Monday, March 23, 2020

Carolina on My Mind

Richland Rum distillery in downtown Brunswick

On the last afternoon in Georgia we toured the Richland Rum distillery, ate some Brunswick Stew, and packed up Loretta. The next morning we hit the road for South Carolina.

First stop: Charleston. Such rich maritime history. Like Georgia, the history feels very close to the surface.

The campground we stayed at was a ridiculous $50/night - $25-30 would have been the right number considering the condition of the park. The buildings on the property were all under active construction, which made an annoying din all day, it was basically a bug-infested swamp, but it certainly qualified as remote and so it was a good place to be when the Corona Virus lockdown went into place.

Cypress stumps line the pond at the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

Pond at the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Fortunately for us, there were plenty of outdoor dog-friendly activities to do that kept us 6 feet from other humans. First up: the nearby Magnolia Plantation and Gardens property. North and West of Charleston on the waterway, it was here that the Colonists prepared for the anticipated British assault and ultimately failed, surrendering 7000+ troops to Her Majesty's army. In short, Charleston was sacked by the British because of some bad strategic decisions made on this very piece of property in 1780, and the despair of it all nearly crushed the patriots and the young nation.

Pond at the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Next up in virus-avoiding activity... a walk along the fortified waterfront in Charleston. The big guns remain and it isn't hard to imagine the locals of generations past defending their town from pirates (BlackBeard successfully blockaded Charleston for a week in 1718), a collection of iron-clad Union Navy warships, and receiving the first German submariner prisoners from the cutter Icarus.

The guns of Charleston's Battery still pointed at the waterfront

The big gazebo at the heart of Battery Park often hosts music and dancing. Chloe wasn't into "the dip".

Antebellum architecture of the Battery area of Charleston

The next park we stayed at in North Myrtle Beach, SC also was $50 for our one-night stay, and it was less than 200 miles from Charleston, but it was a superb park and we felt the price well justified. The RV pads were level concrete, the property was well cared for, and it bordered the ICW and hosted boat slips and a dry dock. Watching the forklifts wrangle the speed boats between water and storage their storage shelves made for endless entertainment. The park also had a water slide and a roster of park activities, all temporarily silent because of the social distancing requirements of COVID-19.

We met some boaters that were tied in a slip for the night. Full-time RVers and cruising boaters have similar lifestyles, it's easy to make friends. We offered them a ride to the grocery store in our car since they didn't have one, and they offered us a tour of their beautiful boat because they could clearly see us enviously eyeballing it. We spoke for hours about the ICW, sailing, weather and of course boat designers. Everyone has opinions on boat design and this is a subject any boater will tell you to wade into carefully and only with plenty of time on your hands. We happily debated the pros and cons of various boat designs for an hour or so, from 6 feet apart on their boat and dock, and parted ways laughing about the awkwardness brought on by a group of people trying to establish new social norms around virus avoidance with a virtual handshake, or elbow bump, or wave, or... nobody knows what to do so we all just laugh and shrug.

North Myrtle Beach Luxury RV Resort and Dry Dock is one of our favorite campsites

The next morning we settled in to a Thousand Trails park in North Carolina for boat shopping. It's a lovely quiet park with a pond, within easy reach of New Bern, Oriental, and Wilmington. The word here is that the region has "3 boats to every human" so this should be good hunting grounds. Call it a sixth sense or whatever... I feel like she's very close.

Internet Speed Comparison
North Myrtle Beach RV Park & Marina Dry Dock, SC
Sampled 3/18/20 at 2:06 pm

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Calyx (Sprint)
Google Fi
Jetpack (Verizon)
Park wifi

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Georgia, the whole day through

Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island

We heard that in Georgia boat slips and RV storage were plentiful and affordable. There were a couple of boats there that piqued our curiousity, and we needed to lay low and wait out the weather before heading North to see the boats we are most excited about. All the stars aligned in one place: Brunswick.

It's on the ICW and it's a hurricane hole, there's plenty of support nearby for just about any RV or boat project. There are bicycle paths everywhere, it seems like an affordable bicycle-friendly town. There's just enough history and sight-seeing to give us a weekend breather, but not so much that we are distracted when we should be working. Perfect.

Neither of the boats we toured turned out to be Miss Right, but the marina is just perfect and will likely become the home base for our boat, Loretta and Mr. Toad, at least during the transition period.

The 656-foot long Golden Ray is clearly visible in Brunswick harbor. She caught fire and capsized while leaving port in September 2019, with a cargo of 4000 Hyundai cars and crew of 24. The first 20 folks were easily rescued, the last 4 crew waited to be extricated from the 150-degree engine room by a round-the-clock rescue team with a diamond-tipped cutter. Officials have yet to release their final findings; debating the reasons for the incident and removal solutions for the huge ship and stricken Hyundais has become a local pastime.

History feels very close here in Georgia. On nearby Jekyll Island new sand-colored hotels juxtapose comfortably alongside beautiful rambling ranch-style brick homes from the '50s, ruins from the original British settlements of the 1700s, a large relatively new 4H club complete with a beehive of bus activity, and timeless driftwood beaches. A web of bicycle paths connects them all.

The Horton House was built in 1743, it's all that remains of the once thriving farm and brewery.

This region was the site of several skirmishes between the British, the Spanish, and the local native population. Ultimately Jekyll Island was settled in the 1730s by Major Horton, a British war hero who had done time in a Spanish war prison and was rewarded for his service with a farmable plot of land on the beautiful island; the shell of his home is all that really remains intact to pay homage.

Another great benefit of spending time in Georgia was that we were within reach of our Atlanta friends, and it was good to catch up them for the day in Savannah.

Looking down on River Street

Savannah's such a beautiful place, the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy.

Here and there the concrete chips away to reveal the original cobblestone of Savannah's streets.

Masthead inside the Boar's Head Grill, the oldest restaurant in Savannah

Inside the Boar's Head Grill, the oldest restaurant in Savannah, this section of the restaurant was built in 1780, the town itself goes back to 1743.

War Memorial on the riverfront in Savannah

The staircases between Bay and River Streets are historically accurate: steep, narrow and treacherous. Our friend tells me the handrails are a rather recent addition, they weren't here when he was an 18-year old army soldier drinking at the waterfront on off-duty leave. How he and his fellow soldiers survived their off-duty time here without falling to their deaths is a mystery.

We are continuing the boat search and following the weather up the East Coast. Next planned stops on the East Coast boat shopping tour: Charleston SC, Oriental NC, and Annapolis MD.

Internet Speed Comparison
Blythe Island Regional Campground, Bruswick GA
Sampled 3/1/20 at 2:30 pm

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Calyx (Sprint)
Google Fi
Jetpack (Verizon)
Park wifi

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Gators and DNA

2 year old gator, mildly annoyed at being held for our enjoyment 

Captain Wayne turned off the loud airboat motor and we slid to a smooth stop on top of the grasses and weeds. Although we were less than a mile from the gator village where we'd been holding the baby gators just a short time ago, it felt like a world away on the far side of the lake. We were out looking for the big gators among the brush. With the motor shut off we removed our earmuffs and the competing song of the bugs and birds came into focus.

"Yep, that there, that's where the eagles live" Captain Wayne pointed, "hey did you hear about the DNA findings in that local murder case?"

Hmmm. A rather odd way to start a conversation, apropos of nothing... "no..." we mumbled back at him, squinting into the brush for reptilian eyes or a glimpse of a large tail.

"Yeah, so this local house was robbed by the son's girlfriend and her friends and it was supposed to be vacant. But when they got there and got to robbin' they discovered construction crew down in the basement doin' their thing. So they did what they had to do and killed them all. And they would have got away with it except one of the robbers stepped in dog shit and the police managed to link the trace discovered in his tennis shoe tread back to the family dog. And the moral of that story is... if you're out robbin' and killin' be sure you don't step in shit. That DNA'll get ya every time."

REALLY Captain Wayne? THAT'S the moral of that story?

I was suddenly feeling quite vulnerable among the weeds, crickets, and thus far invisible eagles. The silence from the other airboat passengers confirmed uncomfortableness all around. Someone coughed, someone else cleared their throat. After a few mostly silent moments Captain Wayne fired up the airboat, we donned our earmuffs, and we were back on our way to search for large gators.

OK Captain Wayne. I thought I had met the best of the campfire story tellers. You are officially their king.

Sandhill Cranes lay their eggs on the water in the grasses. They are tall enough to stand in the shallows and defend their nest from non-swimming predators.

We roll back to Cummins Orlando on Friday to reunite Loretta with her generator. It turns out the propane regulator just needed a deep cleaning.

Loretta and Mr. Toad at Cummins Orlando. The 50-amp hookup with waterfront view was quite a pleasant place to hang out while waiting on generator repairs.

Internet Speed Comparison
Cummins Repair Ship, Orlando FL
Sampled 2/4/20 at 12:37 pm

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Calyx (Sprint)
Google Fi
Jetpack (Verizon)
Shop wifi

Monday, February 3, 2020

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores, Alabama is a resort town on the water, bordered on the South by beautiful white sand beaches along the Gulf, and split in half by the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW). Their motto is "small town big beach" which pretty much sums it up. It was the perfect place to hang with friends in the evenings, and get significant piles of year-end bookkeeping work done during the daytime.

Red Sky At Morning, as seen from out campsite, the prelude to a particularly stormy day

The hotels along the waterfront, as seen from our campsite on a foggy evening
We are also taking a moment here to lick our boat shopping wounds, it's taking more of a soul toll than expected.

Stewie is sulking because I won't let him out to roam during the day, but he'll have to wait it out until we move on to the next spot - the neighbors are coming out of hibernation and are looking for breakfast.

Anyhoo... back to Gulf Shores, our January landing spot. Snowbirds are welcomed here. Most of them come from Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana, with a few Canadians sprinkled in.

No self-respecting Gulf Shores camper would be caught without a koozie over their beverage of choice. When I told a circle of campers I had no idea what a koozie was they collectively gasped, and later that day we were presented with a pile of them. Whether this is an Alabama thing or a Michigan thing brought to the region by snowbirds is a mystery.

There's $1 minigolf, live music every night, oysters, and hot wings. I've been told it's off the hook for Spring break. Plans are already under way for assorted Mardi Gras celebrations around town, people have started decorating floats and selecting colorful costumes.

The Hangout is just a few blocks from our park. The list of Spring Break headliners is impressive. I've been told this outdoor venue can be heard for many miles around when it's in full swing.
A unique chotchky collection lines the walls at The Hangout

We exchanged our Florida flip-flop and swimsuit attire for boots and hoodies and embraced the bug-free cooler weather. The January storms that rolled across us were plentiful, windy and wet - during one particular storm we were grateful to be living in a heavy Class A, and I felt compelled to place the Mini between us and a nearby lightweight popup camper I was worried about blowing into us. Finding a body shop for the Mini is less hassle than settling Loretta into one. It seems the normal January weather pattern for this region is one day in the low 60's followed by a day or two of very wet and sometimes thundering storms. The snowbirds didn't seem to mind - their people were all shoveling snow at home after all, but it was a shock to us coming from the Keys so recently.

Beautiful white sand beaches are lonely in anticipation of the coming storm.
Sunset after an epic storm, as seen from my office window

You may remember Gulf Shores from the news in 2010 - it was hit with a huge oil spill that affected the town in many significant ways. As part of the cleanup and restoration process, BP funded several improvement projects, my favorite of which is the 60 miles of bicycle paths through the wetland preserve, easily accessible from our campground. Lance rode nearly daily while I worked, I joined him whenever I could escape my desk.

The bike path of Gulf Shores Park is beautifully maintained and equally welcoming for hikers, bikers, and dogs.

Shelby Lake in Gulf State Park
Shelby Lake as seen from the bike path in Gulf State Park
And Loretta got some lovin' - a new coat of wax! We were thrilled to find someone affordable to take on the job.

The old gal can still shine

White sandy beaches on a cool blustery day.
No trip to the area is complete without a tour of nearby Fort Pickens This fort was build in 1834 and saw action in the civil war and also protected against German submarines in World War II. Today only a few of the monstrously huge cannons remain on the beach, standing vigil among the lizards and seabirds.

Another great find was Joe Patti's Seafood, which has fish covered from catch to market to restaurant.

The fishing boat @ Joe Patti's

Crawdads can generally be found on every menu in Gulf Shores, although Alabama tips the spice jar quite a bit less than nearby New Orleans.

Tuna steaks carved right in front of our eyes, quickly and carefully with no morsel wasted
We were invited here by friends we met a couple of years ago in Mexico Beach, FL. We were there because friends we made in the Keys invited us to follow them there when we all left the Keys together. We were in the Keys because friends we made in Brookings OR in our first few months on the road recommended we join the Elks and the Elks hooked us up. So it definitely pays to make friends on the road. It's easy - just take a lap around the park with the dog. Or open your lawn chair and sit down in front of your rig. Or open a hatch on your rig and look puzzled - I guarantee you'll get more help than you may need.

The stage at the Flora-Bama awaits the next band

This park in Gulf Shores has a core group of snowbirds that return year after year. Their travel is different from ours in that they pretty much live in Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota half the year and live here at the park the other half of the year - their rigs travel only back and forth or just stay here and await their return. Classic snowbird behavior but so foreign to us. I can definitely see the allure in rejoining friends year after year. They welcomed us into their events, of which there were many ranging from a superbowl party to weekly mini-golf and bean-bag toss games (out here they call the game corn hole - the idea is to throw a bean bag into a box with a hole in it).

While we are still enjoying our life of travel, I find that the goodbyes are wearing on me. But it won't stop me from continuing to make new friends along the way, that is the point of all of this after all. Maybe a snowbird life is in my future - when I can enjoy good weather and look forward to seeing the same friends next year, making the goodbyes a little easier.

After the next adventure, maybe...

Internet Speed Comparison
Luxury RV Resort, Gulf Shores, AL
Sampled 1/6/20 at 6:57 pm

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Calyx (Sprint)
55.2 (!!!)
Google Fi
Jetpack (Verizon)
Park wifi
Free wifi workig intermittently, there is a cabled paid version we didn't buy into