Friday, October 31, 2008

Good bye, Sandra

Yesterday the travel alarm went off at 5 a.m. This is not my best time of day but Sandra needed to be at the airport to fly home to Saint John. I shall miss her.

Sandra and I spent 28 days living together in a 19 foot van, an impressive accomplishment I think even for two women who have been friends for about 50 years. Like many high school friends, Sandra and I didn’t really keep in touch during the years when we were raising our families. (This is particularly true for me as I moved from my home town of Saint John 1968.) However, we reconnected several years ago and have renewed our friendship. Over the last eight years or so, we have taken several shorter trips together, travelling by car and staying in hotels and motels which afforded us a little more luxury and privacy.

I believe that the secret of travelling in close quarters is to genuinely marvel at how another person does things and to remember that there is no right or wrong way to accomplish most tasks. It’s interesting to learn how another person approaches and accomplishes the everyday tasks that make up most of our daily living.

And we had lots of time for woman-to-woman talk. We compared how our families differed and how they are the same. We compared our views on relationships, religion and politics – no subject was off limits and there was no judgment when our views differed. Perhaps that’s the test of true friendship: acceptance and delight in discovering who your friend really is.

I will miss Sandra as I continue of the rest of this journey.


After I dropped Sandra at the airport I began the task of getting ready for my own trip home to Calgary on Tuesday. I cleaned through the van culling out anything I didn’t use - or wear – frequently. I did laundry, I bought a suitcase to travel home with, I made arrangements to have the van’s air conditioning fixed and for a rental car for the last couple of days before fly home.

The Roadtrek dealer here will keep my van on their lot while I’m gone so I don’t have to find a storage facility. This works well for both of us – it will take about three weeks for a new air conditioner to arrive from Canada (yes, the replacement has to come from Kitchener) and the dealer can work on Bessie at his leisure.

I’m looking forward to a break from the road. I have not been back in Calgary since the end of May. I miss my family and my friends there. It will be good to see them all again.

On Dec. 11, I will return to Florida. My Toronto daughter will join me here for Christmas. And then I will continue this great adventure as I work my way across the southern states, up the west coast and finally back to Calgary again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Gulf Coast

No news is good news. We’ve been having so much “fun in the sun” that the blog has remained silent for awhile. So here’s a quick catch up.

After spending our last night in St. Augustine in the pouring rain, we discovered that we had a leak at the back window – Sandra awoke in the morning to find her bed sheet strangely wet where the bed meets the back door. So after we arrived in Daytona Beach, we looked for a Dodge dealer to see if they could fix us up. Also the roof air conditioning wasn’t working. The dealer sent us off to Ormand Beach (about a 20 minute drive) to Giant Recreation World, a large RV dealer.

The folks at this dealership were very helpful (Pam even lent us her car so we could go out fopr lunch) and, after adding some additional rubber moulding, managed to fix the leaky back door. The roof air conditioning we were told would likely require a whole new unit to be installed as it is a sealed unit. We settled up for the door repairs and headed back to Daytona Beach to comfort ourselves with some outlet mall shopping.

The next morning, I spoke to a couple who were also travelling in a Roadtrek. They had their roof air conditioner replaced about a year ago. He confirmed that the unit is a sealed unit and his had to be shipped in from Kitchener, Ontario. We decided to deal with all of this later – after all, I hadn’t needed the roof air since I bought Bessie. Naturally that night was so humid that we longed for some cool air so I resolved to get the air fixed when I can reasonable manage it. I have an extended warranty which should cover the work. (I checked the policy.) I figured that we did have an air conditioner in the dash and that would keep us going.

After we spent Saturday morning at the World’s Largest Flea Market in Daytona Beach (it is humongous), we headed to Madeira Beach on the Gulf Coast just outside St. Petersburg. The sun was streaming in the through the windshield as we drove and no matter how I adjusted the dash air conditioner, I couldn’t get it to emit cool air. We sweated uncomfortably. We said some nasty words. Now we were down to no air conditioner at all! What to do? We headed for beach – miles and miles of white sand and ocean water that’s warm enough to swim in! We also requested a camping space under some trees….

The Gulf coast is comprised of a series of beach communities that are separated only by an arbitrary dividing line decided on by civic authorities. On Sunday we stumbled on a Seafood festival at John’s Pass, a conglomeration of restaurants and shops strung out along a boardwalk. Along with tents set up to sell seafood (I had coconut shrimp), were rows of small tents featuring work by local artisans and craftspeople. The weather was perfect, the crowd clearly enjoyed the free entertainment and we were entranced watching the drawbridge come up – all four lanes of a major highway – to let the boat traffic travel between the intercoastal waterway and the Gulf of Mexico.

Another day, we came across a small “main street” with interesting little shops to satisfy our shopping urges. Sandra managed to find a gorgeous two piece outfit (skirt and top) for the summer clearance bargain of $12.50. Who knew?

Today we headed into St. Petersburg, parked the car and walked out to the end of the Pier in downtown St. Pete’s. At the end of the Pier is a five-storey, inverted pyramid filled with shops and restaurants. I succumbed to the charms of soft leather hand bag and blew what was left of my budget. It is gorgeous, though, and I know I will enjoy it. This is the third purse I have bought since arriving in Florida. What's that about? It's not like I have a lot of money to carry around especially with the dollar shrinking.

Tonight we are spending our last night at Madeira Beach. Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Orlando. And the next day (Thursday) Sandra heads home. How quickly this time has gone.

I’ll have a few days in Orlando on my own before flying back to Calgary on Nov. 4. I am equipped with the name of a Roadtrek dealer and will be going there to see if they can arrange to have the roof air conditioner replaced and the dash air conditioner fixed. Oh, yes, and I need another oil change. I have put 20,000 kms on Bessie since I set out on this journey. And we’re still having fun!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Florida at Last

After nearly three weeks of travelling, we are in St. Augustine, Florida. We arrived here on Tuesday afternoon after a leisurely drive from Savannah. We headed to the beach area looking for a campsite and were introduced to Florida tourist prices: $63.00 per night (plus 6% tax) for a campsite on the beach. We opted for a $50.00 per night KOA campground one mile from the beach.

Once we were settled, we headed into the historic part of town for supper. On the way to town, we stopped at the beach to watch the surfers ride the waves and do a little wading ourselves. The joy of travelling in your house means that when you misjudge the force of the incoming water, you can easily change your clothes before you reach your dinner destination!

St. Augustine has had a permanent settlement since 1565 when Ponce de Leon arrived from Spain. Old fort walls and rusted cannons still remain. We were delighted to discover that Old Towne Trolleys operates a narrated tour here as well as in Savannah.

This morning (Wednesday) we went into town and booked a trolley tour. The nice thing about these tours is that they offer free parking at their boarding site and you can get on and off the trolley as often as you want throughout the day. And in St. Augustine, your ticket is good for three days.

We got off the trolley around noon on St. George’s street, a pedestrian walkway in the heart of the historic district, and headed into St. Augustine’s Cathedral. The cathedral is a magnificent building dating from the 16th century and has been built and rebuilt as fire and early wars took their toll. The current building has been built as close to the original as possible and is a very beautiful sacred space.

We then headed to Pizzalley for lunch. We had their “garbage can pizza” which had been recommended to us by a fellow Saint Johner – and it didn’t let us down! It was easily the best pizza I eaten in many a year. Fortified by beer, pizza and a deadly chocolate confection for dessert, we headed back to shopping.

Mid-afternoon we reboarded the trolley and got off at Our Lady of Le Leche shrine. This shrine honours Mary as a nursing mother. The shrine and grounds cover over an acre of beautifully manicured grounds on the water. On part of the site is the Mission of Nombre de Dios which has a 200 foot steel cross!

We then picked up the van and headed back to our campsite where I am sitting at the picnic table writing this.

We had planned to only stay in St. Augustine for a day and then go down the coast to Daytona Beach but St. Augustine is so charming with its narrow streets and small shops that we will go back into town tomorrow to tour a couple additional historic sites. It is wonderful to be able to change your plans on a whim.

Later tomorrow we expect to reach Daytona Beach – then again, maybe not!

By the way, Ryan, we are going to explore a rumour that there is a Hollister store in Daytona Beach.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The oaks are huge, dripping with Spanish moss, and tossing the odd acorn on the roof of the van. The campsite is clean. We have a full hook up complete with cable TV and WiFi. I just came back from walk to the “river”, more a swamp than river. It has trees growing in the water along the banks, water lilies and old branches rot among the tree roots. I think it looks romantically southern. I thought it would be a great place for Dave and Shirley to paddle their canoe. And then I see it - a computer generated sign: No Swimming – Alligator. Yikes!

I walked out to the end of the pier and spoke to a young couple who were fishing there. I asked them if there really was an alligator around. “Oh, yes,” the young woman told me. “You can see them in the distance sometimes and you can hear them splashing at night.”


Where have we been since the last blog? Well, first we toured the Biltmore House built by George Vanderbilt between 1895 and 1901. Six years to build a stone castle in the glorious hills. Sandra managed to charm free tickets from our next door neighbours in the campground. (She admired and praised their new pup.) Our neighbours had bought two-day tickets and gave us their second day. At $47.00 per ticket, it was much appreciated. Check out Biltmore House at out at

We stayed so long at Biltmore House that we decided to spend a second night in Asheville. So we began the search for a new campground just as it was turning dark. We picked one from the AAA book and headed out. After a long drive through what started to look like Deliverance country, we pulled up in front of a largely deserted, run down site – and decided to heed those spider senses and keep on going. We finally found a good site close to where we had started and spent the night.

On Friday, we began the drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We programmed a campground into Bossy and took off. We arrived around 4 pm at a lovely campground and got a site at the beach. The beach was many miles of white sand and had the longest pier (1200 plus feet) on the east coast. The waves were crashing on the shore and I waded into the warm ocean almost to my waist! It’s great to reach the stage where you don’t care if people think you’re crazy!
We had supper and headed for the discount stores, finally falling into our beds after a stop at the pizza place.

The next day it was raining but we drove from our campsite in north Myrtle Beach to regular Myrtle Beach – and more shopping. We headed back to the campground for “Pig Pickin’” at noon – the annual buffet hosted by the campground. Then it was back to shopping. By 4 pm I had shopped ‘till I dropped and retired to the van to have tea and read my book. Sandra did her best to deplete the inventory in all 200 outlet stores in the Tanger Mall. Ahhh, the joys of having your “house” with you in the parking lot.

So brings us to today. We left Myrtle Beach and drove to Savannah, stopping at a couple of old historic plantations along the way.

We also had an “ice cream emergency” which was only heightened by the fact that we had eaten the last of our “emergency chocolate” the day before. After three stops we finally found some ice cream sandwiches in a small general store that had bait in the first two freezers that Sandra checked. It was just one of those days.

So tomorrow we will head into Savannah to check out this great city. Life is good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pass the Thesaurus, please

Spectacular, awesome, inspiring….there are just not enough superlatives to describe the magical drive through Virginia and North Carolina on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. While the folks back home were pondering how to cast their ballot in the federal election, Sandra and I have been driving slowly through some of the most magnificent scenery on this planet.

The temperature is a balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit. We have been driving through the twists and turns at 35 miles per hour (the speed limit), with the windows open and our souls aflame.

As we start out, the hills are dancing with the colours of autumn as the hickory, chestnut and white oak trees prepare for winter. Red, orange, yellow, overpower a few green holdouts.

There is layer upon layer of mountains and hills, and the moisture laden air overlays the hills with a smokiness that reminds me of a Margraf painting of Canada’s Gulf Islands. There are “overlooks” at every turn (lookouts or look offs to we Canadians). As you climb the mountains, you can see the valleys and villages on both sides of the road.

These mountains are definitely not the rugged Canadian Rockies. They are gentle, the vegetation lush, evergreens limited to a few pine trees. I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to leave here although practical Sandra pointed out that people probably leave here for the same reasons many of us leave the glorious Maritimes: to seek gainful employment. As we drove ever southward today, the vibrant colours were replaced by a greener landscape, kissed by colour here and there.

Tonight (Tuesday) we are still on the Blue Ridge Parkway 220 miles from tomorrow’s destination of Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore House is the largest house in the US and we hope to tour it tomorrow before heading to Charlston. From Charlston, we’re going to take a day and drive northward up the coast to check out Myrtle Beach. Then it will be on down the coast to Savannah.

** Note to my gorgeous granddaughters: get out a map of the US and see where we are.

** Note to Gail G. Remember the prediction you made at Sari’s party? Who knew that I’d really be travelling inland in the Carolinas? No sign of that wonderful man you said I’d meet here, though….


(Wednesday) Asheville, North Carolina. Another 80 degree day; another magical drive. For a short while we were back into green vegetation – then we started to climb. As the altitude increased so did the vivid colour. Today we were treated to hills of oranges and reds; yes, they were maple trees! We reached elevations of 4500 ft, the overlooks continued to delight, the sun sent fingers of light down into the forest, backlighting the trees, leaving golden leaves suspended in mid air.

We’re settled into our campsite for the night. Tomorrow we’ll visit Biltmore House before we head to Charleston. Despite the election results in Canada, life is good! (The election comment is not shared by Sandra - she made me put this in :))

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cape Cod to Washington, DC

If you are ever camping/RVing in Rhode Island (and I suggested you go), do stay at the Wawaloam Campground in West Kingston. This is by far the prettiest , most comfortable place I’ve stayed since I started this adventure at the end of May. It’s been run by the same family for 40 years and currently three generations are involved in its operation. Rhode Island itself was gorgeous - friendly people, beautiful scenery. We programmed the campsite address into Bossy and were rewarded with a cross country trip on little travelled back roads.

The next day we decided to drive along the coast of Connecticut and into New York. As the day progressed, we decided to get on I-95 to make certain we could reach New York in time to find a camping site. Who knew that I-95 slows down to bumper-to-bumper traffic on Friday afternoons? It was after 6 pm when we crossed the Tappen Zee Bridge pulled into Nyack, NY (just past White Plains).

The first order of business was to eat – then we discovered that there was not a campsite for at least another 50 miles. What to do? We called the local constabulary to see where it might be safe to park over night. Alas we got a voice mail message referring us to a dispatch centre in the next town. So we headed for the fire hall. After we explained our plight, we were invited to park in the parking lot where we would under their watchful eye over night. A bonus was finding an unsecured wireless site in the neighbourhood so we could check email and I could sulk over the state of my RRSP.

First thing in the morning we headed for Washington,DC. Cherry Hill Campground in College Park, Maryland had been recommended to us by some helpful folks Sandra met at the Rhode Island Campground so we programmed the address into Bossy and headed off first thing in the morning. Cherry Hill has the most amenities of any campsite we’ve stopped at including two swimming pools, hot tub and sauna, conference centre where they run sessions on site seeing in Washington, a café, full RV store, free cable TV, wireless, etc. Also has the priciest entrance fee: $55.00 per night. We booked in for two nights, went to the sightseeing orientation session, did laundry and met some of our neighbours.

Today we took a bus to the subway and arrived at Union Station in downtown Washington. We stopped for a quick bit to eat – and the emergency horns went off and Union Station was evacuated. We were only told that there was an emergency situation in the building and we must leave immediately. We did. What surprised me were the number of people who ignored the whole thing and went on eating. We never did find out what the emergency was but it was short lived and we picked up our tickets for a “trolley tour”. These tours let you get off and on at various spots along the tour route.

Washington is an amazing city. Except for a couple of really old buildings (I saw three), all the buildings are built of white stone, mostly in a neoclassical style. Interspersed among the many federal government buildings are monuments honouring former presidents, war veterans and other significant people such as Ben Franklin. Smithsonian museums line the Mall. Like most tourists, Sandra and I walked up to the gates of the White House and saw for ourselves the building that represents the seat of power in the US.

Speaking of power in the US, it’s been interesting to look at the election signs on lawns. Obama/Biden signs definitely won in Massachusetts although Mike had pointed out that Massachusetts is famously Democrat (think Kennedy). It’s been hard to tell in most of the other states we have driven through.

Tomorrow we’ll sit at the picnic table, spread out the map and see how far we want to go. Finding a place with a campground will be a priority!

Travel Tip: Do not buy a prepaid cell phone from Net 10….Sandra has spent hours on the phone (land line) trying to get her cell up and running. As I write this, Sandra is using my phone to talk with her son – hers still is not working.

And did I tell you that the temperature has been in the late 70s and low 80s?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I could live in Boston!

We’re on the move again. Tonight we are camped at the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown; the trees are still green and the temperature is 63 degrees Fahrenheit at 7:45 pm. We’ve just come from supper (Lobster Rolls) at the Mayflower Restaurant in the shadow of the Pilgrim Monument. Sandra is sitting in the back of the van watching TV while I write this. It can be very civilized in this little van.

We spent the last three nights in Boston at the home of Mike MacMann and Pat Randall. When we arrived on Sunday night, they fed us a winderful meal and sent us off to bed to sleep off our Freeport shopping spree.

Pat and Mike were peerless hosts and acted as our personal travel guides around the city. We took in the sights at Back Bay, checked out the “mother church” of Mary Baker Eddy (it was closed but we walked the "campus"), walked through the public gardens and the Boston Common. We stopped for lunch at a café in Beacon Hill and, sufficiently fortified, we headed up the one of the lovely historic streets and took a look at some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Then it was on to the Capital Building to check out the architecture and to see where the laws of Massachusetts get made.

And still we didn’t stop. We walked downtown to Quincy Market on the harbor front. By this time I had to call for a time out so we stopped for tea at a little restaurant before heading along the greenway at the harbour’s edge. Pat had left us at the restaurant to head back to Beacon Hill and pick up the car. She picked us up and we headed home for wine, conversation and a delicious meal. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep when I went to bed!

Pat was busy with work on Tuesday but Mike gamely took us out again. It was mostly a car tour this time but we did get out at Harvard and walk around the campus. We also stopped at Longfellow House and walked around the grounds as the building itself was closed. Mike took us to a couple of his and Pat’s favourite shops where we picked up steak, veggies and baguette for dinner. Pat was home in time to eat with us and, after dinner, we moved into the living room to watch the end of the presidential debate.

It would have been easy to extend our stay but alas Florida awaits. As we left Boston, Sandra commented that these last few days just might be the highlight of this trip.

Thank you Pat and Mike for your hospitality and your friendship.


Despite Mike’s excellent directions and Bossy adding her GPS instructions, we got lost leaving Boston and travelled too far down the Massachusetts turnpike. However, a pleasant man at the toll booth got us straightened around and we were finally headed to Cape Cod. We pulled into a visitor centre and made some lunch and took advantage of their free WiFi to check email. We’ll stop there again tomorrow to upload this blog entry.

Tomorrow it’s on to Newport , Rhode Island and points beyond…

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Look out Florida, here we come!

The sun is streaming through the van windows on a rather chilly morning. The leaves are falling and an acorn just dropped on the roof of the van disrupting my early morning reverie. New England is gloriously decked out in bright fall colours and what could have been a boring drive down I-95 yesterday was awe inspiring.

Our first night was spent in Bar Harbour, Maine. Bar Harbour is beautiful seaside town filled with interesting little shops sprinkled among the obvious tourist traps. We wandered around town and then retreated to our campsite for a supper that consisted of two-year old cheddar cheese, cracked pepper triscuits, hummous and pita and a bottle of wine! (We had eaten a large, proper meal at a late lunch.)

Yesterday we drove around Acadia National Park, a spectacular drive through autumn coloured lanes, spectacular sea views and a 360 degree view from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Champlain charted these waters,too, and I’m beginning to think he was everywhere in eastern North America!

This morning we are in Freeport, Maine and about to see if we can reduce the inventory at LLBean! Freeport is shopper’s paradise, a charming New England town filled with Outlet stores. Later today we’ll head for Boston and a visit with some long-time friends of mine, Mike McMann and Pat Randall. Mike claims to be an excellent tour guide and we're going put his claims to the test.....