Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Journey's end

Ottawa, ON – There’s nothing like getting home after a long trip! All the familiar sights, sounds and smells of a beloved place seem to extend a warm embrace of welcome at such a time. We are glad to be here at last!

Our departure this morning from Wilkes-Barre went without a hitch, and we were soon northbound on the Interstate 81 once again, spurred on by the knowledge that the next bed we slept in would be our own. It was chilly and overcast, but there was no precipitation and the roads were clear.

Before long we had passed into New York State, our seventh since leaving Florida. We stopped at a state sponsored rest area – a fairly new facility set high on a hill with a commanding view of the Appalachian Mountains. There was an excellent photo opportunity set up there to reinforce the state’s signature slogan, and inside the building was a snack bar and shopping area that highlighted local products, including maple syrup.

When lunch time rolled around, we paid one last visit to the Cracker Barrel restaurant, this one near Cicero, and enjoyed once more the down-home atmosphere – this one even had a fire burning in the large stone hearth to chase away the chills – as well as the tasty food we’ve appreciated in many other spots in Florida.

Soon we were driving across the Thousand Islands Bridge and gazing down on the St Lawrence River and Canada on the other side. With the car packed so solidly with stuff from our three-month stay, we approached the Canada customs kiosk with some interest, wondering what sort of questions we might have to answer before we were allowed back in to the country. The young man who greeted us was polite but serious, and his questions were appropriate but easy to answer, and we didn’t even have to dig out the bottle of scotch Val had purchased (and declared) – a good thing, because we weren’t exactly sure which of the many bags piled in the back contained it.

At the first rest stop we came to, once back in our home and native land, we stopped for a steaming hot cup of Tim Hortons coffee! It’s almost a ritual now, each time we return from foreign soil, and a very pleasant one to tell the truth.

When we turned off the 401 and on to the 416 that leads to Ottawa, it began to rain. Fortunately, it was just a scattered shower, and there were only two or three more to follow which were over with before we reached the city limits. We had managed to time our return to miss the rather ugly and destructive ice storm that hit on the weekend. We did see several broken trees on the way in, and found our front lawn scattered with twigs and branches, but our esteemed home checker had cleared the driveway for us so we could pull in with ease. In no time, we’d unloaded the car and filled the front hall with all that stuff, which we will now have to unpack and stow away. But we’re home now, and that will be a sweet chore indeed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Foiled again!

Wilkes-Barre, PA – Our drive today was carefully planned out last night, aided by our Road Atlas, Google Maps and a scratchy photocopy of a map we picked up in Virginia on our way south in January. The main objective was to avoid heading in to Washington, DC. Our southbound trip brought us to the ring road around the capitol city where we spent a long, boring afternoon creeping through dense traffic, so on the return journey we wanted to avoid that route at all costs. I took copious notes on what exits to take after reaching Fredericksburg so that we headed northwest rather than north, making a nice detour around the snarl of highways, byways and interstates that converged on Washington.

Armed with this helpful information, we headed out this morning under a brisk wind and sunny sky. Again, I got to enjoy the evidence of Spring’s arrival with yellow sprays of forsythia next to farmhouses, apple blossoms on hillsides, and the white froth of dogwoods in passing forests. I even saw jonquils and daffodils in bloom, plus a couple of clumps of tulips.
Once we departed from the Interstate 95, with its whizzing transport trucks and motorhomes, and turned onto Highway 15, our blood pressure decreased measurably. Rolling hills, farm fields striped with the first green sprouts of new crops, and sleepy towns had a wonderfully calming effect. It was quite lovely to look at!

By the time our stomachs began to growl for lunch, we were close to Leesburg, VA, so instead of taking the bypass, we followed the business route into town. It was great to see some of the historic buildings in the centre of town, and we did pass a few boutique-type restaurants with no sign of a parking place anywhere, so we carried on. Just when we thought we’d run out of possibilities, we spotted the Roots CafĂ© and Market – just the thing! A nice tasty menu with wholesome ingredients, plus some neat products on sale to check out afterwards.

We were making good time when we got going again, and before long the GPS told us there was less than an hour to go. By this time the skies had darkened quite a bit and to our dismay, white flakes of snow starting drifting down! Well, it was better than rain, and we figured this far north, in April, snow is almost inevitable. Besides, we’d be home free in no time…..

WRONG. As the road became more hilly in the Appalachian foothills, we suddenly saw ahead of us a long string of traffic with red brake lights aglow. Traffic slowed to a crawl and then stopped altogether. Our careful efforts to avoid traffic tie-ups were in vain! “Traffic congestion has added 60 minutes to your arrival time,” the GPS announced in what I was sure was a very snarky tone of voice. Well, maybe that was my imagination. At least I had a crossword puzzle to do and access to our cooler bag where we found some crackers to munch on – and clever me, I picked up a couple of oranges when we’d stopped to fill up with gas! So we were OK, if a little irritated and bored.

When we did finally reach our hotel, it was a welcome sight! And there was 24-hour tea and coffee in the lobby to refresh us after we got settled. Only one more day till we get home! Yay.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The long grey ribbon

Petersburg, VA – We are just south of Richmond tonight, having crossed three states, and we are tired. By our calculations, we’ve covered about 445 miles. Some of them, especially in Georgia, were pretty rough, with a broken surface or striated with grooves that made the wheels whine for miles. The grooves were to prepare the highway for a fresh paving job, but by my estimation we’d have to wait till well into the summer to enjoy that driving pleasure. This time of year, it was orange cones, road work signs, narrowed lanes and the occasional road crew actually working in the road work areas.
After checking weather forecasts for the days of our trip before departure, we actually expected rain every day. Yesterday we got it from about 3 pm onward, but today? Not a drop, thank goodness. The day dawned clear and bright, and although grey clouds drifted in as the hours passed, they behaved themselves.

No earth-shattering events took place in our world today. However, it was fun to watch the vegetation change from very southern greenery that includes palmettos and Spanish moss, to forests with just deciduous and evergreen trees. By the time we got to North Carolina, I was delighted to see blossom trees from time to time – particularly dogwoods, but also cherry trees and something else that resembled lilacs in bloom (but wasn’t lilacs).

Southern country it remained, though, judging from the highway signs. Ads for boiled peanuts, gun shops, fireworks, and southern cooking prevailed, plus two huge Confederate flags that I didn’t manage to capture with my cell phone camera.

There were also tons of huge signs for “South of the Border” that counted down the miles to the site with corny word tricks and pictures of Pedro in a sombrero every two miles. Finally, we came to a curve in the highway and there, high above the treeline, was a huge sombrero marking the long-awaited (by some) site! It was an enormous Mexican theme park. Whew, I thought to myself, no more corn-ball signs. Then? “Adios” a mile later! Argh!

We took a short break at a lovely rest area after crossing into Virginia. It was beautifully landscaped and clean, and gave us a welcome chance to just stretch our legs and enjoy the day. It never got very warm today – I think 18C was the warmest it got, and that didn’t happen till quite late, and there was a constant wind that swirled through the trees all the way. I know we will have to pile on more layers the further north we go, but I do love the freshness of the spring air.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Alligators, tornadoes and torrents

Richmond Hill, GA – Did that get your attention? Read on; it’s all part of Day One of our return journey! Somehow, we got all our amassed belongings into the car and still managed to get the doors shut, so that was a good start. It was also an early one; we were pulling out of Dunedin RV Park just after 8 am, headed north on Alternate 19 under an overcast sky and temperatures in the 70s, even at that hour.

On a Sunday morning, traffic was very light, so that was also a plus. The early part of the drive was very familiar territory, through Tarpon Springs and on up the west coast of Florida to Bayonet Point, where we turned eastward along Highway 52. Once we left the civilized sections behind us, we enjoyed the more natural surroundings, with grazing cattle, splashes of wildflowers and, further along, the Ocala National Forest, now all green and jungly as spring takes hold. A family of sand cranes caught my eye on the shoulder – mother and father were about four feet tall, and dad had a bright red crest on his head, and beside them were a pair of fuzzy babies standing half that height, trotting alongside the parents on a pleasant Sunday stroll!

Strolls for some other wildlife were not so pleasant, however: we saw two full-sized deer that met their demise by the highway, and when we got closer to the Georgia state line, a healthy-sized alligator had bit the dust! It was the first alligator of our entire stay, although I’m convinced there was one in the marsh behind our little cottage. Often as I drifted off to sleep at night I could clearly hear something chirping and it didn’t sound bird-like or frog-like.

When we left the 52 and turned north onto Interstate 95, the traffic had become a little busier and the sky a little darker. Fortunately, we stopped for lunch and got back on the road before the rain began. Actually, we got beyond St. Augustine, past Jacksonville’s ring road and over the St John River with a clear windshield, but shortly after passing into Georgia, great drops began to splash down, and before long we were wrapped in shrouds of wet mist from the passing cars and trucks.

Suddenly, my cellphone sent out great shrieks of alarm from the depths of my purse, and I pulled it out, expecting to see an Amber Alert about a missing child in the area. Instead it read “Tornado Warning for the next 30 minutes. Seek shelter immediately.” Yikes! Quickly, I scanned the skies from my side of the car, looking for a tell-tale funnel cloud or a green sky or some debris flying through the air. Nothing. I craned my neck over the great heaps of stuff in the back seat to try and catch a glimpse of the other side of the car, but if those harbingers were right up on our tail, I wouldn’t have seen a thing. Lucky for us, no tornado materialized, though I kept my eye glued to the clock till it passed the 30-minute mark. Guess we dodged that bullet.

Our first stop is just outside of Savannah, and the rain continues. The lady at the hotel’s front desk recommended the Southern Image Family Restaurant just down the way, where a buffet offered a great array of grits, succotash, fried chicken, lima beans, macaroni and cheese and other down home fare. I managed to resist the sumptuous dessert table of chocolate fudge cake with peanut butter icing, pineapple upside down cake and apple pie – though I just had to taste the homemade chocolate chip cookie.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

On the road again

Dunedin,FL – What a full day! We’ve been bustling about opening every drawer, closet and cupboard in our little cottage to clear out all our belongings. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we’ll be pulling away and hitting the road for home. To achieve this objective has kept us running. When we came down, we brought quite a bit of stuff in order to be comfortable for our three-month sojourn, but we also acquired a few items down here which we now have to get back home. Easier said than done!

What about the flower-decked bonnet I made for the Kentucky Derby street party? Or my pink-and-purple yoga mat? Or those comfortable shoes I found at a killer price? And we both have more (OK, several more) t-shirts that were so attractive and so inexpensive we just had to have them. We have books. We have saddlebags for our bikes – oh, and the new cover we got for them as well.

Our other acquisition is a Yonanas. Fawn introduced us to this kitchen appliance that turns frozen bananas and berries into a delicious low-calorie substitute for ice cream. We enjoyed the desserts she made for us with her Yonanas so much that we decided to order one for ourselves. It came in a box that’s one-third larger than the appliance itself, thanks to Styrofoam padding. So, a rather bulky item that we didn’t have coming up. That wouldn’t be such a challenge, except that Fawn decided she wanted the Yonanas for her kitchen at home, and another for MJ back home who would love it as well. And Fawn and John are flying home, so they asked us if we’d bring them up in the car. So we now have three Yonanas packed in the car! The customs guys are going to think we’ve started a new business!

We’ve been eyeing the weather maps the last couple of days and it doesn’t look ideal – typical for this time of year, really. But we aren’t towing anything and the car is in excellent shape, so we will take it as it comes, and we won’t take any unacceptable risks. I’m actually looking forward to being on the road again; there are always different things to see and interesting people to meet.

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter!

Friday, April 6, 2018

On the beach

Dunedin, FL – Our time in Florida is drawing to a close. Already several friends have packed up and left the park, heading back up north as spring approaches. It’s the first time we’ve been here this long, and we are seeing what it must be like every year for local Floridians when all the snowbirds go home.

At the clubhouse this past week, the US Postal Service has set up a collection box where departing visitors can leave their non-perishable foods for local food banks, instead of hauling them back home. We are already curtailing our grocery purchase habits in hopes of consuming as much as possible from our cupboards and the fridge before we head out. What’s left, we’ll either bring with us or pass on to the few neighbours and friends who live here full time.

John and Fawn have been busy battening down the hatches of their fifth-wheel trailer which they will leave on site till their return in November. There’s a lot to do to clean it out, seal it and prepare it for the searing summer heat and high humidity. Full time neighbours will tend to their garden plants and keep the patio swept.

We are savouring our visits to Honeymoon Island State Park and its beautiful beach even more than usual, knowing that in a short time thoughts of the beach will have to be put on ice, so to speak. We have gone there dozens of times, just to walk along the shore and enjoy the air, the birds, and the turquoise water. Each time has been different; sometimes it’s crowded with sunbathers and beach umbrellas, and others it’s almost deserted. Even the configuration of the sand changes depending on how intense the latest tide was or whether there was more wind than usual. For many days, we had to almost climb down a sandy wall between the wave-washed shore and the dry sand further back. Then one day, the wall was gone – washed down by a particularly strong tide the day before. It has not reappeared.

The month of March has brought much larger crowds, and lots of children armed with buckets and shovels in bright colours. Our strolls have been more deliberate as we dodge crater-like holes the kids have dug out, or elaborate sand castles. Today there was a handsome turtle molded from damp sand, with its shell covered in pieces of seashells. There were also several colourful kites flying overhead; I kept looking to see who was controlling them and finally realized they’d been tethered to benches once they were well-filled with the steady offshore breeze.

My seashell collection has almost overflowed its paper-bag container. There’s always another shell to pick up – nice colour, different shape, lovely iridescence. None of my shells are very large or unusual, but there’s a nice variety. I will enjoy looking at them when we get home, and remembering our long strolls.