Nearing the End of a Journey

We’re now Florida-bound, wrapping up our 12-week adventure. For the most part, the map above was our route. There may have been unexpected changes, such as moving across the state of Georgia due to Hurricane Matthew and flying to Alaska out of Kansas City instead of Denver, but the main idea is there…and a picture speaks a thousand words.

In that short time period we camped in 12 campgrounds in 9 different states, drove through 20 states (not including our home state of Florida), flew to and stayed a week in each Washington state and Alaska, and created countless new memories with our sons.

We wore bathing suits and shorts in Illinois and Georgia, and we donned multiple layers to protect us from below-freezing temperatures in Alaska and Virginia.

We admired the views from atop the Space Needle, hiked paths within miles from the peak of Mount Rainier, slowed waaaaay down for the horse-drawn Amish carriages in Ohio, rode in a horse-drawn carriage in Indiana, and explored the depths of the Luray Caverns.

We watched families of elk explore a Washington village, two bull moose spar for the affection of a female in Alaska, bald eagles soar the Alaskan sky, and antelop graze in Colorado prairies.

We were in Illinois for Labor Day and Grandparent’s Day, Ohio for Columbus Day, Colorado for Halloween, and Virginia for the history-making presidential election and Veteran’s Day.

We attended a Rennaisance Festival in Wisconsin, went to the theater of a childhood idol of the boys AND Mama ‘Skiy in Washington, partied alongside other goers at an American Red Cross street party in Indiana, and took the boys on an educational tour of Civil War points of interest in Virginia.

We even had to make an emergency drive back home to prepare and protect our house from the looming Hurricane Matthew…which turned away last-minute and just enough so our house and neighbors were safe.

We still have more than 1,000 miles before we’re back at our house, not including a couple of stops to visit the boys’ grandparents first, and we’ll still have two more states to add to the number that we’ve driven this trip. When all is said and done, we’ll have driven more than 8,000 miles towing our 5th wheel and 12,000 miles for our truck alone.

Wow. Those are some figures!

Given the opportunity, we’d do it all again.
Could we? Please?!

Historic Virginia

The final three-month field-assignment stop landed us in Virginia, just outside Maryland and less than an hour from Washington, D.C.

This state is the location of Arlington Cemetary, many battlefields and monuments, and the famous Luray Caverns. Virginia is also where Mama and Papa honeymooned 15 years ago!

For one week we stayed at the beautiful Bull Run Regional Park, and we witnessed staff erecting and testing the annual holiday lights displays. Mama and the boys frequented the large playground, and the boys took part in a nature scavenger hunt that the park ranger had arranged.

Being so close to battlefields and monuments, we took a few drives and some walks to these historic areas. We crossed over and walked under Bull Run Bridge, along the river, and down paths that led us to not only battlefields but also locations of homes that no longer remain. We found a Civil War cemetary and a location with retired cannons and Bull Run memorials and monuments.

While at the park’s campground, we were also glued to the television as a historic presidential election took place, resulting in the surprising win of Donal Trump over Hillary Clinton.

At the end of that final week, we decided to stay a few more days in Virginia, while Papa enjoyed a much-needed vacation and break from working days and nights. We moved from Bull Run to Outlander’s River Camp, only a few miles down the road from Luray Caverns.

And we went to the caverns too!

It had been 15 years since Mama and Papa honeymooned in Shenandoah Valley, and in 2001 they had also went to Luray Caverns. Imagine how surreal it was to now be taking the boys there!

Not only did we take the tour of the caverns, but we also completed the garden maze and the boys took on the multi-story ropes course. We browsed the Toy Town Junction and Car & Carriage museums located on the premises as well.

Papa had read about an isolated road that went into the mountains and led to an overlook of Shenandoah Valley, so we packed a lunch and drove up there one day. The boys had a blast climbing the rock formations and the view from the top was breathtaking.

Finally, it was time to head south. We plan to stop by Mama’s parents on Florida’s west coast to briefly visit, having been gone for so long, on the way down to Papa’s parents even further south, where we’ll celebrate Papa’s birthday.

We’re looking forward to seeing family and friends again.

But we can’t say we’re ready for this adventure to come to an end.

Phew! Now We Can Breathe!

How on Earth we managed to drive more than 1,700 miles in 2 days, we’ll never know!

We left Denver late-afternoon on Friday, November 4th. In 24 hours we drove more than 1,000 miles, and it was Mama behind the wheel for more than 90% of that, giving Papa a break and a chance to sleep, seeing how he’d worked days and nights that week and would be doing it again the following week.

It was best that we put so many miles behind us in one day though. It allowed us to have a little wiggle room, in the event we ran into any issues along the way.

The drive was beautiful, though. We saw antelope and deer, and the desert hills through Nebraska were unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

On Saturday we wasted no time, and late Sunday we pulled into our destination in Virginia: Bull Run Regional Park.

Again, we have no idea how we pulled it off, but we did. In that short time we drove through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

We had no problems at all. We were very fortunate!

And the boys? They were just looking forward to the next park!

Halloween In View of the Rockies

We’d love to say we actually got to drive up into the Rockies during our stay in Colorado, but things came up…

We arrived just north of Denver the day before Halloween, staying at the Fort Collins/Lakeside KOA. On the way there we looked up Halloween events so the boys would have a chance to dress up and have a little spooky fun, seeing how we always take them to local ones back home.

Just because we’re traveling doesn’t mean we can’t keep with tradition!

We found out about a really neat trick-or-treat event taking place at a park in Ft. Collins called The Farm on October 30th, so we ran to Walmart for costumes and dressed up. It was incredibly organized and so much fun. Businesses from the area dressed up “doors” throughout the farm and kids were to knock on each “door,” say “Trick or Treat,” and somebody on the other side would open that “door” to present a treat. There were dozens of them! Then there was also a tractor-pulled hayride. The entire event cost a small fee, but it was unique and we highly recommend it!

Papa reported for work the next day, and that night we took the boys trick-or-treating in various neighborhoods. The boys collected so many goodies that M was unable to carry his bag anymore!

The next day — November 1st — Papa’s two colleagues that are on this field assignment with him (they’re doing night-time hardware installations while Papa does the daytime training regarding the new software involved) ventured off into the mountains for a bit of hiking. One of them lost her footing and could no longer walk. By the time help had arrived for her it was getting dark and had begun snowing. In the hospital she found out the extent of her injuries: she had broken her leg and foot in three places. She was going to be okay but she was derailed the remainder of the trip, which meant the current one in Colorado and the next one — the final one — in Virginia.

And Papa, in turn, not only needed to work days, doing his training classes, but also at night, to assist his other colleague.

Talk about some long days and a rough week for him…

On the positive side, we had already celebrated Halloween and there was a huge playground and a lot to do at the campground, so although we rarely go to see Papa that week the boys had plenty to do to keep them busy.

But one big challenge still lays ahead of us. Since Papa we needed to help in the evenings and his colleague’s injury resulted in everying getting pushed back a day, it’s going to be almost impossible to make the cross-country, multiple-timezone trek from Colorado to Virginia…in only two days.

Let’s see how that one goes!

Update: Papa’s co-worker flew home at the end of the week in Colorado. She required surgery but it was put off due to the swelling. She has since made a full recovery and is able to walk again, after months of needing a scooter to support her leg and physical therapy.

The Last Frontier

Up until now, Washington was our favorite stop on this journey.

Then we touched down in Alaska!

Washington has some steep competition here!

We couldn’t have gone in a better week either. The day before our plane landed Alaska had their first snow storm of the season. And during the entire week, it never snowed again and the temperature never rose above freezing.

It.Was.Perfect!

And you can tell we’re Floridians when we admire and get excited over something like the amazing details of the snowflakes!

Mama wanted to see one thing especially though: moose. We were informed they’re shy and there’s a good chance we wouldn’t see any…and for most of the week, we didn’t.

Although the first day Papa reported for work, there was a young bull on the property!

Mama was jealous.

But, oh, the snow! The weather was clear, cold, and crisp, and we planned ahead, bringing snow suits for the boys and multiple layers for everyone.

And just how cold was it? Well, one morning Papa got a cup of coffee from the hotel lobby before driving to work. When he tried to set it in the cup holder of the car, some of the coffee spilled. He grabbed a napkin to clean up the mess, but when he turned to wipe it up the hot coffee had already frozen! In just a matter of seconds!

Yup. Cold.

This was the boys’ second time seeing snow, their first happening earlier just this year in February. And that’s all they wanted to do all week: play in the snow! Fortunately, the around around the hotel had plenty of the white stuff, and they played in it until Mama was numb from the cold and demanded breaks.

When Papa wasn’t working we drove to the mountains, looking for wildlife, letting the boys sled down snowy hills, and walking on nature trails. One took us to a popular location for beavers, but the lake was frozen over and we saw no signs of the buck-toothed critters.

Then we found out about a park near the airport back in Anchorage where moose tended to live. We drove there one night…and saw several moose, including one mother with her calf. But it was dark, and it was difficult to see them well.

So the day before we were set to fly out of the Pacific Northwest, we decided to spend the day at the same park. At first we didn’t see any moose. Then we went for a walk on a trail…when a young male crossed the path directly in front of us! He was knock-kneed yet graceful, and he wasn’t at all bothered by our presence.

He was pretty photogenic too!

After the walk and letting the boys sled a little more, we climbed back into our rental car and started to leave the park. On the way out, we noticed several cars ahead that had stopped and people standing outside their cars, looking through a chain-link fence.

There in the field was a female moose…and two bull moose, with their massive antlers locked in battle! It was like a National Geographic special on TV, only it was live and happening a few dozen yards from us!

We were in absolute awe!

We watched the display for about half an hour, and then we called our Alaskan adventure a successful one and headed back to the hotel to pack our belongings.

At the airport the next day Mama started talking to a woman working at one of the shops there. She had asked how our trip was, at which time Mama went on and on about the bull moose we had seen fighting. The woman was amazed, informing Mama that she’d lived there for more than twenty years and had never seen bull moose fight!

We got lucky.

As much as we loved Alaska, we were ready to get back to the continental US, where we didn’t need to don two or three layers of clothes just to go to a grocery store and it didn’t take half an hour for our vehicle to warm up.

We can’t wait to go back though.

Oh, and did we mention that our cat Luna joined us here too, flying with us on four more planes?!

When we touched down in Kansas, we found out the weather in Alaska finally rose above 32 degrees and the snow was melting away.

We definitely got to see Alaska during a beautiful time.

And let’s not forget about the moose!

Amish Country

Having safely escaped the southeast and the looming Hurricane Matthew — which happened to be less damaging and dangerous than anticipated — we ventured into Amish Country, first in Ohio and then Indiana.

Oberlin, Ohio, was beautiful and rolling. The vast countrysides were picturesque, and it was entertaining watching the folks on horse-drawn carriages.

The same folks we’d also seen donned in the stereotypical zipper- and button-free clothing, shopping in Walmart.

It was a quiet and slower area, nothing like we’d picture the area around Cleveland to be. Even the campground we stayed at was beautiful, with a great playground, walking and bike-riding trails, and even a catch-and-release fishing pond.

Sadly, try as we might, we couldn’t find the Amish villages and shops we’d heard so much about. We saw the people, the horses, the carriages, and the signs, but we couldn’t find what drew the tourists.

We had similar luck in Indiana, although we were in a busier — and not so scenic — area just outside Indianapolis. With that said, though, there was more to see and do.

Being close to Halloween, there were many fall festivals taking place. We found one that was a petting and pick-a-pumpkin farm, with a corn maze and children’s play area that our sons certainly didn’t want to leave, amazing food, and tons to see and do. If you’re ever in the Indianapolis area, no matter the time of year, you must look up the Waterman’s farm!

That night we drove to Indiapolis, where the city was holding a celebration for the American Red Cross, celebrating 100 years. There were live bands, firetrucks, food trucks, activities, and more on display and taking place. We even wrapped up the evening with a horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic city.

The campground we were at had a nice creek that ran through it, a couple of playgrounds (one that our site backed up to, so it was like having our very own jungle gym), an activity room, and a stable with two horses: a mother and her colt! Although we couldn’t ride them, we were informed we could feed them, so whenever we went to the grocery store we made sure to buy carrots for the large friendly residents.

Now we’re on the way to Kansas City, to park our rig at the Jellystone campground there and hop on a plane bound for the Northwestern-most point of the country.

Alaska, here we come!

Georgia On Our Minds…and Hurricane Matthew’s Radar

Following our Tennessee assignment — and Mississippi stay, seeing how we were not going to stay in Memphis, thank you — we headed to Kingsland, Georgia. Papa ‘Skiy was due in Jacksonville, Florida, and Kingsland is a brief drive from where he needed to report.

The campground we chose was amazing and we’d highly recommend the North Jacksonville/St. Mary’s KOA in Kingsland anytime. From the fun things for kids to do (small farm, playground, pool, jumping pillow…), to the teepees you can sleep in, to the free breakfast and delicious BBQ… We met some of the nicest people there, and this is one of those rare KOAs that offers large shaded sites and beautiful canopies throughout.

However, it wasn’t all fun for Mama and the boys or work for Papa.

Hurricane Matthew was in the Atlantic, and he had his sights set on the coasts of Florida and Georgia.

And is it just us, or did the satellite image of Hurricane Matthew — seen above — look like the face of something evil?!

A couple of days into our stay, the campground had to get into hurricane-preparation mode. Chairs and umbrellas were collected from each campsite. Light fixtures and plants had to be taken down and moved indoors. The Halloween decorations had to be removed from throughout the park. Even the teepees had to be uncovered.

We’re proud of our sons for helping the park owners in their efforts to prepare for the hurricane. The boys even got a free pizza and drink for being so helpful and working so hard.

Those who work at the campground went around and advised everybody it would be in their best interest to pack up and relocate across state or elsewhere. Most of the campers chose to evacuate.

But we still had our home in Florida to think about too.

We were very fortunate. If a hurricane was going to hit, the timing couldn’t have been better, seeing how we were staying less than four hours north of our house, and the company Papa works for cut short the assignment in Jacksonville and allowed everyone to fly or drive home to their houses to get it ready for Matthew.

And we did just that.

We’ve lived in the house for ten years now. This was the first time we’d had to use the storm shutters that came with the house!

In a matter of hours we were home and running around like crazy, putting up shutters, cleaning up the yard, clearing the porches…

Once we were done, we drove back to the campground and packed up our own belongings and RV. The next day we set off for the western part of Georgia, far west of the path of Matthew.

We found an amazing state park in Adel, Georgia, called Reed Bingham State Park, just off of Interstate 75, that had a campground. Although the campground was filled to capacity with those that had evacuated due to the hurricane, they were still accepting campers and allowing them to park anyplace we could, and they allowed evacuees to stay throughout the weekend. (If you’re ever looking for a wonderful park or campground in this area, Reed Bingham is huge and beautiful, with places to fish, playgrounds, and a dam you can drive across.)

We checked in and settled in for the night, holding our breath and praying for the safety of our neighbors and friends back home that were in Matthew’s path. And yes, we were extremely nervous for our house and Mama’s car as well.

Most of the night we watched the weather reports and listened to updates about Hurricane Matthew. He decided to make his presence known in the dark early-morning hours. Fortunately prayers were answered and the storm turned northward just enough to only skirt along the coast, as opposed to directly hitting Brevard County and other counties north, as previously forecasted.

Our amazing neighbors checked on our house for us once the hurricane had passed and the winds died down. There were some limbs down and debris in our yard, and a tree that we’ve been trying to get rid of for years had split down the center due to the winds, but there was absolutely no damage whatsoever.

With the all-clear sign, we packed up our stuff and left Adel, heading north to our next assignment in Ohio.

The hurricane caused a lot of damage, but everyone we knew — including those at the KOA in Kingsland — was unharmed and safe.

Thank goodness.

The Memphis Pyramid

We’re no fans of Memphis. It’s a city with so much history, yet it’s neglected terribly.

So when our next assignment took us there, we opted to stay outside Memphis — and Tennessee, for that matter — at the Jellystone campground in Horn Lake, Mississippi.

We didn’t plan to do much while in the area. Fortunately the campground had many kids that our sons played with, and it was fun hosting their new-found friends at our site’s picnic table.

However, we did manage a trip into Memphis one day. We drove by Graceland and the Presley museum and mansion, and we drove along the shores of the Mississippi River.

What surprised us most — aside from how run-down the city has become — was the pyramid that towered the buildings in the distance.

Yes, the pyramid.

The Memphis Pyramid, formerly known as the Great American Pyramid and the Pyramid Arena, used to be a sports arena, and at 321 feet tall it’s the tenth tallest pyramid in the world.

It was originally opened in 1991. After sales and changes of hands over the years, in 2015 it was reopened as a Bass Pro Shops megastore location. More than a store for outdoorsmen and hunting enthusiasts, this location boasts a hotel, a bowling alley, restaurants, and more.

We love Bass Pro, and the architecture was certainly unusual for what the chain is known for, but what caught our attention was the glass-floor observation deck at the peak of the pyramid. To get there you had to ride the slow-moving free-standing elevator, which is the tallest in America (to date).

Once at the top, you arrive at a bar with a huge aquarium. There are doors past the bar that take you to the open-air observation deck, with views from three sides of the pyramid, one overlooking the Mississippi River.

If ever in Memphis, this is a neat landmark to visit. It costs nothing to park or go inside, the ride up the elevator is cheap, and there’s so much to see and do inside Bass Pro, from a free arcade-style shooting gallery to simply looking at the impressive taxidermy collection.

Besides, it’s not every day you get to see a pyramid in the United States.

The Emerald City

No, Toto, we’re not talking about the land of Oz. We’re talking about Seattle, Washington.

Although this was a pretty magical experience and visit.

Never before had any of us been so far west. Never before had we flown with our cat…or any pet for that matter. Never before had we seen such majestic mountains and views. Never before had any of us stood atop and looked out from a structure as tall as the Space Needle or seen a peak as high as that of Mount Rainier.

And then there was the childhood dream of Mama Skiy’s that came true, to meet a man she idolized in her youth, a man whose movie had such an incredible impact on her and her younger brother’s lives, a man who our sons have now grown very fond of and because of the same movie: Tim Noah, the writer, singer, and actor behind the multiple-award winning production In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo. (To say he was just as nice, fun, and energetic as he was in his movie is an understatement.)

Never had we been anyplace like Seattle.

There’s something for everyone in Washington: nature, hiking, shopping, history, casinos, big cities, small villages, museums, parks, resorts, campgrounds, arts, dining… Everything.

We’re also not convinced that it rains all of the time in Seattle. Okay, so we got lucky. In the 8 days we were in Seattle, it rained twice: the second day we were there and the day we were flying out. The first full day we were there it was clear and beautiful, so we went to the city and went top of the Space Needle. Although it rained the second day that was when we had made plans to see Tim Noah at his Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, and even then it was just a light rain and still cleared up enough for us to take an afternoon hike in one of the evergreen forests. Then it was a partly-cloudy day when we took the long drive to one of the lookouts at Mount Rainier, clearing up enough to see the peak, a glacier with water coming out of it, and a waterfall piercing one of the mountain’s sides.

And to top it all off, on the way back down the mountain, we passed a village that had families of elk grazing and making their way through the yards!

The remainder of the stay was a mix of fifty hours of work for Papa, four days of schoolwork for the boys, and family outings to playgrounds, a popular trailhead with a series of trails, and general errands.

We packed a lot into those 8 days. It was fun and productive.

More than anything, we all discovered how beautiful and diverse Washington is. This was our first visit, and it won’t be our last.

The next time, though, we plan to go in our RV.