Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ah, the Beach

Of all the places we have traveled to there is no place where we have spent more time than in the Florida Panhandle.  Are you wondering why?  Take a look….

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This is a place where the sunrises are as spectacular as the sunsets. 

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The sugar white sand is so fine that it squeaks under your feet and the water so clear that you can see you toes until the water laps over your head. 

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Hey look, I found my paws!
047Our little winter paradise is called Santa Rosa Beach and includes unique coastal communities that are as laid back as the keys and as hip as South Beach.  Our rig will be parked at some of the best state parks we have found anywhere.  And within just a few days of being here we got reacquainted with friends from last year and feel like we are settled in.

So when you hear people complain about the wet, white stuff just know it is not coming from us.  

(Just for the record Spirit likes it here too.)

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mule Days!

When our friends in Tallahassee asked if we wanted to join them in going to Mule Days in nearby Calvary, Georgia, we were all in!  Two years ago, we attended Mule Days in Hamilton, Montana and had a blast so we didn’t want to miss another opportunity to admire the long ears.  Calvary is home to a mere 200 people, but come Mule Days the population swells to over 60,000 (not counting mules) drawing people from all over the region.

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The morning started off cold but thanks to the sun, bloody mary’s, hot coffee, and plenty of excitement we started warming up.  The fairgrounds were filled with some 450 vendors selling arts and crafts, food, furniture, and just about every kind of SEC football paraphernalia you could want.  (After all, we are in the south and college football games are more important than weddings.)  And yes, there was a show ring where the mules and riders would strut their stuff - or in the case of the few ornery mules – not strut their stuff.

The annual event kicked off with a modest parade through the streets.  Small town parades are always our favorite.  Everybody turns out for the event and you feel a warm sense of the town’s pride.  The parade route was lined with people sitting peacefully huddled under blankets smiling as the mules and riders clopped by.  Candy was passed to the kids, mules were dressed in costumes, farm tractors chugged, and young girls smiled proudly perched in their saddles carried by their four-legged best friends.  

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In between the parade, shopping the plethora of vendors, and watching mule events, there are all kinds of things to do.  There was the demonstration on sugar cane grinding and syrup cooking, watching a chicken cleverly play the piano (then nicely poses for pictures), live music to tap your toe to, the official Mule Days Museum to visit, and a petting zoo – just to name a few.

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The actual Mule Show started at 1:00 pm and so with carnival food in our bellies we sat down on the grandstands to watch the competition and see who would take home the prizes.  Events included the serious in halter classes and team driving to the not-so-serious like a panty hose race and best costume. 

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As expected, we had a great time with our friends at this fun, family event.  We are never ones to miss out and are even thinking about tail-gating in our motorhome at the event next year.

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Betsy in a sing-along with the chicken!


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wig-Wagging in Augusta, Georgia

Most people associate August with golf.  Every year Augusta plays host to one of the top men’s professional golf championships called quite simply “The Masters.”  But, that is not why we went to Augusta.  Nope, I found two museums that sounded quite interesting.  When I mentioned to Betsy there was a “Signal Corps Museum” and “Canal Museum” her eyes rolled around twice.  Yep, I managed to find two completely obscure museums in a town that had no mentionable burger joint in our Hamburger America bible!  That was added disappointment and causing another roll of the eyes.

The U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum, which is located on Fort Gordon military installation and pays tribute to the history and accomplishments of the Signal Corps.   The birth of the Signal Corps came about when Albert J. Meyer devised a simple, but genius, method of using visual signal flags and a torch to communicate on the battlefield.  The Army embraced the system which became known as “Wig-Wag” and Myer was appointed to the rank of Major and chief signal officer to organize a corps of soldiers trained in signaling.  The Army Signal Corps was established by Congress in June 1860, as the first American military organization dedicated solely to communications.  Today, Fort Gordon is home to the regiment.

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The exhibits trace the development of the Signal Corps from its beginning in 1860 through the present and the evolution of the regiment is fascinating.  Communication on the battlefield is critical and the evolution of the Signal Corp’s technological developments is echoed in our everyday lives.  Early on it was determined that communicating weather was important not just on the battlefield but to mariners at sea and so the responsibility fell on the Signal Corps (which eventually was transferred to the Dept. of Agriculture) and evolved into the National Weather Service. 

The advancement of the Signal Corps kept pace with changing technology and they moved into the realm of aerial communication.  Balloons were used to transmit information but when the Wright brothers took flight, the Signal Corps took notice.  They bought an airplane from the Wright brothers in 1909 and took to the skies which drastically advanced  communication and was the origin of the U.S. Air Force.  Communications technology was advancing but as the U.S. entered WWI an effective method from the past rose to the forefront of aerial communication – the carrier pigeon.   

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Most often pigeons were released from soldiers on the front lines to deliver messages back to headquarters.  But pilots also used pigeons and would slow the plane down and drop them out of the plane.  Special precautions and devises were developed to ensure the safety and successful movement of birds such as wicker baskets that fit on a soldiers back that had covers to protect against poisonous gases. 

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Pigeons were highly regarded and recognized for their efforts such as the case with Cher Ami (French for Dear Friend).  When a battalion became separated from their unit and was under attack from friendly fire, Cher Ami took to the skies with a message to cease firing.  Despite being shot in the leg, eye, and breast Cher Ami got the message through and saved the lives of 194 soldiers and she was granted a medal for her valor.

The history of the Signal Corps reflects the advancement in communication which benefits civilian life – everything from telephones to movies to facsimiles to satellites.  Highlights of the museum include an Oscar awarded to the Signal Corps for their WWII documentary Seeds of Destiny, a telephone from Checkpoint Charlie, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and a telephone from Adolf Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaten.  We both agreed this free museum was a hit and were glad we came to learn about an unfamiliar piece of our military's history.

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Whew, with one hit under my belt it was time to go see a museum that tells the story of the only intact industrial canal in the American South in continuous use – the Augusta Canal.  The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area Interpretive Center is very impressive and as soon as we walked in we knew we scored another hit.  After a short film about the canal you enter into the museum portion where life associated with the canal comes alive through a plethora of interactive exhibits, dioramas, and narrated kiosks explaining how the canal was built, how it works to provide hydroelectricity, the history of the mills and working along the canal and other interesting information associated with the canal.  And for an added bonus, they offer narrated boat tours that let you enjoy being on the canal and feel a part of history.

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The Augusta Canal was built in 1845 as a source of water, power and transportation in Augusta.  The canal propelled the fledgling city which only had a grist and saw mill to becoming one of the South's few large manufacturing centers.  Early on, the lack of power stymied the city but constructing a canal using water from the Savannah River would provide a reliable source of water and power to move goods.  Skeptics were against the canal but Henry H. Cumming persisted with his vision and the canal was dug.  The years that followed were prosperous with over 20 successful textile mills springing up along the canal and thousands of people flocking to Augusta for work. 

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Yet there was a dark side.  The 11-hour workdays for children and women were appalling, periodic floods were damaging, and gradually Augusta’s factories converted from canal-driven hydro-mechanical power to electrical power.  By the mid 1900’s, the mills and canal fell into disrepair and neglect.  Although still the city’s drinking water source, the Canal was no longer the driving force for development it had been 100 years before. At one point in the 1960s, city officials considered draining the Canal and using the land for a superhighway.  The mid-1970’s saw a change when people recognized the historical significance, recreational opportunities and environmental value of the canal.  The canal and remaining mills were placed on the National Register of Historic Places and a Canal Authority was established to oversee the canal and surrounding public lands.  In 1996, the U.S. Congress designated the Augusta Canal a National Heritage Area and a few years later the Enterprise Mill was converted to offices and the Interpretive Center. 

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As it turned out Augusta had two great attractions and our short two-night stay was definitely worth the trip. 



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why Greenville, South Carolina?

With so many places on the map how do we choose? Sometimes it is to hang with family, visit a national monument, check out a funky museum, or because we want to see a bunch of Cadillac's sticking up out of the ground. And, sometimes we visit a town simply because there is a hamburger joint that was mentioned in our travel bible – Hamburger America.


Yep, the sole reason we put Greenville on the map and parked the rig there was so we could eat a hamburger at a legendary place called Northgate Soda Shop that has been dishing up good eats since 1947.

The pimento cheese hamburgers and vanilla milkshakes were good but the place was classic with old cola bottles on the wall, antique tin coffee cans, a counter to sit at, and a multitude of locals who filed in and were greeted by their first name.



With burgers in our bellies (and milkshakes and fries and onion rings), it was time to head downtown and see why all the fuss over Greenville's downtown and just why it has been ranked among "America's Ten Best" by Forbes Magazine. Greenville sits at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains which automatically instills scenic charm, outdoor adventure, and southern charm. The downtown melds together natural beauty and contemporary cool.  The revitalized downtown is attractive and inviting.  Falls Park is a large regional park with gardens, paths, and waterfalls that makes the downtown super attractive and popular.  The $15 million park brought the downtown back from decline. The centerpiece of the park is the Liberty Bridge which spans the Reedy River and links together shopping and eateries nestled amongst modern buildings and theaters.






Our day in Greenville passed quickly but we vowed to come back and spend more time exploring the city and visiting the many attractions that make this city so interesting and hip.