Six Point Five / Ten

Ten months ago today we took the picture on the top of our blog page, and six and a half of those months we’ve been on the road.  We’ve reached the mountains again, and will stay in them pretty much for the remainder of our adventure.

We both noticed the extent to which returning to the crisp and dry air, rushing streams, and pine smell gave us a palpable sense of relief.  Even if things change dramatically, there’s no doubt this part of the country feels like home.

Here’s our progress:


Still no real movement on the house, other than some verbal feints: “what if we offer this?” Us: “Put it writing and see!” (more or less… that’s a two-line summary of various painstaking multi-day exchanges) and lots of vaguely positive but ultimately unproductive feedback from open houses and visits.  It hits Tacco and I at different times — our frustration with the house situation that is — and I think it comes more from realizing that we really need to be looking forward now, not back.  The idea that selling our house was once a no-kidding prerequisite for even doing this trip seems hopelessly quaint now.  It now looks probable that we will have done the entire year paying for an empty house.

Interestingly, what we’ve learned is that we can be pretty thrifty on the road, even without skimping.  Our only main expenses are gas, RV sites (lodging), food, and entertainment.  The entertainment tends to be cheap if not free, arising naturally from our destinations.  And we’ve gotten very good at meal planning, such that we very rarely eat out.  Even fast food, which we’ve not done once.

At any rate, we are still optimistic that we’ll get it sold based on recent activity, and we have left July and August fairly open and unplanned, anticipating the need to both  return to Maryland to pack out our house at some point and do some house-hunting in Bend (or wherever — still not 100%!).  We still intend to nail that down before the kids start school.

If you look at our map, it has us returning to Park City after we’re done playing in the Colorado / NM Rockies and eastern Utah.  I’ll fly a trip from there, and then we’ll bolt to Bend in order to reach it by the 4th of July.   Our stay in Bend is open-ended.  We added a possible (hopeful?) loop through Washington and northern Oregon just because.  But we’ll see!

That’s not much traveling left, and that fact has yet to sink in…


This was a long two days, but significant.  Or at least they felt that way.  Essentially we made our way from what I think of as The East, to The West.  For what I assume is the last time.

As has been the case of late, Tacco’s description is both thorough and insightful, so I’ll stick with providing some color commentary.

Our route below, also as usual:



A few things struck me about the drive.  The first was the German influence in western Missouri.  I know next to nothing about Missouri save for what I learned in the previous few days, but I hadn’t expected to see so many small towns with German names and the obvious provenance.  Possibly “Anheuser Busch” should have given me a clue?

The second was that eastern Kansas and western Kansas are very different.  Eastern Kansas seems to be where most of the “civilization” is… the college towns, the reasonable sized cities, the trees, etc.  It’s a pretty area.  We circumnavigated Kansas City, but we stopped in Topeka and drove through Manhattan, home of Kansas State University.  Both places had a vibe I appreciated.

Western Kansas, on the other hand, is wide open.  WIDE open.  As is eastern Colorado.

I want to dwell on Topeka for a moment, though, as we stopped there to visit the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historical Site there, and it affected me more deeply than I would have guessed it would have.

I confess to having had only a bare bones knowledge of Brown v. Board prior to this visit, and I learned quite a bit on our stop.  I won’t belabor the points Tacco already made, even though they affected me as well.  What really stayed with me (I almost wrote “haunted me”) after viewing the exhibit was this idea that our country was a very different place only a few decades ago, and it’s exceedingly easy to forget that.

There is significant exhibit space devoted to fleshing out the ideas and consequences of racial segregation, and tangentially, the degree to which a large segment of society seemed to be not just ok with this idea, but willing to fight for it.  To watch video of not only the common folk, but the authorities and elected officials standing up with what appears to be a clear air of moral superiority in support of segregation is more than a little mind-blowing in 2018.

But I think what stuck with me most were the videos of the people reacting to the protesters.  And by protesters I don’t mean aggressive, sloganeering, in your face types, I mean people trying simply to walk quietly into a school.  The people around them are screaming, pushing, spitting… it’s shocking, frankly.  And when I go deeper and try to get into the heads of these folks, whom I whole-heartedly believe were convinced they were doing “the right thing” at the time…  It scrambles your brain a bit.  I could go far deeper here, but I’ll leave it at that.

It stuck with me.

After our Topeka stop we headed into Kansas’ great western unknown in search of our Friday-night-of-Memorial-Day-weekend campsite.  I had no idea how this would turn out, as this was the first time we started a Davista drive without a definite destination reserved, and on a holiday weekend to boot.  My operating assumption was that this being Kansas, the people-to-space ratio couldn’t possibly support fully occupied campgrounds.  Hmmmm…

Our plan consisted of stopping successively at four campgrounds, using their occupancy state, the surroundings, and my sciatica to determine where we’d drop anchor.  The first was at a city park which I’d repeatedly tried to call to verify vacancy, but got no answer.  It became abundantly clear why there was no one at the other end of the phone line once we pulled into the campground.  Wow.  Tacco’s description was diplomatic.  I’ll remain diplomatic, but slightly less so – there was no chance we were staying here with our kids, free of charge or not.  There are some seriously depressed towns in central Kansas, and we had found one.  I wish we had photos… kinda… but that would be piling on.  Better to just move on.

The next stop was at Glen Elder State Park on Waconda Lake in Cawker City.  The campground here was enormous.  And completely full.  And then some.  Not only were all the sites occupied, but people seemed to be camping on any open grass spot they could find.  It was quite the festive atmosphere.  We drove around all four (or more?) campground loops, past hundreds of campsites, for a good half hour if not a full hour, before we talked to the ridiculously friendly camp host, who advised us to just grab an open area of grass and relax.  Great idea.  We did as she suggested and didn’t even disconnect the car.  Here’s where we were.  I almost wished we could stay a while.


We fired up the generator, made some dinner, ate, and went to bed.  Nothing wrong with that.

Knowing there was yet another long drive ahead of us, we decamped pretty early in the morning.  We did stop in Nicodemus, however.  Another National Historical Site, and fascinating.  Yet again better covered by Tacco, but my overall impression upon leaving was that Kansas is a pretty cool place, with a solid legacy of supporting those who desire to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  The open terrain can be unforgiving, but there seems to be, and has always been, an aggressive tradition of no-nonsense egalitarianism.  It’s hard not to respect that.


The drive into Colorado was tough.  I mentioned the barrenness of eastern CO / western KS, well combine that with a searing sciatic nerve and brutal crosswinds.  I’ve come to discover that gusty crosswinds are by far the toughest weather conditions in which to drive.  It’s very similar to landing an airplane in that sense.  The last time we had a drive like this was through eastern Texas; these winds were even stronger and required constant, aggressive steering corrections.  By the time we rolled into our campsite in Golden, I was done.  DONE.

Fortunately, it was a great campsite, with full hookups, good wifi, a pool and hot tub, and clean bathrooms.  And we were back to the mountains.  Ahhhhh….

Breezing through Kansas – for FREE!

Up until now, my knowledge of Kansas was limited to Dorothy’s escapades and knowing that’s where convicted military criminals go to make big rocks into smaller ones.


We opted by bypass Leavenworth and focus on more noteworthy (and less felonious) stops.

We departed Cuba wicked early and made for Topeka, Kansas.  It was our intent to stop and do lunch in Topeka after we checked out the National Park Service (NPS) site, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The following and final leg of the day’s drive was rather nebulously defined as we had yet to determine where in Kansas we would overnight. Friday night of Memorial Day weekend, should be pretty easy to find a reputable place to park the rig sans reservations, right?

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This particular NPS site is housed in the former Monroe Elementary School, which was one of the four segregated elementary schools open to African-American children in Topeka in the early 1950’s.  This schoolhouse served as the launching point for the five collective cases that came to be known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which began the process to legally overturn the Jim Crow laws that had sprung up in the decades following the Civil War.  Following these segregation laws was the 1896 ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson that specifically permitted that separate but equal public education was permissible.  Until I put together Keeper’s study packet on this subject, I hadn’t remembered that there were five cases that fell under this notorious ruling.


During our visit, I learned it was then 46-year old Thurgood Marshall who, while representing the NAACP, told each of the plaintiffs that their impact would not be significant enough to get the Supreme Court’s attention should each case be evaluated alone. He convinced them it would be wiser to band together, arguing that these five different situations in Kansas, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, and Washington DC all demonstrated that the previous ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson was indeed unconstitutional.  In 1954 the Supreme Court unanimously declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and our nation began the process of desegregating educational experiences “with all deliberate speed”.

Two things jumped out at me in that little schoolhouse in Topeka.  First, because the quality of education and the disparity between segregated schools varied widely by location, the Supreme Court deferred to state and local governments to responsibly make the desegregation of public education so, which meant there was no defined timeline for the transition to occur.  I was dismayed to learn the great lengths some pockets of our nation went to defy this Supreme Court Ruling.  For example, Virginia state legislature rallied to advise that any public school subject to federally-mandated integration would be closed instead.  This opprobrious behavior continued for five years.

I was also intrigued to learn that the Brown v. Board case was specifically chosen because the two elementary schools used to demonstrate the inherent inequality in segregated educational experiences were nearly identical in every way (e.g. facilities, teacher education, books, etc.).  By citing the segregated elementary school system of Topeka (whose higher grades had been integrated for decades and where on paper the schooling was nearly identical), it was possible to clearly demonstrate that, by removing all other variables, a segregated primary educational experience was fraught with disadvantage for everyone involved.  Interesting to note, they also used the name of the only male parent plaintiff to gain more “credibility” for the class action case. In putting this Supreme Court ruling in historical perspective, I incredulously realized it still took another decade for the remaining Jim Crow Laws to be overturned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  I took a moment to reflect on my own amazing elementary and middle school experience at the widely diverse Martin Luther King, Junior, Experimental Laboratory School (King Lab for short) and gave thanks again for the bubble in which I was raised.


Junior Rangers badged, we had a short, hot lunch – hot not for the food choices but because the temperature within Davista skyrocketed as she was parked, windows closed in open sun. Lunch devoured, we got underway with several Kansas State Parks as potential overnight possibilities on our way to the Denver area.  And, as we have been reminded by many a non-RV owning friend, there was always Walmart…

We learned at our first stop why no one was answering the phone when we tried to call to make a reservation.  It was free! You could just pull up and set up your rig anywhere.  For any period of time.  And plenty of folks did.  Still subject to find-the-best-campsite-itis, Flight and I eyed the remaining mileage to get our Rocky Mountain high on (check out this vintage ad for Coors), assessed our long-encamped potential neighbors, and looked at the upcoming lakefront Kansas State Parks along our path.  Despite Flight’s fiery sciatic nerve, we decided to press on.

We rolled into Glen Elder State Park at dinner time-ish.  A 30-minute drive through each of the four campgrounds showed no open designated spots, not even any primitive ones without hook-ups (e.g. water, electric, sewer, even cable at some…).  After passing through the four different campgrounds, we noticed there were plenty of folk getting their camp on pretty much wherever.  We stopped to ask one of the Camp Hosts (a temporary title bestowed on an RV family who serves as the Park POC in exchange for a free stay) about finding a spot.  They assured us all official spots, with hook-ups or no, were reserved, but we could park anywhere we wanted.   When we asked about a fee, they told us since Memorial Day Weekend was such a madhouse and we were leaving in the morning anyway, we could just stay for free.

Well, Kansas is all right.

Flight and I debated the pros and cons of a free off-grid birdie in the hand versus the unknown of the next Kansas State Park down the road.  It wasn’t a long debate and we unceremoniously staked our claim at the next open lakefront location we saw.  It was unceremonious in that we pulled off the road, didn’t even disconnect the Subaru, or exit Davista before we extended the slide out, deployed our stabilization jacks, and turned on the generator, using the latter to prepare dinner and support our children’s screen habits.  Exhibiting uncharacteristic apathy, even Flight refrained from exploring our local environs before we dined, shared a family movie night, and crashed out.

Were we inclined to stay longer, this State Park was in a lovely location, but we were eager to get back to the mountain west where we had reservations with full hook-ups.  I did capture our spot after we retracted jacks and the slide before we rolled on to Golden.

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An added benefit to our staying at Glen Elder was that it put us near another NPS site in Nicodemus NHS, so we stopped just after they opened and learned about another aspect of our nation’s history, one that tied in nicely with our Topeka stop the day prior.

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Nicodemus, Kansas, is a unique town that is now 18 citizens strong, yet the current diminutive population size should not take away from its significance.  In the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, those Americans who, despite being legally granted their freedom, still found substantial discrimination in the deep South longed, understandably, for a truly free community.  Acting on these desires was a remarkable group of recently liberated families who made their way west to establish a place free of the limiting beliefs deeply entrenched in the southern states.  One of the volunteers at the NPS site was a 6th generation resident of Nicodemus, where her three times great grandfather was the first born in this new settlement.  She further confided her four times great grandmother traveled west at eight months pregnant.  !!!

What I found most remarkable about Nicodemus was not only what those founding families accomplished, but that they recognized how significant their actions were and recorded everything, taking a surprising number of photographs and keeping copious journals.  Much to the frustration of archeologists, most of humanity, unless you have “Emperor” or “Queen” in your title, has not seen fit to leave records of their day-to-day existence.  In speaking with this 6th generation Nicodemus resident (and her young daughter is 7th generation, she told me), I commented on how impressive it was that these early Nicodemus residents were so intent on capturing their experiences.   She replied that they simply knew what they were doing was momentous and documented as much as they could.  Although most of their descendants have since moved on, I am awed by what these early pioneers were able to accomplish.


As we pressed westward, Flight and I had an interesting discussion stemming from the one I had with the Nicodemus volunteer.  We, too, are (somewhat belatedly, sigh…) attempting to capture our trip’s experiences in this blog because we recognize how uniquely privileged we are to be able to so travel.  Very few people have a flexible enough occupations to allow for this opportunity, and fewer still are willing and able to capitalize on that flexibility.

Flight and I agreed that we have each formed our impressions of places we had seen in our younger years and are finding that those perspectives are sometimes jarringly (and sometimes only slightly) different from our interpretations this go around.  Neither of us is sure whether it is these locations or we that have evolved in the interim, likely both.

Our discussion then pushed in an unexpected direction, and not just because I was driving and it was (surprise, surprise) blowing stink across Tornado Alley.


Breezy indeed!

I observed to Flight that, despite taking pride in our nation as a melting pot, there seems to be an opposing desire to normalize the collective American experience.  I’m not sure if this push for normalization is due to or based on the apparent globalization of small town, USA, redefining much of our nation as a conglomerate of golden arches, Sam’s Club, Target, and countless other ubiquitous chains.  While that movement has certainly made our travels far easier (I’m thankful Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are far more prevalent than even five years ago), I can’t help but wonder what long-standing local Mom and Pop treasures we’ve missed out on.  These unique gems seem to be slowly winking out across our nation, overrun by the ever-expanding gargantuan chain establishments. Stephen King’s Langoliers come to mind…

After mulling that over for a stretch of miles, I further wondered aloud why, despite this longing to become loosely defined all-American citizens, there still remains a conscious pursuit of tribal self-identification. Using DNA testing companies and participating in the genome project have recently become all the rage.  But why? I had always learned it was our nation’s diversity that provided our unmatched strength and depth, so why then do we as individuals eagerly seek out a unique existence defined by our roots, genetic or otherwise, despite a public (subconscious?) tendency to promote a uniform American identity?  At first blush, I’m really not sure what’s at the root of these seemingly contradictory personal and public agendas and, frankly, I’m not sure what that juxtaposition says about the prognosis of our nation’s prosperity.  In the meantime, I will continue to give thanks for the freedoms I enjoy, for the privilege of doing my part to help make that so, and, with intention this Memorial Day, for my sisters and brothers in arms, especially those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

My Mother’s Making Me Marry Meramac

One of the greatest things our travels have afforded us is the opportunity to reconnect with friends we’ve met throughout our lives.  One of those people who made a great impact on both Flight and me was one gentleman we each worked very closely with in our squadron days.  He was the Chief Aviation Electrician in my first shop and, a true mentor, taught me a lot about how the Navy runs.  In addition to being a stellar electrician, he was also a flight engineer and flew on Flight’s crew.  While we worked through some challenging issues with our shop on the ground, he and Flight worked through countless of them in the air, every time safely returning them both to land.  Flight so respected and valued his input that he called his former flight engineer while he was limping a plane back to the Netherlands from the Caribbean during his exchange tour with the Dutch Navy.  Not only do we each value his professional savvy, he’s just an all around solid fellow we wish we could spend more time around.

We were fortunate that his son was stationed in Annapolis for a short time, so we were able to connect with him once during a family visit, but as our travels hadn’t previously taken us to Cuba, Missouri, we hadn’t seen him much since his retirement from the Navy many moons ago.  We both welcomed the opportunity to route our trek west through his neck of the woods.

Flight and I really struggled with coming up with an appropriate path as we moved west, mostly owing to our ignorance about the middle of the country.  With an anchor point of Cuba, MO, there remained any number of ways we could take five days to get from Atlanta to Denver where we had our next campsite reservations.  I had originally suggested going through St. Louis so we could see the magical Gateway Arch. After reading the reviews of this particular National Park Service (NPS) site (and seeing the tic start jumping in Flight’s eyelids in response to the likelihood of having to wend Davista through another tight metropolitan area), I broadened the scope of our trek and found another NPS site to see on the way.

Most fortuitously, Flight had also indicated his interest in seeing the Ozarks so traveling through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways was a no-brainer.  We stopped to stretch our legs, have lunch, complete Junior Ranger badges, and freak out to be reminded that snakes climb trees (maybe that last one was just me…).


I don’t know why that particular serpentine skill set escaped my attention, especially considering I can sing all the words to “Trust in Me” from the Jungle Book, but I had to work very hard to talk myself out of believing that snake must have plopped onto Davista and snuggled into some cranny to ride to Cuba where it would then make its stowaway presence known in a most disturbing manner.  For me, snakes fall into the same category as unidentified swimming objects (USOs).

I find water boasting clear visibility to be soul-soothing and lovely, whereas murky water tends to unleash my imagination so it can enhance the capabilities and instincts of any and all hypothetical USOs I might fathom.  And I can dream up some doozies.  I admit this character trait does not serve me the best, especially when doing a float along the sediment-rich Meramec River.

Upon first hearing the river’s name, I couldn’t get the Irish Drinking Folk Song “Mary Mack” out of my head.  Try as I might, it’s on a loop soundtrack even as I now type…

When we pulled up to the Indian Springs RV Campground we were a little concerned.  Apparently the previous week’s rain made the Meramec so swollen the entire campground had been waterlogged.  The sites along the river, of which ours was one, were only now becoming usable, which meant the campground was empty and we could choose any site with the mud viscosity of our desires.  We opted for the driest of the lot and were steadily joined by other RVers as Memorial Day weekend approached.

Our friend was able to take the day after our arrival off and he and his daughter met us at our campground with kayaks to explore the river.  It was extremely convenient to put in steps from Davista and we got underway just after lunch.

WoodSprite accompanied me in one of our two seaters and Flight and Firebolt cruised in our other one.

Keeper, however, was kayaking solo and, most impressively, made the opportunity to read Tom Sawyer along the way.


The timing of this book choice was hardly incidental as we knew we’d be moving through Mark Twain’s stomping grounds.

Our leisurely six-hour paddle afforded the opportunity to kayak beside and visit with our friends as we floated down the river, the transit interspersed with swim calls, cliff jumping, attempted rope swing operations, and modest cave spelunking.


It was fantastic to be introduced to the Meramac’s treasures by two of the locals who know it best.  Fortunately, our friends had let us know about the native alligator gar, a fish that looks an awful lot like its namesake (see the picture below I found online…).

Alligator gar

I say fortunately because I saw one surface close to our kayaks, nearer than I found comfortable. It looked like a baby gator and two thoughts immediately came to mind.  First was the trailer for the terrible movie “Alligator” which I remember seeing on TV while growing up.  The gist of the film was an unwanted pet baby alligator was flushed down the toilet, fed on escaped scientific test subjects (rats) that were riddled with growth hormones, and grew to Godzilla proportions to wreak havoc on Chicago.  Inspired by that movie, I remember dubiously eying the commode every time nature called, unsure of what might surface when I was most vulnerable.  My uneasy truce with modern plumbing lasted for several months until I was drawn into other preoccupations.  Although, frankly, port-a-potties still invite my creative juices to go in such unwanted directions.  The second and more recent flash pointed to the signs surrounding the “lake” in Houston. Although I didn’t see any telltale gator silhouettes, I could imagine them circling darkly beneath the muddy waters, awaiting foolish appetizers to enter their domain.  Such creature sightings, even when I know what they are, don’t do a whole lot to help me keep my imagination in check and serve only to reinforce my desire to maintain a healthy distance from those who call the water home.

Purposefully and intently stuffing my creativity back in the box, I ignored what I had just seen and instead focused my energy on how to make use of the many rope swings dangling over the river.  We tried to take advantage of several, but they were all in poor repair and impossible to reach.  Bummer.

Our last stop on the float was a cave behind a spring.  It’s important to tell you this because the spring appeared to be channeling water in directly from the Aleutian Islands.  It was ludicrously cold.  As we were approaching the inlet, the spring’s artic tendrils crept out of the river’s alcove and the water temperature noticeably dropped.  I did not take that as a good sign.


Steeling ourselves for the frigid (and slippery!) walk through the water, we slowly made our way to the cave entrance.  Mildly claustrophobic, I chose not to venture too far into the cave but captured this picture of the braver souls in our party.


The beautiful view out to the icy pool was almost enough to make me forget my lower legs were still numb. Almost.


Once more through the pool, I held WoodSprite’s hand in a death grip to preclude either of us inadvertently going for a brisk swim.  We made it back to our respective transports and carefully extracted ourselves from our waypoint.  The rest of our float provided me the privilege to soak in this valuable time with our friends that we rarely see.  It was made even better by having his extended family meet us at the take out point and caravan us back to Davista.

Flight and I spent much of our drive the following day reflecting on how incredible this journey has been, especially in affording us the opportunity to reconnect with some great friends, and we again gave thanks for being in a place in our lives where we are able to so travel.

Aux Arcs

Our plan to connect Appalachia with the Rockies finally coalesced after quite a bit of scenario gaming.  It would’ve been easier had we more time to meander, and I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that we don’t… a year seemed like plenty of time for everything and more in the early dreaming stages.  I can assure you that it isn’t though, and so we found ourselves with some long drives ahead and only a few stops possible.

Not quite making the cut, and with no small measure of regret were:

  • Memphis (wanted to see Beale St and try some more BBQ!)
  • Nashville (though we did do a quick stop there)
  • Hot Springs National Park, AR (looks unique, I’ve never been to Arkansas, and who doesn’t like hot springs?)
  • Dallas (family and friends there, but it’s starting to get a little too hot for Texas)
  • St. Louis (never been, and the Gateway Arch is iconic, but the idea of driving through busy city streets again is rubbing me wrong)

Ultimately what pushed us over the edge to our chosen route was a desire to see an old Navy friend who happened to be my Flight Engineer for most of my initial squadron time as an Aircraft Commander.

A quick, or maybe not so quick tangent on P-3 Flight Engineers… The Flight Engineer / Pilot relationship in the Navy’s P-3 community is truly unique.  In civilian aviation the Flight Engineer is (more accurately “was” – commercial aircraft that require a Flight Engineer are now all but gone, at least outside of the cargo world) generally the junior pilot on the crew, who sits in a third seat in the cockpit with his/her own set of gauges, monitoring and manipulating various systems.  It’s a stepping stone to “the right seat” (copilot seat) and thereafter to Captain.  In the P-3, however, the Flight Engineer is an Enlisted sailor who generally starts as an aviation maintenance specialist, then at some point applies for and is accepted into the FE program, which is quite challenging, though not nearly as challenging as the extended FE syllabus within the various operational squadrons.  Earning the title of qualified FE is a supreme achievement, and they take great pride in knowing everything there is to know about the aircraft.  In each crew’s cockpit, there are two Flight Engineers and three pilots, with one of the FEs generally being the senior one training and supervising the junior one.  Senior FEs command a tremendous amount of respect.  They sit in between the two pilots in flight, presiding over the center console.  While there are enlisted aircrew working with officers on flight crews throughout the military, I would be very surprised to find a relationship like this one outside of P-3s.  Though the pilots all technically outrank the FEs, everyone knows where the expertise is, and it was common, as a pilot who hadn’t yet earned Aircraft Commander status (which generally takes at least a year and a half) to be quizzed relentlessly, for 4-5 hours out of an 8-9 hour mission, by your FE on P-3 systems operation, performance characteristics, procedures, and minutiae.  They tend to be an extremely tight knit group within the squadron, and they not only police themselves, but they know all the pilots and both their flying and personal quirks.  They’re often cocky, generally for good reason.  They watch over us and mold us, and the good ones take pride in developing “their” pilots.

With the P-8 (essentially a Boeing 737 modified for military use) phasing out the P-3, there are very few Navy FEs left, and they will soon be gone, which is a shame.

At any rate, my friend mentored me well, as all P-3 FEs ought to, but more importantly he’s just an incredible person, and flying with him made some long deployments far more palatable.  For better or for worse, you don’t spend that many hours sitting next to someone day after day and night after night without getting to know them very well, and in this case it was very much my gain.  After his Navy Retirement, he had moved to Cuba, Missouri, on the northern edge of the Ozarks and a bit southwest of St. Louis.  He’s now a pastor there when he’s not riding his motorcycle through the hills or hanging out with his family.

My never having seen the Ozarks made me more partial to taking this route as well.  It’s one of the only parts of the country in which I had never set foot, and considering myself a mountain person, I’ve enjoyed checking out the various American versions of mountain country.  Though even more than Appalachia, calling the Ozarks “mountains” is a stretch.  They’re very much hills, and are referred to as such even by the locals.

I was looking forward to driving through and making a few stops.  Here’s what that looked like.

Atl to MO

I need to give a shout-out to Chattanooga, even though we only blew through.  I’ve got a very good friend from flight school and squadron days who has settled there and commutes to Atlanta for his airline job, and we tried hard to coordinate a visit.  We couldn’t quite manage to align our schedules, but in the process of researching where we might stay in/near Chattanooga, I came to the conclusion that it’s one of those very cool towns that flies beneath the radar, or at least the West Coast radar.  I had seen it included on various “Top Ten Towns for Adventurous Folks!” type lists you see in various Men’s Journal / Outdoors-ish magazines.  And to be completely honest, my West Coast snobbishness bias always made me skeptical when I saw towns that weren’t in the “real” mountains.  I figured they were just trying to be inclusive and branch out from Jackson Hole, Telluride, Moab, Tahoe, Vail, etc.  Give the little guy a chance…  But I have to say, from what little I saw and read, they’re absolutely right to include it.  It looks awesome.  River, cliffs, mountains, woods, trails, lakes… and even some history to round things out.  I wish we could have stayed and explored.  Plus I bet you could buy a decent house there for less than a million bucks.  Take that Telluride!

Thereafter came Nashville, and again I had to resist the urge to stop and stay awhile.  Granted, by this point my leg / sciatic nerve was hurting me pretty badly again (it’s not getting better), but more than that it just looked booming.  And it’s another pretty area.  Not to mention I was told it has developed quite the foodie scene.  All that + music and I’m thinking we could’ve easily done a week there.  Alas, not to be.

Though I would have preferred to log more westward mileage since we were somewhat in “go” mode, we’ve decided both for my pain issues and the kids’ sanity to avoid drives longer than eight hours unless it’s absolutely necessary.  This brought us to Land Between the Lakes, which is a rather large area that is exactly what it sounds like and spans the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, though the majority of it sits in Kentucky.  Yet another well-appointed lakeside campsite awaited us there, but we didn’t have much time to enjoy it, as we headed out the next morning.


And at last we reach the Ozarks.  Here’s the description of how the area got its name, which I found pretty interesting.  The area is karst (“a” karst?  I’m not sure about the usage…), which is something else I’ve only recently learned about.  Without getting too geological up in your grill, karsts tend to be quite hilly, but with many, many closely spaced and small hills rather than large ridges or ranges.  They’re mostly limestone underneath the surface, and the water, rather than draining downhill directly into rivers, tends to be absorbed into the ground, only to return to the surface at various springs.  Hence you get lots of caves, sporty terrain, and spring-fed streams and rivers, some of which are crystal clear.  I like all of that.

Then as a bonus there’s the whole Mark Twain / Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn thing, which I know is more about the Mississippi River, but I know Twain was born in and hung out in Missouri, and I always mentally pictured that whole world taking place in a setting like this one.  I loved those books back when I read them.

After departing from Land Between the Lakes, we took a route that brought us to the very southern tip of Illinois, near Cairo, which if I remember correctly, figured heavily into Huckleberry Finn.  What’s cool about it is that it sits at the confluence between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, which is kind of a big deal, river-wise.  We spent only about 5 minutes and 3 miles in Illinois, but at least we can check it off the list.  Not that we have a list.

Our first stop before turning north to get into the hills in earnest was a National Park Service visitors’ center, at which we were greeted by an enormous black snake that surprised us by climbing a tree to get a better look at us (and to claim the high ground – he clearly didn’t trust us not to mess with him, and probably for good reason).


Just down the road was one of the aforementioned clear streams upon which tubing was evidently popular.  With the temp in the high 80s and the humidity continuing to creep up, taking a long, wet detour was highly appealing.  But of course (again), we didn’t – we had a campground up near Cuba to check into.  Onward.

The family’s opinions on the Ozark roads varied widely.  And by that I mean that I absolutely loved them and no one else did.  Which is completely fair, they were winding and roller-coaster steep.  Short, steep ups and downs and lefts and rights that weren’t long enough to really put me hard on the brakes or gas pedal, and were therefore a blast to drive.  But for everyone who wasn’t concentrating on the road and looking out at the horizon they were essentially a vomit comet.  Fortunately not literally so, but after nearly an hour on a road designated only by a letter, everyone was thrilled to turn onto something big and straight enough to earn a numbered route designation.  And they were even more happy to stop once we reached our destination on the Meramec River.

I wasn’t familiar with the Meramec before our arrival, but it’s exactly the kind of pull your inner tubes up to the rope swing and take a mad leap before you explore the cave sort of place that I had hoped we would reach at some point in our journey.  Fortunately we hit our campground right before Memorial Day, which is apparently the official beginning of river floating season and quite the madhouse.  We were assured that we would have the run of the campground as long as we checked out on Friday by noon, but that if we wanted to stay longer we would be out of luck.  Truly spoken – we arrived to an empty campground, though we were surprised at how saturated the ground was, pretty much everywhere.  Walking without soaking your shoes was impossible, and some campsites appeared to be the type you would not want to drive into unless you didn’t mind staying awhile or being towed out.  Not having seen much rain in the previous few days, we asked what the deal was, and were surprised to learn that the entire place had been underwater, as in under the level of the river, just a few days prior, and that this is a normal thing in the Springtime.  It even sometimes happens in the Summer if you there’s enough rain.  Wow!


Our Navy friend joined us at the campsite for a bit just after our arrival, and he made plans to join us on our river float, along with his daughter, the following day – perfect.  Tacco covered most aspect of our float well, so I’ll try not to be redundant.


But I do want to emphasize how much I enjoyed it.  Catching up with him, getting to know his daughter a bit, watching Keeper float in his kayak while no-kidding reading Tom Sawyer…


And that spring.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that sort of a temperature differential, at least in the cold direction.  You had to know exactly where it was to find it, so it was fortunate we had local guides, but once you knew and began heading that direction on the river, it was as if an air conditioner had been turned on, but out in the open.  The water had been a steady 80-ish degrees, and near the spring it plummeted to about 50, with the air around you cooling as well.  Once we pulled into the spring area itself and explored the cave out of which most of it was emerging, the temperature dropped even more.  It really was amazing.

All told, another outstanding experience and yet another long time friend visited on their home turf.



I can’t say I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s trek across Kansas.  Not because I’m anti-Kansas, but because there is just no way to avoid a long drive and the associated leg pain.  I have a two-day trip to fly (commuting from Denver, ideally) beginning on Memorial Day, and for the first time I’m wondering how that will go for me and beginning to consider whether I need to look at seeing a doctor and taking some time off.  So far, thankfully, it hasn’t reached the point it had the first time I experienced it a few years back, in which my foot began to go numb.  I’m considering that a red line, as it indicates the beginning of nerve damage, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others that I don’t yet know about.

Moreover, we’re rolling into Memorial Day weekend without reservations, which is a first for us on any weekend, let alone a holiday.  We have some potential stops marked on the map and are hoping that Kansas is vast and sparsely populated enough to make finding a suitable stopping point feasible.  But, fingers crossed.


We departed Hotlanta and meandered towards the Land Between the Lakes, which spans the confluence of Western Tennessee and Kentucky.  On our way, we stopped at the Stones River National Battlefield to learn more about the Civil War.


The girls had the opportunity to earn another Junior Ranger badge, making it their third at a designated civil war site, which meant they were also eligible for becoming Civil War Junior Rangers.  A twofer – WOO HOO!

Actually, our little sojourn in Tennetucky (Kennessee?) provides a great opportunity to give a little update on the roadschooling aspect of our travels.  Why, you ask?  Well, frankly, because we didn’t do much else there.

Permit me to back up to the start of the second phase of our travels, which we started up again on the Spring Equinox.  Our girls had been playing going to public school for six out of the eight weeks prior to our departure (minus our time in Bend) while Keeper continued homeschooling while we were back in Maryland.  You can read more about the decision making process for that choice here.

Getting back on the road and resuming the education of all three of our kids has been extremely rewarding, most especially because everything is all converging at the end of the official academic year.  Our kids are (mostly) motivated to knock out their work in a timely manner and are learning by leaps and bounds.  A quick refresher on our educational goals for our kids that generally fall into three categories:  1) the basics (math and the Four Arts of Language (reading, writing, listening, and speaking)); 2) the application of the basics in other directions (e.g. science, art, history, geography, economics, social studies, etc.); and 3) life skills (e.g. meal planning, cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, knitting, etc.).

To solidify the first of these basics, every day our kids each complete a math exercise, review, or test in accordance with their respective Singapore Math curriculum.  To improve their writing skills, they each pen a journal entry on their respective experiences the day prior (WoodSprite a few sentences, Firebolt a paragraph, and Keeper at least three paragraphs).  To further advance in the other three arts of language, they all silently read at least one chapter in a book to themselves (we alternate between books of their choosing and ours) and each is also required to read aloud to the others (or me or Flight).  Keeper reads The Story of the World to his sisters, Firebolt reads the latest Laura Ingalls Wilder book to WoodSprite, and WoodSprite reads Inside Out aloud to me.  Somehow I came across a History Sticker Book in the bargain books section of Barnes & Noble and, just for fun, completing at least one page has been an additional requirement for WoodSprite.

A bonus – it has neatly tracked along with Keeper’s readings aloud on world history, and Firebolt has been eager to help her sister through the pages.

While they are all practicing the fundamentals of math and the Four Arts of Language (they also each have weekly spelling tests), we are encouraging them to apply these basics in directions they enjoy.  Keeper started the year intrigued by chemistry, so Flight and I have worked through an online high school chemistry class with him until we returned to Maryland. Since then he’s been captivated by physics, so Flight covered the basics of trigonometry with him before we jumped into a high school physics class, which he has enjoyed.  While on the road, the girls have had the opportunity to complete Junior Ranger programs at all the National Park Service (NPS) sites we visit (24 so far!). In earning Junior Ranger badges, the girls have become savvier on social studies, biological diversity, ecology, history, paleontology, archeology, marine biology, and numerous other varied disciplines.

Aside from writing about his observations about his experiences in his journal, Keeper had not been held accountable for learning much of anything at any of the NPS sites we had seen.  Although I didn’t stumble onto it until later into our adventures, the NPS website has a cache of curricula for teachers to use, aptly named “Teaching with Historic Places.”  Most conveniently, the curricula available are listed by subject and by location.  When asked whether he would prefer to study more about somewhere we’d been or learn about where we we’d be heading, Keeper insisted on the former.  From these posted lessons, I put together a solid packet that Keeper could work through in a week.  He’s evaluated the varied manifestation of urban planning in the vastly different cities of New Orleans and Savannah and how those architectural differences reflect the identities and societal norms of these developing urban centers.  As we were departing the Great Smoky Mountains, Keeper studied the Trail of Tears and the forced relocation of the Cherokee people. As we roll into Kansas, he’ll be assessing the five different cases that are collectively referred to as Brown v. Board of Education, which I’m excited to tie to our heavy civil rights day in Atlanta.  It’s all coming together…

Tangentially related to their daily writing exercises, our children are each required to draw something that illustrates some aspect of our travels that they’ve written about.  I’m excited that at the end of our journey they will each have a portfolio journal capturing their experiences in their own words and drawings.  Hopefully some of those will make their way into the blog before too long…

One of the topics we really can’t get around is geography.  Thanks to dedicated focus, each kid now knows the location of all 50 states, and they have nearly mastered learning their capitals (mostly thanks to this youtube video…).  Keeper learned about this video in 5thgrade and recently introduced his sisters to this fantastic study aid.  WoodSprite is the last of the three to learn the capitals by heart, and you can see her intensely study during our stay at the Land Between the Lakes.


We also hope to teach our kids some of the major geographic landmarks that define our country (e.g. rivers, mountain ranges, lakes, etc.), which we’ll continue to revisit through our travels.

The final focus for our roadschooling efforts is on life skills.  The kids take turns helping to meal plan, generate grocery lists (although I relish the opportunity to shop unencumbered), assist in the preparation of meals, set the table, and clean up after meals.  They are also each working on a knitting project, although Firebolt’s is in hibernation while she finishes her very first latch-hook project.


This week Keeper learned how to sew on a button. Maybe next week he’ll teach his sisters. I think surgeons are onto something with trying out new procedures: “See one, do one, teach one…” Truth be told, I’m much more comfortable with the efficacy of such a practice when learning how to sew on buttons, measure twice before cutting out a sewing pattern, or binding off a scarf.  However, on second thought, these evolutions do strangely resemble basic surgical procedures…

This academic year has been incredibly rich with learning for everybody, me especially.  Although it took a while to get everyone on board and eager to work, slowly we’ve gotten the hang of it (literally).


True to Navy form, now that we’ve figured out how to roadschool most effectively, it’s time to change our SOP.  Summer will be officially upon us after Memorial Day and we’ll be downshifting our academic efforts.  Not entirely, mind you…  It is our intent to still require some academic work over the summer (namely math, reading, and writing) and we’ll be seeing plenty of our country, NPS sites and otherwise, as we make our way west.  May the learning never end…


We had made the decision to jog south to Atlanta after our time in the Great Smoky Mountains based on two main draws.  First, we have several friends from our Navy days who live in the greater Atlanta’s area and, second, the busy airport makes a commute for Flight fairly reasonable. After deciding we’d be in Atlanta, we took a look at all we could do there and our schedules were immediately packed.

Because Flight had a work trip starting only two days after we arrived and the weather threatened thunderstorms (and wicked heat) the rest of our visit time, our first day at the Holiday Harbor RV Park in Acworth, GA, centered on being on Lake Allatoona.  Flight rented a pontoon boat, suitable for towing our gaggle about on a tube, and beached it right at our campsite so we could load our gear before getting out on the water in earnest.


Surprisingly, although maybe it wouldn’t have been so had I spent any time looking at a map, Lake Allatoona is relatively enormous.  We spent the first stretch of our boat rental period checking out the nearby nooks and inlets of this expansive waterway.  And then the kids got serious about tubing.


Not at all surprisingly, Keeper and WoodSprite were the first to volunteer to get on The Big Shot tube. Firebolt wanted no part of it. After watching her brother and sister have so much fun, they convinced her to give it a shot.  Her counteroffer was she’d get in the tube and make the call to actually tube from there.  Flight, unaware of Firebolt’s ongoing negotiation tactics thought she was all in and let the tube drift behind the boat to resume tubing operations. Firebolt panicked and, despite her siblings’ gracious attempts to assuage her concerns, rallied to near hysterics.

Flight pulled the tube back in so Firebolt could frantically disembark.  I gathered a shaken and tear-stained Firebolt onto my lap and immediately did some Chinese Medicine triage.  Suspecting there was an energetic block between Firebolt’s kidney and pericardium systems (you can learn more about what that means in my Acupuncture 101 summary here), which tends to manifest as excessive fear, I helped her clear this block with a short breathing exercise and within two minutes she was calm and willing to entertain going tubing for real.  Meanwhile, Keeper and WoodSprite got another turn.

All three kids rode together for a stretch.

Then the girls went without Keeper, because he wanted to do some boat yoga.

Impressed by his subconscious gentle bow, I asked Keeper what he was doing and he said, “I don’t really know.”

We anchored and enjoyed a swim call and some snacks before we got back to the serious business of tubing.


And for the final event, Firebolt went all by herself.


A few things struck me about our day on the water.  First, I was delighted to see that Firebolt totally rallied.  For a child as stubborn as her parents, she was able to accept some direction and move through her fear to take advantage of a great time. Second, I was most impressed by the behavior of Keeper and WoodSprite.  Clearly, they had no issues getting into a small, round, plastic, bottomed donut and being slingshot about Allatoona Lake. In fact, they thought it was great fun.  What was particularly heartwarming was their compassion for their sister as her initial trepidation ramped up to near debilitating.  They were both kind and empathetic, telling Firebolt how much fun they had tubing and how much more they’d enjoy it if she came along.  Never did our kids express any heckling, ribbing, or mockery (I’m not sure how they’re the offspring of two naval aviators who eat, sleep, and breathe accompanied by such antics…). Instead, they gently and lovingly encouraged their sister to participate in some good fun.   Our lovely afternoon on the water came to a close and Flight made some of his famous Sausage and Kale Pasta.  All in all, it was a glorious day.

After an exciting (simulated) day of laundry and homeschool tasks, we got ready to head to our former squadron mate and friends’ house.  We hadn’t seen them in ages and were stoked to carve out some visit time. The kids disappeared to a local park shortly after we arrived and we were able to catch up with Inigo and his lovely bride uninterrupted by children.  One of the things both Flight and I observed was that in the years since we last saw Inigo and his crew, we have grown to walk paths very similar to theirs. Sadly, we were too busy catching up that we neglected to take a picture, but vowed we wouldn’t let another 18 years lapse before our next get together.

The next day was more of the same with homeschool activities and torrential downpours, but I took advantage of Flight’s being in town and made the opportunity to meet up with another dear friend whom I have known for more years than I’d prefer to count.  To give you an idea on our friendship’s vintage, we first bonded in French class at the Naval Academy and have been fast friends ever since.  A remarkable woman, she was first a Surface Warfare Officer upon graduation and commissioning and has since completed a joint program at Emery where she earned both her Law Degree and a Master of Divinity in only five years.  No slouch, that one…

In addition to practicing law, she has recently become an Episcopal Priest and is very active in her church’s outreach to those impacted by the current administration’s take on immigration law, especially those affected through no choice of their own. Although we had only a short visit sandwiched in between work and parenting obligations, it was incredibly uplifting and I remain hopeful that our professional paths may converge in the future.  I returned to our family refreshed, my soul nourished, and the Subaru full of goods hailing from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  And Flight welcomed me back with a new InstantPot creation of pork ragout – he totally rocks.

We dropped Flight off at the airport the following morning and focused our studies on a day heavy on Human and Civil Rights.  You can read more about that awesome and powerful outing here.

We had a weekend without Flight and I looked to the weather forecast to help us decide how we would schedule our remaining time in Hotlanta.  High on my list of priorities was to see nearby Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.  As I explained to our kids, on our travels thus far we’ve had a great opportunity to learn about the colonization of our country by various nations that ultimately led to our declaring our independence from England and establishing our own identity.  We had also learned a considerable amount about the Civil War, evaluating the significance of places like Fort Pickens and Fort Sumter in that conflict, yet we hadn’t seen any of the National Battlefields.  Before we made our way west again, I thought it important for us to see a couple of these sites to better understand the nitty-gritty details of life in the trenches of that particular war.

Nearby to the Holiday Harbor RV Park is the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.  Sunday threatened more reasonable weather, so we took Saturday to chill after the previous day’s heavy topics.  After lunch on Sunday, we trundled into the Subaru and headed for Kennesaw Mountain.

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Just as we arrived, we learned there was a firing demonstration getting underway outside. As we zipped through the Visitor Center, we slowed momentarily to collect Junior Ranger Books for WoodSprite and Firebolt before vectoring outside to get a good seat.  A lone Confederate Soldier (he assured us he switched to wearing Blue on alternating days) walked us through standard riffle drill for that time period.  He then demonstrated firing, reloading, and firing again.  Holy cow did that take an inordinately long time – I can’t imagine having to rely on that painstaking ritual to separate me from an untimely death.


After heading watching the demonstration, which I hope Keeper will blog about as he got some great footage, we headed into the Museum and learned what it was like to be a soldier on both sides, some fibbing about their ages and enlisting as young as 8 to be drummers (11 was the recommended age).  I couldn’t imagine sending Keeper off to war and belatedly realized that such a practice has been done as long as humans have been in conflict, which is pretty much since we starting walking upright.  But I digress…

After the Museum, our Junior Ranger hopefuls needed to accomplish one of the local hikes and make some observations along their trek before they could hand in there booklets. We picked the least lengthy hike because we would turn into pumpkins in short order.  The Visitor Center was closing at 5 pm, which meant we had 49 minutes or less to complete the hike.  The girls took their tasking seriously and stopped along the way only to write answers to their questions.


I took this picture for our niece who develops a reaction to Poison Oak if she walks by and sees it. Yikes.

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She wasn’t terribly appreciative…

After reading about the battle raging through in these woods, it was easy to envision young men hunkering down amidst the haphazard boulders, courage outpacing fear, as they exchanged volleys in the brutal heat.  While I was escorting the girls through the museum, Keeper had been tasked with watching the NPS film.  He rejoined us to report what he had learned.  It had been so hot in late June and early July of 1864 that both the Union and Confederate Forces agreed to hit pause on the war fighting and take time out to bury their respective dead as the stench of decomposing bodies was too overpowering.  Gross. But good on them for making warfare less offensive (?!).

When the Junior Rangers were sworn in, the Rangers really surprised us.


We had let them know we were dashing out to do a hike and would be back with completed booklets just shy of 5 pm.  They went over the top and, after swearing in the girls, gave them each a swag bag of NPS goodies to include a stuffed bison, pencils, tattoos, and, of course, their new badges.  They’re running a great outfit there – totally over the top!

Equally over the top was our family’s very own reenactment, titled “Fire in the HOLE!”


Flight joined us late that night (gotta love Uber!) and we made preparations to get underway, bound for the Land Between the Lakes, which is a little peninsula spanning Southeastern Kentucky and Tennessee between, you guessed it, two lakes.  Never heard of it?  Me neither – can’t wait to check it out…

Davista Went Down to Georgia

She was lookin’ for a soul to…

Nah, gonna punt on that one, there’s nothing devilish about Davista.  Yet.

Unfortunately for me, Atlanta was one of those destinations that I didn’t see much of, due to its easily commutable airport which allowed me to fly a relatively long trip.  I need to remind myself on occasion, when I’m becoming frustrated by the fact that I miss a significant chunk of this adventure due to needing to work, that my having this job is basically THE thing that has allowed us even to consider traveling in the first place.  Short of extreme telecommuting or being independently wealthy, it’s difficult to imagine a profession more suited to this lifestyle, where I’m able to “go to work” from pretty much anywhere, as long as there is an airport with some scheduled service nearby.  So yeah, I missed most of Atlanta, and in fact never made it into the city proper (save for the airport, which is its own city in a way).

The drive down from Great Smoky Mountain National Park was another stunner though.  It passes through Nantahala Forest, which is essentially the far western tip of North Carolina.  Our road followed the Nantahala River, which cuts a fairly deep gorge through the hills, and is a white water rafting paradise.  I would return in a heartbeat.  In fact, despite my fairly lukewarm assessment of Great Smoky Mountain National Park in my last post, I’m realizing that this entire area of the country – by which I mean basically the southern Appalachians, to include parts of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina – is pretty amazing and worth more exploration.

GSM to Atl

Atlanta is not the best place to park a motor home, at least not within the city limits.  We did find a military base in Marietta, northwest of the city, but they were full.  And there really wasn’t much of anything nearer to downtown, at least not where I felt comfortable leaving my family for almost a week.  Which led us to Lake Allatoona up in the northwest, about 45 minutes out of town.

This is another fairly unique feature of that part of the country – massive lakes (reservoirs, actually) which are quite narrow, but long and winding, extending thousands of watery fingers into the little valleys.  There are dozens of these lakes (probably more like hundreds), and the houseboating opportunities are endless.  Pontoon boats, too.  You don’t really see pontoon boats in the West, but out there they are the water conveyance of choice, and for good reason.


Our Lake Allatoona campsite was lakeside (and incidentally, we had at least a dozen campgrounds from which to choose up there), and we decided that a day on the lake in a rental pontoon boat would be the best use of our time, at least for a day.


Great call, despite the weather only marginally cooperating.  Hot and sticky with thunderstorms is the summer pattern in the South, and it’s just beginning to take hold.  But the rain managed to hold off for most of the day, and frequent jumps into the comfortably cool water took the edge off of any heat.  I had never previously imagined being able to tow a tube with a pontoon boat, but I was assured by the folks at the marina that it’s SOP.   I was also told that the boat would do 50 mph over the water, even towing a tuber.  That claim I regarded with deep skepticism, but nodded and smiled anyway.  It turned out that by “50” she meant “about 15-20.”  Which was a bit slow for the really fun kind of tubing where you bounce off waves and flop around like a rag doll, but probably just about right for our kids, or at least the younger ones.  Actually what she (the marina worker) did was confuse RPMs for MPH, which I clarified with her afterwards.  All good, we had a blast and got to explore a gorgeous piece of Georgia from the water.


Check out this guy…


He was one of quite a few unique ducks/ducklings/geese/goslings who inhabited our campground.  I guess technically it’s theirs, and we’re the interlopers.  Anyway, he liked to hang out underneath Davista and then waddle over near my feet when I would sit down.  I wasn’t sure why until I brought my breakfast bar and coffee with me outside to sit and enjoy the morning with.  Seeing what he had evidently been waiting for, he made an aggressive play for the breakfast bar, which I was only able to narrowly keep out of his beak.  He almost ended up in my lap in his attempt to take what he clearly thought was his rightful breakfast.


The other highlight, and really my only experience in Georgia, was a visit with some old squadron friends whom we hadn’t seen since we left the squadron back in 1999 (2000 for TACCO).  They live in a lovely suburb and have two brilliant sons, one of whom is nearing college application time and likely Ivy League or Stanford-bound.  He (my squadron bud) and I, when we first met, had squadron jobs that required us to spend far too much time in a windowless, secure, vault-like room with not much to do other than verbally spar, an undertaking in which he excelled.  We would argue politics (squadron, national, and world) and fiscal policy, quote movies, but mostly we would just talk smack.  He was both better at it than I was and more inclined to just sit and chat, whereas I tended to be engrossed in studying for my progress through the squadron’s plane commander syllabus.  It was fun, though, and I wish I would’ve engaged more, because we had quite a few non-obvious things in common and could’ve become much closer friends through the process, rather than the kind who have a great mutual respect but don’t see each other for 19 years.  I think this is something we both recognize, and we have found it interesting to watch, aided by the tangential contact of social media, our worldviews converge as we grow older.  We’ve become very like-minded and share a somewhat unique combination of introversion and extroversion.  Though being an avid runner, mountain biker, and vegan, he’s in far better physical shape than I, despite having a few years on me.

It really is a shame we can’t hang out more.

Despite his dietary habits, he smoked an absolutely mouthwatering (and enormous) filet of salmon, which he informed us had been termed “My Magic Fish” for our family dinner.  We even had leftovers, which we ate for a few days.  The kids played together in a nearby park and the four of us got to spend a bit of time catching up and reminiscing.  It was over far too quickly, as those types of things always are, but having almost missed Atlanta altogether, I was incredibly grateful that we carved out the time to see them, and hope we’re able to do so again, maybe out West.  We have some mountain biking to do!

From here we head west in earnest, and there are several options on the table for how to do so.  Essentially we need to get to Colorado in time for my next trip, and can take several routes to get there, all of which have much to offer.  We’ve been debating a southern route that takes us through Hot Springs, AR.  And then there’s a northern route that involves a stop in St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch.  But the front runner has us more or less splitting the difference and heading to visit more old squadron friends in Cuba, Missouri, at the northern edge of the Ozarks, which is an area of the country I’ve never seen but would very much like to.  Unfortunately that will require blowing through Tennessee, which was not my initial intent – much to see there as well.  But we have to pick and choose.

My sciatica is becoming more of a factor as well.  Driving more than a few hours is getting excruciating, and only laying down affords me relief.  Ibuprofen keeps it palatable if I know I’ll need to sit, but I really don’t like to ride painkillers if I can avoid it.  Flying (for work) is a concern as well, but I found on my last trip that I could keep it at bay by moving around more and standing up on occasion, options that driving Davista doesn’t give me.  My hope is that I’ll be able to get ahead of it before long – we still have quite a bit of road ahead of us.



I had the privilege of attending most of Elementary School and Junior High at the Martin Luther King, Junior, Experimental Laboratory School (King Lab for short) and it was extraordinary.  The picture below is from last June when my sister and I took a trip down amnesia lane.


The school has gone through several name changes since I was a pupil there, but the focus remains the same.  “Experimental” in the title meant this school was one that cultivated an environment of learning outside the proverbial box, however you wanted to define that.  As Dr. King had promoted, it was an educational experience that encouraged such thinking and centered on celebrating the character of a person as opposed to any physical characteristic she or he might have.  My school routinely celebrated its namesake’s powerful legacy and Dr. King has since been one of my heroes.   King Lab made a huge impression on the woman I am still becoming and it was a timely opportunity to allow me to revisit that which I learned so young, but can now better evaluate with an additional 30+ years of living.

After dropping Flight off at the airport for another work trip, the kids and I headed to the heart of downtown Atlanta to pay homage to this incredible man, although our discussions about Dr. King’s contributions started long before our current pilgrimage. Most recently while we were overwintering in Maryland and before the girls resumed school at the local Elementary School, I took the kids to see Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House across the street where President Lincoln died.  Unfortunately, the theater was closed to visitors, as a play was opening a few days later, and the Petersen House was being refurbished.  Bummer.


We still made the most of the visit and spent a good bit of time in the two museums on site as our Junior Rangers tackled their work.  The first museum is situated beneath Ford’s Theater and has a robust series of exhibits on the Civil War, President Lincoln’s role in the War of Northern Aggression (Sorry, I’m writing this post while still in the deep south), and the conspiracy to eliminate not just the Commander in Chief, but several others who sought to preserve the Union at all costs.


The second museum is next to the Petersen House on the second and third floors above the site’s gift shop.  On that brisk January day next to the Petersen House, we watched a short film on the Lincoln Memorial. I hadn’t realized how many influential talks, ones that have specifically served to mold our nation’s evolving identity, first echoed from the steps of this monument to freedom.  My favorite of these is Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech and the film showed several clips of his powerful words, which, to the surprise (but not yet embarrassment) of each of my children, reduced me to tears.

Every January at King Lab, we honored Dr. King’s work in an assembly near his birthday, the center point of which was a classmate’s (a fellow who, hardly incidentally, is now a successful stage actor in Chicago) brilliant delivery of that very speech.  Every time I heard this rendition, usually as a precursor to the 3rdand 4thgraders singing, “We Shall Overcome,” I was overcome.  My compelling reaction to Dr. King’s exceptional words has only grown in response to what I have experienced along my own journey, combined with the realization of how much more similar work there is left to do in the world.

Fast forward to yesterday. When we decided we were going to spend a stretch in Atlanta, I was eager to take in both the Martin Luther King, Junior, National Historic Site and, only minutes away, the Center for Civil and Human Rights.  Flight’s early departure meant we were available to start our field trip day just after 9 am.  Since the Center didn’t open until 10, we started at the National Park Service Visitor Center.


Even before picking up the Junior Ranger books for the girls, we went into the theater to see a 30-minute film on Dr. King’s contributions.  There were a few things about Dr. King that really stuck with me this go around, now that I have a few decades more perspective.  First, I hadn’t realized that Dr. King, at 35, was the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Ever.  I momentarily reflected on what I had managed by that age (never mind having passed that milestone by more than a couple years) and realized I’d better get busy. I also remember reading at some point that Dr. King had studied Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent approach to solving problems, but I didn’t know that he and his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King (a dynamo in her own right), went to India for a month to study Gandhi’s unconventional methods so they could return to the United States to implement and affect similar sweeping changes.  Finally, I had somehow forgotten that Dr. King was only 39 when he was assassinated in Memphis. After being so reminded, I was momentarily caught up imagining how much faster our society might have evolved had his life not been cut so short – and how might Dr. King have helped us to better navigate today?

Ignoring my preoccupation with my musings, our Junior Rangers wasted no time at getting to work and meandered their way through the museum to complete their activities.  My favorite page of their activity book first gave more history on the newer properties that have been added to commemorate the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s (one of which we’ll see next week when we drive through Topeka) and then moved to open Junior Ranger awareness about other civil rights struggles in our nation.  The five follow on questions asked about different parks that honor some of these trials: the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail ranging from Illinois to Utah in the 1800s; Independence Hall in Philadelphia; the Women’s Rights National Historical Park; Manzanar National Historic Site to teach about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII; and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail to educate on the relocation of the Cherokee people from the Appalachians to Oklahoma in the late 1830s.  This activity provided a great opening for a discussion on the unfortunate habit humans have of turning everything into “us vs. them” posturing (the sociology term is “othering”) and how a lot of heartache and suffering here and across the globe has followed in its wake.

From the Visitor’s Center we went to the bookstore located next to Dr. King’s birth home.  It was only a block away from the Ebenezer Baptist Church where both he and his father had preached.  As we walked over to the church, we passed The Martin Luther King, Junior, Center for Nonviolent Change (often referred to as “The King Center”), which holds the greatest collection of his written works, houses the crypt where Dr. King and his wife are interred above a reflecting pool, and endeavors to remind the world of his legacy.  Sensing our children were short on attention and long on grumbling bellies, we opted not to go inside The King Center and stayed only a few minutes in the church before swearing in our Junior Rangers and heading to the car.


I thought we should drive to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, park (should be easy, right?), and find a nearby place to grab some grub.  My game plan was good in theory and, unlike other brilliant plans I have had along this journey, this one, despite my best efforts to almost unsuccessfully navigate a honeycomb of one-way streets, did not go horribly wrong. We found a parking garage common to the Aquarium, the World of Coca Cola, and our destination.  Perfect!  And, wait for it, a fabulous brunch place was right across the street. I was so hungry I didn’t manage to take a picture, but found this one online.


At the Atlanta Breakfast Club, Keeper ordered the Peach Cobbler French Toast, Firebolt the Buttermilk Pancakes and bacon (the older two were going to share both dishes, although Keeper almost backed out of the agreement when caught sight of his order), and WoodSprite jumped on some French Toast and a side of bacon.  I was the only one who ordered something that didn’t resemble dessert breakfast and happily scarfed down my seafood gumbo on a bed of grits, as I knew this flight of Yanks would be heading west next week and that variety of hominy goodness would soon be scarce.

Delightfully full, but thankfully nowhere near food coma, we walked over to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.


The Center’s space is divided into three main areas that are housed on separate floors. Although it was just a 33% chance, we started on the top floor and worked our way down to the basement, which was absolutely the way to go.  The second floor houses the exhibit on global human rights and it is brilliantly done. The entry passageway is lined with mirrored panels, each of which is an interactive touch screen allowing the viewer to see and hear the stories of people who have escaped persecution for being different.  Along one wall of the exhibit’s main room is a collection of the most notorious mass murderers in humankind’s recent history, some of whom are dead, some serving sentences, and some are still at large.  When I saw those chosen for the gallery, I couldn’t help but think of Eddie Izzard’s assessment of these heinous characters in Dress to Kill.  If you haven’t seen his show, he’s a genius.

The ground floor of the Center focused on the civil rights struggles in our nation, much of which was focused on Dr. King’s work.  The most impactful exhibit we saw was along a mock-up of a 1950s diner countertop. There were four barstools at the counter and one lower space that could accommodate a wheel chair.  At each barstool’s place setting was  a pair of handprints, an accompanying headset, and a digital clock timer on the wall behind the counter.  For the full experience, you don the headset, place your hands on the handprints in front of you, close your eyes, and see how long you can withstand the vicious hateful voices calling you names, taunting and threatening you.  The whole experience goes no longer than three minutes, which I made it through, yet it made me sick to my stomach.  The gentlemen who participated in the famed sit-ins simulated by this exhibit were subjected to that abuse and far worse for eight hours a day, everyday, as they so nonviolently protested.  Although the girls really wanted to listen to the headsets, Keeper was the only one I allowed to try this experience on and he made it to 1:07 before taking off his headset and saying, “I am so angry with humankind right now.”   Amen, my son.

Feeling that we were nearing the end of our collective attention tether, we quickly passed through the basement floor, which housed only a small collection of Dr. King’s written works.  While I would have enjoyed staying longer to read every page, I didn’t need the escalating game of tag around me to tell me we were only moments away from a meltdown of some variety and hastily shuffled everyone out the door and back to the car. It took over an hour to drive the 33 miles back to Davista in Atlanta’s famed rush hour traffic, so we broke up our commute through gridlock with a stop at a Redbox to procure some light-hearted fun and a grocery store for some cheese cloth (Stay tuned, we’ll be making goat cheese this weekend!).

I was rather subdued after we left the Center, consumed by the mostly self-induced plight of the world weighing heavily on me.  I could not get my brain wrapped around how humankind can be so cruel to one another. I just don’t get it.  Fortunately the kids were entertaining themselves on the stop-and-go drive back as I was preoccupied by processing all that I had taken in. Yes, humans are flawed and are capable of unspeakable atrocities, many of which result from and perpetuate the cycle of fear and abuse, yet we are also capable of profound love and selfless action.  I remembered the portrait wall at the Center showcasing such models of character, hanging on the wall opposite mass murderers row, and how each worked tirelessly to better the human condition.


Dr. King’s portrait hangs near that of Mahatma Gandhi, another of my heroes.  I stole a glance at Keeper in the passenger seat, now engrossed in yet another youtube science video, but who had earlier been outraged at the sit-in counter experience.  I then caught sight of the girls in the rear view mirror, giggling with heads bent close over the only functional Kindle in the car, both of whom had expressed great indignation upon learning of the unkind treatment of fellow human beings just for being different.  Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” kept echoing in my thoughts and after again surveying our future, cautiously optimistic, I wondered, “But will it be enough?”

Overcome by this heavy day, I was thankful to escape to the light-hearted kindness of Paddington 2 for our movie night.  When I crawled into bed, I silently prayed that the seeds that we have planted and are nurturing will grow to make a stand against whatever inequalities our children encounter, and may those be far fewer as we progress to become truly free at last.

A Quick Word on Armadillos

Are armadillos not a Texas thing?

I had thought so, prior to this trip, and fittingly enough, we saw our first (live) armadillo shuffling through the low brush outside of Austin.  “Armadillo, kids!”  “coooooool…”

We then left Texas and saw them in Louisiana, Florida (LOTS in Florida), Georgia, both Carolinas, Kentucky, and Missouri.  90% of the armadillos we saw were smashed on the side of the road (and here I should qualify — that should read “90% of the armadillos that *I* saw,” as I was doing the driving.  I’m not twisted enough to interrupt anyone else’s activities to point out roadkill.)  Never have I seen so much roadside carnage. And armadillos are especially gruesome as such.

The only conclusion I can come to is that they either like to hang out near roads and play chicken (badly), or that there are so incredibly many of them creeping around the South that it’s purely a numbers game that you’re going to see a few dozen flattened on the highway during any given drive.  That’s a little disconcerting.

OK, carry on.