Birds of a Feather

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It is a given that our Airstream was always a bit of a lone ranger at the state parks and RV resorts we stayed in. Dwarfed by Class A’s and Fifth Wheels, our Silver Bullet gleamed in the sun and was a bird without a flock.

IMG_2288When we met Susan and Bob at the picnic area back in east Texas, they had asked if we had ever stayed in an Airstream-only park. The idea had floated in the backs of our minds, but their question turned the thought into action.

 

So, here we were traveling along the narrow highways of western Virginia. The pronounced hills and valleys lifted, twisted and dropped the road we were traveling. We knew Airstreams had mastered this obstacle course before us, but it was still a bit of a nail biter.

The Virginia Highland Haven Airstream Park sits atop one of the most gorgeous hills in the landscape. Pulling into the park is to enter another world. Spread out in all directions are views across other valleys and mountains. The wind blows through the trees and across the grass. Every sunset is different and as equally breathtaking as the last.

Like other Airsteam-only parks, Highland Haven is a cooperative. There are 46 campsites in the park and 46 shareholders. The park is open from May 1-October 15. The shareholders can stay the entire season or just drop in for a week or two. In any case, shareholders share the workload of park maintenance and all are expected to pitch in. When shareholders are not on site, guests can stay on the empty sites providing a revenue stream.

We pulled into the park and up to the Camp Host’s site. Robert was on duty this week—shareholders must act as host at least one week each season. Robert was very friendly and directed us to our site. A line of beautiful Airstreams extended the length of the road along the hilltop. The Airstreams—of all vintages—gleamed in the sun.

The sites were gravel and quite narrow. Having long since abandoned the feeling of performance anxiety at a state park or RV resort, it returned now. Somehow we felt a little intimidated at being in this society of fellow Airstreamers. Nevertheless, Jim negotiated the narrow site skillfully and we got ourselves set up.

The wind was blowing steadily and the sun was warm. We walked down to the clubhouse to poke around a bit. The club house was formerly a home and offered communal living areas, a very nice enclosed front porch, the kitchen and a laundry area. It was all comfortably worn and very neat and tidy. We talked with one of the shareholders who was preparing homemade ice cream for the evenings ice cream and brownie get together. He urged us to join them. This was a welcoming community.

Back at our site, we settled into our chairs and looked out across the landscape of mountains and valleys. We weren’t quite ready for the brownie social, but each passerby waved and we returned the greeting. We watched the sun set in a brilliant fire that burned the edges of the clouds and reflected off the shiny aluminum shells of the Airstreams standing in a row.

Somehow beyond staying in a park full of Airstreams, we had no agenda or itinerary for what we would do the three nights and two days at Highland Haven. The ice cream chef had mentioned Floyd as a possible destination. I was also very interested in retracing our steps to Christiansburg where I had seen an antiques store which called to me.

We set off across the roller coaster roads to Floyd. Floyd may have a one syllable name and only one traffic light, but it was a delightful surprise. Here in the middle of rural Virginia was a little hotbed of artisans, music and culture. We parked and wandered around the shops.

The hardware store was both picturesque and bursting with anything one might possibly need. We wandered along poking into stores which seemed intriguing. The yarn shop was closed which was probably just as well. There were multiple establishments offering live music. The community park was under renovation and looked like it would be a lovely garden spot when done.

The old railroad depot had been transformed to host the weekly farmer’s market. Hanging from the raftered ceiling were banners from local establishments and craftsmen. Jim’s eye was caught by one for the Five Mile Mountain Distillery. My Google app said it was only 1.1 miles down the road.

The Five Mile Mountain Distillery perched itself over the road leading south out of town. The steep drive led to a small gravel parking lot. The building itself was a quirky blend of mill and factory. We stepped across the wooden porch and entered to be greeted by a very great Great Dane. A young man with an impressive red curly beard greeted us. He was co-owner of the distillery.

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Our host reflected in mirror

We never did get our host’s name (a holdover from the illicit past?), but we enjoyed his passionate history of the distillery and how he came to be a purveyor of moonshine whiskey. He grew up locally and the hills around Floyd were filled with stills. He learned from the old masters who had kept the country fueled during Prohibition. After years in construction, he had cast about for a next career. By chance he heard of someone else planning to open a distillery in Floyd and, figuring the town wasn’t big enough for the both of them, they joined forces. A spirit of cooperation sadly often lacking.

The tasting room was an attractive meld of wood and copper dominated by the bar and on the far wall, display shelves which featured a trio of old stills. The building had formerly been part of the water works for the town before it was abandoned. Our host related the process of renovation from a dilapidated home for black snakes to the attractive venue we were now in.

We tasted thimblefuls of the moonshine on offer. The Vanilla Plum had a warmth of plum followed by a touch of the vanilla. The Elderberry was a gorgeous deep color and much more astringent than I had expected. The Sweet Mountain Moonshine was 100 proof and exploded with warmth in our mouths. I was unable to finish even the thimbleful I had been given of the 100 proof.

One of the old stills on display had been given to our host by an old moonshiner now 93. He had walked the fields with him one day. The old guy would come to a gate, kick around in the dirt a bit and come up with a jar. After a sip, he would replace the jar and they would continue. At the next gate the ritual was repeated. During Prohibition this old fellow ran moonshine up to the mines in West Virginia. He would sell his load and head over to the company-owned store. They would load him up with sugar out the back door and he would head back to distill another load of clear thunder.

After a long and enjoyable conversation, we learned that the Tasting Room wasn’t even open that day. Our host was just so passionate, he was happy to share his enthusiasm. They were there distilling moonshine and building their business. We left with some of their inventory in hand.

The drive to Christiansburg was another half hour away. Back up and down the hills, twisting through the valleys. It was a heck of a lot easier without a trailer in tow, but tiring for Jim nonetheless. I left him dozing in the truck while I headed in to the antiques shop. I never go to antiques stores, but something about this shop called to me.

It was a large, labyrinthine affair crammed to the ceiling with antiques. I was on a special, secret mission about which I cannot write. I can only report I was very successful and left two happy proprietors in my wake.

We returned to the Haven. It was very windy and the temperature was dipping down to the 40’s. We hung out in the trailer and watched downloaded episodes of NCIS.

Our second and last full day was much warmer and the wind had dropped. We decided to test the laundry facilities. While the loads were drying we walked along the country road past the fields of timothy hay. They had just cut one of the fields and it smelled sweet in the warm air.

After lunch we headed back to Floyd. Ostensibly, we were after some groceries and diesel, but there was most likely an ulterior motive as well. A couple of shops had been closed the day before and we were interested in checking them out. Jim scored a devilishly handsome hat and I found some birthday presents for both Ellie and Peter. For once we were avoiding the monotony of the big box stores which seem to dominate our urban areas. These little shops supported local artisans. Our list of five items including groceries and diesel was soon checked off and we headed back to Highland Haven.

That evening two shareholders were hosting a chili and cornbread dinner. We had signed up before heading to town. Just before six, couples began heading down the park road to the club house and we joined them. Everyone was most welcoming. After a brief grace, Robert, the week’s host, asked the guests to introduce themselves. There were six couples visiting from Quebec, South Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts and, of course, Connecticut.

The chili and cornbread were good accompanied by a tossed salad and happy chatter. By chance (I swear), I had worn my USMC t-shirt and we ended up seated with our next door neighbor, a retired Marine who fought in Viet Nam. Always happy to talk about Alex and the Marines, dinner was enjoyable. The highlight was Banana Pudding. Everyone was most amazed that these two Yankees had never had banana pudding. I will definitely add it to my new repertoire of southern cooking. I asked after the recipe and it was, of course, from that doyenne of southern cooking, Paula Deen.

That night featured another brilliant sunset. We sat under our awning, wine in hand and watched a completely different show put on by the setting sun. The bittersweet realization that we were now in our last week of the trip was tempered by the beauty of the evening.

Forced Interlude

During our extended adventure, we have made our plans and schedules in stages. We wanted to have some flexibility and we didn’t really know where we would want to go. Planning in stages gave us the ability to respond to new information or follow a sudden whim.

Our planning sessions could only take place when we had access to wifi or enough cell service to create a hot spot. They also usually happened during inclement weather when we couldn’t really be out hiking or sightseeing. Jim and I would sit at the table in our lounge with atlas at hand and plot out the next stages.

The one inflexible aspect to our trip was my need to fly back to Massachusetts for the spring meeting of the Friends of Smith College Libraries. We knew that where ever we were, I needed to head east in early April.

IMG_2218In mid-March we had a planning session and identified San Antonio as the best place for me to fly out of and for Jim and Dakota to hang out in until I could get back. We worked our plans around this. After our happy idyll in Lost Maples, we headed to San Antonio and the Blazing Star RV Resort.

Blazing Star was quite nice. It was located on the west side of San Antonio in an area which was being built up at a dizzying pace. The traffic in the area was relentless. Driving in or out of the rv resort was enough to make me want to scream. The resort itself was an oasis.

 

We arrived at Blazing Star on a Tuesday afternoon. We unhitched and got settled in. Little did we know our stay would extend to a full week. Bright and early the next morning Jim and Dakota drove me to the airport.

My plan was to fly in to Bradley/Hartford airport. Bradley lies equidistant between our house in CT and Northampton. I would land, rent a car and drive to our house in CT for the night.

IMG_2168By a happy coincidence Peter had a work dinner in Wilton and would join me for a brief overnight visit before I headed to Northampton that next morning. We had a really nice visit. As always he required feeding and we had breakfast at Christy’s in Torrington. It was so great to see him after three months’ absence.

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Going back to Smith and Northampton is always a homecoming. Being there just makes me feel happy and peaceful. I have been on the Friends of Smith College Libraries’ Executive Committee for at least seven years now. The board is a great group of very smart and interesting women and it is always delightful to be with them. It is fun to see the students on campus and to stay in touch with this amazing place.

This visit was especially exciting. Saying I feel at home in Northampton has extra meaning these days as Jim and I are having a house built in nearby Florence. This is another long-held dream of ours. We love this community tucked in the hills with five colleges nearby to give it a cultural life and a thriving downtown full of restaurants and shops. We had discovered the development in which we were building our house two years earlier just before Ellie graduated from Smith. After a somewhat attenuated courtship, we settled on our lot #20 at Bear Hill.

On Thursday after a lunch with Susan Fliss, the Dean of Libraries, and Mary Irwin, Gifts Officer, and my co-conspirator for FSCL, I headed over to see our house in progress. It is starting to really look like a house! Shauneen Kocot, our realtor, met me and we toured the construction site together.

After our library meeting ended on Friday, three of us headed to the airport and that is when the fun began. Of course, “fun” is not really the proper term. To say Delta seemed either drastically incompetent, uncaring or both, would be an understatement. I won’t go into detail, but just say the next two days involved hours of standing line, holding on the telephone and teeth gnashing. Wait times on the phone exceeded three hours and their call back system didn’t work.

I was fortunate in that I could re-rent a car and go back to our house in CT unlike so many who were stranded in airports. At least I had a familiar pillow and comfortable environment. After two days of trying to re-book a flight on Delta, I gave up. It didn’t seem like they even remembered my existence. I booked a flight on American. I hope never to fly Delta again. What I also hoped is that American would carry me back to San Antonio and Jim, Dakota and the Airstream and we could get back on the road.

This experience did give me one interesting perspective. Home. What is home? I was at home. I was at our house in Connecticut which has been my home for 34 years and yet, I kept saying I needed to get home. I was almost frantic to get “home.” Home in that context was home to Jim, Dakota and the Airstream. So, I guess home can be a place, but perhaps more significant is that home is a state of mind or of heart. My heart was in San Antonio.

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Finding Our Better Place

We re-traced our path back to Ruidoso. Earlier I had called a few RV parks. Many of them were closed for winter, but Circle B, purported to be the largest, was open for business. A gruff voice told us to drive on over. Circle B was in Ruidoso Downs just across from the racetrack and the Billy the Kid Casino.IMG_0413 Despite how that might sound, it was still rural and the hills were covered in trees; pines, mesquite and juniper.

The proprietors of Circle B were Rip and Judy Van Winkle. How can you not like a guy called Rip Van Winkle? Gee, wonder how he got that nickname… Rip was somewhere in his 70’s. It was hard to tell. He had a wiry frame and weathered visage. He sported a billed cap declaring himself a Navy veteran. Vietnam perhaps? Affixed to his cap was a button, “I’m a deplorable…”

We got a site high on the hill at the back of the park with mountains on all sides. The sound of the road was distant. The air was cool and we were transcendently happy to be away from the heat and dust and to be perched on the hillside.

Ruidoso is a tourist area. A place for Texans and other New Mexicans to escape the desert heat in summer and the best southern NM ski destination in winter. It boasts the aforementioned race track and also features several casinos some of which are on the nearby Mescalero Apache Reservation. There are shops and galleries and all the accoutrements of a tourist area. Rip had given us a very helpful visitor guide from the previous summer’s season which became our bible.

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Rip had suggested we drive the Billy the Kid Byway and see the old western town of Lincoln. The Billy the Kid Byway is a somewhat triangularly shaped route which begins in Ruidoso, continues along Route 70 following the Rio Hondo to Hondo where it takes a left onto Route 380. We were just under way when we spotted an historical marker. We pulled over to take a look. The John H. Tunstall Murder Site, now who was that? It was an appetizing teaser to all that we were about to see and learn.

The road runs through lovely valleys flanked by brown hills spotted with cottonwood trees, pines and brush. It is incredibly pretty and the constant fluctuations of the hills make for successively remarkable views. We traveled past ranches and horse farms and reached the town of Lincoln.

Lincoln was the original seat of Lincoln County, once the largest county in the country. It is known as the best preserved western town and also was one of the most violent. Back in the mid-1800’s one sheriff alone covered the entire county which meant there was essentially no law. This lawlessness gave rise to the Lincoln County War from 1878-1881.

Sparked by the murder of John Tunstall, a wealthy British man who had arrived in town to establish a store to compete with the monopolistic Murphy/Dolan store, the two factions burst into conflict over control of the town. Gunfights, murder and assassination marked the next years as outlaw groups battled each other. Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, the Regulators—these are some of the infamous names from the period.

The main street of old Lincoln town is bounded on each end by museums. To the east is the Anderson-Freeman and on the west end is the Courthouse Museum.

The Anderson-Freeman is not a large museum, but it has a beautifully curated collection. Moving through the circuit of rooms, the first holds a collection of apache clothing and weapons. There are beaded shirts, moccasins and quivers with arrows and bows. The beaded apache mocassins and clothing were incredibly exciting to see. I could not imagine creating that embellishment with the tools they had at hand.

There is an exhibit on Buffalo Soldiers from nearby Fort Stanton with photos, artifacts, weapons, uniform items and a tent. The next room has a replica of a contemporary store complete with cash register.

The final room is dedicated to the Lincoln County War with representations of the key figures, archival photos, weapons and letters. One of these key figures, of course, was Billy the Kid. Was he simply a ruffian or popular hero? In this geographical area, he is considered a popular hero, but I must confess, he seemed more outlaw than hero. There is an excellent twenty-minute video documenting the events which led to the Lincoln County War and ties it all together.

After our visit to that museum, we gathered Dakota from the truck and strolled the main street. Along the street were many well-preserved buildings including the Tunstall store, the old hotel and dwellings of key figures. It was all so well-preserved. Closing your eyes, you could imagine yourself back in a time when gunshots rang out all too frequently in the dusty street.

We took turns visiting the Courthouse Museum—one of us waiting with The Dude outside. This was once the Murphy/Dolan store known as “The House.” The store had a monopoly on commerce in Lincoln until John Tunstall turned up. After the hostilities ended, Murphy died, the store went out of business and was re-purposed to become the courthouse—an ironic transformation given its history.

The museum featured more exhibits on the town, an old stagecoach and a chronological retrospective of the Sheriffs of Lincoln County. The second floor was preserved as the courthouse. Here Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang to death. A large hole in the plaster wall at the foot of the stairway is purported to be the bullet hole from Billy’s pistol as he made his successful escape.

When we finished with Lincoln, we were hungry and literally down to our last dollar bill. The next stop on the Billy the Kid Byway was Capitan, home to Smokey Bear. We all remember Smokey (the) Bear and the “Only you can prevent forest fires” campaign. Seeing this country and the history of devastating fires, it is easy to comprehend the seriousness of fire danger. Smokey, of course, was rescued in 1950 in the wake of the disastrous Los Tablos and Capitan Gap fires. He was found clinging to a tree. We stopped at a marker for the Capitan Gap and Smokey Bear to consider the ravages of fire.

Fortunately, Capitan had a bank and a cash machine and, reinforced with greenbacks, we headed to the Oso Grill for some lunch. This welcoming corner restaurant had an excellent chef. I ordered a Green Chile Corn Pancake with Red Beans for lunch and it was one of those meals which will live in my memory for a long time. I will be trying to recreate it when we get home.

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After our delightful meal, we headed to the Smokey Bear Historical Park. Having had a photo-op with Smokey en-route to Capitan, we skipped the park. It was not dog-friendly and we didn’t want to put Dakota back in the truck alone.

The last leg of the Billy the Kid Byway triangle was Route 48 leading from Capitan to Ruidoso. We motored past more ranches, hills studded with trees, and then we hit a terrifying vastness of burned and gutted trees and barren scorched earth. We had caught the edge of the devastation from the Little Bear Fire in 2012. The fire began in early June and was almost contained when the winds came up. It raged out of control and wasn’t contained for another three weeks. Altogether it scorched more than 44,000 acres and destroyed almost 250 homes. I can’t quite imagine how terrifying it would be to have this fire as a neighbor for three weeks.  Smokey Bear is still a much-needed reminder.

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Wednesday was what we call a home maintenance day. We visited the ranger station to get some hiking information. Due to the Little Bear fire not all of the local trails are open. We also hit the grocery store and the car wash. The big event Wednesday was finding our own Smokey Bear.

Not surprisingly, there were bears everywhere on signs and as statues decorating stores, motels—pretty much everything. Jim and I lusted after our own bear. We wanted to take Smokey home with us. Many of the figures were sort of tacky, but we found the perfect spot. “Grizzly’s” offered hand-crafted bears and other sculptures created with chain saws. We met Bob, the artist, and found our perfect Smokey. He will ride along with us as our new, 4th roommate.

Thursday we were ready to hike and headed out to an area called Cedar Creek Trail System in the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest. The Lincoln National Forest is enormous. It covers more than 1.1 million acres and was named for our 16th president. It includes four separate mountain ranges. If you drive through southeastern New Mexico, you encounter the Lincoln National Forest over and over again.

Ruidoso lies at an elevation of 6400 feet. We were slowly getting used to the height, but our hike would take us up over the mountains as high as 7400 feet. The trail was extremely well-maintained and the weather perfect with sunny skies, a reasonable wind and a temperature just about 70 degrees. We were bushed after our arduous hike, but it was excellent.

Watching the news the night before, the weatherman had warned of an impending storm. High winds and a cold front were predicted to sweep through the area. After our hike, we headed to the trailer for lunch and a rest. Suddenly, the sun and the mountains disappeared. The wind blew furiously and a dense fog of dust and moisture engulfed the world. It was truly unsettling.

Despite the ominous weather, we headed out to visit the Hubbard Museum of the American West.  Everyone else seemed to take this storm as a normal occurrence so we did our best to ignore it.

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This museum is housed in what once was a giant skating rink.   Almost all of the museum features the private collection of Anne Stradling. This is an extensive collection of Native American artifacts and art. The museum also featured historical photos of Ruidoso and the Old West.

For us, the high point of the museum was the collection of various buggies, carts and stagecoaches including a Conestoga Wagon in amazing condition. Like seeing the town of Lincoln, these artifacts fired our imagination.

The wind blew strongly all through the night. Friday the wind was still raging. We had intended to go for another hike, but the strong gusts of wind made it seem much nicer to hole up in the trailer and putter on office projects, knitting and other tasks.

Earlier in the week, I had found a veterinary practice in town which had good reviews. Dakota needed some routine tests and it seemed like a check up after two months on the road would be a wise undertaking. I was really curious to know if he had lost any weight with all of our activity.

Ruidoso Animal Clinic was a sunny, wooden-beamed building and the staff were very proficient and friendly. Sitting in the waiting area, we fell into conversation with a man holding his chihuahua on his lap. The dog had a leather collar decorated with three silver conchs. The man was there to get an anti-rattlesnake venom shot for the dog. He explained they rode out on the mountains and he wanted his dog safe. He and his wife had moved to Ruidoso thirty years before. His face was deeply etched with lines and it was easy to believe he had been riding the hills for so long.

Dakota got a thorough checkup and was pronounced “a healthy dog for one his age.” He got all of his tests, which were negative, had a pedicure and was weighed. Our svelte boy had dropped from his November weight of 29 lbs 4 ozs to 27 lbs 6 ozs. It felt incredibly good to know he was tolerating the stress and change of travel.

Needless to say, we really loved our five days in Ruidoso. It was beautiful and engaging. Our friend from the vet had arrived thirty years ago and opted to stay. It was tempting to consider doing the same, but we had already extended our stay once and it was time to head down to Carlsbad.

Tampa Times

The final installment in our string of family visits was a long weekend in Tampa with my cousin, Carrie. With no state parks in the immediate area, I had been elated to find an rv resort which seemed very close to her apartment. When we arrived at Bay Bayou RV Resort, it turned out we were so close we could almost wave. While the park was adjacent to a busy road, it was quite nice and the proximity to Carrie more than made up for any possible faults.

We arrived on Thursday in the late afternoon. We had invited Carrie to be our first Airstream dinner guest and we broke all speed records setting up so I could get dinner ready for our esteemed guest. The entertaining was successful. A delicious dinner was followed by wine out under the awning in the warm evening air. This sequence was repeated each evening of our visit except for the night we went out for Cuban food.

Carrie and I were born exactly one week apart. Carrie is, of course, much older than me—a fact I drive home with annoying frequency during that one week each year. We were both adopted. It is family lore that my mother called her big sister to exult that, after a long wait, she and my father had just found out there was a baby available and her sister responded that, after their own long wait, she and my uncle had just brought their own bundle of joy home! During our visit we celebrated our combined birthdays with champagne, steak dinner and copious amounts of red wine.

The first day of our visit featured a hike. We had a warm and sunny walk along a rails-to-trails path, the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. Carrie modeled her new Pussy Hat despite the sun and heat. After our hike, we headed to an Irish pub for lunch to insure we would suffer no caloric deficit. It was a perfectly gorgeous day and we were able to sit outside so Dakota could annoy all of our fellow diners by barking ferociously at every small dog who passed by.

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Right next to the restaurant was a dog-grooming spot called Woof. I popped in to ask if they could trim Dakota’s nails. The victim was duly handed over and as he was led away, I told the man that Dakota was a bit of a chicken. Seconds later screams began erupting from the back of the store. A request for reinforcements was issued. My favorite moment of mortification was after a particularly high-pitched, terrified scream, I heard the woman say, “Dakota, we haven’t even touched you yet…” I wasn’t kidding, he is a big chicken.

After the hike, our lunch and nail trimming, Jim and I headed back to the trailer park. Carrie would be over later, but first I had something to attend to. I won’t mention any names, but after a month on the road, one of us was smelling a little…doggy. Bay Bayou’s welcome packet mentioned having dog parks with dog baths. Dakota and I grabbed his shampoo and conditioner and headed over.

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Dakota has never been to a dog groomer. I have always bathed and groomed him myself. We call it “beauty parlor.” He enjoys it. He enjoys baths a little less, but afterwards you can tell he is very happy to be clean and gorgeous. The dog bath at Bay Bayou was a raised, elongated tub with the back cut out. There was a harness to which you could hook the dog and he could stand in the tub while being shampooed and hosed. It beat the pants off of the back break in leaning over a bath tub. With a nail trim, bath and brushing, I like to think of our weekend in Tampa as Dakota’s spa weekend. He did look and smell mighty fine.

On the Saturday of our visit, Carrie and I headed over to the Salvadore Dali Museum in St. Petersburg to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit. The boys stayed back at the trailer doing manly things. St. Petersburg is a beautiful town and the exhibit was really good and sadly topical. The show was completely packed. How great that on a perfect Florida day so many people would be enjoying a museum. Carrie says there is so much great weather in Florida, they don’t think twice about possibly squandering one of those days with inside activities. She might not admit it, but Carrie is an unabashed Floridian.

Welcome to Naples!

Naples signThe purpose to our visit to Naples was seeing my step-father, Ferd. My parents bought their condo in Naples about fifteen years ago. After spending increasingly long stretches in the winter as a snowbird, Ferd now lives there full time. We couldn’t find  a state park or an rv park close to Ferd’s apartment so we would be staying about 20 minutes away at Club Naples RV Resort.Club Naples RV Resort.

After our adventure with my brain fart and near disaster on the forbidden road, we arrived at the rv park a little strung out and wild-eyed. Club Naples is an older rv resort from a time when rv’s were far smaller. The sites are densely packed together. I don’t know how some of those Class A’s ever got into their sites. It sure didn’t look like they were going anywhere anytime soon and I don’t blame them.  The resort had given us the smallest, most uneven and awful site in the park. The fact that Jim didn’t just quit and run was a testament to his fortitude. The job he did in backing our 48 feet of trailer and truck into an impossibly small space was nothing short of amazing. It took a lot of maneuvering to make it past the Fifth Wheel across the tiny road. We had to fold in our side mirrors and even so we had a bare inch to spare.dijon mustardOur neighbors on either side were so close we could have passed a jar of Dijon mustard back and forth and never fully extended an arm. This was purgatory. It was a shaken crew who headed off to meet Ferd for dinner.

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It was delightful to visit with Ferd. We didn’t do much of anything. We ran some errands, hung out a bit and each night I cooked dinner at Ferd’s condo.We would watch the news together and then Jim and I would head back to the sardine can rv resort. Sometimes a quiet interlude is just what is needed.

Ferd’s condo is in South Naples just off Bayshore Drive. This south end of Naples is much less built up and features small businesses, a marina, a smattering of homes and small apartment buildings. Foremost among its charms is Taqueria San Julian 2 . It isn’t much to look at from the outside, but the tacos inside are outstanding. It is a highlight of any visit to Naples for me.

Bayshore Drive is the kind of place where real people live. Sadly that is beginning to change a bit, but it is still endearingly scruffy and real.

Brain Farts Test Even the Strongest Relationship

 

Our crossing to Naples was not without incident. For the last stretch of our drive we followed Route 41 and then exited to a street paralleling 41. It had been a long drive and we were tired. Well, at least I was tired—something has to account for the major brain fart I was about to have.

As we neared the entrance to the next rv park, Jim said, “are you sure this is where we’re staying?” What? Huh? I panicked. Is this were we were supposed to go? I freaked out and told him not to turn in to the gate. We cruised past as I scrambled to find our reservation information and confirm our destination. It wasn’t until we were a good half a mile down the road that we realized the road came to an abrupt end and the only possible egress was a hard right turn.

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The hard turn to the right wasn’t a problem in itself, but arranged vertically at the side of the turn was an assemblage of signs saying, “No Trespassing,” “Private Road,” “Do Not Enter!” “Proceed at Your Own Risk.” It was hot and we were tired. Within our trailer was general consternation. It was too far to back up to the entrance to the park and we desperately needed a way out or a place to turn around.

Despite our somewhat bleak circumstances, Jim did not utter an angry word or get upset. His wife, the Chief Navigator, had just pulled a major boner and we were in deep doo doo, but he was calm and quiet. It was hot and we were tired. Within our trailer was general consternation. It was too far to back up to the entrance to the park and heading right didn’t look like too good an option either.We sat quietly for a few moments, then Jim said he was going to brave the intimidating signs and walk ahead for a place to turn around. With 48 feet of truck and trailer, we couldn’t risk not finding a place to turn around.

I sat in the sun for a long time feeling stupid and useless. Jim was gone for a long time. Finally, I realized Jim had chosen the low tech path, but there was another option for determining what lay down the forbidding road. I downloaded Google Earth and found our location. Down the road about a mile was another road intersecting at a perpendicular angle. We could definitely use those 90 degree angles to effect a turnaround. Jim’s cell lay on the console. There was no way to let him know and I had to do something to redeem myself.

The forbidden road was narrow. I made the turn on my maiden voyage at the helm of the Airstream at a cautious speed. I felt alternately terrified to be driving Jim’s beloved rig and hopeful that somehow I would redeem myself. The road continued to be lined with hostile signs. “Turn back now.” “This means you!” sporadically driveways intersected the road and each bore “Beware of dog” and “No Trespassing” signs. This was the most unfriendly road on the face of the earth. What was their problem?

Jim came into view. How best to describe the look on his face when he saw his beloved blue truck and Airstream heading his way…horror? Terror? Deep love and affection? Maybe not the latter. Just then a truck pulling a horse trailer came into view heading my way on this incredibly narrow and unfriendly road with steep sides. My palms were drenched as I contemplated what would happen if we couldn’t pass each other. It drew closer and closer and, with inches to spare, we made it. I came to a stop as Jim approached the truck.

We executed the turnaround and headed back out the unfriendly road. We were both sitting kind of low in our seats in case gun fire should ring out. A battered pickup driven by a wild-eyed, bearded man passed us going the other way, he pounded the air with his fist and shouted at us and we sat even lower in our seats.

Road Runner Beep! Beep!

In our case, the next stop was the goal we had been pushing hard towards since we left CT on January 3rd. Our journey to date was a time of discovering how to live in the Airstream, but the major goal was to get to the Fort Pierce/Stuart area where Jim’s mother, Betty, has a condo.

Betty is 95 and in amazing shape given her age. Always a beautiful and petite woman, she still has her looks and her mind is kept sharp by doing myriad crossword puzzles daily. She can buzz through the NY Times Sunday puzzle in under an hour. While Betty usually lives in Michigan, she has had this condo in Stuart for decades. To give her the opportunity to enjoy the Florida warmth, three of her children were taking turns staying with her. Jim’s brother, Phil, and his wife, Renee, were first up. We would do our turn and then his sister, Linda, would come down for the final leg of the visit and the eventual return to northern climes.

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Jim, Betty and Phil

The wrinkle in this plan for us was, of course, the Airstream. We couldn’t very well hunker down in the parking lot at Betty’s condo. Actually, there was a further complication. Many years ago Jim’s father, Jack, as head of the condo board, had passed a rule that pickup trucks couldn’t overnight in the parking lot. Ironically, we couldn’t even park Big Blue there.

So, Dakota, the Airstream and I took up residence at the Road Runner Travel Resort and Jim headed forty minutes south in a rental car to stay with his mom in Stuart. Southern Florida is so crazy crowded with rv’s, that was the closest decent spot we could find.

The Road Runner Travel Resort was a bit of a shock at first. Having spent more than a week in state parks, we needed to adjust to the closer living quarters of a rv resort. RV resorts have a different ethos and clientele than a state park. More on that at a later time.

After checking in at the office, we headed to our camp site. Road Runner is a pretty large park—more than 400 sites. The streets all feature president’s names so we took a left on Madison. When we pulled up to our site, I got out to spot and the lady at the site next door said, “you need to come from the other direction to back in.” Oh, okay. I was willing to follow her direction and duly reported this to Jim in the cockpit. He grumbled, “who does she think she is…” I pointed out she undoubtedly knew far more than we did and he headed off to re-orient. When he got back, our new neighbor, Carol, and her husband were both on their feet and ready to help. Rick offered to back us in and we took him up on the first of many kind offers. Rick is a retired truck driver and he had our Airstream perfectly positioned in a minute and made it look incredibly easy to do so. Jim was thrilled and relieved. Backing in with a large audience is never stress-free and he learned some valuable tips in the bargain. People in rv parks are generally incredibly friendly and very willing to help—I found this out frequently over the next ten days.

Rick and Carol

Rick and Carol

I would point out two other characteristics of Road Runner and Florida rv parks in general. The first is that you very rarely see Airstreams. We are definitely a bit of an oddity. This is true in state parks as well. It will be fascinating to see if this is less true when we get west of the Mississippi. But in Florida the Class A and Fifth Wheels rule. The second observation I would make is that half of Canada is down here. There must be no one left at home in Quebec. The common areas at Road Runner rang with the sound of Canadian French. I don’t blame them because it is really cold up there, but those left behind must be feeling a bit lonely. Actually, Rick told me that last year there were far more Canadians at Road Runner. The strength of the dollar thinned the migration quite a bit this year.

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With Jim located to the south by forty minutes, Dakota and I took to life on our own. This was actually a very good development as it forced me to take charge of Airstream care and conquer my fear of lighting the grill and any number of other things. Midway through the week there was a big storm scare. I had to take in the awnings and prep for high winds and this was all good to learn. Again, Rick and Carol were very helpful with advice. They made it clear they were there to help me if I needed it and it was very comforting to know that.

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Over the course of the week, we developed a pattern. One day Dakota and I would do something on our own like go hiking and the next day we would drive down to visit Jim and Betty. This ended up working out quite well for all involved.