Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Georgia Museum of Agriculture; Manatee Springs

The day after Thanksgiving the temperatures dropped, so we loaded up and headed south. I found a state run "campground" at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village in Tifton. Right off the highway, the campgrond was just a parking lot, but just $20/night for full hookups. The noise and light from the highway was surprisingly non-intrusive, and the facility grounds provided great dog-walking opportunities. As we walked several large flocks of sandhill cranes flew overhead in V formation, which was really cool to see.

The next day we toured the museum and historic village. A steam train carries passengers from the main office to a couple of stop in the village, which was fun.
After dropping us off the conductor climbed up onto the engine and swung over a pipe from a water tower and topped off the water in the engine - not something you see every day! The village, a living history exhibit of authentic or replica structures, was only partially staffed, but we got to see a blacksmith at work, talked to a 90-year old farmer, and got a great demonstration of a water-driven grain mill where they turned corn into grits or meal. There was also a turpentine still and a large cotton gin. Here is Nancy next to a couple of 500lb bales of cotton:

Also on site were some livestock, including this inquisitive bull:

Still a chill in the air, so southwards once again, crossing at last into Florida! It seemed like just crossing the state line the temperature jumped 10 degrees. It felt great. Our destination was Manatee Springs State Park, and we arrived to navigate among the cypress and hickory trees to our campsite. Small white-tailed deer wandered all around and the dogs erupted into frenzied barking, which took all of the fun out of backing in, but it was great to see them at such close range.

We took a walk down to the spring and gazed down into the pure clear water, bubbling up out of the ground at a rate of 100 million gallons per day at a constant 72 degrees. It forms a stream which flows out to the Suwannee River:

At night we heard many rustlings outside, which I thought at first were the deer. But it became obvious that it was not deer, so I fetched a flashlight and turned it on to illuminate: an armadillo! Toby's got a new favorite animal that he'd like to catch, and he spent the rest of our stay watching for them. On one hike he flushed one out and came within inches of its armored hide, but they are very quick little buggers!

We launched our kayaks in the spring and paddled to the confluence and the air was full of buzzards! They roost in the trees all around the mouth of the spring - hundreds of them weighing down the tree branches, squawking, grunting, barking. There were both turkey vultures and black vultures. I haven't seen this many ever, not even on the elephant carcass in Africa!

And then there were the manatees! Eight of them were hanging around where the spring waters flowed into the river, either at rest on the bottom or lazily swimming here and there. When they came up for air just their nostrils would break the surface and you'd hear the breath from their massive lungs, then they'd slip below the surface without a ripple. It was awesome to be able to get so close in the kayaks, often drifing right over one or two, most as long as the boat and many times heavier.

Here is Nancy next to a mother and calf:

Another item of note: we arrived at Manatee Springs SP to find that we had very poor cell service and no internet. A real test for our new Wilson Electronics amplifier and antenna which I installed for just this type of scenario. We plugged it into the Verizon Air Card and presto! Internet! It works great, and transformed a campsite where Nancy could not have worked into one where she could. Just what the doctor ordered!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving in Atlanta

Our friend Sharon is currently camped in Georgia and we were hoping that we might get together over Thanksgiving. We learned that she had plans to spend the holiday with her friends in Atlanta, but before we had made other arrangements we found ourselves invited to join in their celebration. So we drove west to a Army Corps of Engineers campground not far from Atlanta. The McKinney campground is really nice - big sites well spaced, and reasonably priced, much like a state park. We got a nice back-in site on Allatoona Lake:

Thanksgiving Day arrived and I found that the shirt I selected was wrinkled. For want of an iron, I improvised: a heavy-bottomed saucepan heated up with a little water on it for an iron, a damp cloth on the counter for a board - wrinkle removed!

We arrived at the address we'd been given to find ourselves at a beautifully restored city home. We greeted Sharon and met our hosts and newfound friends Conni, Paul, their son Alex, and their dog Sparticus. Here are Conni and Paul behind the amazing spread of fabulous thanksgiving dishes they had prepared:

Harley (Sharon's dog) and Sparticus were happily wrestling and sparring, but when they'd had enough rough play we brought in Kinsey and Toby. What commenced was a conga-line of urination and butt-sniffing, which was hysterical.
Sparticus largely ignored the two terriers, but Harley found them fascinating, and his affectionate advances to both dogs earned him a few snaps and snarls until he lost interest. It was fun to let all of the dogs socialize while we scarfed down a variety of savory snacks and sipped champagne.

Among the amazing variety of succulent dishes laid out for dinner was the largest, deepest lasagne that I've ever seen. Here Sharon digs deep to extract the first piece:

We gathered for the feast, and everything was so good. It was a meal to remember, and we left the table suitably happy and engorged:

Of course we missed being with our own families back in Connecticut and Maine, and we look forward to being with them over the Christmas holiday. But Sharon's friendship and Conni & Paul's gracious hospitality and generocity was touching and much appreciated. We will always remember this Thanksgiving away from our home, and think of our new friends with fondness and gratitude.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hamilton Branch; F.A.T.S.

We tore ourselves away from the sun and sand of Edisto Beach, picked up a pound of local shrimp at Flower's on the way off island, and drove inland to another state park just north of Augusta, Georgia. The Savannah River separates Georgia from South Carolina, and in is dammed to create Strom Thurmond Lake, on the banks of which is Hamilton Branch State Park. This lake is about 40 miles long, but with a coastline of nooks & crannies that give it a whopping 1200 miles of shoreline! The park offers huge wooded lakefront sites with electric and water, and we picked one where the neighboring sites are not visible. The dogs could run free, and trot down to the lake for a swim.

It was, for the most part, very peaceful at this park. Most of the time it was so quiet that all you could here was crickets. No traffic, no motors, no other campers. Awesome. And there was virtually no wind during our stay, so the lake was like glass:

Occasionally a train would rumble by on nearby tracks, blasting its horn at intersections, but these didn't last long. One day there was a terrible racket from some kind of racecar on a motor-speedway, and it was so awful in comparision to the blissfull silence that it shattered, and the blessed silence that returned once the driver finally had enough laps.

What drew us to this section of South Carolina is a mountain bike trail system called Forks Area Trail System, or FATS. I rode there both days that we were in the area, and it was really great. The first time was a Sunday, and I arrived at the parking lot to find it nearly full - there must have been 50 cars there, all with bike racks. I got geared up and set out to sample some of the 35 miles of trails.

These trails are known for their buttery smoothness, and they were indeed smoother than any I've ridden to date.
How smooth?....................................

Yeah, that smooth.
I think I saw 5 rocks over two days. And the trails are so well cut into the terrain, traversing the slope of the land, stretching out the downhill experience for what seemed like miles, undulating between the trees, and punctuated by lumps and dips that, at speed, provided countless opportunities to get both wheels off the ground. It was really, really fun riding.

Here I am at the intersection of Big Rock and Tower trails:

Back at camp, we went for a couple of beautifully serene paddles on the mirror smooth waters of the lake.

Not a bad way to live, if you ask me...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Edisto Beach, SC

I left Mark's house and drove down into South Carolina, and cruised along the Grand Strand that sprawls along the coast and features the beach/golf hi-rise mecca of Myrtle Beach. As a rolled along and saw all of the monsterous mini-golf and go-cart activity parks, the shopping malls, the "plantations" with their fancy gated entrances and manicured grounds, I knew then that this is a place that is not my style. When the sprawl ended and the longleaf pines gave way to live-oaks and palmetto trees, the state began to have more appeal. I ended up at a nice little state park north of Charleston, not too far from the airport. Unfortunately phone and internet were very poor there, so it wouldn't do for Nancy and her job. I picked her up, and the next day we moved down to the coast, to Edisto Beach State Park. This place is great - right on a beautiful stretch of sand beach, not as spacious and private as many parks, but everyone is super nice and so happy to be there, which really makes a difference. We immediately decided to stay the week, got camp set up, and went to the beach.

Good to have Nancy back at camp:

Miles of gorgeous sand beach littered with beautiful shells:

Dolphins swim just off-shore:

Sunlight filtered through a live-oak hanging with spanish moss:

Folks don't use their cars much here. Many have golf carts, but most walk or ride bicycles. Its very flat here, so cycling is easy, and there's a grocery store just across from the campground entrance, so even trips to resupply can be done by bike. Then there is a nice network of trails for hiking and biking, and the beach, when the tide is out and exposes hard, flat sand, is a fun place to ride.

Toby catches a ride:

Riding on the beach:

Riding on the trails:

Nancy inspects the "Spanish Mount":

This is a 20 foot deep, 1/2 acre across pile of accumulated oyster shells! Some 4000 years ago indigenous americans began to pile their shells here, and the mount became so large that is was used by explorers as a landmark. Archeaologists have found pottery and bones of fish and animals in the pile, but it is mostly just oyster shells.

This friendly little sanderling ran up to me and pecked away at some mushrooms growing in the sand by my feet. The bird seemed unafraid and stayed within a foot or two of my feet while I crouched down with the camera to snap a few photos:

One afternoon we took a drive into Charleston. We really liked the feel of this city. The older section of town had such beautiful architecture, lovely private homes with walled gardens, and a really fun covered marketplace teeming with vendors selling their creations, including sweet-grass woven baskets, jewelry, pottery, and benne-seed cookies. We worked up an appetite walking and then had dinner at Hyman's Seafood on Meeting Street. We're glad that we took the time to check out Charleston. Here are a couple of photos of the city:

And I'll leave you with this - me and my birthday present of a full-face helmet so that when I get all armored up to do serious downhill trails, my noggin will have adequate protection!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

North Carolina, revisited

I headed south into North Carolina, putting in a six hour drive to reach Jones Lake State Park, southeast of Fayetteville, northwest of Wilmington. A small park of only 20 sites, no two alike in shape or size. I found one that could handle the whale's formidible bulk and settled in for the night. There was no electricity available at this park, so it would be a good test for my new two-battery configuration. I cooked over a wood fire and stayed out until it died down and it got cold. It got so cold that I turned the furnace on inside. All was well until I awoke at 3:30 in the morning and perceived that the blower fan was spinning noticable slower. So I got up and switched to the backup battery, and it made it through the night. The lesson learned is that the furnace is a battery hog, and it's not a good idea to camp off-the-grid in cold weather. The next day I ran the generator and charged up the dead battery, and then as the daytime temperature climbed into the 60's Toby and I went for a nice long hike:

The trail took us through sandy forests of longleaf pine, amongst giant rhodedendron-like trees, live-oaks with spanish moss, and along Jone's Lake:

I made contact with a friend from back at Madrigal Audio Labs, Mark Moore, who relocated to Wilmington almost a year ago. I had hoped to be able to drive down and have dinner, but Mark and his wife Valerie suggested that I bring the truck and trailer down and park overnight in their driveway. After explaining that my camper is shockingly large, and discussing the route through the city to his house, we agreed that I could come in. It was no problem, and Gigantor and the Whale fit in the driveway with feet to spare:

While Mark and I caught up, and Mark showed my how is entire garage and half of the rooms in the house are full of audio gear, Valerie prepared a delicous meal, and her daughter Mary joined us for dinner. The next morning Valerie was back in the kitchen making blueberry pancakes, so they sent me off to South Carolina with a full belly!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Southward Bound

It felt great to get back on the road - it made the trip feel like it was really still going on. We have to be flexible, and we have to keep Network-IT healthy and strong, but we also want to finish what we've started, and see the rest of this enormous country! Nancy will stay home another week, flying down to meet me in South Carolina on Sunday.

So I put in a couple of 250 mile days, stopping first in Glasgow, Delaware, at a nice little State Park called Lums Pond. It was like driving back in time, as most of the trees still had their leaves, and some of the maples were in full color. There was a nice trail around the pond so we had a nice walk, the dogs and I. At one point I became aware of a building noise. It sounded like a distant crowd, or a large machine. We kept walking and gradually out of the din I was able to perceive individual chirps - it was a large flock of migrating grackles, gathering for their flight south. We walked right below them, saw them flitting from branch to branch. Then, suddenly, as if somehow every bird was responding to the same cue, they went silent and took flight! As they wheeled away in a group, perhaps 10,000 of them, silence returned to the wood, and it was immediately evident just how loud thousands of little chirps, combined, can be.

The next drive took me through the eastern bit of Maryland, across Chesapeake Bay at Annapolis, and skirting Washington D.C. to the east, ending up just south of Richmond, Virginia. Pocahontas State Park is great: big, private campsites, lots of trees, nice gravel camp picnic areas (as opposed to the sand, dirt and grass at most campgrounds). I camped at site #88, the deepest into the park, and no other campers are within sight. The dogs can be free in camp, which is so nice for all of us. But the trails are really what made my visit here memorable. Not only is there a huge network of multi-use trails, but there are two separate mountain-bike specific trail networks, 20 miles worth. These trails were built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers, and it shows. Awesome flow from turn to turn, some nice banked corners, a couple of little jumps, log piles, and log rides. Mostly it was just sweet, flowing singletrack. Most of the trail was very smooth, very few roots, and even fewer rocks. The rocky sections were labeled "expert": when they grow up they hope to move to Connecticut and become real rock gardens! I went for two rides during the day that I was there, and I loved it.

Here is our camp at Pocahontas:

Here I ride one of the few skinny logs:

And here is Toby while out on our hike:

South again today, into North Carolina.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Break in the Trip

The month of October was spent at home base, and it was a beautiful time of year to be home. Perfect weather for bike riding, and fall fishing at its peak meant lots of recreating for me, while Nancy took care of her business. Hey, one of us has got to be productive! We wouldn't be leaving until a new engineer had been hired and had started for a couple of weeks.

Many days found me and Dan E out hammering the trails at Cockaponset, Middlesex or Miller's Pond. Here is Dan negotiating a log at Miller's:

And here he is rolling down some steep ledges:

I also got in some rides with Gene, Austin (the Goat), Larry and Ben. We plied the technicalities at Miller's and took to the twists and turns at Tyler Mill. Austin earned our respect and disgust with his amazing log riding skills!

One weekend Nancy and I joined Drew and Karen at the Glastonbury Apple Festival, where Karen enjoyed a succulent lobster roll

and Drew tore into a smoked turkey leg:

Nancy's birthday brought Derik out of hiding, along with Brittany, Mike, Lillian and Scott. Unfortunately Kristen was too busy being a nurse and couldn't join us.

Nancy tests her new bike basket for fit on Kinsey:

Jeff and I got out fishing a couple of times. The first time the wind came up and we spent the day pounding through the chop, soaked to the skin and getting caked with salt. Jeff had the magic fly and with it caught a few schoolie striped bass, but I came up with nothing. The next time out we had excellent weather, and found The Sluiceway at the end of Plum Island to be loaded with bluefish smashing bait on the surface. It was non-stop action: bent rods, screaming reels, shredded leaders, mauled flies and snapping jaws - typical bluefish style - awesome fun. Here are the two biggest fish: 11 pounds each of angry muscle-propelled teeth:

Another weekend found Nancy and I headed up to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a Waterman/Shirley reunion, and to see the Head of the Charles regatta. Here we all are lined up on a bridge over the Charles while the boats skimmed underneath us. From left to right we are: Marilyn, Greta, Bodie, Todd, Alyssa, John, George, Bill, Julie, Nancy, Charles, Alistair, Dakota and Laurel, plus Flora and Rhona down in front:

Here are a few of the 8-man boats pulling up river:

Thanks to Alyssa and Bill for hosting the throng, and for cooking a delicious sit-down dinner for seventeen hungry mouths. It was great fun.

Our Hallowe'en carvings for this year:

When Nancy's new engineer started last Monday I got to work getting ready to head back out on the road. Gigantor's got six new tires, and the Whale has a second battery plus a 1/2/both switch. But when I pulled the wheels to check the bearings I was horrified to find that three of the four grease seals had blown, and the escaped grease made a nasty mess of the brakes. Apparently I went too many miles without changing these seals. So I had to buy four new brake assemblies and install them. Here's what it looks like when a grease seal fails inside a drum brake:

Finally, by staying into November we were happy to be able to attend Theonne's 40th birthday party! It was a surprise party, and here is the birthday girl seconds after opening the door and seeing the crowd:

Gene did a great job putting together the party, provided enough food to feed us all for a week, and he also had put together a great photo presentation of Theonne's life so far. It was a great event, and we're so glad we were able to be there.

So now I am back on the road, heading south with Gigantor and the Whale. Nancy will fly down to join me this coming weekend, and then we'll spend a few weeks exploring the south-east before scooting back to spend Christmas with the family.