Down South

What a pleasure to visit to these two scenic antebellum (pre-Civil War) cities – Savanah and Charleston. Nothing in my experience compares to these graceful places, full of beauty, and dark history. We loved the lessons here.

Our headquarters for Savannah was Skidaway Island State Park, a gorgeous campground that just whispers Old South. Heavy tree limbs drip with moss and a mixture of pines and live oaks add a sense of mystery.20171014_125041549243403.jpg Super camping. A bonus was meeting another T@DA camper for the first time in five years. We loved meeting Laurie with her 20171021_065211465471828.jpgTo explore Savannah, we opted to drive a few miles from the campground through narrow causeways and lowland highways to a spot where we could comfortably cycle into the City. It was a perfect combination of low-stress touring for us. Old historic Savannah is crammed with (other) camera-toting tourists, horse drawn carriages, pedicabs, and open-air trolleys – each vying for the best view of the myriad city squares and historic sites. 20171014_124939757713312.jpgThere are so many beautiful sights.20171014_122649-2439994220.jpg20171014_1408181776209822.jpgAt Skidaway, we also enjoyed a hike through the steamy low country. 20171015_120205781837956.jpgThe Park trail took us past the remains of an old still (with axe marks where the US Agents chopped it up!) and some beautiful coastal views.

We also saw trenches, hand-dug by slaves, which were built to shelter the Confederate troops who were guarding the coastal waterways. What a difficult life this must have been – even the task of supplying fresh water to these areas must have been monumental, not to mention food and shelter.

Tybee Island was a nearby beach-y town recommended by a few friends. Beautiful beach and lighthouse, but the heat and humidity were still killing us. 20171016_1152571044692995.jpg 20171021_064814788401094.jpgIt’s HARD to enjoy a calm ocean when there’s no breeze, and the sweat is ruining your eyesight. It was still nearly 90 degrees and a dew point in the mid-70s. Plus, the beach just isn’t my idea of fun. But, still a pretty wonderful view, isn’t it? (Temps finally returned to a more normal mid-70s on our last night in Savannah, and have been perfect since. Whew!)

We decided to visit Fort Pulaski National Monument on the way back to camp, not knowing what to expect. Named after Revolutionary War hero Casmir Pulaski, the moated Civil War-era fort is a thoughtful history lesson. 20171016_1330531126798860.jpgOver 20 years in construction, it surrendered in its first fight with Union forces in 1962, and then became a prison for Confederate soldiers. Its demise? It was armored with cannons which had a 1/2 mile range. 20171016_135142268435691.jpgBut, by the time the War began, the Union forces had rifled cannons which could reach 1-1/2 miles. After just two hours, the fort’s interior walls were breached with cannonfire, and the Fort surrendered. It was converted into a prison for the remainder of the War.

On to Charleston, where we scored a site at the very busy county park at James Island where we met up with a bunch of T@B campers, at the beginning of their 12-day Coastal Caravan Tour. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, having our own plans set to explore this new (to us) city, but we did have a very memorable dinner together at Home Team BBQ. We actually had rolled in for lunch there one day, and went back for dinner with the group the next. You know it was GOOD!20171018_141530115475423.jpg Great food, Motown, Aretha, and other awesome R & B. And a fabulous selection of whiskey (of which we did NOT partake).

Charleston blew me away. The Battery section of the city along the waterfront is an amazing collection of gigantic, gracious antebellum homes. 20171021_065419567180488.jpgThere are beautiful architectural details everywhere. I’ve got dozens of photos I’d like to share, but am limited by bandwidth restrictions to upload. 20171018_132846512663229.jpg20171021_065627257959914.jpg20171018_133233198544850.jpgAs in Savannah, we drove into a City park, then unloaded our bikes and pedaled from there on. The very first unexpected sight we stumbled on was The Citadel.20171018_1040291868736530.jpg This gorgeous military academy campus was curiously quiet. We cycled around the perimeter, but most of the buildings were off-limits (including this one).20171021_065331950025628.jpgWe had earmarked a possible tour of Fort Sumter, which we ultimately decided not to take. It involved a boat ride across some fairly choppy waters (I’m not a fan). The Fort Sumter Visitor Center was informative, and clinched our decision not to visit the actual Fort.

The Charleston Slave Mart was another site we earmarked for a visit. 20171018_1248251436511372.jpgWe were surprised to find it on an historic cobblestone street, which was tortuous to ride on our bikes (so happy we had our mountain bikes, not our skinny-tire road bikes!!). The surface of this street, probably restored many times, is likely 200 years old. 20171018_1207161900907274.jpgThe Slave Mart operated as an actual auction house for slaves. South Carolina had a big stake in slavery – it was the first State to secede from the US. Of the 15 plantations in the US with more than 500 slaves, 7 were in South Carolina. No photos are allowed inside the site, but there are so many shameful artifacts of slavery, I was glad not to take any photos.

Churches, homes, parks – there are plenty of amazing sights to feast upon in this beautiful, graceful old city.20171018_142800565955746.jpg20171014_1334041264106961.jpg20171018_1726591009986668.jpgTwo other brief Charleston expeditions – by bike to the Angel Oak Tree, which is probably the largest living organism east of the Mississippi. This enormous live oak tree has a branch which extends 187 feet from the center.20171019_11312458226141.jpg20171019_1132041048024302.jpg It’s amazing to see, on a par with the giant Sequoias and Redwoods of California. With a lifespan of 900 years, the Angel Oak is in mid-life. Heavily damaged in the 1990s by Hurricane Hugo(?), it still thrives, although most of the limbs on one side are missing.

Our other outing in Charleston was another beach visit to Folly Beach. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a stroll through the beach town. 20171019_183402459638010.jpgIt was the perfect way to end our stay in Charleston.

Now it’s Friday night (10/19). We had reservations at nearby Givhans Ferry State Park, a short drive from Charleston. We arrived, set up, and proceeded to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in a quiet park. Around 5pm, a Ranger drove up and said we were occupying a site reserved by another camper. What??!! I had the site reserved (or so I thought). Apparently, my reservation was not confirmed. My first Reservation Screwup in five years! No other sites were available at this small park, nor at any of the other parks within 30 miles of here. We finally secured a site for one night (the last one of 150 campsites) at Santee State Park. What a circus this campground is! We checked in and set up in the dark. (First time for that, and I hope it’s the last!). Tomorrow we will be homeless (no sites available) and will have to search out a new spot. Oh well, lots of time to work that out.



Kickin’ Around

It’s just odd to be home.  Amazed at how quickly we fall into our routines and habits.  Instead of arising with plans for hikes and exploration of new places, we’re faced with a daunting list of mundane household tasks and repairs.  This is real life, not the fantasy Fireball fairyland (do I sound a bit like Spiro Agnew?) to which we became accustomed to.

One of the first things we’ve done is fill up our cycling calendar.  John has two weeklong camping/cycling trips planned with the boys, and I’ve got one planned with my best cycling pal Caroline.  I’ve somehow found that I’ve got volunteer gigs planned for four bike events.

One of the first things on the list was the Ride Around Kent County.  This 145 mile bike event is one John started about five years ago as a training ride for the National 24 Hour Challenge.  He stepped away from leading the ride, as we weren’t sure if we would even be home in time for the event.  When it became evident that we would indeed be home, I (crazily) volunteered to make the traditional RAKCwich for the cyclists’ lunch.  So, on a very chilly Friday afternoon, we found ourselves up to our elbows in sandwich assembly on our deck. Jezzy kept a very watchful eye on every movement.20140516_12505920140516_134932 The RAKCwich is shredded rotisserie chicken (Costco has the plumpest, best ones), organic greens, Havarti cheese, and sliced apples on a bakery bun.  Tomatoes and condiments on the side.20140516_134914  In case you’re wondering, 100 sandwiches require 14 chickens.  It was a long day…..and it will be a while before chicken is on the menu around here.

Yard work continues.  We had a bumper crop of maple seedings hatch in our absence.  Seems like the abundance of snow kept all the unraked maple whirligigs moist enough to hatch.  While we can simply mow and re-mow the ones in the yard away, the ones in the perimeter bed need to be pulled up one by one.  Sunday, I finally finished – pulled about 3000 seedings. Before…..20140518_111458 (I know because I counted the first 1000, then roughly measured volume!).  After…20140518_141431Now I can finally plant my tomatoes, and get some new perennials and annuals in the ground.

The city streets in Grand Rapids really took a pounding this winter.  Riding a bike to run errands has become a danger-filled obstacle course.  In many spots, there are simply holes, threaded together with thin strands of pavement.  This is the main street nearest our house – cars and buses are all fighting me for a path though this mess.20140512_141423 I realize that it will get better, but it sure can take the fun out of a bike ride.

Some of you may remember the post from our stay at Antelope Island State Park in Salt Lake City.  We were approached by folks who wanted to use the Fireball as a backdrop for their book catalog.  We agreed, and here is the result.  We have to laugh at the books selected, but not only is the Fireball in the photo, they also used our CampChef Everest stove as a backdrop.  Hope we are not permanently on the mailing list for catalogs!


My sister showed up yesterday with an unexpected treat.  For the past few years, they’ve had morels pop up in their back yard.  She graciously turns them over to me.  Sisters are the best!20140521_195141After seeing everybody’s trailers at the Blue Ridge Rally, I decided that the Fireball needed a bit of sprucing up.  First step?  Recovering the dinette cushions.  I picked out fabric, found an old friend to do the sewing work for me, and loaded the cushions up on my touring bike to deliver them to her.  Can’t wait to see the results.  This is Step 1.20140520_101755Getting on the Oral Surgeon’s schedule for my fun-filled summer dental work has been accomplished.  It will be a huge relief to get this started – and finished.





Finally! Tucson Book Festival

Yippee! The weekend of the Tucson Festival of Books has arrived.  We’ve been eagerly anticipating this since we first heard about it back in January.  Over 400 authors with readings, book discussions, and book signings coupled with 350 related vendors and displays.  There was a Science City area with displays, activities (mainly geared toward kids) and projects which was the most fun area of all. If you click on the first photo, you can enlarge the gallery….

John and I had poured over the schedule, marking the activities and speakers we wanted to be sure to catch.  It was impossible to really get everything done in one day.

We headed to the Festival early, arriving around 9am.  After spending a bit of time scoping out the area, located in the beautiful mall area of the University of Arizona, we headed over to the Mirror Lab of the University, where we had booked a tour.  This lab is one of the few places in the world where the large telescope mirrors are made. Several unique process were pioneered here.  The largest of these honeycombed mirrors are 8.2 meters in diamater (that’s as big as they can make them, and still get them on trucks and boats to get them to the telescopes).  The current project involves manufacturing mirrors for the Magellan Telescope in Chile.  It’s amazing to see, and we felt very privileged to have been able to tour this remarkable facility.

After our tour, we split up so as to both spend the day seeing the individual authors and areas we each were most interested in.  I made a beeline for the culinary area, where they had a huge tent and cooking stage set up for various cookbook authors.  Making sausage was Bruce Aidells, author of The Great Meat Cookbook.

one of the more unusual attendees listening to Bruce Aidells

one of the more unusual attendees listening to Bruce Aidells

Although it was hard to see what he was making, his running chatter and banter made it all worthwhile.  After completing sausage, he finished with two beef dishes.  The audience members he had selected to be his tasters were all smiles.

I headed off to Science City – an amazing collection of interactive displays and projects.  There were kids building tetrahedrons out of rolled up newspapers – amazing strength in the finished product.  There were ‘consultants’ helping kids build origami houses, planes, and sailboats.  Bicycles which you could pedal to power lights (of course, I had to hop on and try that!)

LED lights on the bottom are the easiest to light. The top incandescent bulbs on the top require the most energy.  I got three of the four on the top lit.  Had a hard time keeping my feet on the pedals!

LED lights on the bottom are the easiest to light. The top incandescent bulbs on the top require the most energy. I got three of the four on the top lit. Had a hard time keeping my feet on the pedals!  You definitely want CFL and LED bulbs in your home where you can utilize them.

hyrdoponic gardens, snakes, desert animals, falcons, bugs, and so many fun things.  The temptation to spend the entire day in that one section was very strong, even though I’m not much of a science nut.

Back into the main thoroughfare, I had my best encounter of the day when I wandered into Chuck Klosterman’s presentation.  Although I’ve not read any of his books, I’m a big fan of The Ethicist column he writes for the NY Times.

Chuck Klosterman and Mike Sager in my booksigning tent

Mike Sager (L) and Chuck Klosterman in my booksigning tent

He’s an old-time rock ‘n roll critic, and a pop culture hero.  Chuck was funny, smart, sassy, and hugely entertaining.  His books are now all on my short list to read.

There were dozens of small publishers represented there and authors hawking their own books.

one of the many booths of small publishers

one of the many booths of small publishers

So much to read…so little time.  A grabbed a bit of lunch, and headed back to the culinary tent to catch part of a demonstration of Indian cooking by author Meera Dhalwala.  Had to cut out early to get to my volunteer shift at one of the booksigning tents.

I was so fortunate to land an assignment in the area where Tim Egan and Douglas Brinkley were signing.

Tim Egan with a big fan (me)

Tim Egan with a big fan (me)

Egan is one of my favorites (Worst Hard Times, The Big Burn, and Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher).  He’s one of the big attractions at the Book Festival.  He and Douglas Brinkley had been on a discussion about Teddy Roosevelt and the Battle for Public Lands.  They had a pretty good crowd come for signing.  Also in my area was Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA, a book about the history of Mexican food in the US.  I got to spend a bit of time chatting with him – what a charming and mellow guy he was.  His books are also on my short list now.  There was also a tent with three authors of paranormal romance (not my genre!), and two female authors of self-help books (also not my favorite subject)

In the last round of booksignings at my area was Chuck Klosterman!!  Yea!  Still charming and witty.  I’m a big new fan.  Also, Susan Vreeland and B. A. Shapiro were there, after their seminar on Secrets of the Art World.  Avid fans lined up with books there as well.  A mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim was there, signing copies of his bartending book, and his book about vodka.  And last, but not least, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, National Editor of the Washington Post.  His two books (Imperial Life in the Emerald City, and Little America) are both on the subject of Afghanistan.

Such a great day.  My feet were aching after pounding the concrete for 9 hours, and I was cold and damp.  It rained on & off all day, and the wind made everything uncomfortable.  The upside to bad weather was a smaller crowd.  Can’t wait for next year.

Here are a few more images from the Tucson Festival of Books.