Berry Islands, Bahamas

harbor2

The Berry Islands are just 70 miles east north-east of Bimini and 120 miles from Miami, but it seemed like a world away.  In part because we work in Bimini and Florida and we’re always on the fly, where Great Harbor Cay allowed total relaxation and exploration.  Our one hour flight landed us for a weekend getaway on a fairly unknown island.  A marina townhouse, boat and car rental awaited.  The locals were very accommodating, friendly and helpful from the time we landed in our single-engine plane.

harborbeach2Our first day driving the seven-mile island took us to secluded untouched beaches.  We got a glimpse of the cruise ships offshore.  We hung out at a local beach club for drinks and conversation.  I felt like wild boar or elephants should be roaming.  It was a bit of an expedition without the wildlife, although I did see dead snakes in the road when I ran the following morning.

An abandoned golf course, beach resort and pool littered the landscape.  Not necessarily in a bad way as time stood still, the remnants of a glamorous era forgotten.  I longed for the clubs and golfing, although I wasn’t into the sport.  A random dilapidated bridge, and a once happening lodge sat as a skeleton.

But the island had a vibe, a strong one of resilience.  It brought out the explorer in me, and shall I say a pirate in a good sense.

Saturday we explored by land while Sunday was reserved for sea.  We rented a boat, conveniently docked under our rental townhouse.  We set out with our iPad for navigation, Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches for lunch, and then quickly stopped by government dock to grab a six-pack of beer. I jumped off our small boat, passed a church holding Sunday service, and found my way to a local bar selling beer on Sunday.  “Wasted Time,” was its name and empty except for a few local young men skipping mass.

As I passed back I heard singing.  A man of a cloth preached and sang loud from the open door, it made me smile.  I loved Sunday’s I remembered from my past, my young church-going youth attending mass with my grandmother.

We ran the boat to the cruise ship islands, Coco and Stirrup Cay.  They are private but the large ships drew our attention.  A dolphin swam off our bow.  The water temped us with its colophon hue, but we knew the recent cold front left behind freezing water for our tropical blood.  We pulled into Coco Cay, hoping to dock for some shopping and a picnic stop.  We were turned away with a “What the hell,” look from a harbor master.  I think he hollered and gave a few signals that only my husband recognized.  We left the harbor and continued onward.

mermaid2cococay

Strirrup Cay seemed much more relaxed.  No customs agents monitoring, cruise ship employees paying attention, or anyone tending the docks.  We figured we’d circle around eating lunch, and then docked when we realized nobody noticed us.

I went onshore to use the restrooms where staff greeted me and asked, “How do you like the cruise so far?”

“Oh, it’s been lovely,” I fibbed.  “I’m glad the sun decided to come out.”    This I knew because it was cloudy until about an hour prior.

I decided to check out some temporary shops set up in the sand.  I peeked over at my husband on the boat, he seemed fine.  I bought a Stirrup Cay shirt as a souvenir. I passed by an empty taco bar, and found myself in line for cocktails.

“Anyone else for a strawberry daiquiri?”  The bartender called out.

I raised my hand at the back of the line, passing ten or so others waiting for different drinks, and was handed a daiquiri.

“Do you have your ship card?” He asked.

“No, I have cash.  My husband has my card,” I feigned again.

“Only ship cards.  Take the drink and bring your card when you come back.”  With his busy schedule he waved me on.

I would have ordered a Miami Vice, but considering I got a free drink on an island where I wasn’t supposed to be… I fully enjoyed it.

“Honey, I could have gotten you a taco or a drink.”  I teased my husband as we pulled away from the dock.

He was a good captain staying with our rental boat somewhat satisfied with his PB&J and beer, although he showed interest in a taco.

cococay3We passed back by the lifeguard on the rock, watching over tourists.  Perhaps one of the most boring jobs in the world. But as my husband pointed out, “He’s probably making sure no sharks swim from the deep water just beyond the rock into the shallow waters to feast on tourists.”

 

It was a fun stop, a brief adventure before continuing on for our own private cruise in the shallow waters around the islands.  Not quite fifty-shades of blue, but pretty close.  We left the Berry Islands the following day to head to Nassau. SUNSET BAHAMAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern California Dreaming

goldengateUpon arrival in San Francisco, California,  we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in our rental car, briefly stopping for a photo opportunity at a vista point overlooking the bay.  While snapping several pictures through the crowd, sailboats participating in the America’s cup were finishing up the day’s race.  An hour later, we arrived in Geyserville, the center of Sonoma County. Wine country.  Two bottles of chilled champagne and an amazing view greeted us.  From the balcony, vineyards and wheat colored hills traversed the landscape. A faint vinegar scent permeated the air, the smell of the harvest time I later realized.

We had dinner at the only restaurant in town, Catelli’s.  The food lived up to the standards of wine country;  fresh, organic, tasty vegetarian choices and five-star by every means.  We met the friendly owner and enjoyed plenty of good wine at the rustic, sociable bar.  The evening was complete with a stellar performance from the sky.  Stars such as Orion, the Three Sisters and the Big Dipper clearly noticeable among the thousands lighting up our evening.

Our first day of wine tasting we visited five wineries, a bit ambitious on our part.  Medlock Ames had the best Sauvignon blanc, served in a converted barn turned tasting room.  It’s quaint with an organic farm and picnic area.  White Oak was fun with a tipsy host giving us a spontaneous tour of the wine making process. Supported by eighty-five percent solar power, Clos de Bois is fairly large with a trendy gift shop.  Our visit to Trentadue was brief but they had excellent champagne. We just made Geyser Peak at closing time, the closest winery to our Inn, and we called it as day buying some wine and snacks to take home.  In-between the vineyard visits we lunched and shopped in Healdsburg, a vegetarian and boutique shop haven.  It was the perfect day followed by a night of dining and gambling at the nearby River Rock Casino.

vineyardsDuring my morning run I encountered grapevine lined dirt roads, smiling faces from cars passing by, chickens and goats. I breathed acrid vinegar, taking in the countryside while jogging to country music on my iPod.  After brunch, we hit some golf balls at a scenic drive range, visited a few boutiques and a microbrewery prior to resuming our wine tasting.  The Coppola estate was our final highlight of the self-guided wine tour of Sonoma. Complete with stairs from a scene from the Godfather, movie memorabilia, pool and gift shop.  I joined the family, by joining the wine club after a heavenly wine tasting.

“Welcome to the family,” the host smiled.

I grinned back with a warmth that I’d receive a wine package monthly.

The next day we hiked among the Redwood giants at Armstrong State Park.  An easy walk in the woods, until I did the forced march up to the ridge with an unhappy husband in tow.  I like elevation and the challenge, as he did not.

“I don’t give up elevation,” he’d complain.

“Enjoy the view,” I shot back.  “And don’t look up.”

Our next destination for two nights was a short forty minute drive to Bodega Bay, a small fishing community and tourist destination on the north coast of Sonoma.  A cozy wine and cheese tasting at the Bodega Bay Lodge lobby, welcomed us and other guests.  Our timing was once more spot-on.  After a blissful dinner at the lodge, we relaxed with a bottle of wine on the balcony, listening to the consistent faint sound of a fog horn and sea lions barking. A shooting star magically appeared, I silently made a wish.  At sunset the air turned arctic so we lit a fire in the fireplace with the bestowed Duraflame log. It was a refreshing change from Florida, yet again.

My morning run though the park resembled a Monet painting.  Ice plants, wild flowers, birds and deer filling every color of the spectrum in a subdued tone, seamlessly fitting the music I was playing on my iPod, classical Bach, a favorite from my teenage years.  Music and nature in harmony.  I spotted a buck and watched him forage the open fields, dancing to the sunrise.

bodega2We had lunch in the marina while searching for noisy sea lions and seals.  It was a beautiful drive along Pacific Coast Highway, exploring the coast and stopping for a drink or two along the way.  A massage at the lodge and another amazing meal completed our coastal visit.

San Francisco awaited us the following afternoon.  A charming drive south through villages along the coast led us back to Sausalito for lunch, to the same mexican cafe where we began our journey.  We drove to the center of San Francisco, Union Square, to the Handlery Hotel, our sleeping quarters for the next two nights.  The square, specifically Powell Street is the center of action in San Francisco including: vagrants, trolleys, pubs, clubs, restaurants and prime shopping.  The neighborhood Walgreens carried gourmet salads, a bakery, wines, souvenirs and two floors of everything anyone could need.

sf2The next day we did a self-guided bike tour of the city, the best way to observe and get a real feel for the local culture and environment. San Francisco, despite the hills, is truly a biking and green metropolis.  We started out riding through the hood, Market Street, a depressing homeless area I remembered from several visits in my youth.  We cruised away from the square into several neighborhoods full of beautiful historic homes, cafes, unique shops, and lush parks. We passed a soup kitchen, art murals, numerous views of the city and Golden Gate bridge.  It was flat for the most part with the exception of a few steep hills.  We had lunch at a local spot, then continued though Golden Gate Park, downhill past the Presidio and over the bridge as fog set-in, engulfing it as we crossed.  Arriving in Sausalito just in time for the ferry, we jumped aboard for the short crossing back to fisherman’s wharf.

In the evening we gorged on some light modern asian cuisine at E&O on Sutter Street.  For the second night we revisited an Irish piano bar, Lefty O’Duals, and we were welcomed by friends we had met the night before.  We drank, sang, and the piano player finally played my requested, Dancing Queen, by Abba as those surrounding the piano belted out lyrics in harmony.

sf 1I left the city smiling with unforgettable memories.

Unfamilar Creatures

helen mtsI was recently thrown into another adventure, and as always welcomed the challenge.  A friend of mine had financial issues with a property at a popular vacation destination in Helen, Georgia.  With her at the verge of a short sale, my husband and I advised her to take the chance furnishing the property and listing it as a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO).  Being unfamiliar and non-computer literate she gave us a blank look.  After explaining the details we offered our help.  Having several properties listed on VRBO, my hubby decided to take charge, enlisting us as masters of the endeavour.  And we only had one week to get the place ready prior to Memorial Day, the beginning of “the season.”

The previous night we loaded up an open-air car trailer with her spare household goods. Wrapping the furniture in cellophane then strapping it down was not the ideal situation, but I went with the flow. Why couldn’t we just rent a U-Haul like normal people?  For the first 50 miles the furniture shifted and we had to pull over and check the stability.  I watched the cellophane getting torn up in the wind, whipping around in the rear-view mirror.   We could have easily blended into the set of the Beverly Hillbillies.  The bluegrass ballad played through my head as we began our journey out of Florida into the Georgia mountains.

Our thirteen hour drive was split between two days with a stopover at a friend’s house in Jacksonville.  Arriving in Helen the following day around 5:00 we almost lost the cargo within the last half mile as we climbed a 45 degree slope.  Two pre-arranged helpers greeted us.  They had their work cut out for them with three flights of stairs, as did I over the next few days.

Inside the house, the younger teenage mover, with blonde hair, sullen eyes and sweaty six-pack abs pointed to the back slider.  “Ma’am, have you seen one of these before.”

I inched closer to the door, examining the small spider on the other side of the glass.  “Well, I’ve seen spiders.”  I looked at the kid.  “It’s not a brown recluse, is it?”

“Yes Ma’am.”  He grabbed a large wood pole, slid outside and crushed the spider.  It didn’t go easily, spinning down its web like a mini Spider-Man meeting its end.

I shivered.  Several years ago, only twenty miles from our current location, my husband was admitted to the ER from what we believed to be a brown recluse spider bite.  He blew up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and little Target signs appeared all over his body.  I researched the spider extensively and I was very much aware of the damage the little critter could do.

Minutes later hubby was assembling the cable hookup as I was unpacking boxes of plates and cups.  I noticed a tiny scorpion scoot across the empty room.

“Honey, can you step on the scorpion?”  I calmly asked.

His eyes widened as I pointed to the creature.  After two attempts another danger was removed from the house.  I was more concerned that something would hurt my dog or husband as I was OK with nature but certainly not immune.  I try not to kill things, but a home should be safe.  If it’s outside, so be it, I’ll go inside.  Thoughts of my one other encounter with a scorpion crossed my mind.  I was excavating in the California desert as a field Archaeologist.  I left my backpack unzipped in the bush for most of the afternoon.  As luck had it when I went to retrieve something from my backpack I witnessed a black scorpion on my bag inching it way towards the opened zipper.  I kicked it off my pack and till this day I never leave anything unzipped in nature or in strange rooms.  A lesson learned.

Over the course of a few days I got buzzed by hefty wood bees sounding like helicopters.  I’d duck down as if I was in a war zone.  During one of these episodes my dog went into a frenzy as I hastily opened the back door for her safety, since she’s allergic to bees. During our walks she’d gingerly walk in the fallen leaves, until a leaf jumped back at her.  She kept sniffing as it repeatedly jumped. She was more sceptical to the change in environment than I was.

English: Male Luna Moth (Actias luna)

On one day, a moth the size and color of a small palm leaf hung out on the balcony all day.  I later learned it was an endangered Luna moth.  Living only for a week, its only purpose is to mate. Since it has no mouth, it can’t eat.  Next to this stunning creature sat a normal sized grey moth and I silently giggled at the thought of her reproducing with the normal unattractive one.  Hell if your endangered and only have a week, why not?

Most of our time involved tracking down used furniture and basic necessities for a large four bedroom house. Thrift stores, yard sales, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, all a good distance from Helen, were part of our repertoire.  At the end of the week everything came together beautifully with a charming mountain home complete with picturesque views and everything one could need for a mountain getaway.  As we drove back to Florida, we listed the house for our friend online.  And I had renewed view of nature and all its funny unusual forms.

My friend who owned the house asked, “Did you at least get some time to enjoy yourself?”

“Ah yes,” I beamed.  “I love mountain running and I experienced it every morning.”

My thighs and butt screamed, but I loved the challenge and my time with nature not freaking out about the creatures that somehow in my mind could attack my dog or partner.

50 shades of grey, Yosemite style

Engulfed by cool crisp air, granite cliffs, pine trees, and a trickling brook in Yosemite National Forest during mid-October is breathtaking.  Going for a morning run in this forest, simply divine. Unlike the camping I did in my youth, we stayed at a decent hotel just minutes outside the park, along the Merced river.  My jog paralleled the river and the road, an easier choice than running up a trail, and a wiser one for this flat land runner accustomed to Florida terrain. My challenge would come later in the trip.  Leaving my i-pod behind, I listened to nature and the slight sound of trickling water.  The rising sun hit granite cliffs  reveling a spectrum of colors.  Fifty shades of grey played off the granite, mottled with yellow, green and chocolate hues.  A scene I could capture in my mind but not in a photo.

I stumbled upon a historic railroad station with a single caboose resting for a half-century on the rail. Stopping in awe, I briefly contemplated this great area within the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Driving through Yosemite and the Tioga Pass flashbacks  flooded my thoughts. Passing El Capitan and Half Dome I recalled my first camping trip with my best friend at the time, Lynda.  I was twenty-two years old and had just returned from China.  My BFF wanted to visit Yosemite prior to moving to Utah, a decision she’d made while I was exploring her part of the world.  Still dazed from my international travels we set out to rent a tent and camp the following day in Yosemite Valley.  Arriving with no permit, no plans and just a few pillows and sheets we learned quickly what camping in the mountains was about.  Nothing like learning the hard way, first hand.  Struggling to assemble our tent, a nearby camper offered a helping hand.  Once assembled, he glanced in our tent and snorted.  “Don’t you have sleeping bags?”

Lynda and I glanced at each other, “No.” We responded in unison with not a care in the world.

“Well, you’re going to need them,”  he said with confidence.  “It gets down to 30 degrees here at night.  I used to be a ranger here, so I know what I’m talking about.”

I smiled at the stranger, not realizing what that meant then unconsciously winked at my friend.  “Hey let’s try out our tent.”

We giggled while testing our pillows and sheets, then joined the ex-ranger near the picnic bench for a cold beer and some snacks we packed.  “I’m serious about the weather.”  He pointed to his Honda Civic, “I have extra blankets if you want them.”

Once the sun had set the air-cooled, and we needed blankets as our newfound friend warned us.  Over that weekend we hiked many trails.  I fell at Yosemite Falls fracturing  my tailbone and bruising my entire left butt cheek. We videotaped the bruise, the visiting coyote at the campground and the silliness we were back then.  We were fortunate to watch a major meteor shower in the strawberry fields with hundreds of other campers including ex-ranger.  Friendships and great memories were made that continue to this day. Years later, I was briefly engaged to the ex-ranger, and Lynda is still my friend although we are thousands of miles apart.  It’s amazing what nature can bring together including everlasting relationships, unparalleled memories lasting a lifetime, and desirable innocence combined with inexperience.  Simply heavenly with earthly splendor and all its blemishes.

My husband and I left Yosemite Valley on our eastward journey as my fascination continued.  Redwoods lined the road along with dwarf yellow and green beauties. I tried to read some park brochures but the flashing sun shining through the trees was like a strobe light.  I felt like I was trying to study in a nightclub.  A spontaneous lake appeared encircled by mountains winding through Tioga Pass.  Suddenly, cliffs appeared dropping thousands of feet without vegetation.  An instantaneous sweat covered my hands and feet, an unwelcome and uncontrollable response.  A drop-off immediately to my right with no rails.  I used to twist around these mountains in my convertible with no worries, I remembered.  I couldn’t control the sudden onslaught of sweat as I tried to admire the splendor without fear.  I yearned for my youth.

“Slow down,” I blurted out.  The pine trees transformed into a moonscape with an elevation difference of about 2,000 feet.  The cliffs subsided as did my instant sweating.   Fifty shades of grey continued as the cliffs and boulders transformed the landscape from green to dramatic rock.  Granite, I concluded from my distance education at UCLA.

A sign informed us that we were in the Inyo National Forest.  I’ve been here before, I recalled.  But when and why do I know this National Park? I soon realized it incorporated the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mono Lake, Mt. Whitney and Mammoth Lakes.  It’s considered the “dwelling place of the great spirit,” and my old play grounds with the ex-ranger.

My week had just begun.

Baltic Sea, part 2: Finland, Sweden and Germany

The following morning we woke up in Helsinki, Finland.  After spending the past three days on group tours we decided to explore the Finnish capital on our own with no agenda.  The previous night, I hung out at the casino bar sipping wine while chatting with a single female traveler.  We had met a few nights into the cruise and seemed to always end up laughing and bonding over wine with the gaggle of the casino in the background.  Cindy was a youthful recent widow from California with no real plans during the cruise, so I invited her to join us in Helsinki.

A shuttle took us to the town center where we strolled around a local market displaying bright fresh vegetables, strange fish, and arts and crafts.  I stumbled upon a booth selling contemporary silver rings and consulted my new-found friend for her opinion.  She checked out the small silver stamp acknowledging it was real and concluded, “if you like it, than it’s right for you.”

That’s my type of philosophy, so I bought the ring.  We came across the “hop-on-off” bus electing it  for our leisurely prefabricated journey.  We hopped off at the modern Rock Church, a must see according to the guide-book.  I had memories of the church from a previous visit so I sat in silence for a spiritual moment as the music played and acoustics shined.  Internal fulfillment satisfied, my stomach suddenly screamed lunch and we found our way to a local pub and restaurant.

Another excellent feast followed by a social casino night filled our evening as we awoke to the most beautiful port of Stockholm, Sweden at daybreak.  Colorful buildings lined the harbor as church spirals jetted into the blue-gray sky.  I ran on the treadmill admiring the stunning  port as sweat beaded off my skin.  It was a quick run and shower since we had to meet our bike tour group at 11:00.  Our only reference for the tour was to “look for the old Admiral ship.”  We were to meet in front of the landmark.  We gave ourselves an hour to find the ship and the bike shop which was within walking distance from the Eurodam.  After 50 minutes at a fast-paced walk we saw the Admiral as the last sailboat in the harbor.  I picked up my speed to a jog. Finding the group upon departure, I waved them down and pleaded for a two bikes and a helmet.  The guide was more than happy to accommodate and off we went for our tour of Stockholm.

We weaved in and out of traffic stopping at important sites while getting tangled in a parade surrounding the changing of the guards.  I smiled and admired.  We got a history and social lesson as our guide explained their tax system, among other things.  Damn, our son should marry a Swedish girl I mumbled while listening to all the benefits of being a Swedish citizen.  Free health care,  free school including college, getting paid to have children and about three years off of work, clean water, and a ton of other utopia benefits.  The price though is about 60 percent in taxes.  I listened with no judgement.  It seems to work for them, I concluded from my limited interaction in this charming country.

Riding through nature we almost lost our group for a photo opportunity, landing back at the shop three hours later.  Starving, we found a great lunch spot filling up on cheese and potatoes followed by an hour hike around the marina to our cruise ship.

“Would you like a taxi?”  my husband asked.

“No, I’d like to walk.”

He rolled his eyes and huffed and puffed as we boarded minutes before departure, just as the rain began.  I smirked and gloated in my action-packed adventure.

After thirty-six relaxing hours at sea we arrived at Warnemünde, Germany.  A pre-planned much-anticipated tour to Berlin awaited us at 6:00 a.m.  I grabbed a few snacks from the breakfast bar, stashing them in my pre-packed bag for our 12 hour expedition.  A three-hour ride to the city, a six-hour tour, and three hours to return.  Yes a bit of a trek, but a city not to be missed by my standards…and I’ve been there before.  I’m a history buff and Berlin has so much history.

Upon arrival a young bubbly Canadian, Silvia, boarded the bus and split us into two groups.  My husband, Brad, and I were with Silvia along with ten others as we disembarked for an introduction.  With stick in hand, Silvia gave an animated history lesson drawn into the dirt.   “After WWII,  Germany was split into four sectors divided between the allies after winning the  war.  At first all was good, then tensions arose.  When was the Berlin wall built?”  Silvia asked.

“1961,” I shouted out since nobody else answered.  I received a sideways glance from my husband and a cheer from Silvia.  I shrugged. She continued her dynamic and comical routine.  I silently giggled, as others stood stone-faced.  She was smart and lighthearted. I had a constant smirk on my face, finding our guide’s unique knowledge and quick jabs humorous.  Silvia, being French-Canadian was a tour guide in France for a few years, then deciding she didn’t like the French she moved to Berlin.  She had an amusing view of the Germans with a love/hate relationship that shined.   Like me, she’s a vegetarian. Not an easy task in Germany.

We jumped on and off the bus touring sites and monuments as my husband took a huge interest in WWII history.  He was like a schoolboy on his first field trip, and I found joy and passion in his excitement. We sat in the  front row of the bus.  My grin was perpetual observing Brad walk on the heels of Silva with a million questions only he could ask.  I cringed at some and walked away, realizing it’s a great way for him to learn about this part of the world.  Staying silent I discovered more about the war myself by listening to our guide. Letting go of  my perceived knowledge allowed me to take it all in and experience history the way it should be experienced.

We passed through the famous Brandenburg Gate from West to East Berlin.   I recall East Berlin as depressing just twenty years ago.  Now, it’s vibrant and full of life.  We visited the remains of the Berlin wall and the newly built Holocaust Memorial.  Seemingly simple at first glance we were encouraged to walk through the memorial alone.  With his newfound fervor, Brad was the first to leave and the last to return. My heart warmed at his fresh perspective of European history.  An interest that continued when we returned to the states and rented every WWII movie produced.

Our final port landed us in Keil, Germany.  We took a one-hour train to Hamburg, the birthplace of my grandfather.  Hamburg was bigger than I imagined and the train station was like Grand Central in NY city.  Apparently, it was also a popular place for the Punk movement.  A young man with a purple mohawk approached me speaking German.  “No sprechen sie deutsch,” I managed to murmur in my limited German.

“Do you have a cigarette?”  he asked in English.

I handed him a cigarette then tracked down my husband to explore the town during our brief visit.  We found a random Oktoberfest and shopping promenade then returned to the train station and our cruise ship for our final night at sea.

East coast flying

Weather can often be a problem flying  in Florida, especially during the summer.  So my husband and I patiently waited for afternoon thunderstorms to dissipate prior to departing for our 10 day trip across the eastern US coast in our Cessna 182.  A trip that would take us to the Carolina’s, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, and everywhere in-between and above these states.  As dangerous weather cleared and our deadline hour approached we decided it was a go for our first stop at Oak Island, a random destination.

As expected we were in the clouds in instrument conditions for about a half hour then a clear blue sky exposed its calm beauty and smooth air as a welcomed relief.  With hubby navigating with his new iPad and aviation applications and me flying, we decided to land in Hilton Head, North Carolina for the evening instead of  pressing on to Oak Island.  The sun was quickly setting and we didn’t want to risk landing at an unknown airport at night without prior arrangements.

Well rested, I eagerly set out for my morning run along a level hard sand beach that didn’t tilt or slide into the ocean.  My ankles and body thanked me.  I passed horseshoe crabs that screamed prehistoric ancestry as they drifted onshore lifeless and archaic looking.  What do these things look like when they’re  energetically exploring the ocean I wondered.  Are they ever really full of life or do they just look like colossal  roaches that scour the sea.  When I returned to my hotel ninety minutes later the beach swarmed with pale-colored mid-western teens and families celebrating  Memorial Day weekend, the beginning of summer in the U.S.

After a quick shower and chiding from my husband for my blissful long run we waved down a passing taxi to escape the mass migration into Hilton Head.  Heading in the opposite direction to Washington D.C. we stopped a small airport on the border of North Carolina and Virgina known as South Boston County or William Tuck where reasonable fuel prices endured. 

Upon landing I immediately sought out a  bathroom where I encountered the only structure at the airstrip, a worn down trailer flanking a self-service fuel tank. Hurrying into the dilapidated structure,  four older men stared at me. 

I pointed to the bathroom, “is this the ladies room?”

With widened eyes they answered in unison, “yes ma’am.”

Without touching anything  I swiftly relieved myself and returned to the entrance. 

“You fly in alone?” one of them asked.

“Nope. Me, my husband and dog.  We’re just stopping for fuel.”

After some small talk a lovely elderly pilot handed me a bowl of water for my pup.  I took pictures of the quaint landing strip and off we went to the D.C. area.  Weather was excellent and the controllers were amicable for once.  Upon landing I realized I’d left my cell phone at our last stop, Tuck airport.  I frequently called my phone and the listed number for the rural airport all weekend to no avail.  I knew it was sitting on the wooden porch attached to the trailer. In fact I had a picture of it on our iPad that my husband took of me and my pup in the country, it sat in the corner of the deck.  If only someone would answer my phone, I was lost without it.

A familiar Maryland countryside greeted us with winding roads, endless acres of farmland spotted with mansions, horses in the distance and an occasional deer crossed our path.  The lowering sun danced through Maple and Oak trees and I heard riffle shots in the distance that made me cringe.  In no time we were relaxing at the farm with family and canines, sipping wine and catching up.

Since it was Memorial Day weekend we decided to visit Gettysburg the following day.  At the ticket counter an Abe Lincoln look-alike described various tours. Choosing the self-guided auto tour we popped in a CD and followed marked signs and numbers.   

At the first stop a lady knocked on my window, “Are you doing the auto tour?”  she asked bending down to my level as I rolled down the window.

“Yes,” I answered while turning down the CD.

“Can we follow you, we’re sort of lost?”

“OK, but I’m not sure if we know what we’re doing,”  I answered, not wanting to be responsible for someone else’s historical experience.

“It’s got to better than our attempt,” she quickly muttered.

I smiled, increased the CD volume and listened to stop number one’s narration that lasted about ten minutes.  Within this time the family wanting to follow us left. I was slightly insulted and didn’t understand my unwelcome feeling.  Arriving at the second stop we realized that we unknowingly listened to the first stop at the entrance. The stranger must have concluded that we were more screwed up than her family’s auto tour venture.

The rest of the two-hour history lesson went as planned with an occasional error playing  the CD at the wrong stop.  We viewed ridges, valleys, thousands of statues and learned an important part of American history.  A well spent Memorial Day, although half the population in the vicinity evidently shared our unique idea.

Our trip included two high school graduations where my husband and I were the best dressed.  Apparently, jeans and shorts are the norm at graduations nowadays.  I still like dressing up for important events so in my mind everyone else was wrong in their too casual approach to such an unparelled achievement.  My phone was also found by another pilot and sent back to me during our stop in Ohio.

Our flight back to Florida included a harrowing yet rewarding flight over the Appalachian Mountains as we were squished between a low cloud layer and  mountain tops. I felt like a marshmallow in a S’more crammed between two graham crackers. We couldn’t climb above the clouds due to known icing conditions and a decent below our average altitude of 6,000 would’ve left us dangerously kissing terrain.  A bit of moderate turbulence enlivened our ride and over three hours later we arrived at a quaint island named, Oak.