Hiking Medallions

Hiking medallions have been a long-standing tradition in Europe and have become increasingly popular in the United States. I have been hiking and backpacking for years. One year I was with my Boy Scout troop (I was the Scoutmaster) and I found a nice maple branch that had broken off of the tree. It was about the right length and relatively straight so I kept it to use as a hiking staff.  A few years later my wife, Pat, suggested that I might use it as a record of where I had hiked. It sounded like a good idea and I toyed with the idea of wood-burning the trail names and dates, but never pursued that thought.

In 2011, Pat and I became fulltime RVers. One of our first major stops was Acadia National Park in Maine. We had just finished hiking to the top of Cadillac Mountain and stopped to browse the Visitor Center. In the gift shop, we discovered our first hiking stick medallion – that started my new hobby! I still had my staff from that Scout camp, and my medallion from Cadillac Mountain was the first one to adorn it. A couple of years ago I retired that staff from active use. It had developed a crack at the bottom and I was afraid that it would split. My daughter blessed me with a pair of telescoping trekking poles that Christmas to replace it. It was a good thing because I was running out of room on my old staff – now I didn’t have to leave room at the top and bottom and I could continue to add to my collection.

In our travels, Pat and I have hiked all over the United States and other countries as well. I haven’t been able to find medallions for all of our hikes, but I have for most of them.

Most medallions are made from light metal that can be gently shaped by hand to fit on hiking staffs, paddles, or anything else you want to use. Because the medal is so light, I find where I want to place it on the staff and gently bend it, either with my hand or a pair of needle-nose pliers, to fit the shape of the staff. My staff is a natural branch so I occasionally run into small knots and I try to position the medallion to avoid those. The light medal allows me to bend it around the knot. Short brad style nails are normally included with the medallion. The brief instructions that accompany the medallion suggest pre-drilling the holes. I normally use a one-inch finishing nail as a pre-drilling tool. I tap the finishing nail in a small fraction of an inch to start the hole. Then I will hold the small brad in place with my needle-nose pliers and gently tap the brad completely into the wood. Some of my more recent purchases have come with a glue backing. This is nice, but I prefer the security of nailing the medallion in place.

My staff is a nice conversation piece when we have friends visit. On occasion, I will just pick it up and use the medallions to spark pleasant memories of earlier hikes. Click on the individual pictures to get a closer look.

My staff now includes medallions from the following hikes:

  • Great Smokey Mountains, NC
  • Myrtle Beach State Park, SC
  • Philadelphia, PA (Independence Hall)
  • Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Multnomah Falls, OR
  • Mountains to Sea Trail, NC
  • Kenaj Fjords National Park, AK
  • Glacier National Park, MT
  • Denali National Park, AK
  • Sulfur Mountain Trail, Banff, Alberta, Canada
  • Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX
  • Petroglyph National Monument, NM
  • Everglades National Park, FL
  • New River Gorge National Park, WV
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
  • Haleakala National Park, HI
  • Kartchner Canyon Stare Park, AZ
  • Yosemite National Park, UT
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  • North Country Scenic Trail, Upper Peninsula, MI
  • South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Acadia National Park, ME
  • Zion National Park, UT
  • Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park, MI
  • Grand Tetons National Park, WY
  • Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, MI
  • Mesa Verde National Park, CO
  • Harny Peak Trail, SD
  • Death Valley National Park, NV
  • Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, KY-TN
  • Badlands National Park, SD
  • Yellowstone National Park, WY
  • Arches National Park, UT
  • Gorges State Park, NC
  • Mount Rainer National Park, WA
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA
  • Franconia Notch State Park (Old Man of the Mountains), NH
  • Pinnacle Mountain State Park, AR
  • Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
  • Craters of the Moon National Park, ID
  • Curecanti National Recreation Area (The Blue Mesa), CO
  • Canyonlands National Park, UT
  • Olympic National Park, WA
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
  • Boston National Historical Park, MA
  • Cumberland Island National Seashore, GA
  • Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK
  • Hot Springs National Park, AR
  • Crater Lake National Park, OR
  • Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
Posted in Fulltime RV, Michigan Traveler | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Side Trip to Tacoma – July 2020

It has been an unofficial tradition when we go to the Smith family cottage for some of our kids and grandkids to fly from Washington to Michigan to join us. However, with conflicting schedules and the Corona Virus it was soon apparent that was not going to happen. Pat and I decided that we would go to them instead.

We flew out of Detroit Metro Airport on Wednesday, July 15th. Flying during the pandemic was an experience! At the airport, 3:00 in the afternoon looked as crowded as it used to at 11:00 at night. Delta Airlines did a good job. All of the middle seats were blocked off, and we boarded beginning with the back of the plane so passengers could stay spaced out. As we boarded we were handed disinfectant wipes so we could give our seats and surrounding area another cleaning. In-flight snacks were bottled water, granola bar, and chips in a zip lock bag, so there was minimal handling. In the airports there were a few restaurants open and some offered disbursed seating. All passengers had to wear masks unless they were eating and this was enforced by the flight attendants.

We arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma (SEATAC) airport on schedule and our son, Scott, picked us up. We stayed with our daughter, Elisabeth, at her house. We had dinners at Scott’s and Elisabeth’s homes with the rest of the family. It was great to see them all again, and this was only the beginning.

On Saturday we drove to Mount Rainer National Park. Mount Rainer is the dominant feature in the area, it is always on the eastern horizon and visible on clear days. We drove to the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise on the south end of the park. There are several hiking trails in the area. I was surprised to see how much snow was still on the ground; after all it was the last half of July! Later I asked one of the Rangers if this was normal and was told fifteen years ago this was the norm. It has only been in recent years that the snow has been light. As a result of the snowfall many of the trails were closed or were marked with warning signs and tall poles to make sure hikers could find the trail. Definitely a new experience for me, but it made it more interesting.

Later in the week, Pat and I, with Scott and Elisabeth, stayed in a room at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino on the Pacific Coast. It was only an overnight, but a fun trip. We got our first experience of staying in a hotel during the pandemic. We called from the car to see if our room was available. Then we went inside where we were scanned to check our temperature, masks had to be worn and there were surgical masks available for guests who didn’t have their own.

After we checked into our room, we walked along the beach and took some time to practice the “fine art of doing nothing,” just laying on the sand and relaxing. That evening we went to dinner at the hotel, dining during the pandemic is always an adventure. We followed it up with a traditional Wangen game of Dominoes.

On our last night in town, we had the whole family over to Elisabeth’s for pizza. It was a wonderful evening of eating and playing games together. A great way to end our visit.

Posted in Michigan Traveler, Washington | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Hunkering Down in Bad Axe, MI – June/July 2020

We arrived in Bad Axe, MI on April 23rd. This was our “safe harbor” during the pandemic, thanks to the generosity of Pat’s brother, Geri, and his wife, Marcia. We parked the trailer in their backyard and plugged into the 30-amp outlet in his shed. Because we had been traveling for the last week or so, we agreed that we would self quarantine for two weeks. After that time was up, we were back into more of our usual routine. They would host us for dinner sometimes and we would do the same. Sometimes dinner was a joint effort.

We thought we had spent enough time in the South that we would be in Michigan for a warm spring – guess again, it was COLD! We were running the furnace so much that I was going through a thirty-pound propane tank in a week. We had both snow and rain. In the Midland area they had so much rain that a dam broke and caused massive flooding. Residents that were already dealing with COVID-19 now had to deal with flooded or destroyed homes, living in shelters, and rebuilding. Homes that used to be waterfront properties now looked out onto a mud flat.

Needless to say, we did not do a lot of visiting anyone else while we were there. However, we made a couple of trips to the family’s cottage on Rifle Lake, near the town of Lupton for Memorial Day weekend and a week later. There we did some of the normal spring cleaning and repair. Geri and Marcia’s daughter, Tara, and her husband, Ron, came up with their kids, Addie and Grant. We had lots of fun and got a lot of work done. Rides in the pontoon boat and late afternoons on their deck looking out onto the lake for happy hour were always good.

Back in Bad Axe, I went to work on a project. They have a small (four foot) lighthouse at the cottage that was showing lots of wear from the weather, and we decided that I would repair and repaint it. This was not true work as I enjoyed doing it and it gave me something productive to do with my time.

We did drive up to Grindstone City, near the tip of the Thumb to get ice cream at the Grindstone City General Store. Their ice cream is the best and the servings are huge! Due to COVID-19 they were only serving cups, not cones, but it was still worth it.

Staying at Geri and Marcia’s is really being in nature, as evidenced by these two deer that wandered right through their backyard.

Almost every morning Pat and I would ride our bikes, or walk for exercise. The walking was a real treat for their dog, Dakota, and we gave her some good, long walks.

On June 27th, Pat and I drove to Port Austin for the Port Austin Porch Fest. Organizers arranged for musical performances on neighborhood porches around town. Maps were available at any business and we were able to sit on the lawn and listen to a variety of musicians. My musical preference is folk music, but there were performers doing rock, jazz, and more. The one that impressed me the most was a seventeen-year old young lady who was in Port Austin for her fifth year! She is already a well-known singer-songwriter in the Port Huron/Detroit area. What a beautiful voice!

Independence Day week found us at the Rifle Lake cottage. This time we were joined by many more family members. It was a great week of fellowship, and enjoying good, homemade food together. Of course we spent time on the pontoon boat and swimming in the lake. The weather was so hot that the lake was like bath water. We watched fireworks from the lake, it very easy to do social distancing this way.

On July 15th, we flew to Tacoma, WA, but that’s a story for our next post.

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The Woes of RV Repair – June/July 2020

In May of 2019, as we were leaving our campsite at Elsworth AFB, our fifth-wheel trailer slid out of the hitch and dropped onto the bed of our pickup. I had visually checked it and we did our test pull, but it still happened. We had the trailer and truck repaired over the summer at Wescraft Truck and RV in the Tacoma, WA area, and thought we were good to go. Unfortunately, as we were traveling to Florida, I noticed that the trim molding under the front cap had been damaged and was bent. I attempted to fix it, but the same condition reappeared after each fix. After more investigation, it appeared that the frame behind the cap was moving independently of the side of the trailer. By now COVID-19 was going on and we headed to Michigan to “hunker down.” Once we arrived in Michigan I found that my normal RV dealer was closed down, but I was able to make an appointment with General RV in Birch Run, MI. I had never had service done there but had used their retail store. As they are a major RV dealer, I thought I would use them to fix this problem.

I contacted Wescraft RV who had done the repair in Tacoma and they said they guaranteed their work and would pay for the repair. I drove the trailer to General RV on June 1st. General RV did not want to begin work with just a verbal agreement so I paid them $3,300 to open up the front of the trailer and begin the repair. If Wescraft didn’t cover everything, I intended to pay the balance. I stressed to our service advisor, Shianne, that we were fulltime RVers, and whatever they could do to expedite the repair would be greatly appreciated. She said it would depend on how long it would take to get parts, and I commented that I didn’t think it would need any parts they didn’t have in stock.

Monday, June 8th I got a call from Shianne and she asked me to come to their shop and see what they had discovered and make some decisions for the repair. They discovered that the original bolts had been sheared off when the trailer hit the bed of the truck and the screws that had been put in by Wescraft had not adequately carried the weight of the trailer and they had sheared off as well. We agreed that they would run carriage bolts through the frame and they would have to drill holes in the fiberglass side to do that. I agreed with this and they suggested that they cover these holes with a decal as it would be better than trying to match the existing paint. I thought that was a great idea and told them to go forward with the repair. I again reminded them that we were fulltime RVers, we were staying with my brother and sister in law but didn’t want to take advantage of their generosity. I asked her to do whatever they could to expedite the repairs.

At the end of the week, I called General RV to advise them I had confirmed that Wescraft was going to pay for the repairs and only needed an invoice for the total amount. Shianne told me that the shop that does the decals would be out to color match the decals to the existing ones on the trailer on June 24th. She told me they had completed their repairs and would send our trailer to Rush RV, the dealer in Holly, MI that they use for bodywork after the decals were done. I suggested that they send the trailer to get the bodywork done while they were waiting on the decals, reminding her we needed our trailer back as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, June 16th I called Rush RV to ask them how soon they could start on the work and was told “we could start today if it was here.” I called General RV and left a voice mail with Shianne to advise her of this. I called Rush RV again, on Thursday, and asked if they had heard from General RV yet. Al, the manager, told me that he had not and I asked again when he could start and I was told “we could start today if it was here.” When I called General RV, Shianne said, “He didn’t tell me that.” I said, “I just asked the question, ‘how soon can you start?’” She said she would go to their front desk and schedule a driver to take it to Holly. I offered to move the trailer myself but she said they couldn’t let me take it without payment.

I called Rush RV on Monday, June 22nd, and was told that our trailer had been delivered that morning. On Tuesday I had to drive to Lansing, MI on another matter and stopped by Rush RV on my return. I met with Al, the manager, and he told me that he had three rigs ahead of me because they had come in on the weekend. I told him that we were fulltime RVers and would appreciate it if he could get the job done as quickly as possible. While looking at the trailer I saw that the trim molding under the cap did not go all the way to the wall of the trailer. I asked him if he was repairing this and he told me, “No, we are only repairing the crack in the cap.” He took a picture of it and said he would contact General RV to make sure he wasn’t supposed to fix it. I spoke with him the next day and he told me that General RV was doing that.

On Wednesday, June 24th the decal shop, Custom Design Accents, drove to Holly to do the color match. On Thursday, Al told me the work was done and he had told General RV they could come and pick it up. I called General RV and told Shianne that the trailer was ready for them to pick it up. She said she would schedule that and I asked her about the repair that needed to be done with the trim molding. She was unsure what Al was talking about and I told her Al had sent her a picture. I described what was wrong and she assured me she would look at it.

On Tuesday, June 30th I called and asked Shianne if they were repairing the problem with the molding. She said she would get with Tom, the technician that was working on it, and see want needs to be done. I asked where we were on the decal and she told me Custom Design was going to send her a picture that she would forward to me. Once I approved the picture they would make the decal and come to Birch Run to apply it. I asked how long this would take and she said it should be done by the middle of next week. I reminded her that they had had our trailer for a month now and it was not just our RV but our home. She then told me she was doing what she could and would try to have it by the end of next week (July 10th) at the latest.

On Wednesday, July 1st we joined other family members at the family cottage on Rifle Lake near Rose City, MI. While it’s a great place to stay it has very poor cell phone coverage. On Thursday, I spoke with Shianne and she said she had the pictures of the decal. I drove to a nearby gas station where I could get a good cell signal on our WIFI hotspot so I could download the picture. Then I drove back to the cottage, checked with Pat to see if she approved, then called Shianne to tell her we approved to picture and to get things moving. I emphasized with her we must have our trailer by Friday, July 10th.

On Monday I called General RV to check on when the decal was to be applied and I was told that Shianne was not in the office that day. When I asked when she would be in I was informed that she was on vacation until July 16th! I said I needed to talk with someone who could deal with this. I was told the Service Manager would call me back. No one called me back. On Tuesday I called again and spoke with another Service Advisor who said his supervisor was covering Shianne’s customers and he connected me to Sarah. I told Sarah about the situation and asked when the decal would be applied and if the trim molding was fixed. She said she would check it out and call me back. Because we were in such a bad cell area, I called her back and she told me that the decal would be applied on Wednesday afternoon and we could pick up the trailer on Thursday. I gave her the email address for Wescraft RV in Tacoma so she wouldn’t have to search Shianne’s files for it. I asked her about the trim molding and she told me that I had said I didn’t want any new parts so they weren’t fixing it. I, not so politely, told her that I had said no such thing. However, at this point, I just wanted to get the trailer back and I felt this was something that I could fix on my own. I told her we would plan to be at Birch Run on Thursday.

Wednesday I called Wescraft to see if they got the invoice and I was told that they called Birch Run with the credit card information right after they got the email. I called Sarah and she said they hadn’t gotten payment. So I told her to call Wescraft and talk to my contact there. Fortunately, things worked out, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

We packed up our stuff at the cottage and headed down I-75 for Birch Run. En-route we called Sarah to coordinate our pick up. She informed me that one of their technicians had found some trim molding and had installed it at no additional cost, what a nice favor (note the sarcasm)!

Finally, after 41 days in the shop, we had our “home” back and we were able to sleep in our own bed again. I don’t know what I could have done differently, but I don’t plan on ever utilizing General RV in Birch Run again, not even their retail store. This whole thing has been one terrible experience in customer service and project management. I guess the only advice I would give to anyone is to be your own project manager and double-check on any major work you have done on your RV.

Posted in Fulltime RV, Michigan, Michigan Traveler | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Dealing With the Unknown of COVID-19, March-April 2020

While we were in Key West we did not have any television coverage. As a result our only real source of news was Facebook and links to online news articles. We saw some things about the Coronavirus, but it was very light, a few memes on Facebook, and no one was very concerned about it. “Man with coronavirus seeks a woman with lime disease.”

We left Key West on March 10th and spent much of the next week at the Southern Comfort RV Park in Florida City, near Miami. As we watched TV for the first time in almost three months we saw press conferences about school closings and the Governor talking about closing beaches and other actions. Talk about a wakeup call! I had a friend in the campground and we were talking about doing a musical performance together in the park’s Tiki bar. After watching the news for a couple of days Pat and I decided that maybe we should just keep what would soon be called “social distance” and my friend and I decided not to do it.

Our next stop was Palm Harbor, near Clearwater, FL. There we stayed at the Caladesi RV Park and planned to see our niece, Robin, and her two kids. Her oldest daughter, Destiny, was home from college because COVID-19. That was a bit more information to alert us of things to come. We had the three of them over to our campsite for dinner twice and had a great time catching up. However, towards the end of our visit we and Robin sadly agreed that it was probably best to leave any more visiting for next year. We did get in some kayaking to Caladesi Island before the State of Florida closed all of the beaches.

One day we took a drive to MacDill AFB to do some shopping at the Base Exchange and Commissary. We had heard of panic buying in grocery stores, but were not prepared to see at least one third of the shelves in the Commissary completely empty. The wakeup call continues. This is what we saw when we shopped at Costco.

We had a good time at Caledesi. The park was nice, the weather was good, and it was close to the Pinellas Trail – a Bike/Walking Trail. Every morning we would ride or walk on the trail. We were able to shop at Costco and stock up on some items we weren’t able to get while in Key West. Our problem at Costco was that Pat wanted to order new eyeglasses and the Optical department was closed. My big thing was being able to give our trailer a good wash and wax job.

While at Caladesi we began to get the bad news. Our plan had been to drive up the east coast to end up in Bar Harbor, Maine. There we were to meet a group of RVers to do an RV caravan through the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Our first major stop was going to be the RV park at Joint Base Charleston near Charleston, SC. We saw in one of our Facebook groups that JB Charleston had closed to new arrivals, although anyone currently there could stay. A phone call confirmed that. We made new reservations only to have that park call us back to say they had to cancel. One after another our reservations were cancelled. We knew we had to come up with a Plan B.

We decided we should abort our trip up the east coast and head for Michigan. There we could “moochdock,” and “hunker down” at Pat’s brother’s place in Bad Axe, in the Michigan Thumb. We can set up near his big shed with a 30 amp connection and water.

Our most direct route would be generally north on I-75. We still wanted to kill some time until it warmed up enough in Michigan for us to be comfortable and Florida was getting too hot. The Uchee Creek Campground at Fort Benning was still open and we made a reservation for three weeks. We planned to leave on March 30th, but we got a call from them on March 27th advising us that they would be closed to new arrivals on the 30th, but if we got there on Sunday, March 29th we would be welcome. My response was easy, “We’ll see you on Sunday!” We immediately began to pack up and, after an overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot, rolled in to Uchee Creek on March 29th.

The park was about half full. Uchee Creek is a very spacious campground with plenty of space between sites so social distancing was not a problem, but was very strange. Normally I would be off to visit the National Infantry Museum, wander through the Ground and Tower Week training areas for the Airborne School, take a drive to Harmony Church to see the Ranger Department, and make at least one trip to Ranger Joe’s Surplus Store. On this trip none of that happened. We would bike or walk for exercise in the morning, read books, or watched TV for part of the day to stay on top of the COVID-19 situation. We did our Income Tax, completed the 2020 Census. I also resealed parts of the trailer, and generally took it easy. More than once I suggested we could stay longer if we wanted to do so.

I don’t understand why the military campgrounds decided to close. Many of the people that use them are retired members who are fulltime RVers or snowbirds that stay for an extended period. They are not transient campers that visit the campground for a weekend. With these parks closing, it leaves a lot of us with a rapidly decreasing number of options.

Normally we tried to engage with our fellow campers, but not this time. We even met a couple from Michigan, but other than waving as we walked past each other, we didn’t make any attempt to get to know them and they kept their distance as well. When we went on post we had to tell the people at the security checkpoint where we were going, no sightseeing was encouraged. We had to wear facemasks at the Commissary and Post Exchange. However, when I drove in to the nearby town of Fort Mitchell to get propane and some other supplies at the local hardware store, I was the only one there wearing a mask and everyone else seemed to be in a “business as usual” mode. It was like COVID-19 had never happened in this small town in Alabama!

Easter Sunday was an interesting mix of services. The FOX News Channel aired a program with Reverend Franklin Graham and singer Michael W. Smith broadcasting from the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Central Park in New York City. The Chapel at NAS Key West recorded a sunrise service and broadcasted it at 10:30. Someone on Facebook has recommended that we sing “Amazing Grace” at 10:00, so I made a recording of me playing and singing it and posted it on Facebook on Easter morning.

As we got close to leaving we looked at our route. We settled on a four day trip, calculated to have as little contact with people as possible. When we stopped at rest areas we didn’t use the restrooms, but used our own in our trailer. We stayed in a Walmart parking lot in Ooltewah, TN and didn’t do our usual shopping in the store, cooking our meal in our rig. Our second night was at the Walnut Meadow RV Park in Berea, KY.  Our last night was at a Cracker Barrel parking lot in Findley, OH. There we did order a meal from Cracker Barrel and picked up donuts and coffee at the Tim Horton’s across the road. We ordered by phone and picked them up at the door while wearing our masks.

Traffic on our route was light all the way, but Detroit made the biggest impression on me. It was like driving through a ghost town compared to the normal traffic flow. We began to get a little worried about the weather as we entered Michigan as we were not seeing any signs of spring. When we arrived at Geri and Marcia’s place the weather was cold and windy. Geri came out to help us hook up our electrical and water connections, but otherwise kept the appropriate social distance. It seemed strange to not shake hands, go in for a snack, and catch up on family events, but that is the new normal (sigh). We did “attend” church with the NAS Key West Chapel via Facebook and were able to take Communion with the rest of their congregation. I guess this is the new normal?

So now we are hanging out in self-quarantine until we and Geri and Marcia are comfortable with closer contact. We always appreciate when Geri and Marcia let us stay at their place. Being able to use this as a “safe harbor” is a special blessing in this situation.

The future isn’t even cast in Jello at this point. Will we be able to do the Canadian RV Caravan? At this point no one knows. That decision will drive many other decisions. Welcome to the world of COVID-19.

Posted in Fulltime RV, Georgia, Michigan, Michigan Traveler, Military RV Parks | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Just Another Day in Paradise – Jan-Mar 2020

This was our seventh winter of the last nine years in Key West. We have never found a nicer place to spend the winter. I don’t think you can get any farther south in the Continental US. As we have mentioned in the past what draws us here is not the physical setting (as pleasant as that is) but the people. We stay at the Naval Air Station RV park in Key West and are among the hundreds that return here every year. We have more friends here than we ever had in the neighborhood where we owned a physical home.

I’m writing this in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and I almost skipped over our stay in Key West to write how we are dealing with the crisis, but I want to write about something enjoyable before I got into that topic.

Pat and I brought in the New Year with our friends Roger and Bonnie Ford at Navigator’s, the club at the Marina at Boca Chica Airfield. Roger and Bonnie’s favorite band, Island Time, was there to entertain us and we had a great time!

Our little military community at the Sigsbee Island RV Park (NAS Key West) is an active place. For most of us age is just an irrelevant number. We started the year off with our Annual Polar Plunge. We met at the northeast corner of the campground where we formed up and walked into the “frigid” water which was a numbing 78o. After a group dunking underwater we joined together for our first potluck with ceremonial Bloody Marys and Mimosas.

Beautiful sunsets are a routine occurrence at Sigsbee, but they always seem to be a special time in the campground. Another popular activity is taking advantage of the abundant “happy hours” on Key West. One of our favorites is the Commodore Boathouse which is located right on the Historic Seaport. It has great food, good drinks, and a terrific view of the vessels going in and out of the harbor.

I always feel the Pat’s birthday (Dec 27th) gets lost in the middle of the Christmas festivities and decided to make up for it this year. I partnered with some friends of ours, Ray and Harriet Riendeau to give her a surprise party. It was a total surprise, a great time, and she has finally forgiven me for making her the center of attention.

There is great kayaking in the Florida Keys and we hooked up with another couple, Brian and Cindy, to go kayaking in the mangroves at Geiger Key and the Salt Ponds near the airport. There is so much to see, both above and below the water. Some of the channels through the mangroves are pretty tight and we weren’t always sure we took the right turn, but that is part of the fun.

A special treat this year was seeing Reverend Franklin Graham at the Key West Auditorium for his Decision America series. Contrary to what you may have heard or think about Franklin Graham, it was a wonderful, non-political, uplifting experience.

One of our regular events is the Key West Half-Marathon. We don’t run in it, but volunteer at the merchandise sales and water stations. I feel it is safe to say that this year’s volunteer shirts were very colorful and they made me want to break out is singing, “It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!” For a change we had beautiful weather and it was a lot of fun.

Eddie and Tina Grooms have become the unofficial social directors for the campground and hosted several major events throughout the season. Their first was a Hawaiian potluck. It’s always a fun time when everyone brings their favorite dish to share.

The Schooner Appledore II took a whole crew of us on an afternoon sail from the Historic Seaport. They provided the drink and we provided the food. It was a beautiful day with clear skies and light, but steady winds for great sailing.

I continued my tradition of volunteering as a docent on the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Museum. While the fulltime crew has always treated the volunteers as valued members of the crew, this year they threw a special party for us with pizza, drinks, and a showing of the movie, Operation Petticoat, which was filmed in Key West. It was fun to pick out Key West landmarks in the movie that was set in the South Pacific.

We also volunteered to “Plog the Keys” picking up trash along the streets of Key West. The organizers posted the location on Facebook every week and we would meet there on Friday morning to do our thing.

We had a very unique event this year. One of our fellow campers, Marty, does chainsaw sculptures! He didn’t bring any logs with him but one was available so he gave us a demonstration. What a talent! He has won several awards for his work and it was obvious they were well deserved.

For me it wouldn’t be Key West without music. I rejoined the praise team at the Base Chapel. Every Monday afternoon Gary Buck hosted a jam session at the Sigsbee Community Center. What fun to play with a bunch of guys and gals who enjoy music and are trying to become better musicians! Geiger Key Marina hosts an Open Mic Night every Monday and a couple of us were regular performers there. Great fun, great practice, and a great way to get over stage fright!

Two friends of mine, Nelson Clark and Harriet Riendeau, and I presented a Folk Music Concert at the Community Center. It was well attended and I’m not sure who had more fun, the audience or the musicians. I think the audience enjoyed listening to three very different styles of music in one performance.

As we approached the end of the season Eddie and Tina had one more event, Cinco de Marcho. Because most of us go “Up The Road” or UTR in March they decided we should celebrate the holidays we were going to miss. In an almost day-long party we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day and any other holiday we wanted to throw in. It was a great culmination of the winter season and we are already looking forward to another fun time in 2021.

On March 10th we headed up the road and into the unknown world of COVID-19.

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The islands of the “Haves” and “Have Nots”

We have been winter residents (snow birds) of Key West for years, staying at the Naval Air Station Sigsbee Island RV Park. One of the more popular nighttime spots is Mallory Square where you can watch street performers and listen to musicians while waiting for sunset. From Mallory Square you can see two islands, but these are only well known to a few. I consider these two island the islands of the “haves” and “have nots.”

Sunset Key is a 27-acre residential neighborhood and resort island in the city of Key West. It is only about 500 yards off the shore of Mallory Square. The island is privately held among its residents, one of which is OPAL Properties which operates a small number of guest cottages. The island is accessible only by a shuttle boat that runs from the Margaritaville Marina out to the island. The island consists of a total of 48 single-family homes and 21 vacant lots, each of which are valued at over $1.5 million. It is definitely the island of the “haves.”

Sunset Key’s official name is Tank Island. The United States Navy constructed Tank Island to serve as a fuel tank depot during the Cold War. Dredging began in 1965 to form the island as well as to build passageways for submarines and other large vessels. However, the Navy’s plans changed and the island saw little military action. Only two of the twelve planned fuel tanks were constructed, and although the fuel lines were run, the tanks were never filled.

In 1986, the government sold Tank Island and other anchorages in Key West in an auction to developer Pritam Singh. In 1988, the tanks were dismantled while the remaining fuel lines served as conduits for water, sewage, and utilities. Power cables were later laid alongside the existing fuel pipes.

In 1994, the island was sold and renamed Sunset Key. The island is now owned by Tom Walsh, who also owns the Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina. For those of us who could never afford to buy or rent property on Sunset Key, we can get a small taste of its lifestyle by having lunch at the Latitudes Restaurant.

Wisteria Island has a much more interesting story. It is an uninhabited island located 280 yards north-northeast of Sunset Key. It is definitely the island of the “have nots.”

Wisteria Island, also known as Christmas Tree island, was created in the late 1890s and early 1900s as the result of U.S. Navy dredging of Key West harbor. The island acquired its name from the steamer Wisteria. The Wisteria sank where she was moored on the island and then burned to her waterline. The wreck was eventually salvaged, but the formerly unnamed spit of land kept the name of the ship as a reminder.

In the 1930s, the island was purchased from Monroe County by then-state representative Bernie Papy for $3,000. In 1956, Papy sold the island to Wisteria Corp., a group formed with the intent of developing the island into commercial space and real estate. Wisteria Corp. was renamed to Wisteria Island, Inc. when it sold the island in 1967 to F.E.B. Corporation of Key West. Benjamin Bernstein, a prominent local real estate developer, was the principal behind the project and intended to develop the island into residential space. It totaled 21.5 acres at the time of the sale. F.E.B. subsequently negotiated the purchase of 150 acres of bay bottom surrounding the island from Monroe County, a transaction that took place the same year.

In November 2011, the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) determined that the federal government actually owned the island, which it said had been under the stewardship of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for almost fifty years. The DOI had originally indicated that because the island was made from fill and was not naturally occurring, it did not belong to the federal government. However, subsequent research by the DOI revealed presidential executive orders from 1908 and 1924 directing that the island be reserved for Navy use, and a 1962 executive order transferring ownership from the Navy to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under Florida law, F.E.B. is entitled to seek a refund for having paid property taxes on Wisteria Island, but such a refund extends only to two years’ worth of paid taxes. Needless to say no one really knows who owns the island. It has evolved into a huge homeless camp. Vessels anchored off shore are not in an established mooring field and they can anchor there for free, under Florida law. Visitors to the island do so at their own risk as some of the “have not” inhabitants of the island have become very territorial.

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Good Times on Florida’s Space Coast, Oct-Dec 2019

After more than a week of short stops and lots of driving we were ready to settle down for awhile. We arrived at the Manatee Cove RV Park on Patrick AFB (near Cocoa Beach, FL) on October 24th. When we were here last year there were plenty of sites available, but this year we weren’t even sure we were going to get into the campground at all. Fortunately we were able to get into a site on a short-term, temporary basis. After about two weeks we were told we could stay for the season – huge sigh of relief!

Manatee Cove has lots to offer. There are 150 plus full hookup sites in the park and a centrally located community room with a full kitchen, TV, and pool table. They offer a campground bowling league (for free), karaoke on Tuesday nights, Bingo on Thursday night, and coffee and donuts on Thursday mornings. We also set up a “jam session” on Monday afternoons for any musicians in the campground. You can join the Manatee Cove Marina for a small monthly fee (you don’t have to have a boat) and they offer a variety of activities including a Friday evening happy hour with snacks, entertainment, and a cash drawing. The Base also sponsors a number of base-wide events geared to families, but fun for everyone. If you are bored here, it’s your own fault!

Veteran’s Day is widely recognized in the area and this year the Kennedy Space Center offered a free admission to veterans and their families on November 9 through 11. We jumped on this opportunity! The Space Center continues to update their facilities and their tours and we saw much more than we had on previous visits. The partnership with SpaceX and Boeing has added another layer to the Space Center with the Commercial Crew Program. We took the bus tour of the complex, toured the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the Atlantis Shuttle Launch Experience, the Journey to Mars, and watched several movies. It was a wonderful opportunity and we owe a big Thank You to NASA for offering this opportunity to military families.

One of our favorite kayaking sites is the Haulover Canal in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Preserve. This is the channel where boats traveling the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) transition from the ICW through Mosquito Lagoon to the Indian River. Dolphins love the frolic in this channel and the surrounding area. Two friends from the campground, Tony and Lori, joined us for this trip. There was plenty of dolphin activity. We also saw pelicans soaring gracefully until they spotted a fish and then literally crashed into the water to grab it. There were also Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Cormorants in the trees along the shore. Our one disappointment is that we didn’t see any manatee on this trip. One of the local fishing guides told us he thought the water was too cold and they had gone to warmer waters.

They call this the Space Coast for a reason; there are plenty of rocket launches to watch, and excellent sites from which to view them. We were able to watch two launches while we were there. The first was a mid-morning launch on November 11th. We watched this from Cherie Downs Park. For the next launch we contacted some of our friends from Michigan who winter in Melbourne, Jim and Diana Belisle (Visit their blog at www.explorvistas.com), to join us for the scheduled launch on December 4th. We drove to Jetty Park to view it, but it was cancelled due to unfavorable weather. However, we did enjoy a nice lunch at Grillz in Port Canaveral. The next day we made the short drive to Second Light Beach and watched the successful launch. I’m sure the International Space Station was pleased to get their resupply.

I was able to present two folk music performances in our community center. It’s always fun to entertain friends who enjoy the music of the Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul and Mary; Gordon Lightfoot; and others.

We enjoy watching the annual competition between the Naval Academy and West Point in the Army-Navy Game on a military base. Each year the Marina sponsors an Army-Navy Watch Party. As always it was lots of fun with good-natured ribbing between the veterans during the game. Go Army in 2020!

On Monday, December 16th we pulled out of Manatee Cove to store our trailer at the Homestead Air Reserve Base while we flew back to Michigan for the Christmas holidays. On December 29th we’ll be back in Key West in time to celebrate the New Year.

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Watching the Navy’s Blue Angels, Pensacola, FL – October 2019

We always enjoy staying at Pensacola Naval Air Station. The Naval Air Station has two campgrounds, Blue Angel Campground on Perdido Bay and Oak Grove. Both are nice. Blue Angel is more rustic and away from built up areas, while Oak Grove is right on base, a short distance from the National Naval Aviation Museum. Right across Radcliff Road from the campground is the home base of the Navy’s Demonstration Team – The Blue Angels.

Shortly after we arrived on Monday, October 21st we learned that the Blue Angels would be practicing on Tuesday  morning. We made the short bike ride to the viewing area behind the Museum. The practices are open to everyone and there were plenty of people there for the show. If you forget to bring a lawn chair they are available to rent.

It goes without saying that the Blue Angels are an awesome team and put on a great show. These pilots must have nerves of steel to pass each other, cockpit to cockpit, while flying upside down. I tried my best, but these pictures just don’t do this team justice. Click on each picture to see it full size.

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Soaking it Up in Hot Springs National Park – October 2019

Have you ever heard of the “Golden Age of Bathing?” In 1832 the U.S. government set aside four sections of land in what is now known as Hot Springs, AR to protect the natural hot springs for the nation. These are not volcanic hot springs, smelling of sulfur and other minerals, but rain water that has percolated down thousands of feet through faults in the rock, warming 4° F for every 300 feet. The superheated water then rises through the springs reaching the surface at an average temperature of 143°.

Hot Springs National Park was not at all what I expected. Before doing any research I envisioned open, rock lined pools of steaming water. What we discovered was a National Park in an urban setting, with Bathhouse Row. Monumental bathhouses had been built in the early 1920’s as spas to heal all kinds of maladies with the healing waters of the hot springs. They incorporated what was then state of the art technology and physical therapy. They were expensive and catered to those who could afford it, but the government operated free bathhouses for those who could not afford those on Bathhouse Row. The Army/Navy Hospital (Now the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center) used the spring water for treatments of sick and injured military members and veterans immediately after WW II.

Today the Hot Springs National Park is on the east side of Central Avenue and the town of Hot Springs is on the west. Bathhouse Row is still there although many of the bathhouses are now restaurants and brew pubs. The Fordyce Bathhouse is now the NPS Visitor Center and you can take a Ranger-Led tour of the building and its facilities. The Lamar Bathhouse houses the NPS gift shop. The Quapaw and Buckstaff Bathhouses are still active.

We tried to get a reservation at the National Park campground (Gulpha Gorge) but it and all the nearby campgrounds were fully booked due to a film festival in the area. We opted for Plan B and stayed at the FAMCAMP at Little Rock AFB where we had no problem getting a site.

The FAMCAMP is nice with many pull-through sites. While the Air Force’s Frequent Camper Program has been discontinued, those with active booklets are allowed to continue. We were able to use one of our coupons for a free night of camping.

We finalized our plans to visit the Hot Springs and left early in the morning to make the 70 mile drive and to arrive when the Visitor Center opened at 9:00. We checked out the Ranger-Led tours and got some questions answered by the staff. Our first tour described how the hot springs were created and the initial establishment of the Hot Springs National Reservation in 1832. We were also given an opportunity to taste the water from the cool springs. I’m not sure what the benefit is, but the National Park Service allows people to fill containers of spring water for their personal use. We saw several vehicles loading many jugs of spring water into their cars while we were there.

We did some exploring and picture taking and returned to the Visitor Center for the Fordyce Tour. In 1915, reviews proclaimed the Fordyce Bathhouse as the best in Hot Springs. This tour gave us personal insight into the most luxurious bathhouse on the row. Even the locker rooms were classy. Bathers would shower, soak in a hot tub while being massaged, then have a cool bath and relax in a drying room. Everyone was catered to, making sure all of their needs were met. There were also treatment rooms for specific cures including a form of acupuncture and electric shock. There was a full gymnasium for exercise and galleries for relaxing and concerts.

Above Bathhouse Row is Hot Springs Mountain with an observation tower. We drove to the tower and then hiked the two mile Hot Springs Mountain Trail. In the 1930’s “health-seekers,” as they were called, would hike these trails as a part of their treatment. The view from the tower was great. We were able to see into Bathhouse Row and the entire Hot Springs Mountain area.

After our hike we returned to Bathhouse Row and treated ourselves to a soak in the Quapaw Bathhouse. The experience was unique in that there were five different pools with different temperatures. It was nice to move to a different pool to prolong our stay by going to a cooler pool before returning to the hotter one.

After our soak we wandered around town and I got a chance to hang out with Al Capone outside the Ohio Club where he was a frequent visitor. The town of Hot Springs took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to Capone and his friends. Capone made a point of not using the National Park facilities so he would not place himself in a federal jurisdiction.

Our final stop was the Superior Bathhouse which is now a pub and brew house. (They brew their own beer with thermal spring water.) It seemed appropriate to treat myself to a flight of brews to go with dinner.

We spent the next day relaxing and shopping. The last thing we saw on our way out was a C-130 cargo aircraft outside the gate. Every Air Force Base I have ever seen has an aircraft on display outside the gate, but this one was special. This C-130 was tail number 60518. This is a special aircraft. A C-130 can carry six pallets, 92 combat troops, or 64 paratroopers. That seems like a lot until you hear the story of tail number 60518.

The Vietnam War came to a close of April 30, 1975 with the fall of Saigon. As the North Vietnamese Army was approaching Saigon, the U.S. launched a massive evacuation mission to remove thousands of Americans and Vietnamese from Saigon. In the final hours of the evacuation, Tan Son Nhut air base was a war zone in itself with over one hundred aircraft burning on the flight line. On April 30th Tail number 60518, piloted by South Vietnamese Instructor Pilot Major Phoung, was last C-130 Hercules remaining and hundreds were storming the aircraft, seeing it as their last hope. As the C-130, designed to hold less than 100 people, began to taxi it was loaded with 452 people including 32 on the flight deck. The loadmaster advised Major Phoung that he was unable to close the cargo ramp. Major Phoung slammed on the brakes, hoping that the jarring movement would slide everyone forward and allow the ramp to close – it worked! The aircraft was overloaded by at least 10,000 pounds and used every inch of the runway and overrun to lift into the air. The C-130 has been the workhorse of the airlift fleet and on this mission the Hercules was truly worthy of its name.

Next stop – Pensacola, FL

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