Well - after over 8 years of planning and looking forward to retiring early and hitting the road - the day is finally here! We left the RV Park at the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama early this morning (December 21, 2003), arriving here at Ft. Pickens National Park mid-day. Traffic was fairly light the whole way, so driving (or 'passengering') was a breeze.
Ft. Pickens is located at the westernmost end of Pensacola Beach and is absolutely gorgeous. We were set up within an hour and had a visit from friends Dee & Bill from AL, who had routed their holiday trip to include a stopover here. We enjoyed sitting outside for a couple of hours, something we haven't been able to do in Huntsville lately because of the freezing temps. Shelley provided the entertainment when she and a raccoon spotted each other and had a staring contest. Shelley started her stalking routine and had us rolling - the raccoon wasn't impressed - it just waddled off into the bushes.
Tomorrow will be our first real day of not working or getting up to an alarm - sure hope we're up to it!
December 22, 2003
We're still in awe that this day has finally arrived - it finally sank in today that we are retired and living our dream.
The raccoons have provided plenty of entertainment. They had raided the squirrel feeder and left just the feeder on top of the outdoor grill. They also snatched the drip cup from our camp stove. After Larry searched the bushes, he found the cup licked clean.
Suzan and Art invited us to join them at the Escapees park, Rainbow Plantation, for Christmas Dinner. Suzan gave us a tour of the facilities - very impressive!
Friend Norlando from Mobile visited. We spent a quiet evening catching up on our lives - it's been three years since we've seen each other last. On an afternoon hike, we spotted an area where several great blue herons are nesting and counted at least 9 of them. We drove down to Ft. Pickens and Norlando led our self-guided tour of the site.
We drove to Big Lagoon State Park to meet with Suzan and Art who are volunteering there. They introduced us to geocaching, trying to find a cache in Tarkiln Bayou. Art discovered afterwards that two other tries had been made, both unsuccessful. There had been a controlled burn in that area and when the rangers found the cache, they moved it but not close enough to the coordinates to be found. The highlight of our day was spotting a bald eagle as it flew across the bayou while we were on a newly constructed boardwalk through the marshes.
Stopping at the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola is a must. Even though we've been there before, there is always something new to be found there. We took the Flight Line Tour, a 30-minute narrated trolley tour through an area where over 40 old planes and helicopters are parked. Our driver was a retired Marine and our guide a retired Navy bombardier who had seen action in Vietnam. Together they were a hoot! One fascinating tidbit was to hear how the museum's curator called someone about President Bush's most recent trip to Iraq. According to our guides, the curator asked for just about every piece of clothing that the President wore on that trip, except for his underwear. When the curator finished listing what he'd like, the other party asked if he'd be interested in the plane itself. Apparently, it was to be retired soon, so it was offered to the Naval Air Museum. What is especially interesting is that it will eventually be parked next to the plane his father, former President Bush, had piloted during WWII.
We visited Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola, a small park with monuments for WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Memorial included a replica of the Wall located in Washington, D.C.
On our last night at Ft. Pickens, Larry and I took a walk to the end of the boardwalk to see the ocean once more. We saw what looked like lights on the waves - it was bioluminescence-- "... a primarily marine phenomenon. It is the predominant source of light in the largest fraction of the habitable volume of the earth, the deep ocean." Amazing and awesome! And a fitting end to our wonderful ten day stay here.
Chiefland, FL - on the road New Years' Eve
The Chiefland RV Park was a good stopping point on our way to Palm Bay. We used our Passport America membership for the first time here- glad we could find something affordable and in a safe location.
Palm Bay, FL - New Years' Day 2004
After what felt like a long arduous trip (200 miles) and lots of traffic, especially in the Orlando area, we arrived at Breezy Palms RV Park. This is a small park but, as we are finding everywhere, people are very friendly. In fact, we're going to get a good upper body workout waiving at everyone whenever we either walk or drive through.
After a couple months of planning, we managed to pull off our surprise visit to our family in Tamarac, right outside of Ft. Lauderdale. We arrived about 30 minutes behind sister Yvette, her husband Pat, and my parents. It was a great holiday gathering, just a little delayed. Aunts Lorraine and Florence went through a lot of trouble with the food they fixed, the personalized Christmas stockings and decorations.
The rest of our stay here will be spent doing repairs and maintenance on my parents' house, with plenty of time for local sightseeing and a day trip to Tampa for the RV show.