A Vagabond Life

Our view can change when we want it to!

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Day 54: Mammoth Caves

When first hearing of Mammoth Caves National Park years ago, I envisioned caverns filled with woolly mammoth remains. These large, hairy, elephant-like creatures with big tusks roamed the northern part of North America before becoming extinct in the last ice age. I thought this park was one of the their habitats. Daria and I visited the park last week to get the real story.

There are no mammoth bones, fossils or other remains in Mammoth Caves, and it’s unknown if a woolly mammoth ever stepped foot in the area. Mammoth in this usage means BIG, and this cave system is very big. In fact, it’s the longest known cave system in the world with more than 400 miles explored and many more miles yet to be explored. Early cave guide Stephen Bishop called the cave a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place” with its vast chambers and complex labyrinths earning it the name Mammoth. The National Parks Service (NPS) preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky.

The caves have been formed in limestone over millions of years and they’re still growing. Water collects in hundreds of sink holes around central Kentucky before going down into the limestone beneath. Underground rivers carry the water to Green River, which is above ground but below the level of the underground rivers. As the riverbed erodes away over time, the underground rivers drop deeper into the earth. This process has left upper caverns and passageways hollow as shown in the diagram below. The system of caves this process left behind has been used by humans for thousands of years.

cave_system

The NPS offers several guided tours through different parts of the cave system. Daria and I took two tours over two days. Each tour required a bus ride to an entrance before descending down.

BThe first was the Domes & Dripstones Tour. We went in the New Entrance to Mammoth Cave and descended down approximately 280 stairs into a dramatic series of domes and pits. The tour continued through several large passages and a variety of dripstone formations. The highlight was a massive dripstone formation called Frozen Niagara. It’s was a great way to see the many faces of some of Mammoth Cave’s passage ways.

domes

One of the the park rangers who guided the tours highly recommended we do the Great Onyx Lantern Tour next. The Great Onyx cave was privately owned and operated until the 1960’s. The owners where very strict about tourists touching anything so the cave survived the so-called “cave wars” against vandalism. It emerged as one of the most pristine show caves in the region. We explored this beautifully decorated natural wonder by lantern light and got a different perspective on the multitudes of dripstone, gypsum, and helictite formations.

daria_cavetour-frozenniagara
Our visit to Mammoth Caves gave us a renewed appreciation of the great work the NPS is doing to preserve, protect and promote our natural wonders. The park system is an important part of our heritage that provides all visitors today and in the future with unique opportunities to learn, explore, or just relax. I also got a few ideas about what my next career might be!

Day 53: North Carolina Tour

North Carolina has a special place in our hearts.  It’s the state that has beautiful mountains, coastlines and memories! It’s where Rick and I first started our married lives together.  It’s also the state where Thomas was born, met his first best friend and started kindergarten. Nick was born in Texas and living in North Carolina before he was two years old. He also made his first best friend there. Ashley was born in the state and would have loved to have grown up on the coast because of her passion for surfing.

North Carolina is where we returned recently to spend some of our Vagabond days. Our arrival was Labor Day weekend. Nick has been stationed here for five years and owns a home in Wilmington where he lives with his fiancée Ashley and her daughter Laini. The Rains of Hermine and a broken air conditioner at our son’s house couldn’t spoil this reunion.
laini

This was a special visit because the two families were coming together for the first time to meet each other and celebrate Laini’s sixth birthday. The drinks were flowing, the food was great (have you ever had a tomato pie?) and the company was excellent. Later in the day, as the men were snoozing on the couch the women were gathered around the table talking wedding details. That left us thirsty, so we went to see the wedding venue to get drinks and come up with ideas for decorating. The reception is going to be at the Ironclad Brewery in downtown Wilmington. The location is ideal and it was decided only a minimal touch was needed for decorations.

Our residence for ten days was the military campground on Camp Lejeune’s Onslow Beach. It was right on the ocean with miles and miles of mostly deserted beach – a benefit of being on a military base. Angus went swimming in the Atlantic for the first time. He also chased a lot of crabs.

Ashley asked me to go wedding dress shopping with her and Nana, her grandmother.  Who could say no to that?  The first shop we went to had a dress on sale and it was off the rack. Ashley came out and Nana and I both said, “That’s the one!”  Ashley thought so too. Just to make sure, she tried on two other dresses at that store and then more at a second and third store.  Nothing compared to the first dress.  After lunch, we said goodbye to Nana and Ashley and I headed back to the store for Ashley to say yes to the dress and celebrate with a wine toast!
ash_dariaOur last few days at Onslow Beach were memorable because we took Laini on her first camping trip.  She loved it!  There was a family in the tent area across from us that had a little girl Laini’s age.  They hit it off immediately and became inseparable.  Laini thought our campsite needed more decorations so we all decorated clothespins and the girls drew pictures that were hung around the camp from a rope.beachbeachart

We also met up with Mike and Dotty Dolan. Mike and Rick served in the same squadron in the Marines and have a lot of similar interests. Visiting with the Dolan’s has become somewhat of a tradition whenever we’re visiting Nick. We always have an enjoyable time catching up with them.

The time had come to say goodbye to our family and friends from the North Carolina coast and head inland. We would be back in April for the big wedding.

Our next stop was Monroe, NC, where another good friend of Rick’s from the Marine Corps lives. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon with Donnie and Betty Jordan and got to see their amazing old home, The Henry Hall Wilson House.  They host many events at their fine historic home and were busy when we arrived getting it ready for a wedding that weekend.

Our last stop in North Carolina was near a state park called Chimney Rock. We didn’t go up to the rock that looks like a big…well, use your imagination, but we did walk around the tourist town and had a great campsite right on a river.  The views were amazing as was the whole Lake Lure area. This about sums up our North Carolina trip!

p_rock

Day 46: Happy Days Traveling

No house, no job, no worries! That’s the Vagabond lifestyle. Some people we’ve met have been doing this for more than five years. One couple we spoke with has been on the road for thirteen years and their RV isn’t much larger than our 19 foot trailer. We’ve been traveling for about six weeks and that makes us bona-fide rookies in Vagabond living.

Although we’re rookies, we’re getting a sense of what this lifestyle is all about beyond taking showers in confined spaces. There’s no social status in a Vagabond life. Success isn’t measured by the size of your camper and no one cares if you were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a part time attendant at the county dump. As one long-term traveler told me, “That was then and this is now.” This lifestyle is all about just being you.

The concept is best summed up by an old fisherman I met this week, “When you got more money than time, stop worrying ‘bout money and start fishin’!” Wiser words have never been spoken. What’s important is learning to bring happiness to yourself and to others in your life, whatever happiness means to you.

Recent experience has also confirmed there’s no correlation between wealth and how happy a person is. While helping my friend Cris Dosev run for US Congress last month, I banged on the front door of over one thousand houses; many were big and beautiful and others tiny and decrepit. Some of the warmest smiles came from people living in the worst conditions.

I’m not suggesting people with less are happier than people with more, I’m saying you can’t tell how happy a person is by the way they live. Research has confirmed this. Spontaneous answers to questions about current happiness provide no insight into a person’s economic status. Only after the person with less money thinks about their status for a while do they feel they’d be happier with more money.

This doesn’t happen everywhere, though. Some of the happiest people I’ve meet in my life was when I trekked around Mount Everest in the late 1990s. The local Nepalese and Tibetan villagers were dirt poor by Western standards, but everyone had big smiles on their faces and suicide was an unknown concept.

happy

Daria and I are just getting started with this lifestyle and it keeps getting better every day. We’ve already met some interesting people on our trip and we’ve probably reconnected with more friends and family than most people will do in a decade. Who knows how long we’ll be on the road or what our next adventure will bring – that’s the fun of being Vagabond!

 

Day 36: Florida to North Carolina Road Race

  1. We departed Pensacola for North Carolina on August 31st.  There was a disturbance in the gulf that we had to stay ahead of.  We raced across the state to our first stop at Jacksonville NAS.  After arriving and setting up a basic camp*, we took the dogs for a walk, ate leftovers, and even did laundry for free!

Our next door neighbors at camp happened to be from Comfort, TX, about 20 miles from our old ranch in Medina.  It was interesting talking with them because they personally know the last survivor of The Doolittle Raiders. Richard Cole is 101 years old and lives a quiet life in Comfort. Our neighbors have lunch with him every week. They told us a few interesting stories about Lt. Col. Cole and also gave us some good pointers on staying at FAM CAMPS (Air Force campgrounds).

Our next stop was Charleston Air Force Base.  We had a nice site that backed up to a vacant field which was great for the dogs. We set up a basic camp again to get an early start the next morning because TS Hermine was fast approaching.  We were able to meet up with a friend of Rick’s and explore a small part of Charleston’s historic district.  It’s definitely on our revisit list.

hermine

The rains of Hermine have caught up to us overnight and we awoke to pouring rain. High winds had not reached us yet, so we got on the road as soon as possible. It was still dark and the rain was so heavy our visibility was only about fifty feet, and a couple of times we lost all visibility.  It was slow going. The dogs didn’t help the situation. They were hungry since we didn’t feed them or let them out to do their thing.  We finally stopped at a Publix and in the pouring rain took care of them. Angus left a nice mess in the parking lot and we were back on the road again.

We made it to Wilmington around 11 AM.  After a brief stop at Nick and Ashley’s to drop off the dogs and me, Rick headed up to Onslow Beach to get the camper set up. It poured rain on Rick the whole time, but the dogs and I were dry!

*Basic Camp – No unloading of necessities, able to get out with ease.

Day 32: Not a Jimmie Buffett Hurricane

So far we’ve been able to stay ahead of a major storm coming up the East Coast. But it’s about to catch up to us. On Friday, we’ll be at a campground in Camp Lejune on the coast of NC and will experience our first hurricane in our little 19 foot trailer. Our scuba gear is ready. This will be interesting!
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Day 28: What’s for Breakfast?

Do you wonder what we eat in this Vagabond lifestyle? I’ll start out by saying every meal has to be carefully planned out do to our micro-kitchen and the outdoor grills we’re cooking on. This is something I had to adjust to very quickly. I found a lot of help on Pinterest and RV related websites.

Cooking inside is difficult in the south in the summer. The heat builds up too quickly in the camper. We have a handy two burner camp stove and this is how most of our meals are cooked. The small Weber charcoal grill also gets a lot of use. The best kitchen appliance we brought along is the crockpot. Anything can be cooked in it.

Weber StoveCrock

Our breakfast is typically eggs, bacon or sausage, hash browns, toast, or perhaps we create a breakfast taco. Bagels and yogurt parfaits work when the weather is bad or we’re in a rush.

Lunch is easy. We have either leftovers or sandwiches. There’s a small microwave in the camper that we use occasionally to warm up food. The problem with the microwave is that it pulls so much amperage we have to shut the air conditioning off or the breaker trips.

Dinners are a varied mix of everything you can imagine; Italian sausages with peppers and onions, fish tacos with fresh fish, pasta and sauce (which I made and froze), Arroz con Pollo, pork chops and pot roast in the crockpot, steak, hamburgers, grilled chicken, pizza on the grill, etc. I’ve also tried several recipes I found on the internet; beef cabbage roll casserole, beefy cheesy low-carb green chili bake, and crock-pot chicken and stuffing.

We’re not skimping because of our tiny home – we’re just planning carefully. Cookies would taste good about right now, but it’s too hot to bake anything. Rick would like ice cream, but there really isn’t enough room in the freezer (he says we can make room).

We’re also grateful to have been invited to friends’ house for dinner! A big thanks to the Schwan’s and Dosev’s who invited us to dine with them in their beautiful homes.

Bon Appetite!

Day 27: Fish Tremble at the Name Dosev

Nemo sent an urgent message to all the fish within 50 square miles of Pensacola Bay, “The Dosev brothers are coming! Quickly, swim deep into the ocean!” Some fish didn’t listen and they paid the ultimate price. They became fish tacos.

The Gulf Coast is a fisherman’s paradise. I was fortunate to spend one morning with two of the best fisherman in the area, Vincent and Cristov Dosev Jr. There’s nothing these two brothers enjoy more than motoring their 24 foot SeaHunt Triton out to a favorite fishing hole and catching a few big ones.

My instructions were to be at the marina no later than 5:30 AM. I arrived at 5:15 AM. The brothers were out on the town the night before so I figured they’d be late. Wrong. Not when it comes to fishing. They arrived at 5:20 along with their Bulgarian helper, Nickolai.

In no time the SeaHunt was in the water and Skipper Vince took the helm. Surf conditions were perfect – no chop and a 7 MPH breeze out of the east. The Gulf Coast sunrise was breathtaking as we motored out of Pensacola Bay.

Sunrise1Sunrise2

Our first fishing spot was 20 miles off the coast. We dropped anchor on sandy bottom about 100 feet deep and then dropped in a few lines to catch live bait. The Ruby Red Lip Grunts were very accommodating and we snagged a couple dozen in no time. Now the real fishing begins. Within a few minutes we hooked a 7-foot shark and another big fish that escaped at the last second. The Amberjack we were fishing for didn’t seem to be around, so we pulled anchor headed to another spot.

Pete Tide Wreck is a sunken tug boat sitting about 9 miles off the coast in 90 feet of water. Wrecks are a magnet for big fish because that’s where the little fish are. We cast our lines over the wreck and the fish took notice.

Our first strike was a 20 pound Amberjack. It was a nice fish and within the legal limit. The story is that I caught this fish, but like most fish tales, there was only an element of truth to the story. Cris hooked the fish and gave me the rod. Somehow I managed to reel it in without losing the fish or the rod.

Our biggest strike happened about an hour later. Nickolai hooked a 35 pound Cobia. This is an unusual catch because Cobia are typically running in the spring. Cris was ecstatic after we gaffed the fish and brought it aboard. In fact, I think he fell in love with it. You be the judge.

RickAJ

Cris-w-fish

The fish tacos were delicious. Lisa Dosev used a special seasoning. I had to look twice at the label to make sure I read it right. Thanks Lisa!

YaMama

The fishing expedition was a nice break from weeks of campaigning for Cris Dosev for US Congress. He’s a front-runner in the republican primary in this district. The election is Tuesday, and that means our stay in Pensacola is getting short. We’ll soon pack up and get on the road to visit Nick, our newly engaged son, Ashley, his fiancée, and Lani, our soon to be granddaughter. Daria and I will be feasting on Amberjack and Cobia along the way.

Crew

The motley crew.

Day 20: A Short Military History of NAS Pensacola

Naval Air Station Pensacola is known as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It is home to the Navy’s first flight school established in 1914. In keeping with the long tradition, all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviators pass through Pensacola to receive their initial primary flight training. I went through primary here in 1981. NAS Pensacola is also home to the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron – more commonly known as the Blue Angels – and home to the incredibly awesome Naval Aviation Museum.

The areas military importance didn’t begin in 1914 with the establishment of a flight school. It goes back much further and is important to the early history of the nation.

Spanish explorers discovered the strategic importance of Pensacola in early 1500s and established the first colony here in 1559. By 1698, Spain had built fort San Carlos de Austria. The fort changed hands a few times over the hundred years. It was besieged by native Indians in 1707 but not taken. The French took it 1719, and then British colonists took over in 1763 as part of a property exchange with France.

Spain sided with the American rebels during the Revolutionary War and recaptured the area and fort in 1781. They planned to stay for a while and by 1797 had completed San Carlos de Barrancas, a brick fortification. The British took San Carlos de Barrancas in the War of 1812 after the Spanish left it defenseless.

Barrancas
Fort Barrancas on NAS Pensacola

The British subsequently abandoned the fortification. General Andrew Jackson found it in ruins in 1814 when he arrived with 4,000 troops. Jackson didn’t stay either. The Spanish returned to the site in 1817 and rebuilt Barrancas bigger and larger than it was before. That structure still stands today on NAS Pensacola property. Spain ceded the fort and all Western Florida to the United States in 1821. Jackson found himself in Pensacola again, this time as the territorial governor of Florida.

The area became a thriving shipbuilding community in 1825 with the opening of the Gulf Coast Navy Yard. This region is home to an abundance of live oaks that were used to build ships. This ultra-dense wood was used to build the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides. No iron was used on the sides of Old Ironsides. The wood is so strong that cannon balls bounced off. The Naval Live Oaks Reservation near Gulf Breeze is a testament to this phenomenal resource. The land was purchased in 1828 by the U.S. government and is the only federal tree farm in existence.

The Civil war put Pensacola back into play in January 1861. Florida did not initially secede from the Union and confederate forces were moving in from the west. Fort Pickens was now the center of military defense for the area. It’s a massive fortification on the barrier island at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. Short on troops, Lieutenant Adam Slemmer spiked the cannons at Fort Barrancas to make them inoperable and consolidated his forces at Fort Pickens. That same day Florida seceded from the Union and Commodore James Armstrong surrendered the Navy Yard to the Confederacy.

Lieutenant Slemmer did not give into the confederates. He instead bombarded the mainland rendering the Navy Yard useless. A truce was put in place for a while, but in October 1861, Confederate forces unsuccessfully attacked Fort Pickens. Union forces seized Pensacola in the spring of 1862 and reinforced the fort. They held it until the end of the war.

The Navy closed the shipyard in 1911.  A hurricane in 1906 destroyed much of the shipyard and naval vessels in port as well as the nearby town of Woolsey where workers lived. Iron had also replaced live oak in shipbuilding by this time.

Pensacola had a resurrection in 1914 as the Pensacola Aeronautic Station. The navy recognized the importance of aircraft in naval warfare and established the base to train aviators. There were 38 naval aviators and 54 airplanes in Pensacola by the outbreak of WWI in 1916. Two years later, the base trained 1,000 aviators and housed hundreds of land based aircraft, seaplanes and balloons. During WWII, the based trained 1,100 aviators per month.

NAS Pcola
NAS Pensacola in the 1940s

In June 1981, I arrived in Pensacola as a young Marine 2nd Lieutenant ready for initial flight training. After 18 months and a lot of hard work, Daria pinned on my wings of gold. Nearly 30 years later, Daria and I were privileged to pin those same set of wings on our son, Marine Captain “Nick” Ferri. It’s an honor for our family to be part of the rich heritage surrounding historic NAS Pensacola.

Day 18: Observations from the Road

We’re in our third week of the RV lifestyle and making good progress adapting. Here are my thoughts and observations so far:

THE DOGS:

The dogs have adjusted pretty well to this lifestyle.  “Major” travels well in the back seat area but “Angus” can’t sit still. He paces back and forth and occasionally stands with his head over the center and pants heavily, which bugs a certain male human to no end. Walking the dogs has its ups and downs.  Angus wants to walk and while Major dawdles and has to think about every step.

We have been told that our dogs are well behaved in the campground.  They don’t bark at other dogs and rarely bark at all.

The Blue Angels practice three times a day and fly right over the NAS Pensacola campground.  Angus doesn’t like that at all.  Maybe it’s the high pitched whine of a jet in afterburner or just the loudness of it all.  It’s funny that this scares Angus and doesn’t bother Major one bit.

NAVIGATION:

Google Maps is our very best friend to get from point A to point B especially if we use the back roads.

Our mileage between stops is based on 4-5 hour drive…no more.  Stopping for lunch at a road side rest area is a must for the dog’s sake.

GLAMPING:

Being retired from the military has its benefits.  Two of our three stops so far have been in campgrounds on military bases. We feel secure and have access to all amenities, especially inexpensive laundromats.

The shower in our humble abode is so tiny that campground showers are a must.  So far it’s been an OK experience. Camp showers are clean, roomy, and pretty much bug-free.

Campground internet is great when it works. The Pensacola campground internet hasn’t worked in a week due to a lighting strike.

Grounds personnel do all the mowing and yard work. I still can’t grasp the idea that we don’t have to do that ever again!

Inside the camper we have a small three burner stove and a small oven.  We used the stove to heat water one day.  Not only did it heat the water but it heated the entire camper, which wasn’t too pleasant because it’s already hot and humid. No more of that until winter.  We cook outdoors most of the time – on the grill and a stand up camp stove.

Our refrigerator is small and the freezer is even smaller so we can only shop for 3-4 days’ worth of food.

Cleaning the camper takes maybe 10 minutes (that’s very nice!).

Heavy duty Surge Protectors are a necessity to prevent your electrical system from being damaged.

We haven’t missed having a TV although, when we have internet, we can get Netflix.

RV forums have a wealth of information for full-timers. They’ve saved us a lot of time and money.

Glue traps come in handy to catch mice as in last night.  We woke up to the sound of something clicking thinking it was Angus dreaming.  Instead, he was standing and staring at the bathroom.  There it was the mouse stuck on the glue trap!!  Glue Trap – 1  Mouse – 0.

Thankfully, Rick is quite the handyman.  He’s repaired the closet rod which fell during transit on the crazy bumpy Louisiana highway. Our refrigerator vent cover went missing during our transit from Gulfport to Pensacola. That turned our nice looking camper into a ghetto camper. We ordered the part from Amazon and he fixed that this morning.  Thank you Mr. Fix It Man no more Ghetto Camper!

ODDS AND ENDS

Our clothing is very basic; most of the time we’re in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Everyone in the campground is the same way. There’s no reason to get dressed up.

Sad to say we have run out of our own farm fresh chicken eggs.

Eggs

Day 15: Two Miracles in One Day

August 14: A Day to Remember

Miracles don’t occur very often. When two happen in one day it’s a miracle in itself. Yesterday was one of those days.

Brady 1 Day Old

The first miracle was Brady Gene Ferri coming into this world. Brady was born to our son Thomas and his wife Jess early in the morning in St. Louis. Daria’s earlier blog has all the details. We’re looking forward to meeting Brady and visiting with Thomas, Jess, Tyson and Desmond in mid-September.

Accident

The second miracle happened upon Daria’s 85 year old mother, Marguerite Hoelscher. Marguerite was driving back from the market by herself on August 13 when she hit a curve and lost control. The car flipped 2 ½ times and ended up in a cotton field resting on the passenger’s side. The airbags deployed on initial impact, and she found herself dangling in her seat-belt when everything stopped.

Marguerite started dialing family members for help (she forgot to dial 911). A passing car stopped to help, made the 911 call and emergency vehicles were dispatched. Rescue workers had to use the Jaws of Life to cut her out of the car.

Miraculously, Marguerite had no serious injuries and was released from the hospital a few hours later. The Sheriff said a combination of a big car, airbags deploying, and a Guardian Angel saved her life.

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