel side and in the sand along the beach too. Later we found out that it all lights up at night, and people can drive on the boardwalk in their cars to see the ‘show’. I would have liked to have seen that, but we did not return. They showed it all lit up on the news, and it looked very pretty.

When we had seen enough of the boardwalk, we cut to the west and returned to our car along the ‘main drag’ just off the beach. This did not appear to be a high rent area. Mainly t-shirt shops and souvenir establishments. I didn’t notice any boutiques, art galleries, or anything along those lines. About half-way back to our car, one block of the street was shut down by fire trucks and emergency response vehicles. We were okay to walk along the sidewalk, but the street was closed to through-traffic. Lots of firemen and women were standing around their trucks, just hanging out. The scene looked very much like an emergency was in place, but no one was acting very concerned. When we were watching the news later that evening, we learned they had busted a guy for setting up a meth lab on the 6th floor of one of the hotels. The fire department was there in case any sort of explosion ensued as they were clearing the hotel room. I knew my hunch was right about not finding any of those hotels alluring! We tend to try and stay away from meth labs while on vacation.

It rained heavily most of that night. Every morning is the same in the Monaco, regardless of weather conditions. I usually fall asleep and wake up first. Mike usually watches television in bed until after I’m snoring, and sleeps a little later than I do. The dogs sleep on their beds in our bathroom. In the winter we don’t close the pocket door so the heat will circulate better. No wonder Mike doesn’t sleep well: every night he has me snoring on his right side and Piper snoring on this left side!  When the sun appears I open my eyes and my sweet Piper boy is sitting up on his bed patiently staring at us – willing us to wake up and take him out.  I don’t know that I would be as polite if I had to wait for someone else to help me use the bathroom first thing every morning. I always try to go back to sleep, but guilt overtakes me and I get out of bed to take the dogs to pee. This morning was no different, except for one upsetting factor. As I was getting their leashes on them I heard a dripping noise. Falling rain usually does make a dripping noise, but this sound was coming from the INSIDE. I tracked the sound and discovered water was POURING from the ceiling above the co-captain’s chair. When I looked more closely, I saw that it was actually coming from the cabinet above the seat where our stereo equipment and cable box are located. Oh crap! I scrambled for towels to mop up what I could. The dogs did not appreciate the delay. Should I wake up Mike with the joyous news, or let him sleep? I figured his day was already going to be ruined, so I let him sleep. I removed the cable box from the cabinet and let it dangle from the cords that were still connected. I figured he would notice something was awry when he saw the box in the air and a giant beach towel shoved up into the compartment above. Then I made a mental note to be as quiet and pleasant as possible for the rest of the day. It was not going to be pretty.

The campground hosts were having a little Christmas party that day, so I planned to stay busy and out of the way by preparing a dessert to take to the event. The staff had distributed an invitation to all the guests. They would be preparing a lunch of pulled pork, baked beans, cole slaw, and fried apples. If we would bring one child’s toy per person, we could exchange it for a lunch plate. We could also bring a dessert to share with the group if we wanted. They would take all the gifts to a local children’s charity after the party was over. What a great idea! Since I haven’t mastered any baking in my convection oven, I decided I would make a chocolate Chex mix. All I needed was the microwave for that recipe, so it was a good choice. I got dressed and went to the store to get the ingredients. We had already purchased our toys on a previous Wal-Mart run. When party time arrived, Mike opted to stay at home because it was the last Saturday for the regular college football season. He wanted to zone out with some football on the television. I went without him. I planned to stay and visit, but everyone there knew everyone else and I felt like a very conspicuous outsider. I fixed a plate to go and thanked the hostess, explaining that we had a leak in our bus and I needed to get back and help my husband by holding the flash-light. It was sort of true. More rain was in the forecast for the next three days.

It was time for our regular dental visit and cleaning during the time we were in Suffolk.  Mike called around and found an office on our insurance plan that could take both of us. Luckily for us, he found the wonderful practice of Dr. Steve Gwaltney. Mike’s mom ran a dental office in Garland while he was growing up, so he knows a thing or two about this environment. We went in together. They saw me first while he waited in the lobby, then they saw him while I waited in the lobby. I was introduced to Mike in 1999 and we married in 2003. One thing I do know about the man is that he is a cynic by nature and not impressed by too many things. You can imagine my surprise when he was typing away on his iPad the next morning and I asked him what he was doing. He answered that he was writing a thank you note to the dentist so he could tell them what great service they provided to us. Oh really? He has never complimented any business on any services provided to us. Ever. When I printed the letter for him and stuck it in the envelope to address it, I felt like adding a little side note to the bottom. It would have said something like “you people have NO IDEA what kudos you are getting right now”. It was less of a thank you note and more like a full page review complete with glowing comments about their service, their attitude, and their professionalism.  I’m sure it made their day to get the letter in the mail, but I doubt they realized what a huge deal it actually was. I hope they at least stuck it up on a bulletin board in the break room instead of tossing it in the trash.  If you are ever in Suffolk, Virginia needing the services of a dentist, be sure to call Dr. Steve Gwaltney. They will treat you right.

We were getting into the holiday season with our sparkly wreath, the tiny metal tree I bought at the downtown gallery, and all the funny blow-up decorations around the park. On cold rainy nights when we couldn’t have a campfire, we watched whatever Christmas special was on television. I don’t think we missed very many of the classics this year. One night we were making dinner and watching a show about a competition of lights at various American homes around the U.S. As it happened, one of the houses featured was in Chesapeake. We looked it up on the map, and it was only about 20 miles from us. We used to drive around The Woodlands once or twice each season to look at lights in our neighborhood. When Mike was still a member of his flying club, we even went up and flew over a couple of ‘famous’ neighborhoods in Houston to see the lights from above. Those were fun date nights.

The article I found through google.com said the Chesapeake house was illuminated from 5:15 until 11:00 each night, so we battled rush-hour traffic late one afternoon to see for ourselves. We found it without any problems. There were only three other cars there when we arrived, so our timing was good. We had actually parked our car on a side street and walked over take to it in up close. The house was on a corner lot, so they had the front yard and side yard all decked out. I can’t imagine the electricity bill they have at the end of the year! In addition to lights, they also had dozens of inflatable characters sprinkled around the lawn. The owners had even synchronized the lights to music so that different strands flickered at different times in unison to the beat of songs that were broadcast on a local radio station.  They didn’t have speakers blaring from the yard for people on foot, which meant for us it looked like some of the strands were faulty at random intervals. I don’t think this family has any other hobbies because it must take them all year long to prepare for this show each December. I’ll bet about one-fourth of our total Christmas budget was what they spent on power alone. I got all caught up in the logistics of the scene. Did they have to have a separate breaker box installed? Did they run all the lights off of a separate temporary generator? Was that loud and stinky for the neighbors? Did they have to rent a separate storage unit to store the gear during spring, summer and fall? How much time did they spend each day tinkering with strands that stopped working? Did they get ‘shorts’ in their system on wet and rainy days? How many extension cords did they own? With all this pondering I had worked up an appetite. Before we drove back home I found a restaurant on urbanspoon.com for us to try for dinner. The Courthouse Café was just down the street in a Plain-Jane strip center. We never quite know what we are getting into when we try out new restaurants, but this night was a wonderful surprise. Although the exterior would have never caught our eye, the inside was cozy and the menu was sophisticated. The special for the evening was prime rib, which Mike ordered. I had local flounder and house-made crab cakes. Everything was fresh and delicious with plenty of leftovers to bring back to our fridge.

There are so many historic destinations in Virginia, and we did not get to everything during our month in Old Dominion. However, one cannot pass through the area without visiting Colonial Williamsburg. We decided it was time to immerse ourselves in the 18th Century on a cold but sunny Thursday. This Revolutionary City is to history buffs what Disney World is to a third grader. Approximately 300 acres contain more than 500 historic buildings from the late 1700’s. Exhibitions by artisans and tradesman using period tools and early techniques are in progress at every glance. The ‘citizens’ of Williamsburg stroll the streets and work in the shops wearing period clothing and speaking ‘the King’s English’. Horse drawn carriages transport them around town on their daily errands. The perk about being there during the holiday season is that the streets and buildings were adorned with traditional Colonial Revival decorations, making the atmosphere incredibly festive.

The drive was more than two hours to get there, so we got up early and headed out as soon as possible. As I was getting dressed the local news was warning motorists about a terrible back-up on our intended route along I-64 North. We took Highway 60 through Newport News instead. I have always heard about Newport News and was hoping we might get to see another charming community as we passed through the area. Not so much. It was kind of like driving from Willowbrook Mall to I-45 in Houston… strip centers and fast food joints separated by traffic lights at every intersection. The travel was stop and go like it would have been on the interstate, but we were looking at street lights instead of brake lights. When we finally got there, we followed the signs to the Visitor’s Center. We parked in the parking lot and Mike went inside to use the facilities. I asked him to grab a map of the area when he came back. What I meant was: figure out what the drill is for seeing Williamsburg today. Where do we park?  Is there a fee to get in? Are dogs allowed? Piper and Cessna were certainly hoping so, since they were in the back of the Honda. Ladies: one critical tip for a successful marriage is ‘say what you mean, mean what you say’. This is a strategy that I remind myself of repeatedly, although I have not yet mastered it. Mike returned to the car with a map, just like I asked. He handed me the literature and waited for instructions. I figured we would drive to the center of town and find a parking spot. We left the Visitor’s Center and drove around in a circle. As we began recognizing landmarks we had just passed, I figured we were lost and confused. We needed to get our bearings before we were both so irritated with each other that the daytrip became a bust. I asked Mike to please drive back to the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center. This time he parked and I stomped inside to find the information desk and get the facts. Yes, dogs were allowed. The colonial town was three-tenths of a mile from us down a designated walkway that started at the other end of the building I was standing in. We could buy a ticket and take advantage of some of the tours and exhibits, or we could skip the admission fee and take the self-guided approach. I stomped back to the car and informed Mike we were already “there”. Since dogs were not allowed inside any of the buildings, we decided to save ourselves the price of admission. It was a beautiful day with pristine blue skies, but the wind was brisk and neither of us wanted to be waiting outside with Piper and Cessna in 30-degree temperatures while the other one took a tour inside. Our time was limited also (it was almost noon by now), so we were sure we would have a full day as it was.

As we walked along the trail, the fresh air helped clear our heads and forget the frustrations of being clueless tourists. I stopped stomping and started strolling. The dogs were so happy because they thought we came all this way just to take them on a walk. The first thing we passed was an historical working farm with all kinds of animals. Since Piper doesn’t have the strongest reputation with being courteous toward farm animals (or cats, or birds, or other dogs), we decided to save ourselves some embarrassment and skip this exhibit.  We had seen an historic working farm at George Washington’s birthplace, so we had a general idea of what was behind the fences. As we approached the center of town, the first thing I noticed was a giant wreath hanging up high on an old barn. It was made of twine, pine cones, oyster shells and dried artichoke. This is when I realized we were going to see the place all decked out in Christmas decorations. Season’s Greetings to me! We passed by the Governor’s Mansion and ambled down the Palace Green until we got to Duke of Gloucester Street – or the main drag. I pretty much stopped at every building, snapping photos of all the creative wreaths on each door and window. We were no longer irritated with each other, but we both knew we would be even more amicable if we had a beverage and some food. Time to find a spot for lunch.

We turned right and followed the street until it ended at the College of William and Mary. We love exploring college campuses too, but that was not our agenda for the day so we reversed course. We window shopped at some of the stores in Merchant’s Square and made our way back to a place we had spotted called Dog Street Gastro pub. Their tag line was Sit. Stay. Our dogs are not very well trained, but we are, so we did. There was a sidewalk patio with heat lamps and two dog bowls filled with water near the entrance. I went inside to see if we could eat at their outside tables. I told the hostess they probably didn’t want to provide wait service to any fool’s out there, so I would be happy to get our drinks and food from the bar and take them out myself, if it was okay. She had no problem with that.  We situated ourselves at a corner table in the direct sun. Mike pulled the heat lamp close to our table and fired it up. I went in to get menus and drinks. They had a huge beer selection, so Mike got a local craft ale. This wino ordered Chardonnay. Between the sun, the heat lamp and the booze it turned out to be a wonderful atmosphere. The trick was to ignore the steam that came from our mouths when we talked. We had dressed warmly. It was fun. I had the Ploughman’s Lunch. Slices of white cheddar, ham pate, apples, beet root, a deviled egg, salad greens, a branston pickle and fresh baked bread were all served on an individual chopping board. Mike ordered warm honey ham and cheddar cheese on English sandwich bread. It was served with ‘crisps’. The dogs enjoyed their bowls of water and lots of attention from passing tourists.

After our al fresco meal concluded it was time to walk off our lunch. We headed east along Duke of Gloucester Street and I continued to get my thrills from the sight of all the decorations. Piper got his thrills from the horse-drawn carriages traveling down the middle of the road. I guess the near-death experience with the white faced horse in Tupelo had no effect on him whatsoever! The dog is stupidly fearless. Does he not realize these animals are 100 times larger and stronger than he is? Apparently, he has an inflated ego. Mike kept him in-check and he did not embarrass us too much. Cessna searched for her favorite thing in the universe: kids. It was the middle of the day during school season, so she only found a few to stop and love on. We knew we had reached the other end of town when we got to the Capitol building. We moved north one block and headed west on Nicholson Street until we were back at the Palace Green again. Since we knew we had another two hour drive ahead of us, we decided to call it a day and take the path back to our car. It was time to say good-bye to the charm of America in its beginning stages, and reacquaint ourselves with the congested and commercialized America of today. I could have stayed inside the idealistic bubble much longer.

Mike was still busy trying to find the source of our roof leak. He planned to work on the bus for most of the next day, so I took myself to a small historic town just north of Suffolk called Smithfield. The girls in the salon had told me about it when I was getting my hair cut. They are most famous for their hams. Smithfield Foods, a Fortune 500 Company that owns Smithfield Packing Company and others, is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer. The company raises 12 million and processes 20 million hogs annually. I wanted to serve us a Virginia ham for our Christmas meal this year, so the main mission on this trip was to get us a ham. Mike pointed out that I could also buy the ham down the street at the local grocery store, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun. I figured it would taste better if it was totally authentic! The area is on the Pagan River and was first colonized in 1634. The town was established as a seaport in 1752. Smithfield’s Historic District includes over 70 buildings of exceptional architectural importance, including residences of the Colonial, Federal, and Victorian periods. I knew I had arrived when I started seeing magnificent homes lining the street that leads into downtown. I parked in the parking lot of a beautiful church and started wandering the sidewalks. I didn’t know exactly where I was going to find the ham of my dreams, but I figured I would stumble upon it when the time was right. Two blocks down, and there it was: the Genuine Smithfield Ham Shoppe. Situated in a beautifully restored corner building, it was half restaurant and half gourmet food shop. Virginia is also famous for its peanuts and the store offered an abundant selection of both.  After talking to a very friendly and helpful employee, I ended up getting the perfect glazed spiral cut ham for our Christmas dinner.  I also got us a small salt cured ham that could be used to accent various recipes. The flavors were totally different. I purchased a couple more of the salt cured hams and had them shipped as a gift to each of our parents. Finally, I sent a selection of flavored peanuts to some other friends in Tyler before putting my wallet back in my purse.

Even though I had no money left, I made my way down the Main Street and peeked into each of the shops. Too bad my Christmas shopping was virtually complete; I saw so many cute things that day… from art to jewelry to linens. One store I found was an artist’s coop. My favorite thing in that store was a collection of purses made from hard back book covers. The sides of the purse were the front and back of an old book. The artist had attached handles to the top and they were held together with thick fabrics in colors that matched the designs on the book covers. How creative is that? Mike’s birthday was approaching on the 18th, and when I asked what he wanted as a birthday gift his answer was a pecan or cherry pie. I found a bakery with fresh pecan pies in their cooler and brought one home to him. Maybe I should have eaten a large lunch before I took off on this outing. It seems like I couldn’t stop purchasing all the yummy food that was for sale. To my credit, I did wander into a cute little cake shop and emerged with not even one cupcake! Yay me.

On my way out of town I stopped at Windsor Castle Public Park along the river. Windsor Castle is a former plantation that dates to a land grant of 1,450 acres by the King of England to Arthur Smith in 1637. The manor house and surrounding 208 acres is now a public park. The public space features hiking trails, a dog park, a mountain bike trail, a fishing pier, and a canoe launch. The manor house overlooks the junction of Cypress Creek and the Pagan River. The terrain is very marshy where the waters come together. There was a super long boardwalk that reached out over the tall grass that danced in the breeze. It led all the way up to the historic ‘castle’. I did not have on the most comfortable walking shoes, or I would have made the time to take a little hike along the path. Across the street was a tiny marina. There was a restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the boats that were moored there. If I had not been alone, I would have wanted to find a spot at the restaurant and enjoy the view of the charming waterfront community a bit longer. I had food in the car though, and no cooler with me. It was time to get back to the campground. Smithfield is a small town with only about 8,000 residents, but it was a wonderful place to spend a relaxing afternoon.  When I got home Mike had a roaring campfire to keep us warm for the evening. We grilled sweet potatoes and beer brats. I told him he could start his birthday celebrations early with pecan pie for dessert. We had five days to go before the 18th, and the pie would have been stale by then!

We stayed close to camp for our last four days in Virginia. We did the usual errands in town, went to church at a beautiful Methodist Church on Main Street, and walked the dogs around the three Davis Lakes. The weather was nice enough for one last fire on Monday evening. I’m so glad we came to this spot at the beginning of December because I was expecting a dull and melancholy season for our first Christmas on the road. By the time we left, I had mailed out over 150 Christmas cards, completed my shopping, mailed my gifts, and even purchased a few decorations for us. We would be in North Carolina by the time December 25th arrived, but I will fondly think of Virginia when I remember the Christmas season of 2013.

 

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk

A marsh just outside of downtown Smithfield.

A marsh just outside of downtown Smithfield.

A small marina near downtown Smithfield

A small marina near downtown Smithfield

One of the beautiful and creative wreaths decorating the historic buildings in Williamsburg

One of the beautiful and creative wreaths decorating the historic buildings in Williamsburg

BBQ Santa

BBQ Santa

Campfire Santa with some of his reindeer

Campfire Santa with some of his reindeer

An impressive organ and a gorgeous stained glass window above the altar at Main Street United Methodist Church in downtown Suffolk.

An impressive organ and a gorgeous stained glass window above the altar at Main Street United Methodist Church in downtown Suffolk.

Fighter jets buzzed the City of Virginia Beach the whole time we walked around town that day.

Fighter jets buzzed the City of Virginia Beach the whole time we walked around town that day.

The Governor's House in Colonial Williamsburg.

The Governor’s House in Colonial Williamsburg.

There were geese all over the golf course next to the park in Portsmouth, VA where we had an impromptu picnic with our fried chicken lunch.

There were geese all over the golf course next to the park in Portsmouth, VA where we had an impromptu picnic with our fried chicken lunch.

The swimming beach at our campground

The swimming beach at our campground

The dogs were waiting for me to come home from the downtown salon where I got a hair cut.

The dogs were waiting for me to come home from the downtown salon where I got a hair cut.

The fabulous wreath my friend Amy made for us and sent to us so we could have Christmas decorations this year.

The fabulous wreath my friend Amy made for us and sent to us so we could have Christmas decorations this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Part I: Milford

Wed 11/13.              Woke to sunny, cold near 25.  Wind came up late morning.  Departed about 11:30.  Drove west with northerly crosswind.  Not too bad crossing Bay Bridge.  Then turned south with northwest wind.  It seemed to help with gas mileage.  But, crossing one more bridge in Virginia was a bit hairy because it was a single lane with no median OR shoulder.  Opposite direction traffic, including one semi, was inches away.  We crossed the Potomac river.  Got to new park about 3:00.  Unloaded, sunset was clearly seen at our site at 4:45.  Had multiple martinis and watched some local Richmond, VA news while the temperature plummeted.  Ate homemade enchiladas.  Slept well. Water froze in hose or at faucet; had to go on water pump.

Thurs 11/14.                Cold morning.  After water in faucet thawed, worker drove by and saw water spraying the side of our coach.  The plastic y valve had cracked.  Put a new one on and he connected some kind of electric wire wrapped around the pipe.  Nice and warm afternoon.  Bought some wood.  Walked the dogs.  I waited on tech to come by to help get wifi and satellite dish working, and Dina ran to store in Bowling Green.  Got back a little after sunset and tech never made it, so built a fire and played CDs.  Grilled chicken with cauliflower and salad.

Fri 11/15.                  Left dogs here and drove south to suburb of Richmond.  Found small DDD diner and had late lunch.  Took some corn pancake black bean appetizer and part of Cuban sandwich to go.  The smoked roast beef sub disappeared.  On way back, stopped for groceries.  Made it back at sunset. Everything covered in prep for rain later, so stayed inside and watched network tv shows.

Sat 11/16.                Light rain overnight. Warmer. Stayed cloudy, then misty foggy late afternoon.  Watched games starting at noon. Our game came on after another finished overtime. Got blown out anyway.  Other games were better. Dina grilled baked potato, pork chops and pear.  We ate a feast.  Then watched the end of late games in bed.

Sun 11/17.               Drove with dogs north 45 minutes to Fredericksburg.  Parked downtown and walked up and down 3 or 4 blocks next to Rappahannock River.  Some shops closed on Sunday.  Had drinks at two Irish pubs.  Saw where to park for train station and got info for trip into DC.  Drove back to site before sunset.  Cloudy with rain after ten.  Ate fried rice and watched usual Sunday night tv inside.

Mon 11/18.               Nice clear, but windy.  Down day to relax and nap on hammock.  Decided to stay here extra 5 days. Move on Dec. 2nd. Built campfire and watched satellite tv on outside tv only, with there was DirecTv box.  Then listened to CDs and grilled hotdogs with chili and cheese and potato salad.

Tues 11/19.                Beautiful weather but chilly.  Ran to store for groceries while Dina wrote.  Talked to neighbors Wayne and Elaine, and Pam with two labs.  Walked dogs at sunset and saw deer in the soy bean field next to the park.  Built campfire and grilled burgers.

Weds. 11/20.              Nice day, warmer but still cold in the shade or near the Chesapeake Bay.  We drove with dogs to George Washington’s birthplace and walked the grounds next to an opening to the Potomac river.  Saw the rebuilt house and kitchen, along with other buildings and artifacts of the period.  It was a working farm with pastures and fenced yards for birds and animals.  Next, drove a few miles east to the edge of the Potomac river and the Lee plantation, preserved by a private entity.  We paid at the entry and drove some of the grounds of the 1900- acre estate.  Drove by the mansion but not to it and continued on to the far end.  There we parked at the restored grist mill and walked the dogs along trails.  Saw the beaches and cliffs at the water’s edge.  A private jet or some kind of security flight was circling the River (about 5 miles across, near Chesapeake Bay) at low altitude the whole hour that we were there.  While walking, we saw a pair of bald eagles moving amongst the trees and across the bay was Maryland.  And driving out, we saw funny long haired cattle.  Got back to site just after sunset.

Thurs 11/21.           Cloudy and cool.  Warmed to 50s by afternoon.  Went fishing at large creek a little south of here.  No luck, one non keeper.  Dina wrote a little.  Built fire and grilled pork ribs with potato salad and bootlegger beans.

Fri 11/22.              Cloudy then sun and warm 75.  Drove to Tappahannock for lunch.  Stopped at Lowe’s there for supplies, then parked near town center.  Lots of historic buildings renovated to become courthouses and law offices. Walked dogs to waterfront of Rappahannock River.  Ate at seafood restaurant.  No to- go’s.  Crossed the river on the way back via different route.  Dina pulled over for cop that was stopping another speeder.  He came to window, asked how fast were you going?  She said 63(in a 55) but thought the limit was 60.  He said that’s right, you can go. Lucky!  Got back to site before dark but just stayed inside with rain approaching.

Sat 11/23.             Chilly but clear.  Rain passed overnight.  Warmed up afternoon.  Dina made chili outside with campfire, while I worked on repair projects till three.  Then watched games rest of day.  Low tonight in twenties, so disconnected water faucet before retiring.

Sun 11/24.            Colder, below freezing several hours.  Wind from northwest all day.  Stayed in the thirties.  Drove to Spotsylvania and the Courthouse Battlefield National Preserve.  Walked with dogs through a portion of the ravine located on the Landrum family farm turned historic civil war killing field.  Monuments, ancient house material and rows of hand dug trenches are all that remain.  We walked about a mile or more in the biting wind.  Then we drove through the rest of the preserve and stopped to read some of the battle descriptions along the route.  Drove through the small town called historic Court House, but didn’t find a place to stop.  So, next, drove to Fredericksburg Battlefield, since it was just a few miles away.  We parked at the visitor center and walked the preserved area there called Sunken Road and the Stone Wall at Marye’s Heights.  It was about two and the route description stated, “…leisurely hour long walk along the sunken road…”.  But it was 33 in a frosty wind; I think we did it in 45 minutes or less.  Very interesting because this battle took place on one day near a large town. There were photos of scenes from the following day.  Many of the buildings in the photos have been preserved at their same location.  A cemetery lay at the top of the hill.  My camera phone froze at this point.  Dina snapped a few before we darted for the car.  We had planned to go into town for a thawing refreshment, but with the temperature at 32 now at about three, we had to race back to our site and disconnect the water hose and other cold weather chores.  Tonight’s low forecasted for our area was 18-20.

Mon 11/25.                 On water pump till late morning due to frozen obstruction in hose.  Below freezing until around noon.  Drove to Charlottesville to see Thomas Jefferson’s Plantation, Monticello.  Dina rode shuttle to house from visitor center and took the guided tour of the house.  She learned all about TJ.  I walked the dogs up the trail to the house and met her.  We walked some of the grounds and by the cemetery on the way back to the car.  Cold, but above freezing with wind from SW.  Drove into town where UVA is located and parked near downtown.  Walked along pedestrian only block and saw shops and eateries.  Took dogs to pet friendly place called Millers Downtown, but they don’t allow dogs inside.  Too cold for outside, so put dogs in car and went back there to eat and drink.  Nice bartender Jessica served us for an hour and a half or so.  She said Dave Mathews worked and played there. Drove back to site before precipitation started.  Got back at eight and hovered around freezing for the rest of the night.

Tues 11/26.                 Light rain early but above freezing.  Stopped for awhile mid morning.  I went to grocery store for Thanksgiving Day supplies.  Got back after noon. Rained off and on rest of day.  Greenberg turkey arrived.  Stayed inside with wet dogs.  Dina began the process of preparing turkey day feast.  Had martinis, ate soup and sandwich, while music played.  Walked dogs in the rain one last time, but it had warmed to the 40s.

Weds 11/27.               Rained most of the night.  Above freezing with light rain all day.  Dina did more cooking and writing.  We all stayed inside.  Received delivery of dog food in the afternoon.  Watched some tv after dark and ate the last of leftovers…for now!

Thurs 11/28.                 Game Day…oh and Thanksgiving!  Clear and 22.  Dina finished prepping a wonderful feast.  Gathered some wet wood for all day campfire. Discovered our satellite tv won’t work, so no watching our game tonight.  Ate at three; we were bloated.  Went back to fire, but sleepy.  At dark got really cold, so came in and watched Cowboy game.  I kept up with our game on ESPN Gamecast app.  At half, walked dogs then went to bed.  Kept up with game, since we had free wifi, till it was over at 11:30.  Very nice Thanksgiving and cherry on top was the victory!

Fri 11/29.                   Cold start, 24.  Warmed to 40s.  Drove to Colonial Beach.  Parked at waterfront and walked dogs up and down sidewalk next to Potomac River.  Shops were all closed except for a video gaming/horse racing casino/restaurant.  It was built over the water and after entering from Virginia, one enters Maryland, where gambling is legal.  We just looked around and used the facility.  Then we drove back to the main route and turned north toward the Nice Bridge.  Came upon box stores and strip malls and parked at a seafood restaurant and bar.  Tied dogs to outdoor table and sat inside for drinks and appetizers.  We got steamed crab legs and shrimp to go.  Drove back to our site and arrived just after sunset.  Ate and relaxed inside and Dina did some turkey leftover magic.  Watched a little tv before retiring.

Sat 11/30.                   Cold start.  Warmed some.  Did chores to get ready to move. Built fire early and burned all afternoon.  Dina did some writing by it while I watched football.  After dark, watched from outside and grilled sweet potatoes the small ribeyes.

Sun 12/1.                    Awoke early for trip.  Cold, 24.  Drove to Fredericksburg train station.  Rode to Union Station in Washington, D. C., just down the street from the U. S. Capitol.  First stop was to eat at Irish pub.  Had two hours for sightseeing, so walked briskly, most of the time, past the Capitol, down the Mall to the Washington Monument.  Then further south to the Lincoln Memorial and back north along Constitution Ave. Past the White House and back to Union Station…whew!  Took lots of pictures.  Had a drink before getting to the gate for boarding.  Got back to car about 4:30 and let the dogs out about 5:20.  Watched football and regular Sunday evening shows.  Ate leftover turkey soup and grilled cheese sandwich before walking the dogs and bed.  Very tired and moving tomorrow.

Thanksgiving Dinner for 10, I mean 2. A special thanks to my 8th Grade History Teacher, Ms. Ready, for telling me I could make my dressing in the crockpot. I didn't know how I was going to pull it all off in my tiny microwave/ convection oven.

Thanksgiving Dinner for 10, I mean 2. A special thanks to my 8th Grade History Teacher, Ms. Ready, for telling me I could make my dressing in the crockpot. I didn’t know how I was going to pull it all off in my tiny microwave/ convection oven.

The cows were very furry at the Sutton Hall Plantation. We stopped to talk to this one from the car. The dogs were barking like crazy. He was looking at us as if to say "tell those dogs to shut up or I will do it for you with my pretty horns".

The cows were very furry at the Sutton Hall Plantation. We stopped to talk to this one from the car. The dogs were barking like crazy. He was looking at us as if to say “tell those dogs to shut up or I will do it for you with my pretty horns”.

We had some very beautiful sunsets from this location off of Sparta Road.

We had some very beautiful sunsets from this location off of Sparta Road.

Sutton Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee.

Sutton Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee.

I've said before that Mike is obsessed with geese. Needless to say he was almost hyperventilating at this sight!

I’ve said before that Mike is obsessed with geese. Needless to say he was almost hyperventilating at this sight!

You can't tell, but this is an eagle. We 'chased' it through the woods while on a hike at Sutton Hall. He was flying through the trees above us and around us. I figured he would have a mate nearby, so we tried to follow him. Sure enough he flew to a perch high up in a bare tree and retrieved his 'wife' before they both flew away.

You can’t tell, but this is an eagle. We ‘chased’ it through the woods while on a hike at Sutton Hall. He was flying through the trees above us and around us. I figured he would have a mate nearby, so we tried to follow him. Sure enough he flew to a perch high up in a bare tree and retrieved his ‘wife’ before they both flew away.

I walked the dogs to the other side of this soybean field every morning. We thought the crop was dead, but a giant machine showed up for harvesting one afternoon.

I walked the dogs to the other side of this soybean field every morning. We thought the crop was dead, but a giant machine showed up for harvesting one afternoon.

Looking at the mall from the Lincoln Memorial.

Looking at the mall from the Lincoln Memorial.

Monticello from the 'back yard'.

Monticello from the ‘back yard’.

Can you see the Star Wars soldiers to the right of the picture by the reflecting pond? There was a convention in town. Very wacky to see hundreds of these characters wondering around the capitol area. We even passed R2-D2. He was shorter than I thought he would be.

Can you see the Star Wars soldiers to the right of the picture by the reflecting pond? There was a convention in town. Very wacky to see hundreds of these characters wondering around the capitol area. We even passed R2-D2. He was shorter than I thought he would be.

Thomas Jefferson's grave.

Thomas Jefferson’s grave.

Union Station was all decorated for Christmas. This hallway was beautiful to me.

Union Station was all decorated for Christmas. This hallway was beautiful to me.

I'm thankful I did not have to look for my father's name on the wall at the Vietnam Memorial.

I’m thankful I did not have to look for my father’s name on the wall at the Vietnam Memorial.

This is what I have looked like on every daytrip over the past year. "Now where are we"?

This is what I have looked like on every daytrip over the past year. “Now where are we”?

On Amtrak to D.C.

On Amtrak to D.C.

Happy Hour in Charlottesville.

Happy Hour in Charlottesville.

The shore from Colonial Beach on Virginia's Northern Neck. Alexander Graham Bell once lived in this tiny town.

The shore from Colonial Beach on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Alexander Graham Bell once lived in this tiny town.

The shore of Chesapeake Bay from Sutton Hall.

The shore of Chesapeake Bay from Sutton Hall.

Who could resist this face?

Who could resist this face?

They were decorating the tree in front of the Capitol on the day we visited.

They were decorating the tree in front of the Capitol on the day we visited.

We postponed our travel to Virginia from Delaware by one day because of wind warnings on this bridge.

We postponed our travel to Virginia from Delaware by one day because of wind warnings on this bridge.

Touring the Spotsylvania Battlefield.

Touring the Spotsylvania Battlefield.

President Lincoln is very big.

President Lincoln is very big.

I love to cook, but I don't think I would be as enthusiastic if I had to do it in a kitchen like this one at George Washington's birthplace.

I love to cook, but I don’t think I would be as enthusiastic if I had to do it in a kitchen like this one at George Washington’s birthplace.

 

I call this the Holy Moley Bridge. Mike mentioned there was no median and no shoulder. But the side wall was also only about 2" tall. Cessna and I thought we might fall off sideways into the water below.

I call this the Holy Moley Bridge. Mike mentioned there was no median and no shoulder. But the side wall was also only about 2″ tall. Cessna and I thought we might fall off sideways into the water below.

 

Piper and Mike are discussing their blessings on Thanksgiving afternoon.

Piper and Mike are discussing their blessings on Thanksgiving afternoon.

 

Delaware Part I: Houston

For reasons I cannot explain, I am very far behind on the blog. We have been busy having fun, and I have not been very disciplined about sitting down to write about our adventures. This was stressing me out… like unfinished homework looming over my head. Then I realized there was a way I could eliminate the stress and get out of my homework assignment all together. I’m thankful for a helpful husband who shares his notes with me when I recap our travels. Mike is going to tell you all about Delaware and our first stop in Virginia. After Christmas is over, I will become less of a slacker and start writing my story about Virginia Part II. Until then, you can see about things from the other half’s perspective. Thanks for understanding and happy reading!

10/29 tues.          Packed up and hit the road at 11:15.  Nice day to drive. Not windy when crossing the Delaware river on large bridge.  Stopped for diesel just before our destination located on Gun and Rod Club Rd.  Pulled in at 2:30.  Nice lady showed us to our spot after talking to the boss/owner.  Had satellite TV when parked and generator running.  Always first procedure is to hook up to electric shore power. Not working.  Called lady and she came right away to check breakers while talking to boss.  All on, so with her extension, we hooked up to the next site over. It worked, so boss would come another day to repair our box.  Everything unloaded by five for martinis.  Grilled chicken and listened to JamesJ John Wilson’s CD.  Ate, walked dogs and watched a little direct tv before sleep.

Weds 10/30.        Saw on news that tonight is called Night of Mischievous.  It’s only called that in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.  Pranks and vandalism occurs.  The news actually promotes this criminal activity as a good thing. One cop interviewed said, “if your kids leave the house with paint, eggs, or toilet paper, you should be aware that they are up to no good…”.  Wow!   Rained lightly until early afternoon.  Dina ran to Milford to do errands and grab a couple things.  Owner of the park was here working on electric issue.  Cleaned a bit outside. Still with cold. Ate spaghetti dinner. Watched some of final World Series game.

Thurs 10/31.            Cloudy, warm, mostly dry.  Drove to state park nearby in case we need to move.  Owner replaced electric box at our site and wiring.  Think it’s ok now.  Then drove to Milton to run errands with dogs.  Got back to site and did some chores and relaxed.  Dina made chicken and dumplings on the stove.  Walked dogs after a rain shower.  More rain tomorrow.

Fri 11/1.              Warm and windy with off and on light rain most of the day.  Dina wrote till about five when we decided to drive south 12 miles to Jeff’s Tap Room in Bridgeville.  Rain was over.  Also heard from Norman about weekend festival there called Punkin Chunkin.  They showed games but not Rockets vs Mavericks game. Free wifi though, so kept up with the game on iPhone ESPN Gamecast APP.  They also had a DJ that played some country music.  We got there about 7:15.  Very crowded.  Got drink from bar and stood awhile, until Dina found a table with folks leaving.  We ordered, game started about 8:15, we ate, then danced to a few songs. About nine they started playing more rock and rap, so we left with rockets well ahead late third quarter.  Got home and checked score once more with rockets way up with 5 mins left.  Had a fun Fri night in Delaware.

Sat 11/2.              Watched game day and did some computer stuff.  Beautiful day. Many people here went to Punkin Chunkin, so we will go tomorrow. Have to leave early to avoid traffic jam.  Made campfire early and watched games outside.  Dina made mashed potatoes inside early to reheat later. About sunset got cloudy and cooler, then sprinkled. Put everything up except grill which was warming.  Grilled pork tenderloin and ate during light rain. Walked dogs and watched more games in bed.

Sun 11/3.             Got extra hour of sleep but awoke early for Punkin Chunkin.  Neighbors who went before said go early to avoid traffic jam. Left at 8:30 and drove south to Bridgeville then west into farming area. Paid our ten bucks per and parked in a soy bean field.  Walked over to another field which was formerly corn and saw the row of mechanical sling shots which were already in action. Must have been fifty facing west. Cold and windy out of the north. In another field farther south about a half mile was the midway and a stage for music and pageants and other activity.  Also to our left was concession stands selling all kinds of carnival food and knicknacks.  At the end of the catapults the line turned west for about a half mile and another group of maybe 100 shooters readied for their moment.  We joined the group of people who move behind each catapult to watch the shot.  The crowd stayed behind a small picket fence which was about thirty yards in back of the firing line.  Inside the fence were the teams, the security, an announcer and TV cameras.  We think Myth Busters was filming for a segment.  After waiting about 5-10 minutes for this one shot, we moved ahead and set up our chairs at the front along the picket fence and waited for the ocean of people to engulf us.  We saw all the shots from that spot.  There was a 30 min break after catapults, so Dina went exploring and brought back snacks.  The chunkin started again at the far end of the line about a half mile away.  We couldn’t see the activity and the announcer’s mic was dead.  We walked down that way and got some more chow.  We saw the mass of people moving and could see the contraptions recoiling after the launch.  Instead of catapults, this line had all kinds of launchers, spring loaded, bow looking, centrifugal and the last group were compressed air cannons.  We went back to our chairs and ate, then saw as the cannons started firing.  The announcers mic worked intermittently, so we got some info on who was shooting and how far.  They were into a strong north wind and still projecting the ten pound or so pumpkins from 2000 – 4000 feet, which was about a half mile!  You can’t see the pumpkin travel from the side.  So we watched a couple from directly behind, along with the throngs.  It was quite a sight to see as it corkscrewed in the air about 500 feet high. Then you lose sight again as it heads down beyond two thousand feet away.  They were in the air about 5-10 secs and then a posse of ATVs road around looking for the landing spots to take a measurement.  This was serious stuff for these guys with different age and gender groups and type power, human or artificial and world records in each category, with trophies to be won.  Some teams had mechanical failures and some pumpkins disintegrated which was heartbreaking for them because they travelled lengths to get here, one team from OK. Then we left to beat the crowd and it was one, got back to site about two.  Too chilly outside for fire, so watched football inside and ate leftovers.

Mon 11/4.               Drove car north to Dover Honda dealer for oil and transmission fluid change.  Only 30 min from here.  Dina wrote all day.  Finished after dark.  Built campfire.  Grilled steak and baked potato.

Tues 11/5.               Piper to vet twice.  Drove to Rehoboth beach.  Walked dogs along boardwalk.  Windy and cool, in the 50s. Stopped for a drink at outdoor patio with a view of the ocean.  Then tried to find another pet friendly tavern, but it was not at GPS location.  So walked a short ways past shops (some closed for season) to outdoor seating at the Purple Parrot.  Had another drink or two, dogs and humans.  Then walked to car after getting Beach Fries to go.  Got back after dark (dark at 5:20 or so), built fire, grilled BBQ chicken.

Weds 11/6.              Drove to Dover with dogs.  Got EZ Pass for toll roads in many states in the north.  Then went downtown and parked.  Walked around and saw city hall, county courthouse and the state capital.  Not a lot of stores nor taverns, so drove to Dover AFB.  After a few missed turns and visitor center, made our way to one end of the airfield to the ACM museum.  They had many cargo aircraft and interesting displays located in a large hangar.  Then outside sat about 40 former cargo and fighter models that had been based there over the decades. Including the newest arrival that had just been donated by the Tennessee NG, a huge C5-A.  The dedication ceremony is coming this Saturday for it , so they were making preparations and had stands set up for seating.  They just happened to close the nose door and open the rear while we were there filming.  The C5 transport is based at Dover now and we can see them flying everyday from our campground, but not today.  For whatever reason, the squadron of them were just sitting idle on the Tarmac.  We could have gotten an up close view of take offs and landings.  The dogs had waited in the car, so we left after an hour and got back to our site in time for sunset, which is 5:15 since the time change. Built campfire, grilled bubba burgers, walked the dogs and in bed before ten.

Thurs 11/7.                Woke up to rain. Not much, off and on for a couple hours then a break.  Dina looked at the computer.  Ran to Food Lion for groceries. Got back before another bit of rain.  Then it was over and got windy and colder. Wind stopped at dark.  We stayed inside. Watched some bball and then college football before sleep. Getting up early for road trip tomorrow.

Fri Nov 8.                 Got going early, left at 10:08.  Drove to Morgantown with two stops.  Pulled into campground at 3:30 and checked in to our cabin.  Great views on the road, climbing most of the way. Crossed eastern continental divide at about 2400 feet.  Unloaded car and walked the dogs.  Cold and windy in the upper 30s.  Cabin not great, a little smelly, hard small bed. But it did have a bathroom and shower, and the dogs have plenty of space.  We set up their kennels inside, so they felt at home while we left to into town for recon and eat. Into town took a little over 30 mins, but on game day will take an hour, probably.  We parked in a pay lot just off the main drag High St.  Went to Boston Beanery and had drinks and ate.  Then walked down High St. and reversed and went all the way up to look for another tavern for a nightcap.  Found a good place called (?), had a drink, and got info from the bartender.  It was in the mid thirties, but the wind calmed down.  Drove back to cabin, walked dogs again, and in bed before ten…then tried to sleep.

Sat 11/9.                  Game day, but not leaving till three. So napped and nibbled on leftover burger and fries and warmed hot dogs. Walked dogs, but they wanted to go.  Drove to downtown and parked for less than ten bucks.  Looked deserted, no traffic.  Got text from Kevin and Claire that they were at a sports bar near the stadium.  Instead of eating downtown, we got on the PRT(public rail transportation, which is a small car holding about 20 that rides on rubber wheels along a walled track built in the air.  About a two mile trip that took 5-8 mins) and got off at the med center, right next to the stadium.  We made our way to Keglers and had drinks and ate with K n C.  There from 4 to 6.  Walked to stadium and at our seats about 6:30.  Great game, except for the injuries, back and forth.  We came from behind with less than two mins and tied it with a field goal.  It was eleven.  Game could go longer and big crowd would all leave at the same time.  With a line at the PRT, it might be one am before we get to our car.  So we decided to head out and miss OT. Said goodby to K n C and nice fans around us. Heard the announcer while we walked, so knew we scored first, then heard game was over as we boarded the tram. Got back to the dogs at midnight.  Hated to leave early and miss the celebration, but it was good for them.

Sun 11/10.             Cleaned up and loaded the car. Left the cabin a little after ten.  Stopped at nearby truck stop for breakfast.  On the road at 11:22.  One stop for bathroom break and pulled into our campsite at 4:30.  Ate leftovers and watched TV.  Slept good with our nice mattress instead of a 3” foam pad on a bunk bed that slanted to one side.

Mon 11/11.             Recovered from road trip.  Nice warm day to load for move. Dina went to Dover to run errands and shop.  Returned at dusk. Built campfire and grilled sweet potatoes and pork chops.  Clouds started covering.  Forecast for light rain snow and strong north wind tomorrow.

Tues 11/12/13.        Awoke to cold, cloudy and windy.  Light rain, then snow.  Because of wind restrictions at the Bay Bridge, crossing Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, we decided to wait and travel tomorrow.  Dina ran into town for groceries to make dinner.  Otherwise sat inside, except to walk dogs, and watch marathon Star Trek movies, then news, then more movies.  Prepared for low in the mid 20s.

 

The UT Vs. West Virginia game was a blast. It wasn't too cold, the home team fans were very nice to us, and the game was INCREDIBLE.

The UT Vs. West Virginia game was a blast. It wasn’t too cold, the home team fans were very nice to us, and the game was INCREDIBLE.

On the tarmac of the Air Command Museum.

On the tarmac of the Air Command Museum.

A nice afternoon sky in Rehoboth.

A nice afternoon sky in Rehoboth.

Looks like a shark that just ate something that tasted bad.

Looks like a shark that just ate something that tasted bad.

Rehoboth Beach. It was such a cold and windy day, we were surprised to see people actually walking at the edge of the waves! We stayed on the boardwalk.

Rehoboth Beach. It was such a cold and windy day, we were surprised to see people actually walking at the edge of the waves! We stayed on the boardwalk.

Greetings from the Punkin Chunkin

Greetings from the Punkin Chunkin

It is hard to tell how gigantic this plane is from the picture.

It is hard to tell how gigantic this plane is from the picture.

This is what happy hour at our house looks like.

This is what happy hour at our house looks like.

A mountain vista from a rest stop on our way to Morgantown, WV.

A mountain vista from a rest stop on our way to Morgantown, WV.

The flat farm fields in Delaware made for good sunset viewing.

The flat farm fields in Delaware made for good sunset viewing.

This was the 'hamster' machine at the Punkin Chunkin. These teams haul in their gear on flat-bed semi trucks!

This was the ‘hamster’ machine at the Punkin Chunkin. These teams haul in their gear on flat-bed semi trucks!

Mike is obsessed with geese.

Mike is obsessed with geese.

It was fun to see this peaceful dove on the cold Rehoboth Beach. Mike said it posed for him.

It was fun to see this peaceful dove on the cold Rehoboth Beach. Mike said it posed for him.

Inside the hanger of the Air Command Museum.

Inside the hanger of the Air Command Museum.

Soy bean fields were everywhere.

Soy bean fields were everywhere.

We were so happy to get back to a real campground. The G & R Campground was clean, spacious and quiet. AND, they emptied their trash on a regular basis!

We were so happy to get back to a real campground. The G & R Campground was clean, spacious and quiet. AND, they emptied their trash on a regular basis!

Morgantown, WV was about a 5-hour drive for each of us. The cousins decided to 'meet in the middle' one more time to enjoy some Longhorn Football.

Morgantown, WV was about a 5-hour drive for each of us. The cousins decided to ‘meet in the middle’ one more time to enjoy some Longhorn Football.

 

 

 

 

New Jersey Part II: Cream Ridge

We went to the middle of the state when we switched locations in New Jersey. Our second spot was at a “luxury” resort with “ultra RV sites” called Laurel Pond. We were about three miles south of I-195; 20 miles east of Trenton and 30 miles west of the Atlantic shore. When we arrived we began to suspect that Laurel Pond was a real estate development venture gone awry. The office was one of those portable trailers that construction firms set up on the premise of a building project. When I went inside to get us registered, a young mom was there to greet me and get us checked in. Her toddler was crawling around on the floor. I had to step over his toys to reach the desk. There were no computers, phones, office supplies… or any other item typically used when operating a day-to-day business. We had been informed ahead of time that we would be required to pay our weekly fee in cash.

She took our money and I signed some sort of paper that said I would not sue them if something happened while walking in the wilderness. I was also told I had to make a hand-written notation next to my signature saying my husband also agreed to this disclaimer. Then she said she would lead us to our site. Mike had detached the car from the tow bar while I was registering, so he followed her and I followed him. Usually when the staff person at a park leads us to our site, they lead us to the correct spot and then get out and help us navigate the bus until we are situated appropriately. This time, she drove through #51 pointing out the window of her car to location of the electrical box, water line, and sewer connection. Then she kept driving and parked her minivan in front of a dirty travel trailer with trash and broken appliances strewn around its perimeter. She got out and went inside. We handled the rest on our own.

Despite the view across the street, #51 itself was GREAT compared to the place we had just departed. It was about three times larger than our sliver of land at Fla-Net Park. The ground was covered with crushed granite so it would not be muddy when it rained.  A canvas canopy covered the picnic table, and we even had a gas grill available for our use. The biggest kicker: there was an above-ground hot tub! We did not intend to use the thing, but this was still the first place we have stayed that came with a personal spa. (Mike has a thing about public hot tubs, and I kind of agree). The neighboring spot to our north was empty. Since the actual power box was covered up in weeds and vines, it did not look as if anyone would be taking that site during our stay. The spot to our south was taken by another old trailer, but it was not surrounded by trash or dismantled refrigerators.

During the check-in process, I asked for a map of the campground. The young mom gave me a black and white copy of what looked to be one of the original promotional brochures. As I examined it in detail, it was apparent that the original developers had built the “resort” to accommodate 75 spaces. Some were to be completed with mini mobile homes made to look like log cabins on the exterior. The other spots were obviously intended to accommodate motor homes or travel trailers like ours. The brochure also showed pictures of a swimming pool, play ground, a bath house, a pavilion, shuffle board courts, horseshoe pits, another pool with a water slide, a bocce ball area, and a sand volleyball court. The playground is the only thing that actually existed in reality. A total of 73 spots were planned and it looked like only 1/3 of those had sold. We suspect that the project did not go as planned and the developer abandoned the venture when he began to lose money. There was obviously no Homeowners Association in place on this business venture. The lots that were individually owned were individually maintained (or not). The lots that did not sell (according to the brochure) were completely abandoned. Landscape maintenance was not a big concern at Laurel Pond. Neither was trash collection. The dumpster was overflowing the day we arrived, and it just got worse from there. Apparently, the original developer also abandoned the trash service to the park. About mid-way through the week, I spotted the young mom up on a ladder sorting through the bags of garbage. I think she consolidated what she could into larger trash bags, and took the top layer to another dumping location. The stray cats in the area really loved climbing through the pile each night.

Although this RV park was not in the least bit luxurious, it was good enough for the time we spent there. We had 50 amps of power, a sewer connection, free Wi-Fi, good water pressure, free cable for the television, and some elbow room. Additionally, the price was the lowest amount we had paid in months. A factor our budget could not let us dismiss.

While Mike was researching our surroundings during coffee on the first morning, he checked on restaurants in our new area. When we get the chance, we like to eat at restaurants featured on the cable television show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. In each episode, Guy Fieri features a collection of restaurants that fall into one of the categories in the show’s title. They are usually ‘local joints’ with good and inexpensive grub. Visiting these places is a fun way to taste some local flavor without busting our budget. We had a collection of choices in several seashore towns a short distance to our east. We settled on 10th Avenue Burrito Company in Belmar. In a perfect world, Tex-Mex would be on the agenda at least once a week. In Texas that is usually on a Friday, for some reason. Since we have been on the road, I have been severely deprived of any good Mexican food. Quite honestly, we have been reluctant to patronize any Mexican Food establishments for fear of being disappointed. The reviews of 10th Avenue Burrito Company were positive enough; we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant was on the edge of a strip shopping center, so they had an outdoor sidewalk area that was enclosed with plastic panels. When the hostess sat us, we learned that dogs were allowed in their patio. We had left Piper and Cessna in the back of the Honda, so I brought them to hang out with us at our table. The next good thing about the place was that they served Sangria! They also had an extensive collection of tequilas available, which was intriguing to Mike… although a bit too early in the day to begin any sampling. We ordered the pulled pork flautas, adobo chicken wings, and a beef burrito with enchilada sauce. Everything was great. The food was more California Mexican than it was Tex-Mex, but it still satisfied our perpetual craving for comida Mexicana.

After lunch we wandered through the downtown and Mike stopped into a local hardware store to see if they had an obscure wrench he had been looking for. The central business district encompassed only a few square blocks, so we turned east toward the beach and walked along the sidewalks of a nice traditional neighborhood until we arrived at the water. Many homes were still undergoing repairs after being damaged in Super storm Sandy. Others along the block looked brand new, as if the owners had to start from scratch after the storm. There was a boardwalk running parallel to the sand and water, so we wandering along it for a while before turning back east and exploring another section of the neighborhood en route back to the car.

Our campground was just down the road from McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix, which is under the jurisdiction of the United States Army Reserve Command. Mike stayed entertained with watching the military transports and helos flying low nearby. One afternoon he saw a C-5 and several KC-10’s flying in a pattern around us. I came down with a cold on this leg of our trip, so he spent several afternoons sitting by a campfire and staring up into the sky while I huddled indoors where the heat was cranked up.

The best thing about our first stop in New Jersey was seeing friends that we knew. The theme remained constant on our second stop because we got to see my cousin and his new bride from this location. I must start by admitting that I am a bad family member. I thought my first cousin, Kevin, lived in Michigan while he actually lived in New Jersey! We had obviously lost touch over the years and recently re-connected on facebook. He was always posting pictures from New Jersey and I kept thinking to myself “wow, he sure does travel to New Jersey a lot”. After several months of this curiosity, it finally dawned on me that he might not live in Michigan anymore. I sent him a message, and my excellent (although sluggish) deduction skills had proven me correct. They were only about 58 miles from us! We decided to meet somewhere in the middle, so we both drove toward the shore and hooked up in Long Branch. The newly-weds had tied the knot in a beach ceremony about one month earlier, and they wanted to show us where it all took place.

Their ceremony was at the Ocean Place Resort & Spa, so we agreed to meet them in the hotel’s parking lot. Ocean Place is right in the middle of Long Branch, so it was a convenient location to drop our car and get out on foot. We brought Piper and Cessna with us because Kevin said several restaurants in the area were dog friendly. Just like every other shore town in New Jersey, the beach was bordered by a nice wide boardwalk.   We all walked to the northern edge of the boardwalk where it met 7 President’s Beach, then turned around and started debating which restaurant we should visit first. We decided to have a drink and some appetizers at a place called Rooney’s Oceanfront Restaurant. They had three dog bowls full of water near their front entrance, so we figured our two were welcome. The weather was chilly and blustery that day, so their outside seating section was closed. We parked Piper and Cessna on a patio far away from anyone else, and then went inside to keep visiting. After some oysters and creamy hot crab dip, we moved to another place called The Wine Loft. After another drink and a cheese platter it was time for Mike and I to drive back home, but the four of us agreed our visit had been too short. The next day was Sunday, so we made a plan to meet in Princeton. The drive was still about the same for both of us, so we would ‘meet in the middle’ one more time to keep catching up!

The weather for our daytrip to Princeton was spectacular. The air was chilly, but the sky was a clear blue and the sun was shining so bright that everything seemed to sparkle. Once again Piper and Cessna got to go on the outing with us. We planned to walk around the campus, and this way they could get some exercise while we explored the ancient university. The dogs have grown fond of historic architecture after being on the road this year! Princeton is one of nine colonial cottages established before the American Revolution. Today on a per-student basis, the private research University has the largest university endowment in the World. It was founded in 1746, and we felt like we were back in the 18th Century as we admired the wonderful stone buildings. The High Victorian Gothic and Romanesque Revival architectural styles made us feel very royal on our tour. The six of us walked around snapping photos and pausing frequently to gawk at the amazing details and stonework on every corner of every building.  One nice surprise about our tour of the campus was the wonderful public art we discovered along the way. The buildings themselves looked like art, but there were also sculptures and metal works scattered across the grounds. After looking online I found that there is a Campus Art Program that seeks to enrich the University’s visual and intellectual environment by placing works of art in strategic locations across the campus. It is Princeton’s belief that works of campus art enrich the broad University community as well as visitors by enhancing the educational experience; deepening a sense of place and the experience of space; stimulating diverse viewer responses; encouraging questioning; and creating lively gathering spots. All parts of their mission were satisfied for us that Sunday afternoon. There is also an art museum on campus, but we did not get a chance to go inside. I found out my favorite ‘piece’ of art was not even permanently located on the Princeton campus.  A series of 12 giant bronze sculptures called “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” created by the renowned Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei have been loaned to the University by the family of an alumnus who wishes to remain anonymous.  The exhibit will remain for one year and it began on August 1st. The work has been shown around the world in cities including Sao Paulo, London, Los Angeles and Taipei, so I think we got lucky to run into it in New Jersey.  The snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit and dragon represent the signs of the zodiac. Each animal was sculpted with such great detail; we sat and stared at them for quite a while.

A few students stopped to pet the dogs as we strolled the sidewalks. They told us all about their pets back at home while getting a dose of canine love.  Neither Piper nor Cessna minded the role of stand-in for a few minutes. After we finished looking around the campus, we decided we would find a place to grab a snack and watch some football. It was a Sunday afternoon, after all. We followed Kevin and Claire to a place they knew called Tiger’s Tale Bar and Grill, which was just a couple of miles away from the campus. We chowed- down on chicken wings and sliders while they had oysters and potato skins. Once the waitress snapped a group photo, it was time for Mike and I to get on the road back home again. The cousins still wanted more visiting time. We ended our time together brainstorming other options on how and when we might meet up again while we were still fairly close to them. If I had only known where they lived, we would have been able to contact them much earlier in the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Oh well, I was grateful to be reconnected at last.

While Mike was running errands one day he heard on the radio that Lyle Lovett would be playing an acoustic concert with John Hiatt at an historic theater in a suburb of Philadelphia later in the week. We have a family rule that goes like this: If ever Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett or Lyle Lovett is playing within one hour of us, we go. The Keswick Theater in Glendale was about an hour and 15 minutes from the Laurel Pond campground. We were going. We started investigating the ticket purchase. We learned that there would be a service charge for online purchases, but there was no fee to purchase the tickets in person at the box office. You know how Mike loves to save a buck, it was agreed that we would make a 3-hour drive, round trip, (with toll fees) to save the online service fee. Luckily, he is not a glutton for punishment and we decided to make a daytrip out of it.

The next morning we packed up the dogs and drove into downtown Philly. It was an easy drive and took us just over an hour. We parked near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and took off on foot. Our mission that day was mainly walking and exercise related so we did not tour inside any of the buildings in Independence National Historic Park. We walked the perimeters and stayed on the move. The Liberty Bell was situated inside a building, but some of the walls of the rotunda where it is displayed were glass. This was great because the dogs got to see the iconic symbol too, even though they weren’t allowed indoors! They were surprised like me… thinking it would be bigger than it was. We walked around Independence Hall and all through the surrounding area which has been termed the most historic square mile in the nation.  Then we walked to Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. This was a great public gathering spot that I’m sure was a fun location for special events and community activities. The day we were there, it was fairly empty. Next we stumbled on the Independence Seaport Museum. There were two ships moored up against a concrete bulkhead.   We saw the Olympia.  Launched in 1892, she is the oldest steel warship afloat in the world. We also saw the Becuna, a submarine that was launched in 1944. When we left the waterfront, we turned back toward town and wandered through a busy neighborhood of South Philly. As we began to completed a giant circle on the map, we walked through a quaint neighborhood of Row Houses on the way back to Benjamin Franklin’s grave. The streets looked just like what one would expect to see on a walk in Philadelphia. The dogs were tired, and we didn’t want to get stuck in late afternoon traffic, so we got back in the car and found our way to the suburb of Glendale to purchase our Lyle Lovett tickets.

Our next day trip from this stop was to Atlantic City. It was a 90-minute drive from our place. Once again the dogs went with us. It was a cold and blustery day. There were heavy clouds in the sky, but no threat of actual rain. We wanted to walk Piper and Cessna along the boardwalk to wear them out, and then we planned to let them take a nap in the back of the Honda while we went into one of the casinos. Since the weather was so cold, they would be fine in the car. They could snuggle with each other to keep warm if necessary. We found a parking spot near the middle of the boardwalk and just one block off the water. We got lucky on this day too, when we arrived to the boardwalk we read a sign that said dogs were not allowed until after September 1st. I was glad we were visiting during the off season.  It wasn’t too crowded, but there were some folks like us ambling up and down. Many of the food booth and souvenir stands near the ocean were closed, but the area wasn’t completely dead. One thing Piper found out very quickly is that the boardwalk in Atlantic City has a stray cat issue. I looked online after we got home and learned that 350 – 400 cats live beneath the boardwalk. There is a campaign to spay and neuter the feral ones, while attempting to adopt out any of the ones that are more tame. They were everywhere! Piper was just sure he was going to have a chance sometime during the day to capture and torture one of them. He yanked and pulled on his leash, lunging toward every cat within eye sight. In between cat sightings, he had fantasies of murdering any number of the seagulls playing in the sky above us.  Between the cats and the birds, he was worn down at the end of our walk.

We walked all the way to the northern end of the boardwalk, and Mike held the dogs while I walked inside Revel, the northernmost casino along the strip. The resort has only been open since April of 2012. It was all reflective glass in wavy shapes on the exterior and super swank ultra modern chic on the inside. It looked like it would be a very fun place to stay, especially in the summer when the beach side pool would be open.  I rejoined the crew after my short tour and we retraced our steps heading south. We had already spotted Jimmy Buffett’s Land Shark Bar and Grill out over the sand during the first part of our walk. We decided it was time to stop in for a drink and a snack as we approached it the second time. We love to give money to Mr. Margaritaville any time we see him or one of his establishments. The restaurant wouldn’t allow dogs on their patio, but we just tied their leashes to a stair railing leading out onto the sand near the patio. Then the nice hostess gave us a table on the outer edge next to the railing. Cessna rolled around the in the sand and dug a couple of holes while she waited for us. Piper plotted his next move against the feline population. Neither of them cared about the gorgeous view we were facing out over the water.  We enjoyed our beach drinks and nachos with our coats on, and then made our way back to the boardwalk to continue our explorations to the south. Once we felt like the dogs were worn out and that we had witnessed a good representation of the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, we went back to our car. The wind was COLD, and I was ready to be warm for a minute. My cousin’s wife, Claire, had said that their favorite casino was the Borgata, but it was not on the boardwalk. We made the five minute drive across town and parked in their parking garage. The dogs were totally fine with being left to take a nap.

We went in and circled the casino floor to get our bearings. Our strategy was to find a video poker machine and get free drinks like we did at the Foxwoods Sports Book in Connecticut. The interior of this casino was more subdued. They took the ‘less is more’ approach. Very elegant and low key in a refined way. Lots of white faux stone pillars and chandeliers. The Sports Book at the Borgata did not have machines at their bar, but there was a large circular bar in the middle of the casino floor that did. After a couple of martinis we decided to grab a bite to eat at Bobby Flay’s Steakhouse, located at the opposite corner of the casino floor. We ordered appetizers. Mike had a lobster cocktail that was to-die-for. I had some steak skewers and the best mashed potatoes I have ever had in my entire life. The place was filling up with the evening crowd, so we took that as our cue to make the long drive home before it got too late. On the way back to our bus on the dark two-lane highways, we must have passed 50 deer by the side of the road. Mike blew his horn each time he saw one, and it seems like the horn was honking for the duration of our trip home that night.

When we woke up on Friday morning, it was Lyle Lovett Day! We goofed around all day with chores and naps until it was time to leave the house around 6pm. The drive to the suburbs of Philly was easy; we just transferred from toll road to toll road until the right exit number came along. We drove through several neighborhoods before reaching the hub of Glenside.  The little downtown area was about three blocks long, with stores and restaurants sprinkled behind a tree lined sidewalk. The Keswick Theater was toward the top of the downtown strip.  The privately owned 1928 theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was initially a combination vaudeville/ movie house touted as the most comfortable and acoustically perfect listening room in the entire Philadelphia market. The seats from 1928 are not necessarily the most comfortable anymore, but the acoustics were indeed magnificent. We got there early and enjoyed a couple of cocktails in the lobby before the show started. There were only 1,300 seats in the venue, so we parked ourselves in a corner and watched the other patrons filter in until it was time to take our own seats.

Mr. Lovett did not have his Large Band with him this evening. The stage was set with two chairs, two guitars and a small table in the middle. He and Mr. Hiatt came out and spent the next two hours alternating between funny stories and great melodies. They took turns, and sometimes chimed in on each other’s songs. If you have ever seen Lyle Lovett in concert, you know that his dry sarcastic wit is just as entertaining as his music. That is what makes him such a great songwriter.  Well this night we had two great songwriters on the stage, so the remarks were doubly funny.  The music did sound incredible. Crisp and pure are the best words I can think of to describe it. After the concert was over, I braved the long line to the ladies room. When I came back to the lobby to find Mike, Lyle was in the front of the auditorium talking to some fans.  His tall self with big hair was just steps from us. It was all I could do to maintain composure and keep my distance. Mike was consoling me as he guided me away from the funny Texan and toward our car. We parked behind the theater and each artist had a Prevost Bus parked near the back stage entrance. We passed a few other groupies waiting near the front of the buses, but no signs of Mr. Hiatt.

The Keswick Theater was such an intimate setting; it is no wonder the owners have built a business filling the uncomfortable seats to capacity with big names. While in line upstairs after the concert I was reading flyers for upcoming bookings. They had musical acts like Los Lonely Boys and Keb’ Mo’, and they had comedy acts like Steven Wright and Wanda Sykes. If I ever had to move to the Philadelphia area, I think I would want to live in a neighborhood near the Keswick so I could walk to a show once a week!

Our last weekend at Laurel Pond was busy with errands, football and campfires. Both of us were still fighting colds, so the agenda was low key. Mike worked on the heater in our bedroom; it blows cold air into our room when the heater in the bathroom is running. The temperature was starting to drop into the low 30’s at night, and heat is always a good thing in that atmosphere. We didn’t have Fox Sports 1 with the cable we were getting, so we went about a mile down the road to a sports bar and watched Texas play TCU on Saturday night. The game was delayed 3 hours due to thunderstorms, so we only saw the first half. When the rains came, we looked at the radar and Ft. Worth was under a squiggly rainbow of weather on the Doppler, mainly oranges and reds. We went home and went to sleep. On Sunday we went to Lowe’s and bought a space heater. That is the best $15 we have spent since we purchased the Monaco! We kept warm by the campfire outside and by the space heater inside until it was time to leave our Ultra RV site. We were checking The Garden State off of our list and making our way to The First State next. Our plans were to move from (near) Milford, New Jersey to (near) Milford, Delaware.

The beach at Atlantic City

The beach at Atlantic City

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Some of the amazing historical architecture on the Princeton campus

Some of the amazing historical architecture on the Princeton campus

Football and munchies with my cousin and his new bride

Football and munchies with my cousin and his new bride

The ONLY nice view at Laurel Pond Ultra RV Resort

The ONLY nice view at Laurel Pond Ultra RV Resort

The liberty bell

The liberty bell

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt entertaining us from the stage

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt entertaining us from the stage

Mike and Piper getting ready to light the campfire. Yes, that is a hot tub behind them.

Mike and Piper getting ready to light the campfire. Yes, that is a hot tub behind them.

The architectural details on the Princeton campus were amazing!

The architectural details on the Princeton campus were amazing!

We stumbled upon this maritime museum on the Delaware River when we were exploring downtown Philly.

We stumbled upon this maritime museum on the Delaware River when we were exploring downtown Philly.

10th Avenue Burrito Company was on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Yum!

10th Avenue Burrito Company was on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Yum!

New Jersey Part I: Flanders

When we were back in Rhode Island, our neighbors were from New Jersey. We quizzed them about what we should see in the Garden State and they gave us lots of good ideas. Based on their information, we decided to make our first stop in the northwest part of the state. From this location we would easily be able to get to New York City to the east, and the Poconos to the west (neither of which is IN New Jersey). Finding a campground in this area was very difficult. There really weren’t any to choose from.  We found a spot in a town called Flanders and made a reservation. Based on the reviews, we weren’t expecting much… but we were extra disappointed when we arrived. Can you say dump?

Fla-Net Park was by no means a vacation destination. It was a trailer park. Probably 90% of the campers were occupied by full-time residents. The school bus picked the kids up around 8 every morning. The dogs barked all day after their owners left for work in their loud diesel engines. The first motors fired up every morning around 5:00, and the last ones to leave got away by about 6:30. After a bit of observation, we determined that most of the occupants were line men who had come to the area after Super Storm Sandy.  Apparently, infrastructure repair projects were still in the works. There were two dumpsters in the park and both were overflowing when we arrived on a Tuesday. One of them was never emptied during the entire week we were there.

We had spot #M3. The sites were spaced more like they belonged in a truck stop. Our spot was so tight that we couldn’t even spend time outside because their sewer connection was so close to our front door. The smell was overwhelming. This means we really couldn’t open windows either because the stench spilled straight into my kitchen. The park did not have cable and our DirecTV signal was blocked by campers parked on a hill above us. No television. Not even over-air channels. We would have happily left, but we had nowhere to relocate, and our reservation was non-refundable. I don’t mean to complain, but the worst part was that the daily rate was on the high end of our budget.  I’m not sure where the owners put their earnings, but they most certainly did not reinvest any of it into the operations of the park.

After we got the bus settled on the first afternoon, we tried to walk the dogs around the park. That took about 5 minutes. There was a wide open space of grass behind a graveyard of dilapidated campers in a “storage area” at the bottom of a hill in front of our bus. Piper and Cessna were desperate for more exercise, so we departed the crumbling roads of the campground and tried to “hike” into the adjacent wilderness. Actually, it turns out that we were hiking in a humongous drainage ditch that happened to be dry at the moment. We had started out at the bottom of the ditch, so we trekked up a steep hill of unmanaged grass that came to my knees. With every step I was waiting to find a snake or a rat under my feet. When we finally reached the top we found ourselves in the parking lot of a Chili’s and Macaroni Grill. As I tried to discover the silver lining of our current adventure, I told Mike we had a $25 gift certificate to Macaroni Grill in my wallet. We could have a complimentary dinner there one night to pass time. Chili’s would also have televisions in their bar area, so we had a place to watch football when Saturday afternoon came around. The dogs wouldn’t be able to join us for the Texas game, but I would be able to walk across the parking lot at half time and let them out for a bit.

Our first full day in New Jersey was predicted to be the best weather for the rest of the week. There was no reason to hang around Fla-Net, so we hopped into the Honda and headed for The Poconos in Pennsylvania.  I had gone online and found a few waterfalls that were about an hour north of us. We thought we would take the dogs on a hike and see some beautiful scenery while we were at it. We were off to a late start because it had taken longer than intended to do the research and find out where to go. The drive up to the northern boundary of New Jersey was pretty with fall foliage along the road.  We even crossed over the Appalachian Trail again, but we didn’t see any hikers this time.

I’m not an expert in geography, but from what I can tell the Delaware Water Gap is part of, or next to, the Poconos.  A water gap creates the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania where the Delaware River cuts through a large ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The land is primarily designated as a National Recreation Area. Since our brilliant political leaders had shut down the government during this time, there wasn’t much going on in the region. Mike was the driver. I was the navigator. The dogs enjoyed the views from the back window.  We made a couple of unscheduled stops on our way north. First we stopped at a money machine where we could get cash with no fee.  Then we unexpectedly passed a Honda Dealership, so we zipped in to get a new set of windshield wipers we had needed for a while. After I got us lost a couple of times, we finally reached our first destination around 3pm.

Dingmans Falls is managed by the National Park Service, so it was closed.  No problem. We parked our car near the road and walked around the locked gate. There were several other cars parked in the area so we figured we would see other tourists along the way. There was also a sign that said ‘no dogs’, but who was going to come kick us out? We walked in on a long narrow road that ultimately led to a visitor’s center and a trailhead. The landscape was gorgeous. The path through the woods was a wooden boardwalk, so the walk was easy. About 20 yards into the trail, we passed Silverthread Falls. This was a tall skinny waterfall that only flowed after rain. Lucky for us, it was flowing on the afternoon we were there. We snapped a few photos and then continued along the path to find Dingmans Falls at the end of the line. We walked along a flowing stream dotted with rocks and boulders. We were in the shade of the forest and all the trees were bursting with yellow and orange leaves. The sun was shining bright up in the sky, which made it seem like we were in a sparkly wonderland as it filtered through the branches and spilled out into pockets of light all around us. It really was one of the most beautiful walks we had been on in quite some time.

We heard the rushing of the water long before we spotted the second highest waterfall in the state of Pennsylvania. The water dropped about 130 feet into a large pool of water. There was an observation platform at the edge of the water pool, and then there were steps that led up to the very top.  We were there for exercise, so we started climbing the stairs. I don’t know how many steps we had to conquer to make it to the top, but our legs were tired and we were breathing hard when we got there. In reality, the view was much better from below. I think there were a couple of other trails that embarked into the wilderness from that spot, but it was getting late and we didn’t want to get lost in the forest at sunset. We turned around and reversed course.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was after 4:00. We had planned to drive in a big circle back to the campground and our next intended stop was Raymondskill Falls, located south along the Delaware Water Gap. By the time we found the next destination, it was even later and we did not know how long it would take us to walk that path. We decided to skip that one and the next, Bushkill Falls. I would have been disappointed, but we weren’t planning to visit Pennsylvania until NEXT summer. We would just put this area on our wish list and come back to stay for a longer visit in the future.  We made it back to the Monaco just after dark. I hadn’t planned anything for dinner, so we left the dogs at home and walked across the parking lot to burn our gift certificate at Macaroni Grill (thanks Brad and Angela).

Melanie and Bob are our mutual friends who originally introduced us. Mike and Bob have been close friends since high school in Garland. Melanie and I played on the same tennis team in Tyler. Bob’s sister, Lori, lives in New Jersey. She and Mike were in the same grade (Bob is one year younger). Lori’s husband is also named Bob. His family has a restaurant called The Lamplighter which has been in business for the last 30 years. We had always planned to look them up when we got to The Garden State, so now was the time. We googled the restaurant and found out it was located 8 miles from our camp! We couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried.  Mike sent Lori a text and we planned to meet at the restaurant in Chester on a Friday night.  This was definitely the best perk of our stay at Fla-Net Park… we got to talk to other humans besides ourselves for a change.

When the time came, we drove over to The Lamplighter for dinner. Neither of us had ever met Lori’s Bob, and Mike hadn’t seen her in decades. We really weren’t sure what faces we were looking for when we walked through the front door. We told the host we were there to see Lori. It turns out that we were talking to Bob, the owner. She was en route, so he took us to the bar and served us a couple of drinks. The place was crowded during the dinner hour, but he was so gracious. He took the time to sit with us and answer all of our questions about New Jersey, even though he could have been doing a number of other things related to his business instead. Once Lori got there, we sat down at a table and had a delicious dinner. Mike had the largest slab of prime rib I have ever seen and I had one of my all-time favorites: veal piccata. It was perfect.

It seems like the evening passed in the blink of an eye. They talked about old times in high school. We talked about mutual friends of Bob and Melanie that we all knew. They gave us advice on things to do and see when we went into New York City. Before we knew it, they were ready to close for the evening and we were the only people left in the restaurant.  They wouldn’t even let us pay the bill! We felt so bad because we were not looking for a free meal, so Mike left what we guessed would have amounted to our total tab as a tip for the waitress. She was happy and we felt slightly less guilty.

The next day was a big day for us. Texas played at noon. As planned, we spent several hours at the Chili’s bar watching the game. Luckily it wasn’t on Longhorn Network that week! The best part was that we won! We went back home after the victory for a quick power nap and then drove north to Dobbs Ferry, NY later in the evening. We had made plans to catch up with more old friends. This time it was one of my high school buddies.

James and I had been in the same class at Westlake in Austin and we both went to UT after graduation. I ended up pledging Kappa Delta Sorority and he was in the Sigma Chi Fraternity. I took James to almost all of my sorority parties because he was the best date EVER. We were always just buddies, so I was constantly guaranteed a good time with no drama. He was (and is) the quintessential perfect gentleman, we had great fun together, and I was certain I was not going to be mauled at the conclusion of each evening. It was the perfect scenario. We lost touch after college and he ended up moving to New York. He met Sasha from SoHo. They got married and he has been there ever since. Thanks to Facebook, we got back in touch several years ago. He and Sasha live in Irvington, NY, which was a little over an hour from our camp. He is a singer-songwriter on the weekends, and it turns out he was playing at an art gallery exhibit near his home that Saturday night. We drove over to see him, meet Sasha, and hear him play. The evening turned out to be tons of fun. Another band called The Party Faithful was also playing that evening, and the music was great! Even though we got a chance to visit before the show, and again in between sets… it wasn’t enough time to catch up. As we reluctantly left to make the drive back home, we planned to see them again on Monday (Columbus Day). Since it was a holiday, they didn’t have to work that day. We talked about meeting somewhere in the middle for lunch, but they offered to make the drive to Flanders. They wanted to see our “house”, so I offered to make chili and we made it a date.

We finally made it to New York City on the last Sunday of our time at Fla-Net. On Friday night Lori and Bob had assured us that driving into the City would be no big deal on a Sunday. Until talking to them, we had planned to drive our car to a train station in Jersey City, park the Honda, and then take the PATH train into the World Trade Center or 33rd Street. If we drove ourselves all the way into Manhattan, we would be able to take the dogs and we could be gone from home longer. We wanted to make it as inexpensive of an outing as possible. There is so much to do there; we had to select one activity. We chose Central Park. The weather was beautiful, so something outdoors would be the most enjoyable way to spend our afternoon in The Big Apple.

The most direct route from where we were was via I-280 to the Lincoln Tunnel. We still are not sure why we listened to Lori and Bob. If this trip was something that they classify as easy, they are TOUGH people. I’ve said before that motorists in the Northeast drive like maniacs. As we drove east the number of maniacs on the interstate began to multiply exponentially.  As the roads became more crowded, the drivers became more aggressive. It was like we had accidentally entered a NASCAR race. This was not a ‘Sunday drive’ by any stretch of the imagination.  This was full on automobile warfare. Every man for himself. Thank goodness Mike was driving. I would have turned around and gone home.  He probably would have to, if I had suggested it out loud.

As we approached the tunnel, the number of cars remained constant but we all came to a grinding halt. Now we were in a sea of frustrated maniacs. Why did we decide to do this again?  We crawled through the tunnel and it got worse when we came out the other side. I’m not sure why the City even paints stripes to designated lanes on their streets. There are no rules, there are no lanes. It doesn’t matter what color the streetlight is flashing. It doesn’t matter what regulations are posted on the street signs. As Sasha pointed out later… the majority of cab drivers are from third world countries, and that is how people drive in New York. That girl is a smart cookie. I wish we had talked to her before this trip. She also told me later that they really don’t take the tunnels; they prefer the bridges. More good information that we could have used ahead of time.

Before we left the house, I had located a parking garage online and plugged the address into my GPS. I wanted us to have a specific destination as we made our way into the belly of the beast.  I was going to be the navigator, and I was not interested in ‘winging it’ once we got there. My directions told me to take the second right after we emerged from the tunnel. It took us 45 minutes to go 2 blocks. The lights would turn red, but cars would keep driving into the intersection. Cross traffic could not pass, so they would block the lane when their time came to crawl 10-inches forward.  Honking was not helpful, but that didn’t stop anyone.

We finally made it to the parking garage. We were so happy to get out of the car; we didn’t even ask how much the parking fee was going to be. The parking attendant ordered us out of the car and screeched off to a lower level (we actually had to yell at him to stop the car when he took off, so we could get Piper and Cessna out of the back). Geez. Getting around on foot was much better. Central Park was two blocks to our north. It seemed like everyone in the City was there enjoying the weather and smoggy air. Piper was a mess because of the horse –drawn carriages. Remember the white face horse in Tupelo? Well, he was just begging us to give him another chance at one of these equines as they clopped by us every six seconds. We walked along the path between East Drive and 5th Avenue. We passed the pond with the remote control sailboats. We passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When we made it to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir we decided to turn and make our way back south along the paths between West Drive and Central Park West. We passed The Lake which was full of row boats. We passed Strawberry Fields, and suddenly I couldn’t get that damn Beatles song out of my head. We passed Tavern on the Green, but it was closed for renovations.  We came out at Columbus Circle. We decided we needed a bit of happy hour before we would be brave enough to get back in the car and jump back into traffic wars for the drive back home.

A place called the Redeye Grill was located at the street level near the entrance to our parking garage. We were parked at 7th Street across from Carnegie Hall. They had outdoor tables set up, but it was slightly chilly in the shade of the buildings as the afternoon grew later. No one was outside, and it was early for dinner – so inside was relatively empty too. I went in and asked the hostess if we could sit with our dogs outside to have a couple of drinks and possibly some appetizers. She told me it was illegal to have dogs outside, and then she yelled over to a waitress and asked her if she wanted to serve us on the patio. The waitress answered “not really”. So I asked if we could just sit out there and I could come get our drinks myself… We haggled back and forth. I was sweet as southern pecan pie – which was very difficult to pull off. Finally, they relented and told me the grumpy waitress would be out to see us in a moment.  Score!

We each had two drinks. I had two glasses of wine. Mike had two beers. Piper plotted an attack against every horse that passed us on their way to Times Square.  Cessna sprawled out on the sidewalk and took a nap in the middle of the chaos. We decided against appetizers for fear the server would have spit in our food. Our bill came to $68 dollars.  Yes, $68 for four drinks. How do people afford to live in that place? We paid forty more dollars to pick up our car after 2 hours. I said Hail Mary’s under my breath all the way back to the ‘tunnel of hell’. Mike took on the persona of a taxi driver in Bali. We miraculously made it out of NYC without a scratch on the car. Must have been the prayers.  The first thing Mike said to me when we got back to the Monaco was “do you want a martini”? Hell yes, I wanted THREE martinis… through an IV!

When the time came to leave Fla-Net, we couldn’t pack up and get moving early enough. The trailer park was certainly the worst we had stayed in to date. However, with all that said, I’m glad it was one of the stops on our tour. We got the chance to reconnect with old friends, and that opportunity was worth more than each of the drawbacks combined. When I thanked Lori for taking the time to come meet us for dinner, she said “of course, you are family”. This from a woman I had never met before. When James, Sasha, and their daughter Teah left our house after lunch on Columbus Day, it was as if only one week had passed since we were the ones in college. I loved his family, and he liked Mike too. Each of us was so happy to see that the other had turned out happy after we were “all grown up”.  Mike and I had been ecstatic about the chance to talk to someone else besides each other. There had been many more silver linings on this stop than our gift certificate to Macaroni Grill or game day at Chili’s. Silver linings that really mattered.

 

The big waterfall at the end of our hike in the Poconos.

The big waterfall at the end of our hike in the Poconos.

My friend James and the lead singer from The Party Faithful.

My friend James and the lead singer from The Party Faithful.

Central Park, NYC

Central Park, NYC

No TV at this stop, so we had to watch the Texas game at Chili's. The parking lot was adjacent to our park, so we just walked over. Not very glamorous or 'local', but the drinks were cold and the food was hot!

No TV at this stop, so we had to watch the Texas game at Chili’s. The parking lot was adjacent to our park, so we just walked over. Not very glamorous or ‘local’, but the drinks were cold and the food was hot!

So much fun seeing my buddy James, and his lovely wife Sasha.

So much fun seeing my buddy James, and his lovely wife Sasha.

Why in the HELL did we think it would be no-big-deal to drive into the City?

Why in the HELL did we think it would be no-big-deal to drive into the City?

How is this for a beautiful view during our walk in The Poconos?

How is this for a beautiful view during our walk in The Poconos?

The first waterfall on our hike in The Poconos.

The first waterfall on our hike in The Poconos.

 

Connecticut Part II: Clinton

We made one scheduled stop on our way from Rhode Island to Connecticut.  Our Cummins engine had informed Mike that it needed its hydraulic fluid and filter replaced. We had an appointment scheduled with a diesel engine repair shop near our Wawaloam Campground, so we got an ‘early’ start and pulled out of our spot around 10:00 on the morning of our travel day.  When we dropped the bus with the mechanic, I asked him where we should go in the vicinity to walk around and maybe grab a bite to eat while we waited. He suggested East Greenwich, so we piled the dogs in the Honda and made our way to the waterfront village.  The downtown area of East Greenwich was situated up on a hill and full of historic buildings. Down at the bottom of the hill was the waterfront with several marinas and restaurants. The community sits on a cove of Narragansett Bay, so the view actually looked more like a river with undeveloped land on the opposite banks.

We found a parking spot by the water and started our walk. The weather was beautiful that day with clear blue skies that made everything seem to sparkle. We passed the local yacht club and a few other marinas.  Gleaming sailboats and fishing boats of all sizes bobbed in the calm blue waters where they were moored. The color of the water matched the color of the sky. The forest of trees from Goddard Memorial State Park across the water seemed like the artistic backdrop of a stage. We could have situated ourselves on one of the quaint park benches placed along the water and absorbed the picturesque view for the entire afternoon, but I was starving and we were on a mission for food. Since the climate was so perfect, I was hoping we would find a waterfront restaurant with patio seating.  We passed several restaurants and bars, but nothing was open at 11:30. This seemed a bit odd.  As our path lead us away from the water, we started up the hill toward the center of town.

The Main Street of East Greenwich was lined with shops, businesses and dozens of restaurants. When we discovered that most of the restaurants in town were also closed, I remembered why. A mandate to boil water had been in effect for the county for several days. I had seen on the news that a storage tank was contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Our campground was located just outside the boundaries of the affected system, so we had not had to deal with the problem first-hand until now. We walked the length of the central business district and decided we would try a Chinese food restaurant in the center of town. They had a sign on the front door assuring customers that they were using bottled water for everything in their kitchen. There was no outside seating for the dogs to join us, so we walked back to the Honda and returned to the restaurant’s parking lot in our car. We found a shady spot and rolled down the windows so Piper and Cessna would not be too miserable while they waited for us to have some lunch. They were tired from the exploring, so they just slept in the back.

This turned out to be the cutest parking lot in which we had ever left our car. The owners of the restaurant had created a garden around the boundaries of their parking lot. They had built beds of soil in wooden boxes above the asphalt. Then they had erected an elaborate trellis (about 8-feet tall) above the planting area. A dense garden of vegetables acted as a barrier between neighboring buildings. We parked in front of a giant squash that dangled from the trellis. The water might not have been fresh inside, but the produce was most certainly local! After lunch we drove back to the engine repair shop in hopes that the mechanic had finished his job. We were pleased to learn that he had, so we attached the Honda to the tow bar and set out for Riverdale Farm Campground near the Connecticut shore.  Engine work is so much more enjoyable when it is not a surprise!

Our drive was only 70 miles to Clinton, so it was another easy travel route down I-95. Our new campground was a 100-acre family owned farm on the banks of the Hammonasset River. The park’s literature boasted spacious sites, which was a joke… there were maybe 10-feet between the edge of our bus and the hook-ups for the spot adjacent to us. Our fire pit was literally 2- feet from our front door. If they had eliminated every other camping spot, the sites would have possibly been spacious. However, the price was pretty good; we had 50 amps of power, free Wi-Fi, free cable, good water pressure, and a tennis court! Fortunately, we did not have neighbors on one side of us – so we used the neighboring fire pit and made ourselves at home while we enjoyed our first night martinis as the sun set.

The customers at Riverdale were about 2/3 seasonal campers and 1/3 travelers like us. The place got really busy and LOUD over the weekends. Everyone knew each other. They would cruise around the park on their golf carts and stop to visit anytime they saw neighbors sitting outside… catching up on the happenings of the week since they had seen each other last. I have yet to understand this golf-cart-thing. It seems standard in every campground. People drive around in them for hours. We have only stayed in one or two ENORMOUS parks. Everywhere else has been compact and navigable on foot. Why not walk and get some exercise? One loop around the campground and I would be bored to tears, but we saw the same couples pass by us 20-30 times in one day – every day. No kidding. I don’t get it.

We made our way to the tennis court the second day we were there. I was determined to hit the ball every chance we got. You may or may not know Mike and I met because of tennis. We were set up on a blind date to play mixed doubles in a tennis tournament. We made it to the finals, and played against our friends who set us up. They beat us. I thought Mike was such a gentleman because he gave me his 2nd place prize – a gift certificate to the pro shop. After 10 minutes of hitting the ball at Riverdale, he busted a string. I guess our equipment had become a bit brittle with irregular use!

In order to get the racket re-strung, we drove into New Haven. It was the next largest town with the standard collection of big box stores. We got dog food at Petsmart, picked up something at Home Depot, and then dropped his rackets at a Sports Authority. Since we love to tour any college campus, we drove toward Yale after our errands were complete. We parked the car at a meter on the street near the cemetery and walked the dogs all through the campus. The university is the third oldest institution of higher education in the United States.  The U.S. News & World Report ranked Yale third among U.S. national universities for 2014, as it has for each of the past seventeen years, in every case behind Princeton and Harvard. It was hard not to be inspired after touring the campus. The Gothic architecture was amazing. Stone sculptures are built into the exterior walls of the libraries and halls. Leaded glass windows made all the buildings look like castles. If we didn’t look at the people that we passed on the sidewalks, it would have seemed like we had stepped back into the 1700’s when the place was founded.  Stone archways and iron gates separated courtyards and plazas.  The campus covers 260 acres, so we did not see all of it. We happened to be there on a Friday afternoon. It was football season and the beginning of a home game weekend. There seemed to be an extra level of electricity in the air as parents and alumni were arriving to visit their children and cheer the team.

We stumbled upon the most interesting sight of the day as we were finding our way back to the car. Some English Literature students (no doubt) were staging a live 24/7 reading of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina on the lawn outside one of the libraries near the law school. It is a long book, so I guess they were dividing themselves into shifts so there would be no interruptions. Many consider this to be the best novel ever written, even though the piece of realist fiction was published back in the late 1800’s. Although the idea seemed very dramatic to me, the “stage” was slightly hum-drum. A handwritten sign explaining the endeavor was taped to a metal music stand. One student was doing his shift of reading aloud. One other student was seated on a folding chair, listening. Everyone else just walked by as if they were invisible. Although I did feel slightly smarter after our time in this magnificent academic environment, I still expressed to Mike that particularly intelligent people have a very interesting way of enjoying themselves! This is not an idea I would have come up with when evaluating options on how to spend an afternoon (or however long it was going to take those students to get through 864 pages of moralistic life lessons). If they had placed a tip jar anywhere, I would have thrown in a bill or two just to commend their undertaking. I hoped they were doing this for a grade, and I also hoped they all got A’s. Lastly, I hoped it didn’t rain before they finished.

The best thing about our time at Riverdale Campground was its proximity to Hammonasset State Park, located 3 miles to our south. We ended up spending a lot of time at this park since it was so close and had so much to offer – for FREE. It is Connecticut’s largest shoreline park with over 2-miles of sandy white beach looking out onto Long Island Sound. In addition to the beach, they had miles of walking trails, a jetty for fishing, and camping. The spot was also popular with birders, as lots of water fowl congregate in the marshlands between the beach and the mainland. We drove over several times to walk the dogs. Mike went a couple of times to fish on the jetties. One day the weather was warm and bright enough to put on our swimsuits and enjoy an actual day at the beach! If anyone had predicted we would be hanging out at the beach in Connecticut during October, I would have declared them crazy at the beginning of our trip. However, we were more than happy to take advantage of the oddity and soak up some sunshine.

Another State Park, Rocky Neck, was located about 30 minutes north of us – also along Long Island Sound. My friend Janet used to camp there with her family when she was a kid and living in The Constitution State. One of our servers from our day in Boston had parents who had a shore house near there. Everyone we talked to (that knew anything about Connecticut) told us to go to Rocky Neck. So we did. We picked another beautiful warm day and made the short drive back up I-95 with the dogs in the back of the Honda. We lucked out when we got there because dogs are not allowed on the beach until after October 1st. We were clear by about 36 hours! The sand was softer and more pure here than at Hammonasset. Although the beach was not as long, the scene was still beautiful. This beach was set on more of a cove with a tidal river on one side and a salt marsh on the other. The water was calmer and more shallow here since its horse-shoe shape provided a small barrier on both sides. The most interesting thing about this beach was that there was a train track between the parking lot and the beach. Every quarter hour, or so, an Amtrak passenger train in transit between New York and Boston would whizz past us. I must say this was the first time I had been to a beach beside an Amtrak line. We could have gone on a wonderful hike while we were there. Mike could have fished here too, but we got lazy with all the sunshine. We ended up hanging out on our beach blanket from the time we arrived until it was time to go. The salt air and warm sun seemed to mesmerize us into a trance, so we spent our afternoon at Rocky Neck absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible… and doing little else besides some championship people-watching.

When our time had come to drive back to New Haven and pick up the tennis rackets we plotted a new route for the drive. The show Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives had done a segment on a diner called O’Rourke’s in Middletown. We planned to drive in a big circle while executing our list of errands.  We drove west to New Haven to pick up the rackets, go back to Home Depot, and make another stop at Petsmart. After we completed those tasks we drove north on I-91 until Hwy 66 took us into downtown Middletown. It was an easy 30-minute detour in the name of LUNCH. Middletown is located in the central part of the state along the Connecticut River. The community was once a busy sailing port and then an industrial center. Now it is primarily a residential community with Wesleyan University situated near the downtown core. The thick inventory of historic buildings along the Main Street is evidence that it was once the largest and most prosperous settlement in Connecticut. Not anymore. We parked our car at the first meter we found and decided to walk the dogs around town and find O’Rourke’s on foot. We must have passed 50 homeless people on the sidewalks. Many of them were lingering around a plasma center waiting for it to open so they could make a donation and receive a small amount of cash. We found O’Rourke’s at the end of the main corridor. There was one outside table where Piper and Cessna could have joined us – but we were at the edge of a busy intersection and we didn’t think we could enjoy our steamed burgers while inhaling exhaust from the traffic. We walked back through the homeless population and moved our car to a side-street near the diner and in the shade of a building. The dogs waited in the car again while we went in to eat. It was yummy. Mike had one of the famous steamed burgers; I had roasted butternut squash soup and a Rueben. We also ordered a steak sandwich to go. We were pigs.

After two weeks at Riverdale it was time to leave Connecticut and add New Jersey to our list of states on the Lower 48 Tour. We generally plan to travel early in the week. It seems like driving is less stressful on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Between Thursday and Sunday traffic becomes more frenzied as motorists get on the roads for weekend get-a-ways. Traffic seems to slow down and become less congested once the work week starts and everyone gets back to their regular routine. It was a Monday and the alarm was set to wake us up so we could start the usual travel preparation routine. It usually takes us a few hours to secure everything, and without any rushing we seem to always pull out around 11am.  Today was no different. We went through our standard routine. I got the inside ready, Mike got the outside ready. We were almost set when I told Mike I wanted to run down the street in the Honda and take a few more pictures of some beautiful fall leaves I had seen on a back road.

I was only gone about 10 minutes… long enough for Mike to check the weather radar. When I got back he had an unexpected proposition. It seems that a strong thunderstorm was gaining strength between us and our eventual destination in northern New Jersey. If we started driving, we would be heading toward dangerous winds and tornado warnings. A scenario neither of us was excited to experience. If we waited it out at Riverdale, the weather would pass over us later in the day. The following day was forecast to be dry and clear.  We decided it would be best to postpone our trip if possible. First we went to the office to make sure we could have our same spot for one more night. Next we called the park in New Jersey to see if we could postpone our week-long reservation by one day. After everyone said yes, we stopped packing up and took a nap. Later that afternoon, I went to the store for some groceries so we could cook a nice dinner. We roasted a pork tenderloin and paired it with some tortellini in pumpkin sauce. After enjoying a couple of martinis and a delicious meal, we called it a night. The plan was to repeat our actions from the morning on Tuesday instead. By the time the storm passed over Clinton, it had weakened significantly.  Our decision to post-pone travel was a smart one and made the day much less stressful than it could have been. Mike was worried I would be frustrated because we didn’t stick to the original plan, but it turned out I was very proud of our spontaneous weather avoidance. Better safe than sorry, that is for sure!

 

One of the beautifully intricate buildings on the Yale campus.

One of the beautifully intricate buildings on the Yale campus.

The Hammonasset River beside Riverdale Farm Campground.

The Hammonasset River beside Riverdale Farm Campground.

The owners of the campground had several beautiful horses too. These are the fields where they grazed during the daytime.

The owners of the campground had several beautiful horses too. These are the fields where they grazed during the daytime.

The jetties where Mike fished at Hammonasset State Park.

The jetties where Mike fished at Hammonasset State Park.

Hammonasset Beach

Hammonasset Beach

We weren't the only ones that took advantage of beach weather in early October!

We weren’t the only ones that took advantage of beach weather in early October!

Just another day at the beach.

Just another day at the beach.

Marshlands at Hammonasset State Park

Marshlands at Hammonasset State Park

Cheers!

Cheers!

Rocky Neck State Park shoreline

Rocky Neck State Park shoreline

A trail to Hammonasset Beach

A trail to Hammonasset Beach

Rhode Island Part II: Exeter

When we moved from Worden Pond to Wawaloam, it was the shortest distance we have yet to travel between campgrounds. We were parked at our new spot less than an hour after checking out of the first place. It only took a bit to determine the logistics of our new location; we had a sewer connection (yeah), but only 30 amps of power. I would have to run the generator to do laundry, and hopefully the management wouldn’t say anything about that. There was no free wifi, but our ATT hotspot worked -which means we did have a good internet connection. The trees blocked our DirecTV signal, but we got a couple of over-air channels. All in all, we were great.

The park was quiet and peaceful. We had no neighbors around us anywhere, and it pretty much remained that way during our entire stay. The boundaries of the campground encompassed 100 acres, so we had plenty of space to take the dogs on long walks each day. They had a swimming pool and water slide, but they were closed for the season. As we explored the property we also found a putt-putt course, a basketball court, a children’s playground, and a small cemetery. Yes, a cemetery IN the campground. There was a small square plot of land directly in the middle of several campsites that was an historic cemetery. There were about 20 gravestones in a couple of lines which were set off by a tiny rock wall enclosure. The headstones were so worn with age and weather, it was almost impossible to read the engravings. I immediately wondered if the campers who stayed in the spots adjacent to that piece of land ever had any encounters with ancient spirits. I also wandered if those souls might cross the street and visit us anytime during our stay. Hopefully they were all friendly and fun-loving spirits.

The first couple of days were low-key at Wawaloam. We enjoyed the nice weather outdoors in the hammock or by the campfire. We took turns using the car to run errands. Mike went out to buy 15 gallons of hydraulic fluid for the Monaco’s engine. I went into downtown Warwick for some window shopping and to bring home fresh shrimp and stuffies from the fish market in the town harbor. We both went in search of haircuts. By the third day, the weather was still glorious and it was time to see more of our surroundings. This time we got in the car together with the dogs and drove over Narragansett Bay to Newport.

We crossed the iconic Newport suspension bridge and took the first exit to the right. We were immediately in the middle of an ancient seaport village with narrow streets and an elaborate architectural tapestry. I was excited about spending our day in America’s First Resort after seeing only 2 blocks from the passenger- side window. Mike drove us through the center of town with me ‘oohing and aahhing’ as we passed every building and intersection. The Newport Historical Society says “[The city’s] history is remarkable in many ways, but perhaps the most unique aspect is that so much of its history is still visible on the landscape in an unparalleled concentration of preserved architecture”. Our first stop was on the waterfront overlooking Newport Harbor from Morton Park. We weren’t exactly sure what our agenda held, so we figured we would let the dogs stretch their legs on some nice grass with a view as a safe beginning. After everyone was content, we got back in the car to find the famous Ocean Drive.

This scenic drive, also known as “10-Mile Drive”, encompasses most of the southern coastline of Aquidneck Island (where Newport is located). As we drove along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, we rounded corners to find enormous mansions perched on cliffs overlooking waves crashing into the rocky shoreline below. I’m sure Robin Leach filmed a few episodes from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous near here. More ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ from the passenger seat. We could tell 10-miles had passed when we ended up back in what seemed like the middle of town. But this wasn’t just any town. The neighborhood we were in was Bellevue and it was a National Historic District flanked with mansions built by affluent summer vacationers around the turn of the 20th century. These were once the summer homes for families like the Vanderbilts and Astors. In my opinion, the most special part about this historic district is that so many of the homes are now open to the public for tours. It was obvious that Newport’s economy enjoys good profits from the tourism industry. The streets were thick with tour buses and open-air trolleys. The sidewalks were crowded with tourists; immediately identifiable by the cameras around their necks, hats on their heads, and tennis shoes on their feet. I overheard more foreign languages being spoken than I did regular English. I began to hope that the foreigners understood that the America of the Gilded Age was a far cry from the current America of 2013, in a plethora of ways.

It was time to park the car again, the dogs were bored with sight-seeing from the window and wanted to experience the place first-hand (or first-paw, I should say). We found a parking meter near Easton’s Beach, and made our way to the Cliff Walk. I knew Mike and I would be looking for an outdoor patio in the near future, so we needed to walk the dogs and wear them out. Life was much easier for us at a restaurant or bar if Piper and Cessna were tired upon arrival. This means they would chill out under our table and everyone around us would be tricked into thinking they were actually well-mannered canines.

The Cliff Walk is a 3.5 –mile path along Newport’s Eastern Shoreline. The views from this designated National Recreation Trail were fabulous in any direction. One side featured a view of the Atlantic Ocean down below a steep and jagged New England shoreline. When we turned our heads we got the chance to marvel at the lawns and gardens of Newport’s monstrous ocean-front mansions. We made a brisk walk down to The Breakers, the famous 13-acre estate built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II between 1893 and 1895.  This summer home is a 70-room mansion sprawled over 65,000 square feet. The original construction cost totaled $12million; in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation, the number would come in at approximately $337 million! Wow.

The path of the Cliff Walk was interrupted at this point due to damage from Super Storm Sandy. We were getting thirstier with every step we took, so we reversed course and returned to the Honda. If we wasted too much more time sight-seeing, we would be late for happy hour.

We were lucky to find another metered space back in town next to the Post Office. After we parked, we set out on foot again to explore the harbor area. We love to sit and watch all the activity of boats coming and going, so we were hoping to find a place with a view where we could relax for a bit. This is how we found ourselves in Bannister’s Wharf. When we saw the sign that said DOG BAR, we figured we had stumbled onto our happy hour spot. We found a table on the sidewalk where we could watch boats and people while the dogs bellied up to the water bowl. It turns out we were patronizing the Clarke Cook House Restaurant. We were sitting in the Candy Store section – I guess as a reference to a previous use of this historic commercial property.  I could have lingered there for hours. The main dining room had an entire wall missing. On the far side of the bar was a window of wide-open air from floor to sky.  A very romantic view showcased a real-life vision of the harbor in the forefront and Narragansett Bay in the distance.

We enjoyed a couple of drinks at the Candy Store, and then continued our tour of Newport along the famous Thames Street. This is the main strip through downtown. The sidewalks are lined with shops, boutiques, restaurants, small inns, and any other sort of business you can imagine. It was immediately obvious that all the action takes place along this commercial corridor. Our final destination along Thames was another dog-friendly bar called Obrien’s. We stopped in there for another drink before deciding to call it a day and drive back to camp. Our day in Newport had been a great success. Even though we had only allowed ourselves time to see a glimpse of the numerous local attractions, I had seen enough to want to come back for a longer stay in the future.

We had driven along- side Narragansett Bay when we stayed in our first Rhode Island Campground. From this location we had driven over the Bay on our way to Newport. Now I was ready to get out in the bay, and see this region from a different perspective. There was a brochure at the main gate that I had picked up when we checked in. It advertised a 90-minute tour of 10 local lighthouses, 10 islands in the bay and Newport Harbor aboard a high speed catamaran. We booked our reservations online and spent a Sunday afternoon cruising the waters of the bay. It was cloudy and windy, but there was an indoor cabin so the weather was no factor. We could get out onto the deck to snap pictures when we wanted to, and then relax inside at our small table with our Bloody Marys in between photo opportunities. A local historian narrated the cruise, sharing stories and folklore about some of the highlights we saw along the way.  We passed all sizes of sailboats as we made our way toward the beginning of the bay where it emptied into Rhode Island Sound. As we skirted the Atlantic Ocean we could see a sailing regatta at full speed off in the distance to our south. The J24 North American Championship was being held that weekend in Newport. We came around Jamestown Harbor and wandered into and through Newport Harbor. We even saw the ship they used to film the movie Pirates of the Caribbean! By the time we returned to our terminal at Quonset Point, we had seen over 60-miles of coastline. Our sightseeing cruise had been a great experience.

The fall season officially started during the time we were parked at Wawaloam, and the weather could not have cooperated more appropriately. The temperatures were crisp and cool with lows in the 40’s and highs in the 70’s; the wind was breezy and brisk. The leaves of the trees around us were changing to hues of copper, gold, and bronze right in front of our eyes. The perfectly clear blue skies made a perfect backdrop for the bright colors of the foliage as we looked up through the trees to their tops. This was the type of weather where outdoor activities become mandatory. Mike decided to take advantage of the flawless climate and play some golf. Exeter Country Club was just down the road from our camp, and they had a sign that said “public welcome”. He called and booked a twilight tee time for 2pm. We went to the store earlier in the day to stock up on groceries and get ingredients for chili. (A pot of chili is another mandatory requirement when welcoming autumn).  I dropped him at the golf course after the store, and then went home to brown the meat, put the chili in the crockpot, and walk the dogs. Once dinner was simmering and the dogs were satisfied, I drove back to the golf course and rode along in the cart for the last nine holes.

On our last full day we drove back over Narragansett Bay to Middleton for lunch. We like to log onto the website for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and see if any of the featured restaurants are located near our various locations. In this instance, we were about a 30- minute drive from Anthony’s Seafood. Their specialty was Kung Pao Calamari, and we were eager to see what the fuss was about. The place actually turned out to be half restaurant and half fish market. I was so bummed I had not brought a small cooler with us in the car. If I had been properly equipped I would have ordered lunch, and then cleared their coolers of packaged lobster bisque, Baked Seafood Nantucket, Rhode Island “stuffies”, and many more delectable treats. As it was, we ordered the famous calamari, some Portuguese fish stew and an order of fish tacos. Everything was fresh and hot. The order of calamari was crispy and spicy.  The stew was packed with flavor, and Mike’s tacos even came with yummy battered French fries. We ate all we could and packed up the remains in a to-go box.  After we stuffed ourselves, we stopped for a few errands as we drove back to the Monaco. When we were back at camp, we did a little bit of preparation for our upcoming travel day, and then we burned the last of our firewood in a big campfire.

As we prepared to leave The Ocean State we recalled many fond memories of our brief stay in Rhode Island’s South County. The landscape was so charming and varied. Vistas of rolling hillsides and local farmlands, to majestic shorelines and quaint marinas abounded in every direction. The little state that ranks 50th in all the states for land area  made a much larger impression with its multiple beaches, natural beauty, historic architecture, and scrumptious local food from the ocean and garden alike.  We didn’t make it to Providence, and we hadn’t seen the northern sections of the state’s boundaries, but we were enamored regardless of what we had missed.

 

Our spot at Wawaloam. #42

Our spot at Wawaloam. #42

A side view of the famous Breakers Mansion.

A side view of the famous Breakers Mansion.

These tiny cemeteries are all over Rhode Island (and all of New England). This one was between the 9th and 10th holes on the Exeter Country Club Golf Course. There was another one like this across from our campsite at Wawaloam.

These tiny cemeteries are all over Rhode Island (and all of New England). This one was between the 9th and 10th holes on the Exeter Country Club Golf Course. There was another one like this across from our campsite at Wawaloam.

We were looking for a spot to sit with the dogs when we spotted this fun set-up.

We were looking for a spot to sit with the dogs when we spotted this fun set-up.

Such a cool restaurant at one of Newport's many harbors. There was no wall facing the water, so it was truly an indoor/outdoor space.

Such a cool restaurant at one of Newport’s many harbors. There was no wall facing the water, so it was truly an indoor/outdoor space.

Narragansett Bay

Narragansett Bay

We parked next to this wonderful beach in Newport in order to take the dogs on a stroll along the famous Cliff Walk.

We parked next to this wonderful beach in Newport in order to take the dogs on a stroll along the famous Cliff Walk.

One of the vistas from Ocean Drive in Newport.

One of the vistas from Ocean Drive in Newport.

A view of Newport Harbor

A view of Newport Harbor

 

 

 

 

Rhode Island Part I: Worden Pond

Our first stop in Rhode Island was at Worden Pond Family Campground in Wakefield. The campground is directly across the street from Worden Pond, which is really a lake. Up here they call all lakes ponds, regardless of size. Where we are from a pond is a little tiny hole of water, and a lake is big body of water. Here everything is a pond. Maybe it has to do with the depth of the body of water… I’m not really sure about all of the details when it comes to lakes vs. ponds.

We selected this campground based primarily on price and location. The rate was reasonable, and it was close to many beaches we wanted to see.  They had water and electricity, but no sewer connections. The campground did have a ‘honey wagon’, so we planned to be conservative with water. When our tanks got full, we would schedule the honey wagon to come empty us for a $15 fee. As usual, we only made a reservation for one week in order to see about the place first. If it was nice we would extend our stay, if it wasn’t, we would move to an alternate location for the rest of the time we planned to be in the Ocean State.

Well, let’s just say Mike started researching alternate campgrounds while enjoying his coffee on our first morning at Worden Pond.  The campground was not scary. The bathrooms were clean enough for me to use their shower as part of our water conservation effort. I was initially bummed I had to pay one quarter per 8 minutes of hot water, but our nice neighbor let me in on a secret. The last shower stall in the ladies bath house worked without quarters. Whew, that was good news. I take really long showers and my quarter supply would have been diminished immediately. We had free Wi-Fi, but no DirecTV signal. The park did not have cable, so we had two over-air public access channels. Fine for mental diversions, but not great during college football season.

The place was very big. Most of the sites (more than 300 of them) were occupied by ‘seasonals’. The owners had about 20 designated spots up front, across from the playground and pavilion, for travelers like us – coming and going for short stays. Everyone else had permanent campers to which they traveled from regular houses on weekend get-a-ways. A few of these campers were occupied by full-time residents. The spots were pathetically close together and about 90% of them were piled high with junk and toys. There was trash on the ground everywhere. It wasn’t even fun to walk the dogs around the perimeter of the camp because all the litter was so depressing.

To top it off, someone in a neighboring subdivision had a pet wolf-dog that they let roam loose. One morning as I was getting ready to take the dogs out, I accidentally glanced through the side window of our coach and saw him wandering around. I left the dogs inside and went out to see what the deal was. As I approached him I could tell he wasn’t the friendliest of canines. He was part growling, part howling at me as I sized him up. Just about then our neighbor in a pop-up tent warned me that he “would stay away from that dog, if I were you”. Then he proceeded to tell me how he watched the wolf-dog attack another camper’s dog as they were out walking with a leash. Great. Mike came out and shooed him off. He went one way, while the four of us went the opposite direction to do our business. When we returned to our bus, there was a large pile of crap in the middle of our ‘yard’. Nice doggie. We got the message. We ended up dealing with the stupid stray wolf-dog every morning. He would roam the campground beginning around dawn until he had scavenged and tormented all he wanted. Then he would climb back over the rock wall fence and head home, I presume, to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.

We embarked upon our first excursion a couple of days after setting up camp. Our first stop was to an alternate RV park about 10 miles from us. We wanted to see if Wawaloam campground in Exeter was any nicer than where we were. They had sewer connections but only 30 amps of power. We could do with less power far more easily than we wanted to do without another sewer connection. We took a beautiful drive on the back roads to get there and were pleasantly surprised with what we found. No litter, nice landscaping, clean and neat seasonal sites… much better. We booked our reservation before we left; paid in full for the time we intended to stay there.

After that, we headed toward Route 1A. Seems like we have been on Route 1A since May! We wanted to hug the shoreline of Narragansett Bay as we drove back south toward Worden Pond.  We headed east from Exeter and found the beginning of the scenic drive in Wickford.  I was making mental notes of all the places I wanted to come back to after we relocated to our new spot. The weather that day happened to be incredible. It was an insanely sunny and warm Wednesday. When we arrived at Narragansett Town Beach, it looked like the entire population of the State of Rhode Island had decided to play hooky! The parking lot was completely full and there were people everywhere. We wanted to get out and look around, so we kept driving to find a parking spot. We passed the Narragansett Pier and the iconic Towers (the only remaining structure of a once elegant Victorian-period casino).  We kept driving to see what was next, and the road became a meandering path of magnificent homes and mansions on both sides of us. The estates on the east side of our drive all seemed to be perched on cliffs overlooking the bay.

We found another beach farther south. Scarborough Beach was a public beach that had hiking and biking trails in addition to sand and shore. We weren’t dressed or equipped for a beach excursion, but by this time we were anxious to find a spot where we could get out of the car to soak up some of the sun and fresh air. We decided we wanted a bar with an outdoor patio and a view of the water. We found a spot where Old Ocean Road met Hwy. 108. It was called Hammerhead Grill. It was near the edge of the water with a great view facing east, and it had an outdoor patio. Just what we ordered… sort of. The summer season was over. This means that even though it was a beautiful day, the patio was locked and apparently bolted. We had to settle for an indoor table with a view through glass and screens. It was still a nice scene, but the air wasn’t quite as fresh as an ocean breeze would have been.

Next to the Grill was what looked like a secret trail heading toward the water. A narrow sand and shell pathway with tall walls of sea grass and other vegetation wandered toward the sound of waves,  mischievously curving back and forth to block the final view until the very last minute of the passage. When we emerged from the maze, we arrived at a beach of rocks and pebbles. The land curved out in front of us to the south, so we could see the Point Judith Lighthouse just across the water. They say Rhode Island is the Ocean State because they have so many beaches. What was amazing to me was that the beaches were all so different from each other. Just a few miles up the road the beach had been sand and flat. Now it was sloped and we were standing on large rocks and pebbles. No hint of sand after the secret path ended. After we took in the view and snapped a few photos, we headed back in the car to find our next stopping point.

While we were at Happy Jack’s Sports Bar the previous week, we were visiting with a Harley-Davidson couple who had stopped in for some wings on their way home from a day of riding. They told us about a place called George’s of Galilee. When I looked at my map I found out it was just around the corner from us. It was time to take the advice from the locals and try the place they recommended. We drove about another mile down 108 and turned left at Galilee Escape Road. I liked the sound of that!

Overlooking the Block Island Sound in a picturesque fishing port, George’s of Galilee Waterfront Seafood Restaurant has been serving its signature dishes since 1948. It appeared as though the owners of the restaurant had expanded its dining spaces and outdoor patios over the years as the popularity of the establishment increased. They had about five separate dining rooms and as many outdoor patio spaces. We decided to sit upstairs on a deck that overlooked the beach and also the adjacent channel through which ferries and boats passed. We shared some appetizers and ordered the lobster pizza with a spinach and fruit salad to take back home with us. As the sun started setting to the west, the shadows got deeper and the ocean breeze became much more brisk. Since we didn’t bring jackets, it was time to drive back home before it turned completely dark and much colder.

We had been pretty good with our water conservation efforts back at camp, and I was getting very itchy to do laundry. If you ask Mike, he’d say I have a ‘thing’ for laundry. I must admit, I am happiest when I can wash and put away at least one load of clothes, or towels, or sheets each day. It helps our tiny house stay clean and well-managed. If our living quarters are going to be compact, the environment is much more pleasant when our surroundings are neat and tidy. Our current logistics were such that if I ran the washing machine, our grey tank would need to be emptied soon afterward.

I walked to the front office to schedule a visit from the honey-wagon. This is when the funky mojo we had at Worden Pond Family Campground got even worse. I tried to schedule an appointment and the guy wanted to know if our black tank was full or if it was only our grey tank.  During the check-in process he reminded me we did not have a sewer connection, but informed me we could dump our grey water straight on the ground… because the “drainage was so good”. I thought to myself, GROSS, and told him we didn’t mind paying the $15 fee to empty our tanks. Now it was time to empty them and he reminded me that we could dump straight onto the ground by our spot. I assured him we were prepared to have the truck come around and take care of us. Then he became a little more straightforward with what he meant. He basically told me that if the black tank was full, they would come to us. Then he explained that they didn’t have room in their septic system for the grey water, so it just needed to be dumped on the ground “since it was good for the soil”. Really? Disgusting bath, kitchen and laundry water is good for the soil at your park? Oh well, never mind then. I went home and ran a load of laundry. Mike and I were so mortified with what came next, we waited to dump the tank late that night after each of our neighbors had gone inside to bed. We finished our stay repeating the same awful task each evening, counting the days until we got to move to Wawaloam. This place was even trashier than I first imagined!

The negative factors at our campground in no way influenced our over-all impression of the State of Rhode Island. The geography was so varied for such a small state. At one minute we were driving through hilly terrain shaded with a dense tree canopy, and one mile down the road we would be parallel to dramatic cliffs and blue ocean vistas. Money Magazine named the South County region “One of the 12 Best Places to Vacation in North America”.

On Saturday Game Day we did a little bit of exploring before settling in at a local sports bar to watch college football. I’m always asking Mike to drive down Highway 1A. I’m curious to take the road that leads to the end. There are many Highway 1A’s in America. Today, 1A was east of us toward Watch Hill and Westerly. My friends from Foxwoods Casino told us we needed to visit there.  Wikipedia says Watch Hill is an affluent coastal village in the New England town of Westerly. It sits at the most-southwestern point in the entire US state of Rhode Island. It came to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th century as an exclusive summer resort, with wealthy families building sprawling Victorian-style “cottages” along the peninsula. Watch Hill is characterized by the New York Times as a community “with a strong sense of privacy and of discreetly used wealth”, in contrast with “the overpowering castles of the very rich” in nearby Newport.[2] Today, it is best known as the backdrop for the Ocean House, the only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond Hotel in Rhode Island. In reality, I’m guessing today it is best known as the place where Taylor Swift recently purchased a reported $17 million oceanfront mansion. (I knew which one it was immediately because it was the only mansion with a guard in the front drive).

I’m going to put Ocean House on my list of places to which I would like to return as a guest. My list started with Little Palm in the Keys. Then we found that place in New York called Mohonk Mountain House. My next entry is this grand yellow and white Victorian treasure perched above Block Island Sound. The tiny village of Watch Hill has only one block of commercial businesses. We were there mid-morning and the place was packed. All parking spots on the streets were taken. There were a few parking lots that were full or closed. We had planned to get out and walk the dogs around the area, but we couldn’t find anywhere to deposit our vehicle. We cruised the area, circling the block a couple of times. Finally, it was time to give up. We left Watch Hill and drove toward the small town of Westerly. Maybe we could find parking there.

We had better luck parking near a beautiful community park in the center of Westerly. Fortunately for us, we stumbled upon Wilcox Park at a time when the dogs really needed to stretch their legs. The historic park was originally designed by Warren Manning with specimen trees, shrubs and display flower beds on fifteen acres. Fifteen acres is a large municipal park. It also had a koi pond, dwarf conifer collection, a fountain, monuments, flower gardens and perennial borders. Pathways through the park crossed over carpets of perfect green grass. Families played with children on blankets, or snapped photos near the duck pond. A party of wedding patrons was even gathering near a corner gazebo for an afternoon ceremony. It was a perfect setting. How many times do you get to say “today was a walk in the park”! We wandered around the rest of the downtown streets before making our way back to the car. The dogs were tired, and it was time to start part 2 of our Saturday. It was time for football.

Of course, OUR game was going to be broadcast on the fabulous LHN… which meant we were hoping to find it on the radio later in the evening. We had already given up on the possibility of actually watching the Longhorns play Ole Miss. We had to settle for watching the A&M vs. Alabama game that started at 3:30 that afternoon. We picked to watch it at a nearby Tavern called Mews. It was the perfect bar. They had tons of televisions, an excellent beer and scotch collection, and autographed $1 bills plastered all over the walls and ceiling. We were so lucky. The perfect park and the perfect bar in the same afternoon! We shared some buffalo bread and a Sicilian calzone while I worked on the $1 bill we were going to leave on the wall. The waitress brought me a Sharpie and a stapler. When the game was over we went home and built a campfire. We sat beside the flames for the rest of the evening and listened to a live stream of the Texas Game on Ole Miss Radio. We tried to listen to UT announcers, but our website made us pay money and then the feed was faulty. We finally gave up and listened to our opponent’s announcers call the game. The signal was strong and steady… the charge was zero. Way to go longhorns. Oh yes, and we lost the game too. Must have been more of the bad mojo from Worden Pond.

We saved the best for last on this stay. Our last Sunday in Wakefield featured glorious weather. The clear blue skies and crisp air made for a wonderful backdrop as we took our bicycles on the 30 –minute ferry ride to Block Island. Our neighbors back in Voluntown had told us the best way to see the island would be to take our bikes for the day and explore at our own pace. It was a fabulous suggestion. When we got off the ferry, we decided to ride on a loop around the island. Mike was our leader. I was following him on the narrow street we shared with cars, mopeds and pedestrians. The roads were sloped and curved, so I was getting a good workout on my legs too. We were off to a great start with clean air, gleaming sun, and exercise all at once.

We were making our way to the Southeast Lighthouse as Mike detoured to the right on a whim. I thought he had probably seen an historical marker or an interesting building. I must say I was NOT expecting him to have spotted 2 camels in the distance. What? And, was that a yak? Did I just see that kid feeding an alpaca? Yes, we certainly needed to get off our bikes and check this out. We had stumbled upon the Abram’s Animal Farm, which is a family owned farm that services their adjacent Manisses Hotel. The farm provides fresh produce for the hotel’s restaurant, but the owner started collecting exotic animals years ago.  He had quite the collection of various species all mingling amicably in a large sloping fenced-in pasture. Did you know the result of a cross between a zebra and a donkey is called a Zedonk? Well we saw one with one eye! The Abram’s family has managed to collect llamas, emus, kangaroos, a gigantic tortoise, several species of exotic birds and pheasants. Of course they also have the usual cows, sheep, and chickens sprinkled into the mix of animal menagerie. We hung out for a while. The farm provided cups of food for the animals in the pasture. They had an honor system where you could leave a dollar and feed an animal. The llama just took whole cups out of the human’s hands and tipped them back like a shot glass. The yak would open his mouth wide, bearing his huge square teeth, and wait for people to pour the cup down his throat. I hope the camel’s name was Mr. Wednesday, because he stood proud and regal while we all snapped photos of him posing for the camera. He was loving the attention. The whole experience was so unexpected to begin with, we couldn’t stop grinning at how bizarre everything seemed at this private, but welcoming, make-shift petting zoo.

Back on bikes, we continued up and down and UP and down Spring Street until we reached the Southeast Lighthouse. I was ready to put my transportation down for a minute and walk the jelly out of my legs. This stately lighthouse is not necessarily tall at 52-feet, but it doesn’t have to be because it sits high atop the Mohegan Bluffs. Its elevated location allows its flashing green light to project out into the ocean. That is important since we were spending the afternoon on a 7,000 acre “stumbling block” of the New England Coast. Built in 1874 under order from President Ulysses Grant, the building is now a Registered Historic Landmark. According to Coastal Living Magazine, the historic structure is even counted among the top 15 Haunted Lighthouses in America. Legend has it that in the 1900s a keeper murdered his wife by pushing her down the steps. Her spirit never left her home. It is said she harasses men only—by shaking them, lifting their beds, or even locking them in a closet or out of rooms. We stayed safely outside and admired the building from afar. I did not want Mike getting locked in any closets because I didn’t want to lose my biking buddy for the rest of the day. After admiring the majestic view and attempting to capture some of the beauty on our camera rolls, my legs felt strong enough to tackle a few more hills.

Spring Street turned into Mohegan Trail and then Lakeside Drive. The houses we passed were all quintessential New England summer houses, with Victorian details juxtaposed against hearty brown shingles outlined in piercing white trim. They seemed to be randomly scattered across the landscape facing all directions to take advantage of the views and the wind-flow. Some of the cottages were small and conservative, while others were large estates that sprawled onto landscaped lawns at the end of winding primitive drive-ways. The properties featured lots of space between each other, so it seemed like owners and guests would really feel they were getting away from everything when they spent time there.  As inviting as the architecture was, the island’s scenic natural expanses were even more spectacular.  There were meadows and ponds. Fields of gardens were sectioned off with stone walls. Yellow wildflowers dotted the canvas of green grass.  All with the backdrop of the blue Atlantic Ocean shimmering off in the distance until the sky met the water. In the early 1990s, the Nature Conservancy named Block Island one of the “Last Great Places on Earth.” I definetely felt like we had discovered an enchanted treasure on this daytrip.

We rolled into New Harbor after a couple of hours and arrived at the inevitable… it was time for a drink. We found a great spot called The Oar nestled on the banks of The Great Salt Pond. They had sets of Adirondack chairs set out on the grass at the water’s edge facing several marinas. We were happy to sit back and sip our bloody Mary’s while we watched all the boating activity in the busy harbor. Our next stop was on the patio of the Beachead Restaurant across from Crescent Beach. We shared some seafood nachos for lunch and continued on our way, completing our circle back at Old Harbor. It was still too early to board our return ferry. We parked our bikes on a rack near the terminal and continued our pub-crawl on foot.  We found an outdoor bar right on Ballard’s Beach, basically adjacent to the docks. They had a one-man band playing Pink Floyd. (Think about it, kind of impressive). We lingered there for about an hour until the clock told us it was time to get to the ferry. I was reluctant to end the fabulous field-trip we had taken that day.

That night after our campfire, we didn’t have to dump our grey tank onto the ground – thankfully. We planned to drive ourselves to the dump station on the way out of the park in the morning. Like it or not, they were getting some grey water in their septic system. When I went to bed on our last night at Worden Pond, I quickly drifted off to sleep and dreamt all night of washing machines and long hot showers in my own bathroom. I think we both were eager to make the shortest-drive-ever over to Exeter and get set up at Wawaloam.

 

The beach at Galilee.

The beach at Galilee.

I always imagined the first thing we'd see on Block Island would be... camels?

I always imagined the first thing we’d see on Block Island would be… camels?

Looking toward Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island.

Looking toward Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island.

A fishing boat near the Port of Galilee.

A fishing boat near the Port of Galilee.

The first stop after our bicycle ride on Block Island was at a place called Oar. They had Adirondack chairs perched at the edge of the water so we could relax and enjoy the view of New Harbor.

The first stop after our bicycle ride on Block Island was at a place called Oar. They had Adirondack chairs perched at the edge of the water so we could relax and enjoy the view of New Harbor.

Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island.

Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island.

We drove down one of Rhode Island's designated Scenic Byways to get to Worden Pond Family Campground. This is a stretch of Ministerial Road.

We drove down one of Rhode Island’s designated Scenic Byways to get to Worden Pond Family Campground. This is a stretch of Ministerial Road.

Looking out on Rhode Island Sound toward Point Judith Lighthouse.

Looking out on Rhode Island Sound toward Point Judith Lighthouse.

We are aware it is illegal to deface American money, but we took our chances and marked on a dollar bill so we could add it to the wall at Mews Tavern. They gave us the sharpie and the stapler, so we figured it was safe.

We are aware it is illegal to deface American money, but we took our chances and marked on a dollar bill so we could add it to the wall at Mews Tavern. They gave us the sharpie and the stapler, so we figured it was safe.

We couldn't watch the Texas game on the fabulous LHN, so we went to the local tavern and watched Alabama vs. A&M instead.

We couldn’t watch the Texas game on the fabulous LHN, so we went to the local tavern and watched Alabama vs. A&M instead.

Our view of Block Island as we approached on the Ferry.

Our view of Block Island as we approached on the Ferry.

The sky was magnificent on our last evening at Worden Pond Family Campground.

The sky was magnificent on our last evening at Worden Pond Family Campground.