Friday, December 31, 2021

Bye-Bye 2021. Not Everything Sucked.

Ape's Cave, in the Gifford Pinchot forest near Cougar, in the Mount St. Helens, Washington area.
Photo was taken 2001.

2021 and 2020

Two years where it's easy to focus on everything that went wrong. Instead . . .

What were your 2021 highlights?

Despite a year where little went to plan, and we gave some final goodbyes to dear friends, here are 

Two dozen 2021 events we're grateful for

  1. We bought an excellent sailboat from friends and left for the Bahamas on it mere days later.
  2. I sold my car to someone who loved it
  3. We turned our RV over to the insurance company of the driver who hit it for significantly more than we paid for it (or expected we'd be able to sell it for)
  4. We buddy-boated the Bahamas with our Seattle cruising friends Chris(topher) and Chris(tine) of Scintilla who we met back in Vanuatu in 2016. (Still lots of post-worthy stuff from that)
  5. We got COVID vaccinations the first day we touched land upon returning to the US (and finalized my shingles vaccination before leaving)
  6. Acquaintances sold us a car when we couldn't find a suitable one due to the great COVID car shortage
  7. When we decided a big sailboat is not for us after all, we sold our boat for more than we paid for it (and our friends we bought the boat from were happy that they were two-boat owners for mere days)
  8. We house-sat for a friend and fell in love with her kitty, Shiva
  9. I got to experience a bioluminescent kayak tour as well as some other excellent paddles
  10. We took a beautiful east coast fall foliage tour, though the highlights were staying with friends Steve in Asheville NC, Kate in Niagara Falls, Ann in Oswego NY, and Earl and Angela in Knoxville TN, and discovering how pretty my dad's boyhood home, upstate New York is (Still lots of post-worthy stuff from that, too)
  11. We forged strong new friendships, especially with TA, Judy and John
  12. A stranger loaned us his RV to live in
  13. We adopted Shiva
  14. We got COVID boosters almost as soon as they came out
  15. We are now covered by Tricare, thanks to Wayne's years of service
  16. A friend sold us his beloved RoadTrek mini campervan when that was exactly what we needed at that time
  17. We got to visit my brother and sister-in-law and nephew in Colorado (and plan to again soon)
  18. Another friend is loaning us his RV as our transitional home while we seek out something longer term
  19. We got to enjoy Christmas dinner with Wayne's dad and his wife with the promise of more celebrations with other friends in the near future
  20. We are spending time back on our former trawler, courtesy of its current owners, Margaret and Dash
  21. Tee (and Harold) our Collins Beach buddies surprised us with a sweet gift package
  22. Our financial planner explained how and why we should return to becoming homeowners; we expect that to happen in 2022
  23. I got some fun writing gigs (especially love working with Jocelyn)
  24. We are healthy and have each other (and Shiva now too!)
Shiva, finally zonked after a really good play session.

There's more, but two dozen seems like a good point to stop!

Photo by Mark Arron Smith from Pexels

I wish I could say with assurance that 2022 will be a better year than 2021, but I know better. Nonetheless . . .

We'll be looking forward to

Some parts of 2022 will be better. We are reasonably sure by this time next year we'll be well-ensconced in the local community of wherever who choose to call our home base. We haven't owned our own place, terra firma, since 2008.

We will once again enjoy the luxuries many take for granted: unlimited hot running water, regular flush toilets without counting the one-ply tissues we use per flush, ample electricity, our own land transportation, good wifi and laundry as simple as walking up to a washer-dryer in our own place and using it,

In our house hunting, a realtor noted that she would understand if we did not want to endure the hassle of a washer and dryer in the basement. 

We laughed.

"Here's how laundry worked for us," Wayne explained. "We'd load our laundry bag into our dinghy, then take that dinghy to shore. Then we'd walk a mile or so with our laundry, drop it off, and cross our fingers. Later that day, we'd return to pay a princely sum for bleached-out colored laundry, and if we were lucky, everything we dropped off would be returned to us." Then we'd hump the laundry back to the dinghy, hope it didn't get a saltwater bath on the way back, because saltwater doesn't dry, then load it back up into our boat.

That's when it was easy.

The rest of the time, we'd set up bins and handwash everything using a set of plastic bins. sometimes we washed and rinsed our clothes with our hands, sometimes with our feet. Often we'd use ammonia, which was hard on our clothes, but required minimal rinsing and cleaned them well. Then we'd line dry our sheets, towels, shirts, pants, shorts, dresses, and underwear on our safety lines, making sure the clothespins holding them were secure enough to keep them from flying overboard.

Doing laundry aboard s/v Journey.

Okay, we were comparatively on easy street on our last boat, because there was a small washing machine. We had to drag it out of our forepeak, past the narrow aisle in our settee, then up the stairs into our cockpit to use it where we attached it to a long extension cord. Thanks to ample wind and solar power, we had enough juice to run it. We still had to line dry all our laundry and drag the washer back down into its cubbyhole until the next time.

Even now, while we're in transition, doing laundry means getting into our car, picking the right traffic window, hopefully not in a rainstorm, and heading out to a laundromat and feeding lots and lots of quarters into the machines.

Still, these are all first-world problems, and when these are our biggest complaints, we count ourselves as fortunate.

We expect to be more connected with friends and family than in years past, though our cruising friends will always be family, too.

I will try to remember this Charlie Chaplin quote: You'll never find a rainbow if you're looking down.

This rainbow photo was taken near one of my favorite new US National parks, Capitol Reef, Utah.

As for tonight, we filled our bellies with a particularly tasty batch of Hoppin' John, now our annual New Year's Eve good luck dinner. If you've never heard of it, here's a wiki about it and a recipe to get you started.

Overall, no matter what comes our way or yours. we wish you the best New Year possible.

Monday, December 27, 2021

What is That Stuff?!?

Shiva gazes out the aft window of our former trawler m/v Serendipity.
While we're looking for a place to call our home base, temporarily, we're back aboard m/v Serendipity, our former trawler. We sold Serendipity to Seattilites Margaret and Dash, who still have her berthed in the same Portland, Oregon slip on Hayden Island. They generously allowed us to encamp here temporarily. Wayne is doing a bit of maintenance on her while we're here.

Meanwhile, our kit-cat Shiva is not sure what to make of this cold, flying white stuff; given she's a Florida native.

Our purpose in life right now is to wear out our kitty. Here's what success looks like.

Shiva is adapting just fine.

What's it like now in your neck of the woods? Is it blanked in the snow? Bathed in the sunshine? Or?

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas from Transitionville

Yes, this Christmas is a little weird—at least for us. Photo credit: pexels-alexandr-podvalny-3219762.jpeg

For us, this Christmas is one more strange day in a strange year. We suspect we are not alone in this perspective.

However, we are looking forward to spending Christmas with family in the Portland area and much of the rest of the holiday season with friends as long as "snowmageddon*" allows it.

*Any snow in Portland, Oregon generally brings most normally scheduled activities to a standstill.

Other than that, we're still in transition, on the hunt for a home base after many years without one. When there's more news on that front, I'll post about it.

As for you—

May all your very best holiday wishes come true!

Please drop us a line and let us know what you're up to this holiday season.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

What the Heck's a Paw Paw? Fall Foliage Tour, Continued


In the Caribbean, the locals called papayas "paw paws"—like this crazy big one
Wayne ate in St. Lucia, where we first started cruising the tropics together.

In the US, when I heard there was a fruit called a paw paw in West Virginia, and a town there called Paw Paw, I figured they were not the same as the Caribbean version. Indeed, they are not.

Pawpaws are oblong green fruits, according to a Healthline article extolling the nutritional benefits of the U.S. pawpaw. They are prized for their flavor, which is described as a tropical blend of mango, banana, berries, and pineapple. However, it’s important to note that there are several types of wild pawpaw, some of which don’t have a pleasant taste.

I hunted fruitlessly for one a grocery store in Paw Paw. Alas, the few businesses there, mostly gas stations, which didn't look like likely prospects to sell a rare fruit. I gave up.

C&O Canal Paw Paw Tunnel entrance. The trail is popular with cyclists, too.

We stopped to check out the Paw Paw tunnel at the now-defunct, but once vital Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal. The tunnel earned its name from the many wild paw paw trees growing along that stretch of river. Designed to bypass a tough stretch of the Potomac River, the tunnel runs about two-thirds of a mile (3,115 feet) and was considered an engineering marvel. It took over six million bricks to build the tunnel, which was completed in 1850.

There are no lights in the tunnel. Nonetheless, I stumbled my way through it without a flashlight, sure I would be rewarded by a vista on the other side.

C&O Canal Paw Paw Tunnel entrance.
Wayne, near the tunnel entrance, when it was still possible to see without a flashlight.
Wayne, wisely, gave up after a while. While he waited for me, he encountered a park ranger chatting with some other visitors. Wayne joined the conversation.

C&O Canal Paw Paw Tunnel entrance from inside, looking back.
Lo and behold, the ranger held a paw paw, which he sliced up for Wayne and the other folks to try. By the time I returned from my trip through the tunnel, the ranger and his paw paw were gone.

US Paw Paw Image pilfered from
I asked Wayne what the paw paw tasted like. "Meh," he said—okay he didn't but that's what he said summed up to. The paw paw Wayne tried must not have been one of the tasty cultivars. 

Backside of the C&O Paw Paw Tunnel. I snuck past the construction tape to take this photo.
As for the tunnel, there was no vista on the other side. In fact, what was there was closed off for construction. I slipped past it for a bit, but it didn't appear to go anywhere interesting, so I gave up and turned around.

Someday I may try one of the US paw paws—if I can find a cultivated one. 

Location Location
This post is written about our east coast fall foliage tour when we were weaving between Maryland and West Virginia, which took place in October. We are currently on another road trip, whose purpose, path, and destination I prefer to keep shrouded in mystery for now.


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Unexpected: Fall Colors in Late November

Morning lakeside view, near our November 29th campsite.
We took a fall foliage tour in late September, headed East from Florida, returning to Florida in late October. Still catching up on those posts.

We didn't plan on the trip we're taking now, but seeing this fall foliage so late in the year provided an unexpected delight.

Location Location
Still a mystery, for now.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving from Transitionville

Shiva, chillin' for Thanksgiving in our new-to-us RoadTrek 190 van.
More than ever, we are grateful for the many kindnesses extended to us by friends, family, and strangers.

When we decided to sell our home in 2008 in the midst of a recession, our friends Ron and Tricia tapped us to house-sit—for a year! 

When we decided to quit the rat race and go sailing, Milltown Sailing Association in Everett, Washington, Northwest Women in Boating and Tightwads on the Loose: A Pacific Odyssey author Wendy Hinman shared their wisdom and offered their encouragement. Our financial planner, Aaron, helped us make it possible and continues to keep us on track through our transitions even now.

Along the way, when we sailed from 2012 - 2017 the support of the boating community and folks we met along the way kept us buoyed in more ways than we can possibly mention, though special thanks go to the many kind folks from the Pearson sailboat forum.

When we sold our boat in Australia in 2017 Heather De Villiers gave us the documentation we needed to take advantage of the fair trade act savings. My friend Bertie in Jacksonville introduced us to her friends Helene and Stephen in  Brisbane Australia who hosted us twice found a friend to buy our Land Cruiser we needed to sell before we left the country.

When we returned to the US, homeless, lost, unemployed, culture-shocked, and depressed, Wayne's dad and his wife Gunnel provided safe harbor for longer than any of us intended. Then our friends Larry and Nancy gave us their boat, which we lived on for three years. 

My friend Kate gently guided me through my last week with my mom. A friend and former colleague of Wayne's landed us in Florida where I could be there for my dad in the last of his golden years. 

Our friends James and Ellen frequently gave us a place to crash whenever we needed to in Portland as did Peter in Seattle. We loved catching up with Steve and Patty who generously put their stuff in storage to welcome us aboard in the San Diego area.

We bought our last sailboat, s/v Gallivant from friends Maryann and Don. While in the process of selling it, Julene let us house-sit, where we fell in love with her foster kitty, Shiva, who we since adopted. 

On our recent fall foliage tour up the East Coast (still working on catch-up posts), Wayne's friend Steve put us up in Asheville, we caught up with cruising buddies Scott and Kim in the same area, and Ann Gates graciously hosted us for a week at her place on the shores of Lake Ontario.

When we returned to Florida, we lived in an RV loaned to us for free by "Farmer Rick," whom we'd never even met.

When our Florida flirtation ended suddenly, we needed a van quickly and badly, at a price we could afford. Maynard, who had a strong emotional attachment to his van, sold it to us after years of holding onto it. We feel humbled and will do our best to honor his lovingly cared-for van and take it on new adventures in the spirit of him and his wife Carol's memory.

Our friends Chris(topher) and Chris(tine) never fail to offer excellent advice when we need it most.

These are but a few of the pivotal points in our lives in the last ten or so years where we found our way forward only through the grace of others.

The list is far longer of those who've earned our eternal gratitude. Thank you.

We hope to find ways to pay it forward.

May you find someone there to catch you when you fall. If not today, sometime soon, let them know how much of a difference they made in your life. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Location Location
We are on the road. Today we shared Thanksgiving with a pleasant group of strangers who do not know and will not know of our recent travails. It's exactly what we needed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Vacating Area 51: The Next Adventure Begins

This is where we were, Sunnier Palms, Lot 51.

 While we didn't plan to stay at Area 51 into 2021, we did plan on settling in at Sunnier and calling it our first home base since 2009. Alas, it was not to be. That's a story for another day.

Our new-to-us adventure-mobile.

We're hitting the road—again.

It takes a little bit to get ready, so tonight we're in a motel—
which Shiva is making her own personal playground.

Location Location

Where we are going? 

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Ka-Boom! We Interrupt this Broadcast . . .

Watch out! Mt. Yassur, Vanuatu.

While there are still posts to put up from our recent East Coast fall foliage road trip, we experienced a radically unexpected change in plans where we thought we'd settle in Fort Pierce, Florida.

More soon once we settle on our short-term what next. That needs to take priority over my "regular" posts for the moment or even answering questions about it. Action first.

Thanks for your patience. Our life is many things, but dull is not one of them.

The photo is from our time in Vanuatu, and specifically my solo trip to Mt. Yassur, Tanna, where you can walk the rim of a live volcano (and I did, and took the photo you see here).

Wish us luck. If there's one thing we learned better than anything else cruising, it's adaptability.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Follow Your Heart, Even When It Doesn't Make Sense

You may try to control your future, but fate has her own ideas.
Photo by Gantas Vaičiulėnas from Pexels.
When we took off from Fort Pierce Florida for our long-delayed road trip up the US East Coast, we left a little piece of our hearts behind in the form of a blue-eyed furball named Shiva. We were smitten by a kitten who's alternataty cuddly and an insatiably crazed play fiend whose sprints, slides, leaps, sommersaults, and spectacular falls made me laugh so hard I wet myself.

If we've managed to tire Shiva out, we've done our job.
Illustration credit: Emma Chavez on

"I believe I've found Shiva a good home," Julene texted. Amazingly, we got her message while tent camping, 1,000 or so miles away in the Matthew Arm campground of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. "Do you want me to keep her here instead for you when you come back?"

Wayne and I talked about it, again. 

I loved watching Shiva climb up onto Wayne's chest when he hung out on the couch, head bonk him, then tuck her head under his armpit, and go to sleep. Heck, I adore Wayne but take special pains to keep my over-sensitive schnoz far away from his pits!

But how could we drive to the Alaskan Alcan next year if we adopted Shiva? Or return to New Zealand, where cats require an expensive and lengthy quarantine (which we consider inhumane)? Besides, come December 31st, we have nothing in place for where we'll live once the RV we're borrowing in Sunnier Palms shifts back to its owner, who plans to re-inhabit it then. That uncertainty didn't seem like much of a life for Shiva; we don't know many cats who thrive in an unstable environment.

Illustration credit:
Tina Chan on

That night I didn't sleep  because I cried over never being able to see Shiva again. Wayne, sleeping soundly in the sleeping bag next to me never knew; I'm far too good at hiding my emotions when I feel I need to.

After that, when I slept and remembered my dreams, they were about Shiva. In my dreams, she flew in to check in on me. I wished her hovering kitty spirit well and sent her my love. And cried more hidden tears.

Image from Pexels-Pixabay.

When we returned to Sunnier, Shiva was gone. We took heart that she found a better home than we could offer her. But it was bittersweet, both of us missed her terribly.

I missed when I got up to feed her first thing, wishing her a good morning and hearing her sweet little good morning trills back to me as she raced through the open door. I missed her welcoming us home by climbing Julene's lanai screen to give us a head-level hello greeting when we returned from our outdoor adventuresI even missed her annoying habit of trailing me throughout the house, even into the bathroom, where she loved playing with the sink water and sometimes mischeviously unrolling the toilet paper. 

Then I heard a rumor something went awry with Shiva's new owner. I told Wayne. We were both heartbroken. With Wayne's blessing, I started calling the shelters. 

"Oh, she got adopted two days ago," the woman at the shelter told us when we called the second on the list of local shelters. She told us how excited her new owners were to adopt her. They'd adopted an older ragdoll some years prior who died a year ago. Her adoptees showed the shelter folks pictures of their beloved kitty. I asked the lady at the shelter if she could let Shiva's new owners know we'd love to cat-sit if they ever needed a cat-sitter. Or to call us if things didn't work out. I gave her my name and number. She was pleasant but non-committal.

Once again, Wayne and I tried to console ourselves that this was best thing for Shiva. But we both cried. When the time is right for us to get a cat, I told Wayne, I want to get a ragdoll, like Shiva. She was the right cat, but at the wrong time, we both agreed. We've both been owned by cats before; Shiva was more affectionate and friendly than any other cat I've met.

"Why didn't you tell me how much you wanted Shiva?" Wayne asked. I told him because I knew it didn't make sense. Because I knew taking her in flew in the face of our plans.

Fifteen minutes later, the woman from the shelter called back.

Shiva in her super-kitty sleeping pose,
She's spayed now and bears the scar from the surgery.

"The folks who adopted Shiva have ad older cat who her didn't like Shiva's energetic play. Shiva's here. Do you want her?"

Thirty minutes later, we were filling out the paperwork at the shelter to take Shiva home, or at least where we are until January first. The shelter kept and gave us most of Shiva's goodies from Julene, though we needed to get bowls, dry food, a litter box, and cat litter.We got them our way home.

Shiva sporting her now luxiouriously fluffy tail in her new home,
but still snuggling happily in the 
awesome kitty bed Julene bought for her.

I put my order in with the great cosmic waitress of the sky, as my friend Lynne Smith long ago suggested, and the waitress delivered. It didn't make any sense to take Shiva in, but we figure because of how we found her, it must be fate; we belong together, our little family of three. 

We're not sure exactly how we'll do right by Shiva, but we'll give it our best shot, because we love her, and we trust that will be enough.

Shiva as she briefly came up for air after I fed her upon our return
from our first long day trip without her. Don't believe she was happy with us.
Gotta get some better pictures that show what a cute, loveable goofball she is.

Location Location

Dawn view of Sunnier Palms, just outside the borrowed RV we're camping in.

Sunnier Palms, Fort Pierce Florida, though there will be some more catch-up posts coming from our fall foliage tour north, all the way to upstate New York and back.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Day 12 - 14: Traipsing Through Civil War and Colonial Territory

Colonial-era re-enactor in historic Sharpsburg, Maryland.
What did you learn and still remember from your U.S. history lessons? 

In school, I just couldn't relate to it; it was something to memorize for the tests then forget about. Sure,  I'd heard a bit about colonial times and the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence in 1776, which we lay claim to as the birth of our nation. Reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln* provided far more insight on than anything I learned in school about the miracle of Lincoln's election, the decision to engage in Civil War, the eventual victory, contribution to equality, and its cost to us as a nation. 

*If you've never read it, I highly recommend Team of Rivals; it's an excellent biography of an amazing man, a pivotal leader, and an astoundingly savvy collaborator. We can learn much today from Lincoln's example in a nation that of late feels as divided now as then.

A small portion of a massive diorama of Civil War clash in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
We were told the dioramas were found mouldering in a local barn.
Yet when we stopped by the remarkably intact historic town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, where, as luck would have it, they were doing period re-enactments of colonial and civil war times. For folks growing up there, the stuff I read about in history books that felt both long ago and far away happened on their turf. Sharpsburg was incorporated in 1763 before we considered ourselves an independent nation.

The formerly peaceful agricultural land and canal distribution point became embroiled in a bloody battle between the pro-slavery Confederate army and the Union, trying to hold a frayed nation together. Churches served as stations for sharpshooters and it seemed nearly anything with a roof served as a hospital for the masses of wounded soldiers.
Ranger re-enactor in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
For Sharpsburg'sre-enactment, kids, seniors, and quite a few in between costumed up and chatted with us and other visitors passing through about what life was like "back then." We particularly enjoyed talking with the Ranger, self-described as the Special Forces of the colonial and civil war era who despaired over the foolish tactical and strategic choices made by others that cost so many their lives.

Oddly, what I recall the most about the Civil War from my history class was that Lincoln dispatched journalist photographers to capture and bring home the horror of the wounded and dead in the hopes there would never be another war. Alas, he succeeded in establishing war photojournalism, but as we all know, it failed miserably as a deterrent to future wars.
Reconstruction of John Brown's Fort in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.
Earlier the prior day, we stopped far too briefly at Harper's Ferry. Our first stop was John Brown's Fort, famed abolitionist John Brown's daringly captured sanctuary fort for escaping slaves. Before long, however, Brown and those of his compatriots who survived a Confederate raid were captured.  The Confederate state of Virginia tried Brown. found him guilty of treason and hung him. 
The town of Harper's Ferry is preserved as a National Historic Park in West Virginia.
The first Confederate Civil War invasion of the North took place in the town of Harper's Ferry. Its access to supplies by B & O (Baltimore and Ohio) railroad and the C & O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal s the conjoint of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers made it a vitally strategic point in the Civil War. It changed hands eight times during the Civil War.
Burnside Bridge battle plaque at Antietam, one of three major battlefields in Antietam,
inside the 
Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.
Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland to this day remains the single bloodiest day of battle in our country's history.  On September 17, 1862, in twelve hours of fighting, nearly 23,000 soldiers were either killed, missing or wounded. At a terrible cost of to both sides, but more so to the Union, nonetheless, the Confederate army retreated the next day. 

Lincoln used that opportunity to make the emancipation declaration, the United States intention to end slavery. Apparently, that declaration was not entirely altruistic, but spurred on by a desire to discourage Brittian, who outlawed slavery in their county already from taking the side of the pro-slavery Conferates.

The rebuilt Burnside Bridge monument today; same as depicted in the plaquard in the image before this one. 
Antietam National Battlefield park, Maryland.
As for us, we didn't allow enough time to fully absorb what we were seeing. If you don't know the players by side or the battles' significance you may feel a bit lost, almost akin to watching a forgein movie in a language you don't speak, especting but niot getting any subtitles. The momuments seem to assume you possess their significance beforehand or travel along with a. guide or a keyed in to the parks application with a virtual tour. We. weren't equipped with either. We watched a video in the park headquarters, our first stop, which helped.

Here's a good pictorial overview of Antietam from another blogger.

War Observation Tower, Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.
The War Obervation Tower was built over 100 years ago, in 1897 to give a bird's eye view of the battlefield. It's also a site for teaching; the tower docent's favorite story was about he five-star generals, preceeded by a phanx of security, who showed up to make tower observation, then departed on callas quickly and inexplicably as the' arrived.

Today, the site of those bloody battlefields is peaceful, making it the best possible Civil War memorial. 

If I visit that area again, I will brush up on my history before attending its living momuments, to get a greater appreciation of their importance.Even if I don't make it back there, it whetted my appetite to learn more, particularly given the divides in many cases along similar lines in our country today. As the cliche goes: Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
The yellow of soybean fields as seen from War Observation Tower, Antietam Battlefield, Maryland.
Cornfields also are maintained on the battlefields today for historical authenticity.
Normally, I stick to one topic in a post, but this is a bit of a round-up. sp I'm going to shift gears for a moment from the historical setting to what was going on with us personally.

The whole reason Wayne and I were in Maryland was to visit my nephew, Ryan, and his wife and their daughter who I hadn't seen for eight years, back in 2013. We caught them at an especially busy time, so the only window we had to meet was Friday night, for dinner. We adjusted our schedule to make that work. We enjoyed seeing them on their own instead of at a larger family event and got a better sense of what their life is like in the place they call home.
Marlee, Ryan, and Beth—family time in Frederick, Maryland.
Happy as I was to see and spend time with family, Frederick is a hideously expensive place for lodging. The only place we could find to stay for under $100 was a horrible Motel 6, by far the dirtiest and most spare hotel I've ever stayed in and appeared to be the kind of place for drug deals and prostitution. Yet oddly, some of the scariest folks there were unfailingly polite and pleasant to us. I still gave the hotel a one-star Google rating and the whole experience was so depressing that it nearly made Wayne and I turn around and drive home. Due to crappy weather, we'd just abandoned our plans to drive the Skyline through Shenandoah National Park, where we also intended to camp. We were spending a lot more than we intended and at that moment not enjoying our travels nearly as much as we expected to.
Local birds featured prominently on this building in Front Royal, Virginia, a marked departure
from the town's many historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just before heading on to Harper's Ferry amd Maryland, we stopped off in the historic town of Front Royal. It's definitely a tourist-oriented town, but its visual appeal made it a worthwhile stop anyway. Still, one of the newer buildings is what caught my eye there due to its striking murals.
Antietam Campground, alongside a scenic section of the Potomac River. Virginia.
After our crappy night in the Fredericks Moel 6, we pondered our plans.  Unfortunately, GPS doesn't give you an option to "find cool towns and scenic byways." Wayne used our road atlas—ye, we are that old school sometimes—to find a scenic highway. Wayne made an impromptu turn off the highway at a brown sign to the C & O Canal. He saw a sign to a campground and followed it there to Antietam Creek Campground. We came equipped to backpack and tent camp and expected to do so more than we did. Once again, we thought we'd lost out on a viable option: the campgrounds were full.
Gary Glick, our exceptionally kind Antietam Campground host, and his dog Bene.
However, Gary Glick, the campground host took pity on us decided to create a space for us. He placed us in a lovely, private campsite that no one booked because it was supposed to be closed. His kindness restored our spirits and inspired us to continue on. He also gave us a tip on a campsite down the road where we saw the best fall color our entire trip at a gorgeous waterfall. More on that in my next post.

Time and time again as we travel, no matter what we say we're going to see, we find it is the people we meet along the way that make the trip. Thank you, Gary. Our time with Wayne's longtime friend Steve in Asheville was another highlight, as was meeting our cruising friends nearby, Scott and Kim Dickens, who we hadn't seen since we were in Conception, the Bahamas in 2014. They live in a comfortable home with a back deck with a territorial view, with a barn for their two mules and another outbuilding for chickens--a much different life than cruising, but a good one that suits them well. 

Location Location
This post covers the time we spent where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland intersect and served as the primary battleground area for the U.S. Civil War.

We arrived back at Sunnier Palms. in Fort Pierce Florida on Wednesday, October 27th, but there will be additional posts to capture the remailing fall foliage road trip highlights. However, the next post will be a heatwarming story about a change in our lives since we just returned to Sunnier. Stay tuned for that.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Day 11: Zagging: What you do when your scenic highway plans are lost in the clouds


The fog was thicker than this. 
Photo credit: Katie Moun,
What do you do when your scenic vista plans are lost in the clouds?

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and following it with a Skyline drive through the Shenandoah National Park were high on our list of what we wanted to do on our fall foliage tour. The weather forecast looked good. 

This is what we expected to see along Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive. 
Mother Nature had other ideas.

As we drove into Shenandoah National Park the fog blinded us."Is it supposed to clear up as we go up in elevation?" We asked the park entrance ranger. Nope, he told us. "When's it supposed to clear up?" We asked, still holding out some hope. "Days." 

This is what we actually saw.

We drove up to the first overlook, looked, then turned back around and exited the park, eventually the visibility got better.

Kitchy Grand Cavern bat golf mascot.
Now what? We wondered. We planned to see my nephew Ryan, his wife Beth, and their daughter Marlee in Maryland, but they weren't available until the next eve. The drive was only a few hours away and the day potentially stretched long in between.

Luray Caverns, the biggest caverns in the Eastern US and the most visited in the country was in between Waynesboro WA and Western Maryland, where family awaited. Why not? we thought and toddled off through backroads highways and small towns. 

Image pilfered from
Before Luray, we came across Grand Caverns. Both were well rated (as is nearby Skyline Caverns), Luray is the far more popular of the two. Since we tend toward the road less traveled, we opted for Grand Caverns as they were smaller, cheaper ($20/adult, $17.50 with military discount versus $32/adult at Luray) and we'd never heard of them. We're keen on taking the road less traveled.

Grand Caverns Lodge, Grotto, Virginia.
We arrived just in time for the next tour, so we went for it. The cave is a mile-long tour and runs seventy minutes.

One of the larger caverns in Grand Cavern, Virginia.
Grand Caverns' claim to fame is that it's the longest publicly shown cavern in the US, even through COVID. Tours started in 1806. We all toured masked.

The Fantasia portion of Grand Caverns, Virginia.
How would we rate it? We can't compare it to Luray or Skyline because we haven't toured them. Grand Caverns is a less expensive tour and I suspect the caverns may be less grand (despite their name) and more "touristy." Grand Caverns, golf bat icon aside, is fairly low-key. Our experience is more well-known and more widely advertised attractions like Luray tend to be more "Disney," which is not our thing. We both felt that there were a number of places we would've preferred to linger a bit longer. 

Our tour guide at Grand Caverns told us they called this massive stalagmite
The George Washington.
The narrative about how the caves were used (and abused) over the years struck me as more interesting than the caves themselves. I won't play spoiler, if that sort of thing intrigues you, visit.

These stalactites reminded me of sharks' teeth.
What do they remind you of?
Grand Caverns, Virginia.
Luray tours run longer, so we figure Grand Caverns worked better for us as it gave us more time afterward to find a place to rest our heads that night, especially since we planned to camp and I avoid setting up camp, cooking, and cleaning up in the dark.

These cave fixures, called draperies, reminded me of caramel taffy, Maybe I was hungry.
Grand Caverns, VA.
Though we enjoy cave tours, we are too spoiled from Carlsbad Caverns, which we toured in May 2019 to be easily wowed from most cave tours; it's the best we've seen. However, I can tell you my camera did not do Grand Cavern justice.

Maybe that "cave taffy" made me hungry, 
The Shenandoah River ran muddy past this Elkton VA park. Nice picnic spot, though.
We stopped at a sweet riverside park in Elkton Virginia for lunch.

Kayakers on the Shenandoah River, Virginia.

After Grand Caverns, we settled on Shenandoah River State Park campground to pitch our tent and lay our heads. That would leave us plenty of time to explore historic Harper's Ferry on the way to see my nephew and his family in western Maryland the next day.

Shenandoah River State Park boardwalk.

Chicken of the woods mushroom in Shenandoah River State Park;
the most dramatic mushroom I've ever seen!

What insect made this design in a fallen tree?
Reminded me of moth larvae designs on the trees on Fraser Island UNESCO World Heritage site in Australia.

This lion's mane mushroom also in Shenandoah River Park is another tasty edible.

Guess I was on a mushroom mania hike; these wood mushrooms looked especially pretty too.
Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia.

The campgrounds were walk-ins (yay, no generators nearby) and relatively private. There were even hot showers and flush toilets, which made it feel less painful to pay $27.50 for a tent campsite.

Location Location

At the moment, we're in Knoxville Tennesee on our 29th day of travel. We plan on being back in Fort Pierce by Halloween. I will continue to do highlight roundup posts for our full trip.