2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.

June – a quick stop in Boston and then on to beautiful Maine.

Here was our route for the first half of the year.

July – crossed the border into Canada on the 1st, and spent the month in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Discovered absolutely astounding people and places.

August – visited idyllic Prince Edward Island, buggy Kouchibuguac National Park in New Brunswick, then over to Quebec to the gorgeous and oh so French Gaspé Peninsula.

September – visited the St. Lawrence River in Quebec where we saw an amazing number of whales and concluded our fantastic Canadian summer in charming Quebec City, then crossed the border back to the U.S. to enjoy the beautiful Vermont autumn.

October – continued leaf-peeping in Vermont, then began our westward journey with stops at Niagara Falls, then Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky,St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, visiting friends and family along the way.

November – a stop in Denver, where the journey began, to get annual checkups for all and check in with friends and family.  Then south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

December – another busy month.  Traveled around New Mexico, south to Albuquerque, then further south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces, then crossed the border to Arizona and ended our most unforgettable year in Tucson.

And here was our route for the second half

Some things we learned:

We ran a little hot this year, with an average stay of 8 nights at our 45 stops, not complaining, it was fabulous, but we’d like to slow it down a bit this year and try staying longer in each place.

We set a goal of no more than four hours driving time between stops and for the most part kept to it; averaging 185 miles per trip, but a couple of the trips were still way too long.

denver  038We stayed too far north too late into the year, and plan to head south earlier next year to avoid frigid cold and snow (although the falling snow was beautiful).

Crossing from the east coast to the west coast really took a toll on us, we were tired puppies by the time we reached Denver, and plan to stay in the West next year.

Our planning paid off in some fabulous campsites, on the other hand, we discovered that it’s best to have a balance of planned and unplanned stops.

Re-connecting with family and friends, and making new friends along the way has been one of the most important parts of our journey.

NYE2014  002And we learned to be grateful each and every day, we are so fortunate!

We wish you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year in 2014!

~ Brenda, Hector and Angel

One Year Fulltiming!


Leaving Colorado 1

Leaving Colorado 2It’s true, we’ve now passed the one-year mark since we began our journey.  It has been a rich and full experience and yet time has passed very quickly.

Before I forget, I’ll answer a question that was asked just before we left:  What if we don’t like it?  Well, we love it.  Even though the first time I woke up in Island Girl knowing that I’d be living here for a while, my first thought was – What have I done? – I quickly came to love it and have never looked back.Isl Grl Redo  004

In fact, I was surprised at how easily I adjusted, particularly to the confined quarters. Hector and I decorated our new little 400 square foot home just as we had our other homes, and we really enjoy our interior space.

And we’re also really happy with our upgrades and our custom office space.   Hector is able to work on his Apple computer (the photographer gets the big computer) in our comfy chair by the desk, while I work on our laptop on our comfy couch simultaneously.halifax

Island Girl feels downright roomy with her 39’ length, and we have plenty of storage space.

And the journey has far exceeded our expectations. We’ve spent quality time with friends and family across the country, many of whom we’d not seen in waaay too long.  And other friends have come to visit.

Along the way we’ve also met lots of different people, learned new things, and just enjoyed spending quality time together.  We’ve visited a total of 14 states, including parts of the Midwest, South and Northeast.

We’ve experienced the lovely Arkansas autumn, Buffalo National River  024the fabulous gulf coast of Florida,Henderson Beach   080

the wild and subtle beauty of the Everglades,flower  024

and the wilder side of Florida in general. Ft Myers  056

We returned to the “black” waters of the Okefenokee Swamp,Swamp 011

and to the Great Smoky Mountains.Smokies  007

We visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, OBX  055

and spent the beginning of our summer on the breathtaking coast of Maine.Penobscot  169

keys  021We traveled to extreme opposites; in Key West, Florida, we stood at the southernmost point of the U.S.sunset  027

And months later made it to the furthest northeast state of Maine.boothbay harbor  095

We spent just under 12 weeks in Canada, where we visited four provinces and learned a ton about our neighbor to the north.

There we saw the amazing tides of the Fundy Coast,New Brunswick117

the unique rock formations and the beautiful lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove,peggy 25

and the rugged beauty of Cape Breton Island.cape breton  030cape breton  011We traveled to the southern tip of Nova Scotia, brier 50along the gorgeous landscapes of Prince Edward Island,

PEI  161

and the spectacular Gaspé Peninsula,Perce  073

where we visited its Northern Gannet colony in Ile de Bonaventure.Perce  049

We saw the whales of the St. Lawrence River,st lawrence  115

and took many walks around beautiful Québec City.quebec city  046

And Angel visited rivers, lakes, rocky and sandy beaches, forests, went boating on various boats and ferries, and even went whale watching.River Dog  006

In total, Island Girl traveled 8,534 miles this first year.

And Hector and I have grown even closer during this journey.  Living together in such tight quarters can bring out the best or the worst in couples and sometimes both.  We’ve been married for a very long time and are very comfortable spending lots of of our time together while traveling.  Even after all of that we had a few grumpy patches along the road, but ultimately found our groove.

And, interestingly, some of the working aspects of RVing helped us to strengthen our partnership.  I named a previous post about leaving and arriving at our destinations “The Departure Dance”.  And I really do believe that there is a choreography that you both create and “perform” on a regular basis.  But it’s important that the choreography feels right for both of you.

That extends to the day-to-day chores and responsibilities as well.  Learning to support each other in a way that takes into account each of your likes, dislikes, talents and skills can make the journey much more enjoyable.

Rv Repair SedaliaAnd, not surprising to any RVers out there, we’ve discovered that things tend to go wrong in the most inconvenient of times.

The first time was on the first week we were on the road, when our water inlet broke.  Another time, our refrigerator broke down on a Sunday, the day before we planned to cross the border into Canada.

The first Hector fixed himself, the second, we found someone who was able to fix it.  But we learned that when things go wrong (not if, but when), we should:

  • Stay calm
  • Ask for advice and/or help, there is a very helpful community out there
  • Be flexible
  • Have or make a plan B

footAt the same time, it’s been difficult to be away from most of our friends and family in Denver, and we really miss them.  But we can always visit and plan to soon.

And there have been other challenges along the way; minor medical issues and having to figure out which doctor to go to in unfamiliar places.  The same for finding veterinarians.

And, less critical challenges like not having access to cell phones, internet or TV (sometimes a good thing) in some places.

But right now we wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything else.  And we are continually learning and growing.  For me this blog has been a huge learning experience.  I’m not the most tech savvy person, and when we began this blog, we knew nothing about blogging.  But I took on the task of figuring out how to get started, and spent several frustrating weeks using the process of elimination to figure out certain aspects of the blog.

Well, we just passed the 100 post mark on the blog.  And it’s is another example of working as a team.  Hector is in charge of the photography, I write the posts.  Then we combine the two.  From organizing how to divide the subjects to creating the final product, we support each other.   Sometimes we collaborate from the beginning, other times we work independently and get together at the end. The blog is another choreography.

departures  009

When I started writing this post, Hector wrote me a little note with some numbers and fun facts from the year.  He ended the note with “i love you still”.  And I feel the same way.

And the journey continues.

~ Brenda

Georgia on My Mind

atlanta  010atlanta  007The next stop on our journey was Atlanta, a place where Hector and I lived when we were in our thirties.  Although we’ve visited a few times since then, the last time was over ten years ago.  Atlanta is the place where we bought our very first little old house and here is where we learned most of our home renovation skills.  This is also where we had a series of New Year’s Eve parties and once almost literally brought down the wood floor of said old house while dancing.  Good times and good friends.atlanta  013atlanta  011

atlanta  012atlanta  015We stayed in beautiful Stone Mountain Park, a place we know well.  It’s a huge park with an aerial tram, a golf course, a lake, rides, restaurants and a campground.  But the focal point of the park is still the Confederate Memorial Carving, “a sculpture that depicts three Confederate heroes: President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson” on horseback.  It’s the largest high relief sculpture in the world.atlanta  008atlanta  017atlanta  016

atlanta  003atlanta  001atlanta  002During the time we lived here, Stone Mountain Park began to project laser shows at night on the sculpture.   They still do it on Saturdays in May so on the Saturday we arrived, we signed up for the laser show.  The weather was iffy, but held out through the show.  It was not quite as spectacular as I recalled, but I think that’s because we usually saw the show on the fourth of July.  But a great nostalgic way to start our visit.

atlanta  004atlanta  005atlanta  014Our plans for the rest of the week included taking the crashed Apple computer to the Apple authorized dealer, RV repairs for our bedroom slide and a few other RV issues, follow-up X rays for Angel, getting together with various friends, and a Jimmy Buffet concert.  And we had all of a week.

atlanta  006Our friends Mark and Sandra hosted a great dinner for us and some other friends; Jim, Lisa  (of Okefenokee Swamp levitation fame) and Bernie joined us.  We had lots of laughs looking at old photos of hiking trips on Cumberland Island, the canoe trip on the Okefenokee and other adventures.

Meanwhile, the rains followed us from St. Augustine and the Okefenokee, and our campsite got swamped – ah, good old Georgia clay.  So Angel got a few good soakings while being walked, she was NOT amused.

atlanta  020After appointments with the Apple, dog and RV doctors we met Jim and Lisa to go to the Jimmy Buffet concert.  The weather was actually perfect for the outdoor concert, no rain, and a lovely evening.  And the usual crazy Parrot Heads were running around.  A great night with great friends.atlanta  019atlanta  021atlanta  026

atlanta  025

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers

atlanta  028atlanta  022atlanta  023atlanta  024atlanta  027atlanta  029atlanta  034atlanta  031atlanta  032atlanta  033atlanta  030

The following day we met Sandra and Mark once again.  Mark had suggested we go kayaking on the Chattahoochee River, which has fairly mild Class I and II rapids.  I had some reservations about our kayaks, which are sit on top, and not meant for white water.  But even though Mark offered us his extra tandem sit inside kayak, Hector insisted on using ours.

We set off to the Chattahoochee. It’s a great resource right within the city; but once you’re on the river you feel as though you’ve left the city.   As a “bonus”, the water was four feet above normal from recent rains.  So, as we came to the rapids on the bottom half of the river, many rocks which are normally visible were submerged.  This meant that Hector and I had to make each of our fourteen foot kayaks turn pretty quickly once we spotted rocks as we approached them.  Not so much.

Hector’s kayak tipped first, right in front of me.  And, miraculously I managed to steer around him and he got back on his kayak.  Then, on the next rapid, Hector tipped again and I right after him.  Hector lost hold of his kayak and it went down the rapid without him.  I held on to mine (barely) and he helped me get back in.  Then I tried to get down with him hanging on to my kayak and tipped, leaving him behind.

Rescue in progress

Rescue in progress

Long story short, Mark and Sandra recovered Hector’s kayak and its contents, got it to shore and Mark came back to help both of us.  Hector wound up spending about ten minutes in the 50 degree water so I was pretty worried.  Fortunately we both had dry layers  to change into and that warmed us back up.  There are no photos of the final portion of this trip (except for one from Sandra’s cell phone below) because our camera got swamped (it’s now in the camera hospital).  So with bruised bodies and egos we made it down the rest of the way (I portaged around one rapid with help from our friends).

Many thanks to Mark and Sandra for rescuing us!  And, yes, next time we’ll take you up on using your kayak.

atlanta  035atlanta  036atlanta  037The next day I met our friend Katherine while Hector waited for the RV repair guy to return with some parts.  Katherine and I went to the High Museum of Art to see their Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit.  Their art, especially hers, depresses me, but also fascinates me.  Later that evening Hector and Katherine’s husband Erik joined us.  Erik, who is from Belgium, served us the “world’s best beer” (Duvel) so named by Michael Jackson, the world’s best selling beer writer (not the singer).  Then we all went to dinner at an old haunt, Manuel’s Tavern, which happily hasn’t changed much.

atlanta  051atlanta  040The following day, Hector and I met Katherine at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.  I found this an especially fascinating presidential library because of their added bonus of providing information on the work that the Carter Center it is doing around the world.  Beautiful grounds also.  I highly recommend it for those traveling to Atlanta.atlanta  039

atlanta  044atlanta  043atlanta  045atlanta  047atlanta  041atlanta  038atlanta  049atlanta  050atlanta  046atlanta  059atlanta  056atlanta  062And, finally, on our last night we set out for Madison, Georgia to meet our friends Richard and Rick for dinner.  Madison is a beautiful town that was spared by Sherman in the Civil War (with various interesting stories about why this happened).  It has over 100 antebellum homes, most of which have been restored.  Rick and Richard have a landscaping business and of course have beautiful gardens at their home.  I remember seeing the gardens shortly after they were planted and now they are like a beautiful forest.  We thoroughly enjoyed our evening at their home, these guys can make me laugh like few others.

atlanta  060atlanta  057atlanta  061atlanta  058atlanta  063atlanta  052So, the Apple is back along with our restored files, Island Girl’s bedroom slide works again, and Angel got a good progress report on her leg.  And somewhere along the Chattahoochee River lays one Croc shoe with cute octopus and shark shoe charms from Puerto Rico…

~ Brenda

Black Water

Swamp 008Swamp 001Swamp 023The Great Okefenokee Swamp is one of North America’s most unspoiled and precious natural areas. It is the largest, intact, un-fragmented, freshwater and black water wilderness swamp in North America.

The slow-moving waters of the Okefenokee are tea-colored due to the tannic acid released from decaying vegetation. The principal outlet of the swamp, the Suwannee River, originates in the heart of the Okefenokee and drains southwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The swamp’s southeastern drainage to the Atlantic Ocean is the St. Mary’s River, which forms the squiggly part of the boundary between Georgia and Florida.

Swamp 045Swamp 009Swamp 015Swamp 002Hector and I first visited the Okefenokee in the 80’s with a group from Atlanta.  When we lived in Georgia we did a lot of river rafting and some canoeing and really enjoyed it.  And we really had a great time canoeing on the Okefenokee, even though the group had one “incident” where one of our friends, Lisa, fell out of her canoe into the alligator infested black water after it hit a cypress knee.  Somehow Lisa levitated out of the water and back into the canoe in what seemed like a split second.  All was well.

We’d been thoroughly enjoying kayaking in Florida so including the Okefenokee Swamp in our trip through the south was an easy choice.  Although it seemed a little nuts to go to yet one more place that has tons of alligators.

Swamp 020Swamp 041Having decided that we love kayaking and that our trip holds many great paddling opportunities, we purchased two matching sit on top solo kayaks in Jacksonville – an early 35th anniversary present.  Having solo kayaks gives each of us much more freedom to roam as we please, although Hector no longer has the benefit of my expert steering during his photography :-).  For now the Dolphin (our inflatable kayak) is being retired, she was a wonderful starter kayak though.

Swamp 025Swamp 026Of course we needed to name our new kayaks, since it’s bad luck to have a boat (or RV) with no name.  We’ve named our boats “Fuego” and “Caribe”.  See if you can tell which is which!

Swamp 007Swamp 031We took the Fuego and the Caribe out on three different days in the Okefenokee.  The swamp is surrounded by Cypress trees covered with Spanish Moss (which is neither moss, nor is it Spanish) and other interesting vegetation and is covered in many lily pads and flowers.

Swamp 027Swamp 012On our first outing, we went to Billy’s Island, an island that was inhabited by several hundred workers and slaves in the early 1800’s in a logging camp.  There is very little left of the community, and it’s hard to believe that people actually lived here in the heat, amongst the bugs and alligators.  It’s much like the stories we heard about the ten thousand islands in Florida.

Swamp 016Swamp 036Swamp 033Swamp 005Swamp 028Swamp 014As we left the island, a brief but pounding rain descended on us (fortunately we were prepared with rain jackets).  Then the sun shone much brighter than before.  Great outing.

Swamp 035On our second outing we went on a longer trek (about eight miles) where we spotted baby alligators that looked like lizards (I counted ten but saw no sign of mama).  Along the way, we met a wonderful young couple from Athens, Georgia.  We wound up having lunch together at a shelter.  Andie and Wick are both involved in environmental education and were skilled observers of nature. Swamp 034Swamp 021

Swamp 059Swamp 003Later at the camp we thought of our old friend Lisa again, as we heard that Wick and Andy also tipped their canoe and wound up in the black water!  Oops.Swamp 039

Swamp 011Swamp 066Swamp 061Swamp 060Swamp 064Swamp 069Swamp 056Swamp 024Swamp 063Swamp 038Swamp 044Swamp 058Swamp 017Swamp 062Swamp 065Swamp 047Swamp 046Swamp 048Swamp 052Our third outing to the other side of the river was slightly shorter and included a narrow portion of the river where I got pretty stuck between logs and branches on three sides.  Fortunately, with a little patience, I managed to get free, helping to build my confidence in dealing with different conditions.  On this outing we spotted two adorable juvenile Barred Owls and, of course, lots of alligators.Swamp 049Swamp 057Swamp 053Swamp 018

Swamp 013Swamp 040We were pleased to find that we could cover a lot more ground with our sleek new kayaks and are looking forward to more great outings.  And so, our brief return to the swamp was just as great as our first trip, even though an apple crashed in the swamp.

~ BrendaSwamp 004Swamp 037Swamp 019Swamp 070

An Apple Crashes in the Swamp

0511-0810-2314-4640_Computer_with_a_Virus_clipart_image.jpgYes, it’s true.  While we were in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, our main computer, an iMac that contains most of our really important files and which Hector uses to process his photography, crashed.  It had been acting a bit flaky and we mistakenly assumed it needed some simple file cleanup maintenance.  Not!

The Okefenokee Swamp is another No-Fi and no cell phone reception zone.  So on a rainy day, Hector and I actually drove four hours roundtrip to Jacksonville, Florida to the nearest Apple store to try and get the computer serviced.

What we discovered:

1.   There is a recall on the hard drive of our iMac model (2009 vintage), which apparently was not tough enough to withstand the heat that the computer generates and eventually fries (if you have an iMac, you may want to double check to see if it’s one of the recalled models, the Apple store can look it up by serial number).

2.  Apple stores are not equipped for data recovery, so we have to take the computer to an Apple authorized service partner that does data recovery so that we can both have our hard drive replaced without charge AND recover our data.

3.  Assuming our data can be recovered at all, this may take anywhere between two hours and two weeks.

We’re currently in St. Helena Island in South Carolina for a few days and will be continuing to Atlanta, Georgia, where we hope have our Apple fixed and our data restored.

So, some of our pending posts, including our stay in Titusville, Florida (by the Kennedy Space Center), our stay in St. Augustine, and our departure from Florida will need to wait until the photographs from those places are (hopefully) recovered.

Meanwhile, we’ll be posting out of sequence, about our stay in the Okefeenokee Swamp (beautiful!) and here in St. Helena.   Stay tuned!

~ Brenda