As we entered month two of our stay in Summerfield, FL, we had settled into a regular routine that included walking, tai chi and yoga for Jan and pickleball for Phil. We both continued to attend weekly beginner line dancing classes. Although we still struggled to remember what steps go with each dance, they were becoming more familiar to us.
We continued to explore various RV parks in the area for possible stays next winter for us and/or our friends. On February 5th, our travels brought us back to Inverness and we stopped for a late lunch at Stumpknockers. We ate indoors and enjoyed the décor on the walls. That evening, we attended a fireside social at the campground but it was rained out within the first 15 minutes. The following night, we went to the community center and listened to the Beachbillies Band. Jan practiced her line dancing skills with some of the other campers.
Jason arrived in Orlando on Saturday, February 13th for a weeklong visit. Although it was rainy many of the days, it was definitely better than in Nashville, where they had extremely cold and snowy weather. On Sunday, we drove to The Villages and attended a crafts fair at the Spanish Springs Town Square. After visiting the many booths, we relaxed in the square and listened to live music. We then drove through numerous neighborhoods to show Jason what The Villages was all about.
On Tuesday, we drove to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. COVID had forced the closure of the visitor center, boats, reptile house and the underwater observatory, as well as cancellation of the educational programs. Despite this, there was plenty for us to see. We spent several hours on the Wildlife Walk. We saw several manatees and massive schools of fish gathered around the bridge and in the spring. In addition, we strolled the boardwalk and were able to see numerous species of mammals and birds in their natural habitats. Most of these animals had been rescued and are no longer able to survive in the wild. This included a hippo, gray wolf, foxes, a black bear, alligators, as well as eagles, owls, flamingos and many other types of birds.
On Thursday, February 18th, we drove two hours to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island. We began by visiting the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which had covered 126 million miles of space travel. After looking at numerous exhibits related to the space shuttle program, we did the Shuttle Launch Experience. This attraction is a flight simulator on par with what astronauts experienced in training. After riders are belted into their seats, the platform rises and seat rumblers and shakers rattle riders through the turbulent main engine start, the firing of the solid rocket boosters and then their separation over the next six minutes. Air bags in each seat sink and rise to capture the sensation of the 17,500-mph liftoff of a NASA shuttle.
Our next stop was at the IMAX theater where we watched the 3D movie, Journey to Space, and learned about designing space vessels for travel to Mars. We then went to Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted, where we learned more about future missions to Mars.
We next went through Heroes & Legends, which focused on the astronauts of the early space programs. We then walked through the Rocket Garden, containing rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
We had selected Thursday for our visit since that was the day the Perseverance rover was scheduled to land on Mars. Perseverance had been launched in July 2020 for its six-month journey to Mars and 2-year mission on the planet. Our final stop of the day was at the Atlantis North Lawn where we sat on the grass and watched the NASA TV live-stream on a large projection screen. We were able to observe the Mission Control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and listen to the live commentary as the rover approached and successfully landed on Mars. Watching the excitement of the JPL personnel during those critical last few minutes was quite captivating. Seeing the first pictures from the landing site was memorable.
For dinner, we stopped at the Island Waterfront Bar and Grill on Merritt Island. We sat on the patio which provided us with views of the river. We each had a different type of fish but were all very satisfied with our meals.
On December 31, 2020, we left Gulf State Park and began our trip to our home for Winter 2021. We drove 283 miles and spent the night at Deerfield Inn and Madison Campground in Madison, FL. This was not a campground where we would have normally stayed but we were only overnighting and the Passport America rate of $25 was hard to pass up. Our neighbor was quite chatty. We learned that he had been in his spot for 1 ½ years and it looked it. He has been diagnosed at two VA Hospitals as having a non-treatable cerebral aneurysm. He gave us each a crocheted cross that his wife makes for their neighbors. We were exhausted from our first drive in seven weeks and, despite it being New Year’s Eve, we were in bed by 10 pm Eastern time (only 9 pm in the Central time zone where we began our day).
On New Year’s Day 2021, we drove 148 miles to Summerfield, FL where we had reserved a site at Sunkissed RV Resort for three months. The campground, which is only in its second year, is very nice. Our pull-through site is quite long and on pavers. There is adequate room between us and our neighbors. Relatively light winds enabled us to use our awning screens for the first time, after having bought them from a former DRV owner three years ago.
Upon check-in, we were provided a schedule of activities that had the potential to keep us quite busy. In our first week, we attended a welcome coffee, a bar-b-que and a beginning line dancing class. Phil played pickleball most mornings, while Jan walked around the campground and attended tai chi and beginner yoga classes.
Our campground is only five miles from the master-planned community known as The Villages. The Villages, with a population of 123,000, consists of 64 neighborhoods in several counties. Sumter County has the highest median age in the country, averaging age 67. At least 80 percent of the homes within The Villages are required to house a resident of age 55 or older. Family and friends under the age of 19 are not permitted to stay for longer than 30 days. The Villages are consistently ranked among the nation’s most popular active adult communities. The neighborhoods are all linked by golf cart paths and shopping centers that all have designated parking for golf carts. There are three old-fashioned town squares, with lots of restaurants, shopping and nightly free entertainment at each. On Sunday, we visited the Brownwood Paddock Square and dined outside at World of Beer. One of the things that amused us was the gas station designed just for golf carts.
On Saturday, January 9th, we did a road trip north of Ocala. Ocala has been deemed the “horse capital of the world.” After driving past tract after tract of horse properties, our first stop was in the picturesque town of McIntosh, FL. The streets of this small Victorian town, with a population of 490, are lined with a canopy of century-old live oak trees clothed in Spanish moss. Our next stop was in Micanopy, FL. Micanopy was the first town founded after Spain relinquished Florida to the United States in 1821. With a population of 669, Micanopy is primarily known for its authentic rustic storefronts and many antique shops. Like McIntosh, the streets are lined by huge live oak trees. We spent time visiting many of these shops and contributed to the local economy by making some purchases (but no antiques).
We then continued on to Cross Creek, FL and had a late lunch at The Yearling Restaurant. We both had catfish and it was extremely fresh and flaky.
After lunch, we drove less than a mile to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. We took a very informative guided tour of the M.K. Rawling’s farmhouse and learned a lot about her life. Rawling had found limited success as a romance writer prior to purchasing an orange orchard in Cross Creek in 1928. She began writing short stories based on her experiences at the new locale and received encouragement from a prominent editor at Scribner’s Magazine. Her first novel, South Moon Under, became the runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. Her third novel, The Yearling, earned her the Pulitzer and international acclaim. The movie based on this novel was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. When the Whippoorwill, a collection of short stories, preceded Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery. Rawling’s last book, The Sojourner, was published in 1953, shortly before her death. The property was bequeathed to the University of Florida and is now a Florida state historical park. Nearly all of the original furnishings are on display in the house.
On Sunday, we visited the Market of Marion. This enormous flea market has over 1,100 booths with more than 400 dealers. We wandered up and down all of the aisles and made a few purchases.
On Thursday, January 14th, we drove to Tampa and attended the Florida RV SuperShow at the Florida State Fairgrounds. We had attended this huge RV show several years ago, prior to buying our RV. This year’s show included over 850 RVs that were available to walk through. We mostly focused on the high-end fifth wheels, but also explored other types of RVs and park models. This included a $2.4 million Prevost motorcoach in which Jan enjoyed sitting behind the wheel. We also strolled through the two large exhibit halls and talked to many of the over 450 vendors who represented campgrounds, RV after-market suppliers, etc. We loaded our bag with lots of brochures and made several purchases. Although the admission ticket was good for two days, we were worn out after five hours of wandering around with masks on.
On Saturday night, we went to the clubhouse and listened to the Blackwater Bayou Band. The band was originally supposed to perform outdoors but cool weather moved them indoors. Although the acoustics in the clubhouse weren’t ideal, we enjoyed the show. COVID restrictions limit attendees to four people at a table but we were lucky to be able to sit with our friends, Kenny and Becky Swisher, who we had met last winter at Tropical Trails.
The balance of January was largely uneventful. Phil played pickleball most mornings. Jan continued with her tai chi and yoga classes, along with walks around the campground. She began to walk with some of the other ladies in the park, making this exercise more interesting. We continued to attend the weekly beginner line dancing classes and extended our lessons by following YouTube videos in our living room. Unfortunately, the lack of space made line dancing in the RV somewhat challenging. We also got together with Kenny and Becky a couple of Sunday afternoons for shuffleboard.
We continued to explore The Villages and the surrounding area. We even toured a couple of pool homes in The Villages. Although we really liked one of them, we decided we’re not yet ready to settle down and aren’t sure we want to live in Florida fulltime. We rented a documentary on The Villages, titled “Some Kind of Heaven.” It followed four individuals who had had a difficult time adjusting to life there. In all fairness, these people were quite dysfunctional and would have had issues regardless of where they lived.
After weeks of weighing our options, we finally decided to return to Florida next winter, rather than camp in Arizona. Once we reached this conclusion, Phil spent several days planning a route that would have us back in Gulf Shores, AL in November 2021 and somewhere in Florida beginning in December 2021. Since the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts, and Laurie Tamas had already decided to winter in Florida, and the Petersons were open to it, the challenge was to find an RV park that met each family’s needs. We checked out several RV parks in the area but, to date, have not found one that works for all. Todd Ehlenfeldt mentioned that he had been watching Preservation Point in Inverness, FL. Based on their website, Preservation Point is a pre-development RV park that is supposed to be opening in mid-2021. Jan called to set up an appointment with the sales office but their mailbox was full. On Friday, January 29th, we decided to drive to Inverness to check it out. Upon arriving at the address, we found no sales office or even a driveway. We did some brief exploration of downtown Inverness and then headed to nearby Dunnellon, where we ate an early dinner at Stumpknockers.
On Sunday, we went for our first hike in several months. We hiked a 6-mile loop in the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross-Florida Greenway, starting at the 49th Avenue Trailhead. The greenway contains many trails which are designated specifically for bike, horse or foot traffic. The first half of the hike was on a foot trail that was nicely blazed and somewhat hilly, a rarity for Florida. In fact, we heard a teenaged boy calling to his mother in mock surprise, “Look, a Florida hill!” The turnaround point of the hike was at the land bridge spanning I-75. The return portion of the loop was on a horse trail that was quite sandy. This trail was not well marked and, despite checking with the Alltrails GPS map frequently, we found ourselves off the trail several times. Fortunately, we only encountered one group of three riders.
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 an appointment with him again 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.
Phil researched pickleball venues in the area and settled on the Orange Beach Rec Center. They have six indoor courts, with four dedicated to intermediate players. He purchased a 15-visit pass and enjoyed playing most weekday mornings from 9 am to noon.
On Wednesday, November 25th, Jason, Jarrod and Jess arrived to spend Thanksgiving weekend with us. They had originally reserved a regular campsite at Gulf State Park, just a few sites away from ours. However, when Jan checked out the site, she discovered that it would have been unsatisfactory for tents. As an alternative, they booked a tent in the primitive camping area of the park. We hadn’t even been aware that this area existed. The primitive area consists of three large canvas tents and cots on wooden platforms, pit toilets, a water pump (although not drinkable) and a shower with unheated water. The other challenge was that these sites are not accessible by motor vehicle and are a 16-minute bike ride from our site. Although primitive camping wouldn’t be our thing, the kids enjoyed their stay there (except for the bug bites).
We had a turkey for Thanksgiving that Jan had arranged to get smoked at Moe’s BBQ. Moe’s offered a smoked turkey for $50 but, as an alternative, we bought our own 14-pound turkey at Publix for $7 and paid Moe’s $25 to smoke it for us. Combined with numerous side dishes and two pies, we had quite the Thanksgiving feast. The weather cooperated and enabled us to eat at the picnic table.
Jason, Jarrod and Jess rented bikes at the campground store. We made numerous rides around the park over the next few days. We saw quite a bit of wildlife on our rides. We visited The Wharf on Friday afternoon.
We got up early on Saturday morning to watch the kids run in a 5K race at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. Due to COVID concerns, the start was staggered. One 5K runner and one half marathon runner were started at three second intervals. Despite not training for the race, Jason and Jarrod came in first in their age brackets and Jess came in third in hers.
Jason fell very ill on Sunday afternoon and spent the night with us. He was feeling well enough on Monday to join us for an early dinner at Mikee’s Seafood to celebrate Jan’s birthday. The food was good and the portions were very large. After Mikee’s, we picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecakes to be eaten later that evening. Phil then drove Jarrod and Jess back to Pensacola airport for their flight home. Unfortunately, Jason had a relapse Monday night so Jan took him to Urgent Care on Tuesday morning. After a couple days of rest and medication, he was feeling well enough to work from our home the rest of the week.
On Thursday, December 3rd, Jan’s girlfriends came to Gulf Shores for four nights. Jan had rented a condo several months earlier. After Hurricane Sally battered the area, Jan had called the management company and was assured that the condo was still going to be available. Then, a week before the girlfriends were scheduled to arrive, the management company called Jan and told her that the condo was not yet habitable. She spent the next couple of days searching for another condo and managed to negotiate another one for the same cost. On Sunday, Jan took a break from her girl time and we drove Jason back to the Pensacola airport for his flight home.
On Friday, December 11th, we went for a 3-mile walk along the beach. We began at the pavilion and walked to the pier that had been partially destroyed by Hurricane Sally.
On Saturday evening, we parked along Canal Road and watched the Christmas Boat Parade. Although a lot of boats that had registered for the parade did not show up due to the heavy rainstorm at the start, there were still 20 boats that did participate. We stood on the bank of the canal and waved to the people on the decorated boats as they passed by.
On Friday, December 18th, we went to Flora-Bama to play bingo. Unfortunately, it was not as entertaining as in 2019. After the first game, we headed upstairs to the Main Room and watched live music by the LeaAnne Creswell Duo. On Saturday evening, we headed to Papa Rocco’s for pizza and entertainment by Bo Grant, formerly of The Platters. We had seen him twice in 2019.
The cooler and windier weather over the next week kept us close to home. Phil continued to attend physical therapy twice a week. Jan did manage to discover some wildlife on one of her bike rides.
Jason arrived on Christmas Eve and stayed with us for six nights. After having breakfast and opening presents on Christmas morning, we headed to the movie theater at The Wharf and saw the new Tom Hanks movie, News of the World. Then, we headed home to our huge Christmas dinner, consisting of Honey Baked Ham and lots of side dishes. On Saturday, we went to the OWA entertainment complex and attended the Legends in Concert show, A Merry Country Christmas. The cast included impersonators of Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and Elvis Presley.
On Monday, Jan and Jason went for a long walk on the beach. We all then went for dinner outdoors at LuLu’s.
Jason worked from the trailer on Tuesday and Wednesday and we got ready for our departure on Thursday. On Wednesday evening, we drove back to Pensacola to drop Jason off at the airport. His flight was delayed several times so we had time for a farewell dinner at Whataburger and a trip to Sam’s Club.
On Thursday, October 15th, we left Mt. Airy, NC and drove 136 miles to Blountsville, TN, where we spent a night at Rocky Top Campground. This small 55+ campground had a nice, level pull-through site for us, although it did require us pulling through an unused back-in site to reach our site. Other than doing our laundry, we didn’t do anything the rest of our stay.
On Friday, we drove 100 miles to Sevierville, TN, where we spent three nights at Duvall in the Smokies campground. We had been advised a few weeks earlier that this Saturday was the campground’s 3-year anniversary and they would be having a big celebration. We discovered that many of our fellow campers had attended previous anniversaries and, as a result, book this weekend a year in advance. Saturday’s celebration began at 10:15 am when we all boarded a double-decker tour bus. The temperature was in the upper 40s when we departed, which made for a chilly experience for us on the upper level. After driving through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge for an hour, we stopped at a local park for lunch. After lunch, we headed down scenic Wears Valley Road toward Townsend. The Smokies are a very popular destination in October and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper for the next couple of hours. When it became apparent that the remaining 2.5 miles would take over 45 minutes to complete, and since there hadn’t been a restroom stop since we left the campground, it was decided that they would turn the bus around. This was not easily done since the road was only single-lane in each direction and there were no shoulders. The driver attempted to back the bus into a driveway by pulling into the oncoming lane. Unfortunately, as the driver was blocking both lanes of traffic, the transmission would not catch in reverse. When the driver was finally able get into reverse, the passengers on the upper deck could see that he was headed into a ditch. Finally, to the relief of our passengers and the other drivers on the road, he got us turned around. We then headed to an ice cream shop and we were all treated to anything on the menu. By this point, it was five hours after we had left the campground and a trip to the bathroom was everyone’s highest priority. Unfortunately, they only had single-occupant men’s and women’s bathrooms so the lines were quite long. After ice cream, we returned to the campground and arrived around 4 pm. That evening, we had a cookout, followed by a country band who performed for a couple of hours. It was a very long, but enjoyable, day and was very generous of the owners.
After relaxing on Sunday, we moved again on Monday. We drove 25 miles to Anchor Down in Dandridge, TN where we spent a week attending the fall DOG (DRV Owner’s Group) gathering. We had attended this gathering in 2019 but had only been able to stay a few days then. We attended a meet-and-greet dinner hosted by our dealer, RVs for Less. Jason arrived that evening and spent six days with us, working from our living room for the rest of the workweek. Anchor Down is a beautiful campground and our site (#132) gave us a great view of Douglas Lake from our living room.
On Tuesday, we drove to Pigeon Forge and did some shopping at the Eddie Bauer store at Tanger Outlet. On Wednesday, we washed the rig and our cars. On Thursday, we took the scenic backroads to Smokie Mountains National Park and drove the 6-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The fall leaves were in full color. We saw five black bears near the road. Although this was fortuitous, it was also frustrating, since the cars in front of us would just sit where they spotted a bear and there was no opportunity to get around them. Once the bears disappeared, the traffic moved along more steadily.
During our drive from Sevierville to Dandridge on Sunday, we had passed a sign for a business that sold honey. On Friday, we returned to this business to buy some honey. One of the owners encouraged us to walk around their entire site, which we learned included 34 storage sheds containing antiques, crafts and gifts. It appeared that, although the owners were primarily in the business of selling storage units, they had also a sizable business selling other “stuff.” We ended up buying some honey, jelly and a braided throw rug.
On Saturday, Jason was able to join us for some sightseeing. We drove to Gatlinburg and, after fighting the heavy traffic, we decided to drive through McDonalds for a quick breakfast. It didn’t quite work that way. We got into the drive-through line at 10:30 am and crept along. It took over 30 minutes just to reach the point where we could order and, by then, the menu board had already switched to their lunch menu. We did manage to order three sausage biscuits but, by the time we had paid, it had taken 45 minutes. Our next stop was at the Gatlinburg Skylift Park. After waiting in very long lines, we boarded one of the yellow ski lift cars for a ride to the top of Crockett Mountain. At the summit, we walked across the 680’ pedestrian suspension bridge, the longest in North America. Midway across the bridge, we walked over glass panels 140’ above the ground.
After the skybridge, we drove the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail again and saw another black bear. We stopped a couple of times for photo ops, including a stop for lunch at one of the old homesteads.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, Jason left for his drive back to Nashville. We spent the rest of the day getting ready for moving on. On Monday, October 26th, we drove 40 miles to Heiskell, TN where we spent the night at the Escapee’s Raccoon Valley RV Park.
We had reserved a site at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL for the months of November and December. However, Hurricane Sally hit Gulf Shores directly in mid-September and this resulted in the park’s closure. In addition to severe damage to trees in the park, many of the electrical pedestals had been submerged and needed to be repaired to ensure their safety. On October 21st, we learned that our reserved site would tentatively be open on November 1st. However, on October 26th, we learned that, due to the contractor’s inability to obtain the parts needed to make the required repairs, we would not be able to occupy our site until November 12th.
On Tuesday, we arrived at our dealer, RVs for Less, for a list of needed repairs. Although most of the items on our list were relatively minor, there were several that really needed to be addressed right away. The weather forecast called for two days of heavy rain, making it uncertain when the repairs could be completed. A few issues were addressed on Tuesday but rain on Wednesday resulted in no further progress. The weather improved somewhat on Thursday and Ken Rife, the General Manager, told us they should be able to finish the repairs that afternoon. Since we were required to be out of our rig while work was being done, we left for a road trip. We drove down Wears Valley Road, then took the scenic Foothills Parkway and continued on to Maryville. Jan had found an article listing the best communities in Tennessee for retirees and Maryville was one of them. We liked what we saw and will check it out further in the future.
Unfortunately, on Friday morning, we learned that we would need to wait for some parts that were scheduled to arrive later in the day. We decided to take a road trip to Farragut, TN, another recommended community for retirees. It was also very impressive, although the houses we saw with the greatest wow factor would never be affordable by us. When we returned to the dealer, we learned that the parts had arrived but had not yet been installed. We agreed to spend the weekend on the lot, with the expectation that the remaining work would be done on Monday morning.
On Saturday, we drove to Norris Dam State Park and hiked the 3-mile Observation Point loop trail. The trail led to an overlook with a view of the Norris Dam and the Clinch River. The dam’s construction in the mid-1930s was the first major project for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
On Sunday, we drove to Knoxville and hiked a 3.5-mile loop within the William Hastie Natural Area. The loop consisted of the View Park, Yellow Jacket and Sink Hole trails. The trails zig-zagged repeatedly and required frequent checks of the GPS to keep us on the desired route. The three trails are popular with mountain bikers and are all rated as “very difficult.” Although there were no viewpoints along the trails, there was a 20’-deep sink hole on the Sink Hole trail.
The final repairs were completed on Monday but, when the bill hadn’t been finalized by 3 pm, we got approval to spend another night on the lot. We finally got back on the road on Tuesday morning and drove 125 miles to Old Mill Camp at Cummins Falls in Cookeville, TN. Tuesday was election day and we were anxious to see the results that evening. Since we knew the campground was heavily wooded, we were unsure whether we would be able to get a satellite signal. After analysis of the online campground map and the Google Earth app, we reserved the site that appeared to be most open. When we arrived, we raised the satellite dish before unhitching to make sure we could get a clear signal. After circling around for quite a while, the dish finally locked in on the satellite and we knew we could proceed with getting set up. We stayed up until after midnight watching election results but, when it was obvious there would be no final decision that evening, we went to sleep.
Our campground was located across the street from Cummins Falls State Park. On Wednesday, we hiked a 2.5-mile loop from our campsite to Cummins Falls, with its 75-foot drop. Our return took us past some dilapidated structures from the John Cummins estate. John Cummins acquired the land in 1825 and built two water-driven mills on the property. The land stayed in the Cummins family for more than 180 years before being acquired by the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation.
On Thursday, November 5th, we drove 94 miles to Goodlettsville, TN, where we spent four nights at Grand Ole RV Resort. The campground had expanded since we were there in the spring. Due to uncertainty of the length of our stay at RVs for Less, we had waited to make reservations. This resulted in us being assigned to a pull-through site along the entrance road. Although not an ideal location, it served the purpose and wasn’t as noisy as we feared.
Jason joined us for dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, we drove to Camden and had a catfish lunch at Country & Western with Sheila Gaskin. On Sunday, Jason and his housemate, Steve Lilly, joined us for dinner and the warm weather enabled us to eat outside.
After leaving Moodus, CT on Thursday, October 8th, we drove 270 miles to Catawissa, PA where we spent three nights at J & D Campground. Although the drive was mostly on interstates, it was slower than expected due to many work zones and one major backup. The campground is located a short distance from Knoebels Amusement Resort, where they hold a large Covered Bridge and Arts Festival this weekend each year. The festival was cancelled this year due to COVID but the campground was still requiring a 3-night stay. Our site was one of only a few pull-throughs in a very large campground. After having stayed in nearly-empty campgrounds in MA and CT, it was quite a change to be back in a full campground.
We spent Friday doing routine chores, such as laundry, grocery shopping and getting Jan’s hair cut. We did stop to see two of the 28 covered bridges in Columbia and Montour counties. The first was the 185-foot-long Rupert Bridge, originally built in 1847 and restored in 2000-01. The second one was the 99-foot-long Wanich Bridge, constructed in 1884.
We spent Saturday with Ken and Cathy Bentz, two friends we met during our trip to Alaska in 2018. We met the Bentzes in Ashland, PA and toured the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine. This anthracite coal mine operated from 1911 until 1931. When the business closed, all the equipment was stored in the cave and the entrances were blasted closed. While they had hoped to resume mining someday, that never happened. In 1961, Ashville officials came up with the idea of re-opening the mine for tourists. They had a small budget so, other than re-timbering the shafts, the mine appears largely as it did in 1931.
Our tour began with a short ride on a narrow-gauge steam train. The train was used years ago to haul coal bins but now pulls passengers alongside Mahanoy Mountain. We got to see where coal was originally recovered using strip mining and a “wildcat mine” where out-of-work miners would illegally dig for coal during the Great Depression. Our guide explained that the State of Pennsylvania had decided to reclaim the strip mines by filling them with trash and, then, burning the trash. This led to a disastrous result in neighboring Centralia, PA when one of these landfill fires hit a vein of coal in 1962 and is still burning underground today. The government was forced to buy out and relocate almost all the landowners. Centralia’s population has dropped from 1,500 in 1962 to 6 diehards today.
The next part of the tour involved riding into the tunnel on mine cars that were rebuilt to carry passengers. Our guide, an experienced miner, led us down gangways to see veins of coal, manways and coal chutes. He explained the dangerous process for mining this coal, employing many children as young as 10-years-old, working 12-hour-days, six days a week.
After leaving Ashland, we drove to Pottsville, PA. We ate lunch at Wheel, a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant. Each diner gets to design their own grilled cheese sandwich, using over 85 ingredients. We each selected our own bread, cheese, protein, toppings, dipping sauce and side. They were delicious!
We then toured the Yuengling brewery. Yuengling was established in 1829 and is America’s oldest brewery. Our guide took us through the plant that has been operating since 1831, after the first plant was destroyed by fire. We walked through caves that had been hand-dug into the mountain by out-of-work coal miners and were used for beer fermentation before refrigeration. We could see remnants of the brick walls used by the government to seal off the brewery during Prohibition. Our tour guide explained the brewing process and she led us through the brew house, racking room, packaging room and Rathskeller. The tour ended with free tastings and, of course, the gift shop. We ended up buying a case of one of their new products, a Hershey’s Chocolate beer.
It was a fun day and we really enjoyed seeing Ken and Cathy again.
On Sunday, we drove 240 miles to New Market, VA where we spent the night at Endless Caverns Campground. Endless Caverns accepted Passport America so our site only cost $29 for the night. It started raining as we entered Virginia and continued to rain for the next 24 hours. The campground looked lovely but, due to the weather, we stayed in our rig the whole time.
On Monday, we drove 240 miles to Mount Airy, NC where we spent three nights at Mayberry Campground. This campground also offered the half-off Passport America discount for two of the nights, so our total cost for the three-night stay was only $78. Our pull-through site sat atop a hill so we had a great view of the campground below us, at least until an Allegro Bus pulled in behind us and cut off our view.
We spent Tuesday with Dave and Cheryl Albert, friends we met earlier this year at Tropical Trails RV Resort in Brownsville, TX. Dave and Cheryl live nearby in NC. They picked us up at our site and took us for a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. We stopped for lunch at Mabry Mill. Despite being mid-week, this was a popular spot and we had an hour-long wait for a table. While we waited, we explored the mill. Mabry Mill was built in 1910 by Edwin Mabry, a jack-of-all-trades who had been a chairmaker, a miner, a coal company blacksmith, and a farmer. He and his wife operated the mill until 1936, grinding corn and sawing lumber for their neighbors. In 1945, the National Park Service restored and landscaped the mill. Today, it is one of the most photographed features on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
After a delicious lunch, we drove to Pilot Mountain State Park, 20 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, NC. Pilot Mountain, rising to a peak 2,421’ above sea level, is one of the most distinctive natural features in NC and has served as navigational landmark for centuries. We walked up to several overlooks where we could watch lots of raptors soaring above the peak and view the valley below us. We later spent time in the new Visitor’s Center where we viewed exhibits about the park and the surrounding area.
On the drive back to our campsite, Dave took us through downtown Mount Airy. This whetted our appetites for Wednesday’s further exploration of the town. After socializing awhile back at the campground, it was time to say goodbye to Dave and Cheryl. We really enjoyed seeing our friends again and appreciated having such good guides to show us around the beautiful area.
On Wednesday, we spent the entire day in Mount Airy. This small town, just six miles south of the VA border, was long known as a center for furniture and granite. However, it is best known as the hometown of Andy Griffith. Mount Airy was the inspiration for Mayberry, the fictional town in the Andy Griffith Show. There are lots of Andy Griffith and Mayberry attractions in the town. We visited quite a few of them but felt like we had just scratched the surface. After having a huge lunch at Little Richard’s BBQ, we strolled down Main Street and visited many of the shops. We stopped at replicas of the Mayberry courthouse and jail, Wally’s Service Station, Floyd’s Barber Shop and Snappy Lunch, as well as quite a few other attractions that draw on the Mayberry theme. We walked by the Andy Griffith Museum and saw the TV Land sculpture of Andy and Opie.
On Monday, September 28th, we left Maine and drove 178 miles to Charlemont, MA, where we spent three nights at Country Aire Campground. This was our first RV stay in Massachusetts, making it the 45th state we’ve camped in. Being near the end of the campground’s season, there were very few campers around us. We had a beautiful view from our living room windows of the hillsides with their multi-colored fall foliage.
With rain in the forecast for the afternoon, we got going early on Tuesday and did a 4-mile loop hike in the High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary of nearby Shelburne. The hike mostly took us through a thick forest but, toward the end, we were rewarded with a fabulous panoramic view of the village 1,000 feet below us. There was even a large brick and stone fireplace near the overlook.
We next strolled around the small villages of Buckland and Shelburne Falls, visiting a number of local shops. Due to COVID, we had to view the Bridge of Flowers from a distance. This bridge, constructed in 1908 for trolleys, had become obsolete by 1927 when the trolley company went out of business. Tearing down the bridge would have been prohibitively expensive so it was left to decay. In 1929, a local couple proposed building a garden on the bridge and the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club answered the call, replacing weeds with plants and flower seeds. Volunteers have sustained the Bridge of Flowers to this day.
We then visited the glacial potholes in Shelburne Falls. As glaciers receded at the conclusion of the last “Glacial Age,” fifty separate “pools” were formed, ranging from 6 inches to 39 feet in diameter. The round holes were the result of the whirlpool effect of water and gyrating stones of varied sizes. The Shelburne Falls site is one of the largest collections of natural potholes in the world and the site of the largest pothole on record.
After leaving Shelburne Falls, we drove through the village of Charlemont and stopped at the Bissell Covered Bridge. The current bridge, built in 2004, is the third generation of the bridge first built in 1880.
On Thursday, October 1st, we drove 105 miles south to Moodus, CT where we spent a week at GrandView Camp Resort. We had a little excitement on this short drive. First, Phil was unable to get across to the proper lane as we passed through Hartford, CT and had to drive through downtown Hartford to get back to the right highway. Then, upon arrival at the campground, Phil second-guessed himself about pulling up a narrow driveway that turned out to be the actual entrance to the campground. After passing the driveway, he sat on the country road and called the campground office for guidance. Fortunately, the nearby golf club had a large roundabout that enabled him to get turned around easily.
The campground has an interesting history. In 1946, the Grand View Resort and Day Camp was built as a vacation place where nearby city-dwellers could get away to the fresh air and relaxing atmosphere of the country. The resort contained a hotel, playhouse, cottages and a swimming pool (ala the movie “Dirty Dancing.”) By 1975, air travel, cruising and RV camping became more affordable and such resorts in Moodus became a thing of the past. The location served as a Jewish heritage center and retreat for the next 20 years, then as a basketball camp for city kids for a short time. After that, the resort fell into disuse and was vandalized by trespassers. The current owners have lived across the street from the resort for 50 years and witnessed the good times and bad. Since buying the property, they are attempting to restore what they can, adding camp sites and modern facilities.
After a rainy Friday, we finally got out to explore the area on Saturday. Our first destination was Old Saybrook, CT, first settled in 1635. Our first stop was at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, known affectionately as “the Kate.” Katharine Hepburn had summered in the area as a child, returned throughout her career, and spent the last six years of her life here. The cultural center was created after her death in Old Saybrook’s disused old town hall. Although it contains a museum, it is now closed due to COVID.
We then drove to see the Lynde Point Lighthouse in Saybrook Point. The lighthouse is only truly accessible by boat but we were able to get close to it on foot, down a road next to a golf course and through a neighborhood of beautiful homes.
We then drove to New London, CT. We drove by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy but, to no surprise, it is closed to visitors currently. We next stopped at the Old Town Mill, which was originally built in 1650. Although having since been rebuilt, it operated continuously for 300 years. The neighborhood looked rough, with a homeless shelter across the street, so we made a quick visit.
We next drove to see the New London Harbor Light. Since this lighthouse is now privately-owned, we could only view it from the road.
Our next stop was at Fort Trumbull State Park. The museum is closed due to COVID but we were able to explore the grounds. The first fortifications at this site were built during the American Revolution. The current fort (the third on this site) was built between 1839 and 1852. The fort also served as the first home of the Coast Guard Academy, from 1915-1932. The Coast Guard’s training ship, the Barque Eagle, docks at Fort Trumbull 2-3 times a year and we were fortunately able to see it.
Our final stop in New London was the Whaling Wall, a large mural originally painted by environmental artist Wyland in 1993, with annual touch-up work begun in 2006. There were several other large murals on the downtown walls.
Jan attempts to collect stone coasters from each of the states we visit so we stopped at a store in Waterford to buy one for Connecticut. Unfortunately, the only ones mentioning Connecticut specifically mentioned Waterford. We had not yet visited any site in Waterford so we set out to rectify that situation. We decided to visit Waterford Beach Park, which has a ¼-mile stretch of sandy beach along the Long Island Sound. From the beach, we could see some sort of a kite festival further up the shoreline so we headed that direction. This required some rock scrambling but, once past the rocks, we came to another large park with signage that referenced Camp Harkness. We didn’t think much of that since we knew that Harkness Memorial State Park was in the area. However, when we reached fences that kept us from reaching the kites, we sensed that something was amiss. As we headed back to the Waterford Beach Park, we were approached by a security guard who asked if we were passholders. We learned that Camp Harkness is one of the few state parks in the country dedicated exclusively to individuals with disabilities and that we were trespassing. After our apologies, we returned the way we had come.
On Sunday, we hiked the 2.3-mile Machimoodus State Park Trail. The was mostly a very easy hike, although there was one short, steep ascent that took us up a hill overlooking the Salmon River.
We then visited Gillette Castle State Park. This was the former home of William Gillette, an American actor, playwright and stage director in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, most famous for his stage portrayals of Sherlock Holmes. Gillette built a castle, known as Seven Sisters, on a hilltop overlooking the Connecticut River. The castle included many features to accommodate Gillette’s many cats, as well as a 3-mile-long narrow-gauge railroad for riding around the property. Although the house and museum were closed due to COVID, they did have period actors portraying William Gillette, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and his wife. We learned that William Gillette was quite rich for his time, earning $1,000 a week at a time when the minimum wage was 14 cents per hour.
On Monday, we drove to the Day Pond State Park in Colchester, CT and hiked the 5-mile North Loop. The beginning of the hike was fairly straightforward and we were able to follow the trail markers. We did pass a gutted-out car on the trail and have no idea how it could have gotten there. The second half of the hike became more of an adventure. We were attempting to follow a route that had been recorded in Alltrails and it deviated greatly from the marked trail. Phil walked most of the way back with his phone in his hand, trying to follow the Alltrails map. Many of the paths had obviously not been heavily traveled and having lots of dead leaves on the ground made the paths even harder to follow. The trail had so many switchbacks that we could have gotten lost easily without internet access.
On Tuesday, we headed to Gay City State Park in East Hampton, CT for a hike. However, when we arrived at the park, we discovered that there was a parking fee for out-of-state vehicles. There was no gate attendant. The process involved paying the fee online and recording the confirmation number on a piece of paper that would be displayed on our dashboard. In addition to not wanting to pay $10, we discovered that we didn’t have anything to write with in our car so we left. Our fallback plan was to hike the 3-5-mile Chapman Pond Preserve loop in East Haddam, CT. This hike was mostly a walk through the forest, although we did walk along the banks of the Connecticut River awhile. Other than two men we saw leaving as we arrived, we never saw another soul on the trail.
On Wednesday, we drove to Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, CT and hiked the 3.3-mile White and Orange Blaze Loop through the woods. The loop only involved a 403’ elevation gain but that doesn’t really reflect the effort involved. The trail went up and down sharply a couple of times and included some challenging rock scrambles.
Our stay in Connecticut was the 46th state in which we’ve camped over the past five years. We now only lack four small states: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Hawaii.
On Friday, September 18th, we left our 2-month home in Trenton, ME and drove 180 miles south to Biddeford, ME, where we spent 10 nights at Homestead on the River Campground. This is the same campground where we began our 2020 stay in Maine, also where we spent 15 nights in 2019.
On Saturday, we hiked the 2.5-mile Clayton Park In-Town Loop in Biddeford. The trail we hiked, although very nice, was rated as moderate by Alltrails but was not nearly as challenging as the moderate trails we hiked near Acadia.
On Sunday, we drove to Kennebunkport and did some shopping at Dock Square. We then attempted to do the Goose Rocks Beach Walk. Unfortunately, the tide was in so we were unable to access the beach at the trailhead. In an attempt to get to the beach, we walked back along Kings Highway, through a neighborhood of expensive beachfront homes. After every few homes, there was a pathway leading to the beach but they were all labeled as Private Property. Finally, after about a mile, we reached a public access entrance to the beach. We spent some time on the beach before returning back down Kings Highway to our car.
On Monday morning, we got ready to drive to Portsmouth, NH. However, as we started to back the car out of our campsite, the rearview camera was not functioning. Then, as we began to drive, the navigation system froze up. We pulled into a parking lot and called our dealer in San Antonio. No service managers were available but they said they would have one call us; no one ever called. We then called the Mazda dealer in Portsmouth to see if we could get in that afternoon while we were in town. They agreed to fit us in at 3 pm. We returned to our trailer and Jan used Google to research our issue. She found that several people had had similar issues and many of them had come up with solutions. When we returned to our car to attempt some of the fixes, everything was working again. We may never know what caused the problem but we were glad the problems were resolved for now.
When we finally arrived in Portsmouth, our first mission was to find a place to eat. Our first choice, as well as others we considered, were closed due to COVID. After doing a loop around downtown, we settled on a Mexican restaurant, La Caretta. After lunch, we continued to stroll through downtown before heading to Prescott Park. On our return, we walked through the neighborhoods near the water where homes from the late-18th and early-19th centuries have been beautifully restored and now serve as either residences or museums.
On Tuesday, we drove to Freeport. We started at the flagship L.L. Bean store, then strolled along Main Street. We had hoped to get a snack at the Whoopie Pie store but it was closed on Tuesday. We finally decided to have a pizza at the Maine Beer Company, where COVID-related safety procedures were taken to a level we had not seen anywhere else.
On Wednesday, we returned to Kennebunkport and hiked a couple of miles out-and-back along Parsons Way. Although not truly a trail, Parsons Way is the sidewalk along Ocean Avenue that runs from Colony Beach to Walker Point, the summer home of George H.W. and Barbara Bush. Henry Parson donated this property in 1944 for the public’s enjoyment. The views of the ocean are spectacular and there are many benches along the way to allow visitors to relax and soak up the scenery.
On Thursday, we hiked 3 miles at Timber Point in Biddeford Pool. Timber Point, now part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, is a historic summer estate that was developed in the 1930s by architect Charles Ewing for his family. The southernmost tip of the property is Timber Island, which is only accessible by foot near low tide. We timed our arrival so we could cross over to the island, then enjoyed the waves as they crashed on the rocks as we walked the circumference of the island. Upon returning to the mainland, we visited the Ewing estate where the original buildings are still in place. On our drive home, we stopped at the Pool Street Market and picked up a lobster roll that we shared for lunch.
We spent Friday in Cape Elizabeth, ME, just south of Portland. Our first stop was at Two Lights State Park. The park’s name originated from the twin lighthouses, built in 1828, that are located nearby. Although neither lighthouse is visible from within the park, the park does have a wonderful 1.3-mile loop trail through the woods and along the rocky Atlantic Ocean coast. We climbed down the rocks and enjoyed sitting by the crashing waves. We also explored the remains of a U.S. Army battery that protected the harbor during World War I and II.
For lunch, we stopped at the Two Lights Lobster Shack Restaurant. This popular takeout shack sits on a rocky crest above the Atlantic coast and across a small inlet from one of the lighthouses, which is now a private residence. We ate at a picnic table near the cliffs. Phil had a clam boat and Jan had a shrimp boat.
After lunch, we headed to nearby Williams Park. A former fort of the U.S Army, Fort Williams operated from 1872 to 1964. Three artillery batteries were manned there during the two world wars. Portland Head Light is located within the park. This lighthouse, built in 1787 at the direction of George Washington, is the oldest lighthouse in Maine and the most photographed lighthouse in the United States. We hiked the loop trail around the park and climbed down the rocks to get a closer view of a hole in one of the cliffs.
On Saturday, September 26th, we headed to Portland intending to spend some time exploring the shops in Old Port. Finding a parking spot proved to be a major challenge as downtown was very busy. The one spot we finally found had a meter that only took quarters. Our pooled collection of quarters only bought us a little more than an hour of time so we had to rush through a number of stores. We then tried to find a parking spot that took a credit card but, after driving around a while, we gave up and drove to Freeport again. We visited the Whoopie Pie store that had been closed on Tuesday. Jan also purchased a lobster trap buoy she had seen on our previous visit to Freeport.
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.
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.
Phil on the rocky coast
Jan by the 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.
Jan at the trailhead
Phil relaxing on the trail
A relaxing day at Seal Cove
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.
Jan along Ocean Path
View up the coast
Rock climbers ascending the cliffs
Phil with Sand Beach in background
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.
Jan on Carter Nature Preserve Loop
Phil along rocky coast
Jan walking on coast at Carter Nature Preserve
Phil at coast
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.
Beer-themed Christmas tree
Christmas in July decor
Lobster-themed Christmas tree
Our Christmas display
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.
Jan at Witch Hole Pond
Birds of prey along trail
Phil relaxing on trail
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 relaxing in the Adirondack chair
Jan with some driftwood
View from the shore
Kayakers in Western Bay
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.
Jan at summit of Great Head
Painter on shoreline
Phil relaxing along the shore
Phil on Great Head Trail
View of Sand Beach from trail
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.
Aunt Betty Pond
Phil relaxing on Aunt Betty Loop
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.
Panorama of bay near Flying Mountain
Panorama near Valley Peak summit
Phil devouring lobster roll
Phil on Valley Peak trail
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.
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.
The unreachable resting spot on Branch Lake
Jan at Branch Lake
Jan encounters one of many blown down trees
Phil and his whoopie pie
Phil at Branch Lake
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.
Jason at the summit of Champlain Mountain
Jason overlooking Frenchman’s Bay
Jason at Route 66 restaurant
Jason and Jan crossing the rocks 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.
Jason and Phil having breakfast on the Kane Path
Phil and Jason on the Kane Path
View of The Tarn from Kane Path
Jason and Jan at Schooner Head
View of The Tarn from Kane Path
Panorama of Schooner Head
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.
View of Jordon Pond from Penobscot Mtn.
View from Penobscot Mtn. summit
Phil at Penobscot Mtn. summit
Turtle at Jordon Pond
Jason from Penobscot Mtn.
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.
Jan and Phil at Schoodic Head overlook
Jason and Phil at Schoodic Point
Jason at Schoodic Point
Jason and Phil on Anvil Trail
Phil at Schoodic Point
View from Anvil Trail
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.
View of coast from Ocean Path
View of Sand Beach from Gorham Trail
Jan and Jason at Sand Beach
Jason at Gorham Mtn. summit
Jan and Phil at Sand Beach
Jason on Gorham Mtn.
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.