June 1, 2006
Back in my Navy days I was stationed at the US Naval Air Station Sanford, Florida as part of an airplane squadron that operated off of the USS Enterprise. In those days (the early to mid 60's), Enterprise was a "showboat", the pride of the Navy and an ambassador of goodwill. While I was aboard her we made 4 Mediterranean cruises and a world cruise. We also participated in the Cuban missile crises, and I was aboard when she made her first Viet Nam deployment. Needless to say I got to see a lot of the world, courtesy of Uncle Sam.
The one thing I used to love was entering new and different foreign ports. Nothing has changed after all these years. One of the joys of cruising for Margo and I is the excitement of seeing and experiencing new people and new cultures. Entering a new port or waking up in one, is just plain special to us. Alaska may be in the United States, but it's so different from what we're used to seeing, that it almost feels like a foreign land.
When we pulled our stateroom drapes this morning, our view was of quaint little houses and docks full of fishing boats. The backdrop for this quaint little scene was towering mountains, the tops of which were shrouded in clouds and mist. Adjacent to the docks was a floatplane base. This was downtown Ketchikan, Alaska in all of her glory.
Captain Mercer had Oosterdam along side the cruise ship pier promptly at 7:00 am as scheduled. We were scheduled to leave port at 1:00 pm, which would make for a short day of sightseeing. Passengers were required to be back aboard ship by 12:15 pm or risk being left behind. Port visits this short are uncommon, but at least we would get a chance to sample another Alaskan city, one we may wish to revisit at a later date.
Our breakfast was an early one in the Neptune lounge. The Neptune is always quiet and we've been enjoying our breakfast there for the past few mornings. In our opinion they serve the best coffee in the world, which is like a magnet for coffee lovers like us.
After breakfast we went ashore with our umbrellas and raincoats. It was raining steadily as we walked the streets, browsing shops. The Princess Line's "Dawn Princess" was moored just ahead of us, so the streets around the docks tended to be a little crowded with cruise passengers, all shopping for souvenirs.
We ended up taking a little walk away from the docks and into the local streets. What we saw was a town that's a little rough around the edges, but surrounded by beauty. We saw a stream complete with white water rapids and we climbed a wooden staircase up the side of a mountain. We climbed until our legs hurt, but it was worth it just to know we were in Alaska.
Oosterdam cast off her mooring lines promptly at 1:00 pm and as we pulled smoothly away from the pier we noticed Oosterdam's sister ship, Zuiderdam, sitting just off of our stern waiting to take our berth. These Alaskan ports are busy!
We spent the afternoon relaxing in our cabin just enjoying being board. Margo was watching an old Marilyn Monroe movie on TV and I was lying on the bed taking a short snooze. Suddenly Margo yelled out, "submarine!" My first thought was that she was pulling my leg because when we were up at the Hubbard Glacier I had pointed at the water several times saying that I had spotted a periscope. I was trying to get a reaction from fellow passengers within earshot. People who know me know that this is typical "Steve" behavior. Anyway when Margo said that she spotted a sub, I thought she was kidding. But I jumped up from the bed anyway only to see a real submarine following Oosterdam several miles astern. Through the binoculars we could see waves breaking over her hull. It was exciting as this was the first sub we'd ever seen at sea. She was making far less than Oosterdam's 23 knots, and we quickly pulled away from her. In minutes she was lost in the mist. We'll never know what her name was or her country of origin, but we sure enjoyed our brief moments watching her.
The dress code for this evening was "formal". We found the main dining room to be decorated extra special for tonight's meal. We were greeted by a beautiful illuminated ice sculpture as we entered, and the ship's senior stewards were also there to welcome us. This was to be the "surf & turf" evening. The one that features filet mignon and lobster tail followed by baked Alaska. Holland America always makes a big deal out of this last formal night and we always enjoy it.
Tonight the ship will be operating at her top speed of 23 knots as we begin the long journey down to our last port of Victoria, British Columbia. We are due to arrive there at 6:00 pm tomorrow evening.
June 2, 2006
Oosterdam was making at least 22-23 knots across the bottom all of last night and most of today. We know this to be fact because we always carry a small Garmin GPS with us when we're aboard ship. That same GPS also shows us exactly where we are at any given time. We say speed "across the bottom", as opposed to speed "through the water", as we have no way of measuring and correcting for tides and currents. We've had the GPS for years and highly recommend one for cruising. There are times when we've been aboard ships that seemed to be far out to sea only to find out that Cuba or some other island was just over the horizon. It's fun to have that information.
Oosterdam wasn't scheduled to arrive in the Canadian port of Victoria until 6:00 pm, so we spent a leisurely day goofing off and attending special events aboard ship. The first special event was a "Mariner" gathering scheduled to take place in the ship's main show lounge. Mariners are people who have sailed with Holland America before. The gatherings are hosted by the ship's captain, who acknowledges and thanks the Mariners for their loyalty to Holland America. Beverages including complimentary champagne flow as the Captain gives a talk about what's new and what to expect with the line in the future. We always enjoy these events even though they are a thinly disguised pep talk. No problem though as Captain Mercer is a an excellent speaker and fun to listen to. Margo and I sought him out after the talk, where he graciously posed for a photo with us taken by the ship's photographer.
From the Mariner event we headed straight up to the "Crows Nest" bar for an invitation only buffet lunch. The Crows Nest is a large lounge/viewing area, located just above the ship's bridge. The view is wonderful from up there and the lounge is one of our favorites. We were met, again by the Captain who personally welcomed each suite guest to the buffet.
As I said before, we're not used to this level of service and it will be hard to go back to "normal" cruising. Lunch was prepared and served by staff from the ship's extra-cost "Pinnacle Restaurant", and it was superb. There was fresh jumbo shrimp, tenderloin, and other goodies, not to mention the usual desserts. The centerpiece for all of this was a beautiful ice sculpture. Beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were served with Holland America picking up the tab. The affair was attended by approximately 40-50 guests, which made for a relaxed atmosphere.
Later in the day we approached Victoria in very heavy wind conditions. What we didn't know was that if the winds got above a certain wind speed and if they were blowing from the wrong direction, we wouldn't be able to dock at Victoria. It would be too dangerous to attempt. We pulled into the inner harbor with high winds and white-capped seas and the cruise ship dock was visible in the distance. We noticed a "tractor" tug standing by in case we needed it, but to our surprise, Oosterdam managed to turn and back into the berth with no problem. It was slow going and the lines went over a half hour late, but we did it, and without the aid of the tractor tug. Our hats are off to Captain Mercer and the Canadian docking pilot. Amazing bit of seamanship there.
Margo and I had prepaid for a "horse-drawn trolley" tour of the City. Once ashore we located the trolleys on the pier and hopped aboard one. The trolleys roll on large rubber tires and are pulled by two large horses. Our horses were named "Mike" and "Duke", and were driven by a young girl who was a native of Victoria. The tour lasted about an hour and was a lot of fun in addition to being highly informative. Our driver gave a non-stop talk about the passing sights and appeared to be having as much fun as we were.
Having seen the City and knowing that the ship would be pulling out at midnight, we decided to head back and grab some dinner. We were already packed for tomorrow's disembarkation, so we were free to enjoy the last few hours of the cruise as we saw fit. After a last after-dinner drink in the Ocean Bar, we went back to the cabin and turned in for the night.
June 3, 2006
Last night before bed we turned out the cabin lights and opened the drapes. Once in bed we could see the lights of Victoria receding into our wake. Lights marking the ship channel blinked red and green and we said goodbye to a very pretty city.
We got up early this morning so that we could have a leisurely breakfast before departing the ship. All too soon they called our departure number and we were standing back out on the dock next to the car with our luggage in hand. There sat the beautiful and elegant MS Oosterdam just a few feet away waiting for her new guests to board. She had carried us to what has been called "America's Last Frontier", and we would always remember her and cabin 4180.
Once the luggage had been loaded back into the Mini, we took off down I-5 towards Portland to pick up the motor home.
Just a few words about cruising. If you've never taken a cruise we highly recommend it. Pick a favorite part of the world and enjoy it as part of a cruise vacation. If you do go, try to do some homework to find a cruise line that offers most of what you want. Be it ports of call to shipboard amenities, not all cruise ships or cruise lines are the same.
For instance, Carnival Lines tends to attract a younger "party" crowd. Royal Caribbean tends to attract people who like rock climbing walls, miniature golf courses and such. Holland America is a more conservative line with smaller ships and an older clientele.
Personally we like Holland as it takes us back to a time when ocean travel was elegant and special. The ships all have teak decks and teak deck chairs (with brass fittings), and the ship's hulls are painted a proper dark ocean liner blue with gleaming white superstructures. We've never been disappointed in seven cruises with them.
That's it for cruising. We're still undecided as to where we'll take the RV next, but we're leaning heavily towards going back north towards the Canadian border, including a stop in Seattle. We hate the weather there, but the beauty of the area makes it all worthwhile.
June 4, 2006
It rained when we got back to the motor home yesterday, and it was raining again this morning when we woke up. There is no shortage of water in this area that's for sure. Our coach has been sitting at the home of RV friends Gene and Kerrie Menger for the past week while we were on the cruise, but now it was time to leave. We need to get the coach to an RV park to dump the tanks and we need to get a long overdue mail delivery.
The Menger's warm hospitality and generosity have been wonderful and we owe them big-time. Unfortunately they're in Chicago for a wedding and won't be here when we leave for Seattle, but we'll be back through this way in a couple of months and can thank them properly at that time. Meanwhile their dog Bo and a family friend are holding down the fort at their place.
Margo got out the Trailer Life directory and found us an RV park located about 40 miles to the north. It's located on the shores of the Columbia River and there is a constant stream of commercial shipping passing by our riverfront site. The park is called "Columbia Riverfront RV Park". (www.columbiariverfrontrvpark.com 800-845-9842)
We have a large pull-thru space with a double full hookup arrangement. The nice thing about this site is that because of the hookup arrangement, it can be accessed from either direction so that if you want the view out the back of a trailer you've got the hookups on the correct side. Same with a motor home. We're pulled in so that we get our view out of the front, but have convenient hookups on that side.
We were only in the park for a few minutes when we saw our first ship pass by headed towards Portland. It was a Roll-on/Roll-off car carrier. Right behind it came a container ship. Wow! We're going to love it here. We're paid up through next Friday which will give us time to do some local sightseeing as well as take care of chores. The sun is even out!
June 5, 2006
We love everything about this park except the WiFi. It's been down more then it's been up and the speed is equal to your basic dial-up. We called and they're working on it, but it was down all of yesterday. Oh well, I guess we're lucky to have it at all.
The weather was nice and sunny here yesterday, which was a welcome change. It gave us a chance to get out and take walks and enjoy the beautiful Washington scenery. We have quite a few chores to do, but we put them off for today preferring to enjoy the nice weather. That's the nice thing about this retirement gig, the chores will still be there tomorrow.
This park has a little store that sells coffee and a muffin for $1.25, so we walked over there for breakfast. We're still coming down from being on the cruise and can't even make our own coffee. Maybe tomorrow.
June 6, 2006
It's funny how easily Margo and I can fall into a routine aboard a cruise ship. There's tasty well-presented food everywhere, our cabin is always clean and the bed is always made as though by magic. It's a life of ease and one that we adapt to the minute we step aboard. Coming back home to everyday reality is another matter. Returning to the motor home there was food to buy, food to prepare and a home to clean. We put it all off one day, but now we needed to get to work.
We started the day with a visit to the park laundry room. Columbia Riverfront RV Park has a nice little laundry room and the machines were all empty when we showed up. After starting the laundry we went next door to the park store for coffee and muffins. They have a nice deck out front with a view of the river, which is quite inviting. It was easy to sit there sipping a second cup of coffee as the clothes were transferred to the dryer.
With our clothes clean and folded, it was time to get started on the coach. Margo started cleaning the inside and I got started trouble shooting our DVD player. We went to play a DVD the other day and we had audio but no picture. From my experience with these things, it had to be a problem with a loose connection or maybe a problem with the TV's ability to switch inputs. My guess was a loose RCA jack, loose S-Video connection or component video jack.
One gripe I have with motor home design is that for the most part the TV is usually located above the front windshield and te stereo receiver and DVD player are in an adjacent cabinet. In our case the cabinet is quite small, but contains a stereo receiver/DVD/VCR combo, our Direct TV DVR, an audio/video switching unit and all associated cables. The units are stacked one atop the other and secured with industrial strength Velcro. We had a Wineguard satellite dome installed, which required the addition of an on/off switch, which is also located in the cabinet. This arrangement is fine unless I need to work on it or rearrange some wiring, then it becomes a major headache. There simply isn't enough room in the cabinet for even small hands like mine, nor is there enough slack in the cables to pull individual components out of the cabinet.
Our cabinet has a small air vent in the rear and I thought that maybe if I removed the cover I could see into the rear of the cabinet to check for loose connections. What I found was a cabinet completely filled with wires and cables of all types. It was completely stuffed with no way to access the components.
So again I tried attacking the problem from the front. To make a long story short, I ended up using a mirror to check the rear of each component and by total luck I saw a yellow (video) RCA connector unplugged and tangled among some other cables. Using a schematic provided by Monaco, I was able to determine where on the DVD player it was supposed to connect. It was tight, but after about five minutes of fiddling, I managed to plug the connector back in and the DVD player was once again working. Hopefully no other connections will come loose in the future, because this thing is one pain to work on. Next time I'll probably redo the system completely.
While I worked on the entertainment system Margo was giving the coach's interior a good cleaning. One thing I've learned is to stay out of her way and give her plenty of room when she's in a cleaning mood. So I went outside to polish the motor homes aluminum wheels. I had bought one of those Mothers "Power Balls" when we were in Florida and it worked great on the outer areas if the rims. The Power Ball is a foam ball that attaches to a drill motor and when used with an aluminum polish really puts a shine on anything aluminum. The Power Balls come in two sizes, one that's large and a smaller one with an extension rod for reaching hard to get places. I had bought the larger ball, which works great on the large outer areas of the wheels, but doesn't do so good in the inner lug nut areas. So I broke down and purchased the small ball with the extension. Using both balls the results are fantastic. Our front wheels look like chrome, but I still need to spend more time on the rears. (A good excuse to drink a cool one out in the sun.) The Mothers Power Balls are seen on TV being endorsed by automotive designer Chip Foose. Chip is one of the more likeable people in the world of automobiles and has picked a great product to endorse.
After a morning of chores and cleaning, we spent the late afternoon sitting outside in our chairs enjoying the river and the beautiful forested hills beyond. This is the RV lifestyle at its best.
June 7, 2006
One thing we've been enjoying about this RV park is the view of the Columbia River and the fantastic ship viewing opportunities. Huge ocean going ships pass by at regular intervals, which is great for ship lovers like us. In fact we'd love to own a house with a view like this if we could afford it. We didn't know it before coming here, but apparently there is going to be a combination Rose Festival/Fleet Week celebration happening within the next few days down in Portland. Word has it that ships of the US Coast Guard, US Navy and Canadian Navy are supposed be on display there as part of the Fleet Week festivities. As a result this RV park is almost completely full of RV'ers, here to watch the military ships pass by on their way to Portland.
The problem is that nobody knows exactly when the various ships are supposed to pass by. People have been sitting at the rivers edge all day waiting, but so far only two Coast Guard vessels have shown up, a large cutter and a smaller patrol boat. The rumor going around the park is that the larger US Navy ships are supposed to go by tomorrow. People are having a great time no matter what and it appears to us that the real fun is in the waiting.
As I said before, this park would be great if only it's wireless Internet worked properly. We would definitely include it in our list of favorite RV parks, but the wireless only works sporadically for a few minutes at a time, and then it goes down. It's a pay service so we expect better. If WiFi is important to you, I'd advise avoiding this park or at least calling ahead to see if it's working properly before you come. We asked when we made our reservation and were assured that they had wireless service, but what they didn't tell us was that the system was down. Live and learn. Next time we'll ask.
Today we got our first mail delivery in almost a month. We have a wonderful mail forwarding service in Florida that sends us our mail when we ask them to, but we've either been on the move or have been on a cruise, so hooking up with the mail has been difficult. So here we were today, sitting outside in our chairs waiting for the Navy ships to show up, when a FedEx truck pulled into the empty space beside us. The driver jumped out and handed Margo a 15-pound box containing a months worth of our mail.
Included in that box were the usual envelopes and magazines plus a new GPS that we had ordered. We've owned a small handheld GPS for years, but we wanted a more up to date model designed for car use. We've been doing some research on them and were pretty sure that we wanted to stick with a Garmin unit, but it's difficult to make a decision on something like a GPS when you can't "test drive" it. As luck would have it, our Indianapolis friends, Tom and Ruth Ann Stephenson, have a Garmin model 2720 in their car and we got to see it in action when we all went out to dinner. It was exactly what we have been looking for. The unit is small and portable enough to be used in both the motor home and the Mini, and it gives verbal directions through a small speaker.
Like most guys I'm a "gadget guy". I love things like the new GPS so I was like a kid on Christmas morning opening the box for the first time. We ordered our new GPS from Amazon.com and everything was brand new and well packed. Amazon's price wasn't the lowest we found, but we've shopped with them many times before and trusted them. We read where some companies selling our Garmin 2720, were selling used or refurbished units as new and we wanted to avoid that. It's hard to do mail order when on the road and we wanted to avoid problems. As it is, we saved over $250 over the price at the major retail stores we checked.
Using the "Quick Start Guide" I had the unit up and running in just a few minutes. It showed us sitting by the Columbia River in the small town of Woodland, Washington, so I guess it works. Now I can't wait to take it for a spin and have it talk to me. On the other hand, do I really want two backseat drivers? Just kidding!
At this point we'd like to give a plug to our mail forwarding service. It's called "Voyagers Mail Forwarding Service" (www.vmfs.com), and they're located in Islamorada, Florida. The owner, Seth, is a great guy and totally 100% dependable. When we want to order a mail delivery, Margo simply gives Seth a call and he asks what priority of shipping we'd like, we give him our current address and that's it. We gave Seth permission to toss catalogs and other junk mail, which he does, but somehow he always seems to sense when a catalog might be of interest to us. I still get advertising related to railroading, cars and RV's, but the rest go in the trash. He's very perceptive and a joy to work with.
Seth and his wife were sailboat cruisers, who spent much time cruising abroad. Knowing the importance of reliable mail forwarding, they decided to start their own business when they completed their cruising adventures. Originally they were focused on sailboat cruisers only, but then decided to expand to the RV market. Our mail always arrives stamped "Yacht In Transit", which we assume to be a throwback to their boating days. Being ex-sailors ourselves we get a kick out of it. Anyway, we highly recommend Seth and Voyagers Mail Forwarding Service.
June 8, 2006
The US Navy ships finally arrived today. It was raining when the first ship, a destroyer, made its way past the RV park headed towards Portland. Many die-hard ship watchers lined the shore here in the park, some waving American flags and holding umbrellas against the rain. This was what they'd come to see. We saw several other Navy ships sail by later in the day, but we may have missed a few.
When we got up this morning I suggested to Margo that we go find a diner for breakfast. What I really wanted to do was try out the new GPS for the first time. Our particular GPS has a pre-programmed mode where it will find destinations such as gas stations, hotels, restaurants and other services, simply by tapping a few icons on the touch screen. Not knowing this area we tapped in a local restaurant name suggested by the GPS and set out to find it. We'd never heard of the place but thought it would be fun to see where the GPS would lead us.
The unit worked perfectly as it directed us both visually and verbally through back roads to a seedy looking restaurant/tavern, which just happened to be closed. Oh well, at least it works. We ended up driving around (without the aid of the GPS), until we found a place called "Rosie's Restaurant". Rosie's is a cute, small town diner, which was filled with locals eating breakfast, drinking coffee and spreading gossip. A typical small town gathering place.
We grabbed a booth by the window and watched as the lone waitress ran her tail off serving the entire restaurant by herself. Margo, who just happens to be an ace people watcher, got my attention and nodded towards an older man just leaving the restaurant. He had just eaten a complete breakfast, but had left only a quarter on the counter as a tip. I guess in the world of waitressing you win some and you lose some, but this guy was just plain cheap. Despite being busy this woman provided excellent service and deserved better.
After a "stick to the ribs" breakfast we fired up the Mini and the GPS for the return trip out to the RV park. Margo punched some info into the unit and off we went - in the wrong direction. So we stopped while she re-entered our destination and again it sent us off the wrong way. It was trying to get us to go south on I-5 when we really needed to be heading due west on back roads. Come to find out we were entering the right address but the wrong city into the unit which was confusing it. The learning curve for the GPS is a slight one, but it does need to have correct input to function properly. We tried it again later in the day and it worked fine. Even with our limited experience we can see where this GPS unit is going to be very helpful in the future.
The afternoon found us doing some ship watching with others here in the park and doing some route planning for when we leave here on Saturday morning. Our destination will be Anacortes, Washington, which is a coastal city north of Seattle. We didn't pick Anacortes for any particular reason other than that we've heard that it's a nice place and that it's close to some other places that we want to see. Since we've never been north of Seattle, it should be an adventure as well.
June 9, 2006
I'm hunting and pecking today's web log entry knowing that it won't we posted to the website until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. We'll be at a new park then. The reason is that this park's wireless system is dismal. It worked sporadically when we first got here, but now it's just completely given up the ghost. We haven't had the use of it for several days now and we miss being able to access the Internet. It shows us just how dependent we've become on the Internet for both information gathering and for communications. For instance, here we are looking forward to our visit to Anacortes, but we have no way of researching the area or checking the website of the RV park where we have reservations. Maybe it's a good place (we think it is), but it would help if we had some photos to back up our hunch. We don't mind not having Internet access for one or two nights, but we really try to have it when spending several days in one place. In the future we will definitely make sure the park's system is up and working properly before we check in.
Today was overcast and cloudy. There was a breeze, which made the 55-60 degree temperatures seem much cooler. Most people around town were wearing coats and to be honest it seemed a little like winter here. It's hard for sunshine people like us to believe it, but there are actually people who prefer this type of weather to warmer climates. We see and talk to them everyday. We've seen it clear up and be nice here and we've heard that it can actually get hot, but we're thinking that today's weather is probably more like the norm.
So weather aside, we'll be getting back on the road tomorrow. According to the trip computer we only have to drive about 230 miles to get to the RV park in Anacortes. Our route will take us from Woodland through the city of Seattle and on to Anacortes. We were able to see some of that country up by Anacortes from the ship as we passed by on our way to Alaska. It was some of the most beautiful country we've ever seen and we're definitely looking forward to seeing it up close.
June 10, 2006
This morning's weather was a lot like yesterday's, overcast and cloudy. If this was Florida it would surly be raining in a few minutes, but here in the Northwest it can be cloudy like this and not rain a drop.
We finally got on the road around 10:15 am, which is late for us, but we only needed to put a few hundred miles behind us to reach our next destination, Fidalgo Bay Resort in Anacortes. We anticipated an easy drive with the possible exception of the Seattle area, which can have heavy traffic. It turns out that heavy wasn't the word for it. Interstate 5 was jammed with stop-and-go traffic almost all the way through town. It was just as bad in the southbound lanes, with traffic sitting at a standstill. Traffic conditions were exactly like this the last time we were here, so I guess we shouldn't have been surprised. There was a minor fender-bender going in our direction, but the real problem was just too many cars. Once we got past Seattle traffic opened up and we were once again able to achieve normal highway speeds. We encountered a few rain sprinkles, but no actual rain to speak of.
Once in Anacortes we had one eye on the new GPS and one eye on the map as we approached the RV park. So far the GPS has been giving perfect directions, but we still don't trust it 100%. The last thing we want to do was have to make a u-turn on a dead end street because the GPS has a lapse of judgment. We didn't have to worry though, as both the map and the GPS brought us to the shores of Fidalgo Bay and the Fidalgo Bay Resort (www.fidalgobay.com 1-800-727-5478).
Anacortes and the RV park are located on Fidalgo Island, which is the easternmost of the beautiful San Juan Islands. Once at the park we were assigned a space with a water view but one with refineries as the main focal point. Normally that would be fine with us except that we noticed spaces on the other side of the park that had much better water views. After checking with the office we arranged to move over to one of the nicer spaces tomorrow afternoon. We would be just fine with this space, but the other one has great views of some of the other islands in the distance and that is just too good to pass up.
Once settled into our space we checked to see if the wireless Internet was working and to our relief if was. We asked before we registered and were assured that it worked well from every space in the park, but after our last experience, we wanted to know for sure. Our new "rule" is to ask if we plan to stay at a park more than a day or two.
To our surprise the weather started to clear and the sun actually came out late in the afternoon. This was the perfect time to grab Sparkie's leash and take a little walk along a nice little walking path that passes through the park. The path is paved asphalt and closed to cars, which makes for a nice walking experience. It was getting late in the day so we abbreviated our walk, but we'll have to take the path again and see where it ends up.
I think we're going to like it here. We booked our stay through next Sunday, the 18th, and have made some plans for sightseeing. Anacortes is the main base for the Washington State ferry system and we plan to make at least one trip on the car ferry. It's hard to keep us off the water and we can think of no better way to see the area than by ferry.
June 11, 2006
This RV park like many has racks with brochures of local attractions and sights to see. We picked up a few things including the ferry schedules and local maps. One of the maps we got shows all of Anacortes and gives an overview of the local islands. We decided to make today a reconnaissance day, where we could get a feel for the local area and what it has to offer. So we headed off with map in hand to check things out.
We intended to visit the local marinas, downtown Anacortes and anything else that might look interesting. Anacortes has many marinas and boating facilities, which always seem like home to us. We love marinas and boat yards. Finding the local boaters hangouts and restaurants is always high on our list. Passing one large marina, we quickly found a small neighborhood restaurant advertising clam chowder as the house specialty. Sounds good to us, we'll need to come back and check that one out.
A few blocks over from the marinas is Commercial Avenue, Anacortes's main drag. Commercial Avenue is split between old and newer sections. The newer section contains all of the banks, stores and the post office, while the older section appears to have the antique shops, trendy restaurants and mom and pop businesses. We didn't stop in the older section today, but we made a note to return. We did make a couple of stops in the newer section of town to post a Father's Day card to my dad and to pick up a couple of movies from Blockbuster.
We were heading back towards the RV park when we noticed a sign for a ferry landing down one of the local side streets. Being curious, we took off down the street to see what type of ferry it was. What we found was the "Guemes Ferry Dock", which operates a small local ferry service over to neighboring Guemes Island. The distance over to Guemes Island across the Guemes Channel is less than a half-mile, but there appears to be no bridge, thus the frequent ferry service. We could see houses and roads over on the small island and it looks as though locals use the ferry every time they want to go anywhere. Having to take a ferryboat seems quaint and kind of neat to us, but like anything, it probably gets old having to take the ferry to buy a loaf of bread.
From there we followed the map over to the west side of the island to a place called "Washington Park". Washington Park is located on a forested piece of land bordered on three sides by water. The views from some of the bluffs are just spectacular. The view across Burrows Bay to the south is particularly beautiful. We followed signs for a road called "Loop Road", which looked like it would take us around the perimeter of the park and lead us back to the entrance. The road turned out to be one-way and quickly narrowed until it was about the width of our Mini. To be honest it looked more like a walking path than a road. As we made our way slowly along the path, we encountered hikers and walkers heading the opposite direction, who seemed less than pleased to see us. That fueled our thinking that somehow we mistakenly got off the road and onto a walking path. The GPS showed it being a road so we continued on until we found a tiny slot in the trees where we could pull off. There was another car pulled off a few feet away, which was our first clue that we were actually in an area open to vehicles.
We got out to take a few snapshots of the Rosario Strait, when we noticed that the ground was covered with what appeared to be tiny wild daisies. This is a wonderfully tranquil area and not spoiled by hoards of people or loud noise. There were a few picnic tables in the area, but they were empty when we were there. We could think of many places where this would be overrun with people.
We got back in the car and continued on until we got to the bluff with the views of Burrows Bay. What a view from up there. This area is so photogenic that it's hard to take a bad picture. Sort of like Alaska, there are no bad views. There were beautiful forested islands and water everywhere. Reluctantly we left the bluff and continued on the path until it came back out at almost the same point where we started. What an amazing little road. My guess is that it runs about two miles total. At times it runs along the water then at other times it ducks into deep forest. The forested parts are complete with ferns and lots of greenery, giving the feeling of being in a rain forest. We love it and hope that they keep the path open to cars, although we could see why they might close it.
If you happen to be in the area and want to visit Loop Road keep in mind that it is very narrow with some very tight switchbacks. Don't even think of taking an RV on it or you will end up having to back out. Not only is it tight, but also there is limited clearance in many places. And please obey the speed limit and give way to walkers. This little path is a gem and we'd hate to see it closed to cars.
Today was very good day. There were some pleasant surprises in this beautiful community and we hope to find more as we continue our sightseeing.
June 12, 2006
I usually have a pretty good sense of direction and know my relationship with the points of the compass within a few degrees, but not around here. This area really confuses me. I think it's because were surrounded by islands of irregular shape and size and the sky is cloudy most times making it hard to get a sun bearing. Confusing things even more is that streets and roads tend to meander all over the place because of mountains, streams and shorelines. The result is that I'm always looking at maps trying to figure out where we are.
One time while checking the map I noticed "Whidbey Island", located just to the south of us and thought that it might be fun to go there and see what it's like. A narrow channel of water called "Deception Pass" divides the two islands with two short but very tall bridges spanning the gap. The road to Whidbey Island is a two lane affair bordered by the usual forested mountains. Everything is lush and green except for the blue sky and water. And water is everywhere in the form of ocean, lakes and waterfalls. We got to wondering if over time, the locals start to take all of this beauty for granted and we suspect that they do, but for newcomers like us, the scenery is just stunning. We can't say enough good about it.
In fact, much of the scenery we saw today reminded us of Alaska. There were the green mountains in the foreground, backed-up by snow capped peaks in the distance. The water, the islands, the constant green mountains as far the eye can see, it all reminds us of Alaska. The only thing missing is the glaciers, and lack of population. For people that don't have the time to make an Alaskan trip, we recommend a visit to the San Juans as a fair substitute.
We'll be making a run south on Whidbey Island to a ferry landing later in the week so we cut our drive short and stopped at a town called "Oak Harbor". Oak Harbor is a small town on Whidbey Island about 20 miles south of Anacortes whose claim to fame appears to be the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Passing the air station we took a drive down to the local harbor thinking that we might find a good clam chowder place. We never did find one and ended up heading back to Anacortes for a late lunch/early dinner. But Oak Harbor is just another of the many beautiful small towns dotting the San Juan Islands.
On our first drive down Anacortes's main drag we found several interesting restaurants located in the older "historical section". One of them, "Rock Fish Grill & Anacortes Brewery" caught our eye right off, so we decided to give it a try. The Rock Fish Grill is located in an old building on Commercial Avenue that has the look of a local watering hole. Once inside our suspicions were confirmed, as we saw quite a few locals sitting at the bar, nursing one of the locally crafted brews. It's the kind of place that may be old, but it's comfortable to all who enter.
Their website, www.anacortesrockfish.com, has a button you can push that gives a 360 degree view of the place. Margo ordered a salad and I went for the fish & chips, both of which were excellent. This is not a part of the country where you need to ask "Is the fish fresh?", because the docks are only a few blocks down the street and you know it is. We washed our meal down with what the restaurant calls a beer "sampler". The sampler consists of six different beers brewed on the premises. Each one comes served at the proper temperature and is served in it's own little 4 ounce glass. All were excellent in their own way.
I was hoping to try a beer called "Locomotive Breath Imperial Stout", but that particular selection is not being brewed at this time. This is a small operation and not all beers are available at the same time. Still, a beverage with the name of Locomotive Breath has a certain undeniable appeal to a rail fan like myself. Forget the scenery, I'm making a return trip to Anacortes just to try the Locomotive Breath!
We left the Rock Fish Grill with full tummies and that feeling you get when you've had just enough really filling beer to be satisfied. We took a stroll down the street to another business that had caught our eye earlier in the day, the "Marine Supply & Hardware Company", established in 1913. From the outside it looks really old and funky, sort of like a well-worn antique store, only this place is oriented towards marine supplies.
This place is the direct opposite to most modern marine stores that Margo and I have frequented over the years. Modern stores like West Marine have bright florescent lights and rows of well organized and presented merchandise. Marine Supply & Hardware couldn't be more different. There were no bright lights and the merchandise ran the range from brand new to old and broken. The back of the store reminded us of something right out of the TV series, "Deadliest Catch", full of heavy duty boating supplies, none of which were well organized or well presented. Want a marine stove or a raw water strainer? There must be one in there somewhere. We quickly realized that this is not a store for the recreational boater, but rather one for working fishermen. We were fascinated with what they had to offer from old hard-hat diving helmets, to well used deck lights, to charts and exposure suits. I bought a souvenir coffee mug and Margo picked up a card showing the locations of the various San Juan Islands. Our total bill was just over three bucks, but we couldn't leave empty handed. I really wanted those used deck lights, but I don't want to cart them around until we settle down. Actually I don't have a use for them either, but I've always wanted a few.
So that was our day today. I guess you could call it goofing off, but to us it was another day of interesting sights.
June 13, 2006
Today we resisted the urge to jump in the car and go out for another day of sightseeing, instead preferring to spend the day here in the RV park just enjoying the park and local scenery. That's a polite way of saying that we got lazy and decided to hang out here today.
Margo and I both spent some time on the computer researching a project and we even had time to enjoy a one-hour stint of "Judge Judy". Watching JJ is serious couch potato territory and we know it but what the hey, we love her and felt like watching. Maybe it was guilt or maybe we felt our muscles starting to atrophy, but we finally decided to get off of our rumps and take a late afternoon walk.
This RV park is located smack in the middle of one of the best walking paths we've ever seen. It's paved and closed to vehicles (except bikes), and meanders into town and beyond through what appears to be easements between all types of local real estate.
We started out at the RV park and followed the path through wooded areas, past boat yards, and finally into downtown Anacortes. Total mileage, about 2 miles. Not all that far of a distance as walks go, but a delightful 2 miles nonetheless. The path has many entertaining inhabitants, none of which are human. We noticed a family of Quail complete with tiny babies making their way from one side of the path to the other and little cottontail bunnies of all sizes. Some would fit easily in the palm of our hands if they'd let us hold them. The most disturbing creature we saw was a Garter Snake shades of the Black Racers we lived with on our Orlando property. Completely harmless but still kind of creepy for those of us who don't care for snakes. Margo spotted the snake first and pointed it out to me. I hate snakes and spent the rest of our walk with my eyes focused on the ground about twenty paces ahead of us.
Total distance covered on this walk was about 4 miles. This is the type of walking/biking path that we wish we had access to on a regular basis. It's ideal for taking a casual stroll or for engaging in more serious exercise. The fact that it's asphalt surface leads the walker through boats yards and ends at the downtown marina area is awesome. We applaud the town of Anacortes for funding this nice little path and making it so safe and accessible to everyone.
June 14, 2006
We heard that there was a new Camping World store open in the neighboring community of Burlington and decided to go check it out. I could say that our supply of toilet chemical was running low and needed to be replenished, but that would be a lie. The truth is that we enjoy roaming the aisles of Camping World or other RV stores once in a while. Sparkie enjoys it too and is always a hit with other shoppers. He sits up and looks cute in the shopping cart, which is a real draw to people. We didn't teach him to do that, but it's always a kick seeing him in action. We know he's begging for food while other shoppers just think he likes them.
We picked up a few items including a 25' extension for our coach's power cord and a motor home magazine. We have a 50-amp main power cord that came with the coach, but we just couldn't see ourselves spending $125 for a 50-amp extension. Instead we spent $32.99 + tax for a 30 amp cord, (which will work with our 50 amp cord) thinking that we can limit ourselves to 30 amps of draw if needed. Under normal circumstances that would mean limiting ourselves to the use of just one air conditioner instead of two, which is not a big deal. We haven't needed an extension cord thus far so this is just a precautionary purchase more than anything else.
Starting tomorrow morning we will be cutting our northwest adventure short and heading back south to take care of some unexpected personal business. We have a choice of driving the motor home down or leaving it here and taking the Mini. A third option would be to fly. Since we don't know how long we need to be gone, we made the decision to take the motor home. In some ways it will be hard to leave this beautiful country behind, but we know that we'll be back. So join us as we head back to the southwest for what promises to be just the beginning of another chapter in our RV lives.
June 15, 2006 to June 30, 2006
It's been quite a few days since we've posted in this journal and we're sure that regular readers wonder what in the heck has happened to us. It's a long story, but basically we made a quick run down to Las Cruces to look at a condo we found on Realtor.Com. We were sitting in dreary Anacortes longing for the sunshine of the southwest when I spotted the perfect condo and showed it to Margo. That was all it took and the next day we were heading south.
The run from Anacortes took us about four days with some 500+ mile-a-day runs thrown in. We had contacted the realtor in Las Cruces who told us the condo listing was still active, but that we should try to get there as soon as possible so that we wouldn't be disappointed.
We arrived in Las Cruces on Sunday evening and planned to meet with the realtor first thing Monday morning. It turned out that the condo looked much better in the online photo than it looked in person and we quickly wrote it off. We looked at a few other listings, but were under whelmed by them all. Needless to say we were disappointed after making that speed run down from up north, but at least we still had the wonderful Las Cruces sunshine to bolster our spirits.
Then for the heck of it we took a look at a Senior (55+) manufactured home community. The community is growing and being built in phases. One quick look and we were hooked. There were several model homes available and we fell in love with one of them. We struck up random conversations with many park residents, who to a person love the place. Bottom line is that we made an offer on the house one day and closed on it the next. In one fell swoop we went from being "full-timers" to being "part-timers with a home base". Margo and I always say that the only thing predictable about us is that we're unpredictable and this tends to prove that. We had no plans to make this change in our lives until it presented itself.
Living full-time on the road is different and I guess in some ways we missed having a big screen TV for our beloved movie watching and I had to put my plans for a model railroad on hold while we were out there. Now we'll have both, but on a limited basis. We still plan to be on the road much of the year, but we need to get this place established before we head back out.
Our job now is to make the house livable since what few belongings we still have are in a 10'x10' mini storage in Orlando. We needed a sofa and a bed and we've been having to work getting the utilities turned on. We're still living out of the motor home at this point, but we're anxious to try out the new home base. At some point we'll need to fetch our belongings from storage and that will mean another road trip in a U-Haul.
The remaining issue (and a major one) is what to do with this website. We really enjoy keeping it up and trying to post on it regularly. So we talked it over with our good friend Reid Rucker (see "RV Friends"), who suggested that we turn it into a regular "RVers" website with sections devoted to "future trips", "past trips", etc., and we think that's a good idea. Since Reid designed our website and owns it's server, we value his opinion greatly. For now at least we'll keep things the way they are with daily web log posts, then make the transition as time goes on. We're very busy right now and just don't have a surplus of time to devote to it.
We got to thinking that there might be other people out there who are contemplating a move to a senior community and we'll be sharing some of our experiences here. So far our experience has been very positive, but there could be drawbacks that we've yet to encounter. Stay tuned, we'll let you know.
For those folks who email us regularly, we love hearing from you. Please continue to drop us the occasional note and we promise to respond as quickly as possible.