A Confession…and our final miles

Ok, so without making you ‘um’ and ‘ah’ over what my confession *shock horror* might be, here it is…
I sucked at blogging this trip.

And I say this simply because today is the 25th January 2017 and the events that I have been recently writing about, and will be hopefully finishing up today, actually took place back in mid-October 2016.
Yes, that’s right; I have completely crap time management skills when it comes to blogging while travelling. And for this I apologise. Profusely. Sorry.

The reason I am mentioning this now is so that when you read today’s blog, you don’t suddenly think ‘Wow, that was a very short and crap ending to your travels’, because that is what it will feel like.
But to tell you the truth, that’s kind of how our travelling did end. Not with a bang or celebration, but with a rather muted “Cripes, wasn’t that a lot of travelling around, I’m bloody knackered, let’s chill out”.

I should also add that the final two weeks of our travels flew by for a few very specific reasons.
1. I had a crazy, desperate need to swim with whale sharks, and could only book a set date to do so.
2. Loops desperately wanted to be a total geek and attend the Bluebird Rally in Pine Mountain, GA and this fell over a particular weekend.
3. We had booked a winter parking space in Indian Rocks, Largo, which we had to be in by 1st November.
4. I had to start my veterinary work placement at the beginning of November in order to complete my course.

So as you can see, there was a good reason that we found ourselves pretty much bombing our way through the states of North and South Carolina, over two days, without anything to show for it except for this picture.

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Just as we were leaving a car park after doing our food shopping, this falcon plunged into a huge crowd of crows, that were hanging round like a big gang of thugs, and grabbed one of them before plonking onto the ground to compose himself. Loops and I watched this falcon be dive bombed by the remaining crows, who were very obviously unhappy he’d snagged one of their mates, before he finally managed to flap himself into the sky (still gripping his dead crow) but only made it so far as the front of the shop before plummeting to the floor again.
Sadly for the falcon, some nosey lady (who obviously has no understanding of the natural world) stopped her car, got out and chased him off the dead crow. The poor bird ended up on top of the building looking down at his hard won, but now lost, prize. And it’s not like the crow was going to be coming back to life or anything, he was a goner. I wish I had walked up to her and explained that actually all she did was waste that crow’s life, cause if the falcon wasn’t getting the meal, what was the point in him dying?

Anyway, that sums up our Carolina experience.

We did come to halt in Atlanta, parking Belle in the downtown marshalling yard overnight, which just is a fancy way of saying we stayed in a really large car park with truckers. The following day we headed to the only aquarium I’ve ever been impressed by – Georgia Aquarium.
I like this place for a number of reasons, but the top of which has to be their main Ocean Voyager tank. It’s the biggest aquarium tank I have ever seen, and most cleverly they have a number of viewing windows which makes it look even larger than it probably is. Still, it contains 6.3 million gallons of water and four whale sharks, so it’s not like it would fit in your house or anything.
They offer at the aquarium the chance to swim in this tank, with the whale sharks. And yes, I want to do nothing more. I’ve been dreaming about it for about two years, and guess what? That’s exactly what I did…

From start to finish, this was a fabulous experience. We were given a behind the scenes tour of the world’s largest captive coral reef (I’m pretty sure that’s what the guide said), before we swimmers are taken off for the safety briefing, given our wetsuits and have an oxygen tank strapped to our fronts. The group size is small, only four people, and unbeknownst to me apparently one of the participants is an NFL football player called Matthew Bosher, who plays for the Atlanta Falcons. It took me until the end of the swim to notice that everyone kept sidling up to him to shake his hand, grinning and telling him how wonderful a player he is. I’m obviously clueless.

During the swim, even though you technically are on the surface and snorkelling, it makes it easier to concentrate on what you’re seeing using the regulator and oxygen rather than a snorkel. I will say that there are two options to the tank swim, you can snorkel (cheaper) or dive (more expensive). From my experience I would tell any future participants to save the money and snorkel – the whales hang out mostly at the top of the tank, so if it’s them you are keen to be around, just stick with floating on top. Also, be prepared to get chilly. It didn’t feel that bad when I first got in, but about two-thirds the way through, I was getting cold because mostly you are floating and not swimming, so your body is just expending heat and not making it. Be warned.

I didn’t realise quite how petrifying it would feel to be in a huge tank of water with nothing between you and all of its inhabitants. Not that I was afraid of being eaten or anything at all, but there is absolutely nothing stopping any of the fish, rays or sharks from swimming right up to you or, in my case, having a huge 20 foot long whale shark swim directly under you and then bump you with its dorsal fin and tail. Really, you’re just a tiny floating speck in a massive body of water to them.
The whole experience was equal parts thrill and terror.

Once you complete your half hour in the tank (which doesn’t speed by too quickly actually), you get to jump out and take a hot shower before getting to watch the video footage the cameraman swimming with you has taken. The video is great, they do a very good job with it setting it to music and everything, but then they ask you to pay and arm and a leg for it, which I couldn’t afford, so what you’ve just seen above was Loops’ handiwork from the ground below. He did pretty darn well, I think.

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For size comparison – a manta ray in the tank – it’s humongous! Oh and that chap on the left – that’s the NFL player.

 

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Whale shark – at 20ft, the sharks in the tank are actually only about half grown!

 

We blaze a path out of Atlanta the next day and head directly for Pine Mountain, the RV park that hosts the annual Wanderlodge Owners Group Rally, another fancy way of saying ‘Bluebird people’.
The rally takes place over four days and is a chance for the guys to get geeky and show off their buses and swap technical tips, and for the ladies to sit around and chat and shake their heads over the time their blokes spend working on their buses. This is not a sexist statement; it sums up 95% of the people at the rally.

I’ve not been to a full scale rally before, and now realise it can be quite an overwhelming experience. It helped a little to see a few people there I recognised – Ron and Dorinda from Michigan and Rick and Marilyn from the Red Barn in Tennessee – but there must have been at least 130 or more buses which means more faces and names to try and learn. Mostly the experience has taught me that I’m not as much as an extrovert I supposed, meeting new people here is actually very difficult, especially when you have so little in common beyond the make of your RV. It mostly makes me realise how lucky I am to have my friends back at home that stay in touch with me, and how important work is for meeting people!
Anyway, would you like to see a few of the buses at the rally? If not, feel free to skip the video below.

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That’s a fancy looking vintage bus!
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Loops desperately wishing he owned a Prevost
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This one is for you Grandpop! 🙂

 

Our final, proper ‘on the road’ camp was four days back over the state line in Alabama, at the COE White Oak campground, one of our early stops when we first started travelling. Back then, it thronged with people. For our stay this time, it was almost a ghost camp.

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Ghost town at White Oak

 

For me, I used the time for reflection. At this point I will say I was running out of steam in terms of travelling, something I’ll discuss in a later post, and really needed a mental break from moving around. I spent time talking with my mum, with AJ and with Bunny. I watched beautiful sunrises while lying in bed, listened to the geese honking in the morning and at dusk, and to the calls of both ducks and herons. I sat down at the lakefront, noting the low water level from lack of rain and the trees struggling to turn colour. I sat at wrote my deepest thoughts on how I felt. It was, all in all, a refreshing experience.

Our last noteworthy experiences on the road – a lunch break in the town of Cuthbert, GA for hot dogs at The Dawg House (a tiny local hole in the wall I found on the internet) which contain, for reasons unfathomable to me, squirty cheese from a can.

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We made a final visit to see my grandparents in The Villages where I spent a day with my grandfather learning a lot about his early life in PA, met their new dog Brody and also where I beat everyone playing Rummikub.

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My name is Brody and I like to play.

 

Loops and I also met another lovely Bluebird couple at the campground we stayed at who volunteer for NOMADS, an organisation that run projects to help build or repair houses for people in need.

And with that, we arrive back in Largo at Indian Rocks Travel Park, the site of our winter stay for two months.
Belle, Loops and I have come to a halt after 5 months of continuous travel around the eastern portion of the USA, covering over 8,000 miles. It’s time for a rest from moving on.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s travels and come the beginning of February 2017, we shall be setting out once again – Westward, ho!
I hope you decide to join us….

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Belle in her winter quarters – well deserving of a rest.
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4 thoughts on “A Confession…and our final miles

  1. Bunny

    Hey, wow, those Whale Sharks are impressive and I would love to do that myself. Had no idea that existed but I’m glad I do now! Really awesome video, good job Mr. Loops. And didn’t know Bluebirds were so rare, I feel privileged to have spent the night in one though the real joy would be joining you on the road. Looking forward to reading about your trips this year and hoping to see you SOON!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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