Lost & Found In A Tropical Paradise

The front yard of our host’s palm farm on Pine Island.

After Betty & I said good bye to our family at Disney World, we were hoping for a little beach time on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Since we didn’t have any reservations, we just hoped to find a quiet spot once we got there. Well, it turned out that a lot of other snowbirds had the same idea, and beach/camping spots were few and far between. Whenever we thought we had found a good spot, it turned out we were wrong. For a while at least…

Betty & I needed a beach rescue, after our Disney visit. lol

We continued west from Orlando to Tampa, over to Clearwater & up the coast road past Dunedin, to Crystal Beach. After finding nothing but congestion, we turned south to St. Petersburg, and as we were starting to lose sunlight, we bit the bullet & checked into the KOA there at $126./night – ouch! The next morning we headed south to Bradenton and crossed over to the coastal road by Bradenton Beach, following this scenic route through beautiful Sarasota, and then back to the mainland. All of the state parks we checked were full, but we thought we’d have luck at an Army Corp of Engineers park east of Fort Myers.

Tropical palms, including these coconut-laden trees, are plentiful in this area of Florida.

On arrival at W.P. Franklin North we found a beautiful little campground with a vacant spot. Unfortunately when we checked, the spot was reserved, and all current occupants had made their reservations six months in advance. No spontaneity here! Our gps and free campground directory told us that a Walmart 18 miles away allowed overnight parking. But when we arrived it was signed for no overnight parking, so we were on the road again.  Fortunately, we found a large rest area on I75, south of Fort Myers, and spent a night there reconnoitring.

Our campsite on the Pine Island palm farm. WOW!

When we checked the Boondockers Welcome site, we found a palm tree farm on Pine Island, west of Cape Coral, that allowed us to stay for 5 nights. We also found an acreage east of Fort Myers, near LaBelle, Florida, that agreed to a 2 night stay following that. We have found both to be tropical paradises!

Mike & Deb’s front yard Tiki hut…

Mike and Deb have a palm farm at the end of a quiet road in Bokeelia, Florida. It was the perfect spot to relax and unwind after our Disney visit, and Mike turned out to be an amazingly gracious host. He described all the exotic plants and palms on his property (I should have taken better notes. Lol), and we used this island get-away as our base camp to go exploring.

Mike & Betty explore the wonders of this controlled jungle property.

In addition to driving up and down the island, on Mike’s recommendation we headed up the coast to Siesta Beach, just south of Sarasota. Having visited many great beaches around North America, we took the claim of this being the #1 beach in the USA with a grain of salt (or sand – lol) until we got there. The beach is wide and long, covered in talcum

Betty & I find a beach day at U.S.A’s #1 beach.

powder fine white sand. The adjacent free parking lot was huge, and the beach access easy, even for those with mobility issues. We reviewed the criteria for the #1 rating, and fully agreed that it is not just local hype. What a great find!

From Pine Island we headed about one hour east to Larry’s Boondocker Welcome site near

Betty is out watching the river go by at Larry’s wonderful boondockers property. I will be joining her shortly…

LaBelle, Florida. It is a beautiful acreage backing onto a river that serves as an inland waterway connection between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. It has been fun to watch the nearby bridge open and ships make the east or westbound passage along this quiet waterway.  Last night we sat around a campfire near the water’s edge with our host and other campers, swapping tales about our adventures. Today our thermostat is reading 87f, and Betty is out under a nearby tree, enjoying the light tropical breeze. As soon as I finish this post, the stunning views, fresh air and sunshine will lure me out also.

The driveway on Larry’s acreage leads to our quiet get-away. What a great spot with a fabulous host!

Betty & I still don’t know where we will go from here. We may get lost in Florida again, but for now we have found a little piece of tropical paradise, and are fully enjoying it!

Cheers!

Another view of our Pine Island camp spot.
A flower blooms in January on Mike & Deb’s palm farm.
Apple bananas grow on the palm farm.
Colourful poinsettia grow outside at Mike & Deb’s.
Fallen coconuts litter the ground adjacent to Mike & Deb’s palm farm.
Betty & I enjoyed dinner from Yoder’s Amish Restaurant in Sarasota, after our beach day. We went for take-out, as you can see the line-up to get into this popular spot.
Looking up the Siesta Key Beach.
Another view down the Siesta beach
Looking to join this future monarch butterfly, as we fly away from this warm & cozy spot. lol

Disney – A Real Unreal Experience!

Entering a magic world!

Is it real, or is it fake? While that is the question most asked about political news these days, our family has been constantly challenged this week to understand what we are seeing and experiencing. We are in Disney World! (And it’s hard to tell the difference between here and Washington, D.C. lol)

Hanging out with Mickey:
Betty, Georgia, Valerie, Kevin, Isabella & Graham

One might think that, as we get older, we become more calloused and jaded. But as Betty & I shared the Disney experience with our daughter Valerie, her husband Kevin, and our two wonderful granddaughters – Isabella & Georgia – we found this imaginary world to be quite the wondrous ride – both literally and figuratively.

Betty & Georgia on the monorail.

First of all, Florida’s Disney complex is huge! Expressways channelled Betty & me from Sherwood Forest RV Resort in Kissimmee, Florida to each of the four parks we attended: Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. On “days off” we also visited Disney Springs shopping area and Port Orleans Resort Riverside, the Disney hotel complex where our kids & grandkids stayed.  Once at each park, we either took a tram, elevated train, or boat to get to and from the

Isabella & Graham on the monorail.

actual attractions. Thousands of visitors make their way to and through each of the parks each day, and Disney has the people-moving business down to a science – extremely well organized and efficient!

 

Approaching the Tower of Terror.

At Hollywood Studios the Penner family used “fast passes” to reduce wait times for rides such as the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.

 

Recovering from the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting an Indiana Jones movie scene.

We all enjoyed watching the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and meeting up with Star Wars characters, among other attractions.

Chewbacca meets Georgia. (Georgia is the one on the right. lol)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performers representing the various continents enlivened the experience.

At Animal Kingdom we took the Kilimanjaro Safari ride through the lush African savanna, viewing such exotic animals as giraffes,

Giraffes stroll through the long grass.

 

 

 

Lyin’ around.

elephants, lions  and wildebeests along the way.  We also visited Asia, Discovery Island, and

Grazing wildebeests in Animal Kingdom.

Pandora- the World of Avatar.  The Penners road a speeding train through the Himalayan Mountains and down Mt. Everest, while Betty & I watched from a safe

The Penner Family visits Mt. Everest.

distance. The day ended with another great fireworks display over Discovery River.

Fireworks over Discovery River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entering the Magic Kingdom.

In the Magic Kingdom, we walked down Main Street, U.S.A. to the Disney castle that we all watched on TV Sunday nights, back in the

Betty takes a walk down Main Street, U.S.A.

day…  During our visit we were greeted by Disney characters, and took in a couple of

Everyone loves a parade!

parades down Main Street.

Mickey & Minnie on Main Street.

We attended a hilarious show called “Monsters Laugh Floor” and I was (un)lucky enough to be singled out on screen on a number of

I was “that guy”…

occasions as ‘that guy’. After visiting Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, we stayed around for the most spectacular fireworks display ever!

The Disney castle was constantly transformed by the various images projected onto it.

 

 

 

 

The best fireworks display ever!!! Nothing but WOWs

 

 

 

 

 

We all had a ball at Epcot.

 

 

 

At Epcot, we toured Future World West, including a train ride through the Living With The Land Presentation, showing an

Innovative methods were used to grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.

amazing variety of fruits and vegetables grown in controlled, ideal, sustainable conditions.

Bananas grow in a greenhouse.

 

 

In Future World East we experienced a lift off and trip to Mars in Mission: Space, and rode the Chevrolet Test Track, checking out recent cars produced by that company.

Valerie & Graham take a test ride.

We passed Canada, had lunch in the United Kingdom, walked through Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, and Italy (among others). We ate dinner in Japan and watched the evening fireworks from France. Another astounding adventure in this unreal world!

Isabella & Georgia get goofy.

 

 

As a special treat, we all had brunch with some of the most famous Disney cast members, and finished up with arcade games in Valerie & Kevin’s hotel. 

 

Brunch with Chef Mickey!

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia tests her motorcycle skills at the arcade.

Throughout Disney World, we saw real people dressed up and acting like cartoon characters. And we saw “lifelike” animated robotics imitating humans. In one park, the exotic animals were all real, while in another they looked, sounded, and acted real, but were fake. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. How much was real, and how much was fake? We

Valerie visits the mammoth tree of life.

couldn’t tell! In all parks we were issued 3D glasses for some of the presentations, which not only brought the screen images to life, but were accompanied by rain/mist/spit (whatever the intended moisture), vibrating

A realistic robotic elephant approaches our boat.

seats, and smells that made the experience far more realistic. Some theatres also included real and/or robotic characters, just to further confuse our senses.

 

For sure, Disney World is a fantasy land. But we saw real people of every age, culture, and ethnicity laughing, hugging and enjoying family time in this environment. Maybe it’s the kind of fantasy world in which we should all aspire to live more often…

Cheers!

Self-explanatory sticker at the Laugh Floor…

The Time Of Our Lives

Sitting by the fire, in front of an orange tree growing at our campsite, in shorts and a shortsleeved shirt in January. BTW, it is -53c (-63f) with the windchill back in Winnipeg on this day.

I suppose it could be argued that any time we are still breathing is the time of our lives. But as Betty & I continue our overlandish odyssey, we both feel very blessed by this time we have together. Yesterday was another birthday – not a big milestone date, just a regular one like the (too) many before it – but it always causes one to pause and consider where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.

Where we are currently is Far Reach Ranch, just north of Orlando, Florida. It is a family owned and operated blueberry farm that participates in the Harvest Host program. Today Betty & I had the opportunity to sample and purchase a variety of jams and honeys made on the farm, and look forward

Tonight’s free campsite: Far Reach Ranch north of Orlando.

to a quiet night here, before we join our kids and grandkids for an anticipated less quiet, high energy Disney visit, starting tomorrow.

Since our last post, we left site 30 at Cyprus Glen for a fabulous weekend visit with a Boondockers Welcome host in Floral City, Florida. Cindy and Regis extended

Parked in Cindy & Regis’ front yard, under the hanging moss and beside the flowering plants & bushes.

the kind of hospitality that we have come to expect from this great program. It turned out that we had left Winnipeg without the key to unlock Betty’s bike from the back of our motorhome, so Regis, who previously owned a bike shop, graciously agreed to cut the lock off for us. Somewhere along the way, unbeknownst to us because of the bike cover, my rear wheel had become severely bent out of shape, and Regis was able to recommend a local bike mechanic who trued it back up on short notice. Since both our bikes had been locked together, we are now free to go for rides again. Yeah! Super serendipity!

Cyprus Glen is one of a number of campgrounds within Withlacoochee State Forest.

We then returned to Withlacoochee State Forest Cyprus Glen campground, this time to site 27, for five more nights, enjoying the unique jungle-like sights and sounds of this quiet central Florida forest. BTW, the site is quite unlevel, as are many of the others, even though they are all equipped with 50 amp electrical service, water, picnic table and fire ring. It had rained for a day before we arrived, and the

For $13.45/night, we enjoyed this nice, but unlevel, site 27 in the Cyprus Glen campground.

back wheels of our motorhome sank into the parking spot’s gravel up to our axles. If it wasn’t for our hydraulic lifters – which are working fine now – we would have required a tow truck to get us out! Thank goodness for our levellers, boards, and snow shovel that allowed us to dig out. Who knew that the snow shovel would come in handy down here in Florida. Lol.

Betty & Lorraine ham it up at one of their resort’s swimming pools.

For my birthday yesterday, Betty & I drove into Orlando, and finally bought a new set of golf clubs to fit the closet built for that purpose. LOL.  We also had a great visit with our old next door neighbours from Winnipeg, Robert & Lorraine, who now winter in a well-appointed resort complex near Orlando’s convention centre. It was fun to talk about our families, where we are, where we have been, and where we are going from here. Just like the past, the future is not likely to be all smooth sailing for us, but for now as we continue our bucket-list adventure, Betty & I agree that we are having the time of our lives. Here’s hoping that you are also!

Cheers!

We couldn’t resist including a picture of this theatre in Inverness, Florida, for our red-headed daughter, Valerie. lol
This armadillo was a regular visitor at our Cyprus Glen campsite.
They are a little hard to see, but Betty assures me that these are two of the wild pigs she saw making the rounds at Cyprus Glen.
Much of central Florida is still swampland. Apparently the alligators in Withlacoochee State Forest are hibernating just now, but we were warned not to let Charlie go for a swim!
If you listen closely, you can almost hear Tarzan swinging through this jungle/forest.
We had to duck our motorhome under many of the low hanging trees on the twisty road in and out of the park.
Another view of tonight’s site at Far Reach Ranch, with Charlie on the dash, watching the photographer..

Addendum: Some people might think that, to qualify as “the time of your life”, one must participate in a high energy, adrenalin-producing activity like bungy jumping or sky diving, where you are reaching out to cheat death. But I can’t help but think back to a poem memorized in public school.  Daffodils, by William Wordsworth, ends with the verse:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

These days, bliss can be found just as much in solitude and admiration of the world around us, as in the fast-paced activities of our culture. Our lives seem to have a combination of both just now, and Betty & I are happy to have this time of our lives.

Cheers!

Flowers were blooming in January at our Boondockers Welcome site in Floral City.

Exploring Florida Forests

At Tate’s Hell State Forest, we had the $9.17/night campground all to ourselves.

Cheap, cheap. Is that the sound of birds in the tall trees around us? Or is that just us not opening our wallets so much? LOL.  In comparison to Texas and Arizona, Betty & I have learned that Florida can be an expensive state for RVers. We have already committed to a week near Disney World with our kids & grandkids at $69./night, and have a reservation at a Key West campground for double that rate. But otherwise, will we be able to do Florida on a reasonably cheap budget, or will we blow out the bank account?

800 pages of where to stay in the U.S.A.

Before we left Winnipeg, we purchased on-line “The Wright Guide To Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds”  in the United States, and have been using it, the “Free camping Near Me” website, Harvest Hosts, and Boondockers Welcome, to help reduce our accommodation expenses.

While BLM land is popular and available in New Mexico & Arizona, Florida has a number of other low-cost options. In addition to state parks, which are plentiful but often just plain full this time of year, Florida has Wildlife Management Areas, National Forests, and State Forests which often allow camping. This week we have been exploring the forests, and hope that our luck continues in finding great, cheap, accessible campsites.

Ocala North RV Park was a well-treed campground, with acorns pounding on our roof during an overnight wind storm.

After Tate’s Hell State Forest ($9.17/night), we went to Ocala North RV Park($38.70/night) because it was on our route, available, and we needed to dump and do laundry. It turned out to be a very well-kept full-service private park with level, cement pads, and included cable tv and excellent wi-fi. Bonus! It was also located in Reddick, Florida – a bastardization of our last name that we see sometimes when people have trouble with …och (the proper Scottish spelling. LOL.)

Our campsite (#53) was across from a park, which was adjacent to the campground swimming pool.

The wi-fi allowed us to research other inexpensive (Betty doesn’t want to give the impression we’re cheap. Lol) camping options, and ended up at the Big Bass Campground (site #13) in

Nestled in the trees at Ocala National Forest, our solar still kept our batteries charged enough that we didn’t turn our generator on once.

Ocala National Forest ($10./night). We weren’t sure if the campground would be open, because of the federal government shut-down, but there was no gate across, and we used an honour system box to deposit our camping fee. While the site itself didn’t have services, there was potable water nearby, as well as bathrooms, garbage bins, and a dump station.

Apparently the flea market opened at 5 a.m. for enthusiasts. When we arrived at 2 pm., almost everyone was gone…

Before and after Ocala National Forest we stopped at two famous Florida flea markets. One was called “The Market of Marion” at Belleview, Fl., and the other “Swap O Rama” atWebster, Fl.. On the thrifty theme, I was there in search of a new set of golf

Bush’s Beans, in a variety of tasty flavours. lol

clubs, as I had previously seen cheap, cheap clubs at Belleview on an earlier visit with Betty’s brother, Jack. Unfortunately, I had no luck this time, but we did pick up some fresh fruit and vegies while there.  BTW, on the food topic, while we still have been bbq-ing rib eye with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus from time to time, we also have been slumming it sometimes with a variety of Bush’s Beans on toast…

Our site (#30) at Cyprus Glen Campground, in Withlacoochee State Forest.

We are now in Cypress Glen Campground Withlacoochee State Forest ($13.45/night) site #30, which includes 50 amp service and water at the site. Many of the campsites in this

Charlie’s steppin’ out at our current campsite. He just needs to learn to shut the door behind him!

area are sloped side to side, or front to back, so would be hard to level our motorhome. Fortunately, site #30 is reasonably flat, with boards needed under only 2 wheels. We are looking forward to visiting the Gulf coast from here, but also having a quiet stay in this tranquil forest, with only the chirp of birds ringing in our ears.  Cheap, cheap!

Cheers!

Our $10. campsite in Ocala National Forest included a picnic table and grill, with a small pond in behind. What a price for a water-view property!

TREES

Joyce Kilmer, 18861918

I think that I shall never see   
A poem lovely as a tree.   
   
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest   
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;   
   
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;   
   
A tree that may in summer wear   
A nest of robins in her hair;   
   
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;   
Who intimately lives with rain. 
   
Poems are made by fools like me,   
But only God can make a tree.

To Tate’s Hell Through Hurricane Hell

An unlikely name for a beautiful campsite at $9.17/ night.

Blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees – with not a breath of wind – a large, quiet, remote campsite.

Our site (number 21). There are only 2 other sites in this remote campground – both vacant.

That’s what greeted Betty & me today as we arrived at site 21 in Tate’s Hell State Forest, near Tallahassee, Florida. It’s about as far from hell as one could imagine!

Our free Harvest Host site. The owners weren’t there, but we left them a thank you note.

After leaving Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, Florida yesterday, we drove along the Gulf coast to a Harvest Host location – Three Oaks Winery– northwest of Panama City.  Having read and heard of the severity of Hurricane Michael in October, we were surprised to see little or no damage on our journey. The winery is only open on weekends in January, so the owners confirmed by phone that we would have the parking lot to ourselves for a restful, free evening.

Many of the homes along the coast have completely disappeared.

Today was another story. As we made the short drive from the winery to Panama City, we began to see more and more garbage on the roadsides, and wondered if there was some sort of sanitation strike in the area. But once

We almost missed the turn onto Highway 98 at Panama City, as the road sign was still flattened.

we reached highway 98 and began to follow the Gulf coastline eastward, we saw incredible destruction along the way. With Mexico Beach as its apparent epicentre, Hurricane Michael ripped out almost everything in its path – from homes, to stores, to offices, to schools, to churches, to whole

An American flag and a few palms stand vigil at what was once someone’s home.

forests. Most structures that remain standing are covered by blue tarps, awaiting roof replacements. The highway was washed away at many

In the background is an idyllic coastal beach. In the foreground, appliances have been hauled to the roadside for pick-up by the many trash collectors.

points, and we zig-zagged around pilons placed near temporary patches. The road was reduced to one lane in a number of locations as crews worked to restore a major artery. In the meantime, we waited in long lines as traffic alternated through the construction zones.

There appeared to be an almost arbitrary nature to the force, with most structures destroyed, and others suffering little or no damage.

For Betty & me it was no more than a minor inconvenience. But we couldn’t help but think of the hell experienced by those who lived through the hurricane, and the ongoing nightmare of trying to rebuild lives in a beautiful spot that is so vulnerable to

The view through this hazy window coincides with the current view for many area residents.

the extreme forces of nature. As we drove, we saw a lot of dazed looks on the faces of those we passed. But we also saw work crew after work crew beginning the rebuilding

Few trees were left unscathed in the forests we passed along the coast.

process. Our hopes and prayers are that those in the Florida Panhandle who suffered through this extremely destructive event will have the resilience to experience blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees, and not a breath of wind for a while.

Bright blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees, and not a breath of wind at Tate’s Hell State Forest today.

Sailing Into Big Lagoon

Betty adds Arkansas to our sticker map.

As Betty & I continue our overlandish odyssey, we capture images along the way – either on our phones or through my Nikon – that help to tell the story of our adventure. But we see far more on our journey than we record, and we post only a fraction of the sights captured. Sometimes, the story tells itself when we download the pictures, and sometimes we need to weave a thread that ties it together. This post is more of the latter, capturing random images from the past week.

One of our levellers began to bleed red fluid when we arrived in Russellville, Arkansas.
We called the Hose Doctor, and he performed surgery on our ailing Boy – from his modified ambulance – getting us back on the road with a new hydraulic hose to our leveller..
Our nice site at Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi was a short hour’s drive from New Orleans, Louisiana.
Gavin gets in on the action, adding Louisiana to our sticker map.
Through much of Mississippi, Route 90 follows the Gulf shoreline, with many miles of well-groomed white sand near the roadside.
We passed at least 9 casinos near Biloxi, Mississippi. This one sports a huge guitar on its front.
Betty & Charlie take a break on the beach near Biloxi.
Our add-a-room gets added at our Big Lagoon  State Park campsite by Gulf Breeze, Florida..
Betty strolls the squeaky sand along the Gulf Shores, at the Alabama – Florida border.
We had a great beach day in early January, near Pensacola, Florida.

We are thankful for the marvels of modern technology that allow us to share our travels with you. As we explore the state of Florida, and travel back up the east coast, Betty & I hope we can continue to transmit images that capture the epic nature of this marvelous adventure.

Cheers!

Fantastic Florida helps to fill out our sticker map.

New Orleans!

On narrow Bourbon Street, looking toward downtown New Orleans.

Readers of this blog may have noticed a number of references to songs that have struck cords with the writers: from Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again”, to Bob Marley’s “We Jammin”, to Glen Campbell’s “By the time I get to Phoenix”, or Marc Cohn’s “Walking In Memphis”, among others. But how is it possible to choose a song about our visit this week to New Orleans?  Should it be:

…the city of New Orleans. Say don’t you know me? I’m your native son…

Fats Domino: Walking to New Orleans

Johnny Horton: The Battle of New Orleans

Jimmy Dean: Big John

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Born on the Bayou/ Proud Mary

The Rolling Stones: Brown Sugar

Arlo Guthrie: City of New Orleans

The Animals: House of the Rising Sun

The Tragically Hip: New Orleans is Sinking

Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode

Janis Joplin: Me And Bobby McGee

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Mr. Bojangles

Wrought iron balconies surround many buildings in the French Quarter.

There are dozens of songs referencing New Orleans,  so we’ll leave it to the reader to pick their favourite…

OK, I can’t resist humming a tune from a special singer I saw live, back in the day. During the Festival Express tour in 1970, Janis Joplin belted out:

“Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train
And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained
It rode us all the way to New Orleans…”

Our Russellville, Arkansas campsite.

When Betty & I left Ivy’s Cove campground in Russellville, Arkansas, the forecast was for rain all the way into New Orleans, but by the time we reached Texarkana, the drizzle had ended, and it was clear sailing until our stop for the night, an attractive road side rest area south of Alexandria, Louisiana.  It was a bright sunny day when we passed Baton Rouge the next morning, so our windshield wipers were not

Our overnight rest stop, north of Lafayette, LA had seen lots of rain before we arrived.

slappin’ time, but I was holding Betty’s hand in mine, and we sang every song that we both knew. LOL.  For the next few days, we camped at the beautiful Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi, just an hour’s drive east of New Orleans.

Someone added an editorial comment on this Bourbon Street One Way sign. LOL

Betty & I have been to New Orleans twice during Mardi Gras: Once unintentionally with our 4 young children (on our way back from Disney World), and once with Betty’s brother

A mix of colourful low rise homes and shops enliven the French Quarter.

Jack, and his wife Christine. The focus then was very much on the party atmosphere. But this time we were able to

The large French Market borders the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

concentrate more on the unique architecture and lay-out of the French Quarter. The weather was warm, with blue skies

A beautiful day to stop at this courtyard cafe for some Cajun cookin’.

and sunshine as we walked through the French Market, and enjoyed an al fresco meal in one of New Orleans’ special courtyard restaurants. It was a magical visit, and enticed us to want to return again.

A late lunch at Cafe Amalie in the French Quarter.

“There Betty shared the secrets of my soul
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done
Yeah, Betty baby kept me from the cold…

And, feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when she sang the blues
You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Betty  eee.”

Cheers!

Fresh flower baskets accent the unique New Orleans’ architecture.
Walkin’ in New Orleans…
Bourbon Street is a little more visible, without the Mardi Gras crowds. LOL
Getting a feel for the history of this unique city by walking through one of New Orleans’ above ground graveyards. 

“I’m the train they call the city of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

Whither The Weather?

Isabella & Georgia’s fort stands guard over our motorhome, parked by their front yard in Winnipeg, Dec. 24/18.

In our December 9, 2018 post – Dreaming Of A White Christmas – Betty & I postulated that Winnipeg might have snow on December 25. We were not wrong.  But how well will we be able to accurately predict the weather for the remainder of our overlandish odyssey? We are now living in a connected world, often able to access the Weather Channel or other on-line forecast as we drive. However, despite all the sophisticated radar models, predictions of upcoming weather still seem to be 50 – 50, so your guess is as good as mine… LOL.

2018 Christmas dinner at Andrew’s, all with appropriate cracker crowns.

Fortunately when it comes to predictability, the reader might just as well read the December 19, 2017 post – Can’t Wait To Cue Willie – to catch the flavour of our festive Christmas activities. In addition to the school concerts referenced in an earlier

Gathering by the tree on Christmas day, 2018.

post, Betty & I hosted our family for at least the 30th time at Marigold’s Restaurant, while Andrew hosted the traditional Christmas dinner at his Winnipeg home. Everyone contributed to making a fabulous feast! By the marvels of modern technology, I was able to bring the Queen and her annual Christmas message into Andrew’s dining room before we snapped the Christmas crackers. A great time was had by all!

Not a lot of other traffic on the road…

Back to the subject of this post:  It wasn’t quite as cold on Dec. 26/18 as last year, but maybe we were a little more prepared. Our family outfitted us with hand, feet and bum warmers, and we headed into the winter wonderland with a full propane tank to run

Driving down the Interstate, before the road disappeared…

our furnace. While fairly well readied, I forgot to consider the need to open my driver’s window at the U.S. border, to hand our passports over to the border officer. The window was frozen shut, so all I could do was smile and wave to the officer. Of course that led to us being pulled over for further inspection, which was relatively quick and painless. Before he left our motorhome, the officer warned us that we were heading into a blizzard, so drive carefully! What adventure would lie ahead?

Walmart parking lot in Fargo, with plows continuously passing our motorhome. We decided not to stay…

Because we never know which food items will be accepted or rejected at the border (the officer did make a point of checking our empty fridge and freezer) we planned to stock up and power nap at the new Walmart in Fargo, North Dakota. However, by the time we reached Fargo, the wind and snow had picked up considerably, and we decided to push on rather than shop.  Traffic became lighter, and the road became whiter. If not for the fact that the road is straight and flat in that section of the Midwest, we would have had to depart the slippery stuff much sooner.  As it was, we were able to reach the Dakota Sioux Casino parking lot, on the border with South Dakota, before calling it quits for the night.

Resting at the Flying J in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Through most of South Dakota the next day, we had the Interstate to ourselves, with only 3 vehicles passing us southbound, even though I was driving at no more that 45 mph.  There were only a handful of hearty travellers heading northbound through the blizzard that day.  Usually, the Sioux Falls Flying J is just a quick pit stop for us, but it became our overnight resting place on the night of Dec. 27.  (I was about to say that it became our final resting place, but didn’t want to give you the wrong impression. Lol.)

Thankful for the truck wash that finally removed our accumulated grime.

The road was clear by the time we reached Omaha, Nebraska, and we pushed on through Kansas City and Joplin, Missouri to our first actual campsite: Ivys Cove RV Retreat, in the Ozark Mountains just west of Little Rock, Arkansas. Fortunately, as we pulled off the Interstate, we came across a truck wash that did an excellent job of removing all the road slush and grime from both our motorhome and Smart car. I have often had to wash the vehicles myself, with a stack of U.S. quarters (they don’t use loonies or toonies), so was very pleasantly surprised to have a team of 8 men make short work of returning our shines.

Clear sailing, with blue skies and sunshine in Arkansas on Dec. 28/18.

Since we had tossed all our freezables inside the motorhome just before we left, this campground has provided the first opportunity to de-winterize (get the antifreeze out of our water lines; fill the fresh water tank; and turn on the hot water heater) unpack, and put things away in their proper spots.  As might be expected after driving through a blizzard, one of our levelers began leaking hydraulic fluid when we arrived, and our fridge has stopped working. We are hoping that both involve quick fixes, but the local RV techs are closed until Jan. 2/19, so we might have to hold up here for awhile.  It’s a nice enough place and the weather is moderate – not a hint of snow in the forecast – so we’re good to go (or stay…) whither the weather!

Our campsite comes with cable TV, so Betty & I couldn’t resist turning on the Weather Channel. Because we are at the end of one year, about to enter another, the channel featured all the extreme weather events of 2018, with many dire predictions for 2019. If we were still in a “bricks ‘n sticks” home, we’d just have to hunker down until the heavy weather passed. This week we turned the ignition key and kept driving until we left the inclement weather behind. Whether that will be possible on our further adventures, only time will tell. Just like the professional forecasters, we have about a 50-50 chance of an accurate prediction. Let’s hope we all can choose the right half in 2019!

Cheers!

A stop for coffee at the new Flying J south of Winnipeg on Dec. 26. Gas price is low for Canada, but not near as low as U.S. gas prices!

Venturing Into The Great Unknown

Venturing into the great unknown…

In a sense, we are all venturing into the unknown as we approach a new year. What will 2019 have in store for us?  If your plan is to settle into your favorite chair to watch your favorite television programs, then 2019 might hold a little more certainty.  But as Betty & I continue our great adventure, it is difficult to anticipate exactly what we will encounter.  While we have some ideas about where we wish to go and what we hope to do, there are many uncertainties about getting there – especially with a disinterested navigator like Betty! She has many other interests, but GPS and maps just aren’t her things… LOL.

So I’ll be relying on The Band’s Up On Cripple Creek to get to our first destination:

“… you know where I wanna go?
Straight down the Mississippi river, to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, little Betty girl that I once knew
She told me just to come on by, if there’s anything she could do

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one.”

A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one…

After leaving Manitoba, the Interstates take us straight down through North & South Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas, and Arkansas, before depositing us at Palmetto Island State Park,  just east of Lake Charles, Louisiana. While I anticipate our wine rack will be full of “Wally wine” (Walmart Special Reserve: $2.98) by the time we get there, I’m still not sure it will be a drunkard’s dream! LOL.

In any event, Betty & I may usher in the new year at Palmetto Island, or head east to New Orleans, or further east again to Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi. It all depends on which way the wind blows. Our first stop in 2019 might be Meaher State Park on Mobile Bay in Alabama, with our first reservation at Big Lagoon State Park, on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, from Jan. 7 – 15/19. From there we hope to make our way around the State of Florida, stopping in Orlando for a Disney visit with our kids and grandkids in mid-February, and with our old Winnipeg next door neighbours who are wintering in the area.

Of course, our furthest south destination is Key West, in the Florida Keys, where we hope to take in the attractions before heading up the coast to Cape Canaveral, Daytona Beach, Savannah Georgia, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to name a few bucket list stops before beginning our journey home.

Whether your current vision for 2019 is clear or cloudy, Betty & I hope and pray that you can enjoy the full richness of life on planet earth as you venture into the great unknown. Happy New Year!

Cheers!

“Now there’s one thing in the whole wide world I sure do love to see
That’s how that little love of mine puts her doughnut in my tea…” LOL

Merry Christmas!

As we count down the days until our departure on Dec. 26, here are a few pics from our family to yours:

Our daughter, Valerie, brings some homemade Imperial cookies, while granddaughters Georgia & Isabella hold an attractive, custom-made gingerbread house & creche.
Our grandson, James, waits for a special Christmas visit.
Stockings are hung by the fireplace with care…
Georgia (in red dress) plays percussion in one of her school’s concerts.
Isabella & Georgia participate in their school’s concert finale.

Merry Christmas & cheers for the new year!