Friday, December 31, 2010

Summing Up

So typical of Bl*gger, I had this entire post finished, hit publish and it disappeared. Therefore the second version will not be as good as the first one; it never is. However, here goes an abbreviated version of what I just finished moments ago and lost.

Having purchased The Beast in mid-December of 2009, Denny and I started our travels on New Year's day of 2010 in the tiny town of Van Horn, Texas. Almost immediately the two of us wondered at times at what point the wheels were going to fall off our fifth wheel because as I've documented in several posts, we suffered one problem after another, both mechanical and structural. Despite all of that we somehow managed to travel 8,687.4 road miles, staying at forty-five different campgrounds along the way. Our travels took us from Texas to New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Oh, and there was that side trip to Alaska by plane, bus, train and cruise ship.

By exploring Montana, Wyoming and Alaska this summer Denny and I checked off three more states from the fifty we intend to visit. Yes, it took us twelve years to do it, mostly due to family health issues calling us back to Ohio during the prime travel months. We've also been checking off playing golf in those states which is a secondary goal of our travels. Of course in the meantime the two of us have been learning geology, geography, history, what all those states manufacture and/or produce and most importantly we've met people. Funny, aggravating, crazy, fascinating, wonderful people.

Denny and I have always appreciated and been in awe of the beauty of our vast country and the variety of its natural wonders. But we've also been fortunate enough to see it through the eyes of the people from other countries we've met at our national parks and well known tourist spots. We've listened and grinned at the variety of dialects and languages we've heard where the universal word of "wow" predominates when standing at the precipice of a canyon, the base of a thundering waterfall or the narrow, rocky path to the summit of a tall hill. Those who live in Europe and Asia may have a lot of history, but I don't think any country can beat the United States for the sheer variety and number of natural wonders we have.

This year we managed to see the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and I had the opportunity to stand in the Arctic Ocean (and froze my feet off!) It has been our most adventurous year as well as the year we put the most mileage on any of our five RVs.

Our intention for the upcoming year is to explore Vermont, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island and Connecticut which will mean we'll finally be able to check the final states off our list. Also in our plans are visits to old RVing friends who have sold their rigs and settled down as well as visits to people I've only met through blogging. And once we've done all that? Well, there are a lot of areas in all those states that we've yet to wander.

As the year 2010 draws quickly to a close, the RV Vagabonds wish all of you a happy, healthy and oh-so-prosperous New Year. And if we're lucky, we'll see you someplace down the road....

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saved By the Cat

This post will only make sense to those who own a recreational vehicle and have dealt with cleaning a black water tank .

This morning we decided at the last minute to play golf and Denny wanted to drain our black water tank first since we're decamping tomorrow morning. There is a process where you drain the tank, then "back flush" it by means of adding water back to the tank in an attempt to flush out all the solids and then you drain the tank again. In the middle of the process, Denny needed to use the bathroom, then got distracted when he called the golf course to see if all the frost was off the greens. All of a sudden we noticed Patches stalking up the steps leading to the bedroom/bath area and I heard a clunking sound. I opened the bathroom door to see the toilet filled to the brim with water from the contents of the black water tank and quickly asked Denny if he was still back-flushing. He said he thought he had turned off the back flush but ran out to double check. Yeah, no he hadn't.

I had a bit of a mess to clean up but nothing like I would have had if the cat hadn't heard something abnormal going on and "stalked" the sound that the water forcing itself up through the closed valve of the toilet bowl was making.

The cat from h*ll earned her treats today.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I'm Gettin' Nuttin' For Christmas Done

I have allowed six lazy weeks to slip by. Okay, we've done Christmas shopping/wrapping/shipping/cookie baking, holiday stuff, etc and we've played golf a few times but Denny and I have also just sat on our rear ends a lot lately. It probably has something to do with being separated from family over the holidays and some of it has been the cold and sometimes wet, rainy weather but we've just done a lot of cocooning lately. I think it's time for a bit of a shake up.

We did get at least one good thing accomplished today; we found a RV service tech who actually discovered why our heat pump was causing our entire trailer to vibrate. It seems that whoever installed the air conditioner or perhaps one of the many service techs who has worked on it over the past year after we've complained about the vibration tightened the unit down so firmly that it literally squashed the rubber gasket flat to the roof so there was no play in it at all. Thus, when the compressor was on its vibration could be felt throughout the entire trailer. Plus it was noisy. Now, the vibration is minimal (there is still some vibration but we think it's a problem with the roof construction/mounting) and the unit is much less noisy. Yay! Everyone kept telling us "that's just how it is" but we knew better because we've owned two other fifth wheels with heat pumps on our roof air conditioning units and we've never had this problem before. Even better is that this young man who is just starting his own mobile RV service does not charge a service fee for coming to your campground as is normal and his labor fees are less than anyone else we've dealt with over the past couple of years. So we had a belated Christmas present!

Denny and I wanted to play golf one last time before we left this area since we'll be going north into colder temperatures, but it's just going to be too darned cold here so we'll have to wait a while. Even Patches comes out just long enough to see if the neighbor's cat is sitting outside and if he's not, then she wants back inside the warm rig. Thank goodness.

I really haven't even bothered to take my camera outside with me on my walks with the cat since I haven't seen but one gopher tortoise here this year, although the Sandhill Cranes wander our section of the campground every day. Other than some raccoons that I believe have distemper since I've seen them out in the daytime, there haven't been any wildlife picture taking opportunities here. Instead I've added a couple of shots from our campground in Wauchula, Florida taken a few days ago.
This pileated woodpecker wouldn't cooperate by clinging to a tree in an upright position but insisted on foraging along a branch. I have several shots where his head is a blur as he rat-tat-tats along the branch looking for yummy bugs. This shot was the best I could do before he flew off into the distance. They are shy creatures.
If you look closely at the right side of the oak tree hiding in the palmetto leaves about 1/4 of the way down from the top you'll see a very brave stupid squirrel debating on whether or not it should investigate the gray and white creature sitting crouched at the base of the tree. It was pretty obvious the squirrels at this campground were not familiar with cats because more than once they came down the trees to within 3 feet of Patches, who I held on a very short, tight leash. Because she has her claws and will climb trees to chase them.
I'm thinking that my New Year's resolution should be to get out and move more this year, starting with our next campground. Might as well get a jump on the new year there and the trails along the Suwanee River begged to be walked so it's a good place to start. Got to walk off those Christmas cookies that I had to eat.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Swiss Fairways Golf Course

There are a lot of golf courses in the Clermont/Orlando area but Denny and I are fairly parsimonious when it comes to paying golf fees so this time around he picked the Swiss Fairways Golf Course. For the two of us to play eighteen holes with a riding cart it cost $53.50 and by the end of the day we thought it well worth the money.

You will notice the sand hill cranes in the middle of the first photograph; I'd much rather have these birds with their prehistoric sounding croaks than the ubiquitous and very messy Canada geese.
The photograph above is of the second hole on the golf course. This is a par three hole and the picture was taken from the women's tee. At the men's tee there is a sign warning golfers to watch for boats which made us wonder since we appeared to be at the end of a channel.
The next thing we knew, there was a roar of engine and this:
Yeah, how many golf courses have YOU played where there are water skiers training beside the greens?

Skier distractions aside, Denny was playing the blue tees today at 6725 yards with a rating/slope of 72.3/126 while I played the red women's tees at 4691 yards with a rating/slope of 63.2/109.

While a few houses came into play for Denny because of wildly errant shots, for the most part the fairways are wide open albeit lined with water on a few holes. It is the sand traps that make this golf course evil, as shown by the eighth hole, a par 3, below. The entire front half of the green is ringed with a long sand trap. Rather than deal with it, Denny and I both parred the hole, a first for us (parring the same hole.)
On the back nine the course started backing up with players and Denny and I ended up pairing up with Vincent and Jerry (the Americanized versions of their French names which I couldn't pronounce.) Vincent and Jerry are from Orleans, France and are spending the month in Florida. They both have traveled extensively in the western part of the U.S. in the winter time and both absolutely love the vast and scenic beauty to be found in our country. Denny and I agree! We spent the rest of a very pleasant afternoon on the golf course with these two gentlemen and followed our game with a great meal at the Oakwood Smokehouse which serves great BBQ. Denny and I tied scores (under a hundred but that's as far as I'll share) and we had a great day. We'd love to go back but the temperatures have dropped here in Florida and I don't think we'll be going out in 40 degree weather to play golf. We don't love the game THAT much!

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Denny, Patches and I would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous and healthy New Year.

Our Christmas is once again non-traditional; we are spending the holiday here in Florida sans kids. I have made my mother's Danish Puff as a continuation of one of the Real family traditions and this year Denny and I have added having mimosas to our Christmas morning routine. It's an adjustment to be alone for Christmas but that doesn't make it bad, simply different. And now I have to walk She-Who-Won't-Be-Denied. May all your Christmases be white.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why We Go South

This is the lighthouse at the entrance to the Cleveland harbor, taken December 16. This is also why we decided to spend our winters seeking sunshine and warmth. While the wind driven waves created a fairytale like sculpture, that's a lot of cold and ice to totally cover a lighthouse and a keeper's cottage. Brrr. Photograph courtesy AP/Mark Duncan.
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Torrey Oaks Golf Course

For the second week of our stay in Wauchula we decided to play golf a little bit closer to home at the Torrey Oaks Golf Course in Bowling Green, Florida. This time we paid $23 each to play eighteen holes with a riding cart and we were able to pay those rates for a 10AM tee time. Credit cards are accepted for that rate also.

The fairways and rough is a little rougher at Torrey Oaks than what they were at the Bluffs. It is a much shorter course, playing shorter than the distances given at the tee boxes and on the score card which was rather confusing for us first time players. Per the score card, the blue tees have a yardage of 6335 with a slope/rating of 128/70.7 while the women's tees have a yardage of 5075 yards and a slope/rating of 116/68.1. As I said, the course played shorter than that, as I ended up with four pars and that is unheard of for me--I am a bogey/double bogey golfer through and through. So I for one, had fun on the course.

There are a several holes with water hazards although they really don't come into play for the women's tees. There are plenty of sand traps and this is a course where they make sure to have a rake attached to the back of the riding cart so there's no excuse for not raking the sand traps.
There are houses built on the course and they can come into play with errant shots as can some of the trees but if you hit the ball straight this is an easy course for the average golfer. We were joined on the back nine by a French Canadian couple whose grasp of English wasn't terrific but who played some really good golf and we managed to have a good time despite a bit of a communication problem at times. For my golfing ego, I'd play this course again simply to see a lower score than I normally shoot.

Although we didn't check out the daily/weekly rates since we're staying at a free-for-us membership campground, Torrey Oaks Golf Course also has an adjacent RV park that is very attractively set up and maintained with spacious RV sites. Stay and play, as it were.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Circus and a Little Culture

I was in my late 40s before I saw my first circus performance. Years ago Denny and I discovered the former winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin in our travels and that's where I finally went to the circus. I'm pretty sure I embarrassed Denny with my childlike response to the one ring performance, but oh what fun I had! When one of the campground employees reminded us that the Ringling Circus Museum is located in Sarasota and that it would make a nice day trip Denny and I knew we had to make the drive.

The museum complex sits on 66 acres of land right on the waters of Sarasota Bay. While parking is free, the entrance fee is rather stiff at $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and an additional $5 each to tour the second floor of the Ringling Mansion with a docent.

The visitor center houses the ticket area, a museum store, a brief movie about the complex and the Asolo Theater. The Asolo Theater was built in Italy in 1798 and eventually purchased by the Museum and was rebuilt and restored within the complex to be used for movies, lectures, musical ventures and theatrical productions.

Next comes the Tibbals Learning Center with its huge miniature circus housed on the first floor. Taking up about 3800 square feet and built on a scale of 3/4 of an inch to a foot the miniature circus shows every facet of the operation of the circus from transporting the entire structure, employees and animals on the trains to the care of the animals, feeding of the staff, setting up of the tents and displays, doing the shows and circus acts to the tearing down and starting all over again. As you walk around the glassed-in display the lighting dims inside the building to show the 24 hour periods where the entire circus was moved, set up, gave the performance and then tore everything down to move on to the next city and the next performance. There are multiple placards explaining the displays and circus life and the artistry and work that went into creating this miniature extravaganza is incredible. The display was created over a period of 50 years by model maker Howard Tibbals.Some facts imparted by the placards; there were 1300 circus employees that were feed a total of 3900 meals three times a day. They dined on china with real silverware although they were fed at long tables under tents. The menagerie of wild animals and horses and performing dogs were just as well fed and they had their own tents and care areas. There was just so much to absorb here but it really allowed you to understand the huge amount of work that was involved in putting on a performance every day.

The Big Top; not only is the miniature circus exquisitely detailed but several of the displays are animated, including the lady acrobats spinning on their ropes and the horses running around the ring.
Because I can be five years old, I was tickled by the realism of the display, down to the restroom area including the men's urinal. I did mention that this huge display including every facet of the circus, right?

On the second floor of the learning center are posters and artifacts of the Ringling Circus and some of the belongings of the Ringling family.

Because everyone needs a blind money calling card holder.
Next you move on to the Circus Museum which houses the Ringling family Pullman train car that they used for travel as well as a large collection of circus wagons and various types of circus memorabilia. There are docents available who will lead you through the display explaining the history of what you are seeing, or you can simply wander the buildings at will.
Fun house mirrors.Props from the movie "The Greatest Show on Earth". These model train cars were used to create a train wreck scene.

The miniature car driven by Lou Jacobs, the clown. Lou was six feet one inch tall and he drove into the ring in this two foot by three foot car. Do you find it surprising that as a youth he trained as a contortionist?

Wandering down the tree lined driveway we finally arrived at Ca' D' Zan (House of John in Italian), the Ringlings' residence. Wow. Just wow. You can take a self-guided tour of the first floor or you can pay $5 a person to have a docent lead you through the first floor and parts of the second floor. For a $20 per person fee there is another docent led tour that explores even more of the house, including the third floor tower.The terrace is made of imported and domestic marble. All of it.

The central area for entertaining. The chandelier came from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel when it was torn down to make way for the Empire State building.
The ceiling in the dining room.Again, there was so much to see and ogle in this rather decadent display of wealth and lavish decoration. John and Mabel Ringling were enamored of all things Italian and it shows in this house. The exterior of the house is described as being Venetian Gothic but I thought it had a definite Moroccan appearance.

Our final stop in the complex was the Museum of Art which houses a large (literally and figuratively) collection of Rubens, El Greco, Gainsboro and many, many other artists. There are also two rooms that were removed from the Astor Mansion in New York and areas of special rotating exhibitions.Yes, this is Michangelo's state of David from Venice.The library from the Astor Mansion in New York.
There is an incredible amount of artwork and circus memorabilia to take in in one day, but there are plenty of places to simply sit and enjoy your surroundings as well as a restaurant and cafe on the grounds where you can have something to eat to build up your strength for more walking, learning and looking. As I mentioned earlier, it's a bit pricey but very impressive. But then, so was the museum in Baraboo. Do both.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Bluffs Golf Course

Although there is a nine hole golf course near to our campground, we decided to drive ten miles south of Zolfo Springs to the Bluffs Golf Course, 8037 US Hwy 17S, (863) 735-2363 to play its eighteen hole course. I think it was a good decision.

The Bluffs is a shorter course so Denny played the blue tees at a distance of 6254 yards with a slope/rating of 116/69.9. I stayed with the women's tee for a distance of 4809 yards and a slope/rating of 108/67.2. On a bright, dry day we had to remember to play one club longer in distance due to being near sea level, something another golfer told us years ago. It's an easy rule to remember when the weather is humid but harder when the weather is so beautifully dry.

The front nine holes are wide open although there is water along several of the holes. Hole #7 is a par 3 with a green that slopes towards a small lake (and folks playing the blue tee have to hit over the lake.) While the open fairways makes getting to the greens fairly easy, the greens have enough slope and tilt to be tricky. The back nine has several holes that have narrower fairways lined by trees so you can hit into a little more trouble there. It was on the back nine that Denny mentioned that there were no sand traps to which I replied "yes actually there are, you just haven't hit any for once". And of course, on the next hole he ended up in a sand trap. Go figure.

Denny and I had a tee time for 1:11PM and we were the last people on the course although we had to wait on every tee because of all the foursomes ahead of us. We paid $30 each to play 18 holes with a riding cart and to get that price we had to pay cash. The cost would have gone up if we had used a credit card. All in all, I think this is a course we would play again.

Edited 12/17/10: We actually paid $15 each to play 18 holes of golf after 1P for a total of $30. My error.
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Volley of Vultures

Okay, I just totally made that up; I have no idea what a group of vultures is called but "volley of vultures" had a nice ring to it.

Yesterday one of our neighbors warned me of a hawk that flew into the live oak tree right behind Patches and I while we were on one of our walks. Since hawks have been known to pick off a cat for a meal I watched the hawk carefully until he decided that I wasn't going to leave Patches's side and he flew off. He was a gorgeous bird and of course I was without my camera at the time. I just don't learn. As Patches and I continued our walk I was a bit more cautious than usual but what soars overhead here casting huge shadows are the turkey vultures which aren't a threat.
Turkey vultures, named for their similar appearance to wild turkeys, are mostly carrion eaters that locate their food through a highly developed sense of smell. Their ugly, naked looking heads have developed so that when the birds dig deep into a carcass of a dead animal to feed they won't get a bunch of pieces of meat and bacteria sticking to the feathers on their heads. The vultures urinate on their own legs to cool themselves off in hot weather plus the urine also kills any bacteria on their feet from bracing the carrion while they feed. Vultures don't have the capability of song; they can only grunt or hiss. They have been known to vomit as a protective measure when threatened while nesting. All of which makes this bird seem like a nasty creature.
This vulture spreads his wings to warm himself, bake off bits of bacteria carrying food and to dry his wings after a period of rain or a heavy morning dew.

But to watch one of these large (with a wing span of six feet) birds soar up into a high spiral in the sky with their silver-gray underfeathers glinting in the sun is something else. Vultures don't leave their night time perch until the morning air warms up a bit. What they do next is find a pocket of warm air called a thermal and ride it up high into the sky and glide through the air by very slight movements of their wing tips. Circling higher and higher a vulture will then dive down to find the next thermal pocket, reaching speeds up to 60 mph in their dive. They can actually ride an air current for as long as six hours without ever flapping their wings.Certainly the vulture isn't an attractive creature on the ground, but he is beautiful in the air. And I'll never have to worry about one carrying off the cat.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Leaping Lipizzans

Having seen the Miracle of the White Stallions movie by Disney as a child and having seen a performance of the lovely animals in Las Vegas years ago, when I discovered there was a Lipizzan stallion training center less than 50 miles from our campground I told Denny we were going!
The training center is operated by the daughter of Colonel Herrmann who assisted General Patton in saving the Lipizzan breed from destruction by the Russian armies during WWII. The riders and trainers are all women as the few men remaining in the family have other interests. Of course the horses were originally trained for use in battle and their rearing and kicking moves, specifically the Levade, the Courbette and the Capriole, were used to intimidate foot soldiers. Today the dressage movements (training the movements and steps of the horses while the horse is on a long line) and Airs Above the Ground are performed for their beauty and expression of the strength and stamina of these beautiful animals.

Heather is riding a young stallion who is wearing a saddle for the first time. It was obvious the horse was unused to the saddle and wanted to misbehave and even buck, but Heather kept him well in hand and rode him beautifully. This stallion is five years old and thus is still gray. The Lipizzans are born black or dark brown and turn white as they age. The horses today were not "sparkling white" due to the fact that they had been turned out in the pastures and not bathed due to the weather having turned cold. They were still awesome!

The Levade position while on a lead.
The Levade with a rider.
Taking a bow.
Taking a bow.
I missed the name of the breed of this pony, but this particular animal was rescued from an abusive breeder. The pony was kept in an enclosed stall for the first three years of its life and never saw the light of day until rescued by the Herrmann family. Today young audience members can take a ride on the pony after the show.
Another rescue animal is this thirty-two year old miniature horse being ridden by a five year old family member. What a pair of show stealers! This little guy also gave pony rides at the end of the performance.

All I can say is, thank goodness these wonderful horses were saved all those years ago.

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