Addendum to Feb 4

 

There is not much of note in Greenville, Fl., but these pix of a very nice and well-kept bronze statue show who the folks of this sleepy little town hold in highest esteem. Yes, it’s the place where a young Ray Charles was born and spent the first years of his life. He left it blind and totally alone at the innocent age of 15. Where there’s spirit and will, there’s a way. Thanks for the memories, Ray.

No pictures of this next anecdote. While leaving Greenville, I was overtaken by a funeral procession. I steered off the road and, removing my helmet, stood by my bike and waited for it to pass. Whoever was being laid to rest had many friends, family and admirers, as it was a long cortege. Only one vehicle in the oncoming lane of traffic on the two lane road pulled over to wait for the procession to pass by, as most of us would at home. When the cars had passed by, I noted that the one vehicle, a pickup truck, had the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem of the USMC in the front liscense plate holder. I snapped him a salute as he went by me. Respect.

Random observations from rural Florida. All the mailboxes in the country are facing AWAY from the road. Since the roadsides apparently never get muddy (or snow filled 🙂 }, the mail men can drive completely off the roadway and put the mail in the boxes!

I’ve seen 50 American flags flying in yards to every 1 “Stars and Bars” Confederate flag. Very happy to see this, by the way.

HORRIBLE signage by all levels of government for road markings! As in, there just ISN’T ANY. We are apparently so spoiled at home when even the county gravel roads are all well and frequently marked. You only have to drive a mile or so to pinpoint where you are.  There may be a clamped on sign at a stop sign cross roads, with the words written parallel to your direction of travel, if you’re lucky.

Catholic churches are few and far between. Related note, there is apparently an unlimited number and variety of Protestant churches. I’m intrigued by the ones that identify themselves as “Primitive”.

From a very nice public library in Mariana, Fl, and again operating on Central Time, Thanks for the prayers and coming along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out on the road alone.

Feb 4: RD 4, AFHD 25

With the major change from riding as a threesome to riding as a single, the weather also decided to do its own major change. Our typically cool mornings have been very short-lived with clear blue skies warming us up along with the countryside. Today, however, the totally overcast skies had that “gonna be here all day” look to them. Hugs all around for Carol, Jackie and Richard as they motored out of the RV park and headed back to Jacksonville for the return of the rented rig. It has been wonderful sharing the start of this ride with them.

With our friends departure, I prepared to get ready for the day. Cathy was free to explore along the great Suwanee River. And it is a major waterway in these parts. She loves looking for the LBB’s (little brown birds” and trying to identify them, especially since there are several species known to be here that she doesn’t have on her life list. She was also surprised to find how fearsome and often the floods are that are associated with this river that we all picture from Stephen Foster’s timeless song. Suffice to say that the crests from some recent floods were 20 FEET! over the normal level of the river. There are no plans to dam it for flood control since that same flooding is what refills the mangrove swamps along its banks.

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At 42 degrees, it was evident I needed to adapt my riding togs. I pulled on three layers, hoping that I would be shedding them before long. As I headed out of the RV park and on to the highway, just enough of a sprinkle of rain had me turning around to go fetch my trusty Camino poncho. Now short of places to carry everything, I added the 2nd pannier. I almost looked like a cross-country biker now 🙂

The silver lining in all this was that the winds that have been consistently out of the north west continued. Since leaving St Augustine, my route has been a little more north than west. Today’s route got me going in a generally all-day western direction. So, the NW winds were behind me for a good share of today’s 75 mile ride.

I should digress for just a bit here to respond to the numerous “So, what’s the ride like so far?” questions. For my Ragbrai compatriots, think of the easiest day you’ve EVER had on Ragbrai. Got it? Now think of a ride TWICE that easy!! That’s what the first 3 days have been. Basically flat terrain, temps in the 70s!, excellent roads or bikepaths, adequate stops for refreshment (admittedly, no pie), and around 60 mile days. Perfect, huh?

There you have it. So today is no reason for complaining. After all, tho it never warmed up past the mid 50s, (I still had on the same 3 layers at the end of the day) it didn’t rain either. There were quite a few long, but basically gentle hills (more of them all the time as I get farther into the Panhandle), and at 75 miles, longer than I’ve done heretofore. Still all good!

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I’m now about 270 miles out from St Augustine and you can see how little elevation climb there has been. Some spots on today’s route were higher, but we’d be splitting hairs to add them in.

I’m sure there’s a descriptive word that goes beyond “rural”, and that’s where I traveled today. There was at least a 20 mile stretch where the only dwelling on any property was a single or double wide trailer. And the word “prosperous” didn’t apply to any of them. Surprisingly, again, at about 20 mile intervals, there would be a gorgeous estate with large yards and fenced in pastures. Except for scattered logging operations, I couldn’t see what “fuels” the economy here. A major exception to that is depicted in this photo. Make no mistake, Lee Family Peanut Farm is no small peanuts enterprise!

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I’m going to leave this photo full size to try to capture the enormity of the subject, which was a storage shed for peanut harvesters. Each of these bays holds one machine and the requisite support equipment that one machine. I counted over a hundred of them before I realized the building continued on around the corner with more of them!

Whoever is choreographing this ride sees to it that there is a bit of excitement (welcome or otherwise) for each day. Since yesterday didn’t provide this adrenaline boost, today made up for it with two episodes. The first occurred just as I turned off a “lightly used” country road on to a “very sparsely used” country road. As I was checking the map in the mapcase on the handle bars, a semi-automatic high caliber rifle opened up in the timber immediately adjacent to the road I had just entered. Oh, Yeah! That’ll raise the hair way up on the back of your neck! I prayed it wasn’t aimed at me and contined riding. And the firing continued. So I rode faster! Adrenaline is good like that.

Episode two was not much later when two dogs didn’t stop at my usually effective command of “Go Home Dog!!, issued in my best Parade Ground voice. So, super crank speed again. The little yappy terrier just wouldn’t give it up. I was glad it was little short legs instead of his much longer legged fellow bike chaser. I yelled back at him that I hoped he got ran over getting back home.

There are specific roads designated as part of the USA Bicycle Route system. These have ample bike lane space on both sides of the road and make for less worrisome travel. I spent a goodly amount of time on just such a road today.

Looking forward to a good night’s sleep tonight!  So, good night to all, and thanks for prayers and following along.

Changing Landscape, Changing Riders

Feb 3 Riding Day (RD) 3, Away From Home Day (AFHD) 24

We enjoyed a great breakfast with Jerry and Pat O’Neill. They had coffee, bagels, fresh fruit and orange juice (this IS Florida, don’t cha know!) all served up for us at 0730! I warned them that bikers were a lot like stray dogs and cats, if you feed them well and treat them nice, it’s hard to get rid of them 🙂

It took a little longer than normal to recon today’s route map, knowing that the first priority was making things easy for Jackie and Richard to be able to take off early on Saturday morning. As usual, Mr. Google is always at the ready to help find the places needed to re-provision the rented RV. We picked two possible end sites, and would leave it up to Cathy and Carol to make the call when they arrived there.

Today was another planned 55-60 mile day. I’ve mentioned before how attractive the many railtrail/bike paths have been. Todays bikepath had been constructed apparently at the same time as the county asphalt road. It was pretty much “ungraded” and had more undulations than we have been accustomed to on the railtrails. I thought it was so great that the counties (it extended from one county well into another, also surprising!) had thought to include this in their planning. Admittedly, it’s a lot more financially feasible here than at home since the trails can be used literally year around and the grading costs are so much less here due to the sandy nature of all the soil. Still, it was much appreciated.

We have come far enough into the “panhandle” of Florida to notice changes in geography and flora. There is actually a little “roll” to the topography now and more than once or twice, I was able to coast! For the first two days, the only “hills” were overpasses and bridges, the rest of the time was spent on straight, flat highways (or straight, flat bike paths). Except in the swampy areas, the primary vegetation is pine trees, either natural or planted as a crop for pulp wood. We saw not a single field of truck crops for the entire day.

Cathy and Carol had the opportunity to visit a couple of the great State Parks that were along their support route today. Ichetucknee Springs park is well know regionally for the river sports provided by the mammoth spring. It is close enough to the University of Florida at Gainesville to attract mobs of students for “river tubing” in the warmer months. The river disappears underground, at “River Sink”, of course, and reappears at “River Rise”.

Spending quite a lot of time riding alone (to get used to the many days of that ahead), I thought a lot about the people I had encountered in my travels here. The realization came as a pleasant surprise (small minded of me, I know), that here in Rural Florida, the people were as open and friendly as our rural folks back home. As a matter of course, I give a little wave to every vehicle I meet on these little-used country roads. Fully 75% waved back. At the convenience stores and local eateries, conversation came easily and with good humor. Twice while sitting in the shade at the side of the road waiting for Jackie and Richard to catch up, cars would stop and inquire if I needed any help. On both occasions of asking for directions of police officers, they were not just courteous, but outright nice. All of this makes me happy!

Another good eating choice today for lunch, and how could we NOT stop here:

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Great food and good help. Again.

Nice camp along the Suwannee River tonight! Will explore part of it tomorrow. So, even though Stephen Foster NEVER was here, we are!

Last note, our Miami friends had not heard the phrase “Shut the Front Door” as we mid-westerners use it in an exclamatory nature. This little sign was on the counter of the restaurant. I arrived after the others and Richard graciously invited me to sit while he went back, Again!, to shut the front door. The waitress dutifully went and opened it again to provide our fresh air. Explanations of our colloquial expression cleared the puzzlement of the Miamians 🙂

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Tomorrow brings on the first day of riding alone. Bring it on!

Birthdays and Bike Ways

Feb 2, Cathy’s birthday, as well as grand daughter Kitty’s and grand daughter Izzy’s. Wishes for the happiest of birthdays for them all. Number One grandkid, Kitty, is unbelievably 16 years old!

We left our “primitive campsite” a little after 9 a.m. I’m sure it was the most isolated camping spot in north Florida. Very chilly again, 46 degrees, but with a brilliant blue sky that promised a quick warm up to the day. We knew for sure we were going to have an uninterrupted night since we locked the entrance gate before calling it a day. The gate had 5 different padlocks on it, and we finally found the right one for the combination we had been given that allowed the RV’s access back to the highway. Jackie, Richard and I again headed west on the incredibly smooth and shaded railway/bike path.

Though we are only a day and a half ride away from St. Augustine, the rural countryside and towns are very quaint and picturesque.

The violent storms that frequent this part of the world are evident in the roofing history of the older buildings. Apparently no one storm rips all the roof tin off, and only what is damaged is replaced. The cow/calf picture is intended for our wonderful neighbors at home, all of the Bohr Family and the Whestine Family who continue to raise exceptionally good cows and calves. The pastures look totally bare to me, but the cows are in excellent condition. Most calving is done in the fall to beat the intense heat that will be the norm for the spring.

Our Adventure Cycling maps are almost universally accurate, except for the rare times when there have been changes made in the road (or bikepath) since the map was made up. That was the case this morning as the map had us following this excellent bikeway until it came to an end. Which we did. Only to find that the new “end” was 10 miles farther than the end had been when the map was made. (Many of these bike paths are like those at home, i.e. they are constructed on abandoned railroad rights of way. It is typical that these paths are completed one section at a time and whenever funds are available.) It was such an enjoyable ride, we hardly cared. We questioned a couple of friendly folks when the path did end and found out where we were and where we were supposed to be. We vectored ourselves back on course, and about 20 miles later, were back on the prescribed route.

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Richard on the beautiful 12 foot wide railtrail bike path. We followed its siren song all the way to the end!

There was a special blog post today on the occasion of passing thru Melrose, Florida. That was a real treat. Check out that post when you can. Another neat event while we were in Melrose: Whenever I see other bikers that look like they’re doing more than just riding around town, I’ll hail them and get their “story”. Today I flagged down a young couple with their bikes loaded down with panniers (“side bags”) and heavy loads. Come to find out, they’re from London (as in England) and are intending to complete the Southern Tier this spring as well! So cool! We chatted and exchanged contact information and I hope I see them again in the coming weeks and months.

Gainesville, Fl is a large town and the home of the University of Florida. It was obvious in our short stops that the rivalry between the Gators and the Seminoles is as fierce as it is between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones back home. Most hiways and thoroughfares have ample bike lanes built along the right shoulder of the road, but the high level and high speed of the traffic can be a little worrisome. We met up with the RV crew at the trail head and all headed to the home of a good friend of Richard and Jackie’s that they’ve known for 40 years. Jerry and Pat are a delightful couple and welcomed us graciously into their beautiful home. So, tonight, it’s real showers and a special Birthday dinner night out for Cathy with all of us attending.

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We have been very fortunate in our choices for eateries, and this night was no exception. A congenial and fun-directed wait staff added to the joy of the evening. The restaurant provided the “Birthday Cheesecake” and joined in our lusty singing of “Happy Birthday” to our beaming birthday girl, Cathy.

Tomorrow will be the last day we get to enjoy the company of Carol, Richard and Jackie. When tomorrow’s sun arises, we will bid our sad “adieus” as they’ll head their RV back to Jacksonville and turn it in. Such great fun we’ve had! For those many friends of ours who have expressed an interest in riding along for a day or two or three, I think we can get a very good recommendation from Jackie Pie and Richard!

Thanks for coming along! Send Cathy a Happy Birthday wish on FB!

All Great Journeys Begin Somewhere

 

Feb 1

Wow! What a great start to this ride! The totally-new-to-camping-Greenberg crew pulled their nice rented RV rig right in next to us at the Compass RV park last night (Jan 31). High fives all around for their trouble-less maiden trip from Jacksonville to our locale just outside St Augustine. A very social and pleasant breakfast this cool morning (Feb 1) in STella as we planned the day’s route. It was decided we would mount all the bikes on the rack on STella, all of us inside, and motor on down to the Adventure Cycling planned route start at the “Lion’s Bridge” at the water’s edge of Old St Augustine. Since I have envisioned from the onset that this ride is from “sea to sea”, I had previously ridden east over the two causeways separating St Augustine from the ocean, and dipped the rear tire into the gentle waves of the Atlantic in that ancient port of call. Then I rode back to the parking area, so, for Ken Brust, I rode it BOTH WAYS! But, I”m not going to tack those “extra” miles on the for the total tally.

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By an incredible stroke of luck, a lady at the Lightner Museum had told us about an unheralded and little publized landmark located near the Castillo de San Marcos. It was absolutely just the PERFECT icon for this adventure. It has been in that spot since 1928.

20170131_152716Buoyed up by this find, the Intrepid Trio posed next to the marble lions guarding the bridge for the perfect photo op.

Having spent the last 4 days in this wonderful town, we were well acquainted with our exit from it and the first miles of the Southern Tier. It could not have been a more perfectly scripted day for this beginning; sunny skies, predicted high of 72 degrees, light winds, and NEARLY TOTALLY FLAT route! Cousin Carol and Cathy did a final round of sightseeing in the Old City, and then drove STella back to the Compass Campground and checked out. Cathy was designated Convoy Leader, and Carol dutifully followed in her wake as they took the RVs ahead to the planned camp for the night. Cathy will have more to say about that later 🙂

Adventure Cycling does a masterful job of planning and mapping the route. As little time as possible is spent on high-traffic roads, but there are situations where they can not be avoided. This roadside shrine about an hour out of town was a grim reminder that when we are on the road, vigilance is total. In any vehicle/bicycle confrontation, the bicycle always loses.

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Our route soon took us to and through the famous vegetable production areas of Florida. In short order, we were in the midst of truly rural, production intensive farm country. The pass-through town of Palatka bills itself as the largest potato growing area of the eastern seaboard. We wondered if Maine would challenge that, but we saw many things that had us convinced. The size of the fields was amazing to me, knowing that the complete reliance on irrigation meant that they were leveled to the fraction of an inch over a mile to accommodate their trench irrigation systems.

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It was obvious from the number of American and service flags flying in front of homes and businesses, that this part of the state wears its patriotism on its sleeve. The new, modern bridge over the immense St Johns River had these bronze heroes of the first world war still standing guard. When they were first put in place, the old drawbridge that stood here for years was brand new. The soldiers had never been “relieved of duty”, so stood yet at both ends of the new, modern bridge.

Since the last time I rode any distance on my bike was last October, I didn’t want to “overdo” the first day. I had planned on a 60 mile day, and our planned campsite came nearly “spot on” at 59 miles. It’s time to return to the Convoy Leader Cathy to describe getting to the campsite for “night one”.

STella drives almost like a car, I’m glad to say. I feel quite comfortable tooling down the highway in her. Our designated camp site tonight was a “primitive” campground several miles inside a state forest. As I started down a forest road best described also as primitive, followed by Carol and Jackie in their rv, I really hoped she would also prove good on narrow one-lane rutted sand paths brushed by tree branches every few feet. She was fine, but the road only got worse, and the forest service map became more and more confusing and bore less and less resemblance to what we were seeing. We decided that the wide spot back by the highway would be a perfect place, if only we could find it again! After many twists and turns we finally found our way back, just as the sun was going down, and just in time to meet the bikers as they arrived. Like we’ve always said “It’s an Adventure!”

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Sorry for the poor quality and fuzziness. It was mounted high up in the ceiling of the former Ponce de Leon Hotel. I liked the “reckless enterprise, courage, readiness to encounter peril, and resolution to overcome obstacles”. Or, in fewer words, what Uncle Harold said “Gitt’r Done!” 

Melrose!

Feb 3

Special Blog Edition! Melrose.

A short but very special edition blog tonight. Our 50 mile route today took us thru Melrose, Fl. What a nice treat! It’s a very pretty not-really-little town with a lot of history and obvious pride. It was the “noon stop” for the girls in STella to meet up with us bike riders. We took a little stroll down the main street and snapped some pix as we headed for the lunch stop.

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We always try to find a “local owned” diner or restaurant in these smaller towns (big towns, too, if we can find them). It’s wonderfully easy to visit with local folks, especially here when we told them I had been raised in Melrose, Iowa!

The craziest thing was, as we were riding out of town, I received a phone call from one of the Kenworthy boys from Melrose, Iowa who had somehow seen the blog and was checking in. I mean, what are the odds! He had no idea where I was at the time. The cool thing was, he was also a former Marine who’s brother, another former Marine, had walked the Camino de Santiago the same summer I did mine. Crazy, huh?

No Shamrocks here, but lots of nice friendly folks. Just thought all you Melrose home folk would like to know.

Erin go Braugh!

The End of the Beginning

30, 31 Jan

Loving St. Augustine! As mentioned earlier, not a really big city with just 13,500 full time residents, but truly alive with history and and welcoming attitude. Yes, the town fully depends on we “tourists”, but in contrast to many places of the same persuasion, those here seem sincerely interested in making your stay a pleasant one.

Starting this post with last evening activity, another movie! This may not seem like special enough to be mentioned in a blog, but keep in mind that normally, we see 3 to 4 movies a YEAR! Now we’ve seen two in two days! Many of my audience here I know for sure are Baby Boomers. I’m asking you to either take your grown children, or at least encourage them to go on their own, to see Hidden Figures. I’m guessing they will come back and say “it really couldn’t have been like that, could it?” And we will have to tell them “yes, it was”. And then they should take their children, so that they will know. This is a fabulous movie. Go see it.

Even with the ample amount of time we have had to explore here, we realize we’re not going to be able to “see it all”. Yesterday’s valuable hours were eaten up by a 2 hour return trip to Cocoa Beach to check in with the RV repair shop that had ordered the refrigerator part for us last week. Again, good to their word, the part was in at the appointed hour and was quickly installed by Paul, the head mechanic. As an aside, I have found that wearing my USMC cover (hat, for soldiers and sailors), all the time has reaped unexpected rewards. Case in point, Paul’s chief mechanic had a “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” sticker on his roll-away tool chest. That required the obligatory “Semper Fi” from me. An almost universal rapport is created with his “Do or die” response to me. He takes an interest in the repair being done and lends a hand without any request from Paul or me. Priceless. In no time we’re given the “good to go” sign, and head back up north on the I95 “go fast or go home” super highway.

With the heart of the day already shot, we head back to “Old Town” and do some in-depth checking out of the things we had walked by in previous days. Of particular interest was the former Ponce de Leon luxury hotel, now Flagler College. Any mention of Florida’s development is incomplete without the mention of this larger-than-life character. A former partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, his incredible riches from that oil monopoly giant were lavishly invested in the Atlantic coast of Florida.

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Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College, in St. Augustine. How would you like this for your college dorm?

He had the clout to seek and demand the best of builders, architects, and craftsmen. He was self-taught in the newest engineering and technology available at the time and did not shy away from trying things never done before, and on a grand scale. His new construction would be the first ever in Florida totally constructed with poured concrete.
He could even lure Louis Comfort Tiffany away from the moguls of the northeast to design, craft and install the largest collection of Tiffany stained glass windows anywhere in the world. He brought art and artifacts from Europe on a scale that would make the most wealthy of the world feel “at home” in this setting.

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Part of the domed ceiling in the incredibly ornate lobby. College kids go to school here now!

Having such a gem of a destination would be meaningless if there were no convenient way for the rich and famous to get there. No problem for Henry Flagler. He bought up all the separate pieces of the existing railroad running along the east coast and consolidated it into the Florida Eastcoast railroad. For those wanting to explore the immense complexity of all this fascinating subject, read “Last Train to Paradise”, by Les Standiford.

His success exceeded even his own high expectations and the Ponce de Leon was soon “overbooked” all to often. Solution? Why, build another hotel, of course. One more directed to “fun and games” and other high entertainment. The Alcazar was as opulent as the Ponce de Leon, and to top it off, contained the largest indoor swimming pool in America. Steam rooms, hydro therapy spas, exercise equipment, elaborate massage and “electro therapy” areas were the newest of the new in that era of the gilded age.

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The Alcazar Hotel, now a museum and city offices. To demonstrate how quickly fortunes can change, as the Great Depression of the 1930s gripped the land, this most-elegant of places was abandoned, boarded up and sold to an opportunist with money for $125,000. It had cost $2.5 million to build.

A born-poor son of a Presbyterian minister, his life was plagued with personal misfortune. One of the most grievous tragedies was the simultaneous loss of a new born grand daughter and her mother, Henry’s deeply loved daughter, Jennie Louise. Even as the Ponce de Leon was being built, he advanced the design and construction of a magnificent Presbyterian church in her memory. He demanded of the contractor that it be built within a one year time frame of her death. The contractor hired 1000 workmen and the structure was opened and consecrated 361 days later. Before he was finished with building, he had commissioned and constructed five more churches for Saint Augustine. Remarkable, in any age.

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pix of Memorial Presbyterian

We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jackie and Richard Greenberg in our campsite. We will set out together TOMORROW to begin this long-sought quest of mine. Along with their cousin, Carol, the RV driver,they plan to accompany me riding for the first three days of journey. It’s going to be a great ride!

Busy Day in an Old City

Jan 29
We are now in the oldest city in the USA, Saint Augustine, founded 1565, way ahead of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. Arrived a day earlier than planned, relatively late in the day and with no reserved campground site  We “declined” a $70/one night opening for a “primitive” (i.e. no electric, water or dump) camp site. (We do have a site for the next three nights.) A Barnes and Noble Book Store lured us in with free Wifi and good coffee (not free coffee). A nice environment to finish up yesterday’s blog. With no other good options, we planned another “parking lot” sleep-over. The main requirement for this plan is flexibility. First spot, too close to night club music. Second spot, apparently trespassed on a favorite spot for the homeless class here. We figured they had priority. Third spot, just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, just right.

With four Mass time options, we chose the earliest, 7a.m., mainly due to parking considerations. We wanted to attend at the Cathedral/Basilica which is in the center of the Old District with only street parking available. STella isn’t big in RV terms, but she’s “big” in street parking terms. We arrived in time to snag a couple of spaces (parking was free on Sundays!). A beautiful church, as we had expected, and a friendly “where are you from” greeting from the presiding priest, which we hadn’t expected. Another visual surprise, several parishioners dressed in ornate, 1600’s military attire. More about them later. A little personal note here for our St. Joseph readers-ALL of the announcements were made AT THE END OF MASS 🙂

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A very cool (low 40s) walk-about in a mostly unoccupied Old District. We had originally planned on a Trolley Tour, but the open air trolleys looked colder than we had clothing for. Plan “B” was to drive to the lighthouse and explore. This was a very pleasant and informative stop. The original lighthouse here was the first ever on the American Atlantic Coast. Florida has been a very “fought over” locale since its inception. (So, it’s not just a major prize in the American electoral process). The Spanish laid claim to it, but the Seminole Indians had something to say about that. Both the French and the British wanted it, but the Spanish had a lot to say about that. Eventually, America wanted it, and has had the last word. Other than the Seminole, all these other occupants saw a great need to have the coastline and the river inlets well marked for their respective Navies and sailing ships. Thus, the original and perpetual light houses.

The one still standing, erected in 1874, is a classic beauty. In a remarkable display of local volunteerism, when the Federal and State governments didn’t see fit to rebuild the original Light Keepers house and grounds, the city and county inhabitants did just that. And have succeeded admirably.

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Finding yet again that “it sometimes pays to be old”, we bought our senior discount tickets and started the tour. It is 219 steps to the observation deck on top of the lighthouse, but the view when there is worth every step. From this vantage point, the lighthouse keeper witnessed more than one American cargo ship sunk by German U-boats just off the coast. The war came closer to America than nearly all citizens knew because the black out of this kind of news was complete.20170129_103911

The site has variously been a Coast Guard station, US Navy outpost (briefly considered adding guns here during the early days of WW2), and now interpretive history center. The all-volunteer guides do a great job. There is now a hub here under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution for underwater archaeology of the literally hundreds of ship wrecks in these deceptively treacherous waters. It is a treasure trove of artifacts, but not if you’re looking for gold and silver doubloons.

Next on today’s busy schedule, a visit to Castillo de San Marcos, fort built in the 1700s to protect the mouth of the inlet coming into the city. Again, being old saved us money as we flashed our “National Park Senior Pass” to bypass all the lines and walk throughout the fort.

This fort was built by the Spanish to guard the entry into the river system supplying Saint Augustine. The Spanish had settlements throughout Cuba and Central America and this was the northern most point of that chain. It is an imposing structure, and we marveled at the incredible amount work that would have been required to construct it. It has been assaulted by many nations in its history, but has never fallen and only changed hands via treaties and peaceful negotiation.

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Highlights of this visit were the demonstrations by re-enactors in period costumes. We saw our fellow Mass attendee leading this group as a Capitaine  of the Guard. A demonstration of musket firing and cannon firing topped it off. A particularly pleasing moment came during the cannon firing routine. The staff had thoroughly researched the archives of the Spanish garrison at the time and strictly followed the 39 steps involved in each firing procedure. Our son in law, Marc, a Navy Gunner for 31 years, would have smiled as broadly as we did when, at approximately step 6, the Corporal in charge of the gun invoked the Patron Saint of Gunners (you never knew, did you reader, that there WAS a patron saint of Navy Gunners) Saint Barbara, to simultaneously aid them in hitting their intended target, and protect them from harm.

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firing

We were so engrossed in our stay here that we nearly forgot our 2 p.m. reservation for our Barn Stormer Tour! All credit to Cathy’s better organized memory for that! Luckily, nothing is very far away here (Saint Augustine, with a population of less than 13,000 year round inhabitants is a much smaller city than we had thought). We made it to the airport with time to spare. Our “bird” for the flight was a gorgeous, Spec built, Waco, 1935 model, open cockpit, 2 seater, 3 passenger. The youngish looking pilot, Dave, had been our only contact via email and phone messaging. He met us in the parking lot with his golf cart and drove to the hangar. His easy confidence and professional demeanor was welcome. We eagerly went thru the pre-flight instructions and stepping on the lower wing, wiggled aboard and strapped in. It was a cozy fit, without being too cramped. His obviously practiced eye had concluded we didn’t exceed the 400 lb weight limit 🙂 Strapping on the headphones and requisite “Snoopy” headgear, we gave “thumbs up” at each query of Pilot Dave. The 300 horsepower radial engine was much quieter than I had expected, and operated at what we professional tractor drivers would consider practically idling speed. 1800 rpm’s got us effortlessly off the ground and into the cool blue air wafting in off the great Atlantic ocean. In what I am sure was Dave’s practiced pre-flight banter, he had determined what level of other-than-straight-and-level flight we were comfortable with. Thankful for that, he offered us some standing-on-the-wingtip-turns with great photo ops.

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We had planned this activity with hopes for it to be a pre-bike ride highlight, and it did not disappoint. We gave Dave one of our travel cards and hope he is reading this blog now to view our satisfaction!

Knowing there was nothing to top today’s events, but arriving at our reserved campground, we ate a typically light supper in STella. Google found a movie theater within minutes of our camp and we decided to take advantage of it since LaLa Land was showing there and we had both wanted to see it. An enjoyable, out of the normal genre (for us) flick.

Thus ends another day on the road. Glad to have you along 🙂

The Mundane and the Out of This World

Word Press doesn’t tell me WHO is reading these tomes, but it does tell me how many and from where. That’s cool. When Australia pops up on the stats, I’ve got a good idea of who’s making that “ping”, as well as Canada, Belgium, England, Ireland and Scotland. The Camino threads weave a wonderful tapestry. Love having you all along. 🙂

This episode, by the way, is a repeat of the missing day, so it’s going to be a bit out of sync. When we’re done, I’m sure we can get it back where it belongs.

Even the mundane adds to the story in this farmer’s travels. Case in point; parking and un-parking. Richard had negotiated with the condo management to let us park in the delivery bay of the building. To make that happen, we could well have  made use of a giant “shoe horn” to get us parked where we were out of the way of daily activities, yet still able to squirm our way out to the tall overhead door that made our stay there possible. Cathy is generally the calmest of travelers, until it comes to doing the things that must be done with the RV to get in and out of tight places. My operational code is that clearance is clearance, even if it’s only an inch. Let’s just say her comfort level doesn’t go there. When she slams both hands over her eyes as she’s “guiding” me, I know we’re in tight quarters. Our exit required maneuvering around FedEx and UPS trucks in the narrowest of alleys also. Done! with nary a scrape.

Fueling up should fall into the mundane as well. Not always. Especially in Miami. GPS will guide you to the nearest fueling station. It will NOT, however, describe the neighborhood in which that service is located. As we pulled into the pinpointed station, I was totally concentrating on making the too-close-for-comfort turn between the two cars parked on both sides of the entrance. Had that not been the case, I would have seen in advance the half dozen or so unfortunates who had taken up places in the shade on three sides of the station. One of them sprang up to “assist” me getting to the pump. Which didn’t work. Which required another to come “help”. Who then got into a vicious verbal exchange with another one who was sure it was “his turn” to help. Then one of the cars I had barely cleared moved ahead just enough to block my exit without some compensation for all my “helpers”. I provided “meal money” for my crew, and the blocking car moved back to take its place along the drive for the next unsuspecting motorist. It’s an adventure, right?

Destination for the night was a very nice Brevard County Park named Long Pointe Park. We introduced ourselves to our amiable Harley Rider neighbor and exchanged pleasantries. More about him later. We have spent this much time on the road without having a evening meal out with just the two of us. Di Angelos, just 10 miles up the A1A was recommended by the park management, so we headed there and were well rewarded. Not a destination for elegance and decor, but long on service and tasty, generous, entrees. It was the kind of place you could strike up a conversation with the tables around you and totally enjoy the exchange.

A later than usual return to the campground, and sleep came easily and quickly. For a while. Remember Mr. Harley man? For reasons we’ll never know, he fired his throaty beast up in the wee hours of the morning and let it do it’s high compression rumble/rumble for a good long while. Oh, and his music selections coming just a few decibels over the engine exhaust weren’t ones we would have picked either. Cathy was not amused. Or happy. I would say he left just in the nick of time.

Moving on, always the order of the day. Single goal for today, the Kennedy Space Center, just outside Cape Canaveral. This name still conjures up the excitement of a teenager glued to the announcements over the intercom at Albia High School when names like Shephard, Grissom, and Glenn took on instant hero mantels as they “broke the surly bonds of earth” and added the name Astronaut to our lexicon.

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The “Rocket Garden” at the entrance

We had first visited the site when our family made its first trip to Disney World, 1989, a trek of significance since it was the last winter we would have all four children home. At that time, there was little to see there other than the battery of rockets that had powered each of the space programs to date: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. NASA had (rightly) concluded they weren’t in the exposition business and hired that out to private companies who modeled their NEW Space Center after the just-up-the-road enterprises of Disney and company. They’ve done a great job.

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The booster rockets and the solid fuel tanks used to blast the shuttles into the heavens.

Watching the 3D and IMAX presentations was awe inspiring. I must add that I was surprised by the depth of emotion I felt as we watched again the tragedies that accompanied this epoch of space travel. The Challenger and the Columbia disasters have taken up a more permanent space in my heart and mind than I had thought. At the same time, I felt nearly as emotional with the pride of accomplishment that our country has achieved, all in the span of my lifetime. And the International Space Station is the ultimate example of what we can do when we work together as countries with a common goal. Such a loss that will be if these lessons are forgotten in today’s political environment.

The centerpiece of the entire exposition, however, is the Shuttle Enterprise, in its full and unbelievable entirety. Looking at this space-scarred, indomitable master work of technology, engineering, and manufacturing is, for me, like viewing the work of the great masters of art.

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All the missions of the Shuttle Fleet. 126 million miles. Saving the Hubble Space Telescope and allowing us to see what the ends of the universe look like. Experiments in space that will impact our lives for the rest of our lives.  

There are over two million individual numbered parts on this “machine”, and they all were required to work perfectly. The first time. And they did. Leashing the power required to blast it into orbit required the harnessing of the power of the most powerful bombs and funneling it into controlled thrust. I don’t have the words.

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From its blackened heat shields to the scuffed tires from its 235 mile per hour landing, this machine says “veteran” from any angle you see it. 

Add KSC to your Bucket List if you haven’t already. Take your kids. Let is all sink in. Let’s all hope there is more of this kind of “Right Stuff” in our country’s future.

Old Airplanes and Really Old Trees

Our earliest camp departure of the trip as we departed our KOA campground as the sun was coming up. We had finally managed to get a “same day” appointment with an RV repair center to check out our unwilling refrigerator. I95 will get you anywhere on the East Coast in a hurry if you’re willing to join the traffic fray. We arrived at Coastal RV Center just as the repair manager was opening his doors. Paul was as good as his word from yesterday in promising us to check out the problem “first thing in the morning”. He climbed in the driver’s seat himself (much to Cathy’s surprise!as she was still seated in the co-pilot seat) to wheel STella into the open repair bay. In about 10 minutes he had determined that my original analysis of faulty electrical control panel was in fact the problem. My “farmer senses” were already telling me the unlikeliness of having the part on hand for a 13 year old refrigerator. Bingo. It’s hard being right all the time. 🙂 Ordering today would get it here Monday. A palaver with Cathy of possible alternatives came up short of anything better. So, order the part, pay for it in advance, and reserve a repair bay slot for Monday p.m. To be continued.

A chance sighting of a “Warbirds Museum” on yesterday’s trip to the Kennedy Space Center fit right in with the unplanned nature of this “fill-in” day, so the GPS guidance guru was given its next mission. However, having skipped breakfast to get to our repair appointment, we were in a hungry state of mind when we noticed a very “neighborhood” style diner sitting very much alone at the edge of large strip mall parking lot. When we wheeled in and saw the local city police cars parked in the lot, we knew we were in the right place. Dixon’s Diner is the closest thing we’ve seen to Wellman’s own D.J’s Casual Cafe since we left home. The friendly Hellos from the waitresses as we entered and the Rooster motif decorations on the wall made us smile like school kids. An ample and excellent breakfast at really reasonable prices made it all the more perfect.

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The Warbirds Museum was a private collection of mostly still flyable planes of every vintage. We discovered early in the tour that the key to the whole thing is the incredible cadre of volunteer plane restorers that are the heart of the operation. Nearly every plane, including all those you will see here, have been donated to the museum. But when you see the pictures of what the planes looked like on their receipt at the museum, it’s hard to imagine the skill, work, sweat and ingenuity that turned them into the flyable perfection they are today. Several of the planes (including a Huey helicopter) are used to give flying tours, but none of those tours were available today.

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The Old and the New in Navy Aviation: The dive bomber that let us win the Battle of Midway and the show horse of the Navy’s Blue Angels for many years.
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The Viet Nam vets in our tour remembered the awesome power of this “fast flier”.

Getting ever closer to our furthest north destination in Florida, Saint Augustine, we left the Warbirds as they closed the gates behind us and headed for the planned camping spot in Tomaka State Park. The stark contrast to the built up nature of things along the ribbon on interstate to this place couldn’t be more dramatic. One of the largest live oak trees in America (and one of the oldest at 400 plus years) has a place of regal honor in the park. It is called the Fairchild Oak, and as yet, we don’t know for whom it is named. Always good to have something to look up for tomorrow!fairchild-oak-and-nature

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Sunrise on our home in the jungle.

The astute among you will have noted there is a day or two missing. The blog for those days has gone missing  😦   Will have to redo it later.

Always happy to have you all along. Keep those prayers coming. We haven’t been able to “bank” any of them as we keep using them up as you send them out!