Final Leg

Crossing the border between Iowa and Minnesota demonstrated two things:  the roads in Minnesota are one hell of a lot smoother, and the snow line is currently right at the border.  After bouncing along past brown earth and patches of snow, we passed the “Welcome to Minnesota” sign and immediately morphed to full snow cover and even roadways.  Ah, to be back in familiar country!

Arrival (1 of 5)

After leaving the St. Louis area, we made a midpoint stop at Center Point, Iowa.  The RV park, “Lazy Acres”, is not fully open.  The owners are actually in Arizona and we booked the site remotely with them by phone.  For $30 we got electric service, fast Wifi, sewer hookup, a place to park and no noisy neighbors.  Not a bad deal for a one night stop.  The outside temperature stayed above 35 so we were able to put off winterizing the water system.

From there a smooth 4 hour drive brought us home…

…to a 580 foot driveway that needed plowing.  With the rig parked on the road we trudged up to the house and fired up two snowblowers.  The big blower handled the long stretches…

Arrival (2 of 5)

… while Peg laboriously made a dent in the turn-around area.

By the time we cleared a path, unloaded the trailer, winterized, and took needed showers, we were two exhausted travelers.  Even after being south for 40 days, much of it in shorts, the 40 degrees here feels warm.

Arrival (3 of 5)

Our back deck has almost 17″ of snow near the house and more farther out.  Screw it:  this time I’ll just let the sun melt it.

Arrival (5 of 5)

Thus endeth our 3700 mile get-away-from-winter-and-visit-some-friends trip.  Other than a defective fridge, the truck and trailer performed well.  After having a string of gas powered pickup trucks, the upgrade to diesel has been totally worth it.  The toy garage held my TW200, Peg’s scooter, two mountain bikes and too much other stuff.  We’re still getting the hang of organizing stuff back there.

Home to FL 2018

FL to Home 2018

 

Homeward Bound

Cheap car wash: drive four days through constant rain.  The midwest flooding you may have heard about is very evident along our route.  Lots of flooded farm field and swollen rivers.  Fortunately our route was not affected.

At 53 feet, the Toy Hauler and pickup truck are the same length as most semi-truck trailers.  Navigating in close quarters safely is challenging.  Gas stations are especially challenging.  Since the truck is diesel, we’ve taken to to using the truck section of truck stops.  The entrance and exit lanes are configured better for long rigs.  When forced to use smaller stations, positioning the rig becomes a problem in advanced geometry.

St Charles (1 of 5)

We installed a wireless rearview camera on the rear of the trailer to check for cars directly behind before changing lanes.

The camera was helpful when we ended up on a dead end street.  Both Google Maps and the truck’s GPS system showed an exit road.  In real life… no road.  So we had to back the rig three blocks to find a place to do a y-turn.  Peg was out on the street waving traffic and guiding me.

In our blog about the Chattanooga area we forgot to mention a strange sight: the “International Museum of Towing and Recovery”.  Yes, there is a museum featuring tow trucks and towing.  And INTERNATIONAL to boot!

Ruby Falls (2 of 16)

As we move north, our planning has to include watching the weather and winterizing the toy hauler’s systems.  The nights at home are still below freezing, so the water system has to be readied. We want to winterize at the last possible stop so the bathroom is available.  Each day we check 10-day forecasts for our planned stops and adjust our schedule.

 

In the Saint Louis area we stayed at an RV park rather than impose on Hank and Carol again.  This allowed us to flush the waste tanks and prep for freezing temps. The RV park was located in historic St. Charles, Missouri, along the banks of the Missouri River.  We took the opportunity to bicycle the Katy trail along the river and explore the local historic district with its cobblestone streets.

St Charles (3 of 5)

St Charles (4 of 5)

In the St. Louis area, we again visited with Tom and Tracy.  Hank and Carol, who graciously allowed us to park the toy hauler in their driveway last visit, joined us for dinner at Olive Garden and some spirited rounds of Monopoly Deal.  Left to right: Carol, Tracy, Tom, Peg, Hank.

St Charles (2 of 5)

Run, Forrest, Run!

Ruby Falls (1 of 16)

Conflicting messages?

Twin Oaks (1 of 2)

Holey Ground

Chattanooga, Tennessee – Come for the hills, explore the holes.
-Our suggested new motto for the city

The Toy Hauler crew loves hilly or mountainous country, so northwest Georgia and Tennessee are much to our liking.  As hardy midwesterners, it is south enough to be shorts and t-shirt weather, but not hot enough to sweat… perfect.

With Peg feeling more chipper, we stopped for two nights at Chattanooga to do some sightseeing and spelunking.  Our goal was to explore the natural attractions on Lookout Mountain, a 2400 foot ridge across the Tennessee River from the city.  Several sites at the top provide awesome panoramic views of the area… and if we could see through fog it would have been impressive.

Ruby Falls (16 of 16)

With our visual stimuli blocked, we went underground to Ruby Falls.  Discovered in the 1920’s by Leo Lambert, the falls are named after his wife.  While drilling an elevator shaft to a known cave farther below, Leo happened on a series of passages that led to a 145 foot underground waterfall.  The new caves and falls quickly became a popular attraction.

Trivia: If the elevator shaft had been drilled six feet from its present location, both caves would have been missed entirely.

Entering through a welcome building part way up the mountain, you take an elevator down 26 stories into the mountain.  From there you walk 1/2 mile through tight, twisting passages to the waterfall chamber, gaining 10 feet of altitude but ending up 1100 feet below the higher part of the mountain.

Ruby Falls (10 of 16)

Along the way the passages are filled with various stalactites, stalagmites and other mineral deposit formations.

Ruby Falls (3 of 16)

The formation below is the only one a guest is allowed to touch.

Ruby Falls (5 of 16)

Several formations and the falls itself had dramatic lighting added.

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The Leaning Tower formation is estimated to be 3 to 5 million years old.

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Ruby Falls (6 of 16)

Everything is better with Bacon… even caves.

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The falls cave is impressive, especially when you realize there is over 1,000 feet of rock overhead.

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Ruby Falls (11 of 16)

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One last note:  the guide specifically warns guests not to drink water from the falls.  The water is pure, but contains very high levels of magnesium.  With such a strong natural laxative, people that have sampled the water don’t make it the 1/2 mile back to the elevator without leaving, er, deposits of their own.

Ruby Falls (13 of 16)

As our guide, Dustin, said:  “Cave jokes are the lowest form of humor… and cave puns rock!”

Road to Recovery

The Toy Hauler crew continues to make our way slowly northward through Georgia.  Not much sightseeing to report, mainly seeing the sight of my co-pilot hacking up phlegm as the last of her illness tapers off.

Amid all this expectoration it helps to remember why I have such adoration.  This clip I discovered in our archives, from a few years back, shows the gal I love.  Audio on and wait for it.

Peg’s game of choice on the iPad is Double Spider Solitaire.  She plays it intensely and masochistic-ly, I believe, given her low win percentage.

On this trip she’s burned through a ton of Kathy Reichs books, solved innumerable word puzzles with me, and been an excellent navigator, though with a tendency to re-route toward thrift shops.

At each stop we meet other travelers, most retired.  Most think us nuts to be heading north when there is still winter to enjoy down here.  Well, who wouldn’t want to be getting back to scenes like this?

Most RV parks prohibit the washing of RV’s so the hauler has become a bit grimy.  Maybe we should sell advertising space on her.

Twin Oaks (2 of 2)

The toy hauler is working well.  It pulls easily and the anti-sway hitch is doing a great job keeping it straight behind us.  Our average 12.8 MPG but would be better if we didn’t maintain 70 Mph on the interstates.  The diesel truck happily keeps up with traffic.  The biggest downside is, at 33 feet, the trailer is a challenge to steer in tight spots and heavy traffic.

Next we head into Tennessee.

Isolation Ward

The Toy Hauler crew has been doing our best to stay isolated in our rolling leper colony the last week.

On February 2nd we arrived in Frostproof, Florida to visit our Looper pals Richard and Jill.

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Their family compound quickly turned into an RV park with the arrival of Kevin and Shelly (other Looper friends), and us.

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When we arrived, Richard was ill with the flu.  Not wanting to be a burden, we relocated about 100 miles northeast to Titusville.  There we hung out for a couple of days with Harley, from Folly.  He has been living aboard on the hard in a marina, waiting for the opportunity when he and Janice can head back to the Bahamas.  They planned to head down last Fall but family issues thwarted their plans.  Hopefully they can regroup and continue this Fall.

By the second day in Titusville, Peg was showing flu symptoms, so off to bed she went… for several days.  My little energizer bunny really ran out of power.  When Peg turns down the opportunity to browse a Goodwill, you know she’s off her rhythm.

We relocated last Thursday back to Jill and Richard’s and have been letting her recover.  This Monday was the first day she had some spunk back; we joined Richard, Jill, Kevin and Shelly for a sushi dinner in Winter Haven.  Her appetite and color is back.  We’ve been able to help Richard and Jill build their trailer, had a wonderful double-date on Valentine’s Day, and explored the area around Frostproof.

Jill Kristy, their MacGregor 26 Looper boat awaits the next aquatic adventure.  Beside it is the 18 foot utility trailer they are converting into a custom travel trailer.  When finished, it will be a great vessel for comfortable, economical land travel.

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Frostproof Wed (1 of 2).jpg

 

 

Peg also made some new Mini-Friends: Richard’s in-laws across the road keep a herd of miniature donkeys… just her size.

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Tomorrow we begin a slow move northward.

Adjusting

The Toy-Mobile is finishing up a 4-day stay at the Country Oaks RV Park in Kingsland, Georgia.  The stay gave us time to settle into the new trailer as well as make some new friends.

Peg wasted no time finding a new 4-footed friend at the RV park.  We also met couples from Wisconsin, Vermont, New York and other parts.

We sailed past this area on the Loop last year. Yesterday we drove to St. Mary’s, a town we had heard about when we anchored at Cumberland Island.

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We got a late start and arrived at the visitor bureau minutes after it closed.  Our disappointment was short; moments later a local gentleman, Paul McClelland, pulled up to the curb and introduced himself.  When he found we were visiting, he offered to take us on the driving tour of the area.

Paul has lived in St. Mary’s for 17 years and gave us the tour-deluxe.  We saw homes of the famous, infamous and downright criminal.  A Juliard trained vocal wizard who has sung, taught and led choirs most everywhere, he showed us local enclaves and features for over an hour.  A highlight was a visit to his man-cave.  Thanks, Paul!  It was great meeting you.

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Adjusting to the trailer has included both minor additions and major fixes:

  •  Minor additions like building extra shelves into the vanity (Peg), organizing storage compartments, figuring out various systems and the like.
  • Major fixes like finding a solution to a dead refrigerator.

Upon leaving St. Louis we discovered the fridge had not been cooling.  The proper lights were on but no one was home.  A couple of hours on the phone troubleshooting with a dealer technician in Minnesota confirmed that they had neglected to actually check for cooling during delivery checkout.  It had also been too cold at home to tell if it was working.  The good news is it is covered by warranty.  The bad is that getting quick repairs done on the road is a pain.  Our solution was to buy a mini-fridge to use until we get home, then drop off the empty trailer at the dealer.

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Fortunately, there is ample space in the trailer’s garage (Modeled by the Admiral below) and we will be staying at places that provide AC power.

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Today included a visit to Fort Clinch.  The fort has an unimpressive history:  it was in the lowest tier of importance for coastal forts, was not completed on time, received 1/3 the number of cannon intended and was never in a battle.  Kind of a wannabe fort. Well, they can’t all be famous.

Still, the setting is picturesque, and the state park that surrounds it beautiful.

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We learned that Japan Paint was black enamel imported from Japan, used to paint cannon barrels.

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The doctors office.

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Tomorrow we continue into Florida, to see is Frostproof, FL is truly frost-proof.

 

 

Signs

Traveling cross country via roads has little in common with doing the Great Loop.

Well, other than planning the route, planning fuel stops, planning anchorages/campsites, planning provision stops, dodging weather, maintaining equipment, going days without a shower, navigating unknown territory, and avoiding collisions.  Other than that, no similarity.

Our average speed on land is about 10 times that of Endeavor.  On the loop we puttered toward landmarks at 6 miles per hour, with oodles of time to set up photos or aim binoculars.  On the road, it’s more like, to quote Pink Floyd, “I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye”.

Winding through the Smoky Mountains eastbound on I-40 is lovely… for the co-pilot.  The driver misses most of the scenery.  Hundreds of semi-trucks clog the curvy highway, threatening to become intimate with our travel trailer at any moment.  Pulling a 30 foot trailer between a semi truck and concrete median wall at 70 mph leaves little time to gawk at signs or scenery.  A little nerve wracking but not awful.

We also shared the road with a line of trucks delivering double-wide mobile homes.  These monsters take up 1.4 of the 2.0 lanes, so either they hang out over the right shoulder or we don’t pass.  Mostly we don’t pass.

When we stop, the signs make it clear we’re not in Wisconsin any more.  Signs next to our campsite trumpet the feeding of critters…

Signs (4 of 4)

…and signs at a truck stop trumpet critters for feeding.

Signs (1 of 4)

ThrewUp(GIF Credit – Nikki)

We spent a delightful 4 days visiting long-time friends Kyle, Leah, Caylie and Issac in Charlotte.  We brought along Monopoly Deal, a fast moving, ruthless card game that Nikki and Nate introduced to us.  This turned our visit into a series of marathon gaming sessions, with everyone becoming rabid capitalists searching for a win.  Jim and Cheryl, Kyle’s parents, coincidently happened to be in town and joined in the shenanigans.

Now that we’re in warmer weather, our goal is a slow down and meander southward, driving less each day and sightseeing more.

 

Snow Line

City Museum (1 of 21)

After a long, frigid incubation period, we’ve burst from the warm cocoon of our home and run south for the snow line.  The allure of warmer climates is too strong, so we pointed our newest travel experiment, a Grey Wolf 27RR toy hauler pulled by pickup truck, toward the southeast.

Snow cover gave way to brown grass a couple of hours into Iowa. 9 hours of driving brought us near St. Louis, Missouri.  Tom and Tracy Grass, buddies we met on the Loop, had invited us to stay with them and arranged parking for the trailer at their friend’s home.  Thanks Hank and Carol!

Tom and Tracy eager to introduce us to their family, reminisce about the Loop, discuss travel plans, and show us their city.

I heard about the St. Louis City Museum from the crew of Serenity and suggested we try it.  Wikipedia describes the museum as:

“a play house museum, consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District of St. Louis, Missouri, United States.”

I describe it as the lunatic result of a creative, possibly stoned, group of artists with a scrapyard of random materials, welding equipment, and an unnatural love for chutes and ladders.

As usual, my darling wife was first to tackle the place with gusto, soon discovering these funny spinning tops.

St. Louis Museum Tops video

Boring people can move between the four museum floors by elevator or stairway.

Crazy, aged, Looper types can join the youngsters and crawl through slinky-like aerial tunnels, slide down 1 or 2 story chutes, navigate mazes and generally regress to childhood.

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Yes, that aerial slinky tunnel is one path to the airplane.

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Old bones creaking with joy.

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The roof was, unfortunately closed, so we did not get to explored the bus cantilevered off the building.  The kid in the tunnel behind me said it is a a blast.

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The “Museum” portion employed all manner of scrap materials to create art.

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This wall is hundreds of baking tins.

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Second stop on the St. Louis tour was the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour.  Though not big beer drinkers, the tour was interesting, the Clydesdale horses beautiful and the free beer samples appreciated.

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Founded in the 1800’s and in operation since, this is the most ornate manufacturing plant I’ve ever visited.

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El-Kabong Returns

Peg is back home.

Back to her favorite tools.

Lopping shears, a favorite for clearing trails through our woods.  Bic lighters for starting her famous bonfires. But mostly her BFH.  Give her her big hammer and she morphs into El-Kabong, the human trash compactor.

One non-tool she really missed was our hot tub.  Few things offset Winter like lounging in a pool of 102 degree water under the stars.  Sadly, da tub has become a maintenance hassle and an energy hog, so it had to go.  A quick Craigslist ad and the 7′ x 7′ monster was gone in two days…

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…to be replaced by a petite 2-person model (also from Craigslist) that uses 1/3 the water and less energy.

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Our property has been taken over by a gang of wild turkeys.  Showing up predictably at dinner time every day, they have become more and more brazen.

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This evening some sat atop the dog kennel and played Peeping-Tom-Turkey through our back window.

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Peg also has a knack for discovering colorful spiders.

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We also found a pile of bear scat on one of our trails.  No photo of that visitor, thankfully.

On the human side, we got to visit with, and assist, Jonathon and Rosa.  This duo is on their 3rd time around the Loop aboard their C-Dory 22 “Salty”.  They do each Loop in about 6 months, starting from Florida.  This time around they decided to explore Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi.  They got to Duluth and put out a request to other Loopers for help portaging between Duluth and the St. Croix River.  Another Looper, Ken, from Hastings, borrowed a trailer and ferried them down to Bayport, where we helped them launch at our marina.

Interim (3 of 13)

Labor Day week also marked our first land trip since being home.  We joined my sister Margaret and her Wookie, Doug at Scenic State Park in Northern Minnesota.  They left from our place with their new pride and joy the Saturday before the holiday. We towed ours up Tuesday.

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We were treated to nightly meals by this culinary pair; ending up bringing home most of the food we brought.  We also got to spend time with their other new pride and joy, Earl.  Earl is an Anatolian Shephard and a total sweetie.  Roughly the size of a small moose, he is gentle and cuddly.  He also goes ballistic with puppy prancing when his favorite uncle (me) shows up.  Yes, their other pooch Charlie was there, but gets left off the blog for excessive yapping.

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The 4-day trip was a good test of our land-sailing rig.  The new diesel pickup towed the trailer easily and we had only a few maintenance issues after storing the trailer for two years.

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Peg’s scooter piggybacks on the stern of the trailer and we explored backroads each day.  We’re aware that we make quite a sight on our “hog”.  Leather jackets, helmets, gloves, and Peg’s Queen Seat.  She found this tailbone donut at, where else, Goodwill.  It protects her royal rump and elevates her enough to see over my shoulder.  And it attracts amused looks wherever we go.  Who’s cares?  There days of riding cost $1.73 in gas!

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Coming back home through Grand Rapids, we were lucky to meet up with online gaming friend Randy. He has a computer business in Grand Rapids so we routed our return to pass through town. Brian and I met Randy online a couple of years ago and we’ve been teaming up in war games ever since.  Up to this point we had never met, and it was good to find him just as friendly and funny in person.

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Lastly, thanks for all the birthday wishes this week.  The grand day was spent:

  • Breakfast in bed
  • Shopping for a new project sailboat (did not find anything good)
  • Drooling over ATVs at Tousley Sports Center (current ATV still does fine, thank you)
  • Shopping at Savers and Goodwill (Peg) and napping in the truck (Don)

And the centerpiece of the day: a no hold’s barred lunch at Arby’s.  Never let it be said those Wills don’t know how to party!

Interim (12 of 13)

 

 

Postscript and Prolog

Postscript

After three weeks at home, it seems time to put a postscript on our Great Loop trip.  The last 21 days have generated a lot of conflicting emotions in Peg and me, much more than we expected.

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Togetherness – Seeing family and friends has been a joyous reunion.  Visitors to Endeavor in the Bahamas and Charleston staved off the emptiness, but missing loved ones is a real thing.  Social media and Skype help but are not a true substitute.  The blog was a labor of love, but as our friend Shelly noted, it was mainly a one-way conversation outward.  We missed a lot of the day to day happenings in people’s lives.  Being back to hugs and handshakes was wonderful.

Longing – At the same time, we miss the dear new friends we made along the way.  Some have completed their Loop and some continue.  Either way, we are plotting ways to get together with them again.

Cuddly Comfort – Being in our bed at home, watching a huge flock of turkeys wander outside the back door, walking through our pastoral woods, all of these are creature comforts we’ve dreamed of for the last year.  Oh, and long hot showers!

Exhaustion – Who knew that unpacking a house could be so tiring?  We had stuffed our household into two densely packed rooms, along with critical-mass crowding in the workshop and pole barn.  Trying to remember where we put stuff a year ago was futile.  We ended up living on the few pieces of kitchenware from Endeavor until recently.  As we unpack we are eliminating anything we don’t really need.  Seriously.  I mean, why do I still need 18 pairs of dress pants… I’m retired!  On the other hand, each day brings an exciting new discovery of some important item, kind of like Christmas every day.

Sleeplessness – Although exhausted, we have both found sleep elusive.  After a year of sleeping in a gently rocking boat, a motionless bed is strange.

Crabbiness – Somewhere around the end of the first week The Crabbies set in.  Just the little nit-picking digs that a couple does when something is off-kilter.  A couple of major arguments ensued, then we sat down and talked it out.  We came to the conclusion that we were both feeling overwhelmed and aimless.

Overwhelmed – A looper told us “When at home, you have a million things to do every day, almost none mean a thing.  When cruising, you usually have only a couple of things to accomplish each day (laundry, food, fuel, etc.) but those things are important.”  Coming back to the million little things is an overwhelming experience.

Aimlessness – We are both goal-driven people.  We were both unprepared for the feeling of suddenly being done with such a large project that has spanned years.  We both get antsy without something to work toward, so we decided to up our schedule and start working on the next items on our bucket list immediately (see Prolog).  Voila!  Crabbies Gone!

Wanderlust – Lastly, we discovered that we suffer from wanderlust.  Home is comfortable and familiar, but has been done.  We want to continually balance home stays with new explorations.  Whether by boat or travel trailer, show us that horizon!

Thankfulness – Lastly, we are thankful for the hard work, help from friends, planning, good luck, timing and freedom that allowed us to spend a year afloat.  Every stop, and the travels between, showed us adventure.  It was an amazing trip and one we highly recommend.  Seeing this map and the number of places we touched still amazes me.

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Prolog

And so the next chapter begins.  Within days of arriving home, Peg found an example of our proposed next adventure boat advertised locally.  We had planned to wait until late Fall or Spring to start the hunt, but this boat turned out to be such a good deal that we bit early and now have a Winter project outfitting her.  The previous owner was a maintenance nut and she is completely ready to float.  We need only add our gear and make a few customizations.  Shelly also sagely noted that Options is our first boat in decades that does not require extensive work before use.

Yup, we are crazy for buying another boat before even finding our silverware.

On her we plan to explore farther by trailering to a launch point.  Some of the waterways on our list are shown here. Not sure she has the legs, fuel-wise, for the Bahamas, but New England, the Pacific Northwest and Nova Scotia are definite possibles.  The inland waterways will be a piece of cake.

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The new (used) boat will be renamed “Options”. It is our first motorboat in 25 years. More pictures here

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We took her on the St. Croix River last Sunday for a maiden voyage to see the new interstate bridge at Stillwater.

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She putters at 7 mph just above idle, planes with a sweet spot at 28 mph, and hit 37 before I chickened out and chopped the throttle.  No idea on MPG yet, but I have a measuring tool in the works.  Peg is learning CPR for when I see the results.

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And thus we hang our heads in shame as we become gas guzzlers.  Riding the wind is just too fun to ignore, so there will be some sort of sailing craft in the fleet soon as well.

We’ll be starting with a few short shakedown trips this Fall then head for the horizon next Spring.