Shenandoah Crossings Resort, Gordonsville, Virginia


The Lodge

The Lodge – where we checked in.

We really didn’t know what we were getting into when we booked our time here! In our last post, we said we were rusty and yesterday, we could have rusted out! Our next post will explain further and will be about our hike to Jones Falls Trail in the Shenandoah National Park, off of Skyline Drive.

We pre-paid for a four day, three night resort stay in this BlueGreen Vacation property, allegedly located in the foothills of the Shenandoah National Park. We would be “refunded” our money for enduring a two hour presentation about the resort.  It was easy to tell we were not buyers as they had us fill out a questionnaire about our vacation styes and preferences. We have lived on “vacation” for the past two years! So for our punishment, they made us endure a full three hours.  However, we will say that the presentation was excellent – but really more for young families. They missed the mark with us and retirees should exempt from the program. However, we did see lots of retirees here. Maybe they will share it with their families….but for us, it would not be cost effective.

Our view

Our view from our backyard

We were also rusty in that we didn’t really scope out the area. We usually know exactly what we will be able to do when we pick an area to stay. And we usually check the weather so we know when the best days are to hike. But for us, we ended up only being able to hike on our day three due to our obligatory two three hour presentation. It turned out to be a bad weather day we learned once we hit the Shenandoah National Park!

Cabin next door

Cabin next door

To see our complete photo album about Shenandoah Crossings, you can visit it here, on Flickr.

So with that all said, here are the pros, cons and review of the resort and campground.

Pros:  There are a lot of activities on site for children, probably from ages 2 to 17. Most are shown in our photo album on Flickr, but in summary, Putt Putt, swimming pool, splash park, playgrounds, horse back riding, tennis, tether ball, corn hole, horse shoes and more. We did see people on bicycles but they were struggling as it is hilly. There are several laundry rooms, but you probably have to drive to them, unless you are in the campground. Best part, they are FREE! Wow, what a deal.

If you don’t have pets and really don’t appreciate dogs barking and cats meowing (or pigs squealing as our neighbors had last week) this place is for you. We noticed no dog poop to walk around, but then we hit the horse manure….but that’s under the cons….If you love wine and wine tastings, this is also a great location. That’s about the main thing to do close by if you want an outside activity from the resort.

We can speak about our cabin, it has everything you would want for a great cabin camping experience. Really nice towels for bathroom, kitchen and the pool. Comfortable beds with linens and pillows. The kitchen is fully stocked with utensils, dishes, cook ware, outdoor grill with all utensils (they are under the sink), paper towels, dish soap, dishwasher soap, salt and pepper shaker, even two servings of delicious coffee grounds. You just need to bring your own aluminum foil, baggies, etc., condiments and food. Nicely appointed and it looks like a working wood fireplace. We didn’t try it.

Swimming Pools area

Cons:  Our big deal is to be able to take nice walks and long hikes. Our first day here, we didn’t see the on-site hiking or walking trails. It looked like you would have to walk on the road and most vehicles seem to exceed the 15 mph speed limits. Day 2, I was desperate for a walk and said I did see people walking around the laundry area (near the stables). So the good news is that we managed a challenging three mile hike around the campground (where I took most of the photos), but the bad news is that a good stretch of it meant we had to tip toe around horse manure. On day three, we did have to drive to the Shenandoah National Park for a great hike…but it took us 1 1/2 hour to drive 64 miles to the trail head we selected. That was a real bummer as it was advertised as being in the foothills.

Stables

Stables

If you want to eat out, it was recommended to drive to Charlottesville. It is at least 30 minutes to get there. This is a very rural area, so the speed limits and roads dictate you don’t go anywhere fast. We don’t enjoy eating out, so we had to pick between Walmart Super Store or a Food Lion to shop for groceries. We had no idea they had such a nice grill, so off we went for steaks, etc. It took at least 30 minutes to go 16 miles to go to Walmart. We thought it would have more variety. We were pleased with our rib eye steaks, corn on the cob, baked potatoes (I had a sweet one), mushrooms, onions and fresh salad. For our second night, we brought an easy meal. And our third night, Bill bought a frozen pizza and I had left over homemade manicotti (made by our son in law) with fresh salads.

And of course, if your pets are like your children, you can’t come here. In fact, if pets were allowed, our daughter and family would have joined us for a day or two. We were told, NO PETS. But then when we walked around the campground, we saw several there.

RV Campground:  It looked deluxe, but pricey. All sites were flat, concrete pads, outdoor grills, picnic tables and some had hot tubs (presidential suite). Great area for children and within a short walk to the swimming pools, splash park, Fitness Center, General Store and more.

Campground Site

RV Campground

Would we return here? No, it’s not for us. But was it nice and would we recommend it? Only if you fully understood what you were getting into.  So our lesson learned? Let’s go back to scripture as we usually bathe our travels in prayer….

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

A new adventure – we’re rusty!


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Grandpa meeting his first grandson!

It was the birth of our first grandson that catapulted us into RVing. We needed a solution to visiting him since we lived in Florida and he was in Virginia. We wrote about it here. So fast forward two years and we’ve now welcomed our second grandson into the world! In between their births, we’ve stayed traveled between 66 campgrounds, with 49 of them being the first time we’ve camped there, and we are now at approximately 474 nights in a camper.  And we are changing how we travel now that we have a motor home.

We had to do a cost benefit analysis of how we were traveling and we’ve read about other full time travelers doing the same. Bottom line, we are slowing down between campgrounds. To get the best rates, we need to stay a minimum of 7 days and the absolute best rates are for 30 day stays. We have learned the more you set up and tear down your camper, the easier it gets. We’ve now done it so much, it’s second nature. BUT, we’ve now realized we are rusty when it comes to traveling to a new location.

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And this is where we are now. We made reservations through our Choice Hotels membership right before grandson #1 was born. And I got “hood-winked” so to speak. I spent $199 for a four day three night vacation in Myrtle Beach. We knew it was a nice area and had plenty of great campgrounds. So we really wanted to let our daughter and her husband stay in the hotel and we would just camp there for a mini vacation for them. And as part of the deal, we would get back a $200 Mastercard Gift card for listening to a two hour presentation. It sounded good at the time, but we never could coordinate that trip and grandson #2 came along. So the deal was about to expire and we found out there was another resort close by where we could stay, Shenandoah Crossings in Gordonsville, VA. It’s at the foothills of the Shenandoah National Park. This was where we discovered we loved to hike between 2003 and 2004. You can read about our one year of monthly hikes here. Ah sweet memories….so here we are!

We decided to leave our RV. It was just cheaper to leave it and stay in a cabin in this resort. We actually had planned to drive here in the motor home after it was time to leave our daughter and grandsons. But long story short, this deal was about to expire and we need to stay a little longer to help them out. And besides, who could leave this bundle of joy so soon?

Baby brother!

Baby brother!

Next up, our adventures at Shenandoah Crossings, rusty as they are! But let us not forget this important scripture as we move on….

Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Does not long life bring understanding?

Job 12:12

Fun while in Red Bay, Alabama


Tishomingo State Park

Tishomingo State Park

We needed some fun after a grueling week, talked about here. We are so grateful the culture of the Tiffin Motorhome enterprise is so upbeat and friendly, but it was a rough week.

Whatever we do, where ever we are, we do look to have fun! But we are really pretty boring people. First and foremost with us is enjoying God’s creation, from beaches, to mountains, to flowers to babies – especially our grandson and our soon to be second grandchild! We can’t wait to bring our grandsons along with us one day….

While we are traveling, our favorite activity is to go hiking, especially in the mountains, state parks or wherever there is challenging terrain and we love to take very long walks on beaches (especially Myrtle Beach or Topsail). At a minimum, we both like to walk at least two miles a day wherever we are.  We also both enjoy history, so that means visiting local museums. And who doesn’t enjoy a beautiful botanical garden or any gardens? But Bill also enjoys keeping his vehicles clean and polished! So we found a few things we could do to enjoy our time in Red Bay, Alabama while we get our new, but old, motor home repaired and spruced up to suit us.

HIKING:  The first thing we do in a new area is search out places to hike. When we arrived here, we did a google search and discovered what appeared to be the closest place was 40 miles away. We decided when we first arrived, we didn’t have the time to drive that far. So Bill went out and walked all around town, looking for a place I could walk. I can’t walk very long on sidewalks/concrete. He saw alot and enjoyed the quaint town, but found no green spaces. Little did we know, the Allegro Campground and Service area has plenty of asphalt and dirt roads, so we enjoyed lots of walks around the grounds and surrounding neighborhoods. I use Map My Walk app, so calculated nearly 15 miles in the short time we’ve been in Red Bay, excluding the two day hikes.

We discovered on our drive back from Illinois, that Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi is only about 10-15 miles away! We were so happy to discover this.  The day we were having our Cap Rails switched out, a day long process, we planned to enjoy the day in the woods. We dropped the motor home off in Bay 17 at 7:00 am. It was foggy out, so we hung out in the Service Lounge while the sun burned the fog off. We needed to be back by 2:30, so we headed out around 10:30. (It’s easy to lose track of time. We have spent a lot of time getting to know new people.  You get to talking and a few hours can slip by!)

This park is located right off the Natchez Trace Parkway, at milepost 304, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It is “steeped in history” and has fabulous scenery (why we love State Parks). There have been archaeological excavations that confirmed the presence of Paleo Indians as early as 7000 B.C.  The park is named after the leader of the Chickasaw nation, Chief Tishomingo. The famous Natchez Trace Parkway is the premier highway of the early 1800s and as a modern scenic highway, runs directly through the park. What also makes this park unique is the landscape of massive rock formations and fern-filled crevices found no where else in Mississippi. Yes, we hiked in Mississippi – which borders Red Bay! Here are a few pictures from our nearly 5 mile hike:

We couldn’t wait to go back…so on Saturday, we headed back over. But we were delayed as we found someone to install a part for us that would be cheaper to do rather than have it installed during our servicing. So we didn’t spend as much time there as we would have liked, only hiking about three miles. It was also the hottest day of the year and we felt it! Here are a few more pictures, but click here (Flickr) to see all our pictures from the park.

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Our Phaeton would fit on this site!

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Entrance for the tour.

TIFFIN FACTORY TOUR: We had no expectations for this tour. But this was nothing we could have imagined! They ask you to be there by 9:15 and they start at 9:30 sharp. You are asked to sign in and put on eye protection they provide. Then you are give a headset and receiver. They have coffee and restrooms. Be prepared to stand and walk for nearly two hours! We were shown a short video as an introduction and then each of the two tour guides introduces themselves and starts with additional history. We then walked over to the factory, or at least one building to start learning how Tiffin’s are made.

We started the tour with history: In 1941, Bob Tiffin’s father Alex started Tiffin Supply Company, a lumberyard and general merchandise store in Red Bay, Alabama. From that business start-up, two more generations of Tiffins and more than 50,000 RV owners have profited by Alex Tiffin’s strong sense of customer service. Bob joined his father at Tiffin Supply, which sold just about everything needed to build and furnish a house.

In 1965, Alex Tiffin and a handful of investors bought a state-of-the-art cotton gin, when cotton was still king in Alabama and much of the South. The operations manager quit before the first bale arrived for ginning. Alex turned to his 23-year-old son Bob, who took to the cotton business, machinery and management like it was second nature.

Soon he had the gin operating at ten bales an hour. He still marvels at the way the gin was engineered. Looking back years later, Bob smiles about his abiding fondness for anything mechanical — especially something that rolls.

As the cotton gin became a steady contributor to the Tiffin enterprise, a new manufacturing operation came to the area. The Commodore Company opened plants to build manufactured housing and recreational vehicles. Many of their supplies were purchased from Tiffin Supply Co. The Tiffins learned more and more about their new customer and its products. After three years, the Commodore Co. called it quits, closing its doors. Always eager for a new challenge, the Tiffins purchased the facility, and Tiffin Motorhomes was born.

The tour then started in what used to be the cotton warehouse. We were reminded that Bob Tiffin doesn’t like to build new when he can “recycle” a building! This warehouse is now where they process all the lumber and prepare it for the wood cabinets and any wooden trims! Yes, they make the cabinets by hand and we saw it in action. We didn’t need to wear face masks, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone take the tour that has breathing problems and can’t stand for nearly two hours. 

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Wood preparation shop

We then moved outside and walked over to the Chassis center. There was an outdoor presentation of the four chassis before going inside to see how they are engineered. The welding shop was near by, but we couldn’t see inside. We saw how the wood shop has grown and will now expand into the Chassis center.  There is some transition with the chassis’ as they build some themselves and others are from Freight-liner.

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Outdoor chassis presentation, moving from the wood shop to the chassis shop.

We were warned we would begin to wonder when we would see the motor homes actually being built, and indeed, we began to wonder. So into the actual “factory” which is not necessarily like an assembly line, but is divided into 12 separate departments.  What was most interesting is that each part has a unique six digit number. If you want to watch your coach being built, those numbers will be fun to keep track of and watch.

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Note the head sets and standing! We are entering the shop where they begin production. Note the # 6, #5, & #4 – that’s where the parts move from site to site.

From here we watched how they prepare the exterior walls. This was fascinating and using state of the art equipment. Then we saw how they prepare the countertops and then the plumbing. Next was to see how they prepare the wiring for the units.  Amazingly, approximately 3 miles of wire is put into the largest units! We were then able to see how the plumbing and wiring is installed into the chassis. The next step is seeing how the tile floors are assembled and then lifted onto the chassis.  The coach is now ready for the interior walls and cabinets. It was fun seeing how they move the units around, going from station to station.  

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After interior walls, plumbing and electric, time for the outside walls

The next phase is to install the exterior walls, using cranes. And then the roofs are prepared, including the air conditioners  and then set on top, again, using cranes. The slide-outs are assembled first, and then installed on the chassis. The front unit is also assembled with glass before being installed. Next step is to prepare the coach for paint. Currently, the actual painting is done in Belmont, Mississippi. We were all encouraged to go there to watch, but they don’t give tours. By now, the tour was over, but we were invited to go inside and look at the new models! We didn’t dare do this as we want to stay happy with our 2010!  We finished the tour looking at the 1975 Allegro on display for nostalgia’s sake!

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It was so sad to see the yellow and green faded out shag carpet….we had it in our second house! We’re really old!

You can watch a short you-tube video of the tour, which included painting the coach. Our complete photo album from the Tiffin Factory tour also on Flickr:

RED BAY MUSEUM: This is a very small and quaint museum. Usually when left alone, we can spend at least 2-3 hours in this size. But we were the only visitors and the tour guide wanted to accompany us through it. He said he was a “transplant” and didn’t really know the history very well. So he couldn’t answer too many questions. But was a musician so he really keyed in on all the “famous” musicians who visited the town, and especially the Tammy Wynette exhibits. While Bill has a lot of untapped musical talent, he wasn’t that interested…and I have little to no musical talents so I wasn’t interested in famous musicians for the most part.  Just sayin’….

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Bill hates having his picture taken, but he hates taking pictures with my iPhone even more!

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We hate seeing a “church” in a museum and pray it doesn’t come to this one day….but these were donated when the church was updated!

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Red Bay celebrated it’s centennial in 2007

CHURCH: We always make it a point to attend church on Sunday.  And for some reason, we keep picking on the First Baptist Churches – or rather, we keep feeling the calling to attend their services. We have never been disappointed and the message always speaks to our hearts. The message this week was on God’s faithfulness and it drove home how good and kind He has been to us! And to this town.

This is really a little sleepy hallow, except for this HUGE RVs that drive around town….While on our way to the Tiffin Tour, we were diverted from the route….I could see a police officer hunkered behind his vehicle, weapon drawn. I immediately thought it was those fugitives who escaped from prison in New York. But no, it was a drug addict that took 5 hostages in the local pharmacy. The pharmacist was an amazing woman, who happened to be a member of First Baptist Church (as was the owner of it). She was able to get the customer’s freed and stayed with the shotgun bearing addict.  He just wanted drugs, so she complied and gave him what he wanted…and maybe a little more. Once he was out, she took the shotgun and turned it over to the police….of which there were about 50 by then! So the message really had special meaning for this congregation and town as they were all called to pray for a safe turn out!

What even made this Sunday better, was that we met a couple here that needed a ride to church. Their car was in the shop. So what a blessing to get to worship with like-minded believers and get to know them and their work. They are full-timers, too. But they just sold their 5 acre farm-ette – the wife’s dream was to have chickens and grow all her own vegetables….but she just felt ready to give it up and go full time and serve the Lord in various ministries. They belong to “Campers on Mission.” Did I mention they were in their early 70s?

The sermon was taken from Lamentations 3:22-23:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Torreya State Park, Bristol, FL 3/17-21/2015


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View toward the river from the end of the campground

We had the best hike of 2015 at this park and the Weeping Ridge Campground! For us, the hiking is the best feature of this park. There are many small nature trails/hikes, but there are two main longer and challenging hikes, each 7 miles long over very diverse terrain with lots of different views and scenery.

I’m not good at summarizing so here is a bit about the park from the official website: “High bluffs overlooking the Apalachicola River make Torreya one of Florida’s most scenic places. The park is named for an extremely rare species of Torreya tree that only grows on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River. Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, Torreya is popular for camping, hiking, and picnicking. Bird-watching is also a popular activity. Over 100 species of birds have been spotted in the park. Forests of hardwood trees provide the finest display of fall color found in Florida.”

This park is very isolated, so it was quiet from the sounds of traffic or mass transportation (no trains, planes or fast automobiles). But this also means, we had to come well-stocked. We had read reviews, so we were prepared. We also loved waking up to the sounds of serenading birds. It really doesn’t get much better than this….except for a few minor inconveniences that we have to accept as they go along with the lifestyle. Dirt roads means dirty vehicles; spring time, so lots of pollen; and then the dreaded mosquito season! And as we were warned, the copperheads were starting to move – mating season! Fortunately, we didn’t see one…or at least come close to one. We may have passed one and it’s camouflage worked!

We took four hikes and left the “Torreya Challenge” for our next visit. What we loved most about the hiking were the views of Apalachicola River, which feeds the productive Apalachicola Bay, the high plateaus, steep bluffs, the deep ravines, the  rich hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, and hiking down into floodplain forests.

Our first hike was on the Weeping Ridge Trail. It said allow 30 minutes and it was every bit that! We went down into a deep ravine…but then you have to climb back up! We’re glad we had our hiking poles and used them. Here are a few pictures from this hike:

Trail head on the west side and middle part of the campground.

Trail head on the west side and middle part of the campground.

It was 1.6 miles for us and took 33 minutes of actual moving. We did stop and enjoyed the scenery.

It was 1.6 miles for us and took 33 minutes of actual moving. We did stop and enjoyed the scenery.

Headed to the Weeping Ridge

Headed to the Weeping Ridge

This was what we hiked to see. May not be a waterfall, but it was very interesting and a great warm up hike to the area.

This was what we hiked to see. May not be a waterfall, but it was very interesting and a great warm up hike to the area.

All the trails are well marked and maintained.

All the trails are well marked and maintained.

Trails were wide in places and some had many roots.

Trails were wide in places and some had many roots.

On our day two, we decided to hike the Torreya Trail, which is about 7 miles. Debbie was feeling so good and excited to be in such a great hiking environment, she took a long way to the dumpster and clocked a mile before the big hike started. Her final total was 8.04 mile for a total walking time of two hours and 45 minutes. Bill hiked the full 7 miles. We were outside in this beautiful park nearly 5 hours by the time we returned to our campsite. We enjoyed all the scenery and had a snack while we sat on a bench, enjoying the river. Here are a few pictures of this hike, which captures the best this park has to offer – having not seen the Torreya Challenge!

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On day three, we decided to take a shorter hike. We tried to get to the trailhead for the Torreya Challenge. We walked at least  three miles round trip and never made it there. It was quite a hike just trying to get over there so we decided we will just have to come back! So we made a great campfire and enjoyed the campground.

On our day 4 was a bonus to the park, touring of the Historic Gregory House. From a website, a few details: the Gregory House is “beautiful Southern mansion built in 1849, the house is open to the public on a daily basis. The house was built by Jason Gregory, a prominent Calhoun County planter, in 1849. The home originally stood across the river from the state park at Ocheesee Landing, but was moved here and restored during the
1930s….”
Here are a few pictures from our tour, given by one of the Park Rangers. Click on the image to make it larger:

We hope to return here next winter, January-February time frame. Our next stop is our last Florida State Park for a while, Little Talbot Island in Jacksonville. 

For a full write up about Torreya State Park campground, our review is here on Campendium.

Blackwater River State Park 3/8-14/2015 Days 3 – 6


Chain of Lakes Nature Trail

Chain of Lakes Nature Trail

We can’t wait to return to this campground. For us, this has been a fabulous week, even though we took a half of a day to drive to Pensacola to go to an Urgent Care Clinic. What makes this park so great is that it is isolated and surrounded by such great beauty. But if you have an emergency, it was only a 30 mile drive. We have been hiking in the woods for years, so we know to check Bill for ticks as he seems to pick one up every time. But after our first big hike on our Day 2, we were pretty exhausted and decided it had been too cold for the ticks to come out.  The next morning, Day 3, we decided to check and guess what, the big tick was actually sucking the lifeblood out of me (Debbie). Since the last time I removed a tick, we had a problem with it (Bill developed a bulls eye from the bite), I googled how to correctly remove a tick. The first thing it said was to stay calm (I needed that since I was freaking out), it’s not that big of a deal (or something to that effect). Then Bill did exactly what it said but he could not get the tick off.

Tick removal key

Tick removal key

And it started to turn red….so off we went before breakfast to the closest Urgent Care Clinic in our health care plan. The great news is that the doctor just bought a tick key and was happy to finally try it. He confessed they don’t always get them out as easily as one would think. So it worked perfectly and off we went for the antibiotic “just in case” and to Gander Mountain to buy our own key! We now own the best device to remove ticks! And the great news is that we didn’t have another all week! 

 After we returned from Pensacola, we decided we would take a shorter hike from the campground, the Chain of Lakes Nature Trail. It was a 4.5 mile hike from our campground to the trail head and back. It was beautiful and unique as you can see from these pictures. But again, we didn’t see any birds or hear another wild life. But we did meet two fine young men. One was on Spring Break from college (studying to be a dentist) and his long time friend who is assigned to NAS Whiting, in pilot training. It’s so refreshing to met such young people of promise, out enjoying a beautiful day in nature.

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Day 4: We were now ready to tackle the rest of the Juniper Creek Nature Trail, hiking north. We began the hike from our campsite, out of the front of the campground and to the trail head. This trail was pretty unremarkable compared to the hike on Day 2. Once we got on the trail, about 3/4 mile, the forest had been thinned out by a controlled burn. Knowing we had 8 miles ahead of us, we thought we would make good time, so we had a good pace. Once we entered the denser forest, the trail narrowed (ugh, ticks?) and actually began to appear that very few people hike on this part of the trail. Once we hit the 4 mile mark, we thought we came to the road where we had hiked down from the northern trail head on Day 2. We went a little further to make sure, and since the trail hadn’t been very challenging, another 1/2 mile was ok.  When we turned around, we realized we had been hiking downhill and now we faced our first challenge: hiking uphill! We really enjoyed the fact that we had hiked the entire length of this trail, even if over two days! Here are just a few pictures:

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 Day 5: The weather forecast was 100% chance of rain! So we decided to go into Milton and do laundry and pick up a few groceries. The closest laundry mat in Milton didn’t have hot water, so we drove a few more miles west to Pace. The laundry mat is behind the dry cleaners in the Winn Dixie Shopping Center. They have secure wifi on top of plenty of machines.

While it looked like rain all day, it never did rain. We hoped the weather would remain good and on Day 6, we would rent kayaks from The Original Blackwater Canoe Rental and try it. Our campground is within walking distance of the terminus of the river trip. The Blackwater River is perfect for beginners and is the only sand bottom river left in the United States. But that 100% rain came a day late, on our last day here. We originally were supposed to leave on Day 6, but we checked with Reserve America and booked another night, which meant we had to change sites. We decided it was worth saving $30 and canceled the private RV Resort we had booked.

We then cooked our meals for the next few days, and then spent time outside visiting other campers. We met a lot of wonderful people who also loved this campground! Most had been here before. We had hoped to have a campfire as the weather cooled down a bit. But the rain started back up, but we had such a full week, it was OK!

We are headed to Ochlocknee River State Park near Sopchoppy. We expect more of what we had here as these two state parks were recommended to us by another couple, The Lowes, also full-timers, bloggers, nature lovers (especially photograph fabulous pictures of birds) and they love to hike!

Blackwater River State Park 3/8-14/2015 Days 1 and 2


IMG_3531We’ve only stayed at a few places where we’ve said, WOW, this is great! This is one such park, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So upfront, what we liked right away: it’s in a state park but has full hook-ups, price is right, small but enough room between sites, level sites, small gravel base to it, and on every site: barecue grill, picnic table, campfire ring and clothes line (seems these last two things are in most state park campgrounds). The camp host was very helpful and sold firewood bundles for $5.50. (Our official review of the park on Campendium.)

We only found two things that might hinder ones ability to enjoy this campground. First, as we are learning with all the Florida State Parks during peak season, it is hard to get reservations for the dates you want (like Friday and Saturday nights). But we have learned some ways to work around it. More later. And the next was the sound of freedom. This State Park is near Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting, one of the Navy’s two primary pilot training bases. We have both lived near military bases so the sound only makes us think of “freedom.” And sadly, while we were here, the 11 Military crewmen were killed in a training accident nearby. We will never denigrate our military and we will always appreciate the sounds of freedom. So for us, this was not a negative.

The drive here was beautiful but we did have a concern or two due to a narrow bridge as we got closer – but it’s under construction. Here are pictures of our drive here and the campground:

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Upon arrival and an easy set up, we took off to explore and scope out the hiking. We walked as big of a loop as possible around the campground and it was only 1.78 to the beach and fabulous scenery. Here is a gallery of our first walk:

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We were ready for an adventurous week, although the weather reports said Monday would be the only day without rain. So we had to decide how could we maximize our hiking. We did some research and discovered the Juniper Creek 8.1 mile hike, one way. It would start at the Deaton Bridge Trailhead, less than a mile from our campsite, ending at the Red Rock Trailhead. The highlights were to hike along Juniper Creek, experience a dramatic view from top of The Bluffs (we couldn’t resist this!), see more sandy beaches and hopefully see some laurel blooms that start in the spring. We did some evidence of spring!

One thing we love about hiking is the solitude, the beauty of God’s creation and just being in nature! We only saw four people on this hike. As we drove on Red Rocks Road to the parking lot, we saw a hiker emerge from the woods. By the time we parked and got our gear ready, he was close to us, coming down to the creek for more water. His name is Mover and he started hiking at Key West in January and is s headed to Canada! He told us he spent the night in the shelter on this trail. We asked if he saw The Bluffs and he said he did…but we’re not really sure if he did or not as they were not easy to find if you followed the blue blaze trail. We didn’t walk down far enough to enter at the official trailhead…so we walked right to them.

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So what more can we experience after this perfect day? It doesn’t get much better than this….or does it! Read here for the next post as we continue this fabulous adventure in the Blackwater River State Park.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Days 3 & 4


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Ok, I have to now be honest. There is one thing we don’t like here…and that is the reservation system. First, it’s hard to get winter reservations over a few days, especially Friday and Saturday night.  We do all we can to avoid traveling on Sundays. That is our sacred day, if you want to call it that. We feel it is important to worship our Lord God Almighty “corporately” (with other like-minded believers) once a week. (Click here to learn more about our reasons.) We do worship Him privately and every day. In fact, we feel closer to Him in this lifestyle because we no longer have all the trappings of our “stuff” and the routines of life. When you live in a “tin box” it seems you need Him more…..we really are living on faith. And we are free to see Him in all His glory as we travel along the beaches, in the mountains, in the history of this great nation, among the beauty of His gardens, in the faces of those we meet, and most importantly in our ability to see family along the way! But about that reservation system, while we could only  get four days which puts us out of here on a Sunday, it really is sort of good as this park never seemed really crammed full of people! 

We just didn’t get to see or do enough here! Next time, we hope to hike on every nature trail, not only walk more on the beach, but hopefully, be able to sit and enjoy the sounds of the waves lapping against the perfectly white sands! So we managed at least a five mile nature hike. We walk for our health and well-being. And we hope it is going to keep us younger and more limber as we begin to fully enjoy our retirement years.

Here is our campsite and immediate area. The tree roots really damaged this streets concrete pads.

So here are some of our remaining pictures:

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Next adventure is Blackwater River State Park, just north of here.

Falling Waters State Park 2/17-3/4/2015


IMG_3068We’re addicted – to Florida State Parks! This is our second one and it was a wonderful as the Florida Caverns, but in a different way. Initially, we were a bit underwhelmed. We were warned by our tent camping neighbor the falls weren’t big, but they did go deep. So as soon as we set up camp (we only drove 25 miles to this park), we took a quick hike to see the falls. We were surprised to see a sweet little beach and very nice trails and “board walks” around the sink holes.  Well, our neighbor was right, these were not really big falls, but they were still a sight to behold. Then we figured out this park isn’t very big either! We love to hike and thought we would have longer hikes in this park. Click here for our official review of the park.

Here are pictures of day one, Friday, February 27, 2015:

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Day 2, Saturday, February 28, 2015 pictures. Not the best photography and I forgot to turn on the Map My Hike app. We guessed it had to be three miles and we were panting up and down a few hills:

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We hadn’t had an opportunity to build a campfire, so we were able to have a fire each night.  We are focusing on the positive, but there was a family reunion nearby that had many “wild”  children (with little to no adult supervision) running around and bike riding down the hill in front of our campsite. Our immediate neighbors were great, but for first 3 days, these precious children were rambunctious but we knew this environment was good for them…so we tried to not let it bother us! And we hoped and prayed none of them got hurt. While that hindered the solitude we wanted to enjoy, we loved the fact we could just walk from our camper to a hike.  At least it was quiet on our walks as the children at least stayed on the pavement!

We went to First Baptist Church of Chipley Sunday morning. We were amazed this little town had three services. We really enjoyed the second service which had a great mix of hymns and contemporary worship. The sermon was what we needed to hear and the people very welcoming. We were encouraged to not be shy about our faith, to reevaluate our “mission.” So we did and vowed to try to reach out more and to really not let a bunch of wild children get to us!  So upon arrival back to camp, it seemed deserted! Everyone was gone – except the hosts and a few campers who never were there. So we began to really relax, enjoy the quiet, prepared lunch and were looking forward to more exploring. We took the complete fence line trail around the campground and were disappointed to learn it was only 2.36 miles! But those hills and changing terrain still gave us a good workout.

Then about mid day, we heard a lot of noise….there goes the peace and quiet! We saw two trucks and a bunch of college aged men setting up camp….and they seemed a bit rowdy….

I had to go check them out….and “reach out.”  They said they were on spring break from Florida College. We’ve lived in Florida for 10 years and we’ve never heard of the college, so I googled it when I returned to the camper.  It’s a small Christian college so when the guys said they wouldn’t be wild, I knew we had nothing to worry about. Slowly, the campground filled up again.

We built our campfire the third night and began to enjoy the warmth and solitude.  But then I began to hear men singing, softly. Bill thought it was road noise from I-10. It was the first time we could hear the traffic a little, but I thought I heard “hallelujah.”  I kept straining and finally had to sneak over to listen. I heard a song I love, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” so then I knew it was the 8 young men, sitting around their campfire, singing praise and worship songs. What a blessing to hear their sweet melodies in this serene setting! We made brief introductions and it was so rewarding to learn about their plans for their future employment, all very diverse. They invited us over to join them, but since we had our fire going and neither wanted to embarrass ourselves with our weak voices.  Well, Bill can carry a tune, but I say I sing monotone and am tone deaf! But we enjoyed their singing.

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New tires now all the way around!

Monday, March 2, 2015:  We still needed two tires after our one flat in Crystal River. Bill decided we should replace all four tires on the camper. So we spent a lot of time trying to find someone who sells this unusual tire size. It was looking hopeless to find the tire, but then we found a tire store in Marianna sold them. That was near the Florida Caverns State Park. We kicked ourselves that we didn’t search for them sooner since we were staying there. But to be honest, we had too much fun to even think about the tire situation. So we made Monday a work day. Bill dropped me off to do our laundry in Chipley, then he drove the 25 miles back to Marianna.

On the way back in to the campground, we saw a van setting up a directional sign into the campground.  We wondered what that might bring.  It turned out to be about a group of about 16 cyclists on an adventure ride begin arriving in mid-afternoon. Two campsites next to us filled up with tents and bike gear while their coordinator set up the kitchen, dining and equipment area next to the young men. These cyclists were mostly young to middle aged adults on “vacation.” They rode 60 miles to the campground, from St. Andrew State Park in Panama City Beach.  They were going to ride about 350 miles over 6 days. I later learned “Adventure Cycling” is a nationwide non-profit that promotes cycling.

Here are more pictures of the sites around us, focusing on the new neighbors, the cyclists and the young men’s campsite:

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And finally, our last day here and more pics of things I forgot to photograph!

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Our challenge for this State Park experience was to learn to conserve water as this site only had water and electricity. We were pleased to report at the end, we can make it for 5 days! Bill did carry a 5 gallon bucket of our kitchen water to the dishwashing station each day. We couldn’t conserve on water while we cooked and did our dishes in scalding water.

So in summary, the highlights to this campground was making friends with these 8 young men – they came over and convinced us to join them our last night there; meeting the adventure cyclists (if my knees were better, I could see riding along with them); the daily hikes, even if shorter than we prefer, they were hilly enough to challenge us; nightly campfires, especially the night we enjoyed singing with the young men around their campfire; and learning we can now camp for 5 nights without sewer hook ups.

So now I have 8 new young friends on FaceBook and I keep singing, to myself and the Lord only, “In Christ Alone” – which we all sang around the campfire our last night here. What GREAT memories and new friends we made!

Florida Caverns State Park 2/23-27/2015


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We just finished the cavern tour! It was cooler outside than in the caverns, which was unusual.

Finally, we are staying in a state park! In looking for a Class A motorhome, we’ve said we wanted one 35′ so we can stay in state and national parks. BUT with all the things we want in one, it looks like we’d need a 40′ one. Long story short, we’ve put that big purchase on hold and said why not see if we even like camping in State Parks.  So we’ve made reservations at three in the Panhandle of Florida.  Bill actually sets the itinerary and I just enjoy the ride. How and why he picked these campgrounds is beyond me, but I have loved everywhere he has taken us! He’s been reading travel magazines for years and traveling like this is really a long held dream of his. Click here for our official review of the park (and others).

What a great start to our experiences and what a great first park to learn the ropes.  We’ve always said the only thing we really needed to camp as a full-hook up (water, electricity and sewer).  We rarely use any of the amenities at the RV resorts.  About the only thing we’ve done in the 47 locations for 378 nights was sleep and eat in our RV. We normally go and explore the county we are staying in. As full timers, we seem to be on the roll, seeing as many places as we can, learning as much history as possible, climb as many mountains as possible and take long walks on the beach when on the coast.

The blue dot is our campsite

The blue dot is our campsite

And now we have slowed our pace down and we like it!  We arrived on Monday, February 23, 2015 at around 2 pm.  The Ranger who checked us in said there were two Cavern Tours we could take, 2:30 or 3:30. Then there are no tours on Tuesday or Wednesday. We felt fortunate we could make the 3:30 tour.  So we set up quickly and got acclimated. We couldn’t believe how great the site was, very level with not only water and electricity, but also sewer! WOW! But we soon learned this is rare. We were prepared to learn how to not use fill our tanks….that’s another subject. We had a little problem as we tried to use the sewer so we had to ask for the Camp Host to help us. As it turned out, the last user left their cap stuck in it! She was excited when she saw our for sale sign. Her daughter and husband were in the market for a used 5th wheel. So we gave her the grand tour and almost missed the 3:30 tour!

So off for the cavern tour, which was lead by a wonderful volunteer.  He is a disabled vet with a great wit and tremendous knowledge of the caverns.  There were nine of us, all adults.  He said he was so glad as he had several 5th grade classes earlier in the day. TIP: If you are more into solitude and like a quieter environment, go on the later tours. They host about 20 elementary students at a time and as we learned, they all like to talk at the same time. We could hear each group echoing over the hills as they meandered around the trails waiting for their turns with a tour guide when we went back on Thursday around 1:00 pm.  From one official website:

Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna is far removed from the white sand beaches that give Florida its fame, but is nevertheless a place of remarkable beauty.

Much of Florida has a karst topography. This is the term geologists use to mean the state rests over layers of limestone and dolomite. Over thousands of years, trickling water slowly erodes away these strata,  creating caves and caverns.

Evidence of the state’s karst topography can be seen in its many springs and sinkholes, but few possess the stunning natural beauty of the massive tour cave at Florida Caverns State Park. Easy to access from Interstate 10 and U.S. Highways 231 and 90,the park is a remarkable place.” And we agree!

Here are a few pictures from inside these unique caverns:

We went home to eat as we skipped lunch to set up and hurry for the tour. We had left over home made beef vegetable soup and a fresh salad. The soup was great after an invigorating day outside and in a cool forest setting.

We couldn’t wait to get out and take a long hike, right from our site! We had no idea where it would lead or what we would see, but the Ranger said we should see some beautiful birds and deer. No bears here! So we ended up walking on the trail to the stables, primitive campground and picnic area. It was 4.7 miles and we did see a herd of deer! But no birds…I think we were too noisy!  Here are a few pictures:

The next day, there was 100% chance of rain by 1:00, so we went out earlier and took the fence line trail, which ended up being 4.16 miles. We only saw squirrels and a few birds, but it was still a glorious walk in the woods!  Here are a few pictures from this walk:

Our last day, we went back to hike on the few trails above the cavern. We read in Trip Advisor that these trails were a bit challenging. There were a lot of roots and rough terrain.  But somehow we missed the trail and ended up climbing a challenging hill, which is something we do like!

 

We will definitely be back here! Our review of the campground is found here, but note, we stayed longer than my caption in the review. And our next stop is Falling Waters State Park.

An ideal travel day in the life of full-time RVers – Staunton VA KOA


IMG_1997As we write this (January 23, 2015), we have now spent 347 nights in our RV, changed our location 44 times, have stayed in 29 different RV Resorts, and towed our rig around 12,000 miles! So far, we have only been traveling around Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. We became official full-timers on July 16, 2014 after we sold our home. We have been asked what is it really like living in an RV full-time. First of all, we must love it as we sold our home after nearly a year of extended stay RVing (we’d stay in some places for a month or two). But most important, we are now about to start on a 10 year plan, hoping to do this at least 10 more years. We’re discovering with this type of commitment, a Class A Motorhome is in our near future for multiple reasons.

We digress, let’s look at our perfect travel day in our world of adventure. We keep a handwritten journal about each stay with enough notes to remind us of the adventure. So just a page from our journal on one of our nearly perfect travel adventures: ]

On May 3, 2014 we woke up about 6 am, excited about our next adventure, to travel from Front Royal, Virginia to Staunton/Walnut Hills KOA, Staunton, Virginia.  (Click here for our official review of this park.) We ate our normal breakfast, fresh fruit, grains and protein. Then we packed up and secured the inside of the RV for the trip.  Debbie generally does all the inside work while Bill goes outside and does the harder things such as cleaning out the black and gray tanks!  We’ll spare you all the details, but Debbie has the better end of the deal! But it is all team work, working closely together to make sure every thing is secured.

The weather was perfect so no glitches and within an hour, we are locked and loaded up! We make an easy lunch to carry, simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some chips and water.  We love only traveling 200-250 miles a day, but for this, it was only about 90 miles. But we drove on the Scenic Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park (cost is $10 but the pass is for a week or so. Next time, we will be eligible to pay the same price but the pass will be for a life time. A benefit of being over 62). This is a 35 mile per hour road with fabulous scenery and many winding turns.  What could have been a quick trip, under two hours, we took our time, driving for over four hours. It was simply amazing as you can see in just a few of our pictures:

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We originally had planned to stay on Skyline and then onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. But we were going to meet friends to camp near Asheville, NC on May 9. We could have taken a week to make the trip whereas we needed to make better time!

Our arrival at our destination was about as good as they get! We were greeted with enthusiastic KOA Staff. They did everything to make us feel welcome and refreshed us by saying we had a prime spot (for no extra charge). This is the beauty of traveling “off season” and during the week! We have a nice big window that rarely has a great view and they made sure we had that view of the lake!

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We each have designated jobs, again Debbie setting up inside and Bill outside. Again, as a team, all jobs were done with Debbie preparing dinner. For those who know us, know Bill is really the cook of the family. But he likes to cook once and eat twice, so Debbie only had to make fresh salads and heat up leftovers!

After dinner, we were ready to take a nice long walk around the park. Debbie was so excited about the trip, she stayed inside and downloaded pictures and journaled while Bill visited with our very interesting neighbors.

We always start our day with prayer and at the end of the day, give thanks to our Lord for another safe travel day! We went to bed around 9 pm, ready for a good night sleep so we could hit the mountains for lots of great hiking!

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A Summary of Our First Five Road Trips


We’ve seen really cool travel maps from other’s blog sites (here’s my favorite one from a couple we are following) but when we tried to make ours,  it looked confusing. It’s at the bottom of this page, so we’re going to break our trips down with a summary of our time spent on each road trip up until we became full timers. We haven’t been able to blog about each location as initially hoped.  We can blame it on poor internet connectivity and poor time management – having too much fun to find time to blog – but then we need the blog to help us remember what we’ve done!

Let’s break this down to our first two trips:

1st and 2nd Trip

Dates 9/5-7/2013 & 9/17-21/2013

We bought our Keystone Cougar X-lite RV on September 4, 2013 at Camping World, Tampa, FL.  We had looked at Class A motor homes for about 3 years, but when it came to buy one, we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. But we needed an RV for our upcoming month long stay near our new grandson.  I’ve blogged about that journey here. We about gave up on buying anything when we stopped at “just one more” RV show.  This time Bill said let’s look in everything. We parked at the same time next to a brand new Ford F-150 Ecoboost.  The new proud owner said he was there to look at 5th wheels to tow.  We were shocked you could tow one, so we headed to the first 5th wheel we saw.  We stepped inside and were so impressed. Then a man came in and said randomly, “Can you believe, you can tow this with a Ford F-150 Ecoboost?” We were hooked and long story short, we bought ours the next day! And it was the end of the year sales on the Ford Trucks, so what a great time to buy a new 2013 truck! The RV salesman gave us two free nights to stay just a mile from the store at Tampa East RV Resort. Even thought it poured down rain our first night, we felt we were at “home.”

So we went home and began to plan our “maiden voyage” to Port St. Lucie RV Resort. We lived about smack dab in the middle of these two resorts, so around a two hour drive to our home. Again, we were so comfortable, we couldn’t wait to make our first trip up to Fredericksburg, Virginia to spend a month with our first grandson.

OUR THIRD ROAD TRIP:

10/4-12/1/2013 (56 nights)

10/4-12/1/2013 (56 nights)

Our daughter had to return to work when her baby was 2 months old.  So we suggested coming up for a month to watch him so he wouldn’t start day care until he was 3 months old. What a blessing that was! We were excited to get there, but to also begin some fun adventures in our new RV.  So we stopped at Jekyll Island, South Carolina (#2 on map) for our first stop on the way up the coast. There was great history (we did a self guided walking tour as well as the tram tour) and fabulous beaches. A very serene island! We enjoyed church at the friendly and historic Baptist Church. What a great time and we vowed we would return one day! But so far, we haven’t….By the way, we love the beach, which was one thing we had in common when we first met!

Bill researched and discovered the closest RV parks that were right on the beach were in Myrtle Beach. While it sounded good, I (Debbie) was a bit concerned about all the sand getting into our moving parts, our slides! But my fears were alleviated when I saw we were actually on the other side of dunes and on a concrete slab.  So we stayed in Ocean Lakes Campground (#3 on map) and discovered Myrtle Beach is the best beach for a long walk! We vowed we would return and we have!

After staying on the beach, it was time to go learn how to be grand parents. So off we were to the Fredericksburg/Washington DC KOA Campground (#4 on map), just a few miles from our daughter’s home. This resort is very nice, but I don’t know how bigger RV’s make it down the narrow and winding road. It is very convenient from I-95 but far enough away that you don’t hear the road noise.  We stayed here for 40 nights and loved every second we had with our precious grand baby. If not for the fun so far in our RV, I may have put my foot down and said we need to move back to Fredericksburg….but that would have not gone over very well with Bill since he vowed he would never move back there due to the traffic!  But I digress.

Bill has a knack for finding interesting places to visit.  So after some research, he selected Forest Lake RV (#5 on map), Advance, North Carolina. We didn’t blog about this stay, but we had a blast.  However, this campground was  a bit lacking in ambience, but it had all the amenities we needed (full hook ups). And the bonus was that since  I post on Facebook where we are, we were able to meet up with a long lost cousin and had a great time touring the Billy Graham Library and Museum with them.  We also had some great hiking (Boone’s Cave, Lexington, NC) as we discovered in 2003 how much we love to hike in the mountains. We both love history, so finding interesting places to visit, coupled with either mountains or beaches makes for a lot of fun and adventure for us.

Speaking of history, our next stop was in Milledgeville, Georgia, the first state capital of Georgia. The campground name was very deceiving but the history we stumbled on made up for the basic campground, Scenic Mountain RV Resort (#6 on map).  Good parts about the “resort” (a term that doesn’t really do it justice) was that it was conveniently located to the wonderful history, the price was excellent (Passport America), laundry room was nice, and the NEW staff was super friendly and helpful. The downside was that most of people in the resort were full time residents.  That tends to change the “ambiance” of a park. What we loved about Milledgeville was that it is a small college town and the historic area has been fabulously preserved. We visited several mansions, but our favorite was the Old Capital Museum.  The Docent or tour guide was a college student studying history. What a bonus and it was our favorite historical tour to date. We enjoyed church at Covenant Presbyterian Church – same name as our church in Sebring. As for hiking, we couldn’t find that scenic mountain! But one mansion we toured had a great self-guided walking tour of the grounds, a good one mile walk.

And the final location, Panama City Beach RV Resort (#7 on map). You get what you pay for! This was our most expensive resort to date, but it was absolutely fabulous! I’m not good at keeping track of how much we spend, but it was around $45 and they did give Good Sam Club discount. We actually met friends here (they camped in a pop-up tent in the Saint Andrews State Park, within walking distance) there for the Thanksgiving Holiday. The bad news was that it was the coldest week ever! The water was turned off one night due to the freezing temperatures. But hanging out with friends made it OK.  We enjoyed an evening at their campsite with a campfire cooked dinner (yummy!) and they came to our camper for a warm Thanksgiving dinner inside (it was so cold outside). We each prepared part of the meal so it was no burden for anyone. We had planned to cook a turkey in our new stove…what a shock when we finally looked inside it.  You can only cook a pan of brownies in it! So we did cheat and let Publix cook the turkey for us. Now the best lesson we learned here was when to travel.  The absolutely worst day to try and drive, especially when it was a normally 7 hour trip, is the Sunday after a holiday.  It took us 11 hours to get home. NOT FUN towing a 5th wheel.  What is so sad is that since we are retired, there was no rush to get home and we wished we had stayed another day or found a place to stop about 1/2 home. So we vowed we will limit our travel days and actually learned the best days to travel are Tuesdays and Thursdays for some reason. And we absolutely loved the long journey and the 56 nights!

FOURTH ROAD TRIP

12/18/2013-1/7/2014 (

12/18/2013-1/7/2014 (23 nights)

We learned how to be flexible this time out. Our grandson became ill and couldn’t be in day care. I can pack a suitcase in about 30 minutes, so I flew up as fast as I could get to the airport. We had planned to return for Christmas, but not sure if the weather would allow it. We had two weeks to decide. Bill joined me about two weeks later, towing the RV!  So he made his first trip by himself, traveling to Jolly Time Acres, St. George, SC. It was a Passport America campground, basic, but the friendly staff made it pleasant. Bill learned he can hook up and unhook the 5th wheel by himself as well as do all the setting up. Then he headed back to the Fredericksburg/Washington DC KOA campground again, for our second stay. That was over 800 miles in two days! But since he traveled mid-week, traffic wasn’t bad. We had a fantastic Christmas, having a grandbaby made it so special. My sister and her husband live about 2 hours away from our daughter, so it was great that they came up for the day and we meet again a few days later.

Our trip home was back to the beach, Myrtle Beach, but this time, PirateLand.  It was next door virtually to Ocean Lakes. We ended up preferring PirateLand because they give the Good Sam Club discount. Both are equally good, although Ocean Lakes may have a bit more ambiance!  This winter was unusual, so we were told, so it was a bit cold. In fact, the day we left it was 19 degrees! As Bill unhooked the water, some dripped as usual, but it froze the minute it hit the concrete pad! Thanks again to FaceBook, we got up with an old prayer partner from our first church in New Jersey. So we hung out with him some, had dinner together, visited his home and learned more about the area.  Our final leg of the trip home was to stay in the Jacksonville North/St. Mary’s KOA. We joined KOA so earned enough points for a free night! This KOA is very convenient to I-95. The staff is outstanding and of course, there are all the normal amenities. Plus it has a nice layout that we could get in a two mile walk at night.  By now, we have spend a total of 87 nights in our RV and towed it 4,627 miles.  We are beginning to dream about going full-time!

FIFTH ROAD TRIP and last before we become full-timers!

3/22-5/20/2014 (55 nights)

3/22-5/20/2014 (55 nights)

Time for our spring visit to our daughter to celebrate her birthday and our anniversary (in the same month, so we make a big deal for both every year). Might as well see as much as possible as we have the luxury of time for this road trip.  We stayed at 9 resorts and this time decided to add the mountains to our return trip. But was you may begin to notice, we are returning to some of our favorite places, if nothing else, they are convenient for our trek between Florida and Virginia.

First stop is back to the Jacksonville North/St. Mary’s KOA. It had been about 10 weeks since we were out in the RV.  It was in the shop nearly the whole time getting a bunch of warranty repairs taken care of. We also began to sell off our rental properties as we now have the vision to go full time.  So Bill had to do a lot of labor (worked 7 days a week for three weeks – but took time off for Church) as he prepared some of the houses for sale. We are learning as we age, we need to take our time doing things (like packing) so we had a great list of everything we knew we needed as we planned for nearly two months on the road. But of course, we forgot the wonderful lunch we had packed for our arrival to the KOA (it’s only about 4 hours from home), rain gear, shower soap, and dish soap. Thank goodness for Walmart for the little things, but guess we’ll get wet if it rains (main thing is to use while Bill may empty our tanks in the rain).

We initially planned to go to Cedar Creek, NC from here, but when we woke up, we heard Myrtle Beach calling us! What a draw it has on us.  We stayed back in PirateLand. This time we toured historic Georgetown. We arrived in summer clothes, but quickly had to bundle up! We loved the history of the rice plantations. We didn’t know that this area was the rice capital of the US until after the Civil War. We only stayed here 3 days as we needed to get to our daughter’s to help them get their townhome ready to sell.

Who would have known we’d be trying to sell our homes at the same time as our daughter.  But it  helped that Bill is a good painter and really can do about any work needed around a house. So that was how he kept himself occupied while I took care of our grandson, who had a cold. Then Bill got sick as a dog with the flu! He was down and out for about 5 days. I ended up with strep throat, but caught it right away so I only missed one day. So without going into great detail, we needed a week off, so we headed down to Cedar Point, NC for 4 days.  We had a great time, discovered Emerald Isle; met up with our family’s Marine who gave us a tour of Camp LaJune and had dinner with his family (he and his wife have a son and twin girls); toured Fort Macon and learned more civil war history, and found a few places for some good walks. It was a really full four days! Then back to Fredericksburg to work and find time to celebrate our anniversary and our daughter’s birthday.

Sadly, it was time to leave our grandson. We never knew a baby boy could change our lives like he did!  But then, there was another Baby Boy who changed the world! We are looking forward to celebrating His Birthday this CHRISTmas!

So off we were to return to Florida via the mountains, after all, it was now spring time. We decided we wanted to travel on the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway.  We did make the entire Skyline Drive and it was pleasant enough, just a bit too slow since we were meeting friends.  So much to see and so little time! We actually thought about returning and possibly boon docking on the parkway, but decided we’re addicted to the luxury of full hook ups!

We stayed at the entrance of the Skyline Drive to get us oriented (and pay $10 for a week of on and off the parkway). I blogged about our stay at North Fork Resort in Front Royal, Virginia. Let’s just say we loved the mountains but we probably won’t return to this particular resort! It was definitely the worst one so far (and as I write this after 39 stays, it is still the worst one). Why?  The way they treated us! It had the basics we needed, full hook up, but the initial phone call for the reservation should have been a clue they don’t like “strangers.” And it went downhill from there….

Our next stop at the Staunton/Walnut Hills KOA had to be better and it was like night and day! WOW, they made us feel so welcome and couldn’t do enough to make sure our stay was the best.  And this one ranks up there as one of the best! We were asked if we’d like to back up to the lake for one thing. Awesome! The “neighbors” who watched were a hoot and very friendly! We loved this place alone and will return one day! Sadly, we haven’t had time to blog about it, but I’m inserting a photo gallery to capture the essence!

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No blog for the next two stops, either.  Next, was a short drive so we stopped over night and had a full day to see the sights.  We stayed at Yogi Bear’s Jelly Stone Camp Resort  at Natural Bridge, Virginia. What a nice campground and beautiful sight this was. We didn’t stay longer because we had a deadline to meet up with our friends. We want to return and spend more time here and especially see the night time Natural Bridge Light show, which tells the story of creation.

Our next stop was Mount Airy where we stayed at the Mayberry Campground. This was a love at first sight experience! From the initial greeting at the office, to the site, the sights around town and the hiking, we vowed to return and we have! We stayed three days and they were three of the most relaxing days of all! No wonder Andy Griffith was such a charming and sweet man! This town raises them that way!

Our next stop was our driving force to get us finally to Ashland, NC. We had wanted to visit here for the 10 years we lived in Fredericksburg but just never made the time.  This is one of our best experiences, really enjoyed the church we found, had great hiking and camping with friends – the same friends we spent Thanksgiving with at Panama City Beach. Thankfully, I managed to find time to blog about this GREAT time with our dear friends! Not sure if I ever mentioned, they were the ones who encouraged us to try the mountains for a vacation.

It was now time to get back along the coast, to I-95 to bee-line our way home to Sebring.  But first, we spend a fabulous 6 days in Charleston, NC.  I was able to blog about this great historical city.  The campground was very basic, full hooks ups and a decent enough laundry room. The location was good as we drove both south and north to see all the sights. We tried to see everything so we wouldn’t have to return. We think we succeeded this time. I guess I didn’t mention that part of the reason we are in North Carolina so much is to see if there is a location we would eventually want to settle down in – since Bill doesn’t want to live in Fredericksburg again.  I’m OK with that, but my only request is that we live only about 5 hours from our grandson. So far, nothing has really hit us. But Myrtle Beach is the biggest draw, but we don’t think we could live in a resort town again. We lived in Virginia Beach for 7 years. It is also beyond my mandatory 5 hour drive!  LOL!

Our journey is about to come to an end on May 20, 2014, with another overnight stay at the Jacksonville/St. Mary KOA.  We’re so glad these excursions ended on such a positive note. We’re now ready to make the plunge.  Miraculously, all of our rental homes sold in the depressed market and didn’t kill us too badly (we had a lot of solid equity). So now for the last one to sell – our own home, as well as Bill’s motorcycle (sold the day we “listed it” to someone who had expressed an interest). And to get rid of everything! So in the midst of all this, our daughter’s home sold and they bought a much larger home. So praise God, we’ll gave her a lot of our furniture! We love how things just manage to work out.

But we had no idea how busy our June was about to become because we also have a date to travel to Illinois to spend 10 days with Bill’s mom (June 26-July 8, 2014). We were approaching six weeks of not seeing our grandson – and it’s my birthday and Father’s Day mid-June. So we decided to just drive our car up and stay in a hotel for a “quick trip” from June 12-June 21. We could help our daughter move out of her house along with the celebrations.  And wouldn’t you know it, we listed our house right before we left and it sold on June 15 with a closing date of July 15! Talk about adventures! What a whirlwind June and July became!  We blogged about it here, where we ended up becoming Full Time RVers – on July 15, 2014!

Map of our first five travels “live”

Campfire Lodgings, Asheville, NC 5/9-13/2014


The view

Our friend enjoying the view!

We have stayed in some very nice “resort” campgrounds.  But we’ve noticed, we don’t spend any time there!  We take off for the day, to sightsee or be with our grandson.  So finally, we spent most of our time in Asheville – at the campground!  We did pay more for this one, as with some of the other private resort campgrounds, and finally felt we got our monies worth.  We do attribute this to the fact we met friends there and they know how to camp!  This was our second time to camp with them and it made it really special.

For one, they love making a campfire, so we really enjoyed it, especially the food cooked on it.  While our particular sites didn’t have the view (covered by trees) we did take time and sat and enjoyed the view from this common area, where my friend is fully enjoying the beautiful view!  We all sat here for a few hours, soaking it up!

The ride up the mountain to the top to the campground was a bit challenging.  All we could think about was what if a Class A motor home was coming down the hill towards us!  There was only room for one vehicle!  But they said they have never had a problem as everyone comes and goes during the proper check in and check out times.  Well, everyone except us!  We arrived early.  Oh well, no one was coming down late.  The manager said that if someone is coming in extra early, they will block the road so only one vehicle is on it.  We talked to several owners of bigger RVs and no one seemed bothered by the drive up.  I guess that means we are still rookies.

Our campsite was actually the end site for RVs.  We were told that all the wild life comes up to our site early in the morning, so we hoped to see some…but while eating dinner our first night, we had a visitor, a wild turkey! Wild TurkeyThat was about it for the wildlife.  We were cautioned about leaving food outside as there had been some black bear activity.  We did enjoy a short hike on a trail nearby, but we didn’t have that much excitement…

Our second day there, Saturday, we went downtown Asheville to shop at Mast General Store.  Bill and I needed new hiking boots and I needed a new pair of hiking pants.  They gave us GREAT service! We were amazed at how vibrant the downtown was.  Busy busy busy!  Bill had to search for a place to park.  Our truck doesn’t like old downtowns where the parking places a small.  Since we’re not shoppers, so we were happy just going to the one store. Our friends visited a few other stores while we took our time getting fitted.  We were all hungry for dinner, fresh mountain air, so we hurried home to start the grill and campfire.  We had a wonderful dinner enjoying the outdoors.

Sunday, we went to church, which was also Mother’s Day.  We found Walnut Hills  Baptist Church to attend.   It was so vibrant and alive with young people and families!  It was very encouraging!  The sermon was one of those we will remember for a long time!  The pastor used a snickers bar and a diet coke to illustrate his point.  Ask us sometime about it! The rest of the day was pure relaxation – until time to cook an early dinner on the grill and campfire!  We all pitched in, so that helped and was fun.  We did spend a lot of time in the community park for the great views. One of the main things we wanted to see in Asheville was The Biltmore.  Our friends had seen it many times before – and when it was cheaper – so we went after they left Monday (the husband still works).  We didn’t know what to expect, except that it was a place to see.  I was hoping it would be worth the money as it is a bit pricy…but we decided in the end, it was well worth it!  We wanted to take full advantage of all it had to offer, so we were prepared to do some hiking and brought our lunch and lots of water.  The hiking was really more around the grounds but in between the gardens.  I saw one other “hiker” in hiking garb – we looked out of place!  Most people seemed there for a little stroll where as we were dressed for hiking!  It turned out to be just over 3 miles if you take all the side trails and walked all the gardens.  While that was good, we were over dressed in our hiking clothes, but it was a good way to break in our new shoes we bought Saturday.  We needed all the water I managed to carry as it was hot and sunny!

From the website about the gardens:  “Stroll acres of formal and informal gardens designed by America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. From the beauty of the Italian Garden to the breathtaking trees in America’s first managed forest, Biltmore’s lush landscape is a living tribute to Olmsted’s genius. Our horticultural experts continually work to preserve the original vision for the gardens and grounds, including our Rose Garden that features more than 250 varieties. “As a century-old model for forest conservation (and, more recently, for sustainability, thanks to six acres of solar panels), Biltmore continues to honor Vanderbilt’s legacy of environmental protection. “Hike the grounds of our estate at your own pace with our extensive network of trails. Enjoy a walk along the French Broad River, through lush green forests, or the open meadows of Deer Park. Take a stroll on the 2.5 miles of paths in our manicured gardens.” Here is a slide show of our day, not exactly in order:

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After we toured the house and grounds, we went back for our truck, then had to drive a short ways to the Antler Hill Village.  There was more to see there, mainly a showcase for their Vineyards (and wine business – a financial mainstay).  But we wanted to learn more about the family life of the Vanderbilt’s.  So we visited the Biltmore Legacy – a museum of sorts that really gave the family history you barely touched on at the mansion.  After we were done, we decided to really do everything, you needed to be there two days!  And ideally, if we didn’t have the RV, we’d want to stay at the Biltmore Hotel on the grounds.  Everything was so elegant and the staff was second to none!  Just so gracious and pleasant to encounter every where!  To learn more, visit their website, which starts out by saying “Travel to a whole new state of mind!” http://www.biltmore.com

Our time in North Carolina came to an end and we headed south on Tuesday.  We wanted to see so much more, including Maggie Valley.  A dear friend was going to stay in her family’s cottage nearby for a month.  We had hoped to meet up with her, but missed her by 4 days.  So much to see and do and so little time!

Here is a picture of Colin on May 10, his first day at a play ground and in a swing!  I think he likes it! IMG_5098 So as I close, I just looked over some scriptures I bookmarked this year as I read through the Bible.  I really liked these verses and they seem to reflect how I was feeling as we headed south, and farther away from Colin, Psalm 143:8 & 10:

 8Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!

North Fork RV Resort, Front Royal, VA 5/1-5/2/2014


Entrance to the National Park. There is a $10 fee for 7 days use. Once you hit 62, you just pay $10 for a lifetime pass. Something to look forward to....

Entrance to the National Park. There is a $10 fee for 7 days use. Once you hit 62, you just pay $10 for a lifetime pass. Something to look forward to….

We lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia from 1996 – 2004, but never visited this quaint town before now. In fact, we didn’t start really enjoying the Shenandoah Valley or the Appalachian Mountains until our last year there.  We discovered hiking in July 2003 and loved it – but we moved to Florida in November 2004.

So now was our chance to go back and enjoy some great memories and hike!  And we planned to drive the entire Skyline Drive, which we mistakenly thought was also the Blue Ridge Parkway, which near the Virginia/ North Carolina state line.  Our ultimate destination for this trip was to meet friends at Campfire Resorts in Asheville, NC.

The North Fork RV Resort, part of Passport America’s discount program,  so the price was great and the location perfect for what we wanted to do.  BUT we were pretty shocked at the resort and the front office staff when you either call to make your reservation or when you arrive.  They were not friendly or welcoming.  We now see how important this first impression is and how it sets the tone for your stay.  But first a few positive statements: the price was perfect and the location was great – oh, I already said that….OK for the cons:  This is an owner operated resort so we don’t think they really like “visitors.”  We were clumped in one area and there was not much room for parking our truck. Fortunately, it was off season so we had room, but for some reason, our second night there, we had a neighbor right next door and then we saw how there really was not much room!  Funny, there were so many empty spots, why put someone right next to us? And RULES and SIGNS every where telling you what you could and couldn’t do. I should have taken a picture of a few of them….It was more annoying than any thing and we vowed to not stay here again….

Here is a slide-show of our drive there and then at the RV resort:

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We had a GREAT time as the below slide show reflects.  We were close to the entrance to the National Park which was ideal.  We paid $10 for unlimited entrance to the park for 7 days. It is our plan to drive the Skyline Drive to North Carolina, so we would have had to pay the fee then anyway.

So here are pictures of our first afternoon – the benefit of a short drive to a location!  We had all afternoon to hike! We hiked what is called “Fox Hollow” and Snead Farm, for a total of 5.5 miles! We saw lots of deer and learned more about the history of how the National Park “took” over the homes of about 450 mountain resident families. What we visited at the remains of a barn and root cellar. Learn more here.

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The next day, we decided to visit the Shenandoah Caverns in the morning and hike in the afternoon. We loved the Luray Caverns, so why not? We read the reviews and they said not as nice, but we figured how bad could they be? Maybe a bit pricey and not as cold! We did enjoy them, but Luray Caverns were definitely bigger!  I log how long our hikes are, so even monitored it in the Caverns, which was a total of 1.8 miles!  Then we hiked to the Fort Windham Rocks for another 2.4 miles.

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So while we are here, it has only been a day since we saw Colin, we still received an updated picture of him! I think he misses us already!
ColinMay2

Loving being in the mountains!
Psalm 125:2 “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.”

Chapter 23 – Aspen!


The most photographed place in Colorado, The Maroon Bells

We recently traveled to the Colorado Rocky Mountains for a vacation (September 2012).  We spent one day in Aspen, having timed our trip to capture the shimmering gold Aspens during the peak fall season.  Little did we ever expect we would stumble on the most photographed peaks in Colorado!

Just a few of the photographers.

We used TripAdvisor to help us select places to hike and to see. We were warned that while this is the most beautiful sight to see, it is very popular and to expect crowds!  Well, not on the day we went!  While there were a number of people taking similar photographs, we felt we were nearly alone once we began our hike up the Maroon Scenic Trail Hike.  This spot is the trailhead to at least two different hikes.  So after taking several pictures we started off to the left for our easy hike.  There was a much more strenuous hike to the right, but we knew as we were still adjusting to the altitude, it was to the right for us!

One the hike, we were so pleased to enjoy the solitude!  For the most part, we were nearly alone on the hike. That is our preference as I am sure it is with other hikers….

Our quest in life is to live as we believe God intends:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:7

We are most sensitive to His calling in our marriage, so we are not only sharing our struggles and victories in our marriage with this blog, but we are honestly trying to be a better husband and wife to each other!

So as the peaceful setting is disrupted, almost out of a television sitcom, we hear a woman saying, “I thought you knew which way to go! This is not right! Where are we? I knew I should have taken the lead! I HAVE been here before. This is ridiculous!”  Or something to this effect!  Here we are in this most tranquil setting and this woman is chewing her poor husband out!  We ended up stopping to chat with them for a few minutes and learned they were looking for Crater Lake Trail.  We had looked at it and at this late in the day, 3:00 pm, to try to tackle that hike would not be wise.  It is considerably higher, much more strenuous (although this hike was nearly a walk in the park) and the weather could turn severe without warning!  The woman informed us she was an experienced hiker, hiking many 14ers (mountains over 14,000 elevation)!  Her husband did not look as fit as us, remember, we live in Florida at sea level and the most we hike is over a sand dune! But she insisted they needed to find it! Bill remembered the sign and they went off on their merry way, well, the dog seemed merry anyway!

It was so disturbing to witness her berating her husband, we vowed to say the word “Aspen” IF and whenever one of us steps out of line!  “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (or spouse to be politically correct) Proverbs 25:24.  But honestly, Bill has never been the quarrelsome one and we think the Bible knows it well, it seems the wife is usually the one to do the nagging!  So on our way back to hour hotel, fully grasping the beauty of the day, we vowed to never need to say to one another, “Aspen!”  May we continue to live in the peace that passes understanding!

Chapter 20 – Why be married?


During Vacation Bible School, I had a conversation with a friend about marriage.  We talked in general and due to time constraints, ended with “Why be married?”

Seeing successful marriages is our passion.  Our hearts break every time we hear about another marriage about to break up.  If only we could put all of our lessons learned and our recipe for success in a pill.  We are very open about our marriage and the fact that we divorced after 13 years of marriage, only to be reconciled miraculously, and remarried one year after our initial separation (and now married 37 years).  Our purpose in this blog is to help encourage couples and to enhance marriages.  We are so grateful we were able to reconcile and thank God every day as we go through life’s challenges together.

Every couple’s relationship is unique and ours is no exception.  I love working with people (I am the social one), from babies to the elderly.  But if we had an expertise, it is in marriages because we not only have succeeded in our marriage we have also failed.  We learned from our mistakes and came up with a recipe for success (see Chapter 7 – RX for the BEST marriage) which we try and share frequently and often.  It is our blueprint for the success we now enjoy in our marriage.

Nearly every young girl dreams of one day being married.  I remember conversations as a teenager about my future husband, about how many children I wanted, what kind of wedding I would have, how many bridesmaids.  Bill, on the other hand, said he and his friends never talked about these things!  But yet, he is the one who says he loves being married and the reason is to be with his wife.  We love being together as much as possible!  We had much in common when we first came together and we have had to work at keeping things in common.  It takes a yielding and a desire for oneness.

We had talked about having our own business before we were married so we could be together all the time.  But that was a fantasy….until I retired at the age of 52. We finally had the opportunity to work together.  It lasted 1 1/2 years!  I loved physical labor, so I tried to hang with him while we began to invest in real estate.  As it turned out, I sort of got in his way and it was easier for him to work alone.  I was his gofer, but that became too unrewarding and I soon went back to work part-time.  So we are apart anywhere from 4 to 6 hours a day.  We also rarely travel alone.  He says, “why be married” if we are going to travel apart.  During my career, we were apart a lot and that was hard on us.

I say all that to say, we go through phases of life.  Before you are married, you want to be together all the time.  After you are married, you get into a routine.  Unless you are in business together, you go your separate ways during the day.  And then the strength of your marriage depends on how you spend your time together after work and on weekends.  And then we all live for the freedom of retirement, right?  And that is when you once again can be together all the time, like before you were married.  How many of us think about how that will work?  We planned for that day and just assumed we would enjoy our time together.  It is then, if not sooner, you find out the strength of your marriage.  Do you still have anything in common?  We knew this would be important and we worked hard at keeping our commonalities strong.  We know because when we divorced, we had grown apart!  So we try and do everything possible together!

So why be married?  Here is our list:  It starts off with our prescription for a GREAT marriage, the BEST principle – to be a Blessing, to Edify each other, to Share life with and to have that warm Touch.   God tells us in His Word, in Genesis 2:18:

Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

We know and understand each other’s aches and pains.  We have each other’s back! But as Bill likes to explain, it is the intimacy of marriage that is the most important component to keep us living “happily ever after.”  He explains what makes our relationship so special is that we have things that we only do with each and this is the glue that keeps us growing together.

Hiking in the Smokies as we celebrated 37 years together!

Chapter 14 – Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak


(I missed up my last post so badly, here it is again, with corrections and new pictures!)

Nearly every visitor to Colorado Springs also visits the Garden of the Gods.  I remember visiting it many times as a young child living in the Springs .  I also remember the name seemed sacrilegious!   My dad never let us misuse the name of the Lord.  I recall once saying OMG (not the initials) and my dad having a stern talk with me!  So I would say, “Oh My GOSH” from then on.  As a mature adult, I now understand more clearly,  Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Our niece Rachel moved to the Springs two years ago and I began to see family members trekking to the Gardens.  (I’ll admit, I was jealous and yearned to visit!)  Childhood memories crept back as  I questioned the name.  My dad satisfied me by saying the Indians named it and it was OK.  Well, what a surprise when I was finally able to visit it again, after a 50 year absence!

Rachel’s husband, Fernando took the picture of us with three-month old Baby Hadassah and Rachel at the visitor’s center.  What a view they designed for photo ops and what a surprise to learn Rachel and family had never come to the actual visitor’s center!  Bill and I love to learn as much about a location as we can when we are tourists.  So we watched the 20 minute high-definition movie about the creation of the gardens, from a geological perspective, the entire family history behind the actual gardens becoming a tourist attraction.  It is fascinating!

While I enjoyed the movie, what I learned was shocking to me, about the name that haunted me as a young child:   “The name of the park dates back to August 1859 when two surveyors helping to set up nearby Colorado City were exploring the nearby areas.  Upon discovering the site, one of the surveyors, M. S. Beach, suggested that it would be a ‘capital place for a beer garden.’  His companion, the young Rufus Cable, awestruck by the impressive rock formations, exclaimed, ‘Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble.  We will call it the Garden of the Gods.’  The beer garden never materialized, but the name stuck.”  So much for sacrilege!  I don’t think dad wanted me to know the truth!

The view is so beautiful, I just have to include it and reminisce how in awe we were with the mountains and scenery!  Colorado is a BEAUTIFUL state and we can’t wait to go back for about a month or so!  You can’t see enough in a week and how we felt we were in God’s country and enjoyed His creation:

1 Chronicles 16:31 “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’”

I have so many other beautiful pictures, but I can’t figure out how to add them as a gallery, which this blog site says I can do.  I’ll keep working on it.  Anyway, we saw an elk and big horn sheep.  I did not get the best pictures of them, but did get some snapshots.  We also saw rock climbers climbing steep and high!  Those pictures also did not adequately capture the essence of the moment for us – FEAR!  Wow, brave people!  All this to say, you have to go there in person and enjoy a FULL day there!  The park is FREE as a promise from the man who ended up buying the gardens and willed it on to his family.

After the park visit, we went out to eat at a wonderful and local favorite Italian restaurant, Biaggios.  I forgot to get pictures!  Then off to see Rachel’s home….oh dear, I forgot to take pictures there, too!  Then off to our hotel that we thought would be shadowed by Pikes Peak.  Everything in Colorado Springs is shadowed by it in some way or another.  But again, no pictures of it!

Saturday, September 17 we picked Rachel and Hadassah up as Fernando had to work.  We had hoped to do some more hiking the day before, but ran out of time.  So before we took a train ride up to the top of Pikes Peak, we took a hike at their favorite new park.

After a wonderful time enjoying more of God’s creation, we went to the Pikes Peak Cog Train Station.  I don’t remember ever going to the top as a child, but I  remember seeing it from where we lived.  We were always in the shadow of the Peak!  We were told it would be 30 degrees colder at the top.  Snow was just beginning to accumulate once again on the top, so we knew it would be under 32 degrees.  We brought all the warm weather gear we could!  We were ready!


We had the best seat on the train, last seats so we had the view of the mountain as we climbed and descended. They ran a few trains at a time, so here is a view how the trains pass each other. It was an educational and entertaining ride up and back. I held Hadassah on the way down and let Bill be in charge of the camera….needless to say, we don’t have any pictures of the descent!

The snow began slowly and by the time we were on top, it was snowing pretty hard, windy and very cold. But worth every chill we felt!

I learned another important tidbit about America the Beautiful!  It was inspired and written after an English Professor visited the top of Pikes Peak.  But she did not visit when it was snowing!  There was a beautiful memorial to honor Katherine Lee Bates  (August 12, 1859 – March 28, 1929) for writing the lyrics.  She was teaching for the summer at the Colorado College and took the trip to the top of the mountain by a prairie wagon.  She wrote in her journal how exhausted she was once they reached the top, but when she saw the view, she was filled with joy!  And this beautiful anthem was born  (keep reading after to see how our vacation ended!):

America the Beautiful

 by Katharine Lee Bates
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man’s avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

After our descent, we dropped Rachel and Hadassah off at home, where they were greeted by Fernando – how he wished he had taken the day off! We had plans for us all to meet our nephew in Castle Rock. We had just enough time to take a drive through our old neighborhood. While most of the neighborhood was still in tact and a very nice part of the Springs, it looked like our house was gone. Memories of my childhood flooded through my memory in a refreshing way! I am so glad I had so many happy childhood memories I could share with Bill.

We finished our vacation with a fun dinner with Matt, Rachel, Fernando and a still very happy baby Hadassah.  It was so sad to see the vacation end, but we vowed we will return!

Chapter 13 – Colorado Vacation Part 2


We had no idea what we were in for when we made our reservations at Beaver Creek, Colorado.  We are bargain shoppers, believing we should be good stewards with what God has given us.  “And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?”  Luke 16:15.  I know by many standards, we are wealthy, but we only have any wealth because we began to live by God’s standards in our 14th year together.  We have both always worked, Bill doing “side jobs” for most of his life to supplement our income.  We should have been “rolling in dough” but in fact, we lived pay check to pay check until after our remarriage.  We just didn’t understand the theory of reciprocity:  The more you give the more you receive!  What really solidified it for us was Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender.”  We did not want to be borrowers and slaves! And finally, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)

We just heard a great teaching by Pastor Andy Stanley.  To simplify it, he showed how he has taught his children to divide any financial gifts into thirds, putting the money in jars:  1/3 to give, 1/3 to save and 1/3 to spend.  He was surprised to see how his children’s spending jar stabilized as their giving and saving grew!  And that has been how it is with us.  The more we give, the more we save, the more we have!

All this to say, we bargained shopped for this vacation!  Bill has subscribed to TravelZoo.com, where we find many bargains!  We had two free tickets to fly on Jet Blue (that is another story) and I have been wanting to go to Colorado.  Bill saw a bargain at Beaver Creek.  I asked some relatives about Beaver Creek and none had been there, but heard it was nice…so that was all we needed.  Upon arrival, we found out that is a very elite ski resort!  We can’t imagine what it would be like during the ski season, since we don’t like the cold (or snow), the off-season was perfect for us!

Reminiscing, if we had to pick a year to be the best year of our lives, where we consistently were blessed with goodness, it would be 2003 – 2004.  What made it so special was that we decided to start hiking.  We were only about an hour away from the Shenandoah National Park where the Appalachian Trail meanders through hills and valleys!   We were both on great shape and life was sweet!  Soon after, we moved to Florida and our hiking stopped.  We wanted to recapture that with our vacation and we did!

Sunday, September 11, 2011:  We arrived at our resort around 2:00 pm.  The ride there took our breath away, but upon arrival, we continued to be in awe of the majesty of God’s creation!  The sky is so blue in Colorado, unlike our blue Florida sky’s, a deeper blue!  Check in is at 4, but our room was ready! We couldn’t wait to unload our car, change clothes and go for a walk.  We needed to acclimate to the mile high or so elevation above sea level.  So a nice stroll around Beaver Creek was in order, plus drinking lots of water!

One view of Beaver Creek from our room 

The mountains took me back to wonderful childhood memories of living in Colorado Springs from about age 3 to 9. Bill loved the mountains we had in Virginia, but they were nothing to what we were experiencing here. We couldn’t wait to go hiking!  But first, we had to get acclimated.   So we strolled downtown and found Beaver Creek, the creek runs right through the town! It was so refreshing!

This is the Beaver Creek!

Tram

Overlooking Glenwood Springs

Once at the top of the tram, we had time for lunch before the cave tour. This was the view we had.  I wish I had a 3D camera!

Cave Cross 

So my favorite picture inside, as you can imagine, was of an illuminated cross! My picture was not the best, but it was so cool to hear the cave guide point it out to us! Ah, as Louie Giglio shows us, our God is Indescribable and He is everywhere, from the end of the universe, the Hubble Cross, to Laminin, the rebar of the human body! Bill was given a job as we went from room to room, to close the door as we all entered the different rooms! There were about 15 of us, including one young child. He did amazingly well!  A highlight was when the tour guide had us turn off all of our own lights/cell phones and then she turned out the interior lighting. It was pitch black. I thought the child would cry, but his dad had him prepared! Here is a picture of us as we exited one part of the caves onto the side of the mountain!

Cave Ledge

Also on the side of the mountain is a ride, a huge swing that goes 55 mph! No thanks, we passed and were just happy to stand on the ledge!

Next was to go to the hot springs lodge and enjoy the huge swimming pool from the natural springs! What a joy to relive a childhood memory!

Bath house
Hot springs pool

I didn’t remember the swimming lanes. But I certainly used them on this day! The water temperature is always 105. That works best when it is cool or even cold outside. In fact, I remember being here with snow on the ground! It was about 85 degrees but the air was still cool, a bit of a breeze. So as I finish out, speaking of breezes, two neighbors came over for coffee and tea yesterday. We sat out on our lanai (or patio for northerners) and enjoyed a nice breeze rustling in the trees. Eileen said it reminded her of a scripture, Psalm 96:12: “…let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”