Plan Charlie Whisky? Yes, please!

And so we revised our paradigm to roll with Plan Moon.  You can learn more about how we came to find ourselves in this new mindset in my previous post here.  Since we were no longer tied to finding a permanent home in the immediate future, everything sort of opened up to us.  The temporal reprieve we granted ourselves by taking another year to travel (or, as Flight so eloquently stated, we simply “kicked the can down the road for a year…”) was now wide open with possibilities, but there was so much we had to tend to immediately we couldn’t even contemplate what that meant.

Flight and I made the opportunity to go to one of our favorite places in DTA (Downtown Annapolis for any non-locals) leaving Keeper in charge.  We went to Dry 85 (see below – not my picture, but found it on line…), which we love for fantastic eats and scrumptious beverages served in a gezellig  environment, and squirreled away with computers, paper calendars, notebooks, and pens.  Okay, so the former was all Flight and, as he calls me the “Walking Electromagnetic Pulse” (or “Walking EMP” for short), the elegant tools of 20thcentury record-keeping were all mine.

Photo request: Eats review of Dry 85 Name of event: n/a Run date: 3/19 for b, 3/21 for Live Reporter: Kit Pollard Assignment sta

Based on Flight’s work schedule, we came up with an appropriate means of dividing and conquering the possessions we had amassed to shoehorn as much of them into a POD as possible.  Flight tackled the shed and the garage during his few days home and I packed out the kitchen, all the while lamenting why we have so many dishes (living in 280 sqft has made me very aware that we truly don’t need much to joyfully exist – I think Marie Kondo is onto something…), and started on the basement.

I should mention that (over?)zealously packing up all the pots, pans, and dishes required some culinary creativity.

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During one of our delivery runs out to the slowly filling POD, one of our gracious neighbors strolled over and casually observed that she noticed the “Under Contract” sign had been taken down before asking, “What happened?” We gave her the bare bones rundown of our latest real estate drama (which was nothing compared to the first go around and you can read more about that here) and she said something to the effect of, “Well, good friends of ours put in a contingent offer on your house and were disappointed when it wasn’t accepted.  Let me reach out to see if they’re still interested…”

Within an hour, their realtor called ours to officially indicate their interest and we asked them to put together an offer once our house went active again the following week, most likely after we flew out.  Our fantastic realtor team made the opportunity to reach out to other families who had expressed interest in our house to advise them the deal had fallen through and gauge their interest in writing an offer.  One such family was hours away from writing an offer in on another house and jumped on our recently liberated property within hours after the first deal fell through.  Through the neighbor network, the other couple also put in an offer as well, although as theirs was still contingent, we went with the first.  Although, more than a little jaded by our Maryland real estate endeavor to date, we knew not to get our hopes up…

Flight and I took a break from sorting through, throwing out, and packing up most of our worldly goods to join in the celebration of a friend’s retirement from the Navy after 25 years of honorable service.  Despite neglecting to get a picture of the man of the hour, I managed several with his wife, with whom I’d shared our four years by the Bay at USNA, and several of our Academy classmates.

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While each of these women is remarkable in their own right, this lovely soul picture with me below is one whose friendship dates back to third grade Brownie Scouts.  I’m not making this up.


After a couple solid days of work, Flight left on another work trip and I got down to serious business. I took the girls to gymnastics camp every day and left Keeper to tend to his own entertainment.  He was so excited to have his own room again, one with a door that actually shut, that I’m not sure my abandonment even registered. Meanwhile, I squirreled away in the basement and streamlined 20 boxes of likely superfluous memorabilia down to eight (translated: 12 boxes sparked no joy…).

In my spare moments, I oversaw the bittersweet installation of our new pool liner chosen by a family who would not be residing here and, as Flight noted, the pool looked its nicest since we’ve owned it.


As is so often the case, especially when we attempt to fly standby in the summer, all the potential flights filled up at the last minute and we had to change our itinerary countless times.  After being in the Caribbean for a few days, Flight had landed in Boston near midnight, called me and we talked through the possible options for the next day’s travel plans. Ultimately we decided on a late departure the following day to Boston, overnighting in Boston and an early flight to Seattle where Flight, after catching an earlier flight from Boston to Portland to collect Davista and drive to Seattle, would pick us up at SEA-TAC. I told the kids they could sleep in as long as they wanted because we were no longer departing early.


Flight called me at 6:38 the next morning to let me know most of the options we’d previously discussed were no longer possible.  Well, shoot. I had a most impressive to do list still awaiting my attention, but really needed to prioritize because we now had to catch an Uber in less than three hours.  Deep breath and initiate Operation Perfect Stage Triage Departure Checklist…

Okay, first things first – add a few more boxes into the POD in the driveway and secure our belongings in situ and away from the door so that if they move around and make it impossible to open the door when we get our stuff delivered at a time to be determined. Thinking ahead, my last trip to Home Depot was for boxes and more packing paper, but I also bought some rope and a few large boxes to tape together and create a barrier of sorts. Since we had another POD coming in a few weeks, I thought 100’ of rope ought to do it.  After I cut the line in half, the ends immediately began to unravel, really faster than I thought possible. Not really thinking things through, I took both ropes in to the kitchen to burn the newly cut ends to preclude further unraveling. Good idea in theory that becomes a bad idea when the rope burns enough poly material to drip on the wood floors that have recently been refinished.


I immediately tried to get the black melted nylon off the floor but it was as if the new embellishments had been epoxied on.  Awesome.  The POD was going to be collected sometime this morning, so I needed to tie everything down and lock it first before I could tend to the self-induced disaster I just created.

After doing further research, Flight called me as I was, with surgical precision I might add, steadily peeling up the burnt rope droppings with an Exacto knife.  He asked me if we could be ready to go in less two hours and I committed to being so.  A crucial 20 minutes later it was as though I had never engaged in rope burning jackassery and the floor was returned to looking beautiful.  The kids were extremely helpful in getting our house back to show condition, vacuuming all floors upstairs, the kitchen and living room downstairs and sweeping the stairs.  I cleaned all bathrooms, took a four minute shower (and again gave thanks for my plebe year training at the Naval Academy) and cleaned the kitchen with our ride to the airport inbound.

We had hoped Flight would catch an early flight down to BWI and rent a car to come back, help finish up with loading the POD, and run us to the airport.  Sadly, the flight he had his eye on pushed back from the gate 25 minutes early (that never happens!) and he wasn’t able to get back in time to be our shuttle.  So we rolled with it.  The only problem was I couldn’t sort out how to pay for an Uber or a Lyft with only our recently cancelled credit card stored in my phone. Our card had been cancelled the previous day after it was fraudulently compromised – I swear I’ve never been to a Walmart in Ohio.  Given that I was unable to devote any further mental power to sort that out, I requested that Flight set us up with a ride, which he did from afar and we had someone coming to collect us soon.

The kids and I left the house in show ready condition and we made our way to the airport.  We met Flight in Boston and caught a ride to Portland with his company.  Our arrival in Portland was too late to collect Davista, so we collected the Subaru from the Radisson (where we’d parked for free for the last two weeks – !!!) and drove to a Marriott affiliated hotel to stay on points.   As we collected our house on wheels, we were assured that Davista was just fine and sent on our way to Seattle.   It took us about an hour to unpack and settle in before we buttoned up Davista and made ready to get underway again.  No flashing check engine light on our way to Seattle – so far so good… Onto SeaFair and a good single malt…


Plan Charlie Foxtrot…

Plan A or Plan B (or Plan Alpha and Plan Bravo for you military folk our there) is usually how we hope life unfolds, having dedicated ample strategic planning before enacting surgically precise decision-making to effectively direct the outcomes at major forks in the road. That’s simply not how living this nomadic existence has played out as our circumstances change often all the time.  Having already cycled through the alphabet a few times with our continuously evolving plans, Plan Charlie Foxtrot seems an apt title for where we presently find ourselves.

I will try my best to cover the last few weeks in one general post, but will likely come back to flesh out some of the experiences that merit more attention.  As Flight mentioned, we have been a little, ahem, preoccupied as of late.  Our (mostly Flight’s) intent planning for the summer had us celebrating Firebolt’s 9thbirthday in Bend, Oregon, on July 12th.  I know my last post we were traversing Kansas over Memorial Day Weekend just before getting to Colorado.  So much has happened in the meantime.  I promise to go back to share our amazing adventures in Colorado, New Mexico, Colorado (again), and Utah, and all the wonderful experiences we had before getting to Bend, but let me read you into the latest chapter…


We left Park City the morning after the 4thof July.  We celebrated our nation’s day of independence tucked into the Wasatch Mountains and got on the road again fairly early on the 5th.  Our destination:  Bend, Oregon – WOO HOO! – the most likely candidate for our next permanent address.  However, as it’s quite a haul from Park City, we knew we wanted to stop for the night en route.  Last time we made this trek, we were, ahem, underwhelmed by Boise, so we opted to go through and overnight in NV.  Winnemucca to be exact.  Our night was spent at the Winnemucca RV Park, which is known for its proximity to late-night Rodeo events.  Actually, we were unaware of said notoriety, but we are now quite savvy.  Knowing we had another long day’s drive the next day, we opted not to check out the barrel racing or the cow wrangling, but heard about it well into our slumber.

The next day was an interesting mix of events.  First and foremost, we made it to Bend, however, it’s the journey that was interesting. Not so much in the scenery (have you been to that neck of Nevada?), but the CHECK ENGINE light that began flashing. The light had come on (and gone off) intermittently and we’d had Davista inspected in Durango and they found nothing. With the newest development of the flashing light, Flight and I immediately slid into P-3C crew roles and he was concerned with safety of flight and I was documenting every time it would flash, duration, etc.  Try as we might we couldn’t corroborate why it would come on at any given time sometimes as long as a few minutes, sometimes as short as five seconds.  It was during one of these periods of mental gymnastics in between light flashing episodes that we blew by a police officer conducting a routine traffic stop of a truck.  Distracted by safety of flight issues and unaware of the recent law that requires every vehicle to pull left if possible and yield a lane of safety buffer to these professionals, we neglected to comply.  We were pulled over shortly thereafter and given a hefty fine.  Lesson learned.

On our way through one of the towns along HWY 20 (Burns, I think it was), Flight purchased a device (the fancy title escapes me at the moment) to read the engine’s error messages and we learned that Davista’s engine was misfiring on cylinders 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. Um, what?!  That was strange as it didn’t feel like it was misfiring. No skipping, nothing.  I’m sure Flight will give his (read: more informed) perspective on this as well, but we were flummoxed by the intermittently flashing cue.

We rolled into the first of our campsites in Bend, the Crown Villa RV Resort, heartily perplexed, but turned our focus on getting to know our prospective new town. Only the day after we arrived, Flight got to try out commuting to work from Bend.  This was a big deal as his commute to work is the only potential drawback of living in this amazing community.  While he was gone, only a slightly less bigger deal (at least to me) was that Keeper and I packed up and moved Davista down the road to the Thousand Trails resort, which is about twenty minutes outside of town.


During our transit I, too, was favored with an intermittent check engine light.

Flight’s trip was a relatively short one and he met up with us in Farewell Bend Park just as his folks were rolling into town.  Surprising Firebolt (and Woodsprite – but not Keeper as he can now keep secrets), Grammy and Papa met us there as well.  We were delighted to learn it’s only a 7.5-hour drive to make the transit between Bend and where they live in the Bay Area.  After we all stayed at the campsite, we rented a house in Mount Bachelor Village for a few days to better accommodate all of us and celebrate Firebolt’s birthday in style.

While tucked into a “real house” (as Woodsprite says), we turned to some pressing issues with both our house on wheels and our sticks-and-bricks house in Maryland. Flight called no less than half a dozen mechanics and got as many varied potential diagnoses for the misfiring error codes.  Most critical was learning whether or not we could continue to drive Davista or had to have her towed to a mechanic lest we cause further damage to the engine.  It was 50-50 on that recommendation too, but at the encouragement of the Ford warranty folks, we arranged to have her towed to Portland, the nearest shop that could handle Davista’s size, which was only 178 miles away, to be exact.  We are very glad she was still under warranty as that fee alone would have been a pretty penny.


Almost simultaneously, we received an offer on our house in Maryland.  After Flight and I realized we needed us (just a little younger) to buy our house, I had been praying that such a family would find us.  Enter the Navy family who put in the offer – he would be teaching at the Naval Academy for the next six years and they were expecting their third child in December.  Excellent!  We were sorting out the details of when inspections would happen (necessitating opening the pool), signing and sending paperwork back and forth with our realty team, scheduling dental appointments for everyone, determining when we’d go back to pack out, how we’d pack out, where we’d store our stuff, etc., all interspersed with Flight’s conversations with various mechanics and his debriefing me on what he’d just learned and my planning an appropriate birthday celebration for our soon-to-be 9-year old.  At one point, Flight realized Papa was listening to our very orderly discussion about all the stuff we were wading through and said something to the effect, “Hey, Dad, you might think this is an unusual occurrence with what you’re hearing us work through right now, but, seriously, this is like almost any other day.” And he’s right.  This nomadic experience has really helped us embrace the adage “Semper Gumby” and has honed our ability to plan important missions (big and little) to allow as much future flexibility as possible, because plans change all the time. At least ours do…

So, just to sum up – house offer accepted (for much lower than we’d anticipated, sigh…) from a Navy family like ours, sorting out how to remove and store our belongings, Davista being towed to Portland to be fixed (we hoped), and Firebolt’s birthday party in the works.


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After our day honoring Firebolt’s nine years (that will have its own post when I can get to it), we returned to Davista.  We spent a few days packing up what we’d need in MD (including all the superfluous stuff we no longer needed in Davista but didn’t want to jettison altogether), transferred Flight’s mountain bike from the back of the Subaru to on top of our bed in Davista, watched our house get loaded up on the tow truck, piled into the Subaru, and headed to Portland.



For the night of the July 17th, we stayed at a hotel only five minutes from the repair shop and maybe eight to the airport, which was most fortuitous as we had to drop Flight off at the airport so he could get to Boston to start his next trip. Because Davista didn’t arrive at the shop until after he departed (apparently the highway was closed due to an accident for nearly two hours – we had just squeaked through!), we weren’t sure how long she’d be in the shop.  It could be weeks (if an engine change was necessary) or only days (if it was only a computer glitch) and we wouldn’t learn anything until the following day.

Flight’s trip brought him right back to Portland.  While he was flying back to meet us, the rest of our gaggle made use of our day to check out Fort Vancouver located across the Columbia River.



That was a lovely outing, one I’ll write more about in another post later.  After chatting with the mechanic, we learned it would be at least a week before we knew more, so we made plans to fly back to MD to pack out our house.  In the meantime, we enjoyed dinner at some amazing Food Trucks (those are plentiful in the foodie city of Portland!) and then returned to our respective hotels, planning to meet Flight at PDX in the morning to fly back East to oversee the installation of the new pool liner and get packing.  Flight was the Captain for our flight back – that’s always fun!

After an uneventful flight and sleep in Boston, we returned to the Logan to catch a flight to BWI. We arrived at the house late Friday afternoon, a little taken aback by the dead front lawn (apparently it hadn’t rained for six weeks) and the empty and uncovered pool showing the drained cement pond, but happy to see “Under Contract” posted above the realtor’s sign.  That placard served also a figurative sign for me indicating it was go time, and I spent an industrious evening packing out my home office as the first of the torrential downpours began.

The next morning came very early (we were happily acclimated to the West Coast time zone) and the chimney inspection was scheduled sometime between 7-9 am.  The inspector was a no-show, but we learned later the buyers’ agent neglected to let ours know it would be a little later in the morning.  Due to the added inconvenience, we opted stick around and continue packing during the inspection.

Chimney inspection looked great!  So far, so good, until the prospective buyer let it slip that they were reconsidering the purchase of our house.  Ever the gracious man, Flight said, “Okay, could you please let us know.   Soon.”  He said, “Yes, we’re taking the weekend to think about it and will get back to you on Monday.”

After that bomb was dropped on us, Flight and I took a moment to regroup and went into planning mode, yet again.  We weren’t sure if we should keep packing out or leave the house staged, and ultimately decided we would ride that fence until we knew for sure.  There was plenty of stuff we had yet to sort through, a necessary (albeit less than desirable) activity regardless of how far into the future our impending move stretches.

After a hardcore day of boxing up many things we probably don’t need, we popped over to our cousins’ house for a short visit before Flight departed in the morning for another work trip.  When I said it was torrentially down-pouring, I wasn’t kidding.  Their basement was flooding and we spent much of our visit working to minimize water intrusion and do our best to pump out the lake pooling in their basement.  Oh, and did I mention his business was getting hacked? You simply cannot make this stuff up…

When Flight departed for his trip in the wee hours the next morning, it was raining.

It rained all day.

And rained.

And rained.

The deluge continued for days.  So much so that our classy “cement pond out back” started filling up and, although I didn’t think it was possible, it looked even less appealing than it did upon our return.


The swamp that is known as Maryland attempted to reclaim our backyard.  I busied myself with setting up play dates and sleepovers, and packing out the bar in the basement and the kitchen until we finally heard from our prospective buyers on Tuesday morning.

They backed out.

The house was too much for them, which was understandable given they had just come from a 1600 sf apartment in Italy and were first time homeowners.  Why would a 5800 sf house on an acre with a beautiful pool be overwhelming? We found it so, and we already owned it. !!  I just wish they had figured that out a little sooner.  Flight and I spoke between his flights and agreed that we should proceed with getting the first of our PODS and start packing.  Regardless of how long our house is for sale, we realized that returning to Maryland was no longer a viable option for us.

When Flight came back from his work trip, we rather unceremoniously removed the “Under Contract” and collectively focused on packing, because at this point we were sure we would not be returning here to live once our travels came to a close.  As the elements whipped around outside, Flight and I took a moment to commit to a decision, the biggest one we’ve made since departing Maryland nearly a year ago. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been plenty of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth associated with identifying and reserving the perfect campsite along the way, but we’ve wrestled with nothing on this magnitude.  With the deal falling through, we were faced with making the call to choose Plan Sun or Plan Moon.  We knew that it would be fiscally irresponsible to rent or buy a house while still being saddled with this house, or this “albatross” (Flight’s perfect description).  So as we surveyed the backyard swamp, we arrived at a decision.

Plan Moon it is.

Moments after we committed to Plan Moon, we called the kids into the living room to read them into the latest change in plans.  We spoke first of immediate concerns, namely where we’d be dining that evening, and then followed up with our plan to stay on the road for another academic year.  Much to their credit, an additional year of continued travels was met with nothing more monumental than a shoulder shrug and, “Okay, what’s for dinner again?”

Holy resiliency.  May we continue to learn from their gracious flexibility as we plan for what comes next…

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.


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…


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.

Sleuthing Sleuths and Driving Droves in Shaconage

I had never been this deep into Appalachia before, nor had I ever seen The Great Smoky Mountains.  In fact, I had never even contemplated why these gentle (gentile?) mountains have this name. It turns out “Smoky” has nothing to do with the ever-vigilant bear who encourages us to prevent forest fires (that particular cub lived in New Mexico) as only the uninitiated might assume. Instead, the name comes from ubiquitous blue vapor that continuously escapes the thick layer of lush vegetation on these mountains.  Before the native Cherokee were forced to relocate to Oklahoma along the devastating Trail of Tears, they called this range “Shaconage” or “place of blue smoke.”


As we were driving about the countryside, I became very aware of the heavy influence of the Cherokee Nation along the North Carolina boundary of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I have traveled far and wide through North Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, and nowhere have I been so intrigued by a written language.  At first glance, I could not even establish a rhythm to the language and it was no surprise to learn that in WWI the Cherokee were enlisted to serve as our nations first “Code Talkers,” just as the Navajo had done so successfully in WWII.

Although it may seem entirely out of place, I think it’s important to give a quick homeschool update before I can get to a more extensive summary of that enterprise. While the girls have been ardently earning Junior Ranger Badges at all the National Park Service (NPS) sites we have visited, these exercises were well beneath Keeper’s attention and interest level.  To help him get the most out of our visits, I delved into the extensive curricula offerings on the NPS website that has by location and subject matter a wide array of options for “Teaching With Historic Places.”

Entirely applicable to our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains, Keeper spent a week doing readings and answering questions about the Trail of Tears.  In putting together this assignment, I learned that most but not all the Cherokee were forced to relocate west of the Mississippi.  The vibrant community in this neck of North Carolina is made up of either the descendants of those forced out to Oklahoma who then walked back to their homeland or those who were able to hang onto their property despite the land grab of the early 1800s.  I would have liked to spend more time exploring the nearby town of Cherokee, but our short stay didn’t allow for such an excursion. Next time.

The only real time I have spent along the Appalachian Trail was about a week over 20 years ago and I was entirely distracted by other goings on.  I had the privilege of attending SERE School in Brunswick, Maine, before reporting to my squadron in Whidbey Island, Washington.  Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training teaches you to do exactly that.  After a few days of all-day lectures, you spend your first stretch of training learning how to live off the land.  Next you practice evading capture in hostile territory.  Then, even if you were able to stealthily avoid capture, they call “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free” (actually they ring a bell) and you have to report for capture.  Finally comes the trickiest part – learning how to resist interrogation as a prisoner of war (POW), all the while trying to plan an effective escape.

I had the privilege of doing SERE School in February.  Have you been to Maine?  It is absolutely beautiful.  Have you been to Maine in February?  It is still absolutely beautiful in February – it looks like an Ansel Adams winter wonderland – but the weather is very unforgiving.

Photo taken from the Maine Tourism Board

It was 22obelow zero our first night on the mountain and I remember crawling into my little self-made snow cave and praying that I might still be alive in the morning.  SERE School was, by far, the most valuable training I have ever had, I just pray I never have to use it.

While in the classroom portion of SERE School, we were instructed how to harvest berries, none of which would be in season until June (if memory serves, most of the red ones and all of the white ones will kill you), and to not eat snow, yellow or otherwise (you need to heat it up and turn it into water first or it will kill you). During training breaks we also heard some pretty entertaining stories of previous classes’ shenanigans and learned that, on occasion, hikers either finishing up or starting their long trek along the Appalachian Trail will stumble into the mock-up POW camp.  Having been deeply entrenched in that military experience, I cannot imagine what a rude awakening that might be for the average hiker.

It was these reminiscent thoughts that were keeping me entertained as we crisscrossed the Appalachian Trail during our first hike to Clingmans Dome and back.


On our trek to the observation tower we saw a sleuth of bears (betcha didn’t know that’s what more than one is called – I had to look it up), which you have to take my word for their presence in the brush.


The walk to the top of the observation tower was crowded (note to self, avoid the weekend crowds in the future…), but led to some breathtaking views.


I was surprised to see Cold Mountain listed among the peaks, a location made famous by a heart-wrenching movie made based on Charles Frazier’s historical novel.


After the 360oview offered at the top of the tower, we ducked into the forest proper to follow the Appalachian Trail for a very modest distance to find a picnic spot.


As we meandered through the woods, I realized we were on a “Clingmans Dome Bypass” for folks who are hiking the Appalachian Trail in earnest and don’t want to be bothered by the throng of tourists.  We ran into a few such hikers looking none the worse for their travels and I thought of my cousin who has hiked both the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest Trails in their entirety, leaving only the Continental Divide to go before she earns the coveted Triple Crown title.  !!!  After a short stretch, we were happy to come across this beautiful setting for our lunch.


We returned to the car and were rewarded with another sleuth sighting when we wound our way down the mountain.


One last stop before returning to Davista was to check out Mingus Mill, a historic and still active grist mill.  Instead of using a water wheel to do the work, Mingus Mill uses a water-powered turbine that had diverted the flow of the river to harness its energy to grind grains.  At first glance, I had originally thought this was a rather inefficient planter outside, but quickly realized it was one of the original millstones.  !!!


With two of the major sites seen, we settled into Davista to enjoy dinner by the river.

The next morning dawned on Mother’s Day.  My family made a wonderful breakfast and we set out to explore another of the local hikes, and possibly float the falls’ source, Deep Creek.



Although we had our share of inertia getting away from Davista, the kids settled into the hike after minimal grumbling (it was Mother’s Day, after all) and we hit a potential snag in our plans.  WoodSprite was bitten by a nasty bug that left a ghastly welt in its wake.

As we loaded up the backpack departing the car, I had heard the Angel’s recommendation to be sure to bring our stash of lavender oil, which, shamefully, I disregarded.  Lavender oil is our go to for any bug bites as it immediately takes the sting away.   All I had on hand was Band-Aids and homemade lip balm.  After convincing a tear-stained WoodSprite that lip balm was merely peppermint salve for the lips, I was able to apply it to the sting site and, much to everyone’s relief, it mitigated the pain shortly thereafter.

While I was carrying and soothing a crying WoodSprite along the waterfall path, Flight told us all to stop and back up.  I had heard nothing but the shedding of tears, but when we paused heard several somethings stumbling through the nearby brush.  With yesterday’s sleuth sightings in mind, I had expected Papa, Mama, and Baby Bear to come lumbering into view.  Instead we were favored with a drove of wild boar dashing across the trail no more than ten yards ahead of us, including three wee piglets.

Distracted by the cute factor of wild piglets and the sting’s hold fading by the moment, WoodSprite was happy to walk on her own power.  Big brother, Keeper, took WoodSprite by the hand and helped her navigate the way ahead.  Almost as sweet as seeing wild squealing piglets dashing through the woods…


At last we found what Flight had been seeking throughout our waterfall hike, a suitable place from which he could dunk his head in the stream.


I don’t get it, but Keeper and WoodSprite do, as they usually join in…

Following our hike, we reposed for a moment by Deep Creek and weighed the options for the afternoon’s water activities.  We first contemplated renting some tubes at one of the many nearby shops to float, but, even after witnessing some very creative logistics of other tubing enthusiasts, we couldn’t envision a safe configuration that might allow us to get five tubes (and us) from shop to parking lot in the Subaru and then on foot to the put in place. Instead, we opted to return to the campground and play in the river.

Keeper was stoked to engage in varsity waterplay with his sisters and Dad and I stayed outside the spray radius to document it all.

Another delightful day nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains came to a satisfying conclusion with s’mores around the campfire.


Before we left the next morning, WoodSprite and I went for a short hike along a nearby nature trail. Throughout our travels, Flight and I have made it a point to carve out one-on-one time with each of the kids and I was delighted to have the opportunity to hike with WoodSprite, just the two of us.  We had to cross three modified planks to get started and found a wee turtle on our way around the loop.

The last activity before we scooted on to Atlanta was returning to the Oconaluftee (that’s pretty fun to say) Visitor Center so our newest Junior Rangers could be sworn in.

IMG_2283 (1).jpg

Sadly, we didn’t make it around back to see the living farm museum, but we were okay with that omission. Having seen many of the spectacular National Parks out West, I was surprised to learn that the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited NP in the nation, boasting over 10 million visitors annually, but then discovered that it’s within a day and half’s drive for over half the American population.  I also realized that these gentile mountain slopes are far more accommodating for people who may not be avid outdoor enthusiasts.  After hearing all the rave reviews of this particular National Park, I was very glad we made the opportunity to check it out.  Although it was lovely to see, and I can certainly see its appeal, my heart yearns to return to the west to view the newer crags and sharper peaks of the Cascades.  They are calling me home.

San Francisco of the South

Asheville, NC, holds a dear place in my heart for many reasons.  First and foremost, it was one our first “destinations” after we acquired Davista in Cincinnati last April and will always serve as the backdrop for my fond memories of getting to know our rig as we started this crazy adventure. Prior to visiting Asheville, everyone I knew thought my crunchy self would be right at home there and told me I probably wouldn’t want to leave.  Apparently I exude granola.

Actually, early in our marriage, I tentatively confided to Flight (after doing a clearing turn to see who might be listening), “I think I might be a little crunchy.”  With an incredulous look, he laughed and simply said, “You’ve been in granola denial for a very long time – you just need to embrace it.”  “Really?!” “Yes, really.”

And so I have.

Strangely, despite embracing this latent aspect of being, I did not readily find my peeps during our first visit to Asheville. Instead it seemed I found my granola limit, which I didn’t even know I had.  Now, I am all about living a life being mindful about the rest of my fellow creatures on this planet and our collective home.  In fact, that philosophy informs many of our family’s decisions, be they existential or mundane.  What I’m not particularly fond of is those who use something akin to this mindfulness as an excuse to abstain from being contributing members of society. “I can’t get a job because it will interfere with my ability to commune with….” That mentality makes me crazy and Asheville seemed thick with it.  Flight was surprised at my reaction to Asheville and thought I might start yelling, “Hippie, take a bath!” at the many such folks I saw loitering while we were out and about. Interesting.  I couldn’t help but wonder – am I getting old?!

Nope.  Not happening.  I refuse.  Crotchety, maybe.  Old? Never. Actually, that reminds me of another pretty funny conversation Flight and I had, this one while still living in Maryland.  While I was still teaching at the Naval Academy, Flight would patiently listen to any of my rants about the current episode of “Midshipmen Behaving Badly” I was witnessing at work,  and wait until I was done before grinning and saying, “And while you’re at it, GET OFF OF MY LAWN!”  I enjoy returning the favor when he relates any reality show-worthy shenanigans from 36,000’.  After one such particular venting, I impishly observed, “You know, I think we’re both getting a little crotchety, but in different ways.”  Not missing a beat, Flight fired back, “Yeah, we are, but that’s because we have different crotches.”

So there ya go.

With all that said, I was a little apprehensive about what hippy factions we might encounter on our return to Asheville, not so much for their fanciful existence but for the potential of my crotchety reaction thereto.  Fortunately (?), I was distracted by the repercussions of our crew’s inability to follow checklists, which made our time in Asheville proper virtually nonexistent.

Despite being limited by self-induced mechanical failures and the consequent repairs, we did manage to return to two highlights from our first visit.   Sliding Rock was one of our family’s favorite activities last year.  River water has sculpted the smooth rock into a long slide that has become a local draw for generations.  Since we were there again early in the season, pre-season if you will, the public restrooms were closed and the water was rather, um, brisk.  Content with my memories from last year, I abstained from the sliding activities but caught some decent shots of the family.





From Sliding Rock we then went to the Sierra Nevada Brewery to spend an early evening enjoying some “Corn in the Hole” (WoodSprite’s title for the game) and walking the extensive garden before we dined within.


It was a lovely day.


Just before we collected the car from the miracle mechanic, we drove out to Black Mountain to see what that not-so-booming metropolis was all about. I was curious about this particular town as it was the setting for two very different series of books that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  The first of these is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, which is now a series on Starz.  The last part of the fourth book (The Drums of Autumn) and the first part of the fifth book (The Fiery Cross), which I happened to be rereading now, is a Scottish clan gathering set in Black Mountain.

The other series is a trilogy by William Forstchen that explores what might happen in the event a nuclear device (or several) is detonated in space specifically to generate a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to fry electronics across a sizable footprint.  For those of you not associated with the Space Cadre, this is actually a big deal. The ramifications of detonating such a device are not what you (and Stephen Colbert) might think (radiation fall out, scorched earth, etc.).  Instead of nuclear holocaust unfolding on Earth, everything dependent on 1s and 0s would cease to function, becoming only conversation pieces and paperweights, to include the satellite network that informs most of the developed world’s communications and defense networks.  In a word, YIKES.  The series is set in Black Mountain and is a solid contemplation on how all might unfold should such an event occur.   After finishing Forstchen’s books, I again gave thanks that I know how to grow my own food and have at least one skill I can barter.

As excited as I was to leisurely stroll about Black Mountain and reconstruct scenes from these books in my mind’s eye, I was also acutely aware that additional time in the Subaru never serves our flight well.  We opted to dine at Louise’s Kitchen (which is well known for its enormous breakfast dishes) before seeking out Montreat College (which, sadly, we only caught a glimpse of), do a 180oand head back to Davista.  We made it in plenty of time to get a serious fire going, and followed up with S’Mores.


Safety Standdown complete and no hippy sightings, I was eager to get to our next destination (with the Subaru parking brake appropriately released) and explore the Great Smoky Mountains.  I have never seen this neck of the Appalachians and can’t wait to see what they’re all about…

Safety Standdown in Asheville

In Naval Aviation, Safety Standdowns are periodic events that are put together to help aviators optimize safety awareness while in flight and on the deck.  The Safety Standdown is a day where all aircraft remain on the deck and the entire squadron gathers together to hear or provide safety-related discussions on a wide range of topics (e.g. having a state trooper relate the importance of wearing seatbelts (I can attest to that!), an aerospace physiologist share the latest research on the systemic impact of sleep deprivation, etc.).

While all hands were usually happy to have a breather from the flight schedule, the day served to remind everyone that aviation is inherently dangerous and one must remain ever vigilant against complacency.  Invariably when one gets complacent checklist items are skipped, corners are cut, and mishaps can easily follow.  It is important to note that these day-long events were scheduled periodically, most often at times where complacency might be higher than usual.  Typically a Safety Standdown would occur half-way through deployment where many start to think, “We’ve got this…” as they switch to autopilot and become less mindful about operations.  Another optimal time was just before redeploying home when many minds have already shifted to reuniting with family members after the long separation and may be suffering from “Get-home-itis, ” where potential safety red flags might be ignored to avoid delaying homecoming.  And, of course, a Safety Standdown is an expected evolution following any mishap, be it crunching metal or injuring personnel.

As our current travels resemble a deployment more so than not (and I’ve already touched on the value of checklists), I had already noticed that in resuming our travels this phase we were maybe a little looser in following SOP than our prior journey. For example, the grey water drain valve had been left open following tank dumping procedures, which is no big deal really as it just meant Flight got his shoes washed with some soapy water while getting hooked up at our next campsite.  We had also missed setting a cotter pin on one side of our Blue Ox tow bar contraption, which meant that by the time we arrived at our next campsite one of the two larger pins that directly connect the Subaru to the Blue Ox tow bar had not been locked in place and had wriggled half-way free in transit.  Although our tow bar has safety cables in the event of such a mechanical disconnect, I’d prefer not to see them engaged.  You’d think that two seasoned naval aviators would take these signs of complacency for what they were and immediately debrief the possible consequences of departing from checklists, but we were too wrapped up in our deployment experience to make that a priority.  Shame on us.  Instead, our Safety Standdown was triggered by a mishap.

We departed Charleston at a most civilized hour entirely delighted by our introduction to this lovely city and meandered northwest to Asheville, NC.  After a stop at Congaree National Park (I’ll get to that shortly), we arrived at the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area & Campground and registered to get our lovely spot nestled in the trees.  Even if a spot is “drive through,” we tend to disconnect the Subaru and park it out of the way so I can help Flight maneuver Davista into the ideal location (depending on layout, water and electrical hook-up locations, view, obstructing branches, etc.) within our assigned spot.  Our Carpinteria episode taught us well.

Although the details of who discovered our blunder and when are open to interpretation, the upshot is that when either Flight or I opened the door to collect the hardware box used to store the Blue Ox tow bar connection gear and set the parking brake (that became SOP when we had forgotten to do so once early in our travels on a not so level road – yikes!), it was more than a little surprisingly to find it was already engaged.  My brain slowly leapt beyond the mildly befuddled observation “Well, that’s not supposed to be like that” to meet Flight’s “Holy crap.  How long has that been on?! “ to “Shoot – We likely no longer have a functioning Toad.”  !!!  I then cycled through today’s activities to try to pinpoint how we might have managed such an oversight.

Let me back up. Before departing Charleston, we had discussed making a stop at Congaree National Park, because it was so darn close to our intended path.  It was another opportunity to learn about the biodiversity of a pocket of our country we’d not yet seen and probably wouldn’t ever if we didn’t stop now.  Although it wasn’t as last minute an addition to our itinerary as the two stops I had suggested (insisted on?) from Tampa to Savannah, the conversation that followed that extended travel day was fresh in my mind, which meant I was keen to minimize the time of our layover at Congaree.  I guess you could say I was sporting my own variety of “Get-on-the-road-to-our-next-home-itis.”

Upon our arrival at Congaree, we noted that all the spots in the oversized parking lot big enough to accommodate our crazy 51’ road show were taken up by NPS vehicles far shorter than ours.  Dang it.  To fit in the remaining longer than normal spots without blocking traffic entirely, we had to disconnect the Subaru and take up two spots with our vehicles. Fortunately, Congaree was hardly slammed on this Tuesday afternoon and taking up an additional oversized spot with our regularly sized Subaru was entirely forgivable.

This particular National Park is an interesting mix of swamp, old growth bottomland hardwood forest, and more swamp.  While the Visitor Center boasts some great information about the native population and the push to preserve Congaree’s biodiversity, I was ever aware of our time on the road ahead of us and did my best to make our stop most expeditious.

When we collected Junior Ranger books (a theme, you might note), there was not a Ranger in site. Several volunteers were at the desk, but they were not official NPS Rangers.  We learned there was a proscribed burn underway (used to cull the dead undergrowth and help the forest rejuvenate), which is an all Ranger hands on deck evolution and closed off a good portion of the main boardwalk hike through Congaree. Led by our complaining bellies, we returned to Davista to have a sandwich lunch while we sorted out what the girls needed to do and how much of the requisite hike was possible/necessary to complete their requirements before we could be away.


Hunger assuaged, we walked a mile along the boardwalk out to a short overlook peeking over a small, not particularly clean-looking, lake where we saw several turtles frolicking.


Along our boardwalk trek, we also saw some unique creatures, or evidence thereof.  I saw these houses (?) and had no idea what to make of them. I took this picture specifically to show the folks at the Visitor Center to ask what they were.


The answer?  Crawfish chimneys.  Apparently crawfish build these towers and turn circles about in their mud structures to create a center hole vent to increase the oxygenation of the water in their homes.  Pretty savvy, those crawdads.  We also saw several blue-tailed skinks running about the forest.


Running nowhere were the endless ranks of baldcypress knees, whose true purpose has yet to be identified.


The baldcypress is a cousin to the magnificent redwood and enormous sequoia trees whose acquaintance we made last fall as we meandered through California.  Unique to these southeastern swamp dwellers, are flared out trunks serving to offer stability in the ever-changing water levels.  These buttressed stems provide the strength to resist additional stresses without a deep root system, which might actually suffocate the tree in the low-oxygen environment of a typically waterlogged swamp.  Early botanists thought the knees provided a means of additional oxygen exchange by elevating the roots above the standing water, I thought this one looked like a faerie house.


That theory has since been disproven, so their true purpose remains one of the great mysteries of life.  Perhaps such existential rumination is what distracted me when we departed Congaree.


After the girls were sworn in for their 20thJunior Ranger badges, we hightailed it to Davista and rapidly made ready for driving into the seasoned (meaning worn smoother by time than the newer more jagged ranges out west) mountains of North Carolina.  A quick refresher on the checklist for readers would be a good idea.

The Hitching Up the Toad checklist to date looked a little something like this:

  • Unlock Blue Ox Tow Bar from locked position (locked “up” so it doesn’t drag)
  • Reposition Blue Ox Tow Bar into Y in preparation for hook-up
  • Maneuver Toad into position (or Davista if doing so solo – says Flight ??!?!!)
  • Toad parking brake – set
  • Keys in ignition, set to detent position 1 to enable lights mimicking Davista’s
  • Grab plastic box holding connection hardware from Toad
  • Pin Blue Ox tow bar into left and right sides of Toad connection points
  • Set cotter pins left and right (to lock connection pins)
  • Connect dead-man’s switch (in case both the tow bar and the cables fail, engaging Subaru’s brakes should she run tether-free)
  • Connect safety tow cables beneath tow bars
  • Connect red electrical cable above tow bars
  • Return plastic box holding connection hardware to Toad passenger seat
  • Gear shift in neutral
  • Disengage the Subaru parking brake

All good, right?

In principle, yes, yet we neglected to identify who was responsible for executing the final steps.  I had assumed that Flight was checking the settings for the key in the ignition and verifying the parking brake was off and the engine was not in gear. Flight was under the assumption I was setting the key, disengaging the parking brake, ensuring the stick shift was out of gear and he would verify (position one, parking brake off, gear shift neutral).

And so we exemplified the saying “When you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me…” or at least it will burn out your Toad’s braking system.

Somehow, in our collective oversight, we missed that last step and dragged the Subaru behind us for 180+ miles with the parking brake engaged.  Oops.  The mechanic who outfitted us with new brakes informed us the old ones had gotten white hot during our travels from Congaree.  Flight and I realized that we have gotten off rather light by only having to purchase new brakes. The Toad could easily have burst into flames, but didn’t.  If we had lost our Toad, our journey would have come to a screeching halt.  As Flight is fond of saying, although averted for now, we could certainly see disaster from here.  Fortunately, it looked much less ominous through a pint of Sierra Nevada, and we settled into our Asheville time, our wallets a little lighter, but with brakes shiny and new.