Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Florida Caverns State Park

It’s a clear, cool morning but gaining warmth as the sun climbs.
We breakfast and pull the bikes out of the Beast (quite easy, even with the trailer still hitched – another pleasant surprise.)  We are still hitched because we may leave today, but a few miles on the butter smooth asphalt roads and we decide this is a perfect place to build up our bike muscles and try out Patty’s sore arm.  All went well.  We paid another night’s fee and rode/hiked the day away. 

Florida Caverns is another of the CCC built parks as the craftsmanship of the stone work and hand made doors of the Visitors Center attest. 

Outside, they left the limestone rough with all it’s imbedded fossils showing.


While inside, the stone is faced smooth as a cathedral around the huge fireplace.

Each  time we visit a CCC park, we feel a sense of pIMG_1078ride that we have Carl Meyer’s CCC career to reflect on… and each time we also see this guy.

I think Patty has a little crush on him.

They weren’t running the Cavern tour today, but offered a  “virtual tour” by video for the claustrophobics amongst us.

“No, Honey.  They said no cave tours today.”

“Flood Plain” and “Tunnel Cave” trails led us to Lilies, big hardwood trees and forests of cypress knees.

On the Road–AT LAST

     The road South was clear.  The Sun was bright, and the (as yet unnamed) Beast was purring along the little rises on Highway 231, “Gateway to Florida”.  We had just jettisoned our Cable, Internet, Phone “bundle” and felt liberated as well as $150 bucks/month richer.  

     In Dothan we returned an item to Camping World and had the disconcerting task of having to spend $67 of store credit.  Oh, remember  when every item in the RV super store held us in thrall? How jaded have we become that we can’t find anything more alluring than an extension cord?

    Gerald Downing rescued us from this indecision and we had a great time trading stories at lunch. Although we had never met face to face, we already liked Gerald.  He and Al have been trading emails since we left a card on his Airstream. His first reply, “Dear Pat and Al, thanks for leaving your card on my Airstream in Jonesborough. It helps now that we are trying to track down the thief who stole my computer.”
See what I mean?
We pressed on to Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna, arriving in time for a quick stroll around the newly improved CG and the “Blue Hole” spring which is receiving its regular inflow of Chipola river water and is consequently a little less blue.

Arrival at Florida Caverns State Park
The As Yet Unnamed Beast.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Just one less thing…


IMG_0981 When brother Tom was retiring his Airline pilot job, he told the assembled well wishers that he hoped to live long enough to use up all the little bottles of shampoo that he had collected.  Well, a couple hundred days in the Airstream and Patty’s inherent frugality have diminished our supply to the vanishing point. Ever the backpacker, Patty can’t consider carrying excess quantities of anything.

IMG_0990Books –- cartons of heavy hardbacks -- seem to be excluded from this rule. (I don’t remember her ever backpacking books, but  a young mom had lots more to entertain her then.)


So it is, on this eve of our departure, that I am filling and labeling the precise amount of hair products, hand sanitizer and soap required for six weeks on the road AND NOT AN OUNCE MORE.  It really didn’t take too long to convince her that the General Delivery mail drops Appalachian Trail hikers use were wasteful; thankfully, we still had a five gallon bucket of those little 3oz squeeze bottles we used in our business (because to throw them away would have been “wasteful.” )  Perhaps Patty presaged the TSA regulations on tiny little carry-on bottles by a decade or so. I don’t know, but if you need a few little bottles, we have plenty.



All other preparations are moving on apace, usually between sets of the Australian Open.  The big white beast (as yet unnamed) pulled Lottie home with a throaty rumble.  The convenient electronic display of current fuel economy plunged toward single digits, but the brakes and hitch adjustments  worked well.  The bikes load in precisely and , if you push their rear tires toward the center, the mid buckets are usable for additional passengers. Behind, there are caverns of unused space; the still fragrant generator box  rides between the bikes and over the rear axel adding “eau de petrochemical.”   We are working on a propane conversion for that.


I think we are just about ready…..

Saturday, January 21, 2012


You may have heard about Patty’s “train wreck injury” –-  playing Thomas Trains on the floor with Anthony for hours and hours, leaning on her one remaining good arm,  irritated her rotator cuff.  It is healing very slowly, but makes movements like getting things out of the car’s center console, NOT TO MENTION  JUMPING ROPE, very painful.  So our planning for a “Snowbird” trip are in flux. We will leave the canoe at home on this trip and start the bike riding very gingerly until we are certain.  So that leaves us  afoot.  What  do you think about beach walking?  How about visiting the country’s “most walkable city” –- Savannah?  The Battery at Charleston (after the politicos clear the area)? Maybe St Augustine ?  Nice long boardwalks in the Okefenokee and they rent motorboats… Cumberland Island NS …The Golden Isles….?  Sounds like a plan is forming…


At last the holiday gear is packed away and the stick house is clean enough for company. The weather is glorious one day (and we start looking at the Golden Isles) or blustery cold (and we wonder  what it’s like in the ‘glades). What is for sure is that we are pulling out of here as soon as Patty has her date with the deluxe, supper conducting high speed mammogram machine she is so fond of.  For now it’s prep time. 
Finding all our gear is going to be a bigger problem  than it usually is, since all our “load outs” were secreted away in nooks and crannies we can hardly remember.  I’m thinking our clothing load will be reduced even further as we learn what we actually need, but the hardback book load is increasing with the “3 books for a quarter” sales at the library.
The new Tow Vehicle continues to amaze and confound us.  You will love this: seems that I have a heated windshield washer fluid button in the new TV and it is briefly described in the manuals.  Mine does NOT blink or heat or do anything, actually.  So, after making fun of it but then reading how it would clean bugs off my southern windows, I developed a real NEED for it to work.  It seems that a few years back GM had decided that the way to the future was to have this gadget in all its upscale cars just for the WOW factor. (Remember the headlight wipers on the Mercedes and the Trooper?)  Being GM, they bought the unit from the lowest bidder and proceeded to put it into 1.5 MILLION cars.  Then the circuit boards shorted out and at least five fires were reported.  Enter NTSB, and the recall.  It seems that if you ever took your car to a GM dealer, they would remove it and hand you a hundred bucks.  So my unit is long gone, BUT another player has a new, more sturdy heater unit tested and grudgingly  passed by NTSB.  For only $70 bucks I can have the heater I now NEED and dream about.  All the brackets hoses and electrical connectors are still in place, so even I can install it.  It should arrive soon;  I’m hoping for snow....

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I am NOT that guy…

…NOT the guy in the shiny new SUV all pimped out with twenty inch tires –- really, TWENTY INCH TIRES –- listening to his tunes from not one or two sources, but six, punching up his Nav system.  His is the dark capsule hurtling down the road with multiple screens glowing lurid colors and little creatures in the rear never glancing out the window. It cruises by, fog and driving lights gleaming and mirror turn signal lights blinking a cheerful goodbye, leaving us in a pool of dim yellow tugging our little aluminum trailer behind.
 I am the guy with the well maintained, not-shiny-at-all utility vehicle “of a certain age” and a body style long since declared Retro. She usually sports roof racks of some kind and we can load or unload two bikes from inside in three minutes flat or load bikes and a canoe on top with just a step stool and a couple friendly boosts. Everything works (as the old pilot in me requires) and the mileage is mentioned reverently in numbers rounded to the nearest 100,000 miles. She still looks respectable, if not not  exactly handsome and I like it that way because that is what I look like. 
So, it is with a heavy heart and a lightened wallet, I announce that once again I have several years to go before I will feel comfortable sliding into a fishing camp in the mountains among honest folk who work hard and drive not-shiny-at-all vehicles.
Our new tow vehicle is the same color inside and out with more length and more power and infinitely more gadgets than I thought I would ever see or need.  It has fewer nooks and crannies to store the stuff I usually carry, a lift gate that interferes with canoe hauling and roof rails that defy the use of my large collection of Yakima racks. It rumbles with the throaty power of a 6.2 engine and sounds perhaps better, but about as loud as the old car’s rear end whine.  Inside there are seven seats  and half again more speakers.  Most everything will heat up including the windshield washer fluid -–THE WINDSHIELD WASHER FLUID!
Perhaps we were ready for a new TV (tow vehicle).  Certainly those pulls up the side of the escarpment to the Skyline Drive made us wish we had a transmission temp gauge.  (This one has that, cleverly secreted in the Driver Information Window where it would otherwise not annoy or confuse.) But it was quite pleasant “resting the horses” at a scenic overlook after such a climb and gave the ole girl a real “presence” and gave us something to pamper and care for that does not require a walk in the early morning hours.
So how did we come to this juncture with a strong, stylish new mare in the stable and a vague sense of unease?  Well three things: a long distance courtship, the disconcerting allure of a pretty face, and perhaps a little buyers remorse.
Buying a vehicle through a broker at auction is like buying a mail-order bride; there are pictures, alluring descriptions of her attributes, a few lingering questions about her past and little practical chance for a test drive.  It was the description that lured me in.  “2008 GMC YUKON XL 2500,” meaning the big, strong, cargo-hauling, trailer pulling 3/4 ton that is as rare as hen’s teeth.
“Go look at that one”, I said, distracted already from the one with the older body style and attractive aluminum color being offered at a competitive auction. 
“It’s not a 2500”, my utterly trustworthy broker reports from the scene.
“It’s a DENALI!”  (the one with the attractive grill.  The one I have never driven or sat in or even considered myself worthy of…)
“Same big engine…. I see a transmission cooler….. Man this thing has retractable running boards. … has Navigation and after-market DVD system in the rear headrests, smells good… really, it doesn’t have a scratch or dent anywhere. Captains chairs.  Cool, they tumble forward WITH POWER!”  He continues, finding and operating all the gadgets—this goes on longer than the pre launch countdown at Canaveral.
“Everything works.”  He pulls up the computer maintenance records and reports “new brakes, new tires, alignment, regular fluid changes at the dealership…”
“This is a good one.”  
So, after a transporter ride from Orlando, a complimentary detailing “no fragrance please”, she appears, gleaming with that toothy grill smile and absolutely flawless.  She looks great, if somewhat muscular, and smells nice and is shiny and soft and fit in all the right places.  She chimes sweetly  in response to my tentative touch, seems confident and capable. There is that allure -- that mystery – of buttons and switches and capabilities as yet unknown and perhaps unknowable.
“Lord, I am not worthy,” I think, as I cast a glance at our sainted old Yukon, all stripped of her personalizing racks and thoughtfully stored gear. “She still looks good.  She will make someone a fine vehicle,” I think, as my trusted broker appraises her with a cold  detachment, mentally calculating her blemishes and flaws.  Betrayal?  Probably not that, but there is that feeling, like walking a daughter down the aisle, that no one will ever love her as well.
In the ensuing few days I visit her in the carport, manuals in hand, exploring her many virtues and mastering her  technology.  She slapped my shins raw with her retractable running boards until I found the disable switch.  Maybe that will be useful in our dotage. The super clean smell is a little cloying, so we are waiting for a few sunny days to air her out. We still find it easier to use the Yukon because she sits in the driveway with signs on her, but tomorrow she passes from our hands to a new, hopefully gentle and appreciative, new owner.  The grand girls appeared for a test drive with IPods and DVDs and mastered the technology in minutes. When the navigation disks arrive, they will surely be just as useful.
We are still taking the measure of our new princess.  The aforementioned inconveniences have been discovered, but the sound system is sparkling.  Although she is taller than the Yukon, a hitch part or two will bring her in line with the Airstream. The Airforum gurus have demystified the air suspension/ trailering questions; a few pieces of hardware will again provide  safe cradles for the rigged fly rods.  The bikes ride steadily in the cargo compartment with lots of room to spare and, oh yes, the 20” tires are growing on me. Beautiful leggy wench!