God blessed America. He blessed it with beauty and resource. He blessed it with more cultural diversity than any other nation on earth. And, while it’s often a battle to obtain and retain, He blessed it with the essentials of freedom.
We interact with America every day. Most empirical experience is in our neighborhoods or in our jobs. Broader experience come from written and broadcast communication. Historic knowledge comes from books and schooling, and media presentations.
Seeing is truly believing. Too often, however, when we travel elsewhere, it’s for vacation or for business. So all we see are beaches, fishing boats, airports, hotels, conference rooms, convention halls and the like.
My wife Dorothy and I decided to change all that.
During the first 66 years of my life, I got to know New York, New England and the Middle Atlantic quite well. I also spent virtually all of my leisure time sailing cruising boats along the eastern coast. Dot spent most of her life in the Washington, DC area. We hooked up in 1985, and we built the first 19 years of our life together while sailing The Bay together.
In 2004, when we hung up our Docksiders and started RVing, things took on a very different perspective. We began to branch out and grow our experiential universe to include areas to the west and south of our comfort zone: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, the Carolinas and Georgia. We began to spend winters in St. Augustine, Florida. We tacked anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months on to our snowbird stays and tiptoed our way into Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois and Indiana. We split our time between studying newfound wonders and visiting people and events in our expanding Schipperke network.
In May, 2009, we returned home after five months – and wondered why. The West was calling. We had virtually no practical knowledge of the vast land beyond Ole Man River, and we’d been intimidated by the time it took to get there and back.
So we decided to cut the cord. On October 1, 2009, we turned our house over to a wonderful tenant and set out on a three year journey to explore the nation we didn’t know enough about. We had two huge yard sales, foisted as much as we could on the kids, and stored the rest of the keepers in a POD.
Starting off was not a fun time. On September 10, I had a freak accident with the rig. The vehicle damage was repairable, but my back was suffering. Unable to get a specialist at home, we high-tailed it to St. Augustine, where Dot’s elderly parents live and had every kind of doctor imaginable on call. An orthopedist pronounced me semi-crippled for life with an “elderly” back, but with hope that rest, exercise and other precautions could ease the worst of it without surgery. For six weeks, I worked a healing regimen while Dot, bless her soul, took over all five daily walks for all four dogs (I couldn’t do more than 100 feet without crutches).
On December 3, we headed on to our first winter home, Gulf Shores, Alabama. We settled in and waited to start enjoying the same warm weather we’d experienced in Florida. And we waited. Actually, we waited for the three months of our stay. Most locals told us it was the coldest winter they could remember.
Dot found a wonderful vet. Dr. Julie’s practice had an extra added attraction: greeter Priscilla, her pet potbellied pig, who had the run of the place. I posted an offer of Nantucket Lightship Basket lessons at the campground. No takers. But the Orange Beach Art Center sponsored a class, and in February, 2010, I had my first real students on my own.
We took our first baby steps toward our ultimate challenge: learn as much as we could about every place we went.
- We visited the forts on both sides of the entrance to Mobile Bay, where Admiral Farragut bellowed his famous Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes and broke the Confederate blockade.
- We visited The Little Zoo That Could, a community in the heart of Gulf Shores with almost every animal you can think of that was made famous by the two-part special on Animal Planet.
- Up the road was The Foley Train Museum, a famous multi-story collection of ”O” gauge model trains.
- We re-visited Mobile and took in the sights and sounds.
- In February, we got heavily into Mardi Gras, celebrated right along the shoreline with seven – count ‘em – seven parades.
- And we ate ourselves silly.
By March, we were already 6 months into our trip and felt that now we were ready. When we left Gulf Shores on the 3rd, the real purpose began to emerge. So it’s time for you to join us on The Journey. Every stop is a chapter, and you can travel along with us or look through the table of contents to find your special interests.