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Our campground here in Stone Mountain was surprisingly empty for our final two days in Mr. Bus.  It’s divided into pods of sites and we were the only rig in our pod of maybe 20 sites.  We’re nestled in the woods of hilly Georgia, east of Atlanta and it feels good to be among the pine and hardwood trees again.  I’ve always loved the moodiness of the forest.  As much as I adore the ocean and its vast power, the woods and all its creatures are where I prefer living

Hiking here is good.  The Cherokee Trail traverses five miles around the bottom of Stone Mountain, an unusually barren dome of granite jutting up out of the trees toward the sky.  It reminds me of the Spielberg film, “Close Encounters,” primed for a giant UFO to land at the top.

I hadn’t realized how much I needed those solitary walks along the trails.  My initial intent was to ride my bike along that trail until I discovered I’d need a mountain bike and some really strong thighs for that plan.  So off on foot I went, rather slowly since sleep had evaded me for most of the night before.  The walk may have taken me longer but because of my pace all kinds of detail was exposed that normally goes unnoticed.  Sounds, tiny flowers and critters on land and water  went about their daily lives oblivious to my intrusion in their world.  I needed the solitude after weeks of going and going and going.

Jutting into the lake were a few dead trees in various stages of decay  that offered the perfect platform for eight water turtles to perch in the sun.  Toward the base of the trees, still on land, were the beginnings of mushrooms or some other sort of fungus marking a stage of metamorphosis into soil.  That process takes 10 years from tree to dirt.  Incredible isn’t it?  Poised on a nearby branch was a vivid red cardinal whose crest was taut and proud for reasons I don’t know.  But he was a beauty with his matching red beak.

chipmunk on log upper right

fungus on dead tree

I found myself relaxing into the mood of the land, soothing a sense of impatience I’d been feeling in the bustling, endlessly bright atmosphere of Florida tourist destinations – away from my dog and his endless scratching to relieve his incessant itching no matter how many possible solutions we offer to soothe his allergy ridden skin.  His discomfort has frayed my nerves and has been keeping me awake at night.  This walk in the woods has quieted my irritation and helpless feelings.  And it’s reminding me how infrequently I’ve been meditating and practicing yoga poses, both crucial activities for my peace of mind as almost daily rituals at home.  On the road I haven’t made time to include them with regularity.  The quiet of the woods is calling attention to that.

Crystal clear mountain water. Those rocks are underwater.

It was Rick’s idea to push our typical three-hour drive to closer to five so we could get to this public park and stay put for a couple of days, recharging our batteries before heading home to undertake the mundane chores of settling in again.  And I’m glad for that.  It’s being the ideal transition between the two worlds.

Tomorrow morning we leave for home and three hours later we’ll arrive.  I’ll start Pogo’s daily regimen of antihistamine and local honey, a winning combination last year.  Wish me luck.

See you at home …

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Florida sunset!

Florida sunset! (Photo credit: Odalaigh)

It’s hard to believe that 6 weeks has come and almost gone drawing our south-east bus trip to a close.  It’s felt long and momentary in its own paradoxical way.  Funny how hindsight has that affect on you.  On the one hand I feel like we’ve been gone forever, putting a hold on the scheduled routine of my life and its openings for spontaneity.  Yet now as I reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve done, it feels like just yesterday that we took off.  What an odd phenomenon.

It’s been a while since my last post though it’s not for lack of trying.  Twice I wrote pieces regarding my impressions about the snow birds who flock to Florida and the Disney utopian town of Celebration, and twice Word Press deleted the copy as I was trying to add pictures, moments later automatically saving the blank page as my draft.  It irritated me enough to bite my nose to spite my face, say f*** it and go on with my evening without an entry.  Now I’m “saving” along the way until they get that glitch (I assume it was “they”) resolved.  I’m not a terribly patient person by nature.  Can you tell?

Key West

Key West (Photo credit: GarySlinger)

We spent the bulk of our time in Florida – down the East coast and back up the Gulf side so I’ve had my fill of ocean and beach for now.  I admit to enjoying the Gulf side more because of its greater feeling of space and residential sensibility.  Plus there seems to be more than just palm trees to look at.  I did love exploring the Everglades which wasn’t a surprise since National Parks rank high on my list of must sees.

The Keys were also fun – it’s a great past-time to bike the streets all over Key West – and frankly, all of Florida due to the flat terrain, though it’s the hills and forests that I love so much about the northern southeast of the country (is that an oxymoron?  Northern Southeast?)  Anyway – I’m referring to Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

My greatest impression of Florida is that it’s loaded with seniors, especially snow birds this time of year.  License plates from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states flood the campgrounds where these older citizens live out the winter months.  One of the “RV resorts” in Venice was mostly a mobile home park which doubled as winter camp for its part-time residents.  And their calendars get filled with activities like bingo, shuffle board, pot luck suppers and dance, coffee and pastry get togethers while they toodle around the place on adult tricycles and golf carts.  It’s a sight for the un-itiated like me.  Our campground in the Everglades was the setting for a wedding between two snowbirds celebrating their second anniversary wintering there together.  The whole place was invited so I went too; it was a charming diversion while waiting for my laundry to finish drying!  Here’s a taste of the wedding.

the groom waiting for his bride to arrive by golf cart

here she is!

The Orlando area was a surprise, very much like Pigeon Forge in my neck of the woods with its bumper to bumper traffic and kitschy stores trumpeting all sorts of cheap trinkets for tourists.  The highlight for us was touring Celebration, Disney’s vision of a utopian residential village built around a town center.  When I read about its development years ago I pictured row after row of colorful pseudo cheerful houses with picket fences, each looking exactly like its neighbor.  Shame on me for not assuming they’d commission famed architects Michael Graves, Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern among others to design key elements of this town.  It was charming and I can appreciate its appeal.

town center

residential street in Celebration

Lighthouse in Tybee Island, Georgia, USA.

Image via Wikipedia

But my favorite place wasn’t in Florida at all.  It was Tybee Island in Georgia, just 16 miles east of Savannah on a wild piece of land resplendent with the natural growth of the region.  I love its earthiness and understated homes and especially its zoning law of a maximum three-story structure.

Sea Oats on Tybee Island Beach.

Image via Wikipedia

That substantially limits hotels and keeps tourists at a minimum offering a lifestyle the residents can really enjoy.  I’ll definitely be going back, may even check real estate prices.

Right now we sit in our wooded campsite at Stone Mountain Campground, about three hours from home.  These two days will cap our winter adventure for the season.  Tomorrow I’ll hike and bike and we’ll celebrate our last bus dinner with hot dogs and baked beans!

I‘m looking forward to going home just as I look forward to going away.  I need  both in my life.  Both feed my soul.

See you at home.

How is your winter going?

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Woods hold a secret

and whisper heartfelt whimsy

while I walk her path.

Trees line her walkway

while fallen needles cushion

steps that leave no trace.

 As winds blow  her leaves

 light teases through canopy

 creating shadows.

 There’s something about

 the smell of greens in nature

that beckons spirit.

It’s fresh yet musty

a paradox in action

the very nature of life.

It’s the woods alone

that breathe life into my soul

it’s my heart, my need.

Breathe deep, sit silent

as the secret whistles through

the sounds are revealed.


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I walk along the beach where the vast Atlantic ocean slaps the shoreline with cresting waves whose spent power trickles under my feet and tickles my toes with each step.  Ocean sovereignty untamed by humans ends at this boundary.  Perhaps that’s the magnetism that draws the land species to the edge of two worlds both vibrant with life, neither can subsist in the other.

I hear the ocean yell with roars louder than my thoughts.  Its domination drowns any quiet solitude simmering within.

It demands to be noticed,

to be admired,

to be respected,

to be awed.

And we land people yield to that force.

Why do you come? it booms in my ears, penetrating every cell in my body. You land people flock to my shores.  Stare at my waves for hours on end.  Walk along my borders where children dig into my sand and dogs romp through my swells.  Some of you try to ride me but never succeed in conquering me.  Some of you hunt my people to eat and become the occasional hunted for our sustenance. You explore my depths but can’t penetrate my soul.  You can’t live here but continually need to explore here.  You need me. You need us. You are me.  You are us.

We land people go to the ocean to be swept up beyond ourselves where thoughts don’t reside.  The roar is too loud for problems.  Too mighty for anything but complete submission.  Quietude comes later.

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Exploring the places no one visits is what I like best about RV life.  Campgrounds tend to be tucked away in rural settings where there’s room for acreage at reasonable prices.  It’s unusual to find a site inside a populated city so, for example, in Jacksonville, FL we’re staying in Yulee, FL.  Huh?  you say?  Exactly.  We actually could have gotten closer in to city limits but Yulee happens to also be where there’s a Yamaha dealership to get new tires for the motor scooter, so Yulee is where we dropped our power line.  And Yulee is where I went exploring on my bike.

We’re not in a fancy campground, to put it mildly.  This place has just 60 sites, the majority of which are occupied full-time by people who the ad calls “retired.”  My guess is they’re unemployed – either on disability or for some other reason.  And this particular campground is a cheap place to call home.  I wave to them on my jaunts with Pogo and stopped by for a visit with Gail whose small bus is parked across from ours.

Knuckles, a McCaw from Brazil

Knuckles and Hanna were the draw for my visit.  They were climbing all over Gail’s doorway enjoying the cool breezy morning.  Neither would let me pet a back or head, which is a real

Knuckles let me get closer

Hanna, the grey cheek parrot hanging upside down in the door jam

now she's closer and right side up

disappointment when you’re a pet lover who has to pet.  Gail, herself, is a weathered looking woman whom I guess to be 5 – 10 years older than me.  She doesn’t work either although she looks quite able-bodied to me.  She was cautiously friendly, at least enough to tell me about her beautiful McCaw and grey cheek parrot.  She’s lived here 18 years but just bought her very used bus a few months ago.  Before that she says she’d stayed with someone.  I left it at that.  Since our visit we wave as we both go about our independent business.  That seems to be the way of this campground.  It’s a neighborhood, of sorts, where everybody just minds their own business.  As I walk around I imagine the individual lives that take place inside their small fiberglass or tin confines and I realize that everybody has a story.  (I think that’s a good subject for a book or a documentary).

The nearby neighborhood also has a lot of character populated with folks who wear their lives on their homes.  Take a look and see what I mean.

This guy's yard was crammed with treasures

more treasures

This fellow had a chicken coop in the back, ducks running around the yard, vegetable gardens surrounding and bird houses everywhere! Seems to me he's self-sustaining.

miniature dogs everywhere, some of whom loved my loving!

This house was right across the street from...

this house! Go figure...

And THIS house had a GIANT ocean toy on its side yard

These houses are not destination sites for the typical tourist, but for me they offer much fodder for imaginings.  What do these people do?  How do they spend their lives?  Do they socialize with their neighbors?  Why the overwhelming trend for miniature dogs? How often, if ever, do they make it into the city since we’re 16 miles from Jacksonville’s northern city limits?  Endlessly fascinating questions for me.  Rick calls them my talk show questions.

Everywhere we go there’s an opportunity to visit sights on nobody’s destination list offering a taste of how some locals live and usually not the wealthy ones.  The areas farther away we visit in the car – like this community near a large State Park and the Amelia Island beaches.

gorgeous live oaks border the street with homes tucked away in the back

trees with moss dripping from branches

And of course no ocean side community is complete without a walk on the beach and long connections with the ocean.

say hello to Rick

and me

wish I'd seen said turtles

ocean front lot for $275k right on Amelia Island beach! Any takers?

The whole package offers a rich experience that journeying in an RV can provide.  We pack up, hit the road and drive for 3, 4, 5 hours with no destination in mind except a general direction and a plan to stop when Rick’s tired of driving.  And wherever we land, people live there.

What sparks your imaginings?

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Things go wrong in a bus, that’s what my husband’s always telling me.  They break.  And he’s right.  Something is always happening in our 36′ long traveling house.

Sunrise at Tybee Island, GA

Yesterday we pulled into our campground space in Jacksonville, FL and while unhitching the car discovered that the pull bar attached to the car had broken.  The knob was missing and now it wasn’t locking into place anymore; we’d been towing the car with just one locked pull bar.  Had to have happened somewhere between Tybee Island, GA and here – just a couple hours south.  So here we sit until the guy at the shop ascertains whether it can be fixed for under $200 or discarded for a new one that will cost a whole lot more.  I vote for the first option.

That’s the latest mishap and might even have been caused when Rick backed up the rig for a couple feet with car attached – a BIG no no.  Now we know why.  Make no mistake, this RV stuff is NOT a cheap past-time.

So for fun, and because the shop guy was nearby, we decided to visit an RV show that just happened to be in town this weekend.  It’s always fun to see lots of buses and compare their interiors.  Plus there are many Class C’s (with the overhead sleeping cab) and 5th Wheels (the kinds you tow with a pick-up truck).  They all have a variety of lay-outs that can truly overwhelm the senses. And, of course, that’s what happened.  After a while they all blend together, making it impossible to remember whether the wood floor interior was in the same rig that had the huge walk-closet.

But one really caught our eye.  It was the mother-lode of Class A’s, (the bus looking rigs – like the one we have) 42 feet long with marble floors, Corian counters, gorgeous cherry wood cabinetry, leather-ish furniture and a cove ceiling rimmed with the same wood.  He was a real beauty; more kitchen counter work space than any other we’d seen.  Full size frig/freezer, dishwasher and washer/dryer — both of which we’d have taken out, opting for the extra storage space instead.  Just loved this Winnebago Tour coach.  It’s interesting to see how the interior designs improve each new year, addressing consumers’ wishes and complaints.

New rigs now have 3-4 slides, walls that slide out from the sides of the vehicle adding more width to the living space once you’re parked and settled in.  Our current bus has 1 slide.  This one has 4!  If he’d been 36′ rather than 42′ we might have succumbed to an impulse.  But he is just too long.  Once you add a car on the back you’ve got about 54′ feet rolling along highways.  Too long and too heavy for some older campgrounds and National Parks.  Not necessary.

So we’re now back home in our 16 year old Mr. Bus, cozy and comfy.  I still love him; he’s got everything we need.  Except a working tow hitch.  Grrrr…

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If only I could bottle the smell of salty air and marry it to the white crests of waves crashing to shore, I’d be able to visit my favorite sanctuary more often.  Relive Tybee Island beach with me …

Something about the ocean draws everybody in; well, almost everybody, other than my husband. He’s not the beach, bike, walking kind.  We’re a perfect pair; while I take out my bike and tool around the island, stopping for a long walk along the beach – he stays in Mr. Bus to organize stuff and shop for supplies and groceries.  My text to him sums us up:

Me:  “sitting on the pier, staring at the ocean and eating my apple.  Life is good.”  

Rick:  “found Wal-Mart.  Life is good.”  

Not kidding.

Tybee Island feels a bit like Cape Cod with its casual, unassuming style and its understated store fronts and restaurants, though its beaches are better for walking.  They seem to stretch forever, encouraging miles of wandering without bumping into rock jetties or “private property keep out” signs.  And today was a glorious cool one for the occasion.  Some pelican looking birds kept dive bombing into the waves and came up chewing.  Guess it was time for lunch and the fishing was good.

A number of people seem to live here full-time as neighbors congregate for updates on each others’ lives.  Many of the tourist shops are still closed, readying up for high season business.  And lucky for me that included ice cream parlors, preempting the testing of my willpower.

It’s a great island to bike.  Generous riding lanes line the main drag through town – highway 80- and narrow neighborhood streets meander in front of charming, colorful houses – Jimmy Buffett kinds of houses.

Island kitty

 Of course I had to stop along an alley to visit with this sweet young girl just spayed, her belly still shaved displaying big raw staples as souvenirs.  She couldn’t have cared less as long as sunbathing was available and some good loving from a stranger.  I’ve never met an animal I didn’t love.

My favorite stops in Mr. Bus are always the natural ones: national parks, oceans, woods, lakes, forests – that’s where I want to be.  I can hear myself think and my heart fills with joy.

A million ideas pop into my head and now with my cool iphone4S I can record them for playback in lieu of taking notes.  I love the snapshots of life and imagining what people do with their days and their lives in this home town – whichever home town it is.

Our bus offers that.  Slow travel.  Rich, vibrant travel.  I always say – where ever we go, people live lives there.

Tomorrow we play in Savannah.  It’s Rick’s BIG birthday so he gets to call all the shots.

Stay tuned …

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