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

Island Girl’s First Boat Ride

map_atl_canadaPrince Edward Island (PEI), where we are headed next, is the smallest province in Canada; 2,170 square miles in size and with a population of over 140,000.

pei flagThere are two ways to get to and from PEI, one is to take a ferry which connects it to Nova Scotia, and the other is by crossing an eight mile bridge which connects it to New Brunswick.

hector  034hector  022They have an interesting model; you only pay (whether the ferry fee or the toll for the bridge) when you leave PEI.  And, since we planned to take the ferry from Nova Scotia to PEI and to drive out of PEI on the bridge to New Brunswick, our ferry ride was free.  There was one catch, we had to standby for the ferry as reservations are allowed only for those that pay (round-trip either way or one-way departing PEI).  Confused yet?

hector  024hector  023

hector  044hector  043 (1)Anyway, we weren’t going to complain since we were about to take a free 1 hour 15 minute ferry ride across the Northumberland Straight.  But we did plan to leave Pictou in time to standby for the first ferry of the day, just in case we didn’t get on.

And, when we arrived, there were already quite a few RVs , cars and large trucks lined up already.  We were advised that more truckers with reservations were expected, so there definitely was a possibility that we wouldn’t get on.

While we waited for the first ferry, we started chatting with the couple from the RV that was next in line, Beth and Dave.  We were amazed at how many RV’s and trucks there were but they told us that the next ferry due was the larger one of the two.  Finally, the ferry arrived and they started loading cars, then trucks, then RV’s.  It’s quite incredible how many big rigs they loaded on board, but alas, we didn’t get on.

hector  025

The GPS Ferry upper left is kinda cute!

The GPS Ferry upper left is kinda cute!

But we were third in line for the next ferry, so it seemed that we had a pretty good chance of getting on, even though that was going to be the smaller ferry.  We continued chatting with Beth and Dave, who are from Nova Scotia and were taking a brief vacation trip to PEI.  That made the time go a lot faster and in no time the next ferry came and we made it on.  Island Girl boarded that ferry like a seasoned boater!

hector  027hector  029RV’s, trucks, and, interestingly motorcycles (which get strapped to the deck) are boarded onto the lower deck.  Cars get loaded on the upper deck.

We had the option of bringing Angel upstairs as long as she stayed outside, but she’d have to climb three really long staircases so we chose not to.  There was a nice sea breeze and we left the windows  in Island Girl open for her.hector  030hector  031

hector  032hector  045Once we reached the top deck, we ran into Beth and Dave once more and spent the ferry ride getting acquainted.  Beth has a blog – Summer Friends – in which she features her vintage trailer, a cute and well loved “Glendette”.

hector  033hector  038The crossing was calm and beautiful.  Beth and Dave gave us a few tips about PEI, and once again time went by really fast and before we knew it there was an announcement for everyone to prepare for arrival at PEI.

hector  040hector  041So we said our good-byes and headed back down to get ready to drive Island Girl off the ferry.  Angel looked comfy and relaxed and ready for the next adventure.  And off we went onto the beautiful Prince Edward Island.

~ Brenda

Hector and the Scots

hector  007hector  001hector  012hector  017hector  008On our way to Prince Edward Island we stopped overnight at Pictou, Nova Scotia, prior to taking the ferry over to the island.  Pictou is the town adjacent to the port where we the ferry is located.

Hector had found out that Pictou had a replica of the ship that brought the first Scottish immigrants to this area, the Ship Hector.  They also had a Hector Heritage Quay and a Hector Festival.  This was too much to pass up.

So we headed to Pictou, a fairly short trip, about 2 ½ hours, and spent the afternoon visiting the ship and the Quay.  And it turned out to be another very interesting history lesson about the Scots and their journey to New Scotland or Nova Scotia.

As I’d mentioned in my earlier post on Baddeck, Scots emigrated for a number of reasons.  And it turned out to be a very familiar story of immigration:  the heart wrenching decision to leave the place and the people you know and love for a place that offers better opportunities; the challenges of the journey to your new home; the obstacles and challenges when you arrive there; and, hopefully, finding a better life despite of or perhaps because of all of those hardships.

There are still people in this world living this story every day.

hector  005hector  009This first group of Scots who came here were lured by some slightly misleading advertisements promising land in Nova Scotia.  The Ship Hector, not the most well built ship and also a ship with some miles on her was to bring them.hector  011

hector  006hector  015hector  020hector  014And so about 200 people set off from Scotland.  It was a tough voyage.  When they reached the area near Newfoundland, a major storm set them back from their course about two weeks.

They were forced to spend all of that time in the hold of the ship. Looking at the size of the hold in the replica ship, this was unimaginable to us.  Disease, particularly smallpox, spread and killed several of the children, who were most vulnerable.   The children had to be buried at sea, to their mothers’ horror.

Unfortunately, their arrival resulted in further hardship, as it too late to plant crops and they had to build shelters before winter, which, since they’d been delayed due to the storm, was coming soon.  Having come from the green highlands in Scotland, they weren’t familiar with building log buildings.hector  010hector  013

hector  043Ultimately, and with the help of some trappers and other early settlers, the great majority of them survived that harsh first winter and flourished.  A very resilient group of people.hector  016

hector  003So we had great fun with all of the Hector stuff (we did miss the actual Hector Festival :-().

hector  021But we also found a connection to a group of people from long ago and far away, who journeyed here for a better life for their families as our parents also did not so long ago.

~ Brenda

Fortress Louisburg

louisburg  013louisburg  001I wasn’t sure that I was up for visiting yet another fortress, but the Fortress of Louisbourg is North America’s largest historical reconstruction, so we couldn’t pass it up.  It’s a National Historic Site, so yet another opportunity to use our Parks Canada Discovery Passes, which have already paid for themselves.

louisburg  004louisburg  005louisburg  003The French selected this ice-free, sheltered harbor to act as a base for France’s interests in cod fishery and to serve as an important trading post because of its location due west of the entrance to the Mediterranean and due north of the French Caribbean.  In fact, one map we saw had a perfect triangle with these three locations as its corners.

The original settlement was founded in 1713 and fortified against the threat of British invasion during the turbulent time of empire-building.  The walls were built between 1720 and 1740 and the fortifications eventually surrounded the town.

louisburg  010louisburg  055Louisbourg developed into a thriving center for fishing and trade and became an administrative capital.  It was second only to Quebec as the most important stronghold and commercial city in New France and had a commercial district, a residential district, military arenas, marketplaces, inns, taverns and suburbs.

louisburg  030louisburg  018Exporting fish was more lucrative than the fur trade for France, where the majority of Catholics were not supposed to have meat about 150 days in the year.  Some of France’s poor and impoverished left their homes behind to seek a better life in this prosperous community.

louisburg  008louisburg  011The design of the fortress was focused on sea-based assaults, and left the land facing area unprotected, the thinking was that there was no way to cross the swamps. The British took the fortress in 1745, then the French negotiated their return only to be captured by the British again in 1758.   And the British ultimately destroyed the walls of Louisbourg and burned down the city in 1760.louisburg  033

 

louisburg  007

louisburg  048louisburg  002Then in 1961, after many Cape Breton Islands coal mines had been closed, the federal government funded the reconstruction as a way to generate jobs.  Archeologists, engineers and historians worked together to recreate the town as it was in the 1740’s. louisburg  038louisburg  017louisburg  014louisburg  016

louisburg  012louisburg  046louisburg  015The current city has dozens of buildings open to visitors with re-enactors in period dress demonstrating how people worked, played and lived in 1744.  The re-enactors are excellent and speak to you in character and in the context of the time (sometimes with a wink).

Very educational, often funny, and always entertaining.  As extensive as the reconstruction is, two thirds of the fortified town remains as ruins.louisburg  050

We witnessed a public shaming, a musket and cannon firing demonstration, a blacksmith demonstration and upper class dancing by the re-enactors.  We learned about the rationing of food for the soldiers and about baking in the old fashioned ovens.  They even had the loaves of bread baked that morning available for purchase.

louisburg  038

 

louisburg  040louisburg  039

louisburg  028louisburg  054louisburg  051

louisburg  029We also learned that wealthy parents didn’t establish a strong bond with their children until they were about 10 years old, they had wet nurses, nannies and others caring for the children until they were considered to be relatively safe from childhood diseases.   What a different time!

louisburg  049louisburg  057louisburg  056The harbor is large and protected but the harbor entrance is treacherous.  There is still a lighthouse very near to where the French installed theirs.

Fortress of Louisbourg is an impressive re-creation.  If you have ever had an interest in stepping back in time, I’d recommend you visit.

~ Brenda

Angel Goes Whale Watching

whales with angel  010We found a whale watching tour that allows dogs!  Oshan Whale Watch did have a stipulation that if any of the passengers objected to having a dog on board, we would not be able to bring Angel.  But we decided to take a chance.

whales with angel  007

Bay St Lawrence

whales with angel  002Oshan Whale Watch goes out of  Bay St. Lawrence, at the most northern coastline at the top of Cape Breton Island.  We left at 7a.m. for our 10:30 boat tour so we’d have a little time to stop and gawk and take a few photos.

whales with angel  003whales with angel  004This was our first drive on the Cabot Trail, and the first time we entered the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  VERY scenic.

whales with angel  005whales with angel  008whales with angel  012whales with angel  001And, yes, we were able to take Angel on board, and although a few people looked surprised, everyone seemed ok with having her there.  Angel was a little disoriented at first, but she settled right in.  Keeshonds were companion dogs on Dutch barges, so I think she still has boating in her blood.

It was a relatively clear but cool and windy day and Captain Cyril Fraser informed us that because of the strong winds, he was going to skim the coastline rather than heading straight out.    We headed out as some snow crab fishermen were returning to the dock with their catch, giant snow crab, WOW!

whales with angel  018

whales with angel  028Shortly after the start of our tour we spotted an eagle perched on the rock face of the imposing cliffs, some gray seals and quite a few birds including beautiful Northern Gannets.  Gannets dive for their food and they put on quite a show.

whales with angel  029whales with angel  031whales with angel  030whales with angel  033whales with angel  032whales with angel  038The most prevalent whales here are pilot whales, humpback whales are not spotted too often in these parts this time of year, so we adjusted our expectations accordingly.  It was taking a while to spot any whales and then we found the pilot whales.

whales with angel  039whales with angel  042Pilot whales travel in pods so we saw quite a few.  They are known to be very friendly and curious, and, true to form, they swam right up to the boat.  Seeing their fins above the water, they almost look like giant dolphins until you see their cute bulbous heads.

whales with angel  044

Pretty cool!

Pretty cool!

The captain put out a hydrophone and we heard the whales singing, very cool.  Then they swam off and we followed them for one more look.  Angel was a little short to see over most of the side of the boat, so I don’t believe she saw them, but her little nose was going crazy, so I think she smelled them.whales with angel  045whales with angel  035

whales with angel  034

Off the north end of Nova Scotia … latitude 47

whales with angel  027whales with angel  041whales with angel  040whales with angel  026The whales swam off a second time and Captain Fraser said he was going to give them a break and not go after them again.   Hector and I were excited to have seen a third type of whale in the wild while on our tour of the Maritimes.whales with angel  043

whales with angel  036whales with angel  037At one point Angel decided she would assist the captain and sat right behind him.  Before I could warn him, he stepped back and stepped on her.  And instead of getting upset, he was very apologetic and petted her to soothe her.   So sweet.whales with angel  047

Pilot Whale

Pilot Whale exhibit

whales with angel  052whales with angel  051After the tour, we headed back to the Cabot Trail.  On the way we stopped to have our packed lunch at Cabot’s Landing Provincial Park, a picnic and beach park.  This park also features a National Historic Site marker and a plaque commemorating the landfall of John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto).  The first to discover continental North America in 1497 (Columbus landed in the Caribbean).  whales with angel  049

whales with angel  053

Giovanni Caboto was Italian, but sailed for King Henry VII.  According to the plaque, “His landfall…, was in this vicinity, and is believed to have been the lofty headland of North Cape Breton”.  Apparently, there are other places that claim he landed there first, including Newfoundland.

The most specific area for his landfall that is proven beyond a doubt is somewhere between Maine and Labrador.  But the people at Cape Breton claim this as the spot where he made landfall.  And who are we to question?whales with angel  054

It was a very long day and drive and Angel had a nice nap on the way back home.  She is such a good girl and a real trooper.

whales with angel  009Oshan Whale Watch is a very simple outfit.  They don’t have wildlife experts on board and they don’t narrate much on the tour but they will answer any questions that you have.

whales with angel  011Oshan is the Gaelic clan moniker for the Fraser family and the name of their boat and business.  It’s a small family operation with some very nice folks.  Captain Fraser has 30 years experience as a captain most recently as a lobster fisherman.  In fact the boat is a working lobster boat during the season.

This whale watch company offers something we hadn’t seen before (besides allowing dogs on board);  if you go out on their tour, you can stand by for a second whale watch tour at no charge.  Of course, most tourists are not around long enough to take advantage of that, but we were 🙂

whales with angel  055

Let's go!

Let’s go!

So the following week we decided to take the afternoon boat tour in order to get a different perspective with the afternoon light.  And out we headed mid-day with Angel for the 4:30 tour.  Well, this time it was a bright, warm, clear, sunny day with almost no wind.  Perfect day for boating, whales or no whales.whales with angel  058

whales with angel  066whales with angel  084And the folks at Oshan were once again SO nice, they’d even taken our names down that morning when we called even though we were on standby.  And here we were taking a free cruise with a dog!whales with angel  057

And when Captain Fraser saw Angel, he said to her “I’ll try not to step on you again”.   Obviously a dog lover.  And again some passengers looked surprised, but no one objected.  So Angel set off for her second whale watching tour.  And the first mate, the Captain’s daughter, gave her lots of pets along the way.

whales with angel  064whales with angel  061whales with angel  060

The water was still and crystal clear.  And, not long after we cast off, we found the pilot whales once again.  This seemed like a larger pod and they came even closer to the boat.  There was even a cute baby calf in the group!

Cute!!

Cute!!  Looks just like mama.

What's that smell??

What’s that smell??

I’d positioned Angel on a low side of the boat so her head was just above the gunwale, but I’m not sure if she saw them, and, if she did, she didn’t react much to them.  But her little nose was going once again.

whales with angel  063whales with angel  073whales with angel  067We went after the whales once and then the captain said he would not chase them again, just like the last time.  Clearly he respects these lovely creatures.

And on this cruise, since it was such a calm day we headed straight out to sea and around the northernmost tip of Nova Scotia, Cape North.  Which was really cool, since we’d also visited the other end of Nova Scotia, Brier Island, last month.whales with angel  071

There were lots of gray seals popping their heads out of the water all around us.  I love these seals with their long noses, and because they’re so curious.

whales with angel  077Then, as we rounded the point, we spotted a flying eagle and another eagle sitting in its nest.  Captain Fraser brought us a bit closer to the shore, but there were some submerged rocks in the area and he couldn’t get too close.  Everyone still got a good look at the eagle, you could even see his white head up in the tree with the naked eye.

whales with angel  082whales with angel  079The captain then took us around some beautiful rock formations and arches.  It was quite a scene with the crystal clear water.whales with angel  081

whales with angel  080whales with angel  078whales with angel  083whales with angel  085As a last activity, Captain Fraser gave his passengers an opportunity to try and fish with a line.  He dropped a line with some lures in the water, then each person got to pull it in and lo and behold! each person almost instantly caught three mackerel.  Cute.

Then Captain Fraser cleaned the fish in the back of the boat and offered mackerel to anyone who wanted it.  Really a very entertaining tour and a totally different experience from our first outing.whales with angel  065

And Angel agrees with us that our first tour was lots of fun, but this one was truly perfect.

~ Brendawhales with angel  089whales with angel  087whales with angel  088