Just after returning to our motorhome from our morning walking group, my phone rang.
Normally, if I don't recognize a number I do not pick up, assuming if it is important the caller will leave a message. However, a caller's name appeared, "Department of Health" … and I immediately answered!
The caller informed us that our names had been "drawn" in Manatee County … where we had registered in addition to Sarasota County .and where there is alottery system used as opposed to Sarasota's a first-registered-first-appointment was in effect and we nhave number 40,748 while the county had only reached just over 21,000 … and we were being scheduled for our FIRST COVID-19 VACINAITONS this coming Friday, February 26th. .
We can't wait!
Meanwhile, RC sailing has been cancelled several times thi spast week, incluidng this afternoon due to high winds … as for most of the several classes of sailboats it difficult to to control th eboats in winds above 15 MPH.
While we watched a parade of storms work their way across the country and the Polar Vortex driven chilly temperatures and even colder wind chills into the teens and even single digits, we’ve been able to endure warmer than normal temperatures, although breezy and frequently cloudy skies.
Our days, however, have not changed much, as we still are taking all reasonable precautions against any COVID-19 exposures.
Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, was an occasion for us to celebrate as it was 56 years ago on February 14th that we got engaged. However, Debbie still remembers that I did not get down on one knee or, as far as either of us can recall, ever formally ask her to marry me. Fortunately, as we approach our 55th anniversary this June, it appears to have worked out!
As I was just arriving at my Sarasota dermatologist for an appointment yesterday morning, I received a call from Debbie describing a tragedy for a fellow RVer parked just two streets from our site at Sun N Fun.
The situation was made worse as the engulfed motorhome was owned by a “full-timer” … and someone we've actually met … and who'd lost his wife a few years ago. The owner, was actually at one of the bathhouses when the fire brokeout in his refirgerator unit. A passing waker saw flames shoothing out of the roof and called 911, bringing a rapid response from the fire department. Fortunately, no one of the nearby units nor his car were damaged.
While his coach and its contents were a total loss, for some unexplained reason he had taken his cell phone, keys and wallet with him to the shower. This afternoon, a neighbor brought over a ladder and flashlight and he was able to reach in the bedroom window to locate and retireve a Christian cross necklace which had beonged to his wife, nearly bringing tears of relief ot his eyes.
He knows how lucky he is that neither he nor anyone else was injured nor any other property damaged … and that his motorhome can be replaced.
The management here at Sun N Fun has provided him a park model to live in for the near term and any number of truly wonderful people have offered clothes and other items to help him for the next several weeks. It is heartwarming that in times of crisis, the best in people often comes to the forefront.
This afternoon, Debbie, among others, began collecting donaitons to provides some short term funding to help the victim begin to get back on his feet, collecting from so many generous people.
We’ve seen a couple of other burned-out travel trailers along the highway, but never a motorhome.
Debbie and I feel fortunate we have not suffered any major tragety during our more than 96,000 of RVing travels across the US and Canada.
During the past several weeks we have continued to restrict our activities and contacts with other people due to the continued spread of COVID-19 here in Florida. And, the people we engage with in those limited activities in which we are participating (morning walking group, weekly photography club and radio-controlled sailboat racing both here at Sun N Fun and also at Benderson Park) are masked and respect social distancing.
Meanwhile, we continue to wait for a call for our COVID vaccination shots. To be considered for a shot, you need to be a Florida resident or provide evidence of a lengthy “snowbird” residency, for which we qualify. We are registered in the Sarasota County website with a sequence number of 40,748 (appointments are being scheduled on a first-come-first-serve basis). As of today they have only processed just over 7,700 people. We are also registered on the Manatee County site from which appointments are handled on a random basis.
Sadly, there was a gentleman here at Sun N Fun who refused to wear a mask and subsequently was diagnosed with COVID, was then hospitalized and within a few days thereafter passed away. It is NUTS not to take precautions.
The weather has been quite cool, although during late January and early February such temperatures (sometimes in the low 40os when we get up and some cool afternoons peaking out in the high 50os) are to be expected. It has also been much windier than we recall in past years. Beginning next week, more normal weather is forecast. That said, it has been a vast improvement over what our friends back in Pennsylvania have been experiencing.
Unfortunately, I have become much better friends with our Sarasota dermatologist who has had a chance to hone his Mohs surgery skills on me twice now. My ears, arms and face are victims or my genes and too much sun damage from teenage sunburns and exposure during the years I was actively backpacking, sailing and playing golf without proper protection.
We did get together with Daniel and Traci, the “young’ couple across the street from our motorhome for a distanced evening of wine and conversation and this past Wednesday with our sister-in-law Judi Melby and her daughter-in-law, Caroline … Judi having lost her husband on December 29th.
Our one recent foray out of the park was to Siesta Key Beach, normally packed with people with hundreds of locals and snowbirds.
This time, it was nearly empty!
The stronger than normal winds have shaped many unique "sculptures".
And the surf was running exceptionally high.
There were large flocks of Skimmers facing into the wind
as well as Royal Terns
which took flight when approached.
Both within the park and at the Celery Fields nature area, I have had a chance for some photography.
This year in Sarasota is somewhat different that in the past.
Other than our morning walk (everyone is wearing a mask), we have restricted our normal activities and the people in those few those in which we are participating area all masking and insofar as possible social-distancing.
While Florida is trying to vaccinate everyone 65 and older, the supplies being allocated to the state far short of the demand. To date, if you wanted to get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it has been necessary to register on-line. I have tried on several occasions to be logged into Sarasota County Health Department’s COVID site in advance of the designated times only to see a message that they were SOLD OUT for all currently open dates. In one instance we hard about, more than 9,000 people tried to register for 600 shots … with all being taken within 15 minutes.
Debbie has decided to avoid her classical stretch, line dancing, knitting and water aerobics (the latter as it has been far too cold for her). I continue with my photo class (everyone seated alone at a six-foot table set six feet from any other table) and radio-controlled sailing (masked and by the nature of the activity, people are separated). Neither of us has gone to Petanque, gone out to eat or visited with family in the area thus far. And due to aa fall due to black ice just before we left home, I am refraining from playing any golf until my right shoulder, on which I landed, gets a whole lot better,
We did participate in a campground "flea market” (masks were required) where Debbie was selling her baby/chair blankets and baby hats and I had my photography on sale. She was the big money-maker for our twosome!
One morning we took a3.4 mile walk around the Nathan Benderson lake,
which hosts not high national school and collegiate one, two, four and eight man/women shell/crew races but Triathlons, Pentathlons and other U.S. and International events … as well as recreational kayaking.
Along two of the fences near the tower,
representing the finishing line for water races, is Sarasota’s 2020-21 Photoville Fence exhibit, a year-round public photography project exhibited in major parks and downtowns across North America featuring both U.S. and international professional and amateur photographers … in panels of 4 to 5 images printed on a white canvas background. Some of the themes are artistic while others speak to suchissues as segretaion in 20th century American, historic old buildings across teh country and the brutality of autocratic African regimens.
We also have limited out grocery, drug and other store runs and try to go at time of day when the traffic is at a minimum.
Meanwhile, I have rediscovered jigsaw puzzles, which can become not only time consuming but addictive.
However, despite our self-limiting our activities, we find more, particularly outside, things to do here and the weather, while cool in January, tends to run 20o to 30o warmer than back in Pennsylvania.
Between cellphone calls, Facetime and a periodic family Zoom get-together, we have managed to stay in regular touch with our kids and grandchildren.
Shorlty after we signed-off last evening, we were getting ready to take a shower and head for bed when there was a loud BOOM!
Looking out of our window we saw the sky light up almost overhead. Exiting our motorhome we discovered that just 30 yeards away a group was launching fireworks. Graabbing my camera, we were entertained for the ensuing 15-20 minutes.
This morning, after walking with our morning group, we headed over to Benderson park, a 600-acre park that incorporates a 400-acre artificial lake. The lake was excavated to provide fill for the construction of Interstate 75 and created a venue which has since hosted National, Olympic Qualifying and World Championship rowing events and such other competitions as Triathalons and Pentathalons.
When not otherwise being used for formal events, ~3.0 mile walking/biking path around the lake is busy 12 months a year and the lake used by kayakers.
With friends form Sun N Fun, we took a walk around the lake, stopping for the FENCE photo exhibit, a large-scale traveling photography exhibition reaching over 6 million visitors annually through open-air exhibitions in 9 cities across the North America: Brooklyn, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Santa Fe, Durham, Denver, Calgary, Canada and Sarasota. The works of as many as 40-50 photographers are displayed in 4-5 photo panels along a chain link fence. Since its inception, THE FENCE has consistently attracted exceptional work by talented photographers from around the world, providng an opportunity to share powerful photographic narratives with a diverse audience of millions of visitors annually, while providing photographers with a truly public platform and unexpected career opportunities.
While many of these panel exhibits display stitll life and other vanilla subjects,
Rural, mostly one room schools across America
In parts of Africa, soccer balls made of plastic and other trash while the goals are a mixture of sticks and rocks
others hone in on such disturbing and controversial subjects as American's Jim Crow segregation era
the brutal regimes in Africa where journalists critical of their government simply "disappear" … some later found dead while the fate of others remains unknown,
and the tragedies of land mines left across the landscape after the fighting has ceased … which can have tragic consequences when triggered by innocent children and audlts who are permanently maimed or killed when accidentally triggered..
Since arriving at Sun N Fun, we have remained pretty much self-isolated other than walking each morning with a group (everyone masked) and I sailed my radio-controlled boat on Sunday afternoon (again people were wearing masks).
On Christmas Day Night, I grabbed my camera to photograph the decorations around the park when lit up.
Almost directly across the street from our motorome, some friends who own a park model have a displaay we have enjoyed every evening.
It is now jusr after 10:00 PM on New Year's Eve. Three fifth-wheel RVs which arrived across from us yesterday are each displaying an American flag light display.
As 2020 passes into history, Debbie and I are hoping that 2021 will be a better, happier, less restrictive and healthier year for family, friends and people everywhere!
The temperatures have taken a tumble since yesterday afternoon when we saw the mercury reach into the 70os…. tumbling after the afternoon's thunderstorms to belw freezing overnight, resulting in some ice on one of our coach's slide toppers.
Still, we decided on an early start for the drive to Sun N Fun in Sarasota, assuming, rightly as it turned out, that the traffic would be light on this holiday morning.
We hadn't traveled very far when we came up on what initially looked like an accident but, fortunately, turned out to be just a flat tire which was being changed.
There was some wind, but otherwise the weather was the best we'd seen since leaving home.
The next vehicle we spotted as possibly being in distress was also not serious, as the driver had just pulled partway into the shoulder before leaving it for reasons unknown to us.
Debbie again began to focus her camera on the back of cars which were racing by us.
As it is December 25th we were not surprised to have "guess who" wave as we drove past him.
The political leanings of many people in the south are often on display with their Trump and Biden banners and both American
and Confederate flags.
As we turned into Sun N Fun where we'll be spending the next four-plus months, Christmas was on display.
After getting settled in and our utilites hooked up
it ws time for our quiet Christmas celebration.
Debbie's brother, Dick and wife Kate graciously brought over Christmas dinner for us. We then talked with Doug, Nancy and Scott and fmailies, although we have planned a "secret Santa" Zoom call for later tomorrow afternoon. After dark, one of our immediate neighbor's Christmas lights lit up the area.
Traveling as far south as we did yesterday turned out to be an exceptionally wise decision … and made our Christmas Eve Day drive much easier and safer than if we'd had to start out from the Wade/Fayetteville area which experiencing heavy thundertorns and winds gust to over 40 MPH.
After taking my first hot shower in since leaving home … while our hot water heater is working fine, none of the warm water is reaching our faucets or our shower, a problem I plan to have looked at by someone who knows more about motorhome plumbing systems that I do when we get to Sarasota … we got underway about quarter after eight. almost immediately after getting back ion I-95, less than 1/4 mile as the crow flies from were we spent the night, were engulfed by a thick fog crossing Lake Santee.
However, as quickly as it came up, it was gone once over the lake
other than in a couple of roadside depressions off the highway.
Then we were caught in a brief rain shower … and passed by an obvioulsy wet motorcycle rider whose wide red and white scarf remnded us of comic versions of Snoopy and the Red Baron.
Another first, an ambulence being given a lift.
and,last but not least …
A now discontinued South Carolina state flag
A little less than an hour later, we approached the South Carolina / Georgia state line.
We always wonder what inspired this out-of-place lighthouse.
This fountain was the first indication of some of the stronger winds which we anticipated, although no where as gusty as those we'd avoided to the north.
Does he want to be Santa or Frosty?
Anyone what a fire engine?
Debbie is again watching the rear of vehicles in front of us
I don't recall ever seeing a fuel oil truck this dented
I'll bet we've photographed this crumbling smoke stack more times than we can count
With only 17 miles to go once entering
we saw the first road clean-up crews on this trip,
another flipped over semi's trailer being recovered
and a Winnebago "retro" travel trailer … a newly built version of a 1950's year unit.
We still like the Pecan Park RV Resort
with the one reservation that the sites we invariably end up in are directly in line with and just 1/2 mile from the end of the Jacksonville Inernational Airport's runway "26" … and when the plans are on their final approach we can damn near reach out and touch the aircraft.
However, we get used to the occaisonal roar of the jet engines.
This now being Christmas Eve, we walked around before dark, as rain and high winds were predicted for shortly after 6:00 PM, to see some of the Christmas decorations short and long term visitors to the Park had on display …
and shortly after dark and before the heavens opened up, an attempt to capture some of them actually lit up.
Last evening we began looking at the weather for the I-95 corridor over the next two days and how it might affect our travels from Ashland VA to Wade NC and then the next on to Jacksonville FL. Today's forecast for overcast conditions but with no rain nor high winds predicted. So, we got underway a bit after 8:00 AM for what we thought would be our lowest mileage day of our four day trip to Sarasota.
Many of the campgrounds we've stayed in are notorious for RVs adorned with political and other banners suggesting their societal opinions. While the Trump paraphernalia has mostly disappered, even in the South, this guy took top billing for today.
Shortly after getting back on I-95, we spotted a wreck in the northbound lane although we were moving too quckly for Debbie to get a clear, in-focus photo.
It did, however, create a more than five mile back-up for the folks headed north.
As we have traveled across North American, we have been intrigued with the seemingly endless types of bridges … ranging from historic, old wooded coverd bridges to the modern chamfered design.
After seeing virtually no police presence from Pennsylvania thru Delaware, Maryland and DC, almost from time we crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, we've seen one speed trap after another … to the dismay of many holiday-bound motorists.
Ninty miles later, we crossed the state line intowhere the police were, again, all but invisible.
For the most part, the traffic was relative light … although one minor slowdown was the result of a very wide load which I had to navigate around.
This half of a house soon pulled off onto a exit ramp
where it caught up with the rest of someone's home-to-be.
We also spotted our first, albeit brief, glimpse of blue sky of the day.
We made it to the South Carolina state line and pulled into a Visitor's Center for a break. again, checking the weather.
If we were to stick with our original plans and go only as far as Wade (just north of Fayetteville) it looked like we'd be confronted with severe thunderstornms and high and gusty winds the following morning and for most of our over 400 mile drive to Jacksonville … not an option we were comfortable with.
But, as we were making excellent time, we decided to make today a much longer drive and push on south to Santee, SC, adding roughly three hours of driving time.
As the I-95 corridor through southern North Carolina and much of South Carolina can be pretty, in the winter with the leaves off the trees and fields brown, it can also be extremely boring from a scenic point of view. While I had to keep focused on the road, Debbie took an interest in bumper stickers and other things of interest on the rear of our fellow travelers' vehicles … perhaps inspired by yesterday's SUV with 77 decals.
Having hiked New Hampshire's Mount Washington on many occasions and even taken the auto road to the summit once, I can assure you this fifth-wheel never "climbed" or drove up New England's highest peak.
Never could figure out what type ot animal was riding in this cage
Then, there was the Grinch … a character which I am occasionally accused of resembling from time to time.
We also caught a view of the first of what are generally 6-12 Confederate flags we always pass along this Interstate.
Despite the added distance, the traffic flow was excellent and there were virtually no slow-downs allowing us to reach Santee by 3:30 this afternoon.
Thie Santee Lake KOA was a new campground for us, and our 360th different one … and was exceptionally nice and after getting hooked up we walked to down to its beach to try to enjoy the 72o temperature and a posible sunset.
The campground was also obviously out to impress dog owners to clean up after their pets with signs posted throughout the facility.
.When reading through the materials the staff gave us when we checked in, Debbie noticed there was an on-site pizza shop and proviided free delivery. Therefore, ordering a pizza rather than cooking for the evening was a no-brianer … and it was delicious!
With the COVID-19 health challenges, especially for the so-called "elderly" we made a difficult decisoion to bypass having Thanksgiving and Christmas with our family. However, once in Florida, we planned on self-quarrantining for 14-days and then staying socially-distant from even our friends and relatives.
So, we began planning to head for Sarasota in early December. However, between a series of doctor's appointments, dental surgery, a snow storm followed by two days of bitterly cold temperatures (making dewinterization of our motorhome unadvisable) we finally headed south this morning … under heaavily overcast skies
Philadelphia skyline which wasn't visible until just five miles away
and intermittent rain … and a horrendous traffic jam north of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Loved the transit bus nearing Lincoln Financial Field
All along I-495 and I-95 in Delaware and Maryland we saw many overhead signs (one too late to get a photo warned us to watch out for reindeer)
Crossing the exposed Francis Scott Key Bridge where 10 MPH winds were forecast …
but as I was driving over the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore with an iron grip on the wheel, Debbie informed me the winds were gusting of over 20 MPH.
Some, signs of the times …
When we got to Lorton, VA we hit a predictable(we've been stuck in this area on our last five trips south) slowdown
In all of our travels across North America, this was the first time we saw any vehicle adorned with some 77 (count them) decals
Despite the several traffic slowdowns we made it to Ashland, VA by 3:00 this afternoon.