A Year on the Road, Distilled


Last May, we left Alaska and ventured out on a year-long (give or take) RV trip.  It has been a unique year in our lives—no work, no house, no obligations, no agenda, lots of change.  IMG_1941Some parts of the trip were expected, other parts were a surprise.  We did not have any epiphanies and I don’t think we changed much.  In fact, we knew ourselves pretty well in planning this as a year-long trip.  The length was just right for us.  Road fatigue is starting to set in and we are eager to settle into a community again, get our hands in some soil, dive into some creative projects, and do some serious cooking.  So, in another week or so we will park our trailer and move into a sweet little hillside house with an expansive view.  Our no-longer-new truck will start hauling lumber, compost, and tools for building projects and gardens.

Our truck one year later in Belfast, Maine.  It's enjoying a gorgeous oceanfront site and waits patiently while we eat fresh steamers and fried clams at the campground's restaurant.

Our truck, one year later, in Belfast, Maine. It’s enjoying a gorgeous oceanfront site and stands by while we eat fresh steamers and fried clams at the campground’s restaurant.

We covered a lot of territory this past year.  Our truck logged over 31,000 miles and we traveled through 23 states with the trailer (26 with the truck) and 2 Canadian provinces.

Alaska's Glenn Highway

Alaska’s Glenn Highway

A typical Zoe pose on this trip, nose high, sniffing for info.

A typical Zoe pose at every part of this trip, nose high, sniffing for info.

We saw a staggering amount of beauty out our truck’s windows, at our campgrounds, and on day trips.

Cassiar Highway, Yukon Territory

Cassiar Highway, Yukon Territory

Lovely Dubois, Wyoming campground view

Lovely Dubois, Wyoming campground view



We gawked at and photographed mountains, ocean, farmland, and city architecture.

Oregon's Painted Hills

Oregon’s Painted Hills

Idaho's amazing Sawtooth Mountains

Idaho’s Sawtooths (such a good name)

The Tetons

The Tetons

Zoe enjoying Cape Cod

Zoe enjoying Cape Cod

Hunting Island, South Carolina.

Hunting Island, South Carolina.

Hills above Oroville, Washington

Hills above Oroville, Washington





We hunkered down through an extended bout of cold weather, forcing us to spend hours inside our tiny home, mostly reading and watching some really addictive (and mostly excellent) TV series (Orange is The New Black, The Vikings, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Luther, The Walking Dead, Fargo FX, The Black Mirror (yes, we have eclectic taste and spent many evening hours in really cold, wet nasty weather, confined in a small trailer in remote campgrounds when it’s too cold to be outside)).

We met a variety of people—but not a wide variety—most were white and middle aged or retired.  Some were interesting and engaging, others … not so much.  We stayed in state and provincial parks, national forests, private RV parks, RV “resorts,” beach cottages (during George’s shoulder surgery rehab) and relatives’ driveways.

A slice of paradise, Lake Meziadin Provincial Park. British Columbia

A slice of paradise, Lake Meziadin Provincial Park. British Columbia

Horse at Dubois, Wyoming private campground

Horse at Dubois, Wyoming private campground

Neighborhood at Pennsylvania campground in Amish country

Neighborhood at Pennsylvania campground in Amish country

St. Simons

St. Simons

We knew the road trip/camping routine pretty well, having driven to Alaska and back from the Lower 48 several times over the years and having traveled around Alaska with an RV and a trailer.  But, it had been about twenty years since we had camped outside of Alaska and we were not entirely prepared for the sheer number of people RVing these days.  The roads and campgrounds were crowded, sometimes oppressively so (I know, we’ve lived in Alaska too long).

The biggest surprise—and disappointment—for me on this trip was how difficult it now is to camp without reservations.  It’s all about reservations these days.  Some state parks take them a year in advance and people hover online waiting to pull the trigger at a minute past midnight for their favorite campsites for the year.  And, once school gets out in the summer, forget it—if you don’t make reservations for the weekend, you likely will be searching for a Walmart parking lot or staying in some decrepit RV park next to hollow-eyed, meth-ridden neighbors in a rusty trailer that looks as if it hasn’t seen a highway in twenty years.  The necessity of planning out routes and destinations far in advance has sucked much of the spontaneity and freedom out of Rving—at least during the summer.  It’s a shame.  Moving when you want, where you want, at ANY TIME you want, is at the heart of a good road trip.

The Sawtooths

The Sawtooths before the summer rush.

Idaho's Redfish lake--this was an unplanned visit, and it worked because it was in May.  Later in the season, it would have been packed.

Idaho’s Redfish lake–this was an unplanned visit, and it worked because it was in May. Later in the season, it would have been packed.

Another thing we didn’t expect was the abysmal state of so many roads, bridges, and highways.  Some states were worse than others (Pennsylvania and South Carolina come to mind), taking a pounding from heavy truck traffic, which makes it even more stressful to drive.  There’s nothing like hitting a long series of crater-like potholes while travelling 65 miles an hour towing a trailer, while a massive truck barrels and sways along beside, sucking you into its turbulence.  Sweet.

Crowds and crappy roads aside, some things are a vast improvement from two decades ago.  I felt almost a personal bond with the modern joys of back up cameras (with a microphone no less, I didn’t have to appear as a screeching harridan giving back up directions into a tight site), tire pressure monitors, and RV GPS.  It’s a harsh world for Luddites these days (oops, your RV won’t fit through this 1910 tunnel, try turning around, sucker!).  I proudly embrace any stress-reducing technology out there, including phone apps for weather alerts and radar so that you will know when a killer tornado is heading your way.  Not that there’s much of anything you can do about it in a trailer.



I’m fatter and happier than I was a year ago.  As a warning to anyone contemplating a long road trip—it’s hard to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly when you are traveling.  We’re looking forward to some good eats and being less slug-like when we get into our house.  We will take many more road trips, but none quite like this.  This one was essentially a year-long celebration of retirement.  It was a sweet, fascinating interlude.

Dubois, Wyoming.  Loved it.

Dubois, Wyoming. Loved it.

Petroglyphs in Dubois hills

Petroglyphs in Dubois hills

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

Hiking in the Black Hills, South Dakota

Hiking in the Black Hills, South Dakota

One of my favorite places on the trip--the Badlands

One of my favorite places on the trip–the Badlands

Small town Pennsylvania

Small town Pennsylvania

Florida Anhinga

Florida Anhinga

I don’t know if I will continue blogging.  I expect to be immersed in setting up our new life in a new place and don’t know if I will have the time or desire to blog.  If I do, obviously, it won’t be a road trip blog anymore, but will focus on exploring Maine, gardening, building stuff, and—of course—Zoe.  In any case, I will be taking a blogging break while we settle into our house and then I will see how I feel.

Our next-to-the-last campground in Belfast, Maine.  A fittingly beautiful, and chilly campsite

Our next-to-the-last campground in Belfast, Maine. A fittingly beautiful, and chilly campsite

I’ve enjoyed blogging immensely on this trip.  Thanks for coming along.IMG_0288

Defensive Design

IMG_7999I had no idea that a military fort could be so beautiful. On our last full day on the Georgia coast, we decided to take a drive north from Skidaway to Tybee Island. We had no specific destinations on Tybee, we just wanted to check it out. Tybee is Savannah’s beach, with a partially funky, partially upscale, southern beach town feel. It has a starkly handsome lighthouse, set off by the red roofs below.

IMG_7918As we were on the stretch of road leaving Tybee, we decided to stop at Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service Monument on the Savannah River’s Cockspur Island. A good decision.


Moat and drawbridge

Surprisingly, the Park Service allowed dogs everywhere but in the visitor center, so Zoe got to tour the fort also.

You can just see George and Zoe at the edge of the moat.

You can just see George and Zoe between the trees at the moat’s edge.  She wanted to go swimming.

Zoe liked the cannon.

Zoe showing her approval of the cannon.

We walked a trail down to the river bank and then tackled the fort itself.


There were flocks of cedar waxwings on the trail.

We dodged a flock of cedar waxwings on the trail.

Resurrection ferns.  They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live, appear to die, and then live again.

Resurrection ferns. They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live on the live oaks.  They turn brown and look dead under cold and drought conditions and then, a few days later, become green again.

The fort’s history alone made it an interesting visit.IMG_8045

IMG_8013Fort Pulaski was part of James Madison’s plan to fortify the coast after the war of 1812. It took decades to build and stood even longer after its completion without being fully armed or manned.  As a result, when South Carolina seceded from the Union in late 1860, Georgia’s governor easily seized the fort, and turned it over to the Confederate States in January 1861.  After Lincoln blockaded the South, Union forces worked their way down the South Carolina coast and moved in on Georgia, eventually establishing troops on Tybee for a siege of Fort Pulaski.  In April 1862, when the Confederates refused to surrender the fort, the Union bombarded it with armament that included new rifled cannons, Parrott guns, which sent bullet-shaped shells spinning out of the cannon, giving greater range and penetration than the standard smooth-bore cannon and round cannon balls used at the time.  The new guns made short work of what had been considered Pulaski’s impenetrable walls and the Confederates surrendered 30 hours later.IMG_7971

IMG_7966IMG_8033After the surrender, General David Hunter, commander of the Fort’s Union forces, issued an emancipation proclamation for the slaves of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina (too early for Lincoln–he quickly rescinded it).  The hundreds of slaves who reached the fort were freed and it became a southern terminus in the Underground Railroad.

Carved granite steps.

Carved granite steps from below.

History aside, what I found so compelling about the fort was its sheer beauty of design. It may not have been impregnable, but it was stunning for the eyes.  The man responsible, General Simon Bernard, was a French engineer and former aide-de-camp of Napoleon.

The vaulted ceilings and arches gave it a church-like feel.  The dimensions, the symmetry, and the colors were pleasing, almost soothing.  Beautiful form for a brutal function.IMG_8026_edited-1


Toward the end of the war, Fort Pulaski housed Confederate political and military prisoners, some of whom died there.  It’s now supposed to be haunted.IMG_7993

Last Weekend of the Year

IMG_4559George’s shoulder is healing nicely, his throat is better, and we are just starting to explore the area around St. Simons.  On Friday, the sun finally emerged after an extended period of cold, wet weather.  As is often the case here, airplane contrails made for interesting sky designs that evening.

20141225_16302520141225_164507And for some nice puddle reflections.

20141225_164430On Saturday, we ventured off island to Darien, a small town on the mainland across from St. Simons. It has a beautiful river and marsh setting, a fleet of shrimpers, and Skippers Fish Camp, where we lunched on local shrimp, crabcakes, and collards and Q (that would be barbequed pulled pork for the uninitiated) that we ate outside while soaking up the sun and watching the river.


Darien was founded by Scottish Highlanders in the 1700’s and lies in McIntosh County, named for one of those early settlers.   The shell-based tabby foundations of the old river warehouses are still standing.
McIntosh County achieved notoriety through Melissa Fay Greene’s 1991 book “Praying For Sheetrock”–one of the best book titles ever (you’ll have to read it to find out what the title means). The book is a fascinating account of the complicated racial and political dynamics in this small rural county during the 1970s and 80s, with a largely black population and a larger-than-life white sheriff.

IMG_4294I have no idea how the county has progressed since, although, aside from shrimping, it looks pretty economically depressed. There does appear to be a dependable revenue source in speeding tickets, however. In our brief visit, the most notable thing was the number of police cars pulling people over. The local police cars were tricked out with video-game-like pulsating sequences of blue lights on the tops, bottoms, and sides. They were pretty freaky, actually, and I would hate to have one light up behind me while driving down a dark highway. In any case, I recommend obeying the speed limit if you are driving through southern Georgia on I-95.

IMG_4296On Sunday the hordes descended on the St. Simons beach. It’s relatively quiet here in December and most days on my beach walks I only encounter a handful of people. But on this weekend, the last of the year and the hump between the holidays, the island was full of vacationers. They tailgated, clogged the restaurants, and headed to the beach. I sound like a local.

What struck me on Sunday was that the island was overflowing with life–lots of people for sure, and birds in exotic variety,


IMG_4321IMG_4160IMG_4446banana blossoms and trees packed with fruit,


IMG_4640surfing and paddleboarding,


Pausing to watch the surfing

Pausing to watch the surfing

and, of course, dogs.


Aside from the dogs, this photo looks like a scene from the Walking Dead 

He was thirsty after his first day at the beach

He was thirsty after his first day at the beach



This bad boy with a clueless owner was chasing a cormorant

This bad boy (with a clueless owner) was chasing a cormorant

and got pretty close

and got pretty close.

The cormorant took off

The cormorant took off

with the dog in frenzied pursuit

with the dog in frenzied pursuit

It’s been a good year for us. Retirement is sweet. We’re looking forward to next year.

Happy New Year to all of you.




20141201_171845A piece of lava led to a detour in our road trip.  Although we had no idea at the time, the detour originated a year-and-a-half ago on a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, when George and I took a short hike through a sun-scorched lava field to see some petroglyphs.  Old lava flows are tricky to navigate.  They are hard on the feet, with unpredictable, contorted shapes.  I sprained my ankle running through some old lava on Kauai a few years ago. 

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Trail to petroglyphs

This time it was George’s turn, when his foot caught an edge and he tripped and fell.  He broke his fall with his left arm and scraped his knee, but it seemed as if he had been lucky—no major injuries from the often razor-like lava edges.  We continued on to see the petroglyphs.

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Trust me, there are petroglyphs on these rocks

The first consequence of that fall hit us when we returned to the parking lot and realized that the rental car key was missing.  We had only one key and the rental car agency was on the other side of the island.  The key must have fallen out of George’s pocket when he tripped, so we retraced our steps and started searching.  We were soon joined by a sympathetic Japanese couple, who seemed delighted to stop and help.  After about ten minutes, when George and I had moved farther along the trail, we heard a commotion of exclamations behind us.  The Japanese couple found the key.  They were almost as excited as we were and I stunned the poor man, who spoke little English, by giving him a hug.  All was good—we thought.

But the second consequence of the fall was more subtle.  The next morning, George’s left shoulder hurt.  And it continued to hurt.  Likely some rotator cuff damage.  After we returned home, physical therapy and steroid injections improved things enough so that it appeared that he would not need surgery.  But during this trip, his shoulder continued to nag and he had it checked out again during our stay in Athens.  The MRI showed that he needs surgery for rotator cuff and tendon damage.  A dilemma—do we continue on the road and have surgery after we settle down or have it done now and stay in one place for a couple of months?  Not a choice really—sooner is better.

We lucked out and found a dog-friendly, affordable cottage to rent for two months on St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast.  We are putting our trailer into storage, George will have his surgery in the middle of December, and then we will have time to appreciate this amazing area while George recovers enough to hit the road again.  I will be able to appreciate it more than George, of course, because I won’t be in pain with my arm in a sling.  But this is good place to chill.


Marshes of St. Simons

We used to come to St. Simons—a small island on Georgia’s short coastline—on long weekends when we lived near Atlanta, but I had forgotten just how lovely it is.  There’s a funky-ish little town with a pier and lighthouse, a gorgeous curved, dog-friendly beach, an old fort, and massive live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, so dense that they create dusk underneath in the middle of the day.


Our little cottage is a five minute walk to the beach and a ten minute walk to town.  We won’t be driving much, except to explore.  We will be taking plenty of day trips, but there also is a lot to see on the island.  On our first evening here, I headed to the beach.  I emerged from a dense tree canopy to be met at the beach with a double rainbow, followed by a burning ball of orange sun dropping into the ocean at sunset.  Oh, yes.  I like it here.


20141201_171440Some equally magical walks followed—one in brilliant sun, with birds diving and swooping on the offshore winds and one shrouded in a soft fog.    20141202_133255


Dog photobomb--but he enhanced the shot.

Dog photobomb–but he enhanced the shot.

20141202_13593120141202_14000020141202_14253820141202_14240820141202_143704Having surgery while you are on the road is not easy.  In short order, we had to find a good surgeon, a place to stay, a place for the trailer, cancel our reservations, and readjust our plans.  It’s been a hectic scramble, but things seem to be working out nicely so far.  A twist, a turn, a trip, and here we are.

Heading into the foggy shore

Heading into the foggy shore


Fishing for mullet with the tide

Fishing for mullet with the tide


Hurricane Fodder

NC Coast-110As far as I can recall, I have never spent any time visiting or thinking about Wilmington, North Carolina.  Yet, I must have thought about it at some point, because it was not at all what I expected.  For some reason, I had a vague vision of a slow-moving, sleepy place, evocative of an earlier era, dark and overhung with Spanish Moss.

Wilmington is anything but sleepy–it’s bright and buzzing with lots and lots of people.  It has the feeling of a town struggling to handle its burgeoning population—the same feeling we had in Kelowna, British Columbia and Bend, Oregon.  They all had similar clusters of every imaginable chain store and restaurant–newly built with the latest village-like architectural style–and nightmare-inducing traffic.  In Wilmington, except in the early morning, it was nearly impossible to take a left hand turn out of our campground.  We had to take a right and then turn around at the next convenient road.  Ridiculous.

I have never seen so many political signs in my life.  The Hickey guy had the most.  I was dreaming Hickey signs.

I have never seen so many political signs in my life. They were everywhere.  Hickey outdid everyone else on signage by a big margin.  I intend to follow up and see if he wins.  Just curious.

The area was too crowded for us, but provided a convenient stopover to our next destination and a place for some beach time with our grandkids before we left North Carolina.  Our first morning there, we woke to brilliant sunshine and the combined smell of ocean and paper mills.  Not necessarily a bad combination to me, because it reminded me of St. Simons in Georgia, one of our favorite getaways when we lived near Atlanta.  The paper mill smell is unique and unmistakable, almost as if you are baking something sweet and chemical-laden, with sulfur overtones.  It comes and goes, depending on the wind direction.

We arrived in Wilmington a few days before the grandchildren.  On our first day, we checked out dog-friendly Kure Beach, about half-an-hour drive south.  We maneuvered heavy traffic through streets that alternated between a tacky 1960s beach town feel and newer mostly upscale beach houses jammed together as closely as possible.  Kure Beach is at the end of a barrier island, with Cape Fear, a treacherous headland for ships and part of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, on an island just offshore.  The island peninsula includes an old civil war site, Fort Fisher, an aquarium, and a state recreational area with undeveloped beach.

Beach bums

Kure Beach bums

It was a weekday and the beach was uncrowded, except for the area allowing 4-wheel drive vehicles on the beach.  Big trucks bristling with fishing poles arrived steadily, staking out their territory for the day.  For some reason, there were no women fishing and it felt like a man-only zone when Zoe and I ventured into it.

The high testoterone area of the beach

The high testosterone area.

The non-vehicle part of the beach.

The non-vehicle part of the beach.  Zoe’s carrying a piece of driftwood in her mouth.

Zoe has become a total beach hound.

A total beach hound.

Pelican acrobatics

Pelican acrobatics

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We spent another morning in downtown Wilmington on the banks of the Cape Fear River.  It has a smallish downtown, wide, tree-lined streets with lovely old houses, and a riverside area with old warehouses now converted to shops and restaurants catering largely to tourists.

Beautiful brick warehouse

Beautiful brick warehouse


Street after street of meticulously maintained old houses

The rooster weather vane seemed a bit  incongruous on this church steeple

There is a rooster weather vane on the church steeple.  It seemed a bit incongruous.

It was a chilly day and the river was a gorgeous deep blue and running fast.  We had lunch at The George restaurant, based on its name and dog-friendliness.  We sat on the outside deck with Zoe, watching the river and tourists on the boardwalk.  The food and service were nothing special, but the setting made it worthwhile.


Our view from The George.  The USS Carolina, now a museum, is across the river

Our view from The George on the Cape Fear. The USS North Carolina is across the river.

The USS North Carolina was a WWII battleship in the Pacific fleet.

The USS North Carolina was a WWII battleship in the Pacific fleet.  It’s now a museum open for tours.

When the grandkids arrived, we headed to Wrightsville beach.  It also was dog-friendly, which doesn’t mean that dogs can run free—they must be on leash.  The dog laws apparently are strictly enforced with high fines.


The beach at Wrightsville was beautiful and broad, with a long stretch of fine sand, a fishing pier, and what looked like some decent surf breaks.  But it amazed us that, in such a hurricane prone area, there was so much building right on the water, at sea level.  The area was absolutely packed with houses that looked like they would be devoured by a serious storm surge.  Flirting with disaster.


Our middle munchkin ecstatically running in the waves.

One of our munchkins ecstatically running in the waves.

Another worked on a sand castle.

Another working on a sand castle.


Superman and his sister

There was a beach photo session underway by the pier—something we’ve encountered before on the trip.  This one was a video of a teenager performing some awkward pop and lock-style dancing to the accompaniment of “Landslide.”  It did not look like it was going too well.


Lifeguard Tower 6.  Only tiny dunes left and beach houses covered every square inch of available land in the area.


After the kids and Zoe had their fill (well, almost) of the beach, we found our first restaurant of the trip that allowed dogs inside.  Tower 7 (named after the lifeguard tower on the beach behind) had two sides, one dog-friendly, one dog-free.  The food was surprisingly creative.  I had a grilled shrimp, bacon, and pineapple enchilada, a delicious combination that I intend to recreate in the RV.   We headed home full of food and sunshine.

Zoe loved lying on the cool tiles inside at Tower 7.  She's a restaurant pro now.

Zoe loved lying on the cool tiles inside at Tower 7. She’s a restaurant pro now.

This did not inspire confidence in the ability to keep the power going in a hurricane

Would you want your power to be dependent on this tangle in a hurricane?

Rusty wind bells


NC Coast-113As an addendum to my last post, in which I noted that two ducks at our interstate campground appeared to watch the sunset every night, here a two photos taken after I wrote the post.  As you can see, most of the ducks were going about their business.  But in the second photo on the right you will see the duck couple I mentioned, sitting on their spot on the shore looking out toward the sunset.




Down the Road

Selma NC-41Some places immediately feel like home and others never do.  We lived in the South for about ten years and I loved many things about it.  But I never truly felt that I belonged there.  It almost seemed as if we were in a foreign country—a place that I had to learn to understand.  While it eventually became familiar and comfortable, ultimately, it was not my country.

We are back in the South now and I again have that sense of dislocation.  If I were to live here the rest of my life, I might—maybe—come to feel to that it was my place before I died.  But getting there would be a process, not an instinctive, in-my-gut feeling of home.

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Home or not, the South is intriguing.  And it’s not bland.  Barbeque, gumbo, mockingbirds, trains, complicated race relations, amazing writers, cotton, tobacco, collard greens, magnolias, gardenias, slow drawls, bible-belt religion, insects, tall pines, hot nights—it’s a far cry from Alaska.  It’s easy to lump the whole region together as “the South,” but that’s like calling everything west of the Mississippi “the West.”  Each southern state is unique and there are regional differences within each state.

Selma NC-12We spent our first southern night in a Charlottesville, Virginia campground set in a patchwork of dense woods and open fields several miles from town.  Unbeknownst to us, an aggressive search was underway for Hannah Graham, a student who disappeared from Charlottesville in September.  A suspect in her disappearance (and that of other women) had recently been arrested in Texas and there was a very visible presence of police, helicopters, and a drone searching the area near the campground all evening.  Apparently, they still have not found her.  It makes me spitting mad and unspeakably sad.

On that somber note, we drove to our destination in North Carolina, to stay for a few weeks while we catch up on things and spend time with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.  We headed into Raleigh soon after we arrived to check out Wide Open Bluegrass, a week-long festival in Raleigh sponsored by the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association).  The city did a nice job of incorporating the festival into the downtown, with multiple stages and roped off pedestrian areas. Although for anyone going about their daily business, it must have been a disruptive pain.

IBMA-103There were ticketed and free concerts throughout the week.  We spent an afternoon wandering around.

IMG_3127After about five minutes, it was apparent that this was not a diverse crowd.  Almost everyone was over (often well over) fifty-five and white.

IMG_3129No one was jamming on the sidewalks or dancing by the stages.  People politely set up their folding chairs in front of a stage and sat and listened.  It was genteel, subdued, and a little grim and depressing, actually.  Maybe they should scatter some children and liquor along the sidewalks to liven things up.

Some light fare for easy listening


The sparrows were young.

The sparrows were young.

Our campground was about a half an hour drive to our daughter’s house, and we took several different routes, which gave us a good view of the area.  It was typical North Carolina countryside.  Not the Deep South, but definitely the South.

The cotton looked like it was ready to pick.

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Cotton fields

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Cotton bolls up close

Tobacco was turning golden.

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Selma NC-26Trains were constantly coming, going, and whistling–lonesome and sweet.

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New subdivisions were carved out of old farms, creating a visual juxtaposition of old and new North Carolina.

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Subdivision in soybeans

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Raleigh was booming with construction.


And the sleepy little towns continued to be sleepy.



Antique coca cola

Antique coke and pepsi


No Spam or plate lunches, their specialty was the “Hula Hunk,” a thick-sliced bologna sandwich. We did not try it.

Pine Level water tower

Pine Level water tower

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Selma NC-100We have not seen one Confederate flag since we have been here.  We saw several in Massachusetts.

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New Holland - Canon Elph-107We are on our way south–part of the snowbird migration to Florida—with stops in North Carolina and Georgia.  Unlike most snowbirds, our Florida stay will be brief because we are eager to be out West again.

We left Massachusetts with the leaves just starting to turn and morning temperatures dropping into the 30s.  Time to go.

Good bye Boston

Good bye Boston

Our first stop was Connecticut, where we again visited with family and prepared for the trip.  Fall is the loveliest time of year in New England and, although we did not stay for the whole season, we got a good taste.


Covered bridge at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, an 1830 outdoor museum. We took my Mom there for the day.

Zoe found her calling as a farm dog.  She’s never been happier.

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Surprisingly, with all of the rolling around that Zoe has done on this trip, she has not had any ticks.  And despite all of our hiking and time outside in fields and woods, we have not had any, either.  Ticks were one of our big concerns for this trip because we knew we would be in the heart of Lyme Disease country.  Plus, we hate them.  In my anti-tick zeal, I even bought light-colored, non-patterned sheets and blankets for our trailer so that any stray ticks would easily show up on the bed.  But, not a tick in sight.  I heard it was a mild tick year in New England.  Whatever the reason, we’re happy.  Let’s hope that our luck continues.

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After leaving Connecticut, we revisited Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, an area we loved when we came through in June.  Here is our previous post.

The two visits made interesting bookends on the farming season, with fields just planted in June now ready for harvest.  In the spring it was a frenzy of activity.  School was out and the Amish children were busy on the farms in the day and outside playing in the evenings.  The farmers and horse teams were working until late at night, haying, plowing, tilling, and fertilizing.New Holland -Phone Pics-100

It was much quieter on this trip, with school in session and the corn, alfalfa, soy, and tobacco still in the fields.  The big Belgian work horses were grazing in paddocks, getting a rest before their harvesting work begins.

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The manure smell was more pungent after the summer’s heat, battling one evening with the smell of skunk and woodsmoke. Not a place for the odor-sensitive.

Horses returning to the barn after spreading some liquid on the fields--it smelled like liquid manure.  The glassy water on the left is a homemade swimming hole.

Horses returning to the barn after spreading some liquid on the fields–it smelled like manure “tea.”  The glassy water on the left is a homemade swimming hole.

Stink bugs were everywhere, trying to get in the trailer, buzzing around like little armored drones when they succeeded.

The Amish women were harvesting pumpkins, gourds, tomatoes, beans, eggplants, potatoes, peaches, pears, and apples, and selling them at farm stands, along with a variety of fall products such as home pressed cider, home canned goods, apple butter, and pumpkin whoopie pies.

A dangerous bounty?

Hickory nuts

Hickory nuts


Every morning we looked down on a thick fog below our hillside campground, which slowly dissipated as the sun rose.


The sky was always changing, with impressionist cloud swirls.


IMG_3036Landscapes out West tend to be in-your-face beautiful, undeniably stunning to even the most crusty old beauty-hardened individuals.  Lancaster’s beauty is more subtle and nuanced, sneaking up on you and catching you by surprise.  Turn a corner and there’s a line of corn against a streaky sky or silos poking up from the mist.

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On the weekend, the campground was full of retirees on end-of-the season trips or snowbirds heading to warmer weather.  It was mostly a big-rig Class A crew, staking out their spaces with happy hour flags and pots of chrysanthemums.  Many were rushing around to flea markets and the enormous local smorgasbord buffets.  We preferred a slower pace, walking the roads, and taking in the beauty and glimpses of Amish farm life going on around us.  It’s a special place.

Good roads for riding--motorcyclists are everywhere in Lancaster on the weekends

Good roads for riding–motorcyclists are everywhere in Lancaster on the weekends

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Parking for Sunday service, bicycles on the right, buggies on the left.

Parking for Sunday service, bicycles on the left, buggies on the right.

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Cod pieces–biking, hiking, and beaching

Biking and Birding-1002Cape Cod has plenty of flaws. The traffic is horrendous. It has lots of snotty rich people. But our visit was a return to childhood. Outside all day, no plans, no deadlines, a brand new bike for exploration—just like a typical summer day when we were kids. That was, of course, when kids were treated as if they were sufficiently competent to navigate the world on their own with a bicycle.


On the Cape, we had sun and time to spare—a rarity in our working lives. It is difficult to describe the Cape’s September sunshine. It infuses the air with a thick gold that almost—but not quite—seems to be palpable. It makes other colors pop, with more intense blues and greens in contrast.

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Combined with the drone of insects and the spicy odors of bayberry and sweet fern—it was straight back to childhood for me. It was eerily as if I had never left New England, even though I have been gone for most of my adult life. Unsettling, but nice, too. Most days on the Cape, I would set out on the bike, with no specific destination or time by which I had to return—a luxury of childhood and retirement. It was a sweet feeling to rediscover.

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Our campground, Atlantic Oaks, was on the Cape Cod Rail Trail—a 22 mile bike and walking trail following an old rail bed. We could hop on the bike and head in either direction. The trail has bathrooms, bike shops, and restaurants along its route and is prettily heavily used. It also intersects with a trail out to Coast Guard Beach, which was nicely hilly and my favorite ride. I rode and rode and rode, just so happy to be on a bike again.

Bike path to Coast Guard Beach

Bike path to Coast Guard Beach

Birds feeding in the marshes along the bike path before the beach

Birds feeding in the marshes along the bike path before the beach

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At the beach

The weather cooled down enough to bring Zoe on a short hike. We took the Pamet trails in Truro to an almost deserted beach and an old house on the cranberry bog.

Pamet overlook trail

Pamet overlook trail

A short hike to this deserted beach

A short hike to this deserted beach–just George and Zoe

The Pamet trail beach in Truro.  Are you kidding me?

On the crowded East Coast–no one there.

Cranberry Bog House.  I don't know why the door is on the second story.  More research required.

Cranberry Bog House on the Pamet trails. I don’t know why the door is on the second story. More research required.


Zoe’s ears now perk up at the word “beach,” where every day she got to race around like a pup. These were her first beaches with real surf and, surprising to me, she had no interest in swimming in the waves. She was happy with a nice wade.

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Others were enjoying the (relative) solitude

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The beach cliffs. These bird homes look a bit like cliff dwellings.

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IMG_2829We sacrificed outdoor time one afternoon to finally get our phone service switched to Verizon, which has better coverage than AT&T. The Verizon folks allowed Zoe in the store, where she made herself right a home. Zoe has become a pro at adapting to changing environments.


At the Verizon store.  The saleswoman also had a yellow lab.


Provincetown +-10

The tip of Cape Cod has miles of windblown dunes, ocean on three sides, and Provincetown.  The village, P’town for short, sits on a deep harbor, has the hodge-podge of streets and gray shingled houses of an old whaling port, and is known for its long tradition of welcoming artists, writers, hippies (when there were hippies), and gays.  Its natural harbor likely attracted Viking explorers and was the first landfall for the Pilgrims, who eventually moved on to Plymouth and its rock.

We started our day in Provincetown at Herring Cove, watching the water, the gulls, bicyclists, and trying to avoid watching an uncomfortable-looking girl posing for photos in a bathing suit on a windy, cold morning that had everyone else (except us—hardy Alaskans) bundled in several layers of clothes.

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Rosehips at Herring Cove Beach

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LIghthouse at the tip of the Cape

Tip of the Cape

We then ventured into Provincetown, dwarfing the cars and pedestrians in our red Tundra, a pick-up that seems to grow increasingly gargantuan on the narrow streets here in the East.  We navigated the tiny streets in search of a parking space, while I grew increasingly nervous that we would never be able to extract ourselves.  Finally, thanks to directions from a policeman, we found a parking lot large enough to accommodate a truck.

Commercial Street

Commercial Street

By then it was mid-morning and already tourists were clogging the streets.  I cannot imagine what it is like on a summer weekend.  P’town is filled with the usual shops, restaurants, and galleries that you find in any seaside tourist town, but with an added profusion of rainbow flags.  And, in contrast with most tourist places, it is almost cultishly dog-friendly.

We joined the parade of dog lovers, following behind Zoe on her leash as she charmed every dog and person who looked her way.  Although we carried water and a dish for her, it wasn’t necessary.  All along the sidewalk, businesses set out bowls of drinking water for the doggy pedestrians.  Zoe’s favorite was at the Governor Bradford Inn, because it had ice cubes.  She stopped there twice.


Statue entitled "tourists" in front of the beautiful library

Statue entitled “tourists” in front of the beautiful library

Faces in alleyways

Faces in alleyways

Of course, Zoe was able to join us for lunch at a dog-friendly restaurant, where I had fresh local mussels—perfectly cooked with white wine, tomatoes, tarragon, and some chili for heat.  After lunch, we rambled around some more and headed to the docks.

I usually have french fries with this, my favorite lunch

I usually have french fries with the mussels–moules frites–my favorite lunch

And then, happiness—we went sailing.  I love to sail with a passion but have not been in a very long time.  Provincetown, lovely doggy place that it is, even has dog-friendly sailing.  So, Zoe added another mode of transportation to her already extensive resume.  The captain and crew, Rory and Sue, were wonderful and Zoe had company in the resident pup, Minnie.

Moon   a 30' Island Packet

Moondance II,  a 30′ Island Packet

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Zoe settled right in

Zoe settled right in

Minnie's berth

Minnie’s berth

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A bit overcast but with a good sailing breeze

Photos of local women on the old fishpacking plant

Photo tributes to local women on the old fishpacking plant

Heading back to the dock

Heading back to the dock

We went home tired and happy.  A salty dog and her crew.




This makes me hungry.

This makes me hungry.

September in Cape Cod—I’m approaching bliss.  Only one day in, but what a day—blue skies, breeze, not too crowded, NOT TOO HOT, a beach with seals, my favorite lighthouse—it’s all good.

We spent the past two weeks again hanging out with family in Massachusetts (near, but not quite on, the Cape) and putting things in order after four months on the road.  We ate well, drank well, and discussed the way of the world with our good family—soaking up time together that has been all too rare during our years in Alaska.

Conversations on the back patio of our driveway home.  Not too shabby a view--pretty sweet, in fact.

Conversations on the back patio of our temporary driveway home. Not too shabby a view–pretty sweet, in fact.

We organized–discarding things that we were not using, and buying a few others, including a bike and an RV GPS (it is geared to RVs in planning routes, locating gas stations, and much more).  I initially resisted a “fancy” GPS, being a map lover, and thinking that our free phone apps would be fine.  But after two months of hauling a trailer on the narrow, low-underpass laden, twisted roads of New England (with infamous Massachusetts drivers and tiny gas stations), I had a near meltdown when the phone GPS kept dumping me and reverting to a search we did in Oneida, New York. George kindly suggested that we could buy a better GPS and I gratefully agreed.  We should have bought the RV GPS sooner, but if we had, we would not have appreciated it as much as we do now.

We didn’t really need the GPS in getting to the Cape—one road, straight shot—but enjoyed its features anyway (3D lane changes!).  To me, Cape Cod resembles an arm flexed to show off the biceps, like the Rosie the Riveter poster or the Arm and Hammer logo in reverse.  We are staying in the forearm area (above the biceps), which is full-on National Seashore, thanks to JFK, a part-time Cape resident.  Not only is this area protected from development, but the beaches are unusually dog-friendly—a winning combination.

We had a good morning romping on Coast Guard Beach.

Marshes behind Coast Guard Beach.

Marshes behind Coast Guard Beach.

There are extensive bike paths on the Cape, including one to this beach.

There are extensive bike paths on the Cape, including one to this beach.

Amazing September weather and not too many people

Amazing September light and not too many people

There were seals all over the place in the surf right next to shore. They seemed to focus on Zoe, watching her carefully.

What is that white dog doing?

What is that white dog up to?

We noticed this before with seals and sea lions (and a bear) in Alaska.  I do not know if they view her as a potential threat, prey, or if they are just drawn to her bright white squirminess.  The only problem with seeing so many seals is that they attract the sharks, including great whites, making a trip to the beach a little more exciting in these parts.

This one was not looking toward the shore.

This seal was not looking toward the shore.

Peeking over the waves.

Peeking over the foam.

Last week two kayakers seal-watching near Plymouth got their boat crunched by a great white shark–they were unharmed, but wet.  This is Jaws territory.

Plenty of shark warnings

Plenty of shark warnings.

Zoe enjoyed herself on leash.

Zoe enjoyed herself on leash

and even more off leash.

and even more off leash.

No shore development to interfere with natural dune formation

No shore development to interfere with natural dune formation

The Nauset lighthouse is right down the road from Coast Guard Beach.  A real beauty, it’s the one featured on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bags.

To potato chip fans, this may look familiar

To potato chip fans, this may look familiar

They took some poetic license with the picture, but it's the Nauset lighthouse

They took some poetic license with the picture, but it’s the Nauset lighthouse

An addiction of mine—potato chips (most especially Cape Cods)—I almost drooled when I saw the lighthouse.  It’s only open for tours on Sunday.  I’ll be back.  Zoe, who also loves her chips, did a full back roll on the grass when we got to the lighthouse.  Another good day.

A full back rub on the grass

Back rubbing roll at the lighthouse 

With a full dog grin

and later, another ecstatic roll.   We like it here.

Coast guard station

Old Coast Guard station