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March 2014

Solo Summary

by Richie
Solo Summary

After a long journey I feel the need to look back and gain some perspective. “What did you like best?” is the question we always ask. So here’s some finishing thoughts on my solo excursion

 

A Long Ride

I live in a part of the country that requires a long haul to get to any seashore. It’s a couple of days drive at the minimum, longer if you want to reach the warmest beach regions. That was probably the loneliest part of my solo trip, the road yawning on and on without much to keep my mind occupied. And while the dog listens well, he’s not great on reciprocal conversation.

 

The Hammock

Camping at St. Andrews in Panama City Beach was the highlight of the trip. A hammock strung lagoon-side, watching the dolphins and sea birds, and the water lapping soothingly on the shoreline.  LAGOON

 

Gulf Islands

The stark landscape of Gulf Islands National Seashore is both terribly beautiful and desolately lonesome. It’s so far out there, with nothing else around, that you can feel puny and insignificant against this mighty backdrop of sea and sand. You need a well-entrenched sense of self to maintain equilibrium and not feel swallowed up by the isolated setting.

 ALONE

 

Changeable Weather

Like anywhere in late winter, the weather in Florida’s Panhandle was ever variable. I wore a parka and then a bathing suit – all in the same week. Rain and chilly winds came and went, and I spent a couple of days hunkered down in the motorhome checking weather apps for the promise of a sunny day.

TAT

Rainy day tatting

 

Make Any Friends?

Not really. I’m kind of guarded with strangers, especially when traveling alone. This is a habit ingrained from 30 years on the road as a consultant where I just don’t engage a lot with outsiders. And while other campers were friendly enough, our conversations tended to be limited to Where ya from? and How do you like your trailer/motorhome/tent?

 

Best Meal

Giant Gulf shrimp, fresh caught and boiled up with some local spices.

 SHRIMP

 

Biggest Goof

Cost me $75 to learn how to properly reset a breaker switch. Hah – I know now! breaker

 

Do It Again?

Absolutely! But I will pick a better month when the weather is more cooperative. And perhaps a state or two closer to home.

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Alabama’s Best Folk Artist

by Richie
Alabama’s Best Folk Artist

Birmingham, Al
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Artist Joe Minter

Artist Joe Minter

I met Alabama’s most unique folk artist today. Joe Minter greeted me at his Birmingham home wearing a decorated hard hat and an elaborate necklace of chains and padlocks.

Joe is a junk sculpture artist, and has spent the last 20 years building the African Village in his backyard. It’s a testament to African American struggles, and divinely inspired as his life’s work.

Mr. Minter lives on a quiet side street, next to a large segregated cemetery with a 200 year history. At first glance his place looks like a jumbled junk yard. But Joe is quick to point out the monuments    the tragedy section, the reformation section, the hope section.

Minter 1

As you pick your way along the maze-like paths you begin to comprehend the collections and artistry. There are grottos and crèches, huts and gazebos, sculptures and paintings. And endless inspirational messages and psalms painted on surfaces or constructed of found objects.

I arrived early in the morning, and the neighbors were quick to point me towards Joe’s house and even ring his bell for me. Joe and his wife live on donations, and I gladly bought his book and a tee shirt in exchange for a look around.

Minter 2

The sculpture garden evoked a myriad of unexpected emotions. I felt sadness and hope, despair and gladness, sinned and redeemed – all at the same time. It was a marvel to wander and wonder at this artist’s massive productivity, which Joe claims all started with a couple of abandoned cars on the property when he purchased the home. Then he received his calling to expand and expound.

Should you find yourself in Birmingham, stop by and see the African Village on Nassau Street. It will be worth the stop.

 

Tonight I am working my way toward home. It’s been a great winter break. Loved Florida’s Emerald Coast, had a splendid time camping in the motorhome. And the dog may forgive me once I get him home.

 DASH CAM

 

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Oak Mountain State Park

by Richie
Oak Mountain State Park

 

Pelham, Alabama
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DSCN4133

Yesterday I was considering an excursion to Dauphin Island, which would have involved a ferry ride with the RV. But Florida has turned cold and inhospitable, so I have pointed the coach toward home. And today I’m driving through Alabama again.

There are limited campgrounds along the Alabama I-65 corridor, and very few would offer a comfortable overnight stay by myself. Even with all my careful reviews and cross-references, I still ended up in the Deliverance Swamp Camp last week. 

So I targeted a swell-looking campground in Clanton, Alabama which was a good day’s drive from Pensacola. Pulled off the exit, had a late lunch at Durbin Farms Market, and went looking for the campground. And looked, and looked, and looked. Couldn’t find the blessed place. All the GPS systems failed me – they couldn’t locate it either. 

So back on the interstate I reluctantly went, desolately thinking I’d have to drive another 2-3 hours further north to Decatur where I camped last week.  

Half an hour later I stopped for gas at a random exit and spotted a sign for Oak Mountain State Park – only 2 miles away! I checked my Park App, and it turns out this is Alabama’s largest state park, with a golf course, equestrian park, big lake, and year-round campground. Sweet! 

So I’m settled in for the night, spared from driving after dark and camping in unsavory places. Special thanks goes out for guiding me here!

DASH CAM

 

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Fort Pickens

by Richie
Fort Pickens

Camped at:
Gulf Islands National Seashore
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cannon

A sandy trail from the campground winds through pine brackens and across a backwater marsh. It’s an easy 20 minute walk to Fort Pickens historical site. The ruins of this old army fort are open for visitors, and I had a good stroll around today.

Fort Pickens was one of several barrier island forts built in 1829 for defense of New Orleans, should the British ever come a’knocking again. It was constructed of umpteen million bricks, locally made, and was built by slave labor under direction of the army. The walls are 4 feet thick with brick and are formed in a series of archways. Why bother with arches, you might ask? Because only an arched structure could carry the weight of the huge cannons on top.

The interior of the fort is a series of chambers and underground magazine vaults where black powder was stored. At one point a fire roared through the fort, ignited the black powder, and detonated the west wing into dust. Shards of brick from the explosion were found three miles away on the other side of Pensacola Bay. That’s a big boom!

fort

Other than the magazine exploding, the only action Fort Pickens ever saw was during the Civil War, thwarting the Confederates from taking possession of this area.

At the turn of the century, in 1898, the fort was updated to accommodate “modern” artillery.  A disappearing gun lobbed 1000 lb. projectiles up to 8 miles away. Then the carriage would drop down and the gun would disappear behind the fort walls to prevent enemies from targeting a retaliation. Colossal iron fittings for this gargantuan contraption are still affixed to the walls.

 It was a good tour and a pleasant walk. On the way back to camp I took a side trail and saw several osprey nests in tall pines, the birds very active feeding chicks. Later in the afternoon as I soaked up one more day at the beach, the same ospreys were hunting the Gulf waters and carrying back long silver fish to their nests on the bay side.

Tomorrow will be stormy and I intend to hover indoors and wait for the RV repairman. Hopefully he can get my electrical hookup working and I’ll be able to enjoy a hot shower again!

 CAMP CAM

 

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Gulf Islands National Seashore

by Richie
Gulf Islands National Seashore

Camped at:
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Florida
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Gulf Islands national seashore

I came to Florida looking for sun and surf, and by happy accident found possibly the most beautiful beach in the Panhandle – Gulf Islands. This is a National Park, unspoiled and pristine, with snow-white sand and emerald green waters. A lovely park to drive through, if nothing else.

Gulf Islands is a long, finger-thin peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Pensacola Bay on the other. You could walk from one body of water to the other in about 10 minutes.

gulf beach

I spent a little time on the beach today. But much of the afternoon was devoted to fretting over the coach’s electrical system. Seems I have a bad circuit breaker and it’s a kinda crucial – runs the entire 30 amp system in the motorhome. Nothing I can fiddle-fix by myself, although I tried gamely for a few hours.

I’ve been trying to set up an appointment with a mobile RV repairman and not get too distraught over equipment failures. Meanwhile, I’m powered up via the big DC coach batteries, which should give me plenty of juice for a few days.

 

DASH CAM –

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