February to April, 2002

A Tail of Two Kitties

We’ve now spent several weeks in Florida and it’s been a busy time.  Being from California, it’s been a steep learning curve.  Florida is really different.  And it’s not just the people. 

0202-Webster Area

We are rapidly learning about living in and traveling in a motorhome.  In so many ways, it was easier on the bike.  We could turn on a dime, we got a zillion miles to the gallon, and we loved the freedom to instantly change our minds and spin off in a new direction.  Motorhomes are more deliberate in their movements, even one that’s only 26 feet long.  They have poor fuel economy.  And you never, ever enter a parking lot without establishing your exit strategy first.   But, they carry their own food and bed (and bathroom!), they have a furnace, and – best of all, in a motorhome you can boondock.

So what’s boondocking you say?  We Americans have a wonderful way of converting nouns to verbs.  When I was a teenager (oh, so long ago) the boondocks were way down at the end of the road.  To us, it stood for where we lived, No-Wheresville.  These days, boondocking means dry-camping, or parking your RV wherever you want, without needing electricity, water, or a sewer hookup.  It implies you don’t need to stay in actual campgrounds, that you are free as a bird and totally self-contained.

Boondocking is wonderful.  It is, however, a challenge at times.  We are learning how to solve problems and to enjoy an evening with flashlights when the batteries in the coach suddenly tell you they are low.  Boondocking is definitely for us, we love it.  It reflects our feelings about not intruding on the environment, about looking into more solar panels so we can stay out longer, about being closer to our original ideas of tent-camping.

Spanish moss is pretty much everywhere; it’s pretty cool stuff.  It hangs from all kinds of trees.  If memory serves, it’s a parasite, just like mistletoe.  But this is lovely and wispy; grey in color and very hang-y.  If you pick it up and look closely, it looks a lot like sage; it has long, thin, segmented strands.  Prettiest, I think, hanging from the oak trees.  Oak trees you say?  How can there be oak trees in Florida?  You would be amazed; so far, the only palm trees I’ve seen in northern Florida are the ones planted beside the freeways.  They are all further south; the entire northern part of the state is wooded, mostly filled with pines of two varieties -- white and loblolly -- both grown for harvesting.  There are huge tree farms everywhere.  The pines have a wonderful aroma that is very sweet right now.  The land that is clear is being used for cattle mostly, with hay and some cotton and other crops.  We’ve seen plenty of citrus trees, too, of course.


The fruit at the stands has been wonderful, and the roadside stops are everywhere as soon as you get off the interstate.  The citrus varieties are joined by cantaloupes and watermelons and -- even more delightful -- fresh strawberries.  We are swimming in fruit.  I cannot resist stopping at the stands and buying ever more varieties of the beauty on offer.

We took a week and headed up toward the dreaded Orlando and Disney World.  And we even survived for two whole days.  We actually did have fun, because we always have fun.

Further afield, we’ve had a delightful, if quick, trip to Alabama and back.  Rick advertised the tent trailer for sale, and very quickly found a buyer.  But he lives in Kansas City, Missouri.  So what to do?  You meet in the middle.  We met him in Birmingham and made the exchange.  He was a delightful fellow, and all went very smoothly.

On the way, we spent a night in Eufala, Alabama, a smallish town on the Chattahoochee River.  It boasts one of the largest collections of antebellum and late 19th century homes in the South.  It was great riding around and seeing them in the morning before we left.  One disappointment:  we had assumed that with such a charming small town environment, there would be a charming café for breakfast.  No such luck.  We wandered all over creation, and finally ended up eating at the local Waffle House.  It was totally full of the locals who also had no other place to have their breakfast! Have you ever eaten at a Waffle House?  The food is okay (just), but they are quite small and dingy and make no attempt to have a smoke-free area.  Gasp!  The hospitality was nice, however, and the waitresses were charming.

This trip up through Alabama also included time spent on the Jefferson Davis Highway, the Jim Nabors Highway, the Hank Williams Musical Memory Highway, and the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway.  What a combination!  That’s what I like about the South…  Oh, and we came across the Rosa L. Parks Avenue in a neighborhood outside Montgomery.  History abounds!

My biggest treat was my first piece of sweet potato pie; it was truly yummy.  And Rick got to go see the largest motorcycle museum in North America (at least) in Birmingham.  I enjoyed it very much, too.  To say nothing of going through Sylvester, Georgia, the peanut capital of the world.  We liked southern Georgia a lot, and want to visit it more completely another time.

Returning to Florida, we drifted down to Port Charlotte, near the Gulf.  The place where we stayed had a canal with a sign to watch out for the alligators.  We didn’t see any, though.  The sign said not to feed them because when you stopped, they would come looking for the food they expected from you.

We’ve now spent a couple of killer days dry-camping in the Everglades, and we wished we had stayed longer.    The Everglades are swell.  Zillions of birds close to you and not caring; alligators everywhere (they certainly cared, though!).  We walked the Anhinga Trail; if you are ever in the Everglades, you truly must take the time for this walk along one of the waterways.  It was late in the day, and the fish were feeding on the bugs, the birds were feeding on the fish, and the alligators were after both.  We’ll be back.  The anhinga is a particularly spectacular bird that is very common in the area.

0203-Lakeland, Tigers vs Pirates

Upon leaving the Everglades, we moved through Tampa, where we spent a couple of days getting some final work done on both the coach and trailer we’d bought for hauling the bike, and then up into central Florida north of Orlando.  It’s lake country, full of small towns, and we are quite pleased to be here.  Florida is so flat, Rick has decided FL stands for flat.  And the water table is very high, of course. 

Latest oddity seen in the grocery store: pork brains in milk gravy.

It’s spring training in Florida.  We went to Opening Day, in Lakeland.  We saw the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the Detroit Tigers.  It was pretty hokey, but we had a good time.  Surprisingly expensive; we spent $40 between parking, tickets, and food.  We’ve been to Giants games for less.  No we haven’t, says Rick.  Oh, well.

0203-Daytona Bike Week

From spring training we went on up to Daytona Beach, for bike week.  Such chaos!  We spent several days going to bike races, looking at accessories, hanging out with some California friends, and watching the hoopla.  I’m not sure what the point is, but it was fun to see.

And then we went to California.  Not our brightest move, but we did accomplish getting the motorhome registered there, and we picked up our cats.  Mostly, the idea of traveling cross country in the motorhome just sounded neat.

Traveling west, we enjoyed spring in the Deep South, with dogwood, redbud and azaleas everywhere.  Everything was green and pretty.  People were fishing off every pier, roadside water access, and bayou.  Fresh crayfish were available on the side of the road and fresh shrimp (along with the boiled peanuts) on sale at every gas station.   In Louisiana, along the road we saw signs for Cypress Knee Santas.  I can hardly wait.  We traveled the Sid Martin Memorial Freeway, Claude Pepper Memorial Highway, Lawton Chiles Memorial Highway, and the Henry W. Bostick Highway, Who ARE these people?

We also spent some time in Georgia, visiting the Andersonville Civil War site and POW Museum (which had a very strong impact on both of us; it was very powerful), and the Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, along the Chattahootchee River (I just love the names of the rivers in the South).  Then on through more of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, cutting across the middle parts of each of those states.  We did have the chance to travel for a short ways along the Natchez Trace, which is quite lovely.  We’ll do more of that again. 

0203-Vicksburg 01

We spent a night in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and wandered the lovely old homes the next morning before leaving.  At Vicksburg there is an expansive National Park and Cemetery showing the battle for control of the town, which was achieved by Grant and Sherman after a 46-day siege.  We have really been enjoying touring the battle sites and monuments, and the story is always well told.  Until we went to the naval museum in Columbus we had no idea how involved the navy was in that conflict.

We decided to return to California for several reasons; mostly because we felt we needed to register the motorhome there – probably a mistake as things turned out.  In as short a time as possible we accomplished our goals, and as a bonus Kathy sprained her ankle.  Not such a great visit, although one bright spot was that we decided to pick up our cats, Agnes & Jeremy.  We scooped them up and got out of there as quickly as we could, the two of them complaining all the way.  (They never really did adapt to being in a motorhome, but we wanted them with us.)

The East Coast was where we wanted to be, as soon as possible.  Since it was now April, we didn’t have to stay on I-10 all the way across, and wandered through northern Nevada, strikingly beautiful this time of year, across the deserts of Utah, and then into the Colorado Rockies.  We crossed by way of Monarch Pass (our favorite), and dropped down onto the Plains at Pueblo.

0204-Monarch Pass 02

Eastern Colorado was pretty dreary, after those lovely snowcapped peaks.  But there sure are plenty of people living there, so they must think it’s just fine.  The most distinctive feature we saw in eastern Colorado was that the telephone poles are shorter on the left side of the road.  Then in Kansas, the short poles are on the right side of the road.  (“Buy short,” the stockbroker said.)

A formula for you:  one water tower plus one grain elevator = one small mid-western town.  We saw zillions of them.  But all the way through the mid-West, the dogwood and azaleas were in bloom in the towns and along the roads, and the further east you get, the greener it is.  Missouri was coming into bloom, and by then you are back in the land of the billboards claiming VASECTOMY REVERSAL SERVICES, 1-800-whatever, so who could ask for anything more!  We traveled on the Robert B Docking Memorial Highway, the Duncan Hines Highway (in Kentucky), the Major Mark C. Dodd Memorial Highway, and then, in North Carolina, the Sam Hunt Freeway and the John Motley Morehead III Freeway.  Such a country we live in!

Chetopa, Kansas says they are the Catfish Capital of the Country, although we’ve seen that claim made several times before, so who knows; and there we also found a store called The Wizard of Odds – over 35,000 items for sale.  Tried so hard to get Rick to stop, but not a chance.   In southern Missouri, going through a Mennonite area, we were intrigued to see that the highway we were on had a grassy median down the middle, and down the middle of it was a gravel path for horse-drawn carts to ride.  Clearly marked “Not for Autos” -- pretty cool, I thought.

Pretty un-cool was the path we had inadvertently chosen to get over the Mississippi River where it divides Missouri and Kentucky.  We crossed it at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. (This is the place where Lewis and Clark camped, by the way, at Fort Defiance.)  As it turns out, to get between those two states, you cross each of the rivers separately, on very old, very narrow, very high bridges.  I closed my eyes, I held my breath, I took a gulp, and Rick steered very carefully and gently and got us across.  We had just finished going over the second bridge when here came this humungous truck; we were amazingly lucky! 

But Kentucky is gorgeous and lush, one of our favorite states.  We went through Paducah and Pulaski Counties, then, east of there, we traveled a stretch through the Daniel Boone National Forest, which was lovely and cool.  We do indeed like Kentucky.  One cool sign, along a stretch of freeway that was torn up for improvements: “Whoa, Baby, Whoa; Leave the Racing to Horses.”

100-0100 IMG

So now we are back in North Carolina, a beautiful, tree-filled state.  We were last in Raleigh in 1998 and are delighted to be back.  This is a wonderful area to visit, full of life and cultural opportunities.  Raleigh is high on our list of places where we’d like to live.  There is something for everyone here, even a couple of local baseball teams, the Carolina Mudhens and the Durham Bulls (think Kevin Costner in Bull Durham). 

Leaving Raleigh, we decided to stop for a few days at a campground beside a lovely lake in the area.  We were ready to slow down.  Up until now, retirement has meant hurrying, scurrying back and forth, keeping up a pace almost as fast as that we had maintained when working (… ourselves to death).  We’ve made three trips back and forth across the country in less than five months.  We’ve put just under 22,000 (gulp) miles on the two odometers so far.  There have been good reasons for all this; there always are.  But we found ourselves establishing deadlines, goals, expectations in the same old patterns.  But no more.  Our new motto?   Slow Down, Relax, Enjoy Today.  We may stay in North Carolina all summer!

Rick, Kathy, Jeremy, Agnes & ‘Arvey… together at last.

 See more photos from the US & Canada in 2001 to 2003

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018