Sunday, January 26, 2003


And five new pounds!

Saturday, January 25, 2003


And nineteen new birds.



The Bounder has landed. We’re home.

We meant to do a lot of things we didn’t get to. We meant to read a few books. There wasn’t time. We meant to clean out and rearrange a couple cabinets. No time. We were going to explore more of the gulf coast west of the central panhandle. I was going to get a haircut. We were …… I’ve got a lot to say about diet. Not diet as in losing weight, but diet as in what works and makes sense as a way to eat. We’ve made serious progress on the food front. Didn’t get to it. I have a rant about prescriptions drugs. And blood pressure. …… I was going to tell you about the lady with the trash and the black vulture.... Next trip I guess.

No trouble with the holding tanks last night. The water system works just fine this morning.

This tow setup works so much better since I switched over to the portable jumper battery for the 12 volt outlet. The brakes are always there to help. The turn signals and brake lights always work. Now if I can just remember this setup for the next trip….

On the drive out we didn’t see any harrier hawks. This drive back, they’re all over like they should be. Good to see.

I explored Stratton Colorado last night. I went for a run and explored the whole town. I ran from the freeway to the railroad tracks. It got pretty rural after that. I ran through downtown. I ran through residential. It was Friday night. My observation is: there are a lot of bored teenagers in Stratton Colorado on a Friday night. Zooming around in cars and pickup trucks. Wearing letter jackets. Pretty much going in circles.

Driving home on the last day of a trip, the mind tends to wander off and reflect on the time spent and lessons learned. My mind did that. And I find I’ve been thinking a lot about God. Over the course of this trip, I’ve come to realize that people in the south are a lot closer to God than we are in other parts of the country. I know this because God talks to them. Not just talks, but God takes out billboards. All along the interstates and highways are billboards from God. God has a lot to say to the people of the south. There are a lot of suggestions about how we should spend our time, what we should and should not do, and where we should or shouldn’t do it. I’m not sure any of it was meant for me. That part was not really clear, but since God didn’t put up any of those billboards in my neighborhood, I might be exempt.

At first, I thought it might be a trick. I thought these billboard might have been put up by someone who claims to know what God wants us to do and not do, and is just telling us for God. But no. That is clearly not the case. I’m a careful observer, so I read these billboards fully as they went past. The proof is right there in the bottom right corner. A signature. That’s right, a signature, and it’s not the signature of an individual or a group, they are all signed, “God”.

I didn’t see any billboards from God in Eastern Colorado. I did see one that said “think moisture”, but it wasn’t signed by anyone.

One hundred fifty miles for the day. 5,200 for the trip. The dog was good. The cat shedded.

Lots of adventures. A great trip. We’re home. Back to the land of reality and racquetball.


From: Steve Taylor []
Sent: Saturday, January 25, 2003 5:38 PM
To: Bill Taylor (E-mail); David Taylor (E-mail); Tom Taylor (E-mail)
Subject: trip27


There are a lot of things I don’t know. Here’s one of them. Wait! Here is something I do know first. The Bounder has two furnaces. At least one of them blows heat into the storage compartments below, to keep them warm while it’s keeping the inside of the motorhome warm. OK. Here is the part I don’t know. Or didn’t know before last night. I didn’t know whether both furnaces heat the storage compartments and holding tanks, or just one did. I guessed one heater was enough. I was wrong. We carry a finite amount of propane. When we’re plugged in, we have an unlimited amount of electricity. I chose to let the electric heater take care of the front of the motorhome last night, and turned the front furnace way down. I set the rear furnace to keep the bedroom and compartments warm. The inside of the motorhome stayed just like I wanted. The water pipes in the cabinets underneath froze.

We turned off the electric heater. We turned up the furnaces. We were still frozen. We waited. We turned on the hot water heater. It was still ten degrees outside. Nothing helped. We left the furnaces turned up, and drove off down the road, north into temperatures continuing in the teens. We turned left on Interstate 25, and drove across a couple temperature gradients. At two o’clock in the afternoon and fifty degrees outside, we got water. Finally, everything thawed. It’s going to be ten degrees again tonight. We’ll turn the electric heater off and leave both furnaces on. No way we could have any more trouble, given all we know now.

When you drive a car, or a small motorhome, it doesn’t matter where you stop for gas. With a larger motorhome, it gets more difficult to make everything line up properly at the gas pump. When you have a larger motorhome, and are towing, it gets critical. You can’t afford to get into a situation where you have to back up to get out. The towing mechanism is designed to pull. It is not designed to back up. So what is the logical next step? You go to truck stops. Right? Bigger things go to bigger places. It’s odd, though. We go to truck stops to get more room, and we don’t necessarily get more room. At truck stops, there are all these diesel pumps with all these trucks lined up, but they’re only for diesel trucks. There are gas islands, but they tend to look a lot like traditional gas stations. The pumps can be aligned so the patrons drive parallel to the convenience store, or they can be lined up perpendicular to the store, so a car can make the turn to get out, but anything larger is stuck. We don’t know why, but it seems like truck stops tend to have the perpendicular pump alignment least favorable to us. Flying J truck stops have a separate island for RVs to fill up, but we often find them cluttered up with RVs, diesel pickup trucks, and boats. And it’s not pay-at-the-pump at the RV island. We find that even though we’re driving something the size of a truck, we’re better off cruising gas stations looking for the proper pump alignment rather than just stopping at a place designed for trucks.

When we’re hooked up, and we’re in a dry climate, we tend to run a humidifier at night. It doesn’t take much to change this small dry space into something more humid. When we get up the next morning, the windows tend to be pretty foggy. We have to let the defroster run for awhile before we can see. When it’s really cold out, we have wonderful ice patterns all over the window insides. No problem. We start the motor and let the defroster run before we drive. No problem until we got to the toll booth for the Kansas Turnpike. I rolled up, unlatched the slide window next to me, and found it frozen shut. I struggled with it briefly, then Judy threw Annie off her lap, went out the door, around to the toll booth, and picked up the ticket. That took care of it. At least until we had to hand over the ticket and pay our toll at the other end. So down the toll road we went, generator running, electric hairdryer right behind my head, Judy thawing out the window frame so we would be able to get off the toll road when it was time.

Russell Kansas. Post rock capitol of Kansas. Do we all know what post rocks are? Judy and I didn’t before we started driving through Kansas. There are miles and miles and miles of fence posts here made out of stone. They must just pop out of the quarry the right size and shape for barbed wire fence posts. They must have been more economical than wood posts, nice tall straight trees being in short supply here. Still, it is hard for me to imagine the weight of a wagonload of fence posts made out of stone. Or a distribution system that would economically get those posts very far from their origin.

Know how, every time you’re driving the freeway on a trip, you run into that one car that doesn’t want to drive faster than you, it just wants to drive in front of you? You’re on cruise control and you catch them, so you pass them. Next thing you know, they’re passing you back. Inevitably, continuing at the same speed, you catch and pass them again and again. Somewhere, in a long trip, it always happens. Except this trip. Not once have we leapfrogged with a car or truck.

Stopped at a private park we’ve been to before in Stratton Colorado. We’re three hours from home. It should be another cold one tonight.

Four hundred miles plus.

Tomorrow. Home.


From: Steve Taylor []
Sent: Saturday, January 25, 2003 5:23 PM
To: Becky Alexander (E-mail); Christieaitken@Hotmail.Com (E-mail); Matthew Taylor (E-mail)
Subject: trip26


Good night. Great park. Up and off early as usual.

Judy was out walking Annie last night. Pitch dark forest. No moon yet. Guess who bounds out the darkness, startles Judy, and disappears again. Darned cat! Neither one of us knew Rags was outside. Ten minutes of messing around in the dark, and he was restored to captivity. Rags of the jungle.

I have another question. Is it possible to have bumpy air even if it’s not windy? We’re used to wind buffeting, but this morning, we were driving down the highway in Texas, doing a lot of steering because of said buffeting, when we drove past a flag and noticed it was hanging limp. All the tree branches were still, all the grass alongside the road was still. There was just no wind, except it felt like I was driving in very puffy wind. Lots of steering required. The road surface was good, so it wasn’t that. Can air just be bumpy?

Today, a tow car solution. This is one of those days that the battery in the tow car died within the first couple hours. So we’re driving along pulling a dead toad. The brake buddy can’t help, it can’t get any power. Inspiration struck. Not only that, but it missed Judy and hit me! The portable jumper battery! We’ve been using it to start the car, then taking it back into the motorhome to recharge. Then we let the car run to recharge that battery for awhile. Then the car battery drains dead again.

Life can be simpler. Forget the car battery. Let it just stay dead. I took the portable jumper battery out, placed it between the car front seats, and plugged the brake buddy into it. It worked all day. The brake buddy was always there every time I stopped. Tonight I brought the portable battery back into the motorhome to recharge overnight. We’ll have functioning tow car brakes the rest of the way home.

We have stopped for fuel in Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma since we left Florida. We gas up once a day, about once per state while we’re on the move. Every gas stop in Florida involved disabled pump handles so the pump wouldn’t stay on unless you were right there holding it. Every gas stop since, has not had a single pump handle disabled. Whatever the explanation is, it only applies to Florida.

And something else. We motorhome drivers know something the rest of you may not. You may never have had occasion to put $50 or more in your tank at one fueling. You pay at the pump. You put the gas in the tank. But the pumps are programmed to stop at $50. That’s about 35 gallons of gas. You can have Judy go inside and get them to override, but that can be complicated. The simpler solution is to just shut the pump off, replace the handle, and start over with the credit card. Two passes always takes care of it for me. So I wonder. What did that store just accomplish with its $50 limit? Was I safer? Was it at less risk for fraud or theft? Somebody knows. Anybody think the store employees know?

Mystery clunk. We solved a motorhome mystery. Actually, we solved it our last January trip, but just didn’t get to it in our reports. We were driving along the highway in Texas, north south road, with a wind from the northwest, listing slightly to starboard. We had given the antenna an extra crank to eliminate the thumping from the roof. We had put a basket of potatoes on the dinette table to eliminate that creaking noise. We had closed all the drawers and doors that had popped open. The step was up. Everything was screwed down tight, but there was still one more noise. An irregular clacking noise that was coming from off on the right somewhere, but we couldn’t tell exactly where. We chased and chased that noise, and finally figured it out. The last unidentified motorhome noise.

You know that hanging flap of metal on the outside by where the door opens? Do you know what it is for? Do you know what it is called? You might think it is for holding the door open when you don’t want the door to slam closed in the wind, but that’s not it, although that may be an incidental secondary use. That flap of metal is called a clapper. It’s primary function is to slap irregularly on the outside of the motorhome with the proper resonance so you will think that noise coming from the wall of the motorhome is actually coming from inside the motorhome.

No State Park tonight. We stopped at a new private park alongside the highway, just inside Kansas for the night. I think last year, this park was a wheat field. Everything around it is still a wheat field. It was cold and clear all day. Tonight it is about ten degrees outside. It was a brief run tonight. To satisfy curiosity, we’ve been moving one of the temperature sensors around to different outside compartments to see if they stay warm in really cold weather. It’s sixty degrees on top of the holding tanks. It’s forty-five degrees inside the coldest compartment. Looks like everything is OK for the night.

Four hundred miles plus.

Tomorrow. Burlington Colorado. Mountain Standard Time.

Thursday, January 23, 2003



Up and gone before dawn. Louisiana, Texas, then Oklahoma. OK. Let’s make that Louisiana and Texas. We got to counting days and where we would end up each night. Our schedule had us going right through Dallas at five o’clock rush hour on a weekday. Then we had a five o’clock arrival from the east side of Denver on a Friday afternoon, when we live on the west side. Seems like we make that happen every trip. No matter how far away we start from, we end up going through Denver at rush hour to finish the trip home. From two and a half thousand miles away, we can drive home for a full week, and hit Denver five o’clock. Amazing isn’t it? Well, not this time. No way. We’re too smart for that to happen again. We saw it coming from three days away. We stopped early, before Dallas. We still have enough distance remaining to make another early morning start and not get to Dallas until after rush hour. We won’t get home on Friday evening, either. We put ourselves a half-day back to make the passage through Dallas and Denver better. That only leaves Oklahoma City, and after all, …… how bad could that be?

We left Baton Rouge right at rush hour. But hey, it’s only Baton Rouge. We turned left to the freeway onramp, and were met with two lanes of traffic, completely stopped. Just before these two lanes joined the interstate, they merged. So here we were, creeping our way forward, wondering how many people were going to have to get hurt before we got our fifty-foot rig, towcar included, merged into the other lane of traffic. Well, we sure do like the way people drive in Baton Rouge. A car in the next lane, actually a little ahead of us, recognized the situation and backed all the way off until there was an effortless merge for us. Right after blinking a “thank you”, it was time to line up the next merge into the right lane of traffic. I looked in my mirror and saw a white van had dropped way back in anticipation of the event, and again, it was effortless. After that, every lane change to stay on the freeway, or to get off the freeway, as appropriate, was only met with complete cooperation. My only concern is that I might have imposed significant wear on the headlight switch, blinking it on and off for “thank you”, like trucks do.

I’m remembering something about the brake buddy that I think is funny. I found the world’s greatest understatement. To set up the brake buddy, you position it in front of the driver’s seat, and attach the arm to the brake pedal of the car. You plug the box into the cigarette lighter for power, and it fills a compressor. Now it is ready to use. A mercury switch inside tells it when you’re decelerating and it’s time to help. When it is time to help, the arm attached to the brake pedal is thrust forward by compressed air. The compressed air tank is refilled by a small compressor. Normally, with the engine running, there is a vacuum assist, and you don’t have to press very hard on the brake pedal. But this system is designed to operate on a car that is not running, and it mashes the brake pedal pretty hard. Probably a lot harder than you can press on the pedal with your foot. If you pressed on the brake pedal like that while the engine was running, and there was vacuum assist, you would just lock up the brakes completely.

Here is the problem. There is a vacuum reservoir. Even after you shut the car off, there will still be a vacuum assist. Here is the solution. Every time you hook up the brake buddy, you have to remember to press the “test” button several times after you shut off the engine. By doing that, you will bleed the vacuum reservoir, and the brakes can just operate manually after that. There is a warning in the operator’s manual. It says: “remember to push the test button several times after the unit is in place, or excessive tire wear may result.” Excessive tire wear? I had to think about that a little. What do the brakes have to do with tire wear? Then I realized, that if you didn’t bleed the reservoir, you could drive off down the road, not realizing that the first time the brake buddy kicked in, it would get full vacuum assist, and you could end up with a tow car behind you, at about sixty miles an hour, four wheels locked up, howling like a dog. There’s the understatement. Excessive tire wear may result.

The route is easy. Drive west on interstate 10. Turn north on interstate 46. Drive through Natchitoches, not to be confused with Nacogdoches. That’s in Texas.

Earlier, we described how expensive it was in the Keys. Even the State Parks cost twenty five dollars a night. Not all State Parks in Florida are expensive, though. Up in the Panhandle, the island state park was only fourteen dollars a night. Seems like it is just the ones in the Keys that are expensive.

Now we’re back in Texas. Know how each state has it’s own theme for rest stops? They put out picnic tables and shelters. In New Mexico, the shelters have to also serve as wind screens. In East Texas, each shelter is shaped like an oil derrick.

We’re back to the pine forests. They have a pine tree here that has really long needles. In Colorado, the pine tree with the longest needles is the Ponderosa Pine. They’re not nearly as long as the needles on this tree in Texas. I like the name. It’s called the Long Leaf Pine.

How expressive can a dog’s face be? Judy and I were sharing some Oreo cookies while we drove. Annie was watching. Pretending she wasn’t watching. Judy asked if she wanted a cookie and she shifted her gaze directly to the Oreos. Seeing that Judy was going to cave in and give the dog a bite of a cookie, I acted swiftly. I grabbed a cookie and gave Annie the whole thing before Judy could do anything. That’s when the expression struck. Not the expression of disbelief on Judy’s face that I had made a preemptive cookie strike. The expression on Annie’s face when she suddenly found an entire Oreo cookie in her mouth. Has anyone seen the movie “Star Man”? There is a scene in which Beau Bridges, as a space alien, has his first bite of apple pie. His mouth falls partly open, the pie still in it. His whole face goes slack with an expression of disbelief. He almost drools. It tastes so good. That was it. That was the expression. She didn’t bite down. She just sat there, cookie in her mouth, expression of disbelief on her face, almost drooling. Then she looked around for a place to go savor it, and we didn’t see her again for an hour. She just jumped down from the dash, Oreo intact, and went off to enjoy it quietly.

We stopped for the night at Tyler State Park, just off interstate 20. We have a wonderful winter woodland campground all to ourselves. Lakeside site. It’s cold and cloudy. No reason for anyone to be here. That leaves the entire park just for us.

Rags got a nice long walk tonight.

Four hundred miles. Driving.

Tomorrow. Oklahoma City.



We left. This morning was Pelicans in the Mist. Sea fog, swamp fog, then forest fog. The drive from St James Island to Apalachicola was wonderful.

The plan was to stop and visit with Shaffer in Ft Walton Beach. Problem is, we stalled so long with the birds, manatees, and pelicans, in lower Florida, we’re pretty much out of time. That and the fact that when we called from Ft Walton Beach, he and Jo answered from Panama City, an hour back to the east. We visited on the phone and drove on. We’re down to making miles. We’re not making miles like the Shaffers do. They drive this straight through in their motorhome. Come to think of it, why do they need a motorhome at all?

We drove dark to dark. We covered a fair amount of miles, but there were a lot of stops. Not stops to goof off, stops to do stuff. We stopped for gas and moved on. We stopped for lunch and to send a few emails. We stopped to talk to the office. We stopped for propane. We stopped after a few more miles and turned the propane back on. We stopped at five minutes after five at our favorite Louisiana yard statuary place that closes at five o’clock. Couldn’t see what we wanted through the fence anyway. We stopped for dinner in a restaurant, but it was too smoky. We stopped for the night and Judy made dinner. We stopped a lot.

Did I already rant about Florida being a tobacco state? Everywhere you go, seems like everyone is smoking. Either that, or it’s still 1950 here. Clearly, this is not Boulder. The non-smoking consciousness has had no impact here whatsoever. Well it’s not just in Florida. It’s everywhere down south. Go into a restaurant and ask for the nonsmoking section and you’re likely to get that Deliverance stare.

Found a shortcoming for the Brake Buddy. It is not good for use with tow cars that have sissy batteries, or gremlins in their electrical systems. Cars like, say, a 1999 Ford Windstar. The Brake Buddy plugs into the cigarette lighter of the car, and draws current to replenish the compressor when it brakes. So you have the ignition key on, the brake lights and turn signals flashing as appropriate, and the compressor recharging after it mashes on the brake pedal (at appropriate times). The weenie battery in the Windstar fades by the second or third day, the entire electrical system conks out, and after that, you’re towing a dead toad.

More than once, on other trips, we’ve ended up disconnecting, turning the motorhome around, and jumping the battery from the motorhome to the Windstar. That doesn’t feel quite right, turning the mother ship around to come back and fire up the dinghy. So we bought a Delco rechargeable jumper battery. It plugs into 120 volt, or 12 volt in the motorhome to recharge. When you need it, it delivers lots of amps for a quick start. So once a day, I’m out back, jumpstarting the dinghy, so everything will work right, at least for a while.

I think I like the sound of brother Bill’s system better. The compressor resides on the motorhome with his setup. All it sends to the car is compressed air. The compressed air ties into the hydraulics for his tow-car brakes. Everything is under the hood or under the motorhome.

Capitalism. Free enterprise. The American way. The billboards along the southern interstates are not our finest hour. There are, apparently, a lot of casinos along this southern corridor, and they are all, apparently, giving away free money.

We’re getting closer to home. We’re out of the Eastern Time Zone. It was fun being there for awhile. We’re only one hour away now, on Central Time.

I was surprised by a road sign today. It said turn on headlights when it’s raining. How could Florida take a chance like that? Just, turn on your headlights? Then I realized we were in Alabama, not Florida. I guess Alabama dares to live life on the edge.

Four hundred fifty miles. Baton Rouge. Leaving. Driving. Stopping. Driving. Stopping. Driving. No new birds. No drugs. No drooling.

Tomorrow. Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003


Monday. Getaway day. Time to leave for home…

Tomorrow. We need to spend a little more time here. Honest. We’ll start for home tomorrow. Today we started with breakfast, a three hour birding walk, lunch, a walk through the dunes and down the beach, some secluded sunbathing, a barefoot run in the sand, a snack, a walk with the dog between the alligator ponds, and now it’s dark and time for dinner already. We reconfigured the car/motorhome setup so we’re all hooked up ready to go at first light tomorrow, even though we’re in a back-in site. Usually, in a back-in site, you disconnect the car, back the motorhome in, and park the car in front. Then you can come and go in the car as much as you want without disturbing the motorhome setup. We reversed that today so we wouldn’t have to mess around with hooking up the car while it’s cold and dark.

I have scored shirts twice on this trip; both times by buying things for Judy. Once while at Turtle Kraals Restaurant in Key West, and once while out on the boat. Both times, Judy got chilled, and needed something to cover up with. Both times, they were out of small sweatshirts, or medium T-shirts. So each time, we picked out shirts in my size, in colors I like, and let Judy wear my shirts then to be comfortable.

When we look up campgrounds in the Woodall’s book, they often show length limits. In the Florida State Parks guide, they show length limits. The length limit for this park is thirty feet. The Bounder is thirty-five feet. No problem. We called ahead to the campground, they said “Sure. We have some big spaces left.” No problem. Now we’re in the park. There are lots of sites large enough to accommodate this length. There are lots of motorhomes in this campground our size and larger. We can’t figure out what the length limit means.

It was cold on the way to Florida. Then we got warm. Then we hit a cold snap. When it gets cold outside, the Bounder feels a little drafty. The heater vents only come halfway out into the living room, so the whole front half is a little cold. Now that the trip is almost over, we remembered the electric heater. It’s a nice little heater with a built in thermostat, so you can find the right setting, then it just turns on and off as necessary. It has a shut-off switch on the bottom, so if someone knocks it over, it turns off. It’s perfect for State Parks, like this, where we have electrical hookups. We just put the heater up front and plug it in. It keeps the front half warm and comfortable in the evenings. Today, we’re way out at one end of a barrier island, with a speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour. We’re a long slow way from any services. We’re running low on propane. So last night, we set both furnaces nice and low, set the electric heater in the front room, and went to sleep. The sleeping temperature was perfect and I never heard either furnace come on during the night. Today, we have the same small amount of propane left that we did yesterday. We’ll make it through tonight just fine. Tomorrow, we’ll be on the road again, and can stop along the way for propane.

This has been a good place for us to bird. It has been a good place for rags to bird too. We come back from our birding walks, and Rags is right there in the window. Studying. While we are identifying birds by genus and species, based on identifying field marks, I suspect Rags uses a different system to categorize. I can just see that little brain sorting them all out by flavor.

The mysterious RV sleeping sickness never struck this trip. We’ve had a few ten-hour nights, but mostly, it’s been less than that; more like eight hours or so. We were never struck by a twelve or thirteen hour night. I guess we’ve defeated the dreaded sleep monster.

We’re sitting here listening to catbirds all around us. They’re a gray bird with a black racing stripe on the top of their heads. They have a rufous patch right under the base of their tail. In fact, I think we got mooned by one today. Anyway, there is a reason why they are called catbirds. Picture a little tiny kitten. Flat face. Staggering and stumbling when it walks. It looks at you and meows. That’s it. That’s exactly the sound a catbird makes. Sitting here, surrounded by meowing tiny kittens. It’s enough to make a person smile.

No miles. Birding. Walking. Beaching. Sunbathing. Beach running. No new birds.

Tomorrow. We actually leave.



This campground is a really birdy place. Walked it. Drove the scenic loop. Figured out most of the birds. Lots of woodpeckers, robins, catbirds, mocking birds, tons and tons of bluebirds, warblers, pine siskins, a couple wrens, and a hermit thrush. This is an opportunity to see a red cockaded woodpecker, but they’ve left their roost trees for the day and won’t be back until dusk. We won’t stick around for that. We’ll save them for another trip. We’re on our way back to the beach. Headed for St George Island State Park. It’s on a Florida barrier island, like Padre Island in Texas.

Saw that Florida sign about windshield wipers in the rain again. In all fairness, I should tell you the entire sign. They wanted to say something, and it would sound too stupid to just say just that one thing, so they had to expand the message. They wanted to remind you to turn on your headlights when it is raining, but can you imagine the lawsuits if they had just said that? All those people driving around in the rain, switching from high beams to low beams and still can’t see a thing? So they wrote the sign, “turn on headlights and wipers when it’s raining.” I can’t blame them.

Here’s a question for you: Let’s say you’re sitting in the car by yourself, waiting for Judy to check us in to a State Park. There are birds all around, so your get out the binoculars to identify a few while you wait. You can even see birds in the outside rearview mirror. So here is the question: when you focus the binoculars on the birds in the mirror, are you focusing real close, on the image in the mirror, or are you focusing distant, the distance from you to the mirror, then back to the birds?

Can you believe I’ve gone this long without even mentioning racquetball? I’m just demonstrating I can go this entire trip without thinking about, or talking about racquetball. My last session with Woody, the racquetball coach, was on December 19th. After an hour and a half or so, we always finish up with a game to eleven to conclude the lesson. That last game wasn’t going really well for me. I was trailing six to two when I thought to stop the game and ask if I had mentioned that it was my birthday that very day. Turns out, I hadn’t said anything before, and I got an enthusiastic “Happy Birthday” in response. Then something even better happened. Play resumed, I made a miracle comeback, and won that game. How amazing is that?

Got to the island state park and got checked in. Being in this campground is like being in a giant bird cage. Everywhere you look, there are birds flying around. Not a lot of variety. They’re mostly mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, and yellow-rumped warblers, but it’s fun to be in the middle of so many.

Good run. Not a power run, but I got to run on the beach. Low tide. Hard sand to run on. The shoes came off. I love to run on the beach.

Fifty miles. Florida Panhandle. Birding. Driving. Birding again. Beach running. One new bird. No drugs.

We’re still a long way from Denver. Tomorrow: time to leave and head for home.



Travel day. Got up cold and early, packed up, and headed over to the Manatee Sanctuary to check it out before we left. Spent a couple hours there. It was good. Manatees from above. Manatees from below. Beautiful grounds. Trails. Birds. Two kinds of woodpeckers, and wood ducks. Wood ducks! Paddling right out in the open where we could see them well. Remember how I described the painted bunting as looking like it was painted by a kindergartner? Wood ducks look like they were painted by McKee. Elegant. Exotic.

Stopped for fuel. I have yet to stop at a gas station in Florida that had not disabled the handle clickers that let you start the gas flowing, then walk away. What is up with Florida? We have asked why this is several times, and we have gotten several rather elaborate answers, none of which make any sense to us at all. What they have done, is guarantee that you have to stand there with your hand on the handle, for an extended period with a motorhome, with your face right over the fumes. We stopped for a quick sixty gallons today. I did glance around to make sure there were no police watching and prop the handle open with the gas cap today. Can’t always get that to work, but it worked nicely today.

Highway 19 got really nice today. It’s the kind of highway back road you want to travel. Good road. No traffic. Widely spaced towns. You slow down to pass through the town and look around, then right back up to sixty-five. Some towns don’t even have a single traffic light. Turned off that highway onto Highway 98 to go west through the Panhandle. Same thing so far. I know that will change though. We have been on this highway before between Pensacola and Panama City. I recall a lot of stop and go there.

I had the greatest run today. The first ten or fifteen minutes were pretty slow and normal. But then the energy kicked in. I hit that zone where the pace picks up, the energy picks up, and it gets effortless. I feel like I could just run like that forever. I had a power run. It was brief, but it was there.

Passed an antique store called the Plunder House. Now, how good can you feel about buying something from the Plunder House? How do you suppose they get their stuff? I have the same problem with a particular motorhome. OK. There have been a lot of motorhomes. And they all need names. Ours is a Bounder. We had a Jamboree. We had an El Dorado. Maybe we’re running out of names for motorhomes. But how much did the public relations wizard make for coming up with the name “Intruder”? I can see driving a Warrior, or an Explorer, but who would want to drive an Intruder? “Look out everybody! I know you don’t want me here, but here I come anyway. I’m the Intruder!”

Annie found a friend tonight. She and Twitcher, a rat terrier kind of dog, ran each other in circles until they couldn’t run anymore. We have a very tired dirty dog with us tonight. Rags is still clean. He had to watch from the window.

Bumper sticker of the day: “I had sex, unprotected, with the IRS.”

Stopped for the night at Ochlockonee River State Park. Pine flatwood forest.

Two hundred mile day. Florida Panhandle now. Birding. Manateeing. Ducking. Cat drugging. Driving. No new birds. Manatees. Dead opossom. Grazing armadillo. Sixteen wood ducks. Sixteen!

Tomorrow. St George Island State Park.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003



The Manatee Assault. Today. The day we board a Marine Assault Craft: an outboard powered inflatable, to prowl the river for manatees. It dawned cold and windy. We were not deterred. The boat was primitive. We put on wetsuits, layers of fleece, and still froze our asses off in the wind on the ride over. We persevered. We reached the drop zone. We dropped anchor, donned snorkel gear, and dropped over the side. We located the savage beasts and lay in wait on the surface. When the manatees came up to us, we stared danger in the face and did not blink. We conquered the wild manatee.

Actually, we rubbed their bellies and giggled. Judy had a three-foot calf with a face the size of Annie’s, staring into her eyes from twelve inches away while she rubbed its belly. The adults are up to 3,500 pounds and are imposing but not dangerous. The calves are a curious delight. The rules require that you not chase these critters down to engage them, but wait for them to come to you. If they come to you and want their bellies rubbed, you don’t have to decline. Sometimes they just swim around and you can snorkel above them and watch. The water is clear. Sometimes you can find a couple sleeping on the bottom and just wait for them to come up. Mothers and calves. If they get tired of you, a couple flips of that giant tail flipper, and they’re gone. We spent a couple hours in the water with them. It was like paddling in British Columbia. Cold and uncomfortable, but that didn’t matter. They are gracious gentle giants. It was a thrill.

Normally, wild manatees are to be left alone, but there are a few places that allow regulated contact. The place we found happens to be right outside a manatee park, and has a guy paddling around in a kayak, making sure no-one one is being unreasonable. There is a very limited area that people are allowed in. There are lots of places for the manatees to retreat to if they’re not in the mood for company. They are here because there is a warm water spring that feeds fresh water out into the river, and the river flows another ten miles out to the sea. During relatively cold weather like this. The manatees feed in the Gulf, then come up the river to get warm in the constant seventy-two degree water from this spring. They don’t have a tolerance for cold water, so there are a lot of manatees congregating here. Several different places run boats out there to drop people into the water to see these sea cows. We were the only two people out on our boat and got to stay in the water as long as we wanted.

The RV crisis. The bad 12-volt outlets. Got the mobile RV guy to stop by and look at them today. He pulled the first bad one out, the one that hasn’t worked for months, and messed with it and it worked without a flicker for him, so he put it back in place and it was fixed. The next one was more difficult. He actually had to bend a piece of metal, that was apparently misshapen at the factory, back into place, and now it works flawlessly. An anticlimactic resolution, considering all the contortions we had gone through trying to bypass the problems. Now we can cheer on our Raiders in front-room comfort.

No miles on the motorhome. West coast of Florida. I can now pronounce the name of the town we stopped in. It’s pronounced Homosassa, just like it’s spelled. It’s right down the road from Chassahowitzka and Withlacoochee. No birding. No swamping. No cat drugging. No driving. No new birds. One bobcat. Eight new manatees.

Tomorrow. North.