On Monday, November 1st, we drove 226 miles from Livingston, LA to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent a month at Gulf State Park. Our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Roxi and Tom Rykal, had arrived shortly before we did. Todd and Tom helped guide Phil into our back-in site. We spent the month in site #13, the same site as last year. We had a beautiful view of the lake, although the wind off the lake sometimes made it too cool for sitting outside very long. The Rykals were our next-door neighbors and the Ehlenfeldts were in our same circle, a stone’s throw away.
This was the fourth year in which we visited Gulf State Park for at least part of November. It was also the second time we joined the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals for the full month of November. As a result, we quickly fell into a routine that, although it didn’t include a lot of new experiences, was quite enjoyable. Most mornings Jan went for long walks or bike rides, while Phil went to the Orange Beach Recreation Center to play pickleball for 2-3 hours. Phil joined Jan for bike rides on the weekends when he didn’t have pickleball. We saw lots of wildlife, including Lefty (a large gator whose nickname reflects his missing right foot), a baby bobcat and a snake.
Most afternoons, we got together for a happy hour with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals. Our social group expanded to include Rob and Judy, who the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals had met last winter in Arizona, and Scott and Gail, Rob and Judy’s neighbors in the campground. Although most days we just sat around and chatted, we sometimes used these get-togethers to play games, such as cornhole, LCR and Chase the Ace.
We joined the Rykals one afternoon for a trip to Flora-Bama to play bingo. However, Sam, the bingo caller, spent too much time telling the same jokes we’ve heard many years before and only got through three games in 2 ½ hours. We won’t be returning any time soon.
One day, Jan drove all the ladies to Fairhope for a girls’ day out and spent the day shopping and dining. Phil got together that afternoon with Tom and Todd for a visit to the Big Beach Brewing Company.
Jan joined Beth and the Rykals one day to observe the release of a loggerhead sea turtle at the local beach. The turtle had been rescued at Gulf State Park in August and had undergone rehabilitation at the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, MS.
Promptly at 8 a.m. on November 15th, Gulf State Park opened a link on their website to allow people to book reservations for the 2022-2023 winter months. Phil clicked on the link exactly when it opened and submitted the completed form in 101 seconds. Despite this, we were #264 in the queue and were unable to get either of our requested sites (#13 and #11) for next November and December. However, we were able to reserve site #12, where the Rykals are staying this month but had decided to change sites for next year. None of us know whether we will actually return next year but we have until August 1st to cancel our reservations.
At one of our happy hours, Phil mentioned that Jan makes great fried chicken and Tom said he loves fried chicken. This led to plans to have Jan fry some chicken for Tom on November 16th. As the story spread, the group for dinner grew to ten people. Tom cut up two whole chickens and Beth provided some additional pieces. Jan fried all that chicken using her cast iron skillet and two electric fry pans. The other families provided assorted side dishes and desserts. We had a delicious meal, sitting around tables set up in the Rykals’ driveway.
On Thursday, November 18th, we rode with the Elhenfeldts to Fort Morgan, where we boarded the Mobile Bay Ferry to Dauphin Island. Rob and Judy drove separately and brought their dog, Lucy. The ferry ride lasted about 35 minutes and took us past numerous oil rigs. Upon our arrival, we attempted to drive to the west end beaches but we were turned back due to continuing clean-up from Hurricane Ike that hit in early September. Instead, we drove to the public beach in the middle of the island. After walking along the beach and watching Lucy chase her ball, we headed to the Islanders Restaurant for lunch. The food was very good but the service was somewhat slow. After lunch, we rushed back to the ferry and arrived just as they were getting ready to pull out. We managed to get the last available slot on the ferry. After reaching the mainland, we stopped at Tacky Jacks Two.
On Saturday, we picked up Jason at the Pensacola airport for his weeklong stay with us. We celebrated his 39th birthday (the day before) that evening.
On Sunday, we hosted the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts, diehard Green Bay Packer fans, to watch the Vikings – Packers game on our outside TV. The game was very close. Phil was the only one happy with the outcome, with the Vikings winning by three on the final play.
Thursday, November 25th, was Thanksgiving Day. We picked up Jarrod and Jess at the Pensacola airport and returned to our campground for the holiday festivities. At 1 pm, we gathered on the field inside our circle for some games of cornhole. We then moved to the Ehlenfeldts’ site for dinner. The five couples, plus Jason, Jarrod and Jess, gave us 13 for our Thanksgiving meal. We had agreed ahead of time what each family would bring. There was plenty of food and quite a variety. After eating, Jason, Jarrod and Jess left to check in at the condo where they would be staying for three nights. When they returned, they joined us and the rest of the group around the propane firepit at the Rykals’ site.
On Friday, the kids came back over and headed off to rent some bikes for two days. They then took off for a nearly 14-mile bike ride with Jan. Phil had to stay behind to wait for the DirecTV technician to come fix a recurring problem we’d had with our satellite TV reception for nearly a year. We got a new receiver and wireless video bridge but it took the technician over 2 ½ hours to resolve his installation issues. When the riders returned, the guys helped Phil finish installing tire guards in our bike tires to provide protection from punctures. Unfortunately, one of the inner tubes on Jan’s bike sprung a leak, necessitating a trip to WalMart for a replacement.
That evening, we picked up the kids at their condo and headed to the Beach House for dinner. After dinner, we returned to the condo and played a couple of games of Farkle.
On Saturday, the kids rode their bikes over for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes. Then, Phil took the kids up to the tennis courts and taught Jarrod and Jess to play pickleball. With both being athletic, they caught on quickly. Jan joined us and we all went for a 12-mile bike ride.
We then headed to Doc’s Seafood and the kids treated Jan to an early birthday dinner. We each ordered seafood platters and all but Jan shared a tray of oysters on the half shell.
After dinner, we stopped at The Wharf for some pictures by the Christmas tree. Despite being stuffed from our meal, we stopped and picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecake for later. We dropped by the condo to play Farkle but retired early due to our busy day.
We woke to our alarm clocks at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday. We picked up Jason at 5:15 and drove him to the Pensacola airport. We got back home at 7 am but had to leave again at 10:30 to drive Jarrod and Jess to the Pensacola airport. We took it easy the rest of the day, although Tom, Roxi and Beth dropped by to watch some of the second half of the Packers game when Tom lost the TV signal at his rig.
On Monday, November 29th, we began packing up for our departure on Wednesday. We gathered at the Beach House with the four other couples for one last happy hour, since three of the couples were leaving on Tuesday morning, and also to have another early birthday celebration for Jan.
Tuesday was Jan’s birthday so, after playing pickleball in the morning, Phil took Jan to Fairhope and Foley to do some shopping. We then had Jan’s birthday dinner at Lambert’s Café, known for their “throwed rolls.” We both ordered sandwiches, which came with sides, as well as “pass arounds.” Throughout the meal, servers walked around the restaurant with these “pass arounds,” large pots of fried okra, fried potatoes, cabbage, and macaroni and tomatoes, and would give you as much as you wanted. In addition, a server would walk around with a tray of huge rolls and would throw one to you if you wanted one. The food was very good and, needless to say, we both overate.