Category Archives: Florida

Autumn in Florida

Melbourne Beach, FL – December 14, 2021Written by Jim

Rockets, sunshine and a new Costco…oh my! What more could two people want?

Our fall in Brevard County, Florida has been a combination of walks on the beach, launches from Cape Canaveral, sprucing up our lot at the park and buttoning up paperwork from our summer construction project. We’ve had 4 launches since we got here, three of which we watched from our beach.

First up was a SpaceX Falcon 9 daytime launch of Crew 3. When there are humans on board, we all tend to hold our breath a bit. This is a composite streak shot I took on my iPhone of that mission. This type of photography really works well on the night launches, as you will see on my next photos.

Next up was a SpaceX Falcon 9 night launch.

This mission carried over 50 Starlink satellites into orbit There is a lot going on in this composite, which I will try to explain. The brightest streak is the first stage rising from Cape Canaveral, which ends near the top of the arc. That is MECO, or main engine cutoff. There is a slight gap before the second stage lights and the arc continues. While it appears that the rocket is falling at that point, it is actually continuing to rise over the curve of the globe. Note that I was able to get the entire arc into the frame, as the rocket was flying northeast, which is away from us. The squiggly line to the left is an airplane, as is the swooping line to the right. Both were flying towards us and stayed well outside the restricted airspace. The jumble of light at the bottom of the photo is a group of four people sitting on the beach with flashlights and phones and the couple on the shoreline is Bill and Erin, neighbors of ours from the park.

Next up was an Atlas V launch by United Launch Alliance.

That rocket had 5 solid rocket boosters, which really made it jump off the pad. It flew straight east, which made it impossible to catch it all on my iPhone, even at wide-angle. We watched this flight with friends Becky, Joe and Lynette at 5 in the morning. Shortly after this was taken, we could see the 5 solid boosters fall away, twinkling as they fell towards the ocean. After that, we were treated to a rare spectacle:

This is a photo (not a composite) of the second stage heading over the horizon. It is the yellowish dot near the ocean. Above it is the exhaust plume being lit up by the sunrise. While the sky remains dark for us at 5:15 AM, that rocket is high enough and far enough east to see the rising sun. What a treat that was! Two days after that, there was another Falcon 9 launch that we missed, as it was at 1 AM. Becky, Joe and Lynette saw it, but we couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed. 🙂 We have many more launches coming up, including one from a new company on the Space Coast called Astra. Their first two launches were from Alaska, of all places. NASA is planning on launching their first SLS moon rocket in the spring, so that will hopefully happen while we are here. We also received news that SpaceX is building launch facilities at the cape for Starship, their gigantic rocket that performs a belly flop on its way back down from space.

©️ Jay Deshetler @ NASAspaceflight.com

They are currently conducting those test launches from Texas. Starship will be taller than a Saturn V moon rocket and will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built. Exciting times around here, for sure.

News closer to home is that we finally have a working refrigerator in the RV! Our previous gas/electric fridge stopped working on electric about a month after the warranty expired, early last year. The service technician we purchased it from came several times last winter, but was never able to resolve the issue. We attempted to get another gas/electric this past summer from Camping World, but twice it arrived damaged. We finally had them refund our money. When we got to Florida, our friends Brenda and Jim told us that their new fifth wheel came with a 12 volt refrigerator. We had never heard of this type, so we looked them up online. It uses a small compressor, similar to a house fridge. The bonus is that it doesn’t have the large absorption unit on the back, so there are 2 more cubic feet of space inside the unit. It keeps things nice and cold, too! Many thanks to our friend Mark for helping us install it.

Back in Michigan, our cabin is online and letting us know that all is well. We have a wifi thermostat that lets us know what the furnace is doing, along with the current inside and outside temperature. Our wall of windows has been a boon when the sun is out, as the temperature in the house climbs above the set point of the thermostat. Free heat is a good thing! We also have a monitor on the propane tanks, so we know how much we have left. The electric cooperative even has an app that shows us our hourly usage. We’ve been pleased with how efficient the cabin has been so far.

Along with our security system, our friends Lane and Patti are keeping an eye on things up there, as are our neighbors on both sides of us. Hopefully these two will be able to bring their fifth wheel south one of these days and hang out in the sun with us. We sure do miss them!

Another fun thing for us is that our barn now has a Menards SKU number, meaning you can go online, get the plans and build one for yourself!

©️ Menards.com

When we designed it, we used their planner…so the design becomes their property. They did ask if they could use it in their ads, so they must really like it! They also have the materials package listed separately on a different page. Search “Valley Garage” on the Menards.com website.

And there is nothing quite like celebrating the holidays on the Space Coast! We kicked off the season on Thanksgiving by celebrating at Jerry and Linda’s place with several other friends. We also went with friends Bonnie and Fred to check out the lights at Wickham Park.

The display is normally a drive through event, but they open it up to walkers one weekend a season. It is huge! Sure is great to see these two again!

Speaking of decorations:

We are all decked out for another holiday season!

We even got the truck into the act this time. 🙂

And last but not least, we have a new Costco on the Space Coast!

Now…if only we could find room in the fifth wheel for this. 🙂

That’s about it for now. Stay tuned for more launches and other Florida fun before we head back north to resume our building project. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Buttoning Up the Cabin and Heading South

Leelanau County, MI to Melbourne Beach, FL – November 9, 2021Written by Jim

Our last few weeks in Michigan were exceptionally busy, as we not only were finishing up our 2021 projects on the cabin, but we also had to winterize the place. We were fortunate to have dry weather in the 60’s, but the nights grew steadily colder. We had no intention of repeating our winter of 2014/2015 in our RV in Michigan. See our ‘Cold Weather RVing’ tab above for more on that adventure. Time to pack up and roll south!

We had three major things to complete before the end of this year on the construction project. First was more for our peace of mind than anything; we wanted to finish assembling and installing the kitchen cabinets.

All of the upper cabinets are done, as is the pantry cabinet on the left. The base cabinets are assembled and in place; they just need doors, a rear wall on the island, and countertops. All of that gold you see in the photo is the morning sun streaming through the windows. There’s a lot of solar gain right there!

The second project we needed to get done was to finish encapsulating the crawl space. You may recall the dirt floor we have down there:

We had been running a dehumidifier constantly and the lowest we could get the humidity level was to 65%. Since total encapsulation is required by the building code, we figured we would be better off to get the 12-mil thick floor liner laid down before we left.

What a difference that made. Not only is it bright and clean, but the humidity level dropped to 42%. There is no need to run the dehumidifier anymore.

The last project was actually our last subcontracted job: the gutters.

Michigan Gutter out of Traverse City did the work for us. They were in and out within a few hours. When I commented on the one piece 54 foot length of the gutter on the far side of the house, the one installer told me that he held the company record for length: a one piece gutter that was a whopping 252 feet long! I’ll bet he had a lot of helpers that day. When the crew left, we were officially finished with subcontractors. Everything else from here on out will be completed by the two of us.

After blowing out the water lines and securing the place, we hooked up and headed south! We took a few weeks to get to Melbourne Beach, and managed a few highlights along the way.

One of those was a stop at Col. Harland Sanders’ original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky. KFC has recently done a total renovation of this location, making it a combination museum/working restaurant. It wasn’t open yet…except for the drive through, but we could see through the windows. They did a nice job.

We even got to see the Colonel himself at Sanders Park in downtown Corbin. 🙂

Another interesting stop we made along the way was at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. This is one of the few natural gaps in the Appalachian Mountains that has been used for thousand of years by animals and humans seeking passage east and west.

Here’s a panoramic of Diana coming up one side of the gap and going down the other side. There are two tunnels that pass below this area, an auto and a rail passage. Daniel Boone passed through the gap in the 1700’s and the area was heavily fortified during the Civil War. With the ruggedness of the terrain surrounding the trail, we were completely surprised at the fact that a US highway ran through here as recently as 1996. The US Highway Department and the National Park Service did a fantastic job of restoring and reforesting the trail!

The sign at the saddle of the gap reads: Salt seeking buffalo, Moccasin clad warriors, Dreaming Pioneer, Battling Civil War soldiers. Each was here in the Historic Cumberland Gap and now so are you. This is the Historic Cumberland Gap. Across from the sign is an offshoot trail that heads up to Tri-State Peak. We followed that trail to a small gazebo that covers a US Geological Survey marker.

Here’s Diana with her feet in three states simultaneously: Kentucky on the left, Tennessee on the right and Virginia behind her. Surprisingly, there are 62 places in the US where three (and only three) states meet. Of those, 35 are on dry land and 27 are in water.

The last highlight was a return to Savannah, GA and Fort Pulaski National Monument.

The engineering that went into this fort is remarkable, yet it was rendered obsolete by the Union Army’s introduction of the rifled cannon shell. More on that story can be found in our post from our first visit by clicking HERE.

We arrived at our winter home in Melbourne Beach on November 1.

We look forward to a winter full of spectacular sunrises, sunsets and (hopefully) a few rocket launches! Stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Things Go Better With Quincy, Florida!

Quincy, Florida – April 11, 2021 – Written by Jim

Quincy, Florida is like many small towns in America; tidy, tree-lined streets named after our nation’s founding fathers, with homes surrounding a central business district. Quincy is a supplier of goods for the farms in this section of Florida’s Panhandle, as US-90 runs right through the middle of it. Other than the over abundance of grand houses in town, you would be hard-pressed to find anything unusual here. Looks can be deceiving…

During the Great Depression, the local banker made a keen observation that changed the course of Quincy’s fortunes forever.

@floridamemory.com

That banker’s name was Mark Welch (Pat) Munroe. He noticed that people were spending their last nickel to buy an ice-cold Coca-Cola. He knew by that fact that the company most likely had staying power. He also realized that Coke’s stock was undervalued, as they had been experiencing issues with their sugar suppliers. What had started out as a $40 a share stock in 1919, Coca-Cola was selling at $19 in the early 1930’s. The smart investor he was, Mr. Munroe bought stock in Coke. The wise businessman he was, he also told his customers to do the same, offering loans to help them do so. His advice to them was to hold onto the stock and use only the dividends.

It turns out that he was correct. Coca-Cola stock consistantly rose, making Quincy, Florida the wealthiest town (per-capita) in the nation.

The Quincy State Bank also did very well for itself, never closing it’s doors during the Great Depression. Munroe family lore states that when federal agents came to arrest Mr. Munroe for keeping the bank open during a federally-imposed bank holiday, they were unable to find the Pat Munroe that was listed on the arrest warrant. Remember…that was only a nickname. 🙂 The bank is now part of Capital City Bank.

As a result of Mr. Munroe’s observations, Quincy eventually was home to sixty-seven Coca-Cola millionaires. Many of their descendants are still reaping the benefits of his foresight. The town not only weathered the Great Depression, but every recession and crop loss since.

Mark Welch Munroe and his wife lived at this stately home on US-90 in Quincy. It was donated by the family to the City of Quincy and is now called Quincy Garden Center, a local wedding and events center.

We located where he is buried on Find-a-Grave and visited his final resting place. The inscription on his stone is fitting and true. It reads: The influence of his personality was so great and his advice so widely sought, that he seemed an institution in the community. Hardly subject to removal by death. Who could ask for a finer legacy than that?

So next time you buzz by Quincy, Florida on I-10, turn in for a bit and have a Coke. It is the ‘pause that refreshes’, after all. The people of Quincy will thank you.

As you can probably tell, the exploRVistas caravan is on the move! Stay tuned as we uncover more of America’s cool stories. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Launches Galore

February 2021 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

If you’ve assumed that we have rocketed off of the face of the Earth, you can rest assured that we have not. We have been hanging out in our winter hideout on the Space Coast of Florida in what can only be described as the oddest winter yet. Several of our neighbors decided to remain home this year, due to the continuing pandemic. The park has a different feel, as a result. We sure do miss seeing our friends! And even though Florida is pretty much ‘open for business’, many of the activities we would normally do (Bingo, weekly lunches, meat shoot at the Moose Lodge, etc.) aren’t happening. We choose not to go into restaurants or indoor venues right now, and our grocery trips are stealth…early and fast.

With that being said, this season has been anything but a bust. SpaceX and ULA (United Launch Alliance) have been busy providing us plenty of free entertainment, and we’ve taken a few drives to see what’s happening in the area. One of those drives was to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Kennedy Space Center. As is usually the case for us, the wildlife provided us a few new gems.

This gator was showing off his two-step shuffle for us.

This Great Egret found a nice shady spot to hang out.

These Roseate Spoonbills were tempting fate hanging out with this large gator. There were quite a few spoonbills, alligators, herons ducks, and a Bald Eagle to be seen that day. We even saw an armadillo, but couldn’t get a photo of it. Always worth the hour drive up there.

As we mentioned, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station have been busy! Most of the activity has been centered around SpaceX. They have two launch pads at their disposal, and they keep them hopping.

We’ve seen eleven SpaceX missions launched since we’ve arrived on November 1. One of them had four astronauts on board, which adds a whole different dynamic to watching it. We feel the night launches are the prettiest, although the one shown above was pretty cool. It was a polar launch that flew almost directly over our heads! One of the launches landed its booster back at the Cape (which we could see) and it produced two loud sonic booms as it came back in.

In addition to the SpaceX launches, we saw two ULA missions. One was a Delta IV Heavy, which is three boosters strapped together.

Copyright 2021 Rocket.com

That one was not only bright, but very loud.

This particular ULA launch occurred at sunset. It used a single liquid-fueled booster with several solid rocket boosters attached to it that leave a long contrail. The setting sun (out of the picture to the left) really added to the colors of this one.

One day, while running errands, we spotted a SpaceX booster in Port Canaveral when crossing the Cocoa Causeway. We detoured up to the port to check it out.

To the right, the sooty cylinder with the legs on the bottom is Falcon 9 booster #1060.5. The “.5” means it has flown 5 missions. In the foreground is the SpaceX drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, which is basically a large barge that the booster lands on in the Atlantic Ocean. “Large” is a relative term, considering the fact that SpaceX parks it off of the coast of North Carolina, launches the rocket 120 miles into space and lands the first stage booster on it. Kind of like looking for a grain of sand in a roomful of thick carpet. Most times the landings are successful, saving the company millions of dollars. Some of the launches don’t require as much fuel to be used, so they are able to reverse the direction on those boosters and land them back at the Cape. Simply amazing.

As most of you know, we are planning on building a cabin on our property in Michigan this summer. That project has been the main focus for us this winter.

It won’t be long before a structure appears on the bare spot of land in the above photo. Having built the barn last summer, we know the drill, as far as permitting and securing our subcontractors goes. As of this point, everything is on schedule. The biggest hurdle has been the tremendous increase in lumber prices. The housing market is booming. As a result, those lumber prices aren’t going down anytime soon…so we bite the bullet and keep moving.

We’ve also been getting ideas watching home improvement shows on HGTV. One of our favorites is Home Town, which is set in Laurel, Mississippi.

Copyright 2021 – HGTV

Ben and Erin Napier take on a different run-down house in their hometown of Laurel and restore it for the new homeowners during each episode. Their ability as craftspeople to create something from nothing is really fun to watch. We have picked up a few ideas from them to incorporate into our place, also with some new ways to refer to things we already had planned. We already were going to use vinyl plank flooring, but learned that the correct term is LVT…or as they say in Mississippi, “Luxury VAHHHnl TAAAAHhll”. 🙂 Watching these two is much more entertaining than most of the other programming choices these days! Check them out, if you haven’t already done so.

So until next time, here’s to staying healthy and well. Stay tuned for updates on our cabin and, as always…safe and happy travels to all!

A Snowball in Florida?

February 1, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

The metaphor of a tiny snowball rolling down a hill and gaining size was a thought that kept going through my head in early January. With the fact that we were on the coast in Florida…at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level and with us in shorts…it was just that; a metaphor. That thought was rooted in my attempted recovery from the most recent bout of whatever crud was going around. It turns out that it had snowballed into a full-blown case of bronchitis. I ended up coughing so hard that I pulled muscles in my back and aggravated my sciatic issues on my left side. I could barely walk, once I mustered the energy to get out of my chair. I was a mess, to put it mildly. On more than one occasion, I thanked God that I had decided against working for UPS this year.

First order of business was to get over the bronchitis. A trip to Surfside Urgent Care netted me several prescriptions, including an inhaler to stop the out-of-control coughing. If you owned stock in Walgreens over that period of time, you are welcome for the upswing in your portfolio. 🙂 The concoction of drugs, coupled with some great nursing from my lovely caregiver Diana, did the trick. By mid month, the snowball had stopped rolling.

The next thing on the agenda was to address the sciatic issue. My leg pain had subsided, but it was replaced with numbness. I contacted my nephew Dr. Dan, who is a physical therapist in Michigan, asking advice on what direction to go in seeking health care. My primary care doctor is in Michigan, and I really wanted to get a jump on this. Dan provided me with a ton of information (Thank you!) and a recommendation to seek out a good physical therapist down here. Florida has a law that allows a person to get 30 days of PT without a physicians referral, so I connected with one that was highly rated and accepted by our insurance. I’m happy to say that after a week and a half, I am making great progress! The snowball is indeed melting.

In Space Coast news, we’ve had three launches so far this year. January 6 saw the launch of Starlink 2, the second operational flight of SpaceX’s constellation of internet-providing satellites. With it being an evening launch that was flying northeast, we knew our best views would be further north of our winter home. We headed up to Patrick Air Force Base, which sits just south of Cape Canaveral.

What a show! What you are seeing in this photo (left to right) is the trail from the main engines, followed by MECO (main engine cut off). The next dot is the second-stage engine start (SES), followed by that portion of the rocket fading off into orbit. At that point, the rocket is outside of the atmosphere, so the flame disappears. Farther to the right, the first re-entry burn from the first stage can be seen, as it slows down to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, located several hundred miles out to sea. The final burn wasn’t visible, as it was over the horizon. I guess Earth isn’t flat, after all. :). For a full list of SpaceX acronyms…some of them hilarious… click HERE. BFR is one of my favorites, as is FTBA. 🙂

The next launch was the much anticipated IFA test. IFA stands for In-Flight Abort. NASA will be launching astronauts on SpaceX rockets, and this test was performed to see if the capsule could escape from an exploding rocket. We decided that Patrick AFB was the best spot to view it from, so away we went!

The weather had other plans, as the rocket disappeared into the clouds. We did hear a tremendous BOOM though (that’s not an acronym), as the rocket experienced RSD (rapid scheduled disassembly). Here’s what it looked like on Doppler radar:

The smaller green dot to the right of the explosion is the capsule flying away from the exploding rocket. The flight was a success and we should expect to see astronauts headed to the space station this spring.

The last launch for January was another SpaceX Starlink launch. Having a PT commitment later that morning, we chose to view it from our park:

It never gets old. 🙂

The other entertainment around here is Bingo and the weekly meat shoot at the local Moose lodge. This version involves a deck of cards instead of guns, but the prizes are still sizable cuts of meat. I won some delicious pork chops and Diana scored the 50/50 a few weeks back. It’s always a good time, as a large group of us from the park shows up. The caller refers to us as the Big Table.

We also had lunch with our friends Rod and Mary, we went to Merritt Island with our friend Paul and his Aunt Joan, and we did a Costco run with our full-time RV friend Kathy. This is the fifth state we’ve connected with her in.

And we’ve gained some ground on our garage project. We have all of our subcontractors lined up now and we’ve secured our land use permit. Once we have the building permit in hand, we can begin!

Actually, there is a fair amount of white stuff up on our hill, so we will wait until it melts before we head up there. We don’t want my snowball metaphor to become a reality. 🙂

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Things Are Looking Up!

November 1 – December 21, 2019 – Florida’s Space Coast

Written by Jim

With all the people along the Space Coast of Florida looking up at the skies recently, it’s a wonder we haven’t all tripped and fallen over each other. Several launches have occurred since we’ve arrived, along with a unique event that had our eyes on the sky. More on that last one in a bit. We will also fill you in on a few things that have been happening with us lately.

Our first goal when we arrived in Florida was to get our first of two rounds of Shigrix shingles vaccines. That had to be put on hold after Diana and I came down with some pretty nasty colds from our trip south. Those carried on for two weeks and kept us home bound except for one trip to the beach on November 11 to watch SpaceX launch another 60 satellites into their Starlink internet constellation.

I did manage to grab this short video of it peeking through the clouds as it soared over the ocean. After it disappeared into the clouds, we followed suit and vanished from sight into out RV to continue our recovery. And SpaceX recovered their booster, after it landed on the barge Of Course I Still Love You 250 miles off the coast.

Once we felt we were over our colds, we made our way to the pharmacy to get those vaccines. We knew the side effects of them was flu-like symptoms for a day or two, so we weren’t looking forward to that. The pharmacist told me “As quickly as the side effects hit you, they will be equally quick to leave.” He wasn’t kidding. I felt as if I was hit by a truck, as every joint in my body ached until 1 PM the following day. By 1:15, it was gone. Fortunately, Diana had just mild symptoms. We have one more round to go in mid January and then we are (hopefully) protected.

The rest of November had us sprucing up our lot.

The sticker grass invades the plantings each summer, so it is up to us to clean it up. The park owners didn’t plant this landscaping (previous residents did), so they require us to maintain it or they will take it out and let the grass take over. We like the look of the plantings and gladly put in the effort to keep them looking nice. It’s only labor, and the sandy soil is easy to work with.

On December 4, we headed up to Port Canaveral with out friends Bob and Pat to view the next SpaceX launch up close. We were actually a bit too close, as we had a hill blocking our view of the pad. It would’ve been great once the rocket came over the hill, but unfortunately the winds were too high to launch. It did launch the next day, and we viewed it from our beach. This particular mission was a resupply trip to the International Space Station.

This is a frame grab from a failed attempt at a video. I made a rookie mistake and left it on autofocus. Still, not too bad considering the rocket is a good 50 miles away at this point.

Once again, SpaceX recovered their booster, landing 250 miles off of Jacksonville on Of Course I Still Love You. These people are good at what they do.

Our next event was a quick day trip to Lakeland to meet up with fellow RV-Dreamers for a picnic.

What a treat to get together with these folks! The big news this year is that several couples…including Howard and Linda (RV-Dreams founders and owners in the center of this photo)…have transitioned from full-time to part-time status. Many of us have bought houses or property and are establishing roots. The two of us are still officially full-timers for another three years or so, until our heads hit the pillows in our cabin.

And on that home front, we have made some progress on our Northern Michigan property. We have our garage plans drawn and are in the middle of securing permits. Most of our subcontractors have been lined up and we are awaiting quotes from a few more. We feel we are on track to have a completed garage and utilities by the time we head back here next fall.

Following that, we headed to Cocoa Beach with Bonnie and Fred for that unique event we mentioned earlier.

Here are the four of us, ready for the show! And what might that show be that had us looking skyward?

Skydiving Santas! Plane load after plane load full of Santas dropped from the sky and attempted to hit giant inflatable targets on the beach.

This Santa even hitched a ride on his buddy’s parachute on the way down! It was a really fun way to spend the day! Unfortunately for me, I was beginning to come down with yet another cold. Spending the day in breezy conditions probably didn’t help matters. I’m still recovering.

Speaking of recoveries, SpaceX managed the quickest turnaround of a launch facility by sending the JSAT communications satellite on its way on December 16 at 7:10 PM. It flew from Pad 40, which had seen the ISS resupply mission depart just 11 days earlier. Feeling as crummy as I did, I wasn’t thrilled about hanging out on the beach in the cool night air, so I opted for an attempt at a ‘streak shot’ over our Christmas decorated RV. It involves using a tripod, an iPhone, and the Slow Shutter app. Added bonus this time around is that my new iPhone 11 has a wide angle lens available, ensuring more field of vision to catch the rocket’s flame trail.

To say I am pleased with the result is an understatement. From left to right is the first stage trail, main engine cutoff, second stage ignition and the trail until it disappeared from sight. The soft white jumbled blob to the right of our lit up palm trees is our illuminated American flag. That’s the result of the camera overlaying successive photos over each previous image to create the effect. Diana pointed out that it looks like a Christmas angel. 🙂

On Thursday afternoon, after an almost three day voyage from 450 miles offshore, the SpaceX first stage made it back to Port Canaveral.

This is the third time this booster has flown, and it will most likely fly again. Again, SpaceX is good at what they do.

On Friday, December 20, another launch took place. This one was the test flight of the Boeing Starliner, one of the two entries into the Commercial Crew program designed to launch astronauts from American soil again…the other being SpaceX.

With the launch occurring at 6:36 AM, we opted to view it from our corner. This is the view looking north as it disappeared into the clouds. It was clear up at the Cape, so early risers to the north ended up with a great show.

Quick note: As of this writing, the Boeing Starliner experienced a problem and will be returning to Earth early. It is an un-crewed test flight, so no lives are in danger. Stay tuned for updates in our next post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Following the Autumn Leaves

October 6 – November 1, 2019 – Michigan to Florida

Written by Jim

In our last post, I mentioned relearning how to drive in the U.S. after spending a month in the U.K. and Ireland. Our delayed flight got us back after dark, so we had to navigate the aggressive freeways of Chicago in an unfamiliar rental car. Talk about wanting to get back on the plane! Once past Gary and into Michigan, the traffic eased and we were able to relax. Jet lag caught up to us soon after, so we grabbed a comfy room at the Hampton Inn in South Haven. After a delicious breakfast at the Phoenix Street Cafe the next morning, we headed back to Grand Rapids to get our vehicles. A huge thank you to Terry and Diane for allowing us to store them at their home!

We moved to our base for the next week, Woodchip Campground. Our spot was just a few sites east of where we spent the winter of 2014-15. This go around, we spent the week taking care of annual physicals, dentist appointments, haircuts and such. We even bopped over to Detroit for one appointment at Henry Ford Hospital. That gave us the opportunity to drop in on Diana’s cousin Debbie on our way home. It was great to see her again. We finished up the week with our annual trip to Kalamazoo for WMU homecoming.

It’s always good to to be with our crew! After watching the Broncos beat Miami of Ohio, we headed back to our old dorm, French Hall, to check it out.

Here’s Diana knocking on the door of her old room. No one was there, unfortunately.

From Kalamazoo, we headed back up to our property in Leelanau County. We wanted to get some measurements and talk to the county building personnel while we were there. Knowing our land is loaded with maples, we were hoping our trees were colorful.

Needless to say, we were not disappointed!

It was very exciting to be able to experience our first autumn on our little slice of heaven! A note of interest: one month after this photo was taken, three feet of snow fell here. The scene is far different, indeed. With the temperatures plummeting, we made the decision to head south.

After stopping to see Diana’s sister and family in New Baltimore, Michigan, we headed towards Wapakoneta, Ohio. This tiny town is home to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.

It is also home to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, which is situated just a few yards from Interstate 75. We’ve driven by this unusually-shaped building many times since it opened in 1972 but have never stopped in. Fifty years and three months to the day of Neil taking that otherworldly step, we finally walked through these doors.

We were amazed at the amount of artifacts in this small museum, which included this space-flown shuttle tire that you could touch. It was far thicker than any tire I had ever handled. The exhibits also detailed the 25 astronauts that are native to Ohio. Some of the most famous are John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth) and Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13.

Ohio is also the birthplace of Judith Resnik, a member of the crew of the ill-fated shuttle, Challenger. The small U.S. and Ohio flags to the right were in her personal bag that was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean floor. She was America’s second woman in space, having flown on the space shuttle Discovery in 1984. Not only was she an astronaut, she had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, was a biomedical engineer, and an accomplished concert pianist.

And does anyone remember these? I drank many a glass of milk out of one of these as a kid. Libby Glass and Marathon Oil, both Ohio companies, manufactured and distributed these glasses during the Apollo missions. They have them for sale at the museum.

As we made our way through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, we were surprised that we hadn’t gotten ahead of the autumn leaves changing color. The drive south was much prettier than we anticipated. Our goal was to stop and see Diana’s brother who recently moved to Franklin, NC.

After setting up camp, we took a drive to see Dry Falls. This beautiful set of falls is located along US-62, one of the most twisty and narrow U.S. highways we had ever been on.

They were named for the fact that a person can remain relatively dry when walking behind them.

The next day, we spent the day with Dan, driving into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Our destination that day was Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River.

Dan had been here in the past, having hiked this portion of the Appalachian Trail with a friend of his.

The colors from the top were outstanding. These mountains were where we drove out of the autumn display, as green leaves and palm trees soon took over as we headed further south.

Before too long, we made our way to Melbourne Beach and our little slice of Florida paradise.

We look forward to a winter filled with friends and rocket launches, so stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Badlands – in More Ways Than One

June 11-12, 2019 – Badlands of South Dakota

Badlands National  Park holds a special designation for me, as it was the first national park I visited in my youth. Since that time, we have been to many places that have similar qualities – particularly the Painted Hills in Oregon.  But none of those venues seem to combine the mud-like quality of the formations with the sharp spires that occur throughout this park.  Couple that with the fact that they rise from green prairies and you have a true ‘east meets west’ situation.  On this particular trip, we found that last reference had much more than one meaning.  More on that in a minute…

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After setting up camp in Wall, we headed on I-90 to the east entrance of Badlands National Park.  This area was known to the Lakota people as mako sika, which roughly translates to ‘land bad’.  They were also the first to notice fossilized remains of sea creatures, leading them to correctly assume that the Badlands were once under water.  That’s quite the assumption for a tribe that was thousands of miles from the nearest ocean!

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Since becoming a national park, those fossils have become a focus of scientific study.  Besides the shells and fish bones you would normally expect in a marine environment, species such as alligators and rhinoceros were found here.  When we visited in 1990, I found a small jaw fragment while on a ranger-led tour.  Hopefully it is still where I observed it.

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The park is also home to a wide variety of present day wildlife.  Here are several female Bighorn sheep that decided to moon the photographer.

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We saw prairie dogs by the hundreds.  This chubby guy stopped his meal long enough to pose for a profile shot.

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And this trio was not letting us pass until we snapped an image of them for the blog.  Consider it done!

As I had mentioned earlier, this trip introduced us to more than one meaning for the name ‘badlands’.  When exiting off of I-90, we saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  After questioning the ranger at the Badlands visitor center, we decided to tour there the next day.

Heading east again on I-90 from Wall, our first stop was just off the highway at Exit 116.

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Along the side of the dirt road, this fenced-in compound sits in plain sight.  Not long ago, this was one of the United States’s hundreds of active missile silos.  This small parcel of land held a missile that was 120 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  If launched, the missile would’ve flown over the North Pole to Russia in about a half hour.

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This facility was labeled D-9 of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron.  Look closely at the map and you will see the towns of Wall, Sturgis, Belle Fourche, Lead, and Rapid City.  Chances are you’ve been within a stone’s throw from one of these silos at some point and didn’t even know it.

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At this particular silo, visitors can peer in from the top to see a deactivated Minuteman II missile.  These particular rockets were taken out of service and most of the silos were imploded after the START treaty with the Soviet Union.  About 150 silos remain in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana with the much more powerful Minuteman III missile in each of them. 

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Growing up just three miles from the massive industrial complex known as the Ford Rouge plant, I was always aware that there was a big Russian target on my head.  Not a comforting thing to think about as a teenager, believe me.  With that in mind, I peppered this ranger with a myriad of questions about these silos.  He was actually a a missile commander back in the day, and was extremely open about the workings of this facility.

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This heavy concrete lid covered the silo at one time.  It is currently welded partway over the silo, in accordance with the treaty.  In the 1983 television movie The Day After, there was a scene showing these lids retracting just prior to the missiles launching to their intended targets.  That scene sticks in my mind to this day.

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This is actually a hardened communications antenna.  Think of it as a nuclear-proof cell phone tower.  The ranger informed us that it would have not withstood a blast, even though that was the original intention.  When I could think of nothing else to ask, I thanked him for keeping us safe over the course of his career, which he appreciated.

After that sobering visit, we continued to Exit 130 and the Minuteman Visitor Center.

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This facility has a museum, theater and gift shop.  A gift shop???  Do you really want to be reminded of a possible nuclear holocaust by drinking your morning coffee out of a Minuteman Missile mug? We viewed the movie, which started very much like The Day After, showing peaceful scenes with flyovers of fields of grain and unending prairies.  It didn’t take long for it to show images of nuclear weapons detonating, the polar opposite of the earlier idyllic segments.  After going through the nuts and bolts of the Minuteman program, they got to the story of one Stanislav Petrov, a missile commander from the Soviet Union.  Remember this man.

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Seen here during a visit to the Minuteman National Historic Site a few years ago, he is credited with single-handedly saving the world as we know it.  In 1983, just before the above-mentioned TV film aired, this commander was alerted by his men of five incoming U.S. missiles on their radar screens.  Tensions were high at that time, as the Soviets had just shot down a Korean Air Lines 747 with 246 souls on board.  Petrov looked at the images and said “How can this be?”  He knew the U.S. would launch far more than five missiles, so he held back from reporting what he was seeing.  It turned out to be sunlight reflecting off high altitude clouds over North Dakota.  Had he let his superiors know, missiles would have started flying in both directions.  That inaction simultaneously ruined his military career and saved us all.  He eventually suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress of it all.  And if that wasn’t frightening enough, we learned later on in the museum that incidents like this happened twelve times…six on each side.  In one of them, someone on the U.S. side inserted a training floppy disk into a computer which lit up the radar screens with incoming Russian missiles.  Fortunately, someone discovered the error before the U.S. retaliated to a non-event.

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In hindsight, the quote on this display in front of the visitor center may be impossible to achieve, due to the human factor involved with these weapons.  After visiting this facility, we skipped the Junior Ranger badges this go around.  Personally I went a good half hour before I could say anything, as I had a sizable lump in my throat from that film.

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Still, it was a well done historic site worth visiting.  Petrov himself stated that never in his wildest dreams would he have thought he could visit such a place on the ‘enemy’ side.  Yes we were the enemy to them, as they were to us.  Hopefully, the only thing we ever see flying over Wall, South Dakota are rainbows and clouds.  Our wish for future generations is that the only ‘bad lands’ are the Lakota mako sica hills that dominate the landscape east of the Black Hills.

Next up, we head east through the remainder of South Dakota into the Missouri River region of the state.  Along the way, we found a pleasant surprise nestled along the river’s banks.  Be sure to stay tuned for that in next Saturday morning’s post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

We Have Liftoff!…Sort Of

With the arrival of spring, our ambitious year of travel found us poised on the launch pad, awaiting the go for liftoff.  In the lead up to that moment, we spent a good two weeks finalizing both our trip west and our UK trip in the fall.  I also helped our friends Ron and Nancy with their kitchen project, offering my cabinet layout and installation skills I had acquired throughout my career.  In fact, my 5-year retirement anniversary occurred during the course of the project on March 21st.

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Not bad for a couple of old guys, huh? Once the last cabinet was mounted, Diana and I proceeded to shift from our lazy beach lifestyle to travel mode. Thursday, March 28 found us packed up and ready to roll.

After hugs goodbye with our friends, we were off!

Being stationary for over 5 months, our first travel day was not overly ambitious. As we normally like to do, we headed north up I-95 to visit our mail forwarding service in Green Cove Springs. After an uneventful journey, we quickly set up camp at the local marina.

Not too many campgrounds can boast that they have a space shuttle external tank on the property. 😉 We grabbed our mail, renewed our tags on our vehicles, stopped at General RV for a few supplies, and finished up with pizza at Mellow Mushroom. After getting our library cards renewed the next morning, we were all hooked up and ready to head west.

Well, our truck Henry had other plans….

As we headed out of Green Cove Springs, we passed Garber Auto Mall. Diana and I make an effort to patronize the businesses in town as we are appreciative of their graciousness to domicile not only RVer’s, but also marine cruisers and military personnel. I literally looked at the Ford blue oval at Garber and thought, “We should buy our next truck from them.” I think Henry heard my thoughts rattling around in my brain, as we were but a few miles past the dealership when the Check Engine light came on, along with the dreaded “wrench” symbol on the truck’s information center. Things seemed amiss under the hood, so we pulled over and called Garber’s service department. It was Friday and they were not going to be able to service the truck until Monday. We called to check for availability and were able to limp back to our previous night’s camp. Within a half hour, we were back on the campsite we had just left and disconnected.

During the trip back, I reviewed the money we had poured into Henry over the past couple of years. I came to the conclusion that we were attempting to put a shiny new saddle on an old horse. He had served us well, but as I thought about our journey ahead, I felt Hank was better served to retire to the green pastures of Clay County.

Diana can more accurately attest that I was a man possessed, as I unloaded the contents of the vehicle to the inside and underside of our fifth wheel.

This is my ‘let’s go truck shopping’ look. Not long after, we were at Garber, weighing our options. Our sales associate, Tom Perkins, located a vehicle for us in Charlotte, NC that fit our needs perfectly. Mr. Perkins has the distinct honor of being the fourth Tom we’ve bought a truck from, with Toms Campbell, Tasker, and Elliott before him.  🙂   After negotiating the terms of the deal, it was determined the new truck would be in our hands by the middle of the next week. Luckily, we had built some time into our trip that would allow us to catch up. The delay also allowed us to explore Green Cove Springs, Fleming Island, and Jacksonville a bit more. While we found the latter to be a bit too crowded for our taste, our love for our adopted domicile did nothing but grow. Green Cove Springs is a great little town. Did you know that Frank J. Canova, Jr., is from here? You may not know his name, but I’ll bet you use his invention…the smartphone….each and every day.   🙂    Another interesting tidbit has to do with the former naval air station that was located here. Now transformed into a deep water port and air park, the station was once home to Marine Corps aviator and eventual Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon.   Heeeere’s Johnny!  Also, if you’ve ever wondered where the name of the town came from…

…over 1300 gallons a minute of 77 degree water flows from a spring in a park in the center of town into…

…and out of a swimming pool…

…and down into a beautiful green cove along the St. John’s River. Now you know!

A couple of other things we needed to consider in this transition were the fact we had a folding tonneau on Henry, and we were going to be needing the hitch installed in the new vehicle. Ford has come up with a new feature called the ‘puck’ system that wasn’t going to work with our current hitch. On the surface, it appeared that the new truck didn’t have it, but there was a chance that the hardware for it was under the bed. That would have interfered with the installation of industry-standard bed rails. Kudos to sales manager Darren Mathews for getting the North Carolina dealer to snap some photos to confirm that was not the case. Also, seeing that the tonneau cover /storage box I had was not readily available in Jacksonville (it’s made in Grand Rapids), I was going to need a different method to store stuff and support the front wheels of Diana’s TerraTrike.

This is how the Fold-a-Cover stacked on Henry. There is a large storage bin below it that is part of the system. We quickly determined that a behind-the-cab toolbox would (at least temporarily) foot the bill for our journey, providing both storage and a platform for the trike. We can deal with the tonneau when we get to Grand Rapids in June. As far as the hitch, Tom suggested we talk to Rick Baker, owner of Rick Baker’s RV Center in Green Cove Springs. After explaining our situation, Rick ordered our parts and agreed to have the hitch put on as soon as we could get the truck to him.

Tuesday evening rolled around and we headed to the dealer. The truck had arrived from Charlotte and the gentleman who brought it down to Florida raved at how well it ran for him. From what we could see in the evening light, it was absolutely beautiful.

Wednesday found us at Garber bright and early. After a test drive, some paperwork and a license plate change, we were pretty much good to go. The only thing left to do was get the truck to Rick Baker for the hitch installation. Tom sent a driver in Henry, so as to drop off the old hitch. Tom also set up our Ford Pass in the truck and synced my phone with it. In the process, he asked if I wanted to give the truck a nickname. I replied quickly with a spirited “Oh YES!” With that, I introduce to you our new truck…

Hank the Deuce! That’s a tip-of-the-hat to Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford, who succeeded the founder as the president of Ford Motor Company. Here we are with Tom Perkins, who is as happy as we are that this all worked out so well. It was a pleasure working with him, Darren Mathews, and the crew at Garber, and also with Rick Baker and his crew at Baker’s RV. If you find yourself in Green Cove Springs, be sure to pay either of them a visit with your automotive or RV needs.

Hank the Deuce, Clara, Edsel 2, Ketchup and Mustard are all loaded up and ready to go. We hope to catch up with you this travel season, so be sure to give us a shout if you see we are in your area. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

2019 Spring and Summer Plans

In our last post, we jumped ahead to what we were planning for in September and October of this year with our trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland.  After quite a bit of trip routing, we are ready to reveal our spring and summer plans!

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Like these pelicans along the shore, we will soon line up with everyone else and fly northward.  Once we get to Jacksonville, we are turning westward for a journey to the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area.  It will be a very busy slate. Look for a spring full of posts about that trip.  We have three months before we have to be back in Michigan to start our volunteer gigs at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We will be there for two months before heading overseas for a month.  And after that???

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Well, the fact that I installed a flagpole sleeve in the ground at our site in Florida, I guess that’s a pretty good indication of where we will be next winter!  We’ve really come to love it here.  Good friends, good weather and…

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…rocket launches!  This particular launch was the Crew Dragon demonstration mission that SpaceX sent to the International Space Station last week.  The capsule safely returned on Friday about 200 miles off the coast.  Future splashdowns will be within 25 miles of shore, so we should be able to get some photos of them parachuting down.

And an update on our genealogy work:  Diana is finding a plethora of information on her roots that will ensure that we have plenty of places to visit when we get overseas.  She has been able to go way, way back in her lineage.  On my search, I’m currently working between my sixth and tenth great grandparents on my dad’s side.  To let you know how involved that is, every one of us have 256 sixth great-grandparents.  By the time you get to your tenth great-grandparents, that number balloons to 4096 people!  Thanks to the Catholic church records in Canada, there is a record of most every one of mine.  And I know that there are several hints waiting to take me beyond that level.  Time will tell what I find on my mom’s German side.

We’ve also found time to have fun with our friends in the area.

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We checked out the St Katherine’s Greek Festival one day with Fred and Bonnie.  It was fun to see the dancers doing traditional Greek dances in their costumes.

We also met our friends Jim and Sue, who were down from Alton, Illinois to see their son Jake pitch for Fontbonne University.

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He didn’t end up pitching that afternoon, but he did start today.  He got the win, and the team is 10-0 on the year so far.

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The four of us rented a nice home on Airbnb which worked out extremely well.  What a great time!

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So as our time winds down for the year in Melbourne Beach, be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming posts as we head west.  Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!