A “River of Grass”,Wild life in Abundance, Alligators Aplenty, and Angels, Old and New Testament Models, Magnificent Miami.


Since our opportunities are so few and far between to visit with Ken and Paula, our “good byes” were sad as we left their home on Friday morning. We let STella have a loose rein as we headed ever more south toward Fort Myers, still on the westward side of the great Florida peninsula. We arrived on that incredible strand of startling white sand beach around 1100 and walked directly into the welcoming embrace of cousins Pat and Judy McDowell. They spend their winters in their time share condo located as close to the Gulf of Mexico as the tides will allow. An entertaining and relaxing day spent strolling on those warm white sands and taking in all the ambiance that this mecca of leisure will allow. So great to talk over old times and family lore with these two vivacious people. Thank you again McDowell’s!


Leaving Pat and Judy to continue entertaining everyone on the beach (it seemed they knew everyone and everyone knew them), we left the hyper speeds of the interstate system to journey on to the historic (and much slower speed) Tamiami Trail. Ta, for Tampa, and miami for, well, for Miami. It was constructed with great difficulty back in the 1920s and has been upgraded over the decades to an azimuth straight smooth two lane road. Destination: The Everglades! We were well within this “River of Grass” topography when we wheeled in to Captain Mitch’s Air Boat marina. The skipper was well equipped with 8 muscle-car-engine-powered-airboats. Our timing again was fortuitous as we no sooner purchased our tickets than we joined our intrepid crew of 12 to skim our way deep into the shallow waters of this 55 million acre national treasure. Cathy happily logged more than a dozen species of wading birds, including the delicately pink Roseate Spoonbill, all doing what they do in their incredible natural habitat.


Debarking after a two hour ride, we drove further into the vastness of this incomparable wildness and enjoyed a hike at on of the well-staffed Everglades visitor centers. We came “up close and personal” with the largest alligator we had seen yet.

At less than two feet away the other side of a cyclone fence, his 10 foot length was so perfectly still and sculpted Cathy seriously wondered if it was a bronze statue instead of “still life”. A slight twitch of that powerful tail verified his lethal aliveness.


No camping at the Visitors Center, so on down the still laser straight road to a “primitive” (i.e. no electricity or water hookups) camp along one of the many “lakes” within the grasslands. Quiet, serene, and pleasant in all respects. Surprising to us that the mosquitoes are hardly even a nuisance (informed there are 43 species of mosquitoes in the Glades, only a handful of which are blood suckers.) Sounds too good to be true, yes? Read on. An attempt to start the on-board generator to provide us some electricity for using the micro wave resulted in an electrical glitch that knocked out ALL electrical power, which, alarmingly, included the starter on STella’s engine. To summarize: Deep in the Everglades, powerless, cabin and engine, too remote for cell phone coverage,  Saturday night, storms predicted for overnight, mystery major electrical problem. Yep, that’s about it. A reminder, “It’s an adventure, not a pleasure cruise”. My ever-calm and faithful Cathy comforts with “We’ll figure it out tomorrow”. Sunday morning, the crack of dawn found me with the hood up and all the tool boxes out and ready. I quickly checked off the likely culprits and found none guilty. As I was staring intently into the engine compartment, an Angel named Jamie walked up and introduced himself and asked if he could help. He just happened to be an aircraft mechanic taking a weekend off for camping with his pretty wife. I know, what are the odds, right? After another couple of hours of checking, guessing, tightening and testing, we were about at the end of our options with no success. Starting over at the master fuse panel, we started rechecking and made a “Hail Mary” play with the replacement fuses we had left. Prayers Answered!! 350 cubic inches of power popped to life and there were high fives, big hugs and huge smiles all around. During all this effort, next door campers Curt and Connie from Michigan kept us supplied with excellent coffee and much needed encouragement. More Angels!


Feeling more blessed and fortunate than we thought possible just 12 hours earlier, we motored on down Tamiami Trail with ever more vehicles and Glades visitors. Our destination on this leg was Shark Valley Visitor Center, a hugely popular stop for sight seers, hikers and bikers just an hour away from Miami. We had arranged to meet long-time friend and fellow bike rider, Jackie Greenberg at this stop. By the time we had unstrapped our bikes and traveled the half mile from the over flow parking lot, we arrived at nearly the exact time Jackie did on her Ragbrai tested bike. She is a volunteer with this Center and knew all the best things to see and do. She was our own personal guide and question-answerer as we took the two hour tram ride around one of the major loops accessible to all travelers, afoot, abike, or tram passengers. This site was truly alligator heaven, and all sizes and sexes of this prehistoric looking survivor were within short distance of us humans. At the center of the loop ride, we had access to a 60 foot incline accessible tower that showed us the enormity of this water powered world.


Notice all the baby gators!Momma nearby to protect her little ones. If she hisses, get away!

Next stop: Miami!!  Knowing that we had only fixed the symptoms and not the cause of the electrical glitch, Old Testament Angels (wonderfully Jewish), Richard and Jackie schmoozed us into their very busy local GM dealership to score us on-the-spot professional mechanical assistance. Parking Stella at the dealership so that Monday morning, a friendly pro using all the best and newest tech gadgets helped to find the faulty parts.

After parking STella in the secure storage at Richard/Jackie residence apartment overlooking Miami Bay, we were escorted by our very own guide and chauffeur, Richard, to one of Cathy’s highlighted “must visit” places; Fairchild Tropical Gardens. They were truly 85 acres of delight and surprise and awe. Tropical plants of all manner from all over the world, with added highlights of a spectacular butterfly pavilion. More than 3 hours evaporated as we walked in perfect weather conditions over the entire garden. The threatening weather forecast had kept most people away and at times it felt like we were the only visitors there. Wonderful!! A very pleasant lunch on the grounds topped it all off.

Orchids in the gardens

A life-long resident of the Miami metropolitan area, Richard gave us an up close and personal tour of all the wonderfully varied sections of Miami, from the modest long held homes of the middle class residents residing in world class surroundings, to the highest priced real estate in South Florida. He cruised thru all the neighborhoods with the practiced ease of a home town boy. As a final topping on a wonderful day, we walked out the pier at the end of “Government Cut Channel” and watched and waved as the festive and humongous tour ships headed out on a turquoise clear sea with their thousands of passengers for points east, north and south. A quick visit to the world renowned Joe’s Crab Shack for a take-out meal wrapped up a glorious day.






Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Gators. Iowa. And Ding Darling.

20170119_130042I couldn’t wait to use this attention grabber to start today’s blog. The big old boy (girl? don’t know how to tell, yet) certainly grabbed our attention as we meandered along the pathway at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island just off Florida’s west coast. We Iowa folks instantly recognize Ding Darling’s name; the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register for nearly 50 years. His biggest joy and contribution was doing wildlife and conservation work starting in the 1920s and continuing through out his life. This refuge is a great testament to that life work.


The rich and famous have been attracted to Florida’s climate and scenery for decades, going back to the 1880s. Two of the most recognizable names associated with this particular area are Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, both incredible pioneers in the technical advancement of the country and the world. Edison bought his first property here in the late 1890s from a cattle rancher and built his home and a working laboratory. He was joined not long after by his friend and fellow industrialist, Henry Ford. Ford had hired Edison to work on a generator for his Model T and the two become friends for life.



Thomas Edison home, left, and Henry Ford home, right. Edison’s laboratory and his poured concrete swimming pool (the first in Florida) are also on the site.All beautifully maintained and preserved, only feet from the ocean. Cathy is thrilled with the bird life of this area and is enjoying the camaraderie of being with her cousin, Paula Senger and her hubby, Ken. They have been incredible hosts!


This is ONE banyan tree (and only part of it is in the picture), billed as the largest of its species in North America. Edison was a great student of botany as well as inventor (1193 patents!) and imported trees for all of the world. He tested them all to see if they would possibly yield sap to produce rubber for automobile tires, so rubber would not have to be imported. However, none of them were successful for that purpose.

Tomorrow we part company with these wonderful hosts and head toward more “gator country”, the Magnificent Everglades.

The People we Count On

After I had returned home from my Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage, the most common question asked of me was “What was the most memorable part of your journey?” The answer was an easy one: The people that I met. I had left for the Camino wanting some reassurance for my belief that the vast majority of people were good and decent. The Camino thoroughly rewarded me with the truth of that belief.

Today’s Blog is a continuation of that line of thought. We discovered on the first day on the road that there was a serious leak in the fill hose connection going to the gasoline tank on STella, the RV. Due most likely to her long unused state in Iowa, the rubber hose connecting the fill inlet to the tank had deteriorated to the point that during fueling, a significant amount of gasoline would leak thru the hose and pool under the center of the RV, a highly dangerous situation. I had managed to apply a “farmer fix” to the only accessible leak, but fuel still leaked from the rest of the now porous hose.  My “field expedient solution” was to collect the spilled fuel in a container under the RV as it was being filled. That required me to actually be on ground level on my knees and put my head and shoulders under the RV to reach the leak area to place the catch container. Not a pretty visual picture there, huh? After fueling, the captured fuel had to be taken to an outside drain and flushed with water to safely dispose of it. For the next several days, Cathy was on the phone as we approached every major city looking for someone/some place to make the repair. We naively thought that since there are literally hundreds of thousands of RVs in Florida, this would be easily accomplished. Ha! Apparently MOST of those RVs need some kind of work or other on them as every place we called had a waiting list of from days to weeks in advance. Calling on her years of experience as a Librarian, Cathy broadened her web search and found “Rick the Roving Tech”. In the mean time, we discovered the on-board refrigeration/freezer had also ceased functioning. Add to the sad litany, the failure of the on-board generator to start, and we had a formidable list to lay on Rick.

Here’s where the “good people everywhere” connection kicks in. Rick was very responsive with both text and verbal communication, and did everything he could to accommodate our fluid and changing schedule. Anticipating that the repairs were going to take a goodly amount of time, he arranged for a meeting spot that would be timely and accessible for us; not as easy as it sounds. At 1300 today, all that pre-arranging bore fruit, and we met Rick, and his neighbor/side kick, 80 year old Fred, at the designated rendezvous. With his well equipped dually truck filled with all the right tools, the diagnosis and triage of the problems was promptly made. In a sight to make any farmer’s heart flutter, outside in the bright Florida sunshine, we put a work blanket down on the bare concrete under STella and went to work. So concentrated were we on the job at hand that not a single picture was taken! So sad. 😦   In three hours of steady and concentrated effort, each problem was fixed and tested for efficacy.

There was ample time for conversation while the work was being done, and both Rick and Fred were greatly interested in my bike riding plans. The repair bill was totally fair and acceptable, even to the point of Rick having the faith to accept a personal check from me for payment. Though we didn’t think to take any pictures, Rick requested to take a picture of our Bike Maps to show other friends he knew that might be interested in such a trek.

I’ve saved the best part for last. He asked for our picture and said that he planned on telling his friends and family about us so that they could pray for us!  Wow. Good People. Where ever you may go. We’ll pray in Thanksgiving for you, Rick and Fred.


Sarasota splendor by the sea.

We left home on a Tuesday, and today is a Tuesday. And what a day yesterday was. You’re all familiar with the old saw: Better to be lucky than smart. Monday was like that. After the Super Sunday with Sister Pat (I think that’s alliteration, but I’m not sure), we set the compass heading south again, with eventual destination of Sarasota. Ops O, Cathy, did a map recon of the area and found an interesting sounding interim destination: The Ringling Art Museum and Circus Museum. What a find that turned out to be! Great Iowa connection, too, as John Ringling was born in McGregor, Iowa, in the 1850’s. Five of the brothers were the management of the eventual Ringling Bros. Circus. They grew up working in their German immigrant father’s saddle and harness shop, and their lives were forever changed when they attended their first circus as young boys in Baraboo, Wisconsin. They were hooked! Within a year, the five brothers had put together their own singing, dancing and comedy act and started performing in their home town and then all the neighboring towns. Within three years, they had started to hire other performers, and within 5 years had a traveling circus of their own. John Ringling, tho not the eldest, had an extremely keen intellect for business and the personality to sell their “product”; family fun and excitement.
His was such genius in the field that he was buying other traveling circuses and dominating the market at a time when the circus was nearly the sole outside entertainment that most of the rural population experienced in the years following the Civil War. The right man at the right time. In the pre-personal income tax days, all the money you made you could keep, and he was making it in the millions.

20170116_1448471The Circus Museum featured an incredible scale model of an entire three-ring circus, literally thousands of figures filling an entire gallery.

Soon he was buying art of all mediums in both the United States and Europe. He bought up a great deal of the collections of the barons of the Gilded age when they were selling. It was self taught and aggresive and would buy the paintings right off the wall if he saw them in a home or business. His wealth brought him to Florida at the time of the birth of the Florida Land Boom. In a short time, he bought 33,000 acres of land in and around Sarasota and personally financed the development of much of it.

Cathy on the 10,000 sq.ft. marble terrace of Ca’d’Zan , from which you could step aboard the yacht they kept moored beside it.

A man of his stature needed a house and grounds reflecting his accomplishments. His wife, Mabel, was the key instrument in the selection of the location, architect, builders, and designers of their opulent home. She named it “Ca’D’Zan”, a Venetian dialet for “House of John”. The enclosed pictures can give you a good idea, but only seeing it in real time can describe the vivid richness of it. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and were mouth-agape at the richness of it.
It was tough to select which pictures to show of the offerrings in the Art Museum. Incredible and fabulous pretty much sums it up.
The Circus Museum was fascinating with its beyond description scale model of the three ring circus “under the big top”. A traveling city requiring its own electrical power, medical/veterinarian corps, food and housing for 1500 full time employees, a menageri of animals requiring 25 rail cars for transport, and all of the professional acts providing the thrills for the thousands of circus goers. Literally a city on wheels; rail car wheels for transport from city to city and circus wagon wheels for the parade into and thru the towns for the advertising and enticing of the population. The scale of the pictures will hopefully not be a detriment to your appreciation of the complexity and enormity of this bygone era. To wrap it all up, with the close of the museums, an outdoor dance floor, and oh-so-easy-listening band all right next to a beautiful sea combined to bring a perfect day to a perfect close. We watched the sun set into the Sarasota Bay and reflected on how blessed we are to be doing what we’re doing.


To finish off the evening, we listened and danced with a few friends to a live band next to the mansion while watching the sun set. Not bad!

Old Country Song: Six Days on the Road and I’m Gonna Make it Home Tonight. NOT.

The good times keep on Rollin’. Running short on superlatives to describe our delightful visit with Cathy’s cousin, “Sister Pat”, retired Nun extraordinaire, and her life-long fellow-sisters and friends, Gertrude and Marianne. They are also inhabitants of “The Villages” and have been for a dozen years or so. The conversations were non-stop and wide-ranging. We Travelers were treated to a delicious repast at the famed Nancy Lopez Country Club. We know our sons-in-law Marc and Paul would have loved a chance to try their golf clubs there! Following that, we attended Mass in the recently-new St. Mark the Evangelist church. Being able to worship alongside such wonderful Servants of Christ was so uplifting. Add to that Gertrude’s gorgeous singing (a lifetime of teaching music are among her credits), made it a totally memorable experience for us.

We have to admit that we have not been disappointed so far with the Florida weather. If it’s always like this in January, no wonder there are so many snowbirds here. Mid-70s, sunny with just enough clouds to keep it pleasant, and light breezes. I’m sure our kids remember the two times we came to Disney in the winter and froze ourselves!

Back aboard STella for another sprint south and within sight of all of Disney’s amazing creations in central Florida. Winnowed our selection to a return visit (last time for Cathy’s 60th birthday, you do the math) to our favorite site, Epcot Center (for the out-of-country readers: EPCOT-Experimental, Prototype, City of Tomorrow). Google it for the high lights, of which there are many. We arrived early enough to (Surprise!) beat the ticket  takers at the parking lots and enjoy a full free day of parking  :).  Not to worry, the entry fee and all condiments available will keep those with Disney stock well payed for decades to come.20170115_1807111


Next scheduled stop, Sarasota and visiting with Brenna’s father in law, Earl and his lovely wife, Jane. Stay tuned.

Thanks for all the prayers from home and St. Joseph’s yesterday. We felt them!

PFJ and Cathy




We’re Outta Here and Headed South!


It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s miserable! I want to go South, She said. So it’s time to actually put the rubber on the road and get this long-delayed cross-country journey underway. First night destination, Aunt Margie Sweeney, St. Louis. Thrilled to have Diane, Jared and Kelsey Everitt join us for a wonderful meal and priceless conversation.

Wednesday on south with final destination Montgomery, AL. Passed thru the Home Town of Superman, Metropolis, IL. He graciously allowed us a photo op. Something very familiar about his face, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

Everybody’s read about “The Villages” of Florida. Reading will never give the Big Picture. We were graciously welcomed by Jerry and Robbey Brust in their lovely home located on the banks of a bird-heaven wetland preserve (we called it a “swamp”, but that’s not cool). Loved having personal guides showing us all (ok, no way to show ALL) of this living Paradise. There are 114,000 easy-going “seniors” in 56 Villages with more fun stuff to do than anybody could envision. Example, on ANY  night of the year, in 4 different venues, there is LIVE music and entertainment. And, they play all the GOOD MUSIC. Thus, on an early January night, there is music and dancing for wide-eyed visiting farmers.

The bronze herd of wandering cattle and the cowboy attending them are there solely for the purpose of reminding Midwest visiting farmers just how far from home there are.





In the Beginning

This is a blog.

New Blog Site. New Blog. “Pilgrim Farmer John Along the Southern Tier.” On two wheels, self powered, hiking poles not needed. 4000 miles, give or take detours and an occasional “lost” episode. There’s the inevitable “But, WHY?” I have two answers: Because I want to. Because I can. And since the “Because I can” response has a clock running, the time is now. D-Day (back wheel wet, Atlantic Ocean) is set for 1/30/17, place, St. Augustine, FL. With several scheduled visits with friends and family between here and there, our “we’re outta here” date is 10 Jan, 2017.  Mission accomplished date (front wheel wet, Pacific Ocean); to be determined. Goal, early April, 2017.

Ops O (Operations Officer) for the exercise is my Dearest Cathy. Once the bike ride begins, she’ll be at the wheel of STella, (ST: Southern Tier, cute, huh) the mini motor home, our “home away from home” for the next three months. Pix of STella to follow in later blogs after we ascertain that we actually know HOW to use this blog site.

Speaking of this blog site, Word Press, we have selected it for its ease of replying by the tens of readers that we hope are paying attention to our newest adventure. I follow numerous blogs that make use of this site and find it very user friendly and reliable. It doesn’t have the data limitations of the site I used for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, and since I’ll (hopefully) have more time to compose the blogs, I won’t feel as restricted in what I can post.

And, the first photo of the first post will reveal the obvious reason for the blog name. This ride has been very well researched and professionally mapped by the good folks at Adventure Cycling. They also provided the maps for our “Duo of Discovery” bike tour that Cathy and I enjoyed in 2006, following the Lewis and Clark trail from Washington State to Iowa and the Mississippi River.