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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Biking the Mississippi Levee

Hi Blog.  Today is Thursday.  We decided to take a day off from tourist attractions and get out and about on our bicycles.  Our campground is only a half a block away from the Mississippi River.  We can't actually see the river from the campground because of the huge levee built to control flooding.  However, it is pretty cool to see the large oil tankers and cargo ships go floating over the tops of the trees.

The Mississippi levee system represents one of the largest systems found anywhere in the world. It comprises over 3,500 miles of levees extending some 620 miles along the Mississippi, stretching from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to the Mississippi Delta. They were begun by French settlers in Louisiana in the 18th century to protect the city of New Orleans. The first Louisiana levees were about 3 feet high and covered a distance of about 50 miles along the riverside. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the Mississippi River Commission, extended the levee system beginning in 1882 to cover the riverbanks from Cairo, Illinois to the mouth of the Mississippi delta in Louisiana. By the mid-1980s, they had reached their present length and averaged 24 feet in height; however, some Mississippi levees are as high as 50 feet. The Mississippi levees also include some of the longest continuous individual levees in the world. One such levee extends southwards from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for a distance of some 380 miles.

On top of the levee is a bike trail known as the Mississippi River Trail.  The part of the trail that leads into New Orleans is paved with asphalt and lined.  It is actually in better condition than most of the roads we drove on.  Here is the view heading into New Orleans.  You can just make out the tall buildings at the end of the trail.

The first part of the ride took us past some really nice neighborhoods.  This part of the city is above sea level, so they didn't experience the flooding that large parts of New Orleans experienced.  However, they did have a lot of wind damage and even a tornado that touched down and wiped out a strip shopping center.  Looking down from on top of the levee we could see lots of new roofs. Some businesses left town not because of flood damage but because it was too hard to conduct business after Katrina.  It has been 8 years since the storm, but there is still work to be done.  There are still houses and business boarded up.

After about 9 miles on the trail, we ran into a levee reconstruction project and had to make the final mile to our destination through the city streets. Good thing we had lots of practice on the mean streets of Philadelphia. We'll take a trail ride over a city street ride any day.

The reward for our effort was Cooter Browns.  We heard about this place from our shuttle driver.  We drove past it two days in a row on the way into the French Quarter.  The first time, he told us they have great food.  The second time, he told us they have over 400 beers, 40 of which are on tap.  Once we heard that, we knew this was the place for us.  Here is Kathy enjoying a belgian strong dark ale - Delirium Noturnom.  Dave tried the Jackson Stoudt. We both ended up having an alligator Po'boy for lunch.  For those from Philadelphia, it is very similar to a hoagie. For everyone else, think of it as a submarine sandwich on French bread.

There are a few businesses on the river side of the levee, mostly shipping and construction.  However, much of the land on each side of the levee is just open space that the state keeps mowed.  This makes for great horseback riding.  We passed a number of stables and saw a few folks out riding along side the bike trail.

New Orleans is very proud to have one of the longest train bridges in the U.S. - the Huey P. Long Bridge. We stopped to watch a train go over.

We also stopped and waived to the crew of this tanker.

We were really surprised at how clean and well maintained the levee was.  We also expected to see a lot more old warehouses and junk - not so.  We were surprised that so much of the ride was along side residential neighborhoods and golf courses. We look forward to riding in the opposite direction next time.

Eddie & George Wake Up On the Mississippi

George:  Where are we this time, Eddie?

Eddie:  I think we're on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.  Ole Man River.  The Big Muddy.  "Large River" to the Ojibwe-Chippewa Tribes.  A working river.  River of many songs and stories.

George:  Quite so, Eddie.  Looking out just now, I see three tugboats, two oil tankers and a couple barges.  And that's just within eye-shot from where we sit.

Eddie:  I wish we had a raft, you know, so we could just float down the river.  There warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.

George:  It'd be lovely to live on a raft. We'd have the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we'd lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.

Eddie:  Yep.  Sort of like RV'ing, 'cept on the water.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Museum Day in New Orleans

Having walked all around the French Quarter on Tuesday, we focused today on the two biggest museums in New Orleans:  Blain Kern's Mardi Gras World, and the National World War II Museum.  We started with the Mardi Gras museum.

It's very hard to describe adequately all that we saw at the museum - nearly as hard as it would be to fully explain the experience of a Mardi Gras parade itself.  The Blain Kern Studio is responsible for creating most of the floats used in Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The floats are all built at this location, and our tour took us through the actual workplace, as artists worked on portions of floats for next year's Mardi Gras.

Here's Kathy at the entrance to the museum posing with some of the figures created by the Blain Kern Studio:

As we started the tour, we were given time to take photos of ourselves with various Mardi Gras figures.  Here's a photo of Kathy with Rex:

David chose to be a jester:

There were so many fantastical figures stored in the warehouse!  We were given freedom to wander around and take photos as we pleased.  Here are some that we found particularly interesting:

Wait!  One of the figures in the following photo wasn't a typical Mardi Gras figure.  How did he get there?

After the Mardi Gras museum, we walked through the Warehouse District over to the National World War II Museum - a complex of several buildings with various superb exhibits on the history of WWII.  We had a chance to view "Beyond All Boundaries," the Tom Hanks 4D movie summarizing the events of the war.  We then toured the rest of the exhibits, spending nearly 3 hours in the war museum.

After the National World War II Museum, we walked back to the Convention Center and through Riverwalk, a mall of shops along the Mississippi River, and then along the river itself, back to Crescent City Brewhouse in the French Quarter, the only micro-brewery in that area.  After a refreshing brew, we used the rest of our visit today strolling through the French Market and further along the river before catching the shuttle back to the campground.

First Day in the French Quarter

Hi Blog.  Tuesday was our first trip into the Big Easy.  Our campground runs a shuttle into the French Quarter.  We left the campground at 9:00 a.m.  It was pretty cold and windy, but very bright and sunny.  New Orleans is a lot like Philadelphia or any other big city - lots of traffic, murders on the evening news, people getting robbed in churches, pan handlers who go around with dogs in tu-tus.  You know, just your average big city.

Once we got dropped off, we headed to the Visitor's Center.  On the way, we stopped at Jackson Park. Here is the cathedral at the edge of the park.  Check out all the azaleas - it's spring (despite the cold weather)!

We didn't have time for breakfast before catching the shuttle this morning, so we stopped at a little french bistro for a couple of Cajun omelettes.  They put us right in a window seat, so we could watch all the tourists go by.

We spent the rest of the afternoon following a self-guided walking tour around the French Quarter.  We stopped several times to listen to various street performers.  The music varied - jazz, blues and rock and roll.

After a late lunch of chicken andouille gumbo, we strolled along the Mississippi.  Here is the riverboat Natchez.  We are hoping to take a jazz lunch cruise next week.

Along the river bank, we ran into another group of street performers, the Calypso Tumblers.  Some may have seen them on Season 2 of "America's Got Talent."  These guys are amazing dancers and acrobats.

We would have liked to stay longer, but the shuttle was coming back to get us at 5:45.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paddling the Blackwater River

Today we drove about 30 miles up to Milton, Florida to paddle on the Blackwater River.  The river is an easy paddle, maybe 2-3 feet deep, with white sand bottom and beautiful white sand beaches.  Here's Kathy as we launched on the river.  She's already looking relaxed!

The scenery was beautiful, with mostly Eastern Pine, cypress, some maple and birch trees.  We didn't see much animal life - a few birds and some turtles and perhaps one fishy rise.  But the structure of the stream and the bright blue sky and smell of pine was enough for us:

After half an hour or so, we stopped for lunch on one of the many beaches.  Here's selfies of us just hanging out:

We weren't alone on the river.  Many turtles took advantage of the warm sun to enjoy themselves.  Here are three of them (well, 2 turtle faces and one turtle butt in the middle):

The entire trip only took between 1.5 and 2 hours.  On our drive home we passed the causeway to Navarre Beach, and at 3:30 pm, the traffic was still backed up all the way across the causeway to our side, with people trying to get over to the beach.  This was the nicest day since Spring Break started, and everyone wanted to get to the beach. 

Not us.  Just mellowed out on Blackwater River.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Visit With Anne

Hi Blog.  Today is Saturday.  We drove over to Panama City Beach to visit an old friend - Anne Davenport.  Well, she's not old, just a friend that we've know for a long, long, long time.  Anne and Kathy were both members of the original Patrick Stewart fan club - the International Audience Alliance for Patrick Stewart (IAAPS).  As we travel around the country, we are trying to stop and visit as many folks as we can.

Here is Anne climbing into Great White.

We had a great lunch at a local Japanese restaurant, followed by ice cream cones.  (How can you go to the beach and not get ice cream!) The rest of the day was spent reminiscing about all the frequent flier miles earned in pursuit of Patrick, all the various other fandoms we've encountered and life in general.  As we tried to solve all the problems of the world, we just ran out of time.  We'll be back in Florida again some day, and we'll try and finish that discussion.  Until then.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Naval Aviation Museum

Hi Blog! Today is Friday. We spent the first part of the day taking care of business and working on the annual tax return.  After lunch, we decided to head into Pensacola (or as a friend kept calling it Pepsicola) to visit the Naval Air Museum. We loved all the hands-on displays.  Here is Dave checking out a helicopter cockpit.

Kathy went for the fighter jet.

We took in an Imax movie regarding the Canadian Trans-Continental Railroad.  We are so excited to get out west.  The museum was great.  (Thanks Eric and Ginny for the heads up.)  We just wish we had more time to check out all the cool stuff.  It is definitely worth the trip if you are in the area.

Tomorrow, we tackle Panama City Beach and Destine!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Today dawned cold but sunny.  Our projected high was only going to be perhaps 61F.  We decided to bicycle out to the Gulf Islands National Seashore to explore the dunes, the ocean, the bay and Civil War era Fort Pickens.  Fort Pickens is most notoriously known as the place where Apache Chief Geronimo and his followers were held in 1886-1887 after his surrender.

Here's a photo of Kathy at the park entrance.  You can see from her clothing that, even though it was nearly noon, the day was quite chilly.

We parked the bikes at a signpost and took photos of them from each compass direction.  Sand, sea and sky every direction!

Our first stop was Langdon Battery, a brick and concrete emplacement buried in a sandy hillside.  Here's a photo of David atop the battery with a good view of the Gulf of Mexico and the dunes below.

 Fort Pickens is similar to some of the other forts designed after the War of 1812 to protect American ports.  However, Fort Pickens differs markedly from some of the others in that its design departs from a rigid 5-sided or 6-sided polygon and includes open elements.  Many tunnels survive.  Here is a photo of Kathy in a mine tunnel - a place where mines were stored before laying them in the harbor to protect against enemy ships.

 Look carefully at the photo above.  We were completely alone back in one of the tunnels when we took the photo, but if you look above Kathy to the left, you'll see a head and shoulders looming from around a corner.  We can only say this:  That face and shoulder poke out from a slight indentation at a dead end of the tunnel where the light hangs.  We walked down there and no one was there.  Park rangers tell of sightings of the ghosts of Civil War soldiers in the tunnels, and we wonder whether, perhaps, this was one of them.  We'll never know.

On the other hand, this photo is definitely NOT a picture of Civil War or Apache prisoners or their ghosts.  As we walked out on the parade grounds, we heard giggling shouts of "Let us out!  Let us out!"  We looked over and, as I took the photos, the kids hammed it up for the camera.

After touring the fort, we pedalled back to Pensacola Beach where we had parked the truck.  We had a hearty lunch.  Kathy had Oysters Rockefeller for the first time.  David had fish chowder made with grouper.  We poked around the tourist section of the beach and rode a very large Ferris Wheel, which gave 360 degree views of the island.  Here's a photo of Kathy looking West along the island toward the National Seashore.

By the time we finished our stroll around the beach and out the Pensacola Beach Pier, it had gotten much warmer.  We enjoyed the sun a bit before driving back the campground and a hearty dinner of 13-bean turkey chili.

Sunrise Over Navarre, Florida

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Walk to Navarre Beach

Hey Blog!  Today is Wednesday.  The first day of Spring.  You would never know it here in Florida.  We woke up today to very cold, windy, cloudy, damp and smoky weather.  There are several forest fires nearby sending smoke our way.  It was too cold to kayak or bike, so we decided to do a little walking.  We can see the Navarre Beach Bridge from our campground.  We did the mapquest.  It was only 2.7 miles to the beach.  So, we packed a day pack and began our trek.  Here's the view from the top of the causeway looking down onto Navarre Beach.

At the bottom of the bridge, we stopped to fortify ourselves with a couple of Pina Coladas!  There were  lots of spring breakers playing beach volleyball.  No matter how much they drank, they couldn't stop shivering from the cold.  It really wasn't a beach day, but they were not going to be denied!

There is a fishing pier in Navarre Beach that goes out into the Gulf of Mexico.  Dave got caught on it.

There are loads of condos on this tiny little barrier island.  Because of the weather, the beach was almost empty.  The Gulf looked particularly green today.

All of the fishermen have custom cooler carts loaded with several fishing poles, tackle boxes, nets and coolers.  It is all about how cool is your cooler cart.

By the time we got back to camp it was Happy Hour.  The sun had finally burned through all the haze and we were treated to a little blue sky.  It was still chilly, so the fleece jackets weren't far away.  Here is Kathy resting her tired tootsies while enjoying a another pina colada!

We are looking forward to getting our bikes out tomorrow.

Eddie & George Wake Up at Emerald Beach

Eddie:  Thank you for the coffee, George.

George:  No problem, man.

Eddie:  What time is it?

George:  7:30 in the morning.

Eddie:  WHAT????  I never get up before 8:00.  What happened?

George:  We changed time zones.  Now we're in the Central Time Zone and we fell back an hour.

Eddie:  That hurts.  I could have slept an extra hour.  I'm getting really confused.  We just sprang forward a week or two ago, and now we're falling back.  So now I don't know where I am, and I don't know what time it is.

George:  Sort of makes you feel like Julio down by the schoolyard, ay?

Eddie:  What's this "ay" thing?

George:  Well, I've been spending a lot of time with the Michiganders and Canadians who winter over down here, and that's the way they say it.  So I figure, that makes sense, ay?

Eddie:  Whatever.

Monday, March 18, 2013

And now for something more sedate...

Hi Blog.  It took a while to recover from the "Trucks Gone Wild" rally on Saturday.  Had to wash our t-shirts three times before getting all the dirt out.  We're still cleaning the dust bunnies out of our ears!  However, It was well worth it, and gave us lots to talk about with our fellow campers, some of whom were a lot muddier than we were.

Sunday dawned a little cloudy and the threat of rain was to increase as the day went on.  So, we headed over early to the Perry Golf and Country Club for our first round of golf in many, many years.  The course is nine holes, but is designed to be played from two different tee boxes allowing for a full 18 holes of golf. However, since this was our first outing, we opted to just do the first nine holes.

Needless to say, we were both a little rusty.  However, we take great pride in the fact that we only lost one golf ball.  Dave's drive off the hole pictured below was just too low to clear the water hazard.  Kathy's drive only cleared it by an inch.  (David says, "All right, let's be honest.  What she means is that DAVE lost HIS golf ball, but Kathy didn't.  I'm man enough to admit it.")  Here is Kathy showing the form she used to clear the hazard.

After golf, we wanted to head into town for lunch and some shopping.  However, we quickly learned that the town of Perry pretty much rolls up the sidewalks on Sundays.  All the shops and restaurants were closed.  So, we went back to the RV and did some chores.  Managed to get some grilling in before the rain really started.

Monday morning dawned a little gray and sprinkly, but that didn't stop us from getting out and running around the campground.  The first time we ran the other day, we only completed two laps in 13 minutes.  This morning, we managed three laps in 20 minutes.  Our goal is to get our aerobic capacity up to running 20 minutes ever couple of days.  Just one more activity in our ever expanding list to keep us healthy and happy.  We love endorphines for breakfast!

We have more chores planned for today including hair cuts.  Here is Dave sporting his new do.

We'll that't it for now.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trucks Gone Wild!

Where do we start?  Someone in the campground told us about a truck mud rally down the road, and we checked into it.  It seems the Iron Horse Mud Ranch, about 5 miles south of our campground, hosts an annual truck mud rally, and locals think it's the biggest event of the year.  This year, the rally is also being filmed for TV on the show called, "Trucks Gone Wild."

Well, we had to go.

We got up this morning, mounted our bikes, and pedaled 5 miles down the road until we saw the sign:

Then we got in a LONG line to pay the entrance fee:

 Once inside, the sponsors and vendors had their tents and trailers.  There were lots of event t-shirts for sale, but none appealed to us (well, one of those pink fluorescent things that let everything hang out appealed to David, but he wanted it occupied and Kathy wouldn't let him get one occupied.

We kid you not:  EVERYONE who goes to this rally attends in the biggest, baddest trucks they can find - even some homemade things that are hard to describe.  Like this:

And this:

Our campground neighbors tipped us off that the two best events are the "Freestyle," which started at noon, and the "Big Hole" event, which started at 2pm.  So we decided to go catch those events.

Here's a photo of one of the most exciting entrants in the Freestyle event, just after he tipped his truck over.  The crowd went wild.  No one was hurt in the making of this excitement.

Then some of the other Freestyle entrants realized there was a huge mud puddle right in front of where we were standing.  They started driving right through it and splashing mud on all of us.  Everyone got smeared with mud the first time.  But, after that, we were all onto the scam.  However, the fan stampede was a dangerous thing.  Here's a photo of one entrant getting his mud splash going in our direction:

This Freestyle event was pretty awesome.  Most of the entrants went over sand jumps that caused their trucks to fly and bounce around.  Here's one pretty dramatic jump:

After the Freestyle, we went over and got lunch - a BBQ pork sandwich and fries, of course.  Then we headed over to the "Big Hole" event.  In this event, all of the mud trucks have to try to get across a wide and DEEP mudhole.  Suffice it to say that none of the contestants was able to do it.  Each one had to be towed out of the hole, and the contest organizers anticipated that by having a huge rope and backhoe ready to pull each one out.

Our favorite entrant was this little jeep.  He couldn't get very far because he wasn't very big (you need MONSTER tires).  But he made up for size with his panache.  This is the "BEFORE" shot:

This is the "AFTER" shot:

We swear to you that NO ONE came to the truck rally in anything but trucks.  No cars.  We were absolutely the only ones to come on bicycles.  One guy even took our photo!

We can't resist a special feature on this blog entry.


We learned a lot about how to be a redneck at this truck rally.  Here are the TOP TEN things you need to do to be a GENUINE REDNECK.

1. Drive a honking truck.

2. Speak only in monosyllables and only in sentences of three words or less.

3. Get your neck red.

4. Eat fried chicken and throw the bones out of your truck as you drive down the road.

5. Wear your jeans so low that your beer belly hangs out front and your butt crack hangs out back.  (This is especially required of women.)

6. Women only:  Be sure to wear a bikini top, cutoff shorts and cowboy boots.

7. Women, you score extra points if you're over 250 pounds and wear that outfit.

8. Teeth are optional.

9. Bring a blow-up sex doll to the mud truck rally, and, if you're a woman, make passionate love to it.

10. If you're a guy, bring along a toolbelt that holds a six-pack of beer.