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

DC and The 17-Year Itch

Our arrival in Virginia coincided with the arrival of none other than… Magicicada Brood II.  Actually, Brood II arrived a few days before we did. 

DC  002Our driving day was another one of those rainy days, truth be told, we’ve had quite a few rainy driving days throughout our journey, but it’s typically a light rain as it was this time around.  We arrived at our campsite in a pretty wooded area of Virginia near Washington D.C. in the late afternoon.  The rain subsided prior to our arrival and allowed us to set up at the campsite, it was a minimal set up as we were only going to be there a few days.  We walked Angel and called it a day.   Nothing unusual.

The next morning, I noticed some beetles around the campsite.   I’m not too crazy about beetles, but I felt pretty confident that I could avoid them. 

DC  001The next day we visited the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazey Center.  We’d been here for the first time about six years ago at which time they had the flight test shuttle Enterprise on display and this time  we came to see the real Shuttle Discovery.

DC  011DC  009DC  007DC  010Discovery is the most accomplished shuttle, she flew from 1984 to 2011 on 39 missions for a total of 150,000,000 miles.  Discovery flew on every kind of mission that shuttles were designed for, including space station building, satellite launching and Hubble Telescope repair, and spent a total of 365 days in space.   WOW!

She’s just as she was when she ended her long and honorable career, not sparkly and bright but worn and weathered and wise looking.  A touching fact about Discovery:  there is a black tile amongst all white tiles below the corner of the right window.  This tile represents a tear, as Discovery was the return to flight mission after both the Challenger and the Columbia disasters.  And Discovery is the only one of the shuttles that has that “tear”.

So I spent the afternoon with my “Junior Docent”, Hector, getting all the details about all of the aircraft and spacecraft and other stuff.  I love visiting these Air & Space museums with Hector because it’s like having my own private tour.

DC  006DC  008DC  028DC  027DC  026DC  020DC  019DC  012DC  014DC  013DC  021DC  022DC  024DC  025When we returned to the campsite, we heard a loud singing sound that we knew was some kind of insect.  Cicadas came to mind, but we thought we’d heard cicadas down in the Okefenokee Swamp and these sounded different.

Then the following morning Hector mentioned that there’d been a lot of “dead bugs” on the car that seemed to have fallen from the trees above it.  I looked up at the trees and indeed there were bugs all over the leaves.  This, I really didn’t like.

DC  029Next, we visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens. George Washington acquired Mount Vernon in 1754 and spent the next 45 years expanding the house, paying close attention to all sorts of little details.

DC  030DC  031DC  035DC  036DC  037The grounds are extensive, with two formal gardens, and original and restored buildings including slave’s quarters, a blacksmith shop, a smokehouse, a salt house, a spinning house, and gardeners’ quarters.

The setting is spectacular, with many old growth trees.  The back porch of the main house faces the Potomac River and a green space beyond it.  Hector and I walked out onto the back yard of the main house and saw a bald eagle fly by!

The main house reflects the President and Mrs. Washington’s sense of fashion.  The rooms are painted in vibrant colors that were very expensive at the time.  George Washington was keenly aware of how his surroundings reflected his status as a Virginia gentleman and later as President.

The museum and educational center contain a vast array of information about George Washington’s life, his accomplishments in both wars that he served in, his innovativeness as a farmer, his strong influence in the management of his estate even while he was absent, all these traits contributing to his selection as President.    A fascinating life.

DC  033DC  039DC  034DC  032DC  038That afternoon when we returned to the campsite, the “song” was very intense, and coming from the entire forest, really indescribable to someone who has never heard it.  And more “dead beetles” everywhere.

DC  040And great news!  While in the DC area, Angel got a final X-ray on her leg and everything checked out fine.  We celebrated by going the doggie salon for a much needed bath.

idalia  005That evening I met my good friend, Idalia for dinner.  Idalia writes the thoughtful, motivational and funny  blog “YaYa Speaks”.  We had a lovely time catching up and talking about current and future adventures.

I returned to the campsite, this time running into the RV.  The song was not as intense as it had been but still quite present.

DC  047DC  041On our last day, we drove to the Arlington Cemetery, parked the car, and rode our bicycles to the National Mall.  Since it was the week before Memorial Day, there was beautiful little ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

DC  042DC  044DC  043DC  045DC  046DC  065DC  050We rode around the National Mall.  Bicycles are a great way to travel from one end of the Mall to another.   The perimeter around the mall is 5 miles.  And can take forever to walk (especially if you have a photographer with you).

DC  071DC  048DC  051DC  049DC  053DC  055DC  054DC  056DC  067DC  066DC  068DC  052DC  069DC  057We stopped in at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on the Mall for a quick tour.

Since we’d just visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, we went to see the original plane that the brothers flew that fateful day in 1903, which is displayed in this museum.

The Wright Flyer

The Wright Flyer

Spaceship One

Spaceship One

Hector also wanted to see Spaceship One, winner of the “Ansari X Prize” for the first private spaceship to make it to space.

DC  059DC  058DC  063DC  060

The X 15

The X 15

After our quick tour of the museum, we had lunch and headed back.  And got stuck in some nasty rush hour traffic returning to Virginia.  Oops.


Molting Cicada

bug  003bug  001

I am cute ... no?

I am cute … no?

Back at the campsite, the song continued.  After a little research, I discovered that the bugs in our campsite were in fact cicadas, and this group in Virginia is part of Magicicada Brood II (a brood includes cicadas of the same life cycle).  They’ve emerged to mate after having gone underground as nymphs in 1996, 17 years ago.   Millions are expected to emerge between North Carolina and New England, prompting nicknames like “Swamaggedon”. 

When they emerge they shed their exoskeletons, thus the “dead beetles” we kept finding.  The song is a mating song by the males.  Males and females both die off after mating and laying their eggs.  The young nymphs then dig themselves into the ground to suck the liquids of plant roots.  And the cycle will begin once again 17 years later (for this particular brood, some have 13 year cycles, others shorter).

Now I was starting to develop a little fondness for the little buggers.  They are actually somewhat cute after they molt with their large eyes and lacy wings.  Much cuter than beetles.  And they’re (mostly) harmless.  I also learned that cicadas symbolize rebirth for the Chinese and some others.   Wearing a jade cicada or other cicada pendant is thought to bring good luck for those making a major change in their lives such as a career change, marriage, graduation, or migrating to a new place or country.  And perhaps they also bring good luck to those going on walkabout…

~ Brenda