Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Recovery from Embarrassment; Stone Mountain; Hilton Head, SC; Linus; Air Bag Problems; Porn??? Darien, GA; Home!

Okay, in our last post, My Lovely Bride (AKA "MLB" or "Suzanne") was mortified by the reaction she got from some (probably young, good-looking) redneck guys concerning her attire, but I digress... she recovered, and in the process of avoiding Hurricane Florence, we moved on southward. Somewhere along the way, we saw this door sign... frequent readers know my feelings towards lawyers. 

Another day's travel brought us to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and a beautiful campground only a mile from the monolith that has enormous carvings of Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. (Remember that I am a Southern boy at heart...) Coincidentally, I am now reading one of the classic histories of the War of Northern Aggression (AKA the Civil War, or the War of the Rebellion), The Civil War (1958, when historians were actually apolitical), by the brilliant historian Shelby Foote, highly acclaimed on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line (even the Gray Lady!, hard to believe, but back then, newspapers were relatively neutral). 

Our campground was in Stone Mountain Park, on a hillside, where I had total trust in MLB to guide me back into our designated site. Another 10 feet, and we would have been down the hill into the lake! (Newcomers to this blog may note that our coach looks much like a Greyhound Bus! But we are living aboard for 6 months each summer, and Suzanne has indicated that a 6x6 ft tent is unacceptable...)

Two days of kayaking and hiking later, we headed for Hilton Head, South Carolina, where we linked up with two of our dearest friends, Irene and Tony Vouvalides. We are linked spiritually to this lovely couple by our shared grief, having both lost beautiful daughters, our Susan and Irene and Tony's Carly. (In fact, today would have been Carly's 30th birthday). Irene leads the Hilton Head chapter of Helping Parents Heal, and is Vice President of that organization which does so much to bring healing and consolation to parents who have lost a child (and some more than one). 

While at dinner, this shrimper cruised by; the sight of her with the backdrop of Low Country marshes made me wish that we were closer to the water, instead of almost 100 miles from the ocean in The Villages, as nice as it is...

Linus was Carly's beloved Golden Doodle, and is the sweetest dog we have ever met. Gretchen still barks at him occasionally, but Rudy accepts him pretty well. Our mini Dachshunds can walk under Linus' belly without touching!

While in Hilton Head, I spotted this car with three stickers. (Note that the nearest military base is Parris Island, where young Marines enter into the service of their country at boot camp. The three blue stars on the one on the left indicates that the family has three sons or daughters serving in the military. The Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor on the right is darn well self-explanatory. The sticker at lower right is hard to read, but has two parts; the left side with "Your Kids", and four figures; the right side, labeled "My Kids", also has four figures, with three holding rifles. Very impressive... I honor the entire family for their patriotism, sacrifice and service to our nation.

A weekend jaunt took us to Charleston, where Suzanne gave her "Your Emerging Soul" workshop to an enthusiastic group at Unity of Charleston. On the way back to Hilton Head, we experienced the first significant mechanical problem of our six month tour. Our coach uses air bags as a suspension system, instead of springs (because it weighs 23 tons!), and one had failed. (This photo is of the air bags on the back end of a semi tractor, the truck that pulls 46-53 ft trailers). They look like barrels, but are filled with compressed air to 125 psi.

Suzanne drove back to Hilton Head, and I limped into the Freightliner repair shop in Summerville for repairs. Tony drove up to Summerville and drove me and the puppies back to Hilton Head for a party at his house. I asked him to call when he was five minutes out. I got his call, "Ty, I'm in front of the porn store!" "What??? I don't know where the porn store is... Tony, are you sure they have those here? Summerville is a family-friendly town!"

36 hours later, we were fixed. Our technician, Eric, showed us the failed air bag support... 

Back "in battery", as Navy gunners say, we headed south another day and visited more dear friends, Mike and Beth Pasakarnis. Their son Wolf (Mike, Jr.) was killed by lightning like our Susan, and we are very close. They had recently moved from Mashpee, Mass, to Darien, Georgia. Here are Mike and Beth with some of Wolf's mementos in his room. (If you haven't read Suzanne's book, Wolf's Message, it is a winner!)

Another days drive brought us home to the Villages, in central Florida. It had been six months to the day, and 10,910 miles of driving, as far west as Scottsdale, AZ and Boise, Idaho, and as far east as Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Another great summer, meeting and helping many wonderful people along the way. We are enjoying sitting on our patio and looking at the live oaks behind our house...

In closing, I have one final story to relate; tonight I mentioned to Suzanne that I was taking our little mini-Dachshunds Rudy and Gretchen out; thinking that dinner was soon to go onto the table, she said, "Oh, I hope it's a short puppy walk..." I replied, "Well, duh... of course they are short puppies; their legs are only three inches long!"

Monday, October 1, 2018

Newport, RI; Alpacas and Hinckleys! Northern Virginia; Appalachian State University; Boone, NC; An Embarrassing Moment

Bar Harbor was great for kayaking and lobster, but it was good to get away from the mosquitoes when we turned the bow of the coach southwest and headed for our next destination, Scarborough, Maine, south of Portland. The weather was beautiful and our 15-mile bike ride through the marsh and pines was bug-free! 

A few hours south were our old Navy stomping grounds in Newport, Rhode Island. Between us, we had about five years of time in Newport, one of the most delightful summer vacation spots in the world. (Oh, and they also have lobsters!) On arrival, we went for a long walk around the naval base to see what had changed... a lot! One of the new buildings was the Naval Leadership and Ethics Center. Both Suzanne and I had taught the subject, and I wish that it was mandatory for US senators... after having watched a bit of the circus called the Judiciary Committee, they could use a refresher course... but I digress...

We had an invitation from old sailing friends, Jim and Judy McGuire, to visit their farm in Wickford. Imagine our surprise when Judy, who is a wild bird rehabilitator, asked, "Would you like to meet our alpacas?" The two in the back are mother and daughter.  All three have the sweetest dispositions you could imagine, and faces that would melt the coldest heart!

Because of their warm fleece coats, the alpacas had been shorn for the summer. They look a bit odd having been trimmed, but it must be a lot more comfortable.

Sailing is in Suzanne's blood and mine, so we were thrilled when we got an invitation from Ben Riggs, a retired Navy fighter pilot, to take us out on his Swedish Albin 30 sloop. Here we are under great sailing conditions off Newport on Narragansett Bay, with a big Hinckley 45 footer off our quarter. Newport offers some of the premier sailing in the world, and many circumnavigators start their voyages here. Racing is extremely popular, since the America's Cup races were held here for over 50 years.

Ben is a great racing sailor, but even his skills couldn't keep the much larger Hinckley astern. (Size does matter...) She is certainly a beautiful yacht. In fact, we had driven by the Hinckley yard in Southwest Harbor, Maine, when we were in Bar Harbor. (I really need to start buying lottery tickets.) Experienced sailors may note that her mainsail is luffing a bit; that's due to the fluky winds that occur when the laminar wind flow over a sail is disrupted by another boat just upwind.

I was just finishing a long walk at our campground along Burma Road north of the base when I saw a strange vehicle on the nearby train tracks - a "rail bike". They come in 2 and 4 seaters, and are quite popular amongst the tourists here. They are also used in Oregon, in the Adirondacks and in Korea.

We left the cool Newport weather and headed south to northern Virginia, where Suzanne had an event at Unity of Fairfax. We had dinner with our good friends Colleen and Doug Smith and Kathy and Andy McMannis from Helping Parents Heal, and got a taste of 21st Century Washington, DC, traffic, which was at least twice as bad as when we lived there in the 80s and 90s.  Unfortunately, our staff photographer was off for a few nights, probably hunting nutria in Louisiana...

I should reintroduce the members of our team, for new readers. Here is Suzanne, also known as My Lovely Bride, AKA MLB...

Our Senior Resident Canine is Rudy the Sailing Wiener Dog, now age 13, getting a bit grey around the muzzle... he has been mistaken for a short Irish setter by several young women attracted to his handsome visage. (Yep, he's a Babe Magnet!)

This Lovely Young Canine Lady is Gretchen, age 12, who when approached by other dogs, thinks she is a Rottweiler... although normally, she is very timid and serene. When I come back sweaty from PT, I lie down on a yoga pad and she licks the sweat off my face. MLB thinks its gross, but Gretchen and I know better.

Our next stop, a bittersweet one, was at Appalachian State University, in Boone, NC, where our daughter Susan had been a student. A retired English Professor, Dr. Tom McGowan, had learned of Susan's Marine Corps service and death on active duty. 

Being a former Marine himself, Dr. McGowan arranged for Susan's name to be placed on the memorial at the university. Susan is the only woman on that list. He invited us down for a visit, and we had the privilege of meeting him, visiting the memorial, getting a personal tour of the campus, and having lunch in the student union. It meant a lot to us, and I know Susan was there watching over our shoulder. 

While in Boone, I went for a hike, and passed this herd of goats on a woodpile... I'm not sure of the exact meaning of why they are standing on a woodpile, but am sure it makes perfect "goat sense"...

Farther down the road was a tiny chapel in back of a private home. It warms my heart to see such dedication to one's faith in a very remote, rural area...

Even though I don't watch TV shows about flipping houses, I found this fixer-upper that has promise... (of what, I'm not sure...)

Finally, in the hopes that she doesn't read this before it goes to press, I have to expose (in a matter of speaking) one of My Lovely Bride's most embarrassing moments. We were at a military campground, and we had no plans to interact with anyone all day.  Suzanne decided to wear a shirt that was given to her as a gift by a friend, but which she told me privately she could never wear in public.  Later in the morning we found out we had to change campsites, so while I dealt with the bus and the car, Suzanne went into the campground office to check in. There were four young "redneck" guys standing around chatting with the desk clerk, and when they saw Suzanne, they all gave her what she described to me as sh__-eating grins". She didn't realize what that was all about until she looked down and realized she had forgotten to change her shirt...

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Spoons" and the Appalachian Trail

This blog post is a bit unusual. It does not simply report on our travels across the US in our coach, my misadventures, or other daily travails. Rather, it celebrates a young woman who recently completed one of the most strenuous and iconic backpacking trails in the world. "Spoons" (also known as "Amanda" to her family and friends), is the granddaughter of one of our dear friends, Colette Sasina, back in The Villages. Back in April, Colette alerted me to Amanda's decision to hike the Appalachian Trail ("the AT"), a 2,189 mile trail that runs through 14 states from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine. 

Needless to say, I was jealous, because it's an adventure I have long wanted to attempt. It's also one that my daughter Susan, who was struck and killed by lightning in 2006, wanted to do, as a daughter and dad team. Regrettably, we were unable to make it happen before she died. A post written by one of Spoons' friends, "Defib", took my breath away... "A Reminder of Life. I came upon a live tree in the middle of nowhere decorated for Christmas. Ornaments adorned the tree. As I looked closer I found an ornament with the picture of a child... a child who had passed away too soon. The tree was dedicated to a child named Max. On the ground was a book in a large Ziplock bag. I opened it. It was filled with messages to Max from those who passed this spot. Spoons, Ghost, Rhodo, Sunshine... they were all in there. Gone were the normal humorous comments, the off-color remarks. They were replaced by sincere reflections of hikers affected by the loss of this unknown child." It was especially poignant to me, having lost a child, and reminds us all that no matter how different we all are, we are brought together by personal tragedy and love.

When Colette first told me about Amanda, I thought that this may have been a recent (perhaps even "rash"?) decision; she is now 20, and many college-age thru-hikers do the AT on the spur of the moment. I was astounded to see a photo of "Spoons" at an AT signpost at 12 and 20, side by side, which proves she had been planning this for years! How many people can say that they have followed their dreams as did Amanda?

For those who are unfamiliar with how hard this hike is, a few statistics are in order. In the AT Thru-hikers Class of 2018, approximately 2,800 hikers registered but only 20% or so will complete the distance (there are still a few weeks left, but the season is almost over). Only 25% on average are women. By the way, Spoons completed the hike in less than 5 months, an average of about 15 miles per day, inclusive of time off-trail for injuries, finding food in remote locations, helping injured friends, etc. Most AT through-hikers take 6 months, and wear out 4-5 pair of hiking shoes/boots. As to sleeping arrangements, the choices are either a tent, tarp or 3-sided wood shelter that may be populated by more mice than snoring hikers.  


An AT hiker consumes about 5,500 calories per day (that's 11 Big Macs), and still has a calorie deficiency, and loses about 30 lbs during the five to six months it takes. It's no wonder that kale and quinoa are not the most favored foods... but ice cream, pizza and Lil Debbies Cakes are!

Having hiked part of the AT, I envy Spoons' perseverance. The heavily forested parts of the Trail are often called the Green Tunnel, because viewpoints are few and far between, especially down South. But the occasional vistas are rewarding. 

In July, Spoons reached Mt. Katahdin, in Baxter State Park, Maine. A remote location, it's one of those places that even some Mainers say, "Ya' can't get thea' from hea'." I'm sure she was glad to have good weather - it can snow almost any time on Katahdin - but because she was hiking FAST, Amanda got there before the snows arrived. Does she look happy, or what?

Such an accomplishment is best shared with family and friends, and Amanda/Spoons was joined on Mt. Katahdin by many of those, including "One-T", her trail team partner. He summited the same day within minutes of her, filmed her arrival at the summit, and is in the picture with his dad... a very happy ending for a long, arduous summer. Now back at William and Mary, you have to let us know... Amanda, what's on for your next challenge???

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Chateaugay, NY; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada; Moose Poop! Bar Harbor, Maine; An Addiction

My last post had us in the lovely White Mountains of New Hampshire. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to post this picture of one of Suzanne's favorite natural wonders, a waterfall. This one is in Chateaugay, NY, at the High Falls campground (gee, why did they name it that???). We were there midweek, and only a few other hikers made the short trek to the falls. Even in August, it was roaring! The campground was mostly French Canadians from Montreal and Quebec, but since I have my own translator,we were cool...

From Franconia Notch, we headed northeast through Maine to Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, where we parked behind the beautiful Iris Center, operated by Wendy Carty and her husband, Dr. Bill Cook, MD. Situated on 35 acres, the Iris Center provided the ideal venue for Suzanne's Serving Spirit Level 1 course, the first time presented in Canada. 

But our week at the Iris Center wasn't all work. Wendy and Bill were amazingly gracious hostess and host during our visit. We kayaked together on the Saint John River, along with their two dogs, Nelson and Lily, seen here swimming alongside Wendy's kayak. They would swim to shore periodically to romp on islands that had once provided grazing locations for cattle and sheep.

Wendy loves to grow veggies, herbs and spices. Here she and Bill are showing off trays of Wendy's garlic drying in their basement. I even got a sample to take with us, and it was fabulous!

We were also treated to dinner at their beautiful house on the Saint John. Bill surprised me with some "moose poop" from this cleverly-designed moose; it was actually candy dispensed from the rear end of a wooden Alces alces when you lifted his antlers...

On a related topic, on the day before we departed Fredericton, a pumpout truck stopped by to empty our grey and black waste tanks (grey, from showers and sinks; and black, from toilets). I asked the waste truck guy if he used a pumpout hose with very low vacuum, so as not to collapse our tanks. He replied, "No, I empty them into a 5 gallon pail and suck them dry with this here hose..." I was shocked, because back home, such trucks connect to the RV directly. But he assured me that there would be no spills, and indeed, with me minding the valves and him operating the hose and bucket, he drained our tanks into that pail and sucked it dry, in about 5 minutes, with nary a spilled drop! (The simple things in life can also be impressive...if not a bit gross!)

Our next stop was at New River Beach Provincial Park, on the nearby Bay of Fundy, which boasts the most extreme tidal range in the world, at times up to 50 feet. These tides are the result of the movement of up to 160 billion tons of salt water in and out of the Bay of Fundy, an amount equal to the combined flow of all the world's rivers. This photo shows the exposed beach where people and dogs walk at low tide; it is covered by 40-50 feet of water at high tide.

Another neat stop was in Saint John, where the massive tides cause the river to reverse direction, and what were outflowing fresh-water rapids now become inflowing brackish rapids. We were a bit late getting to the viewpoint, and MLB was anxious, so I reminded her of the old saying, "Time and tide wait for no man... or woman!"

Of course, we had to get a couple of hikes in while in Canada. This one was near Haggerty's Cove, near our campground. The trail varied from beach to forest to rocky overlooks, and we enjoyed two hours almost totally alone in this beautiful, serene environment.

Thankfully, we didn't run into any moose during our hikes, bike rides or drives. Road signs warn drivers of the danger, which is very real. The signs are bilingual to alert French-speaking moose of the dangers...

From the New River, we dropped back below the border to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we set up camp in the most mosquito-infested area I have ever experienced... and I grew up in Louisiana, and now live in Florida, where the mosquito problems are relatively minor. To give you some idea of the issue here, we stepped out of our coach on arrival about 4:00 PM, and were immediately surrounded by swarms of mosquitoes, at least 100 or so between the four of us. For the uninitiated, the most common species in the eastern USA is the Eastern Salt Marsh Mosquito (Aedes sollicitans), while other evil varieties include the Asian Tiger Mosquito, the Yellow Fever Mosquito, the Malaria Mosquito, and the Encephalitis Mosquito. (Don't they sound wonderful?) One of the reasons Maine is so heavily ridden with these beasts is that they don't spray... I guess PETA convinced New Englanders that spraying would be inhumane to bugs. (I looked on-line, and I would recommend the State of Maine contact Mosquito Joe, of Hilton Head, SC. I'm sure he would be happy to start a franchise operation on Mt. Desert Island.)

Happily, we were able to out-ride the bugs on our mountain bikes in Acadia National Park. There are miles of gravel-covered carriage trails here, some quite steep, and often connecting lovely lakes and overlooks. Here is My Lovely Bride (Army people, please note her jersey!) on the side of Eagle Lake (I think). 

The lakes here are lovely... and are probably even nicer in October when the mosquitoes have been killed off by early frosts.

A Mainer friend of Suzanne's, Mary Hauprich, joined us for a morning of kayaking in Bar Harbor. She drove up from 
Islesboro, a beautiful island between Castine and Rockport, two of our favorite coastal boating towns. I would love to live on an island where we could sail and fish...

The Acadia Ocean Trail runs along (what else?) the ocean! It is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the National Park System, mostly because of its proximity to Boston, home of the Red Sox ("Good", unless you're a Yankees fan) and some of the worst drivers in the US, perhaps even the galaxy (Bad!!!). Even other New England drivers call them Massxxxx... well, something naughty! 

While on a hike up Gorham Mountain, MLB stopped to meditate, at one of the prettiest overlooks we've seen this trip. The sand beach behind her could have been flown in from the Bahamas, but yes, it's actually just a few miles from Bar Harbor, Maine!

One of the best part about visiting Maine is the local cuisine... okay, let's just say one item on the menu... Lobstah! Here is Your Faithful Correspondent on the deck of a lobster restaurant in Bar Harbor, ready to enjoy a nice 1 1/4 pound soft shell chicken lobster. And yes, it was heavenly!!! (Note that I am wearing fleece; by sunset it was chilly!)

Finally, I have to admit that My Lovely Bride has a new addiction... to Energel Liquid Gel 0.7mm pens!  Spouses of authors may recognize the tell-tale signs of a pen addiction (shaky hands, clammy skin, anxiousness, etc...) which led me to make a late-evening foray to save her from agony. Being a "pleaser" kind of guy, I had to make several stops to find the particular pen to which she is addicted, but thankfully, I was able to find a few dozen of her favorite pens... hopefully they will last a week or so!