Alabama, at Last (November 9 – December 31, 2020)

Hurricane Sally ravaged the Gulf Shores, AL area in September, resulting in the delayed availability of our site at Gulf State Park until November 12.  On Monday, November 9th, we finally headed to Alabama.  We drove 159 miles to Cullman, AL and spent the night at Cullman Campground.  Although the road leading to the campground was quite rough, the campground itself was quite nice. 

That afternoon, we drove into Cullman and visited the Ave Maria Grotto on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, the only Benedictine monastery of men in the State of Alabama.  The Grotto consists of a landscaped hillside of 125 small stone and cement structures, the handiwork of Brother Joseph Zoetl, a monk of the Abbey for almost 70 years.

We began our visit by viewing a 15-minute video on the life of Brother Joseph.  We then strolled through the Grotto.  Brother Joseph was born in Bavaria in 1878 and came to the newly-founded St. Bernard Abbey in 1892.  When not shoveling coal into the furnaces of the Abbey power house and spending four hours a day in prayer, Brother Joseph took time to construct miniature replicas of historic structures using stone, concrete, and unwanted donated materials (e.g., broken plates, costume jewelry, ceramic tile, beads, marbles, seashells, etc.).  Of all the replicas constructed, he had only actually seen about six.  All the others were constructed from photographs or from printed descriptions.

On Tuesday, we drove 255 miles to Atmore, AL where we spent two nights at the Wind Creek Casino RV Park.  The RV park consists of 28 pull-though sites and was quite nice, especially given the already low rate that was discounted another 25%.  The casino offered $10 food vouchers for each new Rewards member so we headed there for our free dinner.  After eating at the Grill, we tried our luck on the slot machines, with mixed results.  We returned to the casino on Wednesday, again with mixed results on the slots.  However, considering the $20 in food, the two days netted us a loss of only $8; not bad for two days of entertainment.

That evening, we heard from Gulf State Park.  Although they confirmed our site availability on Thursday, they informed us that the site wouldn’t be ready until 4 pm.  This was a problem since we were only 82 miles away.  On Thursday morning, we waited until the last minute and left the Wind Creek Casino RV Park at 11 am.  Even with a couple of stops along the way, we arrived in Gulf Shores at 1:30 pm.  We parked at Wal-Mart and killed time until 4.  When we were finally able to check in, we discovered that most of the nearby sites were unoccupied.  This made it easier for us to get into our back-in spot and provided us with great views of the lake.

Saturday was the 40th anniversary at Tacky Jack’s and they were offering food specials and prizes.  We decided to head there for an early dinner but it turned out not to be as early as we had planned.  There were plenty of others who had also decided to come for the celebration,  We were told it would be an hour-long wait for a table.  It was a beautiful day and we waited on the deck overlooking the bay.  Unfortunately, the great weather kept people at their tables longer than expected and our predicted hour-long wait extended to two hours.  We wouldn’t have stayed had we known the length of the actual wait but, after investing an hour, we decided to stick it out.  To make matters worse, we didn’t even win a prize.

Over the next week, we dodged a health scare.  Jan developed sinus congestion, a bad cough and a headache that lasted for days.  She lost her voice several mornings.  Phil had similar symptoms, but not as severe.  Although the symptoms were consistent with the common cold, many of them were also consistent with COVID-19.  We also learned that Jason’s housemate, who we had hosted for dinner our last night in TN, had caught the virus.  Since we had family coming for Thanksgiving, we decided we should get tested for COVID.  We found two CVS stores in Pensacola where we could get tested for free on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t both get appointments at the same store.  After Phil got tested at the first store, we drove four miles to the next store where Jan was tested.  Phil got his results two days later and it was negative.  Jan had to wait another two days but also got a negative result.  We both continued to feel under the weather but were relieved to know it wasn’t COVID.

Phil had continued to experience discomfort in his left shoulder, seriously impacting his ability to sleep.  The condition had started in September 2019 but had gotten more painful in recent months.  He had seen an orthopedic surgeon when we were in Gulf Shores in November 2019 and scheduled another appointment with him a few days after our arrival this year.  Unlike in 2019, the orthopedic surgeon now considered it likely that Phil had a rotator cuff tear and it would require surgery.  On Thursday, November 19th, Phil had an MRI on the shoulder.  The following Monday, Phil returned to see the doctor and was relieved to find out that there was no tear.  The doctor prescribed several weeks of physical therapy while we are in Gulf Shores and then a regimen of at-home exercises after that.  We are hopeful that that will help. 

Although the campground was about 20% occupied when we arrived on November 12th, the occupancy continued to build over the following week.  While the occupancy was still well below the same period in 2019, more than half of the sites appeared full as we approached Thanksgiving week.

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