Category Archives: Florida

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!

 

 

 

Hanging Out on the Space Coast

Hmmmm….where have Jim and Diana been?  No, we haven’t been eaten by sharks or drifted northeast on the Gulf Stream with the sea turtles.  It’s January, which means it is time to catch up on our annual chores and to plan our travels for the year ahead.  We’ve also been hanging out with our friends here in Melbourne Beach, which is always fun.  🙂  The only thing that has been missing is the parade of rockets flying by from Cape Canaveral, as a slew of missions have been pushed into February.  So, without further adieu…

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On New Years Day, the Melbourne Beach Historical Society held a walking tour of the town’s historic district.  Fred, Bonnie, Diana and I tagged along, as we all wanted to know more about the area’s past.  While the area is rich with history, our presenter failed to deliver the story in the riveting manner it deserved.  We also picked up on the fact that impartiality was not his forte.  He is handing over the reigns to a new historian next year, so we will be sure to check that presentation out.

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And remember Cuki the sailboat?  Hurricane Irma ripped her loose from her mooring in Key West and sent her on a 350 mile journey to our beach back in 2017.  Time, vandals, and the ocean had not been kind to her, with her masts and fittings disappearing in that period.

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With the ship being buried in sand to its’ inland gunwale, the decision was made to haul it away in a couple of refuse roll-offs.  It was a mess, to say the least.

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Speaking of fiberglass; our rig was ready for it’s annual wax job.

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Look at that shine!  I can’t say enough about that three-part Meguiar’s restoration system I use.

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We get it through Amazon, but I’m pretty sure West Marine carries it also.  We also want to give a shout out to whoever manufactured the decals for our 2007 Colorado fifth wheel.  Twelve years of sitting outside and they look practically new.  They are proof that it IS possible to make decals that stay put and look good.

While I was waxing, Diana was deep into her genealogy. We both signed up for Ancestry DNA when the kits were on sale on Black Friday.  She has been building her family tree, which has been very fun!  I am starting my tree this weekend, as I delayed the start to allow time to finish my UPS job and the annual rig maintenance.  We have to say that Ancestry.com is very good at what they do, and they have been very helpful to Diana on her journey to discover her family’s origins.  The amount of information contained in their database is mind boggling.  We’ve also become huge fans of the PBS show Finding Your Roots, which is hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.   Check your local listings and give it a look.  It is fascinating!

We also have an update on the powered parachute pilot who got tangled in the utility lines near us.  Dima had been in an induced coma since the middle of November until recently, while the doctors in Orlando worked to repair his broken spine and graft his burns.  It was a tough few months.

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Needless to say, we were thrilled to see this photo that his wife Katya posted the other day.  🙂  He is one lucky man.

Midway through my waxing duties, Jerry and Ron invited me to tag along on a trip to the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee.

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We went on a Tuesday, which was not an active auction day.  That meant there were less crowds!

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Here is a predecessor to my truck, Henry.  Those front fenders are wide enough to land a plane on!

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And here is a salmon Edsel convertible.  Diana’s Escape, Edsel 2, would be proud.

While the auction was mostly cars…close to three thousand of them… there were a few boats sprinkled in.

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This Gar Wood boat was built in Detroit.

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My paternal grandfather had a boat similar to this.  Top speed on this beauty was in excess of 70 miles an hour!

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If there is one car that has consistently taken my breath away, it is a Candy Apple Red 1969 Boss Mustang.  My dad once acted as an agent for a guy who wanted his sold.  Mom wasn’t too thrilled when Dad took her to church in it one Sunday…although I detected a twinkle in his eye. 🙂

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Looks like the value of these things have gone up a bit.  Talk about taking your breath away!  We all agreed that we’ve never seen so many near-perfect cars in one place, and the three of us have seen our share of vehicles in our time.  The cool thing about the auction is that you are allowed to sit in most of the vehicles.  Being able to do that brought back a lot of memories for us.

January has seen a group of us checking out the local music venues.

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Here is Libby, Linda, Jerry, Nancy, Ron and us at Summer Crush Winery in Fort Pierce a few weeks ago.  The venue was hosting a Corvette show, so us guys got another dose of nice cars.  🙂

So until next time…

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we will be watching the sunsets…

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and the moonrises.  We’ll be back with an update on our 2019 travel plans in early February, as we should have everything in place by then.  It is going to be an exciting year, to say the least!  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

 

The Past Beneath Your Feet

As most of you know, I have spent the last two Christmas seasons delivering packages for UPS on a golf cart.  Last year I had a great route in a gated community that was, unfortunately, an hour away from our rig.  That cut heavily into the profits I was making, so I pushed management this year to give me a closer route.  After working a route about 15 minutes away for a few weeks, the neighborhood I wanted that was 3 miles from home opened up in the town of Indialantic-by-the-Sea.  In the photo below, the area I was responsible for is outlined in red.  The pod I worked from was where the yellow dot is across from Wendy’s. More on that light blue circle in a minute…

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A typical day would be somewhere in the vicinity of 90 stops and 120 packages, topping out one day at 156 stops and 210 packages.

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Here is my pod on one of the busiest days.  It was also one of my rainiest days, and I had to tarp my 3rd, 4th and 5th loads.

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Here is my cart with the first load ready to go.  Somebody is having Omaha steaks for Christmas!

The lot where my pod was located was about a hundred yards from the beach…meaning it was mostly comprised of sand.

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Several of the drivers bringing us our freight had issues with their 26 foot U-Hauls.  Fortunately, I own a 4 wheel drive Ford and a tow strap.  After the third time, I left the holes so future drivers would avoid this area.  That worked.

So back to the map and that light blue circle.  On my first day, not yet being familiar with the route, I loaded up my packages in order of the numbered streets: 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and so on.  When I headed down 9th Street, I realized that the name had changed to Tradewinds Terrace, and that it interrupted the east/west flow of my deliveries.  Hmmmm…how did we go from a grid with streets and avenues to an oddball street named Tradewinds Terrace cutting across the checkerboard???  Well, I continued on my way, adjusting the method I used to deliver the packages.  I put the odd little street in the back of my mind and continued on.

Next thing I noticed is that most of the houses were built in the early 1960’s.  That is consistent with the need for housing when Kennedy Space Center was in its’ heyday of sending men to the moon.  Some of those homes have since been torn down and larger homes have been put in their place.  But every so often, there would be an old Spanish style home sprinkled in.  Looking at them, I figured they were from the 1920’s.  Couple that with the fact that the streets were only a car and a half wide, I began to wonder just when the neighborhood was originally developed.  A quick Google search led me down a very interesting path.  I’ve always said that it does not matter how common a place seems, something interesting probably happened there at one time.  Indialantic-by-the-Sea tuned out to be just such a place.

In the late 1800’s, the area north of Melbourne Beach and south of what is now Cocoa Beach was a series of pineapple plantations.  Hard freezes in 1894 and 1895 wiped out the pineapple industry, and the land remained uninhabited for a number of years.  The only way to get to the barrier island was by boat.  In 1915, a man named Ernest Kouwen-Hoven brought his family to Melbourne from Chicago for health reasons.  Staying at the Carelton Hotel, he was intrigued by the land he could see in the distance across the Indian River.  The following year, he began buying up that land and laying out streets.  Before too long, he had a wooden bridge built from the mainland to the barrier island, which opened up the area for development.  The current causeway is named after him.

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By the mid 1920’s, the streets that would become my UPS route were mostly in place, except for a large parcel in the middle of it that contained a hotel and a golf course.  At first, the hotel was named the Indialantic Hotel after the development of the same name.  Indialantic is a combination of Indian River and Atlantic Ocean, the two bodies of water that the town lies between.  The hotel’s shadow can be seen just to the right of the number ’14’ on the photo above.

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The  hotel saw many famous guests, the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Jack Benny and Werner von Braun, to name a few.

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As seen in the photo above, the accommodations were quite luxurious for that time.  The Great Depression put a crimp on the development in the area, and the smattering of 1920’s era homes sat without many neighbors.

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By the early 1950’s, development began to increase again, and the golf course was sold off.  The hotel itself remained, renamed the Trade Winds Club.  Ahhhh…. now that street name is starting to make sense!  By the mid 1980’s, time had taken it’s toll on the structure, and the salty sand used in the concrete during construction compromised the steel beams to a point that the hotel had to be demolished.  A north/south street named Tradewinds Terrace was put in, running right through the location of the former lobby in the interior photo above.

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This spot, as close as I can tell, is the same spot where that lobby photo was taken.  Who would’ve known that this common subdivision had such an uncommon past?  The clues were there; all I had to do was follow them.

As a bonus, I was fortunate to be able to deliver packages to many of the older homes in the area.

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This one is owned by the famous undersea explorer, Robert Marx.  It is fabulous.

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There is also a photo online of an old apartment building from 1926 called The Palms.

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Here it is today, virtually unchanged.

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I had to run a package upstairs to one of the residents, which revealed this lovely common area.  The stairs creaked like an old Woolworth store.  🙂

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And to keep me on my toes, I delivered to this beauty a few times.  Walking through the ornate iron gate to the gigantic front door, I was sure this was one of those grand old Indialantic homes.  That was until I pulled it up on Google Street View to show Diana:

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This is the same corner not too long ago.  The house is brand new, and all that established-looking landscaping is also!  The homeowners are the nicest people, leaving Ghirardelli chocolates and San Pellegrino water out for the delivery guys.

I really enjoyed the new route.  With the houses all being different, it kept things interesting.

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The Christmas decorations were great, including Snoopy on his Zamboni.  They must’ve known this old ice rink rat was going to be delivering for them.

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I even looked up while driving north one day to see SpaceX sending a Falcon 9 towards the ISS.  This is the one where the booster landed in the ocean and was floated back to port.  All in all, it was a fun neighborhood to deliver packages in!

So wherever you are, stop and think for a minute what may have happened there in the past.  Look for the clues that point the way.  No matter how mundane the place may seem now, the history beneath it may surprise you. 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Adventurer in All of Us

At some point in our lives, something comes along that catches our eye and draws us off on a trail of adventure.  It may be something like hiking across the country, taking up surfing or as simple as riding a zip line.  Some of these activities are quite safe, while others involve personal risk.  I know that I’ve experienced a few risky endeavors in my life, and I’ve been fortunate to live to see another day.  The older I got and the more responsibilities I took on caused me to scale back on the risk I was willing to take.  I will say though that there was a lag time in the common sense aspect of my decision to be cautious.  We can probably chalk that up to me being a guy.  🙂

That brings me around to an unfortunate indecent that happened by us on November 17.  We were hanging out with our friends Linda, Jerry and Ron, discussing some landscaping that Linda and Jerry were going to be doing at their new mobile home they had bought last year.  As we were talking, a powered parachute flew over us a few hundred feet up.

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We see these craft flying up and down the beach all the time.  On one hand, they look to be great fun.  Ron even mentioned how much fun it be would to give one a whirl.  On the flip side, they appear to be somewhat dangerous.  The whole thing is nothing more than a parachute, motor, propeller, tank of gas and a pilot.  This particular evening saw a steady breeze coming in off the ocean, and the pilot seemed to be struggling with controlling the craft.  The throttle was up and down, causing us to wonder if he was having engine trouble.  And breaking from what we normally see, he was flying inland over residential areas quite a ways, instead of staying out over the beach.  Before long, we heard the engine slow down and we watched the paraglider descend  towards the county beach park to our north.  Next thing we heard was the sickening sound of electricity arcing, similar to when a transformer on a power pole explodes.  We could see the sparks flying from a 1/4 mile away.  There is a line of power poles extending along A1A that are a good 30 to 50 feet in the air, and we could see the fabric from the chute draped over the lines.  Diana, Ron and I jumped on Ron’s golf cart and Jerry and Linda jumped on theirs and headed over to see what had happened.

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From what we were told, the pilot cleared the wires, only to have the breeze blow him back into them.  His gas tank caught on fire at some point and he fell 30 feet to the ground…landing next to the bike path.  The young man with the grey shirt in the photo above stopped and smothered the flames with the only thing he had available; his truck mat.  Fortunately, there is a Brevard County Fire and Rescue between us and the crash site, and they were there almost immediately.  Jerry (blue shirt above) is a retired firefighter and Linda (yellow shorts) is a retired nurse.  They noticed a young woman pacing around with a tiny baby.  That person was the pilot’s wife.  They ended up pulling up their golf cart so she could sit down, as she was distraught.  They spent a good hour and a half with her, helping to calm her down.

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Before long, a helicopter arrived from Orlando…landing on the 3rd green of the adjoining golf course.  It took awhile to transfer the victim to the Life Flight, but soon he was on his way.

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This is the Brevard County Rescue photo of the remains of the craft.  Not a pretty picture, to say the least.

So, who was this person?  Well, it turns out he was a young man from Ukraine who was living and working in Miami with his wife and 3 month old baby.

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Dima was self employed, while his wife stayed home to care for their child.  He received 3rd degree burns over 20% of his body, along with broken vertebrae and ribs and a punctured lung.  He is lucky to be alive, but has a very difficult road ahead of him.  Turns out it was the first time he flew his craft. Should he have been attempting this with a young family to care for?  Most definitely not…but I’ll refer you to that lag time in common sense I spoke of earlier.  The adventurer inside of him was most likely gnawing at him, and he gave the sport of powered paragliding a try.  Unfortunately, it did not end well.

I think back to the times I took risks that could have ended this way.  One time in particular stands out to me.  I wiped out while slalom water skiing in one foot deep water while going 30 miles an hour.  I jammed my shoulder hard into the sandy lake bottom, but ended up hurting only my pride.  I could have easily broken my neck.  Was that stupid of me?  You bet it was.  That doesn’t change the fact that Diana would have had a very difficult life caring for me, had I been severely injured…much like Dima’s wife is going to have for the foreseeable future.  It’s that lucky-to-be-alive adventurer in us that is going to send them a little help via the Go Fund Me website that has been set up in their name.  If this story touches your heart and you wish to donate, the page can be accessed by clicking HERE.  If you are unable to donate, please send some good vibes or prayers their way, as this family is certainly going to need them.

Positive comments are appreciated and will be approved for publication.  Until next time; please be safe out there, fellow adventurers.

Wild About Florida

October 16 – November 4, 2018

Melbourne Beach, Florida

Changing things up a bit this year, we arrived in Florida a full two weeks early.  Our motivation was to see if I could get a UPS golf cart route closer to where we live.  Last year, I had to drive 24 miles just to get to my pod and golf cart.  It didn’t make a lot of sense, as our truck is fairly expensive to operate.

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So far, I am on a route that is only 12 miles away.  As the Melbourne Beach pods are put in place, I’m hoping to secure one of those.  It’s fun to be back behind the wheel of the golf cart, delivering those smiles that Amazon used to tell us about.  🙂

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We are back on our site at Melbourne Beach Mobile Park.  The vegetation grew like crazy over the summer, so we had a bit of landscaping to do.  Nothing as difficult as last year though.  It definitely feels like home!

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Our first morning back brought us a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic.  Unfortunately for us…

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…the next week saw blooms of red tide work their way north on the Gulf Stream, kicked loose from the Gulf of Mexico by Hurricane Michael.  We had thousands of dead fish along the shores of Brevard County, and we ended up having to wear surgical masks to go outdoors, due to the smell from the red tide itself. We were concerned to say the least, as no one knew how long it would last.  Fortunately, it continued north and left our area within a week.

Slowly, our friends at the park started showing up.  Jerry and Linda who we visited in Rhode Island were already here, as they have bought a mobile home and are in the process of fixing it up.  We also had other friends roll into the area, so it was great to see them!  Bob and Pat (Michigan Traveler) are in the area until December, so we met them for dinner one evening.  We forgot to get a photo, but we will get one sometime here in the next month.  After that, we were paid a visit by Tessa (aka Fluffy Dog)!

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She brought her mom and dad, Jodee and Bill (On the Road Abode), so the five of us made plans to search for the wild side of Florida.

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They brought us a gift to keep us busy this winter: a Junior Ranger puzzle.  211 tiny pieces…

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…and detailed instructions on how to put it all together!  Hopefully we get a Junior Ranger badge if we complete it.  🙂

We had two different natural spaces in mind to visit with them.  The first was Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Nestled along the northern border of the Kennedy Space Center, this refuge if filled with all sorts of wild animals.

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We saw multiple alligators…

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…and birds of all different kinds.

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We even saw a wild pig!

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The Great Blue Heron were out in force.

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This beauty was twice as pretty as the rest.  🙂

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Its remarkable how large this preserve is.  The views seemed to go on forever.

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To the south, the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center looms in the distance.  Every Apollo rocket and space shuttle that ever flew was put together in this building.  At 129,428,000 cubic feet, it is one of the largest buildings on Earth by volume.

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And this is how a row of mangroves looks in infancy.  Some of the ones along the Indian River are so expansive, a kayaker could easily get lost in them.

The next day, we went to Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge to visit the Barrier Island Education Center.  There we learned about the sea turtle nesting efforts along the east coast of Florida.  We followed that up with a visit to Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.  This particular wild place is special in that it was the first wildlife refuge ever established in the United States.

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They have a unique boardwalk that has slats inscribed for every one of the over 500 refuges across the country.

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And there at the top of the walk is Pelican Island, a small 6 acre piece of land set aside by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903.  What started out as a 6 acre preserve has grown to a national system of natural spaces  covering over 150 million acres.  Pretty cool to think you don’t have to go far to find a wild place in the United States.  Thank you Teddy! 🙂

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It was great to see Jodee and Bill (and Tessa) again!  It’s also great to be back in Florida, our adopted home state.  Stay tuned to see what other adventures we embark on over the winter. If you are in the area, give us a shout!  Until next time, safe and happy travels to all.  🙂