Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Looking Down, Once Again.

When we left the desert SW about six months ago, we had a quiet celebration.  No, we weren’t happy to be leaving the area.  We were happy to begin walking upright again!  Oh the things we saw when we stopped constantly scanning the ground for precious gems and cool rocks.  Were all of these things there all along and we missed them?  Learning to be Rock-hounds was a wonderful experience but we pondered that perhaps the next time we go to the SW we’ll make a pact to only look up.

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The last few months have been glorious.  We had put our Rock-hounding stance aside and walked with our heads held high.

And then it happened.  We mentioned to our supervisor that we had been taking walks along the main road and he responded with, “Have you found any sea biscuits?”  Innocent enough, right?  WRONG!

Down went our heads, once again and off we went in search of fossilized ocean crustaceans.  Avoid all pictures of famous racehorses that float through your mind and think sea urchin without the spines. 

                                  Do you see it?
        How about now?  Here it is in all its pre-washed glory.
After the first wash, the original texture and details start to appear.

Well, we were pretty excited about learning how to walk upright but now we are pretty excited about finding bigger sea biscuits.  After all, Kyle (our Sup) says that it isn’t the quantity, it’s the size. 

Challenge, accepted!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Big Black Bear… reveal yourself!

Do you recall that story we wrote about the bear 1/3 the size of our van digging its way into our compound?

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                                     He had help!

Actually, we cannot confirm nor deny that fact.  What we can confirm is that
                                     this is not him.
                                      Neither is this.
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                                      Nor this.
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                              Definitely, not a bear.
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                                      Too small.
                                   sssssssssssss…  No.IMG_3888
                                     Naw.  Not him.
                           Possible but still unconfirmed.
Cute but too small for a bear.  Maybe we should just forget it and start looking at all of the beautiful scenery.IMG_3924
IMG_3920                             IMG_3878
                 M-I-C…        K-E-Y…       M…O…U…S…E
Yes, that really is a bear print.  Looks more like sasquatch to us.  Nicole wears a size 7, by the way.

We hit the trails for two days in the Polaris UTV (a.k.a. super bad golf cart like thingy).  In two days we covered about 70 miles.  At that rate, we are looking at about 100 miles per week.  Which means that by the time we leave we would have covered approximately 2000+ miles of trails.  Probably the most surprising part of the OHV trails here is that 90% of them are through some really dense fully shaded tree cover.  Today we had our ATV training.  We are now officially Forest Service Certified on the following:

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Oh… and about that bear.  The owner of the super big prints we found outside our campground has yet to show his face (not saying we’re upset about that).  But we did see our first black bear the other day.  As we rounded a curve he was just standing there in the trail staring at us.

Unfortunately, our camera was tucked safely away in the back of the vehicle.  Lesson learned on that one.  Sacrifice some road dust on the camera to get a shot of the bear!

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Yup.  It’s like that!  Hungry?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Settling in Ocala… for a few months anyway.

We woke up to a sweet surprise our second morning here.2012-10-16 Ocala (4)
One of the resident interns with the SCA (Student Conservation Association) had come by and left all of us a pumpkin.
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There is a Halloween gathering coming up.  Costumes and pumpkin carving are optional.  Perhaps we’ll try our hand at the carving part.  Meanwhile, it sits where he placed it and makes us smile each time we come home.
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The entrance to our 2012-2013 winter home.
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Two miles down a dirt road, from a paved road, in the middle of the forest.  If you’ve tried to call or text, try email!  We aren’t ignoring you.
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We are no longer ‘public’.  Yes, we feel special.
The OHV center used to be a seed orchard and testing ground for trees and shrubs.  Everything around is planted in perfect rows.  It’s really sort of funny.  The good news is our irregular personalities have not been affected.

We took a walk down one of the OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) trails one evening.2012-10-16 Ocala (11)
These trees grow randomly and wherever they want.  But if all that freedom goes to their head and they create a hazard on or near a trail then it is our job to chop ‘em up and get ‘em out.  There are 135 miles of well laid out and maintained OHV trails in our area (the North).  Another 70’ish (they keep adding) in the other area (the South).  By the time we have finished our five months we would have ridden on all of them many times over.

Two examples of the many up-sides to this volunteer position…
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The 800cc Polaris and…
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the quads.

Yin and Yang say that where there is an up there is a down.
The only identifiable downside…
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Right foot = preferred footwear.  Left foot = REQUIRED footwear.

Not only do we have to wear shoes, but they have to be boots.  If we are going to be using the chainsaws (which we are) they must be 8” up our leg from the heel.  Oh the sacrifices we make for the Forest Service! 

We received our Polaris OHV certification today and are cleared to hit the trails in it starting on Tuesday.  ATV training is next Friday and then we learn how to drag the hydraulic rakes and tires too.  Photos of all of the excitement are in the future. 

Meanwhile, enjoy these few from one of our hikes.

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2012-10-16 Ocala (33)It is as peaceful and quiet as it looks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Has it really been a whole year?

Hard to believe that as of five days ago it has been one year since we moved into our campervan, Annie, and hit the road full-time.  Seems like just yesterday we were getting our house ready to sell and going through the motions of purging all of our worldly possessions down to only what we could carry in our new home.  The other day we got a kick out of looking through the stuff we have had with us for the past year and realizing that we haven’t used a fair amount of it.  Amazing to think that we are happy living with even fewer possessions than what comfortably fits into our van.

This past year we did a big figure 8 across the U.S. traveling close to 9000 miles from GA to TN, KY, OH, PA, IN, IL, IA, SD, NE, KS, NM, AZ, CA, NV, UT, CO, WY and eventually landing back in GA for a bit via KS, MO, TN and AL.  We saw a lot of beautiful things as well as some really unique ones, made some wonderful new friends and spent time with some really interesting and diverse individuals. 

We’ve learned that boondocking on BLM and National Forest land and wandering along at a casual pace is a wonderful way of life but that volunteering for those and other organizations is equally as rewarding.  All in all, our first year on the road taught us that not only can we do this but that committing to this lifestyle was one of the best decisions we could have made.  We LOVE IT!

So, here we are on the cusp of our second year of full-time RV’ing / Vandwelling.  It is only fitting we suppose that our year has once again kicked off from Darlene’s folk’s house.  We are very excited to see what the ‘new year’ has in store for us and Annie is excited to be feeling a bit more organized this time around.  OK sure, maybe Annie has no idea but we sure are happy with it.

This is what she looked like last year when we left Georgia (Oct 2011).
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This is what she looked like this year when we left Georgia (Oct 2012).
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The renovations are an ongoing project but we’re getting there!

And along the lines of last year and this year…
           Last year Nicole learned how to drive a tractor. 
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                     This year, a riding lawn mower.


Last October we headed north to PA to visit Nicole’s Uncle, then to SD to change our residency and eventually wound up in the desert SW for the rest of the winter.  This year, we head south to Nicole’s home state of Florida.  We have taken a five month ‘winter’ volunteer position with the National Forest in Ocala.

Along the way to our new home we shunpiked the back roads and took in field after field of GA snow.
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It was a wonderfully familiar cotton pickin’ sight which eventually gave way to…
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                                classic FLORIDA!

We are excited about our latest volunteer position.  So much so that we arrived two weeks early!  Funny thing, everyone else is already here too.  Seems this is quite a favored job and folks return year after year so we were lucky to get our slot.

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Our slice of the pie.  At last, after a whole year of tent destroying winds, our screen porch comes out, goes up and we are truly happy campers.

We’ll take more photos later of the ‘compound’ or the ‘gated community’, as the regulars like to call it.  The ‘clubhouse’ (actually an old trailer on site) offers the volunteers a fridge, freezer, microwave, stove, oven, internet, tv, movies, puzzles, books, horseshoes, beanbag toss, ladder golf and a general place to hang out and gather.  There are showers and an ice maker in another on-site building and since electric was provided we decided to re-connect our shore power outlets and take advantage of the opportunity to run things like a fan or heater and to actually use our fridge as it was intended to be used.
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Got the outlets framed and all wired up before we left Georgia.

About that gated community statement…
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Chain link fence with three rows of barb wire on top with another fence of three rows of barb wire on the other side is just a little insurance against unwanted visitors.  And by ‘little’ insurance we mean that within only one hour of arriving we had been told by two different people of a bear about 1/3 the length of our van in size who had actually dug under the chain link fence to obtain some sauerkraut last year.  So, it appears that the really determined ones will still find a way in.  Now, that’s comforting!  Oh, and we saw our first snake on our first day.  Only about three feet long though.  So, just a baby. 

Well, we’ve got some paperwork to finish up so that we can start training on Friday.  Training for what, you ask?  Off Highway Vehicle trail maintenance crew / OHV Trail Rangers.  There are a good few weeks of classes of all sorts including ATV riding, use & safety, CPR, First Aid, Chainsaw Training, Use of trail rakes and tire drags, Bear Safety (HA!) and so on.  They’ve already started outfitting us with brand new, out of the box, with tags still on it, stuff, too!
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Violent Orange is the color of choice for the F.S. during hunting season.

Ah… speaking of pretty colors, check out this Confederate (yes, we’re in the south) Rose from Darlene’s folk’s house. 

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Ah, Rain. We’ve missed you.

Been traveling.  Took off from Vedauwoo and a few hours later we had already descended enough in altitude to remind us that we might ought to have attacked that AC problem while we were still at 8200 feet!  It was only a few days of 90 – 100 degree driving though and we muttered through with both ourselves and our van on big highs of finally being on the road again.  Boy did it feel good! 

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The Pawnee National Grasslands = Lots of Grass + Lots of Land.  Total Shocker!

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                 Darlene rockin’ her best Beiber hair!

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The heat of the days gave way to some really beautiful sunsets.

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And then there was this.  The Largest Ball of Sisal Twine.  It’s over 50 years old and still growing.  Each August a twine-a-thon is held.  So, if winding twine is your thing participate in the festival. Or call the town of Cawker, KS, any other time and they’ll set you up with a piece to add and you’ll be a part of the record. 

Truth be told, Cawker doesn’t offer much in the grand scheme of travel destinations.  But as RV’ers we found the town to be better than most due to this. 

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Free dump station and non-potable water located behind the fire station.

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And free potable water just across the field!  Given the 90+ degree temperatures we had been facing we soaked our hair and a couple of bandanas.  Emptied, filled and physically cooled down the town of Cawker found a special place in our hearts.

Just East of Cawker is Waconda Lake and Glen Elder State Park.  We had just cooled off though and wanted to take advantage of our creative form of AC so 2012-09-12 WY-GA (1)
we were off again.  More and more fields of ‘wide open’
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eventually gave way to tree lined drives as we crossed yet another border.

A good while back Nicole lived in the small town of Dyersburg, TN.  No longer a small town by any means it is still a launching point for visits to Reelfoot Lake.  3, 2, 1… blast off!  Launching point. Blast off. Get it?  Oh well, here’s some photos.

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Reelfoot Lake was formed during the Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812.  The quakes, felts as far away as Quebec, reportedly led the Mississippi River to flow backwards for 10 – 24 hours.
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Indian folklore has a bit more exciting of a tale.  Accordingly, the Great Spirit was very upset with Reelfoot (an Indian Chief named due to his deformed foot and the way he walked) who was determined to marry a Choctaw Indian Princess against her Father’s wishes.  During the wedding ceremony, the Great Chief stomped his foot so hard it caused earthquakes which caused the Mississippi River to flood its banks and fill the imprint.

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Reelfoot Lake is a nesting home for Bald Eagles.  We were a bit too early for them this year but the office has a few rehab birds of prey on property.

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That’s all for now.  We’re experiencing our first good rain in almost a year and do not want to miss it!  Heading outside to appreciate it.  Then back inside the van to dump the buckets.  Guess we should be getting to that tick list of van projects.

Ha, Ha.  Right.