Maine 2020 – Part 2 (August 16 – September 18, 2020)

We began our second month at Timberland Acres RV Park with a 4-mile hike of the Penny’s Preserve via Peter’s Brook Trail in Blue Hill, ME.  The hike took us through the forest, past an old quarry and along a brook with a small waterfall.  The preserve contains many interlaced trails and, although there were trail maps throughout our route, we still managed to get turned around at one point.

After a rainy Tuesday, we were back to hiking on Wednesday, August 19th.  We hiked the 4-mile Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain Loop.  We had hiked this loop with Jason in 2019 but the summits had been socked in with fog.  We had much nicer weather this time and the views from the summits were beautiful.  Although rated as moderate difficulty, this was a more challenging hike than we had done together this year.  There were lots of boulders to climb up and down.

On Thursday, we hiked a 3-mile loop that included the Beech Mountain, Beech South Ridge and Valley trails.  We had hiked this loop in 2019 but, this time, we took a more direct, but steeper, route to the fire tower at the top of Beech Mountain.

On Friday, we hiked the 4-mile Acadia Mountain and Man O’ War Trail loop.  We had done this loop going counter-clockwise in 2019 but, this year, we did it clockwise.  We really don’t know which direction is more difficult but either way is a real challenge.  Going clockwise, we had a steep ascent to the summit but had the benefit of lots of staircases built out of rocks.  Descending was equally steep and required lots of rock scrambling, many times where it was difficult to find footings on the rocks.  We were really tested by this hike but enjoyed the challenge and the views.

On Saturday, we took it easier and hiked a couple of trails on nature preserves owned by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy.  Both preserves were in nearby Ellsworth, ME.  The first trail was the Jordan Homestead, a 1.2-mile loop along the Union River which was near low tide.  We spotted a bald eagle in a tree by the river.  The second trail was the Indian Point Preserve, a .9-mile out-and-back path that was also along the Union River.

On Sunday, August 23rd, we took a day off from hiking and did a road trip to a couple of small coastal towns south of us.  The first was Castine, a town with a population of approximately 1,400, on Penobscot Bay.  Castine is full of history.  It was first settled in 1613, seven years before Plymouth Rock, and its strategic location has been occupied by the British, French, Dutch and Americans.  It contains many beautiful old homes and inns on tree-lined streets.  We visited the wharf and strolled through the quaint downtown shopping district.  Castine is home to the Maine Maritime Academy, one of the top 4-year public colleges in the U.S., that graduates officers and engineers for the U.S. Merchant Marines.  We watched first year midshipmen march around town and viewed their 500-foot training ship, the TS State of Maine.  We then visited the ruins of Fort George, a garrison that was built by the British in 1779 and was the final post surrendered by the British at the end of the Revolutionary War.  We also visited the Dyne Head lighthouse, built in 1828 but now decommissioned and a private residence.

Our next stop was Stonington, on the southern tip of the island known as Deer Isle.  Stonington, with a population of approximately 1,000, was once almost entirely devoted to fishing but is now home to many artists.  Despite the near collapse of the fishing industry, Stonington remains the largest lobster port in Maine.  We strolled along the wharf and walked along Main Street.

On Monday, we hiked the steep Razorback Trail to the summit of Mansell Mountain, an 879’ elevation change in less than a mile.  We then descended via the equally steep Mansell Mountain Trail.  Both ways were very challenging and involved climbing the rocks.  We were exhausted after this 4-mile hike.

Overnight rain and dense fog kept us off the hiking trails on Tuesday.  The weather improved during the afternoon but Phil’s 4 pm pickleball gathering was washed out almost immediately when a severe storm approached.  Phil managed to get back to our trailer just as lightening struck and a hailstorm commenced, along with strong winds.  Jan got some good photos of the storm as it moved over our campground.

On Wednesday, we returned to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.2-mile Triad Trail Loop.  Although there were few views of the vista from the Triad summit, the trail took us through a thick forest with lush, green moss all around us.

The weather had cooled off considerably.  The daytime highs were now in the upper-60s to low-70s and the nighttime lows were in the 50s.  In addition to having great sleeping weather, our morning hikes were much more comfortable.

On Thursday, August 27th, we hiked the 3.5-mile Kebo Mountain Loop, which consists of the Hemlock, Stratheden and Kebo Mountain trails.  We had started this hike one evening when Jason was visiting but had quit due to darkness.

On Friday, we drove two hours northeast to Lubec, ME, the easternmost point in the U.S.  Pre-COVID, we had intended to camp in Lubec this summer, as we had in 2019, but we cancelled those plans when the Canadian border was closed. Our first stop on the drive was in Cutler, ME where we hiked the Cutler Coastal Trail.  This was one of our favorite hikes last year, with magnificent views from the rocky cliffs high above the Gulf of Maine.  We had hiked 4 miles in 2019 but, this time, we opted to go farther down the coast and then return via the inland trail.  The weather was perfect for hiking, with a strong breeze coming off the bay, and the views were outstanding.  However, the extended route ended up being a 9.5-mile hike, our longest yet.  It was quite different than walking 9.5 miles down a road.  In addition to the ever-present rocks and tree roots that make Maine trails a challenge, we had a seemingly endless number of steep climbs and descents along the coast.  Including over an hour spent enjoying the views, the entire hike lasted six hours.  We were exhausted by the time we arrived back at the parking area, but were proud that we had managed to complete the challenge.

One of the main reasons Jan had had for making the drive to Lubec was to shop at Monica’s Chocolates.  Jan had visited Monica’s last year and is convinced that her candy, made with Peruvian chocolate, is the best in the world.  Our long hike had put us in danger of not reaching the shop until after she closed at 6 pm.  Fortunately, light traffic enabled us to arrive in time.  COVID restrictions limited entry to the shop to three people at a time so we had to wait while another group went ahead of us.  Once we got in, we quickly made our selections and headed to dinner on Water Street.  The major attraction for Lubec is its proximity to Campobello Island, FDR’s summer home.  Although Campobello is just across a short bridge from Lubec, it is in Canada and, with the border closed, is off-limits this summer for US tourists.  As a result, Lubec’s downtown district looked rather dead.  Our first choice for dinner was closed for 2020 so, instead, we chose to eat at the Water St. Tavern.  We both ordered scallops and enjoyed watching seals play in the bay outside our window.  The sun was setting as we began our two-hour drive home.

Saturday was a lazy day.  Between tired muscles from the previous day’s activities and heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Laura, we stayed indoors all day.

On Sunday, we drove to Orland, ME and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Great Pond Mountain trail.  This trail was one of many in the 4,500-acre tract managed by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.  Although the hike was rated as “easy,” it included a 639’ elevation rise in a little over a mile.  The views from the summit were awesome, with forests and water for as far as we could see.

On Monday, we scaled South Bubble Mountain in a 4.1-mile loop.  The hike began with an easy stroll along the east side of Jordan Pond.  Then we ascended the steep South Bubble Trail, which included lots of rock scrambling and a couple of climbs up sheer cliffs.  When we did this hike in 2019, Jan got assistance from a couple of strangers to get up the cliffs.  This time, although she still thought it was scary, she managed to make the climb with no outside assistance.  After reaching the South Bubble summit, we had our breakfast at Bubble Rock, a huge boulder that appears to be balancing on the edge of a steep cliff.  We then continued our hike on the Bubbles Divide and Jordan Pond Carry trails, before returning again on the east side of Jordan Pond. 

We spent Tuesday, September 1st, hiking the Ocean Path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff and back.  We had done parts of this trail a couple of times earlier in the summer but, this time, we walked all the way to the end, resulting in a 4.4-mile round-trip.  It was a beautiful day, with just the right temperature and a cool breeze off the water.  Despite it being a weekday, there were lots of fellow hikers on the path.

On Wednesday, we returned to Blue Hill, ME and hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Post Office Trail.  As the name suggests, the trail goes through the woods to the Blue Hill Post Office and back again.  This trail connects to one leg of the Blue Hill Mountain Loop that we had hiked three weeks earlier.

During the six years we lived in the Chicago area, we generally had a Friday night date night at a Chicago-style pizza restaurant.  In the later years, our favorite was Lou Malnati’s.  This week, we received an Internet offer to get a Lou Malnati pizza for 10% off.  Although it was still exorbitant, we decided to splurge.  The pizza arrived on dry ice on Wednesday and we had it for dinner.  It was every bit as good as we remembered.

We had also signed up through Merrill Lynch for a virtual wine tasting webinar for that evening.  Merrill Lynch had mailed us a bottle of red wine but we weren’t supposed to remove the cover until the end of the webinar.  Laura Maniec Fiorvanti, a Master Sommelier, presented a lecture via Webex on how to identify wines by taste.  It was quite interesting, although most of our wine purchases come in a box so we obviously don’t have the most demanding palettes.  After doing the blind tasting, we learned that we had been sampling a Pinot Noir. 

On Thursday, we drove to Winter Haven on the Schoodic Peninsula and hiked the Buck Cove Mountain Trail.  The trailhead is at the back of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Wood campground, which is closed due to COVID.  As a result, we had to walk nearly a mile from the day pass parking area to the trailhead before commencing the trail.  We ended up hiking 7 miles out-and-back to the summit of Buck Cove Mountain.  The hike was OK but lacked many scenic viewpoints and the summit was only an elevation of 224’.

We took a break from hiking on Friday and, instead, spent the afternoon in Bar Harbor.  We strolled through a lot of shops and bought a few souvenirs.  We sat and did some people-watching at Bar Harbor Beerworks where we stopped for drinks and some lobster, artichoke and spinach dip. 

On Saturday, we hiked 5 miles on the out-and-back Maple Spring Trail.  This was a beautiful trail that ran along a stream most of the way.  Much of the hike involved walking on rocks so it was slow-going at times.  We took a short detour near the end of the trail to climb to the summit of Gilmore Peak, where there was a 180-degree panoramic vista.  Then, we continued up the Maple Spring Trail until we came to the Maple Spring.  Although the spring was not very active, the views on the way up were spectacular panoramas.  When we returned to the campground, we spent part of the afternoon watching a large charity corn hole tournament from our site.

On Sunday, we drove to the area near Seal Harbor.  We first stopped at the Cooksey Drive Overlook and climbed out on cliffs high above the water.  We then went to Hunter Beach Cove and hiked the 1.5-mile loop that included the short Hunter Beach and Hunter Cliffs trails.  The Hunter Beach trail took us down to a rocky beach where we sat and watched the waves.  We spotted a large porcupine along this trail.  The Hunter Cliffs trail rose from the beach and took us along the cliffs above the cove.

On Monday, we hiked the 5.1-mile Meadowbrook Forest Loop in Ellsworth, ME.  The trail consists of a wide service road through the forest and across a couple of streams.  It looked like it must be ideal for snowmobiling, but was only so-so for hiking.  There was a sign at the trailhead saying that the loop was currently impassible due to road/bridge repairs.  Fortunately, since it was Labor Day, we were able to walk through the construction zone.  We only saw one other person on the trail.

On Tuesday, we drove to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.2-mile out-and-back Asticou and Jordan Pond Path.  It was a nice walk in the woods and we had the entire trail to ourselves.

Jan had signed up for an American Kidney Fund fundraiser that involved her committing to hiking at least 37 miles in the month of September.  The number ‘37’ was significant in that it represented the 37 million Americans who suffer from kidney disease.  Jan had set a goal to raise $200 and, thanks to the generosity of our friends and family, she had reached this goal.  As of the morning of Wednesday, September 9th, Jan only lacked 3.8 miles to reach her 37-mile goal for the month.  Wanting to achieve the goal, we hiked the 6-mile Long Pond and Great Notch Trails.  The first two miles of this loop were on a fairly easy path that ran along the west bank of Long Pond.  Then, the trail turned uphill until we reached the Great Notch summit, followed by a sharp descent back to the lake.

For dinner, we had whole lobsters at Lunt’s Lobster Pound.  Although we had had several lobster rolls during our time in Maine, these were our first whole lobsters this summer.

On Thursday, we were unable to find an open parking space at the first two trails we tried so we ended up hiking the 1.7-mile Jesup and Hemlock Loop.  On Friday, we drove an hour to Deer Isle and hiked the 3.5-mile Barred Island Preserve Trail.  We first hiked through the woods for an hour, then arrived at the island exactly at low tide.  Barred Island is only accessible by foot within a 3-hour window centered on low tide.  We walked across the sandbar and spent the next hour walking the circumference of the island, having to find our footing rock by rock.  The views of the ocean were beautiful under the bright blue sky.

On Saturday, we stayed closer to home and hiked the 2.1-mile Woodlawn Park Loop in Ellsworth.  The loop took us through woods that are part of the 180-acre Woodlawn Museum estate, also known as the Black Mansion.  On Sunday, we drove to Mariaville, ME and hiked the 2.5-mile Mariaville Falls trail.  This trail took us through the woods, across a stream and along the Union River.  Part of the trail required walking along a ledge high above the river.

On Monday, we returned to Acadia and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Beachcroft Path to the summit of Champlain Mountain.  The first half of the 951′ ascent was mostly on large, flat rocks that had been neatly arranged to form the path and staircases.  It is hard to imagine the effort that went into constructing that part of the trail.  The second half of the ascent required scrambling over large boulders and climbing up granite faces.  The hike provided beautiful views the whole way up and the scenery from the summit was truly amazing.  For dinner, we returned to Bar Harbor and ate at the Side Street Café.

Tuesday’s hike was our 50th since arriving in Trenton, ME two months earlier.   We did the 3-mile Beech Cliffs and Canada Cliffs Loop.  Although not exceptionally long, the steep climb to the summit of Beech Cliffs made it memorable.  It began with numerous switchbacks and stone stairs that rose quickly up the mountainside.  Then we reached the part of the trail that was so steep that we needed to climb up four iron ladders that were bolted into the rock face.  The first ladder had ten rungs, while the second had eighteen.  The final two ladders were about as long and were positioned one after the other, with a platform in between.  Once we reached the top of each ladder, we had to grab onto steel cables to pull ourselves up.  After scaling the fourth ladder, we reached the top of Beech Cliffs and were able to enjoy beautiful views of Echo Lake.  The return trip was down the Canada Cliffs Trail, which was easier than the first trail but by no means easy. 

Maine 2020 – Part 1 (July 14 – August 16, 2020)

On Tuesday, July 14th, we drove 307 miles from Middle Grove, NY to Biddeford, ME where we spent two nights at Homestead by the River RV Park.  The drive was almost entirely on interstate highways (mostly toll roads) and was largely uneventful, other than numerous work areas and service plazas in Massachusetts that were not big-rig friendly.  When we arrived at the campground, we learned that they had had three inches of rain that morning and our reserved pull-through site was a swamp.  So, rather than risk getting stuck in the muck, we were offered a back-in site.  Phil was not excited about the prospect of doing a blind-side back-in around a tree so the owner arranged for an experienced semi driver to back our rig into the site.

On Wednesday, we picked up a lobster roll at Pool Street Market in Biddeford and drove to Biddeford Pool.  After consuming our lobster roll, we hiked the 1.5-mile East Point Audubon Sanctuary Trail that took us along the rocky coast and provided us with a view of a lighthouse.

On Thursday, we drove 180 miles on the Maine Turnpike to Trenton, ME where we will spend 64 days at Timberland Acres RV Park.  This is the same campground where we spent a month in 2019.

The weather on Friday was cool and overcast so we just drove the Park Loop through Acadia National Park, including a brief stop at the Jordan Pond House.  We also drove through Bar Harbor, where we noted that several of the businesses we had frequented in 2019 had closed for 2020.

On Saturday, we stayed closer to home and hiked the 2.8-mile Trenton Community Trail.  Although the trail didn’t include much scenery, it was a pleasant walk through the forest and included a short boardwalk over the bog.  On Sunday, we sought to escape the heat by driving to Seal Cove, where we sat by the water and read our books.

On Monday, we returned to Acadia NP and hiked 6 miles on the Eagle Lake Carriage Road.

On Tuesday, we returned to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.5-mile full loop around the lake.

On Wednesday, July 22nd, we returned to Acadia NP and hiked the Ocean Path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff and back again, nearly 5 miles in total.  We timed our stop at Thunder Hole to be exactly two hours before high tide.  This is supposed to be the time when the waves at Thunder Hole are the loudest but it was somewhat disappointing.

On Friday, we hiked the 2-mile loop at Lower Hadlock Pond.  Then, on Saturday, we drove to Surry, ME and hiked another 2-mile loop at the Carter Nature Preserve.  We arrived at the coastal part of the hike exactly at low tide and were able to walk along the rocks.

Timberland Acres campground has special activities on the weekends during the summer.  Our first weekend had a Hawaiian theme, with a luau that included a pig roast.  Although we did check out the pig on the spit, the $15 per plate for dinner was a little too pricey for us.  Our second weekend was Christmas in July and offered prizes for the most impressive Christmas decorations.  Some people went all out and had some very elaborate displays.  Jan got in the spirit of the season and decorated our picnic table with the few Christmas items we carry with us.

On Monday, July 27th, we did a 7.3-mile hike on the Witch Hole Pond Carriage Trail.  Although the carriage trails make for rather smooth walking, this was the longest distance we had hiked this year.  We spotted several large birds of prey sitting on branches along the trail but we were unable to identify them.

On Tuesday, we hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Big Wood and Shore Trails. After walking through the forest, the Shore Trail brought us out to the coast. We found two Adirondack chairs conveniently placed above the shoreline of Western Bay.  It was a warm, sunny day but the chairs were in the shade and there was a cool breeze coming off the water.  We watched a couple of seals and some kayakers pass by.  If we had brought books with us, we would likely have stayed there a long time.

Phil had researched pickleball venues in the area and, on Tuesday, headed out to play.  His first stop was at the Ellsworth Tennis Club where they have four indoor courts.  However, he learned that Mainers apparently don’t play pickleball indoors when it is warm outdoors.  The clerk at the tennis club recommended Phil try the outdoor courts at the YMCA.  This worked out well and he found a nice group to play with several afternoons each week.  Making matters even better, there is no charge to play at the YMCA, unlike the Tennis Club.

Wednesday’s hike was back in Acadia National Park.  We did the 2.4-mile Great Head Trail that begins with a walk across Sand Beach and then continues in a loop around the cliffs overlooking Fisherman’s Bay and the beach.

On Thursday, we hiked another Acadia NP carriage trail, the 6-mile Aunt Betty Loop.  This trail included two long, steep ascents and two long, steep descents.

Friday’s hike was a combination of three trails near Southwest Harbor; the Flying Mountain, Valley Peak and St. Sauveur Peak trails.  These three trails made two loops totaling over 4 miles, with an elevation rise of 931’.  The Alltrails app mistakenly had these trails listed as ‘easy’ but they were definitely not easy.  In addition to the usual tree roots and rocks on the trails, we had to scramble over lots of large boulders while we climbed up steep paths.  The scenery was worth the effort, though.  We rewarded ourselves by picking up a lobster roll on the way home.

On Saturday evening, we went to Bar Harbor for dinner at Jalapeños.  Downtown Bar Harbor was quite active and everyone was wearing masks.  After dinner, we strolled around town and along the waterfront.

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Panorama of the harbor at Bar Harbor

On Sunday, we hiked the 2.5-mile Branch Lake Public Forest Loop.  Our initial challenge was in reaching the trailhead.  The GPS coordinates stopped on a busy highway and didn’t show how to reach the trail.  By using Google Earth, we could see some sort of road to the trailhead but we couldn’t understand why the GPS wouldn’t take us there.  We finally found a sign for the forest.  The parking area was a mile down a single-lane gravel road with deep ruts.  It was slow-going but, fortunately, we had no oncoming traffic.  Once we reached the forest, the hike was enjoyable and took us to the edge of beautiful Branch Lake.  We snacked on whoopie pies we had purchased Saturday night; Jan had Classic Chocolate and Phil had Blueberry Lemon.

On Monday, August 3rd, we drove to meet Jason at the Bangor airport.  On Tuesday, we began our re-introduction of Jason to the challenges of hiking in Acadia.  We hiked the Champlain North Ridge Trail, an up-and-back trail to the summit of Champlain Mountain.  Although it is only a little more than a mile to the summit, the route has an 833-foot elevation gain and mostly involves climbing on granite boulders.  That evening, we went into Bar Harbor and had dinner at Route 66.  We all had hot lobster rolls with melted butter.  After dinner, we visited some shops in Bar Harbor and, since it was near low tide, we were able to hike across the sand to Bar Island.

Overnight, the effects of tropical storm Isaias reached Maine and we had heavy rain and strong winds.  Because of the rain, we decided to avoid hikes that would require climbing up the rocks.  Instead, we hiked a couple of out-and-back trails with very little elevation gains, the Jesup Trail and the Kane Trail.  The Jesup Trail was quite easy, with much of it on a boardwalk.  However, the Kane Trail mostly consisted on walking on boulders along the edge of The Tarn, a large pond.  After our hike, we drove to the Schooner Head Overlook and hiked down to the rocks overlooking Frenchman’s Bay.

On Thursday, we returned to Jordan Pond.  Jason and Phil hiked a strenuous 5-mile loop consisting of the Spring, Penobscot, Deer Brook and Jordan Pond trails.  Jan opted for a easier hike by doing the full Jordan Pond Loop again.  That afternoon, Phil took Jason to the YMCA for a couple of hours of pickleball.

Friday’s adventure took us to the more remote part of Acadia National Park, the Schoodic Peninsula.  After stops at Frazer Point and Schoodic Point to enjoy the views, we continued to Blueberry Hill.  We hiked the Anvil Trail to the summit of Schoodic Head and ate our breakfast there.  We then returned down the Alder Trail.  A short distance further down the park loop road, we came to the trailhead for the East Trail.  Phil and Jason hiked this strenuous 1.4-mile out-and-back trail that involved a lot of climbing up the rocks.  Jan decided to stay behind and enjoy the views from the shoreline.

On Saturday, August 8th, we drove to Sand Beach.  We all hiked the Ocean Path together until we reached the Gorham Mountain trailhead.  Jan continued down the Ocean Path to Otter Point, then returned to Sand Beach.  Phil and Jason hiked the Gorham Mountain and Bowl trails, which brought them back to Sand Beach where they met up again with Jan.  We sat on the beach for a while and cooled our feet in the bay.

We took a day off from hiking on Sunday.  Instead, we did a road trip down the coast of Maine and drove through many harbor towns.  Phil had found an article on the Internet titled the “Top 10 Places to Retire in Maine” and we decided to visit two of these towns, Belfast and Rockland.  We reached Belfast first and spent some time walking along the harbor, visiting the downtown shopping district and driving past a few houses listed for sale.  Our next stop was Camden where we visited several shops.  We then continued on to Rockland where we ate lunch at The Brass Compass, strolled down to the harbor where we could see a lighthouse and drove by a few houses for sale.  On our return trip, we drove to see a house that we had seen listed on the window of a Rockland realtor.  It had a Lincolnville address but was actually located over a mile down an unpaved road along Coleman Pond.

Jason stayed with us for another week and worked remotely during the day.  He was able to stay connected successfully using the hotspot on Jan’s phone.  We resumed our morning hikes on Tuesday while Jason worked.  We hiked the 3.5-mile Conners Nubble Trail.  The beginning and end of this hike was along the Eagle Lake Carriage Road.  Then we headed up a steep trail that took us to the Conners Nubble summit.  We ate our breakfast while enjoying the views of Eagle Lake and the Bubbles range.

That evening Jan packed our dinner and we headed to Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunset.  When we arrived, we discovered that there was no view of the western horizon from the summit.  Instead, we drove down the access road to a pullout and carried our chairs and food through the bushes to a plateau where we could set up for the show.  The only downside to this location was that it was extremely windy so we had to turn our backs to the wind while we ate.  The sun set at 7:44 pm and we enjoyed every minute of it.

On Wednesday, we drove to Southwest Harbor and hiked two fairly short hikes.  The first, Ship Harbor Trail, was a 1.5-mile figure-8 hike that took us out to the harbor.  Since it was close to low tide, we were able to climb on the rocks and explore the many tide pools.  We ate our breakfast on a big rock facing the ocean.  Our second hike was the nearby Wonderland Trail, a 1-mile out-and-back trail to the rocky coast line.  We spent a lot of time climbing on the rocks and examining the many cairns that had been built along the shore.

We attempted to hike the Kebo Mountain Trail that evening after our dentist appointments and after Jason finished working.  Unfortunately, we ran out of daylight and had to turn back after reaching the summit, rather than finishing the whole hike.

On Thursday, we drove to the town of Blue Hill and hiked the 2.5-mile Blue Hill Mountain Loop.  The initial climb was rather steep but we were rewarded with beautiful views of the Blue Hill harbor.  After our hike, we drove through the town.

On Friday, August 14th, we drove to Northeast Harbor and hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Day Mountain Trail. Although most of the hike was through the woods, there were some great overlooks of the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean from near the summit.  That evening, we had dinner at the Chart Room before heading into Bar Harbor for some shopping.  During Jason’s 2019 visit, we had driven by this restaurant and Jason had mistakenly read the sign as the Chat Room.  This had been a running joke ever since then but this was the first time we had actually eaten there.

On Saturday, we took Jason for his last hike in Acadia for 2020.  We left early and were lucky to get the last spot at the Bubbles parking area.  We did the 4-mile Jordan Pond Carry to Eagle Lake and Bubbles Trail Loop.  This hike had a little bit of everything.  The trail along Eagle Lake was extremely rocky and required a great deal of care in finding our footing.  Then we climbed to the summit of Conners Nubble, repeating the trail we had done on Tuesday.  The next leg was a climb to the summit of North Bubble, before descending and returning to the parking lot.  We were glad to have started early since the parking lot was packed and tensions were high among the many people waiting for a parking spot.

That evening, we rented kayaks and spent 2.5 hours paddling on Long Lake during sunset.  Jan and Phil shared a tandem kayak while Jason had a single.  It was a beautiful night with a light wind.

Sunday marked the end of our first month at Timberland Acres RV Park.  Fortunately, we have another 33 days here.  We drove Jason to the Bangor airport for his flight home. The 13 days he was with us went by very quickly and were very enjoyable.

The Road to Maine (June 21 – July 14, 2020)

We left Kerrville, TX on Sunday, June 21st, and retraced the path we had taken when heading south in December. We drove 220 miles to Elm Mott, TX and spent one night at the I-35 RV Park. On Monday, we drove 264 miles to Texarkana, TX where we spent two nights at our usual campground, Shady Pines RV Park. On Wednesday, we drove 235 miles to Forrest City, AR where we spent the night at Delta Ridge RV Park.

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact our planning for our summer travels. We were already aware that Maine had implemented a requirement for a 14-day quarantine upon arriving in the state. However, this requirement was modified somewhat by allowing visitors to forego the quarantine if they can prove that they have gotten a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arriving in Maine. We hope to get tested while in New York, immediately before leaving for Maine.

Massachusetts also implemented a 14-day quarantine. We had planned to spend five nights in Massachusetts on our way to Maine but, for now, we have rescheduled this stop until our return trip in late September. We are hoping the quarantine requirements will have been lessened by then.

On June 24th, the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey implemented a requirement for a 14-day quarantine upon arriving in their states for travelers coming from any of seven states with a spike in COVID cases, including Texas and Arkansas. We had booked reservations for four nights in Byron, NY, beginning July 5th. Since this would have been only 10 days after leaving Arkansas, we would have had to quarantine the entire time so, instead, we rerouted through Pennsylvania for the four nights. We will then head to Autumn Moon Campground in Middle Grove, NY on July 9th since, by then, 14 days will have passed since we left Arkansas.

On Thursday, June 25th, we drove 271 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent a week at the Grand Ole RV Park. Our activities were limited due to COVID. Jason joined us the first morning for breakfast at Cracker Barrell. It was a different dining experience, due to the social distancing and sanitation requirements. Jason also came over for dinner several nights and we sat outside afterwards listening to live music. He picked up a pizza from Gino’s East one night on his way home from work. Jason’s roommate, Steve, joined us for spaghetti, salad and Butterfinger cake another night. We also were able to celebrate an early birthday with Lizzi at a Mexican restaurant near her house.

On June 30, the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey doubled the number of states requiring quarantine, now 16. The new list included Tennessee so our five-day stay at Autumn Moon campground will be spent in quarantine. Had we known we would have to quarantine the entire stay, we would have just skipped New York and done our quarantine in Massachusetts instead. Unfortunately, it was now too late to cancel our New York reservation without a penalty.

On Thursday, July 2nd, we drove 275 miles to North Bend, OH (bordering Cincinnati) where we spent two nights at Indian Springs Campground. We had overnighted at this campground twice before but, because it was considered part of the July 4th weekend, we were required to stay for a two-night minimum. This turned out to be fortuitous since Jarrod and Jess flew in to Cincinnati that day to visit Jess’ family. They dropped by to visit on Friday morning and then we joined them for lunch at the home of Jess’ father and stepmother, Henry and Sandy Mollman. We enjoyed sitting outside and had a very filling meal, topped off with homemade ice cream.

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Lunch with the Mollmans

On Saturday, July 4th, we drove 267 miles to Streetsboro, OH where we overnighted at the Streetsboro / SE Cleveland KOA. The campground was in full swing when we arrived and there was little evidence of social distancing going on. The pool was crowded and many large groups were gathered.

On Sunday, July 5th, we drove 270 miles to New Columbia, PA where we spent four nights at the Williamsport South / Nittany Mountain KOA. It is one of the upscale Holiday KOAs and we had a large pull-through site with no neighbors nearby. One of the popular activities was the twice-daily feeding time at the petting zoo. We joined the youngsters in the pen (masks were required) where we fed and played with the goats.

We had planned to hike in the area but torrential rain overnight forced us to scrap that idea. Instead, we attempted to hike the nature trail connected to the campground but had to turn around when we encountered No Trespassing signs.

On Monday, we drove to Lewisburg. Our first stop was at the Street of Shops. Located completely indoors in a restored historic woolen mill, this large building contains 375 shops selling a wide variety of merchandise (mostly antiques and collectibles). We spent about two hours strolling through room after room.

Later, we visited downtown Lewisburg and had lunch at a local pizzeria where Phil had a cheesesteak and Jan had an eggplant parm sub. Both were delicious.  After lunch, we drove through the largely-empty campus of Bucknell University and visited Soldier’s Memorial Park.

On Tuesday, we drove to Williamsport, PA. Our first stop was at Original Field, the baseball field where the Little League World Series was held for the first 12 years. There wasn’t much to see at this complex, which is now used by the local softball league. We next drove along Millionaire’s Row, where lumber barons had built huge Victorian homes at the turn of the century. Williamsport once had more millionaires per-capital than anywhere else in the world, but this area was definitely showing its age. Our final stop was at the current home of the Little League World Series. With the World Series cancelled for 2020, we were free to roam around the two stadiums and visited the Casey at the Bat sculpture.

Since Maine would allow us to avoid the 14-day quarantine if we could get a COVID test done within 72 hours of entering the state, we had been exploring options for testing while in New York. Most were limited to New York residents or required a doctor’s referral.  On Tuesday, Phil was able to get us signed up for free COVID tests at RiteAid in Colonie, NY on Saturday, July 11th. The test results are normally available in 2-7 days but, due to the demand, it may take longer so we may still have to quarantine for some period in Maine.

On Wednesday, we returned to Lewisburg and visited the Farmers Market. This was one of the nicest and largest farmers market we have visited. They had a huge variety of local specialties, vegetables, fruits, baked goods and crafts. Many of the vendors were Amish. There was even a Schlegel Farms, Jan’s maiden name, so we had to buy from them. Since we knew it would take a long time to see everything, Phil left Jan at the farmers market and headed to Walmart to buy enough food to last us through the full quarantine periods. Jan also loaded herself down with fresh meats and vegetables, as well as a lemon meringue pie and fresh bagels.

On Thursday, we drove 300 miles to Middle Grove, NY (near Saratoga Springs) where we had made reservations for five nights at Autumn Moon Campground. The first 270 miles were on interstates but the travel was slower than hoped due to lots of road work zones. The final 30 miles were quite challenging as they involved many turns on small country roads. When we approached the final turn, Phil’s GPS chimed as he neared a couple of gravel roads. Since this is the indication that he is at the turning point, Phil pulled up the first gravel road and drove up to the road to what he hoped was the campground office. Jan’s GPS showed that the correct turn was 400 feet farther but she couldn’t call Phil before he made the turn. As it turned out, Phil had pulled into a farmer’s driveway. We spent most of the next hour trying to get the fifth wheel turned around. It would have been easier if not for a BMW that was parked next to the house. Jan knocked on the door of the house but no one answered. After multiple attempts, we got turned around and made our way to the campground.

The owners of the Autumn Moon Campground were quite friendly but the campground was less impressive than where we’d normally stay. Since we only had 30 amps available, we were limited to using one air conditioner. Even at that, the circuit breaker on the pedestal kept flipping every few minutes. Phil finally solved that problem by turning off the charger to our batteries. It was 82 degrees in our living room and it took a couple of hours before we got the temperature down to a pleasant 72 degrees.

The requirements for quarantine vary by state and, even for a given state, are quite fluid. Phil discovered, after we arrived in New York, that Pennsylvania had implemented a quarantine on July 1st for travelers from 15 states, including Tennessee. Oops!

On Saturday, we drove 30 miles to Colonie, NY to get our COVID tests. The process was somewhat different than in the YouTube we had watched. We pulled up to the drive-through window at the RiteAid and the pharmacist gave us our test kits. He explained the procedure, which consisted of inserting the test swab one inch into one nostril, rotating it twice, holding it in place for 15 seconds and then repeating in the other nostril. It wasn’t too unpleasant, although both of us had watery eyes and Phil sneezed twice. The test results were supposed to arrive via email in 2-7 days but we were pleasantly surprised when we both received negative test results on Monday afternoon. That will eliminate any need to quarantine when we arrive in Maine on Tuesday.

Kerrville, Again (April 14 – June 21, 2020)

On Tuesday, April 14th, we made the 350-mile drive from Brownsville to Kerrville. Although the drive was uneventful, we had not driven much in the previous three months so it was quite tiring. We arrived at 4 pm and set up on our new site. We got the end pull-thorough site in the Executive section. In addition to a larger concrete patio, the end site provided us with a large grassy area next to us.

Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, who were also staying at Buckhorn, dropped by to visit and, since we had not been able to see them for the last few weeks in Brownsville, it was good to catch up again. We learned that, in addition to the office being closed due to COVID, the pools, fitness center and social room were also closed.

On Wednesday morning, Phil rode his bike over to the pickleball courts but there was nobody playing. Later that morning, we drove the Willow City loop to see the wildflowers. We had driven the Willow City loop years ago but the flowers had not been in bloom then. This time, the bluebonnets were in full bloom and were quite beautiful.

As we passed through Fredericksburg, we couldn’t help but notice all the empty stores. However, Jan noticed that the door to our favorite shop, Russlin’ Rob’s Texas Gourmet, was open but the store was dark inside. Jan checked their website and learned that, although the food sampling stations were closed, the store was being manned for drop-in customers. She called and ordered some of our favorite sauces. When we returned, Phil knocked on the door and the store manager already had the sauces wrapped up for us.

Our activities over the next few weeks continued to be limited due to COVID-19. Phil managed to find enough pickleball players to fill one court most days. Jan walked the campground most mornings and we generally got out for a stroll each evening. Trips to the grocery stores and Walgreens involved wearing face masks.

On April 16th, we drove to Ingram and visited Stonehenge II. It is 90% as wide and 60% as tall as the original Stonehenge in England. Jan had hoped to get pictures of the sunset but it was too cloudy.

Fortunately, we were able to get together with Beth and Todd most afternoons for Happy Hour. We hosted a farewell brunch with the Ehlenfeldts on April 20th. Jan made cinnamon rolls and Beth brought seafood quiche. After saying our goodbyes the following morning, we drove to San Antonio to get the Mazda serviced at our dealer. We also stopped at Sam’s Club and Whole Foods to load up on groceries. Masks were worn at all stops.

We drove to Louise Mays Park in Kerrville on April 18 and 22 and enjoyed long strolls along the Guadalupe River.

On April 23, we drove to the Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden to see if Jan could get pictures of the sunset. She had better luck than she had at Stonehenge II.

On April 24, we did a long scenic drive through nearby Mason County to see the wildflowers. We had directions for three different routes. The first route we took involved driving on a unpaved road that crosses several spots with the potential for high water. When we came to the first one, we turned back rather than trying to cross the river. Although the water wasn’t overly deep, the current was quite fast. The remainder of our drive was beautiful and, although there were quite a few low spots, none were underwater.

Our laptop, which we had purchased in 2015, had been experiencing problems with the DC power port and finally died in late April. Jan contacted Dell support and they identified a refurbished replacement part. However, since we were uncomfortable with the thought of disassembling the laptop ourselves, we took it to a local PC repair shop. After examining our laptop, the owner decided it couldn’t be repaired. We decided to purchase a new laptop. However, since the old laptop was now deemed worthless and the replacement part was only $15, we decided to see if we could fix it. In our enthusiasm to see what was involved in dissecting a laptop, we removed a seemingly endless number of screws and Jan disconnected numerous cables and parts. Then, when the replacement cable arrived a week later, our challenge was in remembering how to put the pieces back together again. Fortunately, Jan’s prior life in PC support paid off and the reassembly went fairly easily and we got the old laptop running again. That bought us some time in getting files and applications transferred to the new laptop but we’re still glad we invested in the new laptop.

Mother’s Day, May 10th, was the most active day we’d had in a long time. We started with a trip to Luckenbach, TX. We sat outside and enjoyed some live music. Jan bought a new hat. Next, we visited Wildseed Farms and walked through the gardens. For dinner, we went to the West End Pizza Company in Fredericksburg. We dined on the shaded patio, where the tables were spread out for social distancing. This was our first restaurant meal, inside or takeout, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and it was quite enjoyable.

Later, we went for our usual evening stroll. Near the end of our walk, we met a man walking his three dalmatians. He let up on the leashes so they could come over to sniff Phil. Since they were acting friendly, Phil bent down to pet the dogs. As Phil was petting the second dog, the third dog lunged at him and bit him hard on his forearm. When Phil pulled his arm back, the dog lunged again and bit him on the thigh, ripping a hole in Phil’s favorite shorts. Blood was running down Phil’s arm so we hurried home to treat it, without finding out if the dog had had its vaccinations. We just had to assume that they had.  Phil reported the bites to the office the next day and we never saw the dogs again.


On May 12th, Phil visited his doctor to get x-rays of his pinky finger he had injured a week earlier while playing pickleball. The x-rays showed no sign of any broken bones. The doctor also examined the dog bites and prescribed some antibiotics. The governor of Texas had authorized the reopening of barber shops and hair salons a few days earlier and we were both overdue. We both went in for haircuts that afternoon. Phil had not had a haircut in over four months and the barber told him he had the start of a mullet. The difference was significant.

Before

After

We decided to extend our stay in Kerrville for another month, until June 21st, to see what direction the COVID-19 infections go. After initially being told the campground was full over Memorial Day weekend, there was a cancellation that enabled us to stay in our same site. Phil spent the next two days reworking our travel schedule for the summer and hoping that it holds up.

On Saturday, May 23rd, we rented kayaks at Louise Mays Park and paddled up and down the Guadalupe River for two hours. We encountered lots of turtles sunning themselves on rocks and logs, as well as flocks of ducks floating down the river. Unfortunately, the lack of recent rain had left the river quite shallow as we got upstream and we had to turn around before we would have liked.

On Wednesday, May 27th, we drove to Austin for one of Jan’s doctor appointments. The appointment was in the morning so we got on the road early for the two-hour drive. After the appointment, we spent a relaxing afternoon in Austin. We enjoyed sitting in the shade and people-watching at Zilker Metropolitan Park, then made some shopping stops at TJ Maxx and Whole Foods. That evening, we had dinner and socialized with Caleb and Brittany Dickerson, Katie Schlegel and, Katie’s friend, Michael at the Dickerson’s new condo. The weather forecast had called for severe storms that evening but we missed most of it on the drive back to Kerrville. However, we decided to stop at Walgreens upon our arrival back in Kerrville and discovered that the streets were flooded and the power was out. As we drove back to the campground on I-10, we saw piles of hailstones along the interstate. We later learned that they had experienced quite a severe storm in our absence, with lots of trees down and hail damage. We were glad to have missed the excitement and were relieved to not see any damage to our vehicles.


Our remaining time at Buckhorn was rather quiet, largely due to daily high temperatures in the 90’s. Phil continued playing pickleball six mornings a week, but the starting time was moved up to 7:30 am to lessen the heat. We visited the pool several days and enjoyed the cool water. Mostly, we stayed indoors and took advantage of our air conditioners. Phil ordered DVDs of all eight seasons of ‘24’ and Jan ordered four seasons of ‘Outlander.’ These will provide us with plenty of entertainment throughout the summer, assuming we can resist the urge to binge watch.


We celebrated Phil’s 66th birthday on June 14th with an afternoon at Luckenbach, TX. Upon our arrival, we discovered that we were attending the Waylon Jennings Birthday Bash. There were about 30 musicians who, one after another, got on stage and performed non-stop Waylon Jennings songs. Each hour, they held a sing-along to the song ‘Luckenbach, Texas.” We stuck around for three hours of the four-hour event. Phil grilled steelhead trout for dinner and dessert consisted of Jan’s blueberry pie.


Phil’s body had taken a beating during our time at Buckhorn, between dog bites and three falls on the pickleball courts resulting in bloody body parts. However, the main event came on Monday night, June 15th. Phil heard the rain starting and raced out the door to move our lawn chairs under cover. He slipped on the wet step cover and, while falling down on the steps, managed to slice open the bottom of his right foot. This excitement happened after the Urgent Care centers had closed for the evening so, as Jan raced off to WalMart for bandages, Phil kept pressure on the wound until the bleeding had slowed. Upon Jan’s return, she administered first aid to get Phil through the night. The following morning, we were off to the doctor’s office. Although the nurse was quite impressed with Jan’s bandaging efforts, the doctor decided to suture up the cut. It took nine sutures to close the wound. The most painful part of the procedure were the many shots needed to numb Phil’s foot, as he gained an appreciation for how many nerve endings one has in the bottom of one’s foot. Phil spent the next few days hobbling around the RV but quickly learned to get around while avoiding putting weight on the site of the cut.


One of Phil’s regrets was that the injury eliminated any chance for him to play pickleball over our final five days. On our final Friday afternoon at Buckhorn, Cindy Welch invited us over for a happy hour with several of Phil’s fellow pickleball players.

Brownsville – Month 3 (March 12 – April 14, 2020)

On Thursday, March 12th, we began our final month at Tropical Trails with a boat outing. A group of eleven from Tropical Trails met at the Dishmans’ condo on South Padre Island. Hill Dishman had his own boat and had borrowed one from a neighbor. Although windy, it was a beautiful day for a boat ride. The activity for the afternoon included a poker crawl in which we picked up a paying card at each stop and the person ending up with the best poker hand would win the pot. Our stops were at Parrot Eyes Restaurant and Bar, Longboard Bar & Grill, Driftwood Landing and Laguna Bob’s. Phil had the best hand through the first three stops, then fell into third place on the fourth card drawn. Fortunately, the ‘4’ he was dealt as his fifth card gave him two pairs and he ended up with the best hand, earning $40 from the pot.

On Friday a large group from Tropical Trails took a 2 ½-hour tram tour at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The park, which encompasses over 97,000 acres, was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds. We had visited the park a couple of years before but had not taken the tram tour. The tram ride enabled us to see much more of the refuge than we had seen before. Unfortunately the speakers in our car were not working so we were unable to hear much of what the tour guide was saying. One of the highlights was seeing a small rattlesnake slithering next to our stopped tram.

That evening we had an ice cream social, followed by two games of LCR. Phil won one of the games, earning $4.50 in winnings.  A lucky couple of days!

On Sunday afternoon, Jan participated in the beanbag toss tournament.  We later met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Longboard Bar & Grill and listened to Shake & Bake perform. We then headed to Pier 19 for dinner.

Tuesday, March 17th, was St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrated with a Happy Hour on the patio at Tropical Trails. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts joined us for the get-together.

On Wednesday evening, we had a fish fry at Tropical Trails. Hill Dishman fried up a lot of trout that he had caught on his boat. Everyone else brought a side dish.

On Thursday we headed over to Winter Haven and had a belated St. Patrick’s Day feast with the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and some of their neighbors. We enjoyed lots of corned beef and cabbage. With the current shortage of toilet paper, Tom and Roxi should have thought twice before letting Beth use their bathroom.

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Beth trying to make off with the Rykal’s TP

By Friday, the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic really began to impact our activities. The city of Brownsville closed the schools and imposed a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. (not that that affected us). Restaurants were restricted to take-out. South Padre Island implemented restrictions on gatherings and closed restaurants and bars.  Phil went to H-E-B for groceries and had to stand in a long line to get in the store. Once inside, he found many of the shelves were empty. Toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, eggs and canned goods were unavailable, both in the stores and online.

At Tropical Trails, life was getting increasingly boring. In addition to many of the campers having already departed, some of the remaining campers decided they would self-isolate. This left the campground, which had already been fairly vacant all winter, seem almost like a ghost town. Even when we did see other people, there was very little interaction. There were only four people playing pickleball on Friday and, by Saturday, this had dropped to just Phil and Beth Petruska.

On Saturday afternoon, we finally got around to flying the kite we had purchased when Jason was visiting. Since the kite was only rated for up to 18 mph winds, we had not had many opportunities to fly it earlier. It was quite easy to assemble and flew quite well. The wind was somewhat stronger on Sunday and we flew the kite again. This time Phil relaxed in one of our lawn chairs while the kite soared very high. He may have been testing the limits of the string as the kite was really pulling very hard.

The boredom continued the following week as the pandemic’s spread and resulting stock market drop dominated the news. In addition to the usual strong winds, we had several days with highs in the 90s. Our only interaction with our fellow campers came from a distance. Beth decided not to play pickleball anymore due to COVID-19 concerns, but Phil did manage to arrange to play singles with Hill Dishman a couple of days. Jan made several trips to the fitness center to run on the treadmill. We managed to ride our bikes on occasions when the wind died down somewhat.  On two evenings, we ventured up to the Amenity Center to play shuffleboard and dip our feet in the spa. One night we actually went swimming in the pool for the first time this winter, but spent most of our time relaxing in the spa.

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Jan relaxing by the spa

Hill came by on Monday and gave us some of the fish he had caught. We grilled Cajun red fish on the half shell for dinner on Tuesday.

We rarely left the campground, except for occasional trips to the grocery stores. Phil got up early on Tuesday and went to Wal-Mart for their once-a-week Senior Hour at 6 a.m. He got in line at 5:30 and was glad he had arrived early. By 6 a.m. the line was quite long. Although he was able to buy eggs, paper towels and disinfectants (which are in short supply), many of the shelves were empty. We received notice from the campground office that the H-E-B in Port Isabel had been well-stocked and without lines on Thursday. With nothing else to do, we headed there on Friday to see if we could find the things that had been unavailable at Wal-Mart. We did have to stay in line outside for about 10 minutes but, once inside, we were able to find most of our desired groceries.

One of the greatest shortages during the pandemic was toilet paper, with people hoarding it as panic set in. After checking the Sam’s Club website repeatedly for several days, Phil was able to order toilet paper. His only option was to get a 36-roll pack, which should last us a long time. When it arrived on March 31st, it was such a big deal that we had to post it on Facebook. The post resulted in 69 likes and 45 comments. Facebook became a popular means for people to try to find humor in the face of the pandemic. Leslie, one of our Tropical Trails friends, posted a video showing how to make a mask out of boxer shorts and, of course, Phil had to try it. The things people do when they have too much spare time on their hands!

During the remaining two weeks at Tropical Trails, our days largely fell into a routine. Although Phil played pickleball with Hill several mornings each week and we rode our bikes when the wind permitted, most of our days were spent sitting in our trailer. We both killed a lot of time playing on our phones, Phil did a lot of reading, and Jan worked on Diamond Dots and cleaning house. We did visit the pool several evenings, where we largely had the place to ourselves. About the only times we left the campground were for trips to the grocery store. While it was not the camping experience we had hoped for, we were very grateful to have a place where it was so easy to self-quarantine. In a campground with over 300 sites, we were down to 14 RVs on the property by the final two weeks (even at the peak this winter, there had never been more than about 35). We were also grateful that none of our friends and family contracted the coronavirus during these weeks.

We had planned to leave Tropical Trails on April 12th, Easter Sunday. In anticipation of the trip, Phil checked the truck’s tire pressures two days before. After being unable to get any pressure reading on one of the dually tires, he discovered that the tire had a huge tear in the belts. He was able to order a new tire but it wouldn’t arrive until Monday. This caused us to delay our departure for two days. This was actually fortuitous since the weather on Easter was terrible. The temperature hit a high of 103 degrees (blowing away the previous record of 95) and the winds were very strong, with gusts exceeding 40 mph. In addition, since April 12th was our 17th wedding anniversary, we were able to enjoy a relaxing day. Phil grilled some T-bones for dinner and then we headed to the pool.

On Monday, Phil took the truck to Discount Tire to get the new tire installed. Due to short staffing caused by COVID-19, he had to sit in the parking lot for two hours before getting to pull the truck into the service bay. We got up early on Tuesday and we thought we were ready to leave at 8:30 am. One of the last duties is to fold up the steps but, this time, one of the steps would not budge. We tried dousing it with WD-40 but that had no effect. Hill drove by and offered us some help. He had a couple of his guys work on the step and, after much effort, they managed to get it to fold up so we could depart. Our departure was delayed by an hour but we were just happy to be able to go.

Brownsville – Month 2 (February 12 – March 11, 2020)

On Thursday, February 13th, we attended a happy hour on the patio outside the Amenity Center. A two-man band called Shake & Bake performed for two hours. We were surprised when Hill Dishman, the campground owner, joined the band to sing a couple of songs. Hill has a very good voice and did an outstanding imitation of Willie Nelson.

Friday was Valentine’s Day and we celebrated by heading over to South Padre Island. We first stopped at Tequila Sunset where we sat outside overlooking Laguna Bay and listened to live music. When it started to get too cool for sitting outside, we walked up the street to Louie’s Backyard. At Louie’s, we were able to sit inside and listen to live music. We also visited the nearby sand castle displays.

Jason arrived on Saturday, February 15th, for a week-long visit. After picking him up at the airport in Harlingen, we went to Texas Roadhouse for a very filling dinner.

On Sunday we headed to the Los Fresnos Rodeo. Prior to the start of the rodeo we watched a performer demonstrate his skills with a lasso and bullwhip. We also watched the Banana Derby where dogs raced with small monkeys as riders. Our seats for the rodeo were very good and provided us with great views of the many events. The contestants were all professional rodeo cowboys and quite a few were former world champions.

On Monday Phil and Jason played pickleball in the morning. They were able to play pickleball four mornings that week. Monday afternoon we headed to South Padre Island. Our first stop was Isla Blanca Park. We walked along the beach, visited the monument to lost sailors and strolled out on the jetty. It was a windy day and there were lots of kiteboarders in the bay. We later had dinner at Pier 19.

On Tuesday we returned to South Padre Island for an afternoon fishing boat excursion. Jason quickly caught two sheepshead (one of legal size) before succumbing to seasickness. Phil then caught a sheepshead. Unfortunately, someone else’s line had gotten tangled with Phil’s line. After he was able to remove the hook from the fish, he started to untangle the other line. Once he had untangled the two weights, the other person jerked their line and Phil’s hook became imbedded in his finger. Fortunately the fishing boat had a person on staff who was trained in first aid. The captain took the boat into smoother waters and the assistant snipped the barb off the hook before pulling the hook out of Phil’s finger. Jan did catch the most interesting-looking fish. It was some sort of flying fish but was too small to keep. One we returned to port, the captain filleted our sheepshead. We had them for dinner on Thursday and they were very delicious.

On Wednesday we started the day at the Don-Wes Flea market. We then crossed the border to visit Nuevo Progresso. After eating lunch at the Red Snapper Restaurant, we headed to the beauty salon where we all had pedicures.

Thursday afternoon Jan and Jason headed to Mercedes and did some shopping at the outlet mall. The weather on Friday was quite cool so we decided to go see a movie. We picked up Beth and headed to the Sunrise Mall and watched “Call of the Wild.” After the movie, we met up with Todd.

On Saturday we awoke at 4 am to take Jason back to Harlingen for his 6:10 am flight. We returned home and went back to bed. By the time Phil woke up at 10 am, Jason was already back in Nashville. We participated in a Tropical Trails shuffleboard tournament that afternoon. Although Phil had a fairly low score, he ended up winning $2 for coming closest to the targeted score. The group then headed to Los Fresnos for dinner at Arnie’s. After dinner, we joined the group for a campfire back at Tropical Trails.

On Sunday afternoon we joined a group from Tropical Trails at Harley’s Beer Garden in Los Fresnos. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts also joined us. We sat outside and listened to music. A potluck dinner with BBQ was available but we chose not to stick around for it.

On Monday evening, February 24th, Phil finally got his crown installed on the implant he had done a year ago. Jan went to play Mexican train. On Tuesday evening we both played LCR.

Strong winds started blowing Tuesday evening, with gusts in excess of 40 mpg, and continued all day Wednesday. We got going early Wednesday morning and drove to Nuevo Progresso to get our teeth cleaned by one of the many dentists. The service seemed quite professional. Although the equipment was not state-of-the-art, everything appeared very sanitary. The cost of $25 per person for the cleaning was considerably less than the $85 the Brownsville dentist would have charged. In the afternoon we played cards at the Amenity Center.

Over the next few weeks we largely fell into a routine, with fewer notable activities. Phil played pickleball six mornings and Jan exercised, either on her bicycle or the treadmill in the fitness room. We played games (Mexican train dominoes, LRC or Golf) a couple of evenings each week.

On Thursday, February 27th, we had another shrimp boil at the Amenity Center, with musical entertainment again provided by Shake and Bake. Later that evening we had a bonfire for several couples who would be leaving in the next few days.

On Saturday morning Jan attended a class on making tamales while Phil played pickleball. That afternoon we participated in a shuffleboard tournament. Later we had dinner at Russo’s NY Pizzeria.

On Tuesday, March 3rd, we joined the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Winter Haven RV Park for a game of Mexican Train that lasted several hours. We had to move several times to stay dry when the drizzles started but they never lasted very long. After the game Roxi served us tacos for dinner.

On Wednesday Phil visited a new orthopedic surgeon regarding his shoulder that has been hurting since September. He got a shot of cortisone and was sent home with a list of exercises designed to strengthen his shoulder muscles.

On Thursday the group from Tropical Trails headed to South Padre Island for Happy Hour. We sat outside overlooking the bay at Longboard Bar & Grill and enjoyed the musical entertainment. We then drove half a mile to The Meatball Café where we had dinner. Phil ordered eggplant parmigiana and Jan had cannelloni. Both were very good.

On Friday we returned to South Padre Island. We started at Clayton’s and enjoyed an order of nachos. It was apparent that Clayton’s was starting to gear up for the Spring Break crowd. Gone was the old people music and, in its place, they had a deejay playing hip hop. We decided to move on to Longboard where we sat on the deck and enjoyed music that was more to our taste.

On Saturday, March 7th, we met the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts in Harlingen and attended the Jackson Street Market. This event occurs on the first Saturday of each month. There were vendors set up on both sides of the street for about six city blocks. We examined the wares at lots of booths but ended up only buying three pounds of red licorice. For lunch we headed to Carlito’s Wine House where we enjoyed the music and the food.

On Sunday we met the Ehlenfeldts at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. It was a beautiful day so the zoo was quite popular. We drove around for about 15 minutes before finding a parking spot. We had planned to arrive in time for a 2:30 presentation on ocelots. However, when we arrived, we learned that the time had been changed to 2 pm. We were still able to see the end of the presentation and see the ocelot. After that, we strolled the entire loop around the zoo for a couple of hours. We managed to see all the exhibits except the reptiles and fish, which we skipped due to both tired feet and lack of interest. We then all headed to Cobblehead’s Bar & Grill where we dined outside and listened to music. Three members of the band were the same musicians we had listened to at Longboard on Friday.

On Tuesday, March 10th, we had a farewell bonfire for Joanne and Dave who were leaving on Saturday. We toasted marshmallows and ate s’mores.

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On Wednesday we participated in a bean bag tossing competition, followed by shuffleboard.

 

Brownsville – Month 1 (January 12 – February 12, 2020)

On Sunday, January 12th, we left Fredericksburg and drove 349 miles to Brownsville where we will spend three months at a new campground, Tropical Trails RV Resort. Jan had learned about this campground online and we booked our reservation last summer. Originally, we believed it was going to open in October 2019. However, over the following months, the opening date kept getting delayed. Each time, Jan would call Bonnie, the General Manager, to seek assurance that the park would be open by mid-January. It did finally open on January 1, 2020. When we arrived, we noted that there were only about 30 rigs parked in the 165-acre campground. We quickly discovered that the campground was clearly still a work in progress. We took one of the sites with some grass growing on the door side. In the days to come, Phil watered the grass most mornings. We hope to have an established lawn by the time we leave in April. Although it felt like we were camping in a construction site, the owner was wise enough not to park campers next to each other. As a result, we had plenty of privacy and were able to park our truck on an empty site nearby.

One of the advantages to being in a nearly-empty campground was that we were able to meet a lot of the other campers at the many organized activities. On Monday morning Phil joined about 10 other campers on the four new pickleball courts. He was one of the few who had played the game before and was disappointed that the group disbanded after playing only two games. On Monday night we joined a number of fellow campers to watch the NCAA football championship game and, for non-football fans, a game of Mexican train. While Phil watched football, Jan was quite successful playing Mexican train.

On Tuesday we went to our dentist appointment. After sitting in the lobby for an hour, we learned that they had been unable to confirm our dental insurance. So rather than wait any longer, we rescheduled for Wednesday. We then dropped by to visit the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts who are camping at the nearby Winter Haven campground.  On Wednesday we met at the amenity center and learned to play shuffleboard. Although we had a large crowd, no one really knew the rules so we had to rely on the few who had watched YouTube videos beforehand. In the afternoon, we returned to the dentist. Although we were able to get x-rays and an examination, the cleanings were delayed until mid-February.

On Thursday we joined a group at the amenity center for a shrimp boil. In addition to shrimp, there was more than enough sausage, potatoes, corn and bread so no one walked away hungry.

On Friday we joined a caravan to Nuevo Progresso, Mexico. Since we had been there several times before, we explored on our own but we did join the group for lunch at Arturo’s. After lunch, we headed to our usual beauty salon and both got $10 pedicures. When we returned to the campground, we attended a presentation by a local travel agency that included a Mexican dance team and free margaritas.

On Saturday evening, Jan’s friend, Sheila Gaskin, arrived for a weeklong visit. We attempted to eat dinner at the Texas Roadhouse in Harlingen but the line was too long. We left and headed to the Texas Roadhouse in Brownsville. Although we still had a 40-minute wait, the meal was very good.

On Sunday, January 19th, Jan and Sheila spent the afternoon at South Padre Island. Phil stayed at home to watch the Tennessee Titans lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. That evening, we met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at The Lucky Barrel to watch the Green Bay Packers play for the NFC championship. Unfortunately for our friends from Wisconsin, the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

On Monday, after Phil played pickleball, we headed back to Nuevo Progresso. This was Sheila’s first visit to a Mexican border town.

On Tuesday we attended the campground’s ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce. We then headed to South Padre Island and visited the Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue facility. Later we had an early dinner at Pier 19.

The weather forecast for Wednesday had called for rain all day. Although the rain ended early, we opted to spend the day indoors so we headed to the Sunrise Mall. Phil went to see the movie ‘1917‘ while Jan and Sheila went shopping. We then went to Russo’s NY Pizzeria for dinner.

On Thursday we went to South Padre Island (SPI) and headed to Clayton’s for music and cheap wings and beer. Although the temperature in Brownsville reached 81 degrees, it only reached 68 degrees at SPI and was quite windy. We moved our seats four times to stay in the sun. Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt joined us for the last hour.

On Friday, Jan and Sheila picked up Roxi and Beth and headed back to Nuevo Progresso for the day. Phil met up with Tom and Todd at C & C Wings.

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Jan, Beth, Roxi and Sheila at lunch in Nuevo Progresso

Saturday morning we woke up at 4 am to take Sheila back to the Harlingen airport for her flight home. We got back home shortly before 6 am and had no trouble falling back asleep for several more hours.

On Sunday we went to the SPI Convention Center to do some shopping at the Marketplace. We met the Rykals, the Ehlenfeldts and some friends of the Ehlenfeldts (Ed and Teresa) there. After having explored all the booths at the Marketplace, we all headed to Louie’s Backyard for lunch. We then headed to LongBoard Bar & Grill where sat and enjoyed music by a husband and wife band.

Phil played pickleball on Monday morning. In the afternoon we headed to Boca Chica Beach and spent an hour walking up and down the beach. We were able to see the expansion to the SpaceX facility that has happened since we were in Brownsville last winter.

Phil spent most of Tuesday dealing with various medical and dental issues. We both played shuffleboard on Wednesday morning.

On Thursday, January 30th, the owners of Tropical Trails RV Park, Hill and Donelle Dishman, hosted a happy hour at their condo at the Boardwalk Yacht Club on South Padre Island. Their home was beautifully decorated and included a tiki bar in the lower level. After the happy hour, we all headed across the road to Gabriella’s Italian Restaurant. The food was very good and we had a good time getting to know some more of our neighbors.

We participated in a shuffleboard tournament on Friday afternoon. We played four games but, unfortunately, did not come away with any of the prize money.

On Saturday we drove to Donna, TX and strolled through the Don-Wes Flea Market and made a few purchases. We then headed across the border to Nuevo Progresso for a late lunch.

Phil spent the following Monday and Tuesday prepping for his colonoscopy. The combination of prepping for the procedure and needing to be at the surgical center at 6:15 am Wednesday kept Phil up all Tuesday night watching five episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. The procedure went smoothly. As usual, the prep was worse than the actual exam. Upon returning home, we both slept a long time.

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All ready to go

The high winds kept us from doing much over the next few days.   On Thursday afternoon we drove to downtown Brownsville with the intention of having dinner at the Made in Mexico Festival.  Unfortunately the neighborhood was quite seedy and didn’t appear to be where we’d want to be after dark.  We wandered around the block but decided it wasn’t worth paying the $5 admission.  Instead, we headed back to Russo’s Pizzeria for dinner.

On Friday afternoon we went over to Winter Haven RV Park and had dinner with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts.

Sunday was Leslie Verhaeghe’s birthday and her husband, Jim, had planned a surprise campfire for her. Unfortunately, the strong winds made a campfire a no-go so, instead, we all met in the Amenity Center and ate birthday cake and played games. We learned a couple of new games: Golf and Zonk. Golf is a 9-round card game and Zonk is a variation of Farkle, played with six dice.

The wind on Monday was so strong that Phil could barely manage to get our door open. We are really getting tired of the wind and are already thinking of spending next winter elsewhere. The one excitement for the day came when a herd of goats found their way into the campground. Jim Verhaeghe and his dog, Vader, responded quickly and shepherded them back to where they belonged.

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On Tuesday, February 11th, we joined a group from Tropical Trails for a trip to the Heritage Museum in downtown Brownsville. We attended a lecture by a history professor from UTRGV. The lecture covered Mexican history from their independence from Spain in 1821 until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The professor discussed the factors that kept Mexico from evolving as successfully as the US after obtaining their independence. We learned a lot about Santa Anna who served as president or military-backed dictator 11 times from 1833-1855. Apparently Santa Anna quickly grew bored of being president and would frequently relinquish power to his vice-president, only to change his mind shortly thereafter.

Short Stop in the Texas Hill Country (Dec. 28, 2019 – Jan. 12, 2020)

On Saturday, December 28th, we left Goodlettsville, TN and drove 270 miles to Forrest City, AR where we spent the night at Delta Ridge RV Park. Heavy rain had been forecast for the entire day but, fortunately, we only got light drizzle until we were set up at the campground. Then the skies opened up and we had torrential rain all evening.

On Sunday, we drove 235 miles to Texarkana, TX where we spent two nights at Shady Pines RV Park. This was our fifth stay at Shady Pines and, as usual, we used this layover to get our annual vehicle inspections on the truck and trailer.

On Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, we drove about 285 miles to Elm Mott, TX (outside of Waco) where we spent the night at I-35 RV Park. We had hoped that our route would bypass Dallas but our GPS took us all the way to the edge of downtown Dallas. Then, due to new highway construction, the GPS had Phil in the wrong lane to make the turn to head south. We continued on on I-30 until we found a different highway to the south. It was quite stressful and an experience we will try to avoid in the future. This was our first stay at I-35 RV Park and it was quite nice for an overnight stay. They provide free made-to-order breakfasts that were quite good, albeit a little slow.

On Wednesday, we drove 215 miles to Kerrville where we spent nine nights at Buckhorn Lake Resort. The weather during our stay was surprising nice for January. Although the nighttime temps dropped slightly below freezing a few times, the daytime highs were mostly in the 60s.

Our sole reason for this visit to Kerrville was so Jan could see her HMO doctor and Phil could get his dentist’s final signoff on the implant he got last February. We took care of both of these appointments on Monday, January 6th. Other than Phil playing pickleball every morning, we really didn’t do much else during our stay. We did a 80-mile scenic drive through the Hill Country one day and visited Enchanted Rock State Natural Area another day. When we arrived at Enchanted Rock, we expected to hike the Summit Trail but encountered a sign that said the trail was closed. It appeared that we would be limited to hiking the loop trail around the perimeter of the rock. However, as we began our hike, we could see other people at the summit so, after almost circling the rock, we hiked up the side of the rock to the summit. We descended along the Summit Trail and never did see any reason why the trail would have been closed.

Our original travel plans had called for us to spend the weekend of January 10-12 in Austin, visiting Jan’s nieces, Brittany and Katie, and Brittany’s husband, Caleb. However, when the girls expressed an interest in spending the day in Fredericksburg, we cancelled our Austin reservation and booked a campsite at The Vineyards of Fredericksburg for the weekend. On Friday, January 10th, we made the 35-mile move from Kerrville. Although the winds were gusting during our move, the storm held off until we were settled into our new site and had lunch at West End Pizza Company. However, when the storm did arrive later that afternoon, it was quite intense. The winds were fierce and there was plenty of thunder and lightning. We watched out our living room window as a 15-minute hailstorm pounded Jan’s car but, fortunately, the hailstones never got big enough to do any body damage.

The weather was better on Saturday. Brittany, Katie and Caleb arrived from Austin shortly after noon and we had lunch at the Rathskellar Restaurant where we all had German food. Then, the girls went off to explore the many shops along Fredericksburg’s Main Street and the guys headed to National Museum of the Pacific War. This museum, the only one of its kind in the Continental U.S., is centered on World War II’s Pacific campaign. The tickets are valid for 48 hours and one could easily spend two full days exploring all the many exhibits and media presentations. Unfortunately, Phil and Caleb only had three hours available until the museum closed so they had to move along fairly quickly. They both learned a great deal about the many battles to capture remote islands throughout the Pacific. When the museum closed, the guys met up with the girls again at the Auslander Restaurant and Biergarten where we relaxed and enjoyed drinks and snacks.

 

Christmas in Tennessee (December 11 – 28, 2019)

We had intended to leave Gulf Shores on December 9th but, when we couldn’t find reservations in the Huntsville, AL area, we decided to stay two more days. On Wednesday, the 11th, we drove 150 miles and spent two nights at Sherling Lake Campground in Greenville, AL. This was the same campground we had stayed at on our trip to Gulf Shores in late October. We got the same pull-through site as before (#40). It had rained for all of our previous stay so we hoped for better weather this time. Unfortunately that was not the case, so we spent most of our stay indoors.

On Friday, we drove 340 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent 15 nights at Grand Ole RV Resort, our go-to private campground in the Nashville area where we had stayed numerous times before. We left Greenville early in the morning so we could reach Nashville before rush hour. Although we reached Nashville at 2 pm, the traffic was already bad but we managed to get through it. Jason came over in the evening and brought us lots of mail and packages that we had had delivered to his house.

On Saturday morning, we drove to Montgomery Bell State Park and watched Jason, Jarrod, Jess, and their friend Matt and his girlfriend run in the Bell Ringer 15K race. After the race, we had burgers for lunch at M.L. Rose in Nashville.

On Sunday, Jason, Jarrod and Jess came over for spaghetti dinner.

We had received notice from La-Z-Boy that the two recliners we had ordered in October were available for delivery. However, since the delivery people were not allowed to take away old furniture, we had to find a place to dispose of our old recliners. Fortunately we were able to fit the recliners in the back of Jan’s SUV and we dropped them off on Monday, one at a time, at Goodwill. We spent the next two days cleaning the living room carpet in anticipation of the delivery of the new furniture on Thursday.

On Friday, December 20th, we went to Extra Space Storage in Nashville and rented a 5’ x 5’ storage unit. We had been sharing a 5’ x 10’ unit with Jarrod and Jess for the past two years but, with them moving to Denver after Christmas and taking most of their stuff, we were able to downsize to a smaller unit that we will continue to share.

On Saturday, Jan had a get-together with many of her high school friends at Cracker Barrel in Dickson, TN.

On Sunday, we met Brenda and Philip Dunlap and Jason in downtown Nashville and had dinner at Woolworth on 5th. After dinner, we and the Dunlaps went to the Ryman Auditorium for a Christmas concert by Amy Grant and Vince Gill.

On Christmas morning, we met Jason at Jarrod and Jess’ apartment and had a delicious breakfast, then opened presents. We all then went to Beaman Park Nature Center and hiked a 3-mile loop. After the hike, we drove to our campground and enjoyed sitting outside in the beautiful weather. For dinner, we had our traditional Honeybaked ham and our favorite side dishes. There were plenty of leftovers for everyone.

On Friday, December 27th, we drove to Camden, TN for the annual Madden family lunch at Country & Western Steak House. There was quite a large turnout, including infant Elena Fuentes who drew a lot of attention. After lunch, we stopped by the courthouse to drop off Sheila’s present.

Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 11, 2019)

On Friday, November 1st, we drove 145 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we will spend a little more than five weeks at Gulf State Park. We had reserved site #197, a pull-through site that was just two sites down from where we parked on our previous stay. We will be there for the month of November but will have to relocate for the final eight days of our stay. Two other couples, Tom and Roxi Rykal and Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt, who we had met last winter at Palmdale RV Park in the Rio Grande Valley, were also spending the month of November at Gulf State Park.

On Saturday morning we rode our bikes around the park and stopped at the butterfly garden. We had a trail map but it didn’t include the campground roads so it was difficult to know how to get back home. After riding around in circles for a while, Jan fortunately spotted our rig down the road.

Later that afternoon, we joined the other couples at Flora-Bama, a large, multi-stage entertainment venue on the Florida/Alabama state lines. We watched a performance by Big Earl and his band. They were very talented musicians and humorous, albeit off-color, entertainers. After listening to a couple of sets, we all headed across the road for a late dinner at the grill.

On Sunday we rode our bikes to the beach and walked along the gulf shoreline. The water was surprisingly warm and we enjoyed wading in the surf.

On Monday Phil visited Bayside Orthopedics to get treatment for his shoulder that had been hurting for about a month. He was relieved to learn that the pain is most likely the result of bursitis, rather than a rotator cuff tear. He received a cortisone shot and was referred to a physical therapist in Gulf Shores. That afternoon, Dave and Jo Peterson, another couple we had met last winter at Palmdale, arrived for three nights and dropped by our site to visit.

Tuesday morning we rode our bikes again and stopped over at Tom and Roxi’s site. The other two couples were already there so we spent about an hour socializing before resuming our ride. That afternoon we returned to Flora-Bama to play bingo. We had known Dave and Jo were planning to visit Flora-Bama but were surprised when we all arrived at the same time. The four of us spent a couple of hours playing bingo. The games were free and the number caller was quite entertaining, although somewhat hard to understand. Jan ended up winning twice and getting two half-off certificates for the restaurant where we had dined on Saturday night.

On Wednesday morning we returned to the beach and strolled up to the pier. The surf was rougher than it had been on Sunday. We had to be careful to avoid stepping on several large jellyfish washed up on the beach.

That afternoon we got together with the other three couples. The boys headed into town and visited a local microbrewery, Big Beach Brewery Co., while the girls stayed at the campground and had a wine tasting party. Upon joining up again, we all gathered around the central fire pit near the Rykals’ and Ehlenfeldts’ sites. Later, we moved to the Rykal’s picnic table for a pot luck dinner, before returning to the fire pit for more socializing.

On Saturday, November 9th, we drove to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and attended the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts. This was the final show of the 2019 season for the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. In addition to seeing the Blue Angels , we watched demonstrations by F-16 and VFA-125 fighter jets as well as precision flying and aerobatics in vintage WWII planes and other planes. We were glad we had chosen to go on Saturday rather than Friday because the weather was perfect, whereas Friday’s weather had been cold and windy.

After the air show, we drove to the grill at Flora-Bama to watch the Wisconsin–Iowa football game, since the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts are from Wisconsin. The restaurant was packed and, although the restaurant had dozens of TVs showing college football, almost every one of them was showing the LSU-Alabama game. Fortunately the manager was from Wisconsin so he had one TV showing the game we wanted. He was very helpful in getting us a couple of tables by that TV so we were able to watch the Wisconsin victory.

We kept busy over the next few weeks, both in the state park and in the neighboring communities. The weather was quite nice most days so we were able to ride our bikes frequently. We had numerous get-togethers with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals, including celebrating Beth’s birthday at Crab Trap. We returned twice to Flora-Bama to play Bingo and Jan won a game each time. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we went ahead and reserved a site at Gulf State Park for November 2020. A week later, we also reserved the site for December 2020.

The days around Thanksgiving brought us a lot of activity. We shared a Thanksgiving feast with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals. Sadly, Todd’s mother had passed away a couple of days earlier so Todd and Beth had to depart immediately after our meal to head back to Wisconsin. Our sons, Jason and Jarrod, arrived that afternoon and we headed to the beach in time to see the sunset.

On Friday, November 29th, we rented a couple of additional bikes for the guys and rode all the way to Tacky Jacks in Orange Beach, where we had appetizers. Jan’s cousin, Lori Davis, and Lori’s husband, Bruce, arrived Friday afternoon and stayed until Sunday at the Hampton Inn in Orange Beach. Jan’s high school friend, Donna Ditges, and her husband, John, also arrived on Friday afternoon and stayed at Gulf State Park, two sites away from ours. The Davises and Ditgeses joined us at our campsite and we socialized until it was time for dinner. All of us, except the Ditgeses, headed to Papa Rocco’s for pizza and entertainment by Charles “Bo” Grant. Bo Grant is a former member of the 50’s and 60’s doo-wop group, the Platters. Bo was the last performer to replace an original member of the Platters and toured with the group from 1984 to 1998. We had seen him at Papa Rocco’s two weeks earlier and Jan had told him she would be back on her 60th birthday and hoped he would sing Sixty Candles (Jan’s version of the original song, Sixteen Candles). Unfortunately, Bo’s scheduled appearance on the 30th was canceled so we had to go on the 29th instead. As before, we had a great time singing the oldies along with Bo. He remembered Jan and did serenade her, albeit with the original version of Sixteen Candles.

On Saturday morning, we, and our sons, drove to the Hampton Inn and walked along the beach with Lori and Bruce. That afternoon we hosted a get-together at our site with the Davises, Ditgeses and Rykals. The men watched various college football games on the TVs, inside and out, while the women socialized. That evening, we were joined by the Davises and Ditgeses for Jan’s birthday dinner at Fin & Fork.