Tampa and Homosassa – with Family and Friends – March 2021

From Recreation Plantation we made the short drive to Port Richey in the Tampa area. Pat’s brother and sister and their spouses had rented a house in New Port Richey, we have a niece that lives in nearby Oldsmar, and friends from Key West (Butch and Linda Kurfees) that live in New Port Richey. How many more reasons do you need to visit the area?

We stayed at Sundance Lakes RV Resort. As with many other parks in Florida there was plenty of room for us as many of the Canadians that “snowbird” had to stay home because of the pandemic. Sundance Lakes is another nice park. They normally have plenty of activities going on, but due to the pandemic, the pace was much slower than normal. The big benefit of this particular park was we are within an easy bicycle ride to Pat’s family’s rental and a short drive to Butch and Linda’s house.

One of the first things we were able to do was watch our nephew, Jeremiah, play football. It’s always fun to watch him, sometimes more fun to watch his mother cheering him. The highlight of the game was Jeremiah making an interception. I was so lucky to have the camera shot framed at just the right time!

Throughout our visit, we got together for drinks, for meals, and just hanging out. We always have a good time when we are together.

One day we all car-pooled to the Town of Crystal River to watch the manatees at Three Sisters Springs. The manatees migrate in and out of the springs as the weather changes. During the cold winter, they head for the warm fresh water and when it warms, head back out into the Gulf of Mexico. Normally Pat and I watched from our kayaks. This time we were on the boardwalk and got a different perspective from the higher vantage point.

Pat’s brother, Geri and his wife, Marcia, were considering getting a new RV and they joined us to check out some of the larger RV dealers east of Tampa. We had a good time and I got a big laugh from the posters at the IHOP where we had lunch.

On March 21st we packed up and took the short drive to Rock Crusher RV Park in Homosassa to spend more time in the Crystal River area. Rock Crusher RV Park is a high-class facility and the site we were assigned had been upgraded with pavers and had a storage shed at the rear of the lot.

We spent a lot of time in our kayaks. After all, that was the reason we came here. First we launched from Hunters Spring City Park and paddled to Three Sisters Springs. Three Sisters appears to be the most popular manatee viewing site in the area and has suffered from being so popular. State Park personnel limit the number of people that can enter the spring. This was one of the periods when no boats were allowed in, so we could only watch from the main channel. I have fond memories from about twelve years ago when we visited Three Sisters and there were only a dozen or less in the area. The next day we paddled in the Homosassa River. We paddled pass Monkey Island and then to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

On March 25th we were on the road again, this time to Tyndall AFB near Panama City, FL.

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Recreating at Recreation Plantation – Jan-Mar 2021

Throughout our stay at Recreation Plantation COVID-19 was always a factor in our planning and decision-making. We formed an informal “bubble” with our friends. On occasion, we did participate in community events, but did our best to be friendly and distant at the same time. I am so looking forward to when this pandemic is behind us.

Our friends in Recreation Plantation included some Key West friends that had purchased homes in The Villages. Rusty and Charito Schlagheck were one of these couples. We had enjoyed Christmas Dinner with them and the Fords and they invited all of us to their house for a grilled brisket. They are certainly enjoying themselves in their new home. They had been full-time RVers until they decided to settle down, and it was interesting to see an actual home in The Villages.

Getting our COVID-19 vaccinations was a priority for us. Fortunately we were able to get our shots before Florida insisted that their vaccinations be limited to permanent and part-time (Snowbirds who owned property) residents. Having our legal residence in South Dakota could have been problematic and we were not going to be in any one place long enough to get both shots until we got to the Tacoma, WA area in May. I felt sorry for the staff and volunteers working in the cold and wind, but appreciated what they were doing.

In The Villages, there are four Village Squares that are social centers for music, shopping, and restaurants. We visited the Spanish Springs Square and Sumter Landing Square several times for dining and shopping. Spanish Springs hosted a craft fair and a Mardi Gras celebration. It was interesting to see how people handled COVID protocols. Some consistently wore masks, maintained social distancing, and hand washing, while others acted as though COVID had never happened. We (and our friends) were very careful.

One of my favorite activities in Key West was the weekly jam session. For years, Gary Buck had coordinated this event in Key West. This year I picked up on his tradition and started a jam session that met on Tuesday afternoons. After a slow start, Gary and some other amateur musicians arrived in the park to form a group that had fun sharing songs and tips with each other.

I was struck by the hardships faced by the residents of Texas and neighboring states by the winter storms in February, and I wanted to do something to help. I performed two guitar concerts and put out the word that all of my tips would go to raise money for Feeding America to support the food banks in the area. Thanks to the generosity of the residents of Recreation Plantation, I was able to contribute $250 to Feeding America.

We took a day to drive to Silver Springs State Park to go kayaking. What a great time! There was wildlife everywhere. I was amazed how comfortable to the turtles and other wildlife were with humans. Normally the alligators don’t care, but the turtles normally slide into the water at the slightest interaction with people. At Silver Springs, you could paddle right up to them and they continued to sun on the fallen trees along the river. It seemed like you could almost touch them before they would move.

The day before we were supposed to leave, the starter on our truck failed. It took the local dealer three days to get a new starter and get it installed. Talk about a bummer! However, we continue to prevail.

On our last night in the park, we went out to dinner at La Palma Mexican Grill in Leesburg with our good friends from Lansing, MI – Steve and Debbie Smith. The food was good, but we really enjoyed the 3 for 1 margaritas!

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Knee Surgery as a Full-Time RVer – Again, December 2020

In 2018 I underwent surgery to have partial knee replacements on both knees. A lifetime of running and parachute jumps had finally caught up to me. On my left knee I remember my doctor telling me that the knee would be good for twenty-five years. On my right knee he said there was plenty to cartilage remaining and if I hadn’t worn it out by then, I probably would not wear it out. Well, that didn’t work out so well.

In October 2020, we were camping at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point in North Carolina. One day I came back from a four-mile walk and my right knee was in great pain. By lunch it was swollen and there was obviously a lot of fluid in the knee. It was painful to walk and I couldn’t walk without limping. I went to an urgent care clinic and they suggested I see an orthopedist to have the knee drained.

Yeah, the right knee is definitely swollen!

Fortunately we planned to spend the winter at Recreation Plantation near The Villages in Florida. I guess if you are going to have knee problems it’s convenient to be close to one of the largest senior communities in Florida. I located an orthopedic clinic near the RV park and the doctors there had years of experience and had performed thousands of surgeries. The week we arrived I had an appointment where the doctor drained the fluid from the knee and sent it off to be tested. I had instant relief! Unfortunately that relief lasted about a week and the swelling was back. After more x-rays and an MRI, Dr. McCoy determined that I had worn away all of the meniscus and the cartilage in the knee looked like “potholes on an asphalt road.” Of all of the options available, the most viable one was a Total Knee Replacement. In order to have enough time to complete the rehabilitation I wanted to have the surgery performed as soon as possible and they were able to schedule me for December 22nd.

Having gone through surgeries, before I felt like a pro preparing for the surgery. It was a bit different in a COVID-19 environment, but Pat was able to come with me to the hospital and stay through the procedure. The operation was performed with no problems. I was surprised to find I could put my whole weight on the knee as soon as I was moved to my room. My only problem is that there was some bleeding from the incision that wouldn’t stop. The day after surgery they put my left in a knee immobilizer and thought they had it under control and I was discharged. However, when I was getting ready for bed that night we discovered that it was still bleeding, and my sock was soaked with blood. We changed the dressing with the first aid supplies we had and I reported this to the home nurse. She changed the dressing and we thought we were good, but that night it was still bleeding. We reported this to the clinic and when the home nurse came that day she covered the incision with an anti-coagulant called “Gold Dust.” That did the trick, but now I had not been doing rehab exercises for almost a week and I was getting concerned that scar tissue would form.

The home rehab was minimal and I felt it was ineffective, and that I should be doing more. However, the therapists were insistent that I shouldn’t push it. Finally I was transferred to outpatient physical therapy. I liked this therapy a lot better as here I felt I was being allowed to push myself more. At one point my therapist told me the “gold standard” for range of motion with a total knee replacement was 125 degrees. I had 135 degrees with my partial knee replacements and kept working to improve beyond the 125 degrees. By the time I finished therapy (a week ahead of schedule) I was consistently bending the knee to 135 degrees!

My knee still has some minor swelling that Dr. McCoy said could last from eight to twelve months. Other than that the knee feels better than it did after the partial knee replacement. Having gone through this, I am encouraging anyone to discuss having a total versus partial replacement and only go through this process one time.

Overall, I was fortunate. The problem occurred when we were within a few days of a long-term stay. Our stay at Recreation Plantation was long enough to diagnose the problem, have the surgery, and complete the rehabilitation. It would have been a major problem had it occurred after we left Florida.

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Valentine’s Day 2021

There’s nothing that says Happy Valentine’s Day like a Dove chocolate!

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Welcome to the Recreation Plantation, November-December 2020

The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused many changes to our normal routine. While for most people that means wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, in our case it affects where we live. We normally spend our winters in Key West, but the RV park at the Naval Air Station remains closed so that wasn’t an option. The RV park at Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach, FL is a favorite location, but they don’t accept reservations and we didn’t want to base where we would stay from November through March on a “roll of the dice.” Many people we know from Key West have stayed at the Recreation Plantation near The Villages and were talking about spending the winter there instead of Key West. Based on all of this we made a reservation at Recreation Plantation.

So far it has been a great choice. While we miss the camaraderie of our “military family” at Key West, many of them are here, and the other “residents” of Recreation Plantation are very welcoming. There is plenty to do here. We are right next to The Villages and there is a system of golf cart/bicycle/walking paths through The Villages we can use. It makes for a nice, scenic ride without having to worry about vehicle traffic. There are many places to shop and eat within a short ride from the RV park. The park has an Activities Office that coordinates several events within the park. The Coronavirus has caused several to be cancelled, but the staff and residents have been very creative in keeping the place hopping.

There is a Thursday morning gathering for free coffee and donuts where they make general announcements about park activities. There is a trailer with fresh produce for sale on Thursdays and one morning there was a blood drive that I supported. I am easily bribed with free juice and cookies and a Wal-Mart gift card!

We celebrated Thanksgiving by inviting another couple Mike and Judy, friends from Key West, to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. Pat baked a turkey and apple pie and our friends brought side dishes. We ate at our picnic table and enjoyed a great meal with great company. I took pictures of the turkey and the pie, but we were having such a good time I forgot to get any pictures of the people! 😦

The local town of Lady Lake held a Christmas parade that was very entertaining.

After Thanksgiving, we decorated our trailer with Christmas decorations. Usually we would have to take these down after a few days because we would fly back to Michigan for the holidays and store the trailer somewhere else. This year we were not flying back home because of the pandemic and not storing the trailer, so they could stay up! Our big decoration is our outdoor tree made out of lights we used to hang on our house.

I discovered that a local SCUBA dive shop, Underwater Adventures, was offering the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Rescue Diver course. I have wanted to take this course for a long time and decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

The course was challenging, mentally as much as physically. I was fortunate to have been a Red Cross Safety Programs Field Representative and, as a result, an Instructor-Trainer in both First Aid and Water Safety. That training and experience was a great help in completing this course.  The course included preventing and dealing with equipment failures, assisting divers in trouble both underwater and on the surface. We did the open water diving at Alexander Springs, part of the Ocala National Forest. Our instructor wanted to do this training in poorer visibility, but I was happy to swim in the crystal clear water of the spring. The practical examination in open water was definitely challenging. Doing mouth to mouth rescue breathing while treading water was tough when I was 40, it was even more so at 71 years old!

I don’t see myself becoming a Divemaster or Instructor, but do feel that I am now a much safer diver and will be able to safely and effectively assist other divers who may be experiencing difficulties.

One Sunday morning (at about 1:00 am) we awoke to a whooshing sound and the strong smell of ammonia. When I went outside to investigate I found that the cooling unit of our refrigerator had ruptured and ammonia was spewing out of a rusted pipe. After almost ten years on the road and constant use, it was not surprising that it died. Granted, that didn’t make us happy about it. The next morning I called around and made arrangements to get it repaired at RV Specialist in nearby Leesburg. We had to leave our RV with them overnight for the repair and we took advantage of this to get a hotel room in Disney Springs and see the Christmas lights and displays. We picked up our rig the next morning and our refrigerator is now operating like it was brand new again.

December 12th was the Army-Navy Game. Unlike the past few years when we were at Patrick AFB and this was a big deal, we didn’t find anyone in the park that was hosting a game party, so we did our own thing and cheered Army on to victory. We have no doubt that our enthusiastic support was key to the victory for the Black Knights.

One of the local churches set up an outdoor Christmas light display and it was a pleasure to see the religious symbols of the season in lights.

I usually practice playing my guitar outside our RV in the afternoon and many of the people who had stopped by to listen, encouraged me to do a performance for the park. On December 14th I used the back of our pickup for a stage and held a “Music on the Lawn” performance. It was unique, compared to other campgrounds. In the past people would show up with their lawn chairs, but here it was like a “drive in theater” for golf carts! It was fun and I put on my Santa hat to finish the performance with Christmas Carols.

On December 17th the park had a lighted Christmas Parade for golf carts and bicycles. We decorated our bikes with gift wrap and lights. What a lot of fun! Did I tell you there are a lot of golf carts around here? I discovered that Florida has regulations for golf carts and “Low Speed Vehicles” (LSV). LSVs are super golf carts with higher standards (turn signals, exterior rear view mirrors, head lights, and seat belts. These are considered street legal and you see them all over town.

Wreaths Across America is a non-profit charity that coordinates wreath­-laying ceremonies at more than 2,100 locations across the United States and abroad While most of the effort is on national cemeteries, some local ones participate. We volunteered this year at the Lady Lake Cemetery.

On December 22nd I gave myself an early Christmas present – a Total Knee Replacement on my right knee. Look for more information on this in a future post.

We celebrated Christmas Day with some Key West friends, Roger and Bonnie Ford, and Rusty and Charito Schlagheck. Roger and Bonnie hosted us at their motor home. A great meal with great friends – a true Merry Christmas!

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Enjoying Friends and Fun at Cherry Point – Havelok, NC October 2020

Our decision to stay at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point was not just a whim. It was the right distance along our route to Florida, we had never stayed there before, and we had friends in the area. The last factor was the most important one. Pelican Point RV Park at Cherry Point is a nice, little park. It offers spacious, full hook up sites with concrete pads. It’s away from the main portion of the base, so it quiet, but it’s a short bike ride to get to the Base Exchange and Commissary. There is a kayak launch on to Slocum Creek right next to the RV park.

We met Jim and Cindy Rose at Patrick AFB last year. They started their fulltime RV journey from the Havelok area. I noticed on Facebook that they would be at Cherry Point when we were scheduled through the area. Lynn Hector and Dave and Clara Inscoe are old friends from Key West and live in the area.

It didn’t take long to link up with Jim and Cindy and we met for lunch at their rig. Jim started playing the ukulele while we were at Patrick last year and we spent the afternoon jamming and sharing songs with each other. Unfortunately we were having so much fun I forgot to take any pictures!

One day we picked up Lynn at her house and drove to meet Dave and Clara at their place in Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is a picturesque community, right on the Atlantic coast near Cape Lookout.

The weather wasn’t very good and we hung out and talked until it cleared a bit. Dave and Clara took us on a boat ride around the Beaufort waterfront and regaled us with stories of fishing the area. They live in the house Clara grew up in and the history was entertaining. Clara’s ancestors had been lighthouse keepers at Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras, and her dad had been a boat builder.

Dinner that night was fish fresh caught by Dave and Clara the previous day. Wow! There was plenty to eat and it was delicious.

Dave and I tried to get out sailing a couple of times but the winds were either too strong or too light and we couldn’t make it happen. However, we were able to get back out on their boat when Dave took Pat and I out to Shackleford Banks. This is part of the National Park Service and is only accessible by boat. We walked the beach and picked up shells and had a lot of fun. Dave is a great tour guide with a host of historical knowledge about the area.

We hung out for the remainder of the time we were there and left on November 4th en-route to Recreation Plantation in Lady Lake, FL.

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Hanging Out in America’s Historic Triangle – October 2020

We traveled from Maryland to Virginia and camped at the Kings Creek RV Park at the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. This is a very nice park with concrete pads and full hookups. It is well off the beaten path which is a mixture of good and bad. It’s good because it is nice and quiet. It’s not so good because it is not close to much of anything. Fortunately it is in the middle of the Historic Triangle. The Historic Triangle includes the three historic colonial communities of Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown.  What a great base to explore Colonial America!

We started our exploration by visiting the Yorktown Battlefield. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many modifications to local attractions. Many of the local museums and exhibits are either closed or limited in scope. For example, the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center is closed, but the battlefield can still be toured. There was a Ranger on duty outside the Visitor Center to give advice, maps, and guides, but no Ranger-led tours. On his advice, we downloaded the Yorktown Tour App (available for iPhone and Android). This provided us with a narration for every stop on the Battlefield. The app also includes a tour for Historic Yorktown.

The Battle of Yorktown was a decisive victory by a combined force of American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington, and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau. They defeated the British army commanded by General Charles Cornwallis. The siege proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War. The surrender by Cornwallis prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.

The guide led us to the critical places on the battlefield. The two places that impressed me the most were Redoubts 9 and 10 and the Surrender Field. Redoubts 9 and 10 were part of the outer fortifications of the British Army. The Americans and French could not defeat Cornwallis until these positions were taken. On the night of October 14, 1781, the French attacked Redoubt 9 and the Americans attacked Redoubt 10. The allies approached with unloaded muskets and fixed bayonets. Sappers (Engineer soldiers) led the way with axes to chop through the log abatis (log obstacles) that protected the redoubt. Looking inside the redoubts I was amazed that the defenders and attackers would even fit inside. The attacks were successful and the defeat of Cornwallis’ Army was close at hand. The assault on Redoubt 10 is even highlighted in the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, GA.

The Surrender Field was where the British Army formally surrendered to the French and the Americans. General Cornwallis claimed illness so he wouldn’t have to personally surrender to what he felt was an inferior enemy. When Cornwallis’ deputy General O’Hara, leading the British troops, tried to surrender to the French, General Rochambeau calmly pointed to General Washington. Washington was so enraged by Cornwallis’s snub that he directed his Deputy Commander, General Benjamin Lincoln to accept the surrender.

After the Battlefield Tour we parked and walked around Yorktown. It’s a small, quiet community and it made me wonder what it must be like to live in a “living museum.” We visited the Yorktown Victory Monument. On October 24, 1781, LTC Tilghman, Washington’s Aide de Camp, reached Philadelphia and advised the Continental Congress of Washington’s victory at Yorktown. Five days later the Congress authorized the construction of the Victory Monument. It was to be, “a marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance between the United States and his Most Christian Majesty.” However, the monument was not constructed until 100 years later. This should have been an early warning to anyone who expected the government to act quickly on anything.

After dinner at the Yorktown Pub, we walked to the Yorktown Riverwalk Landing and attended an outdoor concert. This was part of a series of free concerts presented by York County and we enjoyed both the setting and the music. Ice cream cones from Ben & Jerry’s was a special treat!

On Sunday we explored the Jamestown Settlement. We drove to the Chickahominy Riverfront Park and rode our bikes along the Virginia Capital Trail to the Jamestown Settlement, a seven-mile ride, one-way. The Jamestown Settlement is operated by the State of Virginia and the nearby Jamestown Island is operated by the National Park Service.

The Jamestown Settlement is a good mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits. All of the outdoor exhibits have living history docents to explain and demonstrate how the early settlers lived. Our first stop was the Powhatan Village.

Next stop was the Jamestown Wharf. Here we were able to board and explore a replica of the Susan Constant, one of the three ships the original Jamestown settlers traveled aboard from England. A new fact I learned was that the passengers were considered cargo and had no living quarters. They would eat and sleep on the exposed deck or wedged in among the casks and bundles of the non-human cargo. I can’t imagine how much fun a cross-Atlantic voyage would have been in those conditions!

James Fort was constructed to protect the settlers from foreign attackers and the local Indian tribes. Throughout the days of the settlement, relations with the Indian tribes were tenuous. The spread of the settlers into traditional Indian hunting grounds was a constant irritant and the poor communications between the two groups only acerbated the situation. For example; in 1609, Chief Powhatan ordered a siege of James Fort that led to the “Starving Time” that killed all but 60 of the settlers. The folk tale of Pocahontas marrying John Smith is mere fiction. In fact she was kidnapped in a raid by the settlers. However, she did marry John Rolfe in 1614, a marriage that resulted in a seven-year peace.

The inside exhibits are impressive. They describe, in detail, the challenges faced by the settlers and the Indians as they strove to coexist in the area.

On Wednesday, October 7th, we checked out a local distillery and a winery. It was an interesting exploration of different tastes. One of the unique aspects of the Copper Fox Distillery was that it had been a “speakeasy” with a doorway hidden by a bookcase. The Williamsburg Winery offered a great view in addition to some fine wines.

Thursday, we drove to Fort Monroe. This fort was built in 1834 and is the largest stone fort built in the United States. It was vital to the coastal defense of the U.S for hundreds of years. This was the headquarters for the Army Training and Doctrine Command until 2011, when it was designated as a National Monument. What I found most interesting is that the quarters in the fort can now be rented through the Fort Monroe Authority. Some lucky family is now living in the former quarters of 2LT Robert E. Lee and his wife! The fort also houses the Casemate Museum that chronicles the history of Fort Monroe and features a room where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held prisoner following the Civil War. There is also a guide for a walking tour of the fort available.

Friday, we went back to Yorktown to tour the American Revolution Museum. This, like the Jamestown Settlement, is operated by the State of Virginia. If you’re in the area I suggest that you visit both of these museums, be sure to buy the pass for entrance to both museums and get a 15% discount. The displays and movies were just outstanding! I particularly liked the personal stories contained in many of the exhibits. There were outdoor displays of a Continental Army encampment and a tobacco farm. The encampment’s field kitchen was a circular trench with alcoves for the cooking fires. I found it interesting the Captain’s tents have not gotten any bigger over the last 200+ years!

On Monday, October 12th, we drove to Fort Eustis to shop at the commissary and tour the Army Transportation Museum. The last time I was at Fort Eustis, was decades ago when I was a student in the Surface Deployment Planning Course. The Museum has certainly improved since then. The exhibits traced the history of military transportation from the horse-drawn wagons and pack mules of the Revolution to the HUMVEEs and helicopters of today. Interestingly, the Army actually used pack mules again in parts of Afghanistan, some things never change! The Transportation Corps is the “Spearhead of Logistics.” You can have all the stuff you ever wanted, but if you can’t get it to where it needs to be, then it is worthless. While I spent the bulk of my career as an Infantry officer, I am both proud and have fond memories of the short time I was assigned to the Transportation Corps.

Some of the special events that are highlighted are

1. The motor convoy that traveled from coast to coast in 1919 to test the Army’s ability to move equipment over extended distances, led by Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower.

2. The “Red Ball Express” in WW II to rush supplies to fast moving Allied forces in Europe.

3. Rebuilding and operating a railroad system in Europe after it was destroyed by pre-invasion bombing.

4. The deployment of forces to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. My own Transportation Detachment, the 1009th Movement Control Team, was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for supporting this effort.

The Transportation Corps operates trucks, but also operates trains, surface ships, and aircraft. These numbers may be out of date, but at one time, the Army had the fourth largest Navy and the tenth largest Air Force in the world.

We made one more trip to Yorktown to sail on the Schooner Alliance for a tour of the York River. It was a pleasant cruise, but we were disappointed by the lack of wind and we motored around the area most of the time. The crew did a great job narrating about the sites in the area. As we approached the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station we could see a submarine that was unloading its ammunition before going to the Norfolk Naval Station for maintenance and refitting. However, the highlight of the cruise was discovering a pod of dolphins. They entertained all of us with a great show as they played around our schooner.

After doing so much sightseeing in the area, we spent our last week taking it easy and enjoying the quiet of the campground. On October 21st, we departed for Havelock, NC and Marine Corps Air Station – Cherry Point.

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The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay – October 2020

It’s amazing what you can discover searching the internet. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I stumbled across a discussion of kayaking on Mallows Bay in Maryland. The more I read, the more I was intrigued. There is a lot of history of the Liberty Ships, cargo ships that were mass produced for World War II. What I discovered was that between 1917 and 1919, during World War I more than 100 wooden steam ships were built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet. Their construction in forty shipyards and in seventeen states reflected the massive national wartime effort.

At the end of WWI, these ships, poorly constructed and now obsolete, had to be disposed of. Most of them were purchased by the Western Marine & Salvage Company and brought to Mallows Bay, off the Potomac River. Here they were stripped of their metal components, beached in Mallows Bay, and burned to the waterline. The burning occurred on November 7, 1925, and was the greatest destruction of ships at one time in U.S. history. During WWII, Bethlehem Steel Corporation dredged a salvage basin to recover the remaining metal components from the ships to support the war effort. After that was completed the ships were towed back into the bay.

In the 1960’s there was an attempt to remove the hulls in order to build a power generating station in the area. The House Committee on Government Operations identified that an aquatic habitat and ecosystem had been created by the hulls of these ships and declared their removal was unnecessary.

Charles County manages a day-use area at the site. The Ghost Fleet was designated as a National Treasure in 2017. The Chesapeake Bay Program and Charles County has published a guide that highlights sixteen of these wrecks for a self-guided tour.

The Accomac is the only steel-hulled vessel in Mallows Bay. It serviced the ferry route between Cape Charles and Norfolk until it suffered a fire and was taken out of service. It was scuttled in Mallows Bay in 1973.

The Benzonia was named after a Michigan town, served for a brief period during WWI and then sold to the Western Marine and Salvage Company.

The Three Sisters is a group of three wrecks: The Dertona, the “Heron Wreck,” and the Moosabee.  The Dertoona was briefly in the coasting trade. The “Heron Wreck” is named for the frequent sightings of great blue herons on and about the site. The Moosabee carried timber logs to Europe from 1919 until 1922.

The Flower Pot Wrecks are two unidentified U.S. Shipping Board WWI ships. Both wrecks are overgrown with vegetation and fire damage is evident.

The SS Boone was named by the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. The Boone was launched in 1918. Her career was brief and it was sold for scrap in 1922.

We kayaked around the Ghost Fleet on Monday morning, September 28th. After lunch we drove to Fort Washington. Constructed from 1814 to 1824, this was the first permanent fort constructed to defend the Potomac River and the Nation’s Capital. In addition to touring the fort, we were able to see the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Washington Monument.

We spent Tuesday doing some shopping and maintenance. On Wednesday, we headed for Yorktown, VA and America’s Historic Triangle.

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Flight 93 Memorial – September 2020

On September 11, 2001 forty passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 fought the first battle of the War on Terror. We don’t know, but believe the terrorists intended to fly Flight 93 into the Capitol Building. Because of these brave actions Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA instead of the Capitol.

I have been fortunate to have visited this hallowed ground on three previous occasions. I led the Leadership Development Program for the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers from 2008 to 2013. During three of these years, my students and I visited the Flight 93 Memorial while it was being built by National Park Service and the Corps of Engineers. What an experience! We were able to see parts of the site that are not open to the public and hear the inside story of the challenges faced by these organizations.

2011 LDP Class

We stayed at the Friendship Village RV Park near Bedford, PA. It’s a nice park and a relatively short drive to the Memorial. The day we toured the Memorial was overcast and dreary, and it set an appropriate somber tone for our visit. This was the first time that I was able to tour the new Visitor Center. It was quite a contrast from my first visit. Then the “Visitor Center” was nothing more than the pole barn that had been the headquarters for the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI, and the County Coroner during the initial recovery. It displayed some of the initial items recovered from the crash and memorial items left by families of the passengers and crew, and nearby residents.

Flight 93 Temporary Memorial

The new Visitor Center is a building filled with stories. Two huge outer walls trace the flight path of the aircraft prior to the crash. Inside the exhibits include the position of the passengers prior to the hijacking and their general location after the hijacking. This was compiled based on the seatback phones they used to call family. There are transcripts of some of those calls, radio calls from pilots and air traffic control personnel, and excerpts of radio and TV broadcasts. All of these made it real. It brought back memories of that terrible day when I heard the news in real time.

The approximate point of impact is marked with a huge boulder. The story of how the boulder was transported and placed is a testimony to the creativity and dedication to the private contractors, National Park Service, and Corps of Engineers personnel involved. The crash site itself is only accessible to Flight 93 passenger and crew family members.

From the Visitor Center we walked along a trail to the Memorial Plaza. This was constructed before the Visitor Center and memorializes the names of the forty passengers and crew in a wall constructed along the flight path. From the end of the wall you can see the boulder at the impact site.

From there we walked along the walkway through the forty hemlock groves back to the Visitor Center. On our way out of the Memorial we stopped at the Tower of Voices. This was the last part of the Memorial to be built. This tower has a system of forty wind chimes, representing the voices of the passengers and crew.

The next day we drove to the town of Bedford. We had been told by friends that it was a neat town with unique shops, and they were right! We stopped at the Visitor Bureau and picked up a map of a walking tour of the town. A couple of the most interesting stops were:

1. Fort Bedford Museum. This is a reconstruction of the original fort that was built in 1758 and was used as a supply point during the French and Indian War.

2. The Veterans Memorial honoring Bedford men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country.

3. The Lutheran Parish, not for the building but for the six panel door. The door was designed centuries ago to identify a house as a Christian home. The top four panels outline the shape of a cross. The bottom two panels depict an open Bible with the spine of the book in the center.

4. The most unique building was the Coffee Pot. In 1927 it was built in the shape of a coffee pot by Bert Koontz to draw business to his gas station that was next door. It served ice cream, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola. In 2004, in order to preserve it, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (a historical organization) moved it to its present location.

On Friday we drove to meet some friends from Key West who live nearby in Hollidaysburg. Nelson and Kim are great friends and after a tour of their home, served up a terrific dinner. Nelson is an accomplished musician and we often play together in Key West, I have learned SO much from him!

The campground hosted a Bluegrass Festival on Saturday and I was able to listen to couple of bands, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Sunday, September 27th we headed down the road to Joint Base Andrews, southeast of Washington, DC.

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Wandering Around the Michigan Mitten – July/September 2020

We had a nice visit with our family in Washington and returned on July 25th Just in time for me to join a picnic of a veteran’s group I belong to, the 425th Regimental Association. Almost everyone there was wearing masks and/or maintaining a good social distance. You could tell the pandemic was having an impact. This event normally has around 150 people attending; this year was less than fifty.

 

We returned to Bad Axe, picked up our trailer, and said our good-byes and thanks to Geri and Marcia. The next stop was Traverse City State Park. State parks are sometimes a challenge for rigs of our size, but we were fortunate to reserve a site that was big enough and was easy to back our trailer into it. I had forgotten how crowded some of the older state parks can be, but everyone seemed to be practicing mask-wearing and social distancing.

There is a long “Rails to Trails” path that runs behind the campground and we used it for exercising and exploring. One should not visit the Traverse City area without visiting at least one winery. The local wineries had modified or closed their tasting rooms. We had toured the wineries on previous visits and decided one would be enough for this trip. We chose the Grand Traverse Winery. Masks were required and the number of people was limited with marks on the floor to maintain distance. Other than a Plexiglas shield at the counter and the server wearing a mask, it was a traditional tasting. We enjoyed many of the wines we sampled and purchased a bottle on our way out.

We went out to dinner on our last night in town. We found a delightful little restaurant that serves authentic pasties. It had been years since we had one and that made the choice of restaurants easy. The sidewalk dining was the icing on the cake.

On Friday, July 31st we left Traverse City and drove to Ludington, MI.

We were not able to get reservations at Ludington State Park, so we stayed at the Vacation Station RV Park. It is a nice park! Full hookups, back in and pull-through sites, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. The sites are nice and big with level concrete pads, a big change from the state park.

One of the first things we did on Saturday was to take our kayaks to Ludington State Park and kayak on Hamlin Lake. After paddling through the islands near the state park shoreline, we portaged our kayaks below the dam and paddled downstream to Lake Michigan (My dad always called it the “big lake.”) Both Traverse City and Ludington State Parks were very full. People are happy that the state park campgrounds are open again. Out in Lake Michigan, we could see the crowds on the beach in front of the beach house. The beach house was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and has always been one of my favorite Ludington landmarks.

 

The next day we hiked to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. This light was built in 1867 and was turned over to the State of Michigan by the Coast Guard in 1972 once the light was no longer needed. After a trail lunch on the beach, we hiked along the shoreline to the beach house. Another great day!

On Tuesday, August 4th we made the short drive to School Section Lake Veterans Park Campground. My sister, Susan, lives a short distance away in Canadian Lakes, a big-time golfing community. Seeing her was our primary reason for this stop. We met her at her place for dinner that night and caught up on all kinds of things. As my only sibling, she is special to us.

School Section Lake Veterans Park Campground is a nice place to stay. As with many county parks, they have a large number of seasonal campsites so we were happy we were able to get a good site. They have a large, open field in the center of the campground, which I like because it makes it easy to back into the sites on the perimeter. This is a historical campground as it is the site of a Negro settlement from back in the 1860s. Old Settler Reunions of the families of those early settlers began in the 1890s and have continued to the present. There is a nice swimming beach with rental canoes and kayaks as well as a concession building.

Susan came out to join us for dinner and we treated her to my “famous” BBQ Baby Back ribs. We had another great evening together and we walked around and down to the beach before she left.

Our last day in the campground was devoted to washing the trailer and cleaning out a clogged kitchen drain. When you live in your RV, daily life continues.

On Friday, August 7th we drove to Lansing, MI where we stayed at the Lansing Cottonwood Campground. Because we lived in the Lansing area until we began our full-time RV journey, we make stops here to see doctors and our financial advisor, as well as friends and our son, David.

This is one of our favorite campgrounds because it is so convenient to Lansing. It is located within the city limits on the south end of town. The Lansing River Trail is about a quarter-mile from the campground and will take you to almost anywhere you want to go in Lansing and East Lansing (Michigan State University).

Our son, David, still lives and works in the area and we were able to have him over for dinner, conversation, and table games several times. His big news was that he was moving to a new apartment. Of course, we offered our help and our truck to assist him in moving. He enlisted the help of many of his friends who showed up in force and with an enclosed trailer. The trailer was an essential piece of equipment as it was raining on the day he moved.

Our days were filled with exercising by walking or biking on the Lansing River Trail, appointments with our dentist and financial advisor, and generally practicing the “fine art of doing nothing.” It’s always interesting staying in a park for an extended period of time. We watched neighbors come and go and some of our neighbors had very unique circumstances. For example, one of our neighbors was a family having repairs done to the foundation of their home and moved into the campground to live in a tent, expecting to be there for a week or so. They ended up staying in the park for almost a month. Another of our neighbors was from Alaska, and working in the area for several months. Occasionally, many campers would come in for softball tournaments and we would watch them come and go from the ball diamonds.

We took a day to go kayaking on the Looking Glass River in DeWitt. The local communities have upgraded the kayak launches so it is much easier to launch and recover kayaks. The Looking Glass is a fun river to paddle. You are often paddling through residential areas and communities, but you are secluded enough that you feel like you are in northern Michigan. During the spring, the river is often so high that it overflows its banks and you can paddle through backyards and picnic shelters. However, in the late summer, we found it quite shallow in some spots and a bit of a challenge.

Late in our stay, I made a presentation of the history of Company F (RANGER), 425th Infantry to the Headquarters of the Michigan National Guard for their library. This was the unit I commanded in Pontiac, MI, and I was a co-author with COL Don Bugg, who had preceded me in command.

We were able to visit with several of our friends in the area, either meeting them for dinner or inviting them to join us in the campground. I worked with the management of the campground to do two folk music performances that we called “Music on the Lawn,” on the grassy area across from the office. It was fun and many of the campers enjoyed the performances. Shortly before we left, our neighbor from Alaska asked if we could play together on our guitars. It was a nice way to end our visit to Michigan.

On September 23rd we left Michigan and our next stop is Pennsylvania and the Flight 93 Memorial.

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