Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shiloh To Shallow

Fortunately I really like driving the coach. That makes getting from point A to point B half the fun - maybe more. And that's a good thing especially at times like this when we are changing the part of the country we are going to explore. Shiloh, LA might have been a milestone if this were the first trip into that state, but we've chalked up that state previously and so instead of a giant thrill, Shyloh is just a map tack on the map headed westward. Not that there is anything wrong with Louisiana. We like that state; some parts better than others. Same is true of Texas, where this evening we are camped out in a cold and blustery Shallow Creek RV Park, a half day's ride from Dallas, TX. Tomorrow's run will take us past Dallas and on up into Oklahoma- a state we have not yet visited at all. So crossing that border, entering that state, visiting that venue for the very first time WILL be exciting. I've got my "first time going into this state" song ready to belt out! There is a certain palpitation the heart experiences with each thing that is new. There is a certain calm about doing what has been done before (travel wise that is). But I'll be honest: the venture into Oklahoma is not for a thorough exploration of the world of wonders that awaits us there. Not this time anyhow. Rather it is for the express purpose of working towards our goal of visiting every state by coach that we can visit by coach. As we roll into the very beginning of our third year in the business of full time "coaching," we have but seven states left to fill in on our electronic blog map of the visited states. Time spent in each state this time around is a matter of priority (or not) and a function of what can and can't be fit in to a certain time frame within which we must work at this point in our lives. Seasonality has a great to deal to do with those considerations as well. I cannot, for example, begin to imagin how, while headed to the southwest with winter coming up quickly, we can possible make it to North Dakota- which will no doubt be the last and most difficult state to hit. To some states (like Alaska) we have dedicated over three months. To a few others, less than three days. No insult intended. They are just further down on the "to do" list than the rest. Admittedly, there is a sense of "hurry up" to reach the goal of the 49.

But back to the points on the map. The drive itself is of great value. Driving back and forth across the country (did I mention we crossed the Mississippi again for about the 7th time) one learns a great deal. It's a matter of seeing with your own eyes what a place looks like. Whether the people you talk to along the way are helpful and friendly, or otherwise inclined. Whether fuel prices are higher or lower. Whether businesses are open and thriving or struggling and perhaps even closed. What topics are most discussed. What energy sources have been developed. The geography of the place. The flora and fauna. Points of interest that are discovered in some small way even as you blow by them on the highway at 55 miles an hour or so.

"Hey, would you make a note of that?" I'd like to come back here another time...."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another New Feature- Where in the World Is Gundyville?

You'll find it on the side bar (to the left and down a mite bit). It's a new "live" Google Map with our past, present, and future travel plans- or at least as far out as they A) go so far, or B) as I have had the opportunity to make updates for. Like all things Google - It's Cool. You can enlarge the map to see more of the route and stops. Drag it to a better position. Zoom in or out. Click on a map tack to see where we were, where we are, or where we're headed and the dates we either were...or expect to be there. And as I get a little more experience with it, maybe even some news, weather, photos, notes, or what have you. But for now, it's pretty straight forward. Please give it a try. Check it often for new features if you'd care to.

I'd be remiss if I did not credit my Geeky pals Jim and Chris for "educatin' me" on this here bloggin' stuff - and, yes, I did mean to spell them just like that! Blogger's license. It's like poetic license, only looser! I just wish I could pick up and get these new elements a bit faster than I do so I didn't have to post stuff like this at 2 in the morning when I should be getting some sleep for a long drive tomorrow. You too can learn computer skills beyond your pay grade just by checking out their on line video tutorials. I know I do! Some times I even amaze myself!!!

Night all!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mississippi Thanksgiving

Driving all day on Thanksgiving Day is a weird and eerie thing to do! But that's what the plan called for and so that's what we did. The goal was to make it to Mississippi so that at least we would be with some friends to help celebrate on Thanksgiving Day. And mission accomplished. Most of the day, though, we felt like (and we were) about the only people on the road. Everyone else who had somewhere to go for Thanksgiving had apparently done their traveling the day before. I had thoughts of "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and "Night of the Living Dead" as we cruised westward on one empty highway after another. We have no shortage of things to give thanks for, but on this day we added at least one other - the fact that we had no mechanical problems on a day when getting help would most certainly not have been an option.

So late afternoon we arrived in Meridian, MS (NOT to be confused with Meridian, MI, which is what I put in as the new default weather setting on Yahoo Weather upon arrival, thereby faking myself into thinking it was about to plunge below freezing and start to snow by morning) It turns out the weather pattern in Mississippi is strikingly different from that of Michigan this time of year! Another thing to be thankful for, you see, as only rain was produced by the approaching clouds. . A phone call to Dutch and Margie, friends from the gold prospecting circuit that we have also shared some time with in Georgia, North Carolina, and, yes, Michigan, helped to firm up plans to meet for dinner around 6pm. Now in some parts of the country, the restaurant business booms on this holiday, but it was more of a bust here in Mississippi, so the number of choices of Open For Business eateries was very limited. No problem, right? It would just be fun to get together and share some stories and catch up with what's going on in our respective lives. Their daughter joined us for dinner. All well and good.

I've been struggling with the idea of whether or not to name the place we ate because they are normally quite excellent and dependable and are heavily relied upon by travelers such as ourselves for those occasions when there just is not time or inclination to fix our own meal. And a full size, full meal deal on Turkey Day in an RV kitchen is best avoided whenever possible. But THIS PLACE ( I guess I won't be naming it, huh?) had a full turkey (with ham) dinner on the menu- beverage, entree, sides, corn muffins, biscuits, dessert - all for a more than reasonable asking price. I'll have that! Thank you.

The drinks came. The unsweetened tea was sweetened. That should have been a warning, but, hey, that's no big deal right? Five of us sat down to dinner. Five meals came out of the kitchen and were placed in front of us for our approval. Only I had her mashed potatoes. She had my beans. The coleslaw was missing in action. He had her stuffing. Who ordered white gravy that smells like onion soup? And what exactly is that? I don't know - you try it first. We juggled sides where we could, sent an item or two back, made a strategic exchange here and there and went about our business....and meal....and conversation...all the while laughing at the more than slight imperfection of the meal and the service. No one was mean or unpleasant. Just a bit miffed. The waitress, bless her pea picking heart, knew very little about bringing the food and nothing about clearing the table what-so-ever, so by the time we were ready for dessert, the table for two at which 5 had been seated was piled nearly 18 inches high with dirty dishes, most still containing the remains of the least palatable elements of the meal. So four pumpkin pies and one pecan pie arrived. Pray tell why does only one have a scoop of ice cream on it? Two we ate quickly by hand and the rest we took in plastic wedges made just for that- because there was no room on the table to put them down to eat them - not that there were any clean forks left on the table to use anyhow. And I suppose that would have been OK as well except we didn't get enough of those cute little plastic wedges to do the job so in one we "doubled up" and made the Pilgrim's first-ever pumpkin "whoopee" pie!

So the meal was strange to say the least, but yes we did have an absolutely good time at that table. Could we have the bill please? Yes, sure. Well, that bill was more bizarre than the meal, but let's just pay it and go back to the coach to visit and have coffee there. Sounds good.

Register clerk, "How was everything tonight?"
"Honestly, it was a little strange."
Manager, "Well did you get everything you ordered?"
"Sort of, yes, but it was on someone else's plate."
Manager, "Well, but was the service good?"
"Well, perhaps at some other table it was really good...."
Manager, "Yes, I know, it's been like this all day. No charge for today's meal. Please come back and see us another time."
"Uh,............ OK"

Long story (not short, but summarized): It was a holiday. The "A" team was off for the day. The "B" team was on the register. The "C" team was in the kitchen. The "D" team and any live body that wasn't dining at home with their own family was the wait staff.

We really did get plenty to eat, although I still remain unsure as to what some of it was. And had it been a regular meal at the local diner there would have been not one trace of a decent story to tell for years hence. But because it wasn't just so ordinary, and because it was shared with friends - on this day, and on all days, WE Give Thanks!

Now to some pictures:

The cotton fields were in full bloom as we drove through Mississippi, if that's the correct terminology, meaning that the plants were dried and the cotton balls were seemingly ready to harvest. Only a few of the fields showed signs the harvest had begun, but they all looked like they were ready to go.

Some of the cotton blows off the plants and can be picked up along the roadside. We got one cotton ball as a souvenir- but not to worry we checked it for boll weevils and other undesirables that we didn't wish to bring on board.

Dutch and Margie have three dogs and they simply begged to be included on the blog, so here they come!
After taking the tour of their property, we headed off in the rain to an adjacent lot where they are in the process of building a shelter. This is Mississippi. You may not think of it as prime tornado territory. But those of us who have lived along the Gulf of Mexico Coast know full well that the worst of the hurricane is neither the straight line winds nor the high water. It is the tornadoes that get spun off as the storm passes you by. This project is well worth pursuing. It is somewhat reminiscent of the nuclear bomb shelters that people planned when I was growing up. Whether or not they were a good idea, I don't know- but living here- sooner....or later....this will be a blessing to have.

The tornado shelter- a work in progress:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I couldn't resist including a look at the old dry lake (above) at the Orlando Thousand Trail Park as we prepared to head out early in the morning, headed off toward the panhandle en route to see the Pacific Ocean on the "left" coast of the country. There will be many stops along the way for exploration and adventure.

Stop #1- Ho-Hum RV Park in Carrabelle, Florida, home of the Florida Oyster beds (from here to Apalachicola).

Ho-Hum may be an OK name for a small rv park on the deserted (forgotten) coast of the Florida panhandle, but it has nothing to do with a two day visit with Bouncing Bodacious Bob and Precious Polly, who are doing a seasonal stint as hosts at the campground. The two of them, along with Jim and Chris (Geeks On Tour) were the very first official friends we made after starting the full time RV lifestyle. Good people (and fun people) all, we have maintained and grown the relationships over the last couple years, meeting each other here and there across the country as we all go about our personal discovery tours.

Ho-Hum? I don't think so. The beach we were parked right up against, literally, was pretty much undeveloped and still had a lot of the natural beauty of the gulf coast. From here west along the panhandle coast, the sand becomes more and more "white sugar" and looks a whole lot like a light covering of snow. Fortunately, it's not. We headed out for dinner at a local seafood eatery the first night there. It was a late night! Not that we partied late into the night. Not even close. But something about one of those seemingly delicious oysters was not up to par and let's leave it at saying I wasn't feeling too good afterwords. Then there were the two wasps (one little one and one gigantic one) that "snuck" into the coach. Marilyn dispatched one of them but the second and largest of the two stung her on the little finger, creating quite the extreme, but luckily short-lived, painful experience. But all of this pales in comparison to Bob's rapid fire, one after another, comic offerings. I'm thinking he should try out for Last Comic Standing.

Two nights in Ho Hum park? $56.00
One plate of fried oysters $14.00
One bee sting no charge
Being with friends who make us smile and laugh.....Priceless!

Just a Ho-Hum Slide Show:

Friday, November 21, 2008

ICE At Gaylord Palms

For the second year in a row we stopped in Orlando on our way out of Florida for a visit to the fabulous ICE sculpture show at the Gaylord Palms Resort. The gigantic arena at the facility is the scene for a display of ice sculptures created by some 40 Chinese ice carvers who are brought in each year to create a new show. So, yes, the entire show IS made BY China but not IN China. There are some similarities from year to year, the manger scene in ice, some angels, some animals, a candy cane house, a Santa or two, an ice slide- but there are certainly plenty of changes that make the show worth seeing year after year. And it really is quite awesome! The show promoters provide very warm insulated jackets for attendees- it's kept at 9 degrees inside, so it can get pretty cold pretty fast. By the time we leave, our "camera" hands are pretty close to being ice as well.

But this is Florida. It can't be entirely cold. So the tropical theme is present inside the ice show as well as out and about the Gaylord Resort. Hot chocolate for everyone in the atrium under the big Christmas Tree after the show. And in the outdoor swimming complex, the giant octopus slide/fountain that was under construction last year was in full regalia. A few of those images will show up in the slide show that follows:

If you'd like to go back in the blog to last year's ICE show, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Annual Checkup Too Complete

Well, it wasn't fun. But it is DONE! Blood work. Check. Physical. Check. Eye doctor. Check, but with a couple new issues to watch in the future. Dentist. Check. Chipped tooth fixed. No cavities! Veterinarian. Check. Abby was sick for three days (oh yuk) but better now. Stuff we don't need taken to storage. Stuff we probably do - taken from storage to the coach. Coach washed and waxed. (waxa on, waxa off, karate kid style) Van washed and waxed. Apologies to the friends we fully intended to visit with but just couldn't because of time constraints. Did have some quality time with the Waddells from next door, George, Theresa and Bea from "The Hood", and Captain Larry and Carol. We have resolved to make next years stay here an extended one so we can touch bases with all our old crowd and not have to short anyone. Besides, it's a real nice part of Florida and the more time we get elsewhere, the more we understand just what a good choice we made when we settled here for a bit some six years or so ago. No Florida Keys this year; will surely miss that. ICE show in Orlando on the way out and then.......WEST! We Go.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Eagles Roost, Georgia

A short day from Atlanta to Lake Park, GA, on the border with Florida, so tomorrow we will stop just short of "home" and pull into Punta Gorda the following day. The campground here, Eagles Roost, is on a big lake and loaded with big old trees, live oaks, pecans and some other nut types we couldn't identify. Abby and I set up camp and then scouted the nut trees out for anything good- but found the nuts bitter. Either there is a secret to ripening these nuts properly that I don't know about (quite possible) or these trees are too old to produce tasty fruits. Don't know! Nice to be back amongst the Spanish moss and sago palms and a few other species that start showing up "this far north."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Headed South

Headed south again for the annual pilgrimage to doctors, dentists, etc. - all based in Florida. The day's run through the Carolinas was beautiful and for the first time ever we saw the best Fall foliage there and not in New England. Simply beautiful! This evening finds us just south of "Hotlanta" in Georgia. Having driven much of the country, Atlanta is my new least favorite place to drive. In truth it's been at the top of that list since the first time I drove through that city towing going back a couple years. Roads too wide, lanes too narrow, traffic too fast, and road manners basically missing. But I hasten to add that that is a commentary only on driving through the place. The place itself is very nice and there is much to explore- like one of the best aquariums in the country, previously featured in this blog.

The weather deteriorated shortly after our arrival and it's raining tonight as I write this. I suppose that was overdue since it has been clear and sunny and temperate during the days for the last couple weeks. And now we will begin to research what if any impact the hurricane now headed for Cuba will mean for Florida about the time we arrive on the southwest gulf coast. Another hurricane for Florida? It never ends and I suppose I should not be surprised, but somehow a bit of shock and awe always settles in. But that is for later.

The new tires are driving like a charm (knock on wood). We got a financial jolt from having to buy two new ones, but comfort and peace of mind is worth paying for. And apparently the wear problem was a "tire issue" and not a chassis problem- always good to know. Having an issue with the coach would have been a far greater problem both financially and time wise. For now- no problem. Let's roll!

I'll leave you for tonight with one last Fall color shot from North Carolina- the Honda 4 wheeler at Vein Mountain - up the hill by the cemetery:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Vein Mountain Gold

A couple weeks at the Vein Mountain LDMA camp at Nebo, North Carolina (near Marion) did us a world of good mentally and physically. Lots of hard work, good companionship, plenty of gold (no matter how fine), and good eats. Them there biscuits and gravy are all right! We tried our first boiled peanuts, Cajun style, from a small market just down the road from camp- not bad at all. Got very cold at night but day time temps were "shirt sleeve" and nice conditions for working hard and feeling good. Lots of folks we knew from prospecting around the country showed up for the occasion.

In addition to the usual stuff at gold outings, this was Halloween, so we had a costume contest. In the pet division, I am proud to announce that Abby, wearing her "Here, Kitty, Kitty" costume, took first place. I think it was a personality thing, sort of like a high school election for class president, because there were some admittedly more intricate costumes than Abby had. She won any way. I myself am planning to return next year and win the gold digger division with a special costume already in the works!

We made a day trip to nearby Thermal City. No- it's not a town that uses exclusively geothermal energy- it's just the name of a working gold mine operation. They have big equipment operating there, and you can rent time on the equipment to both prospect and learn about the operation of the equipment at the same time. We took a half day "lease" on the large trommel. A front end loader loads the hopper with two scoops (about two yards) of material. We then had four hours to run the material through the trommel using a water hose, a small rake, and a shovel. At the other end of the operation, we had to keep the rocks hauled off by wheel barrow and the fine sand shoveled out of the drainage trench so that the water flow was never interrupted and the process could work properly without interruption. It took a great deal more energy than we had anticipated and our hands were unbelievably sore from picking rocks out of the hopper, washing them in the icy water and heaving them onto a nearby pile. But while it was challenging, it was also a great experience and we would surely give it another go another time. The owner of the mine and the staff treated us very well and we learned a lot- including the clean up process which is similar to that of any sluicing operation, but which had its own special techniques and equipment which we learned pretty easily. Our time at Thermal City and at Vein Mountain was all about getting as much concentrated material as time would permit. So while the actual weights of the findings won't be known for some time, there was some good gold in the pan at the end of each day. And sorting the gold from the other heavies and the concentrated material is fun in its own right and can be done in spare time away from the mine.

The new Honda Rincon 4 wheeler was a good workhorse around camp. And since cell phone reception and computer connectivity around the camp is rather rotten, running up the hill on the "bike" made it much easier to deal with phone calls, appointments, business matters that we couldn't do from camp otherwise. It also makes for a nice place to sit or even take a snooze break from work- as you'll see from the slide show that follows. We road the trails up the mountain to the old confederate cemetery which is on the LDMA property. It is a well respected plot of ground and members go up there to commune a bit with both nature and history and no one disturbs the serenity of the place at all.