Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sanibel Island ''Vacation''

Hard to believe as we looked at the blooming tropical flowers surrounding us that this was not our first choice of where to be hanging out in January. In normal times, we would be seeing simular beauty as we walked the streets of Medellín, Colombia. But in this not-so-normal winter, we needed to make other plans.

And hard to believe as we walked the beach that this was not even our second choice of where to be spending the winter. With travel limited to the United States, maybe this was the year to explore the beaches of Hawaii?? Airfare was reasonable, and condo rentals were plentiful, but there were still too many questions surrounding the feasibility of traveling that far away in the era of Covid. We hope to plan that trip in a more normal travel future.

As we realized this week, we are happy to have been able to follow the migrating monarchs to Sanibel Island on the southern Gulf coast of Florida. We were able to reserve a spot at the only RV park on the small barrier island, so Periwinkle Park and Campground is our home for the next few weeks. As we started to explore the area around us, we felt like we have arrived at the perfect ''vacation'' spot ...

... even for people like us who are always on vacation.

At $62/night, it is a little more than we are used to paying, but definitely less than the condo rentals on the island, and we get to take our kitchen and bedroom with us. It is really nice having the beach just a half mile away and the bike trail right out the front gate. We have a full hook-up site that is (mostly) separated from our neighbors with island palms and greenery. The park owners are tropical bird and primate lovers so we are surrounded by ...

many feathered friends like ''Pumpkin'' squawking to greet us each morning,

as well as acrobatic squirrel monkeys entertaining all in their central garden area.

And having the Dairy Queen right down the street serves as a good reward for Doug after putting in a full day's ''work'' of biking and beach walking.

Getting In and Around Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island, a popular beach vacation destination, is easily accessible from Fort Myers, Florida by a man-made causeway. With miles of sandy beaches and numerous wildlife preserves, Sanibel sounded like it could provide plenty of ''fun in the sun'' activities to keep us entertained. And it has not disappointed. While there is plenty of day traffic coming from the mainland to the beaches, we have allowed Baby Beest to be in ''vacation mode'' as we can walk or bike to wherever we want to go on the small island. And that's a good thing because the very limited parking at the Sanibel beaches runs $5/hour.

Biking and walking are the way to go! The island has over twenty-five miles of bike trails alongside the main roads that lead to the many beaches and natural preserve areas. Needless to say, we are enjoying getting our daily bike rides and walks in as well as collecting some of the numerous sea shells that blanket the beaches. 

Anyone want some sea shells???
I just can't pass picking up a few of these tropical treasures during our beach walks!

Sanibel Island Wildlife Refuges

Over fifty percent of Sanibel Island contains protected wetlands and wildlife refuges including the most famous, the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Our hikes so far have revealed ...  

numerous local and migratory birds admiring their reflection while hunting for lunch in the many inland bodies of water,

stealthy iguanas hiding in the trees as we pass by (do you see him??),

and Doug's favorite, the gopher tortoise waiting for a safe opportunity to cross the bike trail.

Doug's search for the elusive alligators, however, continues to be (so far) unsuccessful.

Sanibel Island Beaches

Follow the boardwalks for Sanibel's other treasure. At the end lies the pristine white sand beaches that draw most people to this vacation paradise. Lighthouse Beach, on the eastern edge of the island, seems to be the most popular as it is located nearest to the lodging and restaurant district. 

But our advice ... leave the crowds behind and drive or bike to the more isolated western side of Sanibel Island. Bowman's Beach offers more parking, picnic, and restroom facilities, and much better sunset views. It has a larger and more sandy beach area, and if you walk just a little ways along the shore, you will have your own private piece of tropical paradise. A little further down the road (at the point where Sanibel Island ends and the bridge to Captiva Island begins), Blind Pass Beach gifts you with another sandy beach area along with great shelling opportunities ... especially if you time your visit to coincide with low tide.

Vacation ''Souvenirs''

As the Covid-19 vaccines start to be distributed, we are hopeful that tropical winter ''vacations'' will return ... especially for our friends in the north. In the meantime, we would love to send you some beach scenery ''souvenirs''.

Maybe ...

a white ibis looking fairly grand,

or a smiling sea shell man in the sand,

or flowering bushes so colorful and bright,

or a gumbo limbo tree ... a twisted delight.

Which one can would you choose??

Yes, our time on Sanibel has seemed a lot like a vacation ... minus eating in the restaurants, visiting the museums, and hanging out with the crowds. Travel is not totally normal yet, and that is ok with us as we want to do our part to slow the spread. Daily we read stories about our hard working healthcare and essential workers, and we want you to know that we appreciate all you do for our community. Thank You!! Hope is on the horizon with the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine, but in the meantime, we will stay hunkered down in Florida and hopefully pass on a little sunshine through our blog posts. 

Always remember that ...

as the new year is set in motion,

we join the shore birds in hopeful anticipation

of the return of our dear friends for a sunny beach vacation!

PS ... I want to dedicate this blog to the memory of my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs Culnane who passed away this week at the age of 101. She started her career after raising her children, taught for 44 years, and retired at the ripe ''young age'' of 93. I think of her with every comma, prepositional phrase, and dangling participle. I am grateful for the many ''composition'' assignments that she gave us that fueled my love of creative writing and journeling at a young age. To all the teachers out there ... be assured that you are making a positive impact on the life of your students! 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Our Fifth RVenturous Year on the Road

''The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time''
 James Taylor

It is hard to believe that a little more than five years have gone by since we sold our ''sticks 'n bricks'' home in Minnesota and hit the road. For the most part, time has flown by. But like many of you, we experienced a slowing of time as the pandemic closed down our society last March. As we come to the end of 2020, we reflect on our fifth RVenturous year on the road that didn't go exactly as planned. A shortened Colombia trip ... a taste of Minnesota winter ... closed campgrounds, museums, restaurants, and breweries (oh my!) ... and pandemic precautions that made us change the way we travel. But despite all the challenges, we found that being able to enjoy the simple pleasures of each passing day is the greatest gift of all.

By the Numbers

Miles traveled this year in Baby Beest:
We have put on just over 31,000 miles in the nineteen months that we have owned our 2019 Hymer Aktiv 2.0 Class B van. This year Baby Beest took us from central Florida straight to Minnesota where we hunkered down for a couple of months. Halfway through the summer we traveled west towards Washington and down the Oregon Coast, then through central and eastern California into Arizona and along the southern border back to central Florida. You can see our past travels and (some) future plans here.

Numbers of Campgrounds:
52 different campgrounds for a total of 125 nights.
This included national, state, and county park campgrounds, and very occasionally, a private RV park.

Number of Driveway Hosts:
9 generous family and friends who allowed us to hang out in their driveway for a total of 69 nights.

Heartfelt Thanks 💕 to Mom & Dad, MB & Gary, Mary, Julie & Curt, Laurie & Dave, Mary & Tommy, Joanne & Gary, Liz & Tim, Patty & Ken

Number of Free Boondocking Nights:
Free overnight parking spots included: Walmarts, national forest land, a casino, a ski resort, side streets, and BLM land

Number of Harvest Host Locations:
8 host locations for a total of 9 nights.
Our $70/year membership allows us to stay for a night or two on the property of a variety of businesses. Our stops included a couple of breweries, farms, and a cheese/ice cream/wine store (yes, we hit the jackpot on that stop!)

Number of Boondockers Welcome Hosts:
12 host locations for a total of 25 nights.
One of my favorite types of camping! Our $30/year membership allows us to stay from one to five nights on the private property of the homeowner members. Maintaining social distancing was very easy as we communicated with the hosts via text messaging. Once we arrived, we were able to share travel stories with our hosts through a distanced outdoor chat before settling in for a quiet night ... often in our own private ''yard''.

Number of AirBnBs/Hotels:
3 AirBnB apartments and 2 hotels for a total of 110 nights in Colombia, Florida, Minnesota, and California

Number of Habitat for Humanity builds:
Sadly ... 0
Due to the pandemic, all Habitat for Humanity Care-a-Vanner builds were canceled. But we were able to become ''personal'' habitat helpers as we assisted a few family members downsize, fix-up, and prep their houses/trailers for sale.

Number of States Visited for the First Time:
North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon

Number of States Revisited:
We have visited 33 states in total during our five years on the road.

Number of New State Capitals Visited:
My quest to see every state's capitol building continued with visits to:
Bismarck, North Dakota
Olympia, Washington
Salem, Oregon
Sacramento, California
Carson City, Nevada
My grand total so far is 23 ... I have a ways to go!

Number of National Parks Visited:
We enjoyed the open-air beauty of Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier, North Cascades, Olympic, Mount Rainier, Redwoods, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Saguaro, and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.

We also visited a number of national and state monuments, historical sites, and seashores. Two of our favorites were the creative cliff dwellings found at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde, Arizona,

... and the eerie remains of a real ghost town at Bodie State Historical Site in Bridgeport, California.

Our Favorites
And the Winner is ...

Favorite Campground/Campsite:
Makoshika State Park; Glendive, Montana

The main campground was packed with huge RVs, but Doug and Baby Beest accepted the challenge and drove up a narrow, steep road to their primitive campground where he snagged us a primo site. Spectacular views of the Montana Badlands surrounded us on three sides!

Favorite Craft Brewery:
Deschutes Brewery & Public House; Bend, Oregon

Alright, to be fair, there were not that many craft brewery visits this year. But even if there were, they would have be awfully good to be able to beat out Doug's favorite, Deschutes Brewery. A double IPA and a bourbon barrel-aged dark ale accompanied by their delicious pizza while people-watching in downtown Bend from the comfort of our private canopy-topped table ... it doesn't get much better than that.

Favorite Restaurant:
La tRes Uno; Envigado, Colombia

This category is even harder ... as we have rarely eaten out since March. But even still, very few American restaurants would be able to compete with the small family-run restaurants in Colombia. La tRes Uno's specialty is beef (''res'' in Spanish), and they served it up well. Our favorite was the filet mignon with a mushroom sauce and two sides for the equivalent of about $10. It came with two filets making it a perfect meal to share. Make sure to order the locally grown grilled pineapple as one of the sides ... muy deliciosa! No pictures of the food as it disappeared too quickly, but I thought the little shopping cart that contained the check was rather cute.

Favorite Natural Area:
The Oregon Coast

363 miles of endless beauty makes a trip down the Oregon Coast one of those ''gotta do'' vacations. Beaches, sea stacks, cliffs, state parks, hiking trails, whale-watching and more ... the pictures don't do it justice. Just trust us on this one ... go for it!

Favorite Church: 

Feeling a little sad that this category is blank this year, as the pandemic closed down in-person worship for us. We enjoyed visiting many small neighborhood churches while we were in Colombia, and since our arrival back in the US, we are grateful for Sunday worship on YouTube. We look forward to the time when we once again will be able to hear the beautiful church choirs in person.

Favorite Biking:
Route of the Hiawatha Trail; Wallace, Idaho

One of the most magnificent ''rails-to-trails'' ride ever! This fifteen mile gravel trail took us on a gentle downhill ride through tunnels and over trestle bridges, and rewarded us with spectacular views. We could have taken the shuttle bus from the ending point up to our starting point, but why? The uphill ride back was just as beautiful and just a little more work.

Favorite Hike:
Heather-Maple Pass Loop; North Cascades, Washington

This 7.2 mile hike with 2000 feet in elevation gain was one of our most challenging and most rewarding hikes of all time. With every step, new and even more magnificent views greeted us. This was definitely the highlight of our visit to North Cascades National Park.

Favorite Tourist Attraction:
The Grand Canyon

I suspect that most everyone has the Grand Canyon on their travel bucket list, and for good reason. The famous view that stretched out before us is simply breathtaking! It almost made us want to attempt a rim-to-rim hike, but for now we were content to join the throngs of other tourists gathered on the South Rim enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Favorite ''Random Stop'':
Salem Sue; New Salem, North Dakota

Once again, Roadside America provided another wacky ''aren't you glad that you drove five miles out of your way to see this'' stop. Salem Sue claims to be the world's largest Holstein cow. While just a little ''udderly'' ridiculous, it provided a nice stretch break during the long trip across North Dakota.

''Home'' Improvements

Shortly after we bought our van, Doug noticed a crack in our shower pan. No big deal ... I was certain that we would never have to use the very small shower. But as we learned during this strange year ... never say ''never''. With many campground and Planet Fitness showers closed, a hot shower became a hard-to-find luxury. Doug consulted other Hymer owners and researched YouTube in order to devise and execute a creative fix that has so far solved this potential ''stinky'' situation.

My home ''improvements'' consisted of trying to get creative with food prep space and storage since ''Chris' Kitchen'' is currently Doug's favorite restaurant in town. Food prep requires counter space ... of which I don't have much. I am very excited about my recent discovery. I found a Pampered Chef cooling rack that I had stored away at my mother-in-law's, and a ''brilliant idea'' light bulb went off. I found that the rack fits securely inside my sink creating eighteen more precious inches of food prep space. And I can even run the faucet with the rack in place!

Other modifications/improvements included a Rolef screen for the sliding door, a car stereo that does so much more than just play music, and beefed-up solar and lithium battery system. Baby Beest lost her black stripes, gained some height with the addition of suma springs, and got shorter when Doug decided to take off the spare tire that hung on back. We are hoping that we are not going to need that spare with the new set of tires that Baby Beest received for Christmas. Unfortunately, the coolant leak that Doug has been monitoring hasn't been fully resolved yet ... always something for Doug to continue to figure out.

During this Challenging Year ... The Joy of Time Spent in Nature

A hike through a true rain forest to Chorro de las Campanas (Stream of the Bells) waterfall near Medellín, Colombia

Back in Minnesota in time to enjoy the spring bluebells

Camping near the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Minnesota's Lake Itasca State Park

Avalanche Lake and all the beauty that makes up Glacier National Park

Tide pools, sea stacks, high cliffs, and crushing waves along the Washington and Oregon coast

Amazing views despite the haze from distant wildfires at Yosemite National Park

Sequoias and Redwoods towering over us

Checking out the lowest point in North America at Death Valley National Park

''Grand'' views of the Grand Canyon

Saguaro hugs and and arms raised high in the Arizona desert

Who said that Texas was flat? Enjoying the beauty of the Guadalupe Mountains

And back to the beaches of Florida.

Rain forests, waterfalls, wildflowers, lakes, rivers, mountains, oceans, forests, deserts, canyons, and beaches ...
Where is your happy place in nature??

A Year Filled With Special Masked Memories!

While traveling during this Covid year has been challenging, we are forever grateful for these special masked and distanced moments.

Homemade mask (thanks, Maureen!) and homemade soup (Thanks, Ann!),
ready to devour,

The smiles shared by friends during happy hour.

A ''CDC-approved'' hug from a sibling or a friend,

Video chats, YouTube and Online worship ... a God-send.

Spending time with those we love,

And the beauty of nature sent from Above.

What's in store for 2021?

One of my favorite quotes is ...
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for the day!

Well ... We are almost afraid to talk about our plans out loud. What a year it has been! But despite the many challenges and changes in travel, we still are very much in love with RVenturous lifestyle ... and still really kinda like each other!

This winter, as we wait for our turn to get the vaccine, we will continue our ''safer in our little home'' lifestyle in Florida as we spend time with our folks. Our ''optimistic'' plans for spring and early summer have us heading up the east coast and possibly into eastern Canada before heading to Minnesota for some late summer gatherings with family and friends. We are cautiously hopeful that we will be able to return to Colombia in early 2022. I am looking forward to many in-person HUGS!!! 

But, as we have learned during the past year, we need to be patient and go with the flow. We are grateful for the ability to be flexible when plans have to change. Our hope for the new year is ...

To enjoy the passage of time ...
Every sunrise and sunset ... in 2021!

🎉 Happy New Year 🎉