Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just The Facts, Jack ...or... Once In A Blue Moon

I’ve done about as much waxing poetic and prose polishing as I can handle for one year. And oh what a year it’s been. So no giant wrap up this year- just the facts, Jack.

It's NOT just another New Year's Eve as I write this. For the first time in 20 years, we have the second full moon in the month falling on the last day of the year. When does this happen? Only Once In A Blue Moon! (that's just an expression; the moon can look like anything it wants-even the sun)

We visited 22 states in 2009, including the remaining several states we had not previously visited. So when, en route back to Alaska for a another five month gig, we hit North Dakota on May 4, only hours after having sunk the coach to its belly in the flood mud of South Dakota, we declared “Mission Accomplished” and settled into the glorious realization that within a three year period we had reached our goal of visiting the entire United States accessible by wheels- all 49 of the contiguous states. Clicking on the in line link Mission Accomplished will take you back to the post that published all the facts and figures that we rolled up in pursuit of that milestone. Worth another read for sure…. And after this much time it’s OK to look back at the coach stuck in that muck!

We drove the Gundyville Buster-mobile a total of 16,313.2 miles. We towed the Quigley 4x4 van with the kayaks on board and the ATV inside for the full year, and logged another 10,000 driven miles (plus or minus) on that vehicle as well. Then there was another 1500 miles logged on the Honda Rincon ATV. We fully utilized 2,330 gallons of fuel, which drove the vehicles, generated the electricity (more about that in a minute), heated the rig, ran our equipment, etc.

In addition to the 22 states, we visited 6 Canadian Provinces as well. And not to leave out our neighbors to the south, we crossed into Mexico for a day- just to say we had been there…long enough for some dental work (bad decision, that one) and lunch and margaritas (good decision, this one). We visited old and great friends and made lots of new ones. We covered the breadth of the continent from Florida to Alaska, all across Canada, and back to Florida again. Along the way, we listed these noteworthy highlights: Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Petrified Desert, Meteor Crater, Pacific Ocean, Niagara Falls, Red Rocks of Sedona Arizona, Hoover Dam, and most of the Great Lakes to name a few. All grand and glorious venues worthy of mention and our precious time, but the tiny town of Chicken, in the vast and marvelous rural state of Alaska owns our hearts and that is where we spent the greatest number of days out of the year…102 to be exact, helping out at Chicken Gold Camp.

It’s a big rig we drive and live in and the vast majority of those who have this life style seek full hook-up: electricity, water, and sewer connection. But counting our time in Alaska and at the other GPAA gold properties we prospected on this year, we spent a whopping 137 days not hooked up to anything- meaning that we generated our own electricity, hauled our own water and towed the waste waters in the blueboy to the dump station where-ever we could locate one, or else managed supplies and resources so carefully so as not to overuse them until there was an opportunity to move and replenish them. There is a tendency to think living in this fashion is lacking the essentials and basics of comfort. But, no, its more like getting back to basics and forcing us to think about what we use, how we use it, and when we use it. All valuable considerations, especially in light of the “green” considerations that have come to the forefront, the carbon footprints we all make to some extent, and the finite supplies of clean water and the like. I still don’t know about Global Warming but there is certainly global change- and change is nothing new as the history of the world and its weather goes.

I see value in being careful and sensible with our natural resources. I see value in seeing as much as I can so that whatever learning I discover is firsthand to the extent possible. I see value in being able to look back not only at what I have seen and where I have been, but at what I was thinking when I did those things. I see value in retelling our story which in turn helps me to put and keep things in perspective. And there is a great deal of value in perspective, wouldn’t you agree?

Whoa, pony, I almost ended up without answering the number one question of the year: What was the winning tag from my nickname contest? Plenty of suggestions, from “Gundo” to “Gigabyte Greg” came pouring in to the “in” box. I kinda liked “dirt bag” myself but I suppose it could have been misconstrued by anyone who didn’t know it referred (I think) to a bag of pay dirt concentrates from a placer gold prospecting operation. But the saddle that stuck had nothing to do with prospecting and everything to do with gardening. Part of my duties for Chicken Gold Camp involved expanding and running the greenhouse that provided fresh produce for the camp and flowers for the grounds and gardens. So rather than the manly mining nicks I had been seeking, I wound up carrying “Green-jeans” around instead. Mike and Lynn and Lou’s dad Gene started it but it had legs I guess and it wasn’t long before way too many campers and clients were calling me that as well. Nicknames it seems have nothing to do with what YOU think you should be called and everything to do with what someone else in proximity thinks you should be called. So….I own it!

Thank you for traveling with us again in 2009. See you next year!

And now, let's count it down together: Five, four, three, two, one….Happy New Year!

Blue Moon Slide Show 12/31/09:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Gold

It's the Florida Keys, don't ya see?. It's supposed to be sunny and warm. We're supposed to be swimming and fishing and playing in the salt water and hanging out on the beach to get a tan.... Thank heaven for the back up plan, because it has been cold(ish) and windy and rainy and cloudy and relatively nasty for this time of year. Bah Humbug. Fortunately, we understand that when Florida gives you cold, you order something from Alaska for Christmas. What??? This is the general principle involved in the concept of when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, adapted for Christmas in the Keys.

So keeping this in mind, and because I wanted to give it a try anyhow, I called Joe and Mel at Alaska Discount Gold and made arrangements for them to ship me one of their new three pound bags of Willow Creek "paydirt." I told them I would use it as a Christmas present for Marilyn and that I would give the new product a little write up on the blog to let our readers know how we made out. That bag was here almost before I hung up the phone. Talk about good service. Alaska Discount Gold had that parcel in the system within a few hours- not always easy to do in Alaska. And why is it that the US Postal Service can get mail to Florida from Alaska faster than they can get a post card from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh?

This was a big hit as a Christmas present. Marilyn, who wears a button that reads "Gold Digger And Proud of It" on occasion, was thrilled with what came out of the red wrapped box with the bow on it. She always tries to figure out what I have selected for any gift situation. To keep the process honest, she writes her "guess" on a piece of paper and folds it up to make it unreadable by any means. Then I write down in similar fashion what I think she will guess. Both "entries" are then sealed in a security envelope which is opened immediately prior to the opening of the gift. Was she right? Did I give too many clues? Did she eliminate the pretenders by her clever Q&A leading up to the moment of truth? This time, in a word: NO! Her ESP had let her down. This time she thought she was getting a mini, coach sized food processor. I may have set that scenario up as a bluff; who knows? Anyway, it was neither that, nor was it the "Snuggie" I thought she would guess, so I'm declaring victory in this case of a "draw."

But back to the bag of concentrates from Willow Creek. Would the contents of the bag be as exciting as the beautifully packaged "bag of dirt" that popped out of the Christmas packaging? "Away to the window she flew like a flash, tore open the package and looked for the stash".... in English prose: we set up our portable panning trough and hauled out the gear and Marilyn began the adventure of seeing what was in each small and measured portion as she panned to her heart's content. Concentrates can go slowly, so a three pound bag can take a while and make the fun last. She found gold in every "pan," at a pace so as not to lose anything and send it spilling into the safety pan. More often that not, there was a picker that showed up...and a few nifty little nuggets popped their heads into the light of day as she continued.

When the bag was exhausted and the safety pan checked, there was a very respectable amount of nice, clean, shiny, high quality gold stashed in the one oz. vile. Alaska Discount Gold had made good on their satisfaction guarantee. And why wouldn't they? After all they advertise that if for any reason a customer is not happy with their purchase of the concentrates, they may return the entire lot for a full refund. That's a guarantee that's pretty hard to beat, and impossible to argue with. Simple truth for us with our Christmas purchase- Alaska Discount Gold lived up to everything they claimed. Those of you who know gold prospecting will be able to look at the pictures and know how good the results were. For those of you not so familiar with the amount of gold it takes to fill a vile, let's just say this was a pretty darn good deal! Should any of you decide to give their product a try, please tell them you saw them mentioned on Gundyville.

Now if we could just get back to feeling like we're in Florida instead of Alaska- that would be good. Not that we don't love Alaska, just that when you're in Florida it should not feel like you are climbing Denali.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Annual Photo Op.

For the fourth year in a row, we are shooting our now annual Santa hat family self portrait. It will come as no surprise that three of the four years were shot in Florida where it's warm (or supposed to be) and the other in the desert where it is also warm (supposedly). But whether or not the weather is cooperating when we start to snap the shutter for the festive shoot, we always laugh ourselves silly doing it- so win, lose or draw, it makes for a fun day. I suppose somewhere up ahead we must shoot the shot in the snow, but for now that will just have to remain on hold while we salvage what heat we can find this time of year. We bought some additional props at the party store in Ft Myers on the way down to the Keys this year. Over sized sunglasses are just a happy item; no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They made us laugh and you should have seen the crowd that gathered to watch us shoot this year. Goofy makes a body feel good! Somewhere out on the wide world web are a lot of pictures of us taking pictures of ourselves. If it makes someone somewhere smile for even a brief time, then so be it. A holiday smile is always a good thing.

So now here is the official 2009 family portrait and a slide show of what it took to get to this point. Then a look back at the previous shots. From where-ever we find ourselves this time of year to where-ever you may be: Merry Christmas to all!

Above, LDMA Camp at Stanton, Arizona 2008

Sugarloaf Key KOA 2007, above...

and below, Malabar, Florida 2006

What The Wind Blew In...or...Sights Around The Middle Keys

Well I thought by now I would have plenty of new material to write and talk about. We should have been kayaking. We should have been free diving for lobster. Snorkeling the reef heads. Fishing. But NOT! Simple truth is it has been too windy. Oh, it's pretty chilly too at the moment but that wouldn't really matter much if the wind would lay down. The signage out front of all the dive shops usually reads: Let's Go Diving Today. But this week many have crossed out the "diving" and penciled in "shopping." The wind has been non stop overbearing. Those few boats that tried to out fishing have returned to shore in short order with all on board soaked and relatively unhappy. It's too windy; it's too rough; and fishing is almost impossible under these conditions.

So what's a person to do. There are some cool little tropical shops. But a shopping mecca this ain't. Key West is another story regarding shopping (it's incredible there) but we'll be closer in a couple weeks so why drive all the way down there at this time. We went out to lunch a couple times. But sitting by the water right now, even if you are hiding behind the rolled down plastic side curtains- still pretty chilly. So we've been hopping around from place to place in the Quigley and jumping out here and there for a short walk, taking a couple pictures just to stay in practice, and seeing if we can find places we may not have visited on previous trips to the Keys. With the exception of hurricanes, being in the Keys is fun in almost any weather; it's just that we are chomping at the bit to get going with our agenda, and right now that just has to stay on hold.

We haven't even been able to take our planned annual Christmas family photo yet, because we use a tripod to snap the shot and right now it would blow right over if we tried. Not good. So we have another day (two in a pinch) to get the job done. So if we don't get pre-Christmas posted, do check back. I think it will be one of our best! Or so we hope.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Turn Of The Keys

All set up and ready for the Florida Keys "vacation" to begin? Well, maybe not as quickly as we thought. Because about the time we got all set up, took a dip in the salty tasting pool and our first snorkel inside the reef, the weather began to take a turn for the worse. How worse? Oh you know, the usual- high winds, gusts to 70 at places, heavy downpours, tornado watches, that sort of thing.

So the nice neat camp set up below started to unravel in the wind shortly after having been put up and we quickly tore it down considerably faster than we had put it up- and secured everything as best we could.

We had purchased several fresh green plantains and we fried them outside in the wok over the butane camping stove we carry in the van. When just barely crisp, we dipped them in hot sauce and ate them the way we often had them in Roatan, when we lived on the island off the coast of Honduras. It put us in the mood of the islands... and I suppose it was a bit prophetic, as we often had some knock down drag out storms roll in off the sea there as well.

Past the silhouette of the Christmas tree in the front of the coach, the sky began to show signs of change for the worse...

It wasn't long before the Keys had a real fresh water lake, and in case you didn't know- there are no fresh water bodies in the Keys---until now that is!

Torrential rains continued to fall through the night. By just before daylight, the rain and the wind were at their worst.
At first daybreak, the light of hope that the worst had passed began to fill the sky.

These trap floats were strung from the awning and outcroppings of a fifth wheel rig before the storm. The rig and the floats were all in a completely different location the morning after- moved voluntarily to take the rig off the seawall where the water was washing over as the wind and waves picked up.

All the next day, a stiff breeze blew, clearing out what was left of the storm clouds.

The Christmas decorations began to appear again as the winds abated. The Keys were headed back to the fun in the sun paradise they are considered to be....

A few miles up Rt 1 at the working artist's community, the giant lobster once again marked an open for business artist colony, and it almost seemed like the two day storm had never happened. The puddles will be absorbed into the porous sandy soil in short order. We'll be back in water-sport mode in another day or so as the waters of the sea clear up. Here, when it's over, it's over. Up north, the shoveling and melting will take considerably more time...and not be near as much fun!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Keys To Florida

We have arrived at our first stop in the Florida Keys, a place called Fiesta Key which is actually a small island with a map location more recognizable as Long Key, at Mile Marker 70. While it will start to fill up fast now as Christmas approaches, it's a bit more like "Siesta" Key at the moment- rather sleepy with so few rigs in camp.

Here are some points of interest about the Keys for those of you who may not have been here, or who were here but may have been so overwhelmed by the vibrant turquoise and deep blue and green waters that you paid no attention to factoids about the place you were visiting. The Florida Keys. There are 42 bridges connecting 100 islands (or "Keys) and stretched out over 126 miles from Key Largo to Key West- the southern most point of the continental United States. On the overseas highway (Rt 1) 18.8 miles of the total span are bridges, which is 15 % of your total travel time (depending on traffic patterns of course). The longest single bridge is 7 miles long near Marathon Key and this span connects the "middle" keys to the "lower" keys. In addition to stunning water vistas and rich tropical colors, fishing in the Keys is world class, as is shelling, beach combing, watersports, shopping, tourist attractions, and people watching. Snorkeling, diving, and boating are "key"attractions as well. Some would add Margarita and beer drinking to their activity list. Hey! Hey it's five o'clock somewhere.... Since we plan to be in the Keys for the next two months, plus or minus, we should have fun developing some detailed reports for you soon.

For now, we are nose out to the Gulf of Mexico. All set up. Christmas tree adorned and lighted sitting on the round table that clamps on to the steering wheel when we are staying put for a while. Writing this in my swim suit! Don't worry... no pictures of that- I respect you way too much for that! In the eighties (the temperature, not me). Clear blue skies after a "relief" shower moved through last night. Ready to visit and celebrate Christmas in the Keys. Joy to the world!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

International Market of Naples

Maybe not really so international as the name implies, but oh what a wonderful time we had exploring the tight and narrow isles of Naples International Market. We visited the store without knowing what to expect; was it really international and there would be all kinds of unique and even bizarre items for sale? Well, not really. But it really was a terrific international market- as in Mexican and Central American fare! It was a flashback moment in time for us. It reminded us of our five years of living in Honduras. Way more like "Eldons" and "Warrens" on the island of Roatan than we thought could possibly exist here in America, let alone the upscale neighborhoods of Naples, Florida. Vegetables and fruits that we used to grow when we lived on the island- but haven't even seen since. Especially Apple Bananas. Tiny sweet and succulent bananas with a hint of apple. Fruits more delicate than any fine bottle of wine- at least for my taste. Plantains, the kind we grew and ate every day while we were there on the island were displayed all over the store in great variety. Root crops the names of which are hard to remember because they change from island to island. Mangoes and avocados the size of your head. Peppers in every size and color and degree of heat and sweet! This evening our "fruit bowls" are newly decorated with items we can hardly wait to taste. New markets are just fun. Nostalgia comes where you find it; embrace it when you do.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Glade Running

Having escaped unscathed (say that thee times fast) the recent tornado watch in Naples, we headed into the "Glades" to do some research on three camp grounds that could possibly be destinations for future visits to the area. We have previously not had a centrally located launch for in-depth Everglades exploration and activity. All three of our prospects were very nice. One had not yet opened (scheduled to open VERY soon); one has been open a short time only, and one has been around for quite a while. In the coming slide show they will appear in the order I just described: Naples Motorcoach Resort, Everglades Isle, and Chokoloskee Outdoor Resorts. Everglades Isle, on the water in Everglades City, spoke the loudest to our tastes in Florida Camping and the roughly half price special they have on at the time of this writing, encouraged us to book a month plus with them right off- so we will be staying there as we leave the Keys, mid February to mid March. Anyone seeking space in Florida at a reasonable price should call them right off. Usually by now it is too late to get open space in Florida at any place and any price point, let along drop dead gorgeous water front slips (including dock) for a very reasonable rate. The facility is beautiful and wonderfully appointed. At this time, their reservations are wide open- That won't last! Ask for Susan if you call.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Florida Weather Watching

Eight hurricanes in two years was at least part of the reason that we "sought higher ground" than our Cape Coral home several years ago when we embarked on our supposed 5 year plan of full time travel in an RV. Not that we didn't love the weather here most of the time, and especially in the winter when it was pretty cold elsewhere. And not that we didn't and don't love being by the water- the sea, the river, the lake, whatever- we do. But weather watching when severe storms are forecast can be stressful. Florida has more than its share. And who needs that?

But it seems that weather, severe and otherwise, finds you where-ever you go- at least it does us! We've been in floods in the Dakotas (you ever see an ocean there???) and in the mountains in Canada and along the small streams in North Carolina, and, come to think of it, just about everywhere else we have gone. So should we be surprised to find ourselves in yet another tornado watch in southern Florida after a day and a half of heavy tropical downpours. Oh probably not, but we didn't have anything else terribly important to do today, so why not stress over Florida weather. Myself? I don't have to turn on the weather channel- ever. Marilyn will do that at each and every time there is the remotest possibility of severe weather in our area. Therein lies the principle difference in our thinking. She wants to know that she and the coach are about to be tossed and turned and abused by whatever it is that is headed our way. I'm pretty sure she believes that advance knowledge of the inevitable will somehow lessen the severity. I have already faced my own personal inability to change the weather- so I prefer, especially in the dark of night- to sleep through whatever it is I am about to sleep through. I do not wish to hear the harsh and grating jazz of the weather channel OR the static cyber noise of the NOAA weather radio lulling me into restless sleep, so if she must watch or listen- I'm off to bed. Even motor coaches have pocket doors!

She will prepare in vain. I will report after the fact. What a team! So at this point with a couple hours left in the watch, here is what is going on. Our non water front campground is, at this very moment, waterfront real estate (per photo). I sincerely hope, this being Naples and all, that the management will not come around in a golf cart and hit us with a sur-charge for waterfront access lots. Also, the guy across the street lost his awning and wind break in last night's heavy rains and high winds. He never bothered to fold it up, so either Marilyn forgot to tell him what the Weather Channel watch and warning was saying, or he has replacement insurance and needed a new one anyhow. That's my guess, owing at least in part to the duct tape I see at a couple places on the frame........

I am tempted to tell you that Marilyn is "keeping her eyes on the weather," but she had a sty that had to be lanced yesterday at the eye doctor (talk about cute), so technically, she is just keeping an EYE (that is to say one only) on it for now. One wonders if she is only getting half the picture, so to speak.

So that's the news for now. And either I report more, later, at another time...or the weather watch finally takes me out, and you can make up your own mildly humourous recountings of violent weather in the future! Storm Stories marches on!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bath Time For Buster

Buster? The affectionate name for our Dutch Star. Of late, focus has been on doctors, dentists, repairs, insurances, and other non fun and non-feel-good kinda stuff. So here in Naples where the park is not only nice, but also paved, it is the time to wash and wax without facing the reality that one day of rain would make it look like it had never been done at all. The time was right for Buster to get a bath. In the past, we have always done the entire process ourselves- four days of washing and waxing and two weeks or more of recovery from wax on/ wax off. But a good price quote and much less time needed to complete the process encouraged us to do our part, but also hire a professional to do the heavy lifting. And not that it should or did have anything to do with it- but this IS Naples and every coach in the park is an upscale rig. Prevosts and Country Coaches to the left and right- all of them spit polished! The time and place had both arrived. One day. I like it!