Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book update

My mind is totally focused on writing about the recent trip. It’s hard to pull away to get other things (like my job, ha ha) done. I’ve spent the last couple of days doing research about areas I traveled the second day and discovered some of my previous assumptions were way off.  
I wanted to know about the elevations and mountains that I-81 traverses through Pennsylvania. Uh, oh, that area isn’t really considered the mountain as I had believed, although there are a few mountains in the areas. This information will be an excerpt in the book. I’m still trying to get an understanding of it all from reviewing the atlas, Google maps, various websites, and geology. I’ve spent a lot of time on this one subject and it’s time to move on.
And so, yesterday, I moved into Day 3. I’ve written the first draft from what was blogged during the trip, written in the journal, and little notations written in the pocket notebook I carry on my person. I edited, earlier this morning, a dozen of the photos taken while driving. Virginia is a beautiful state for photographs. I love some of the scenery along the highway. 
There are the usual issues with photo editing and how I see the pictures on the laptop and the light in that room is different from working on the PC. (The first couple of days of travel I hadn’t saved the pictures to Dropbox which can be accessed by both computers, so those earlier days are only on the laptop.) And there’s always the decision of printing out the photos so I can see them while I’m writing. 
So many decisions that sometimes I get stuck and can’t move. The hardest thing is that there isn’t really anyone to advise me. Friends may make suggestions, but I really don’t know anyone who is doing what I am doing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Decisions

I’ve spent time the last few days (in between newspaper editing and article writing) working on the new book. The goal is to provide more description. I’ve managed to get through Day 1. Photos were edited which also help me to remember details I hadn’t written in the travel blog or journal. 

Yesterday, I perused Google Maps and the atlas tracing the route, and came up with a couple of surprising revelations. A quick glance at maps does not always translate well to the subsequent actual traveling. There were a couple of times when my sense of direction was totally off, even with the compass in the car. Yesterday’s scrutiny of the New York Thruway interchanges contradicted what my feelings were as the interstate was accessed. My mind kept saying, “This is not what I felt while actually driving!” I studied the maps. How did I not understand this before? 

After I finished writing Day 1, I copy and pasted it to a new sheet to see how adding photos would look. I realized that too many pictures detract from the text, so I definitely want to do a picture book of the journey. That book will contain more of the along the road shots while the travel book will have the better, more artistic pictures. 

I want to work on both books at the same time. I didn’t do that for the 2013 trip and subsequently never got around to doing anything with all the pictures that didn’t make it into the travel writing book. What a waste of some beautiful photographs. I’m not going to let that happen again. 

“Not Too Cold for Alligators” is being written at the moment in MS Word. The printing/publishing decision will be made when I’m further along with the book. As for the picture book, I’ve looked at templates and pricing with, Blurb’s Booksmart, and Shutterfly. These books are expensive. They sound good for a copy or two, but to sell these books... there’s no room to make any money. (And I’ve learned from past experience that it is even impossible to break even!) It’s a lot to think about.

I’m almost wondering if an ebook is the best bet for a picture book. Oh, I would still want a printed version for myself and I have some feelers out to a couple of local publishing places and I’m waiting to hear back.  

My focus is on writing, but in the back of my mind, the call to draw is getting stronger. Ideas vie within my mind. I tell myself I’ll only work on the book a couple hours, but the next thing I know, most of the day has gone by. Once the light begins fading, drawing in the studio is not an option. My poor mind feels like it goes through the wringer.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Catching up from the Trip

Another brutally frigid morning with below zero temperatures and more snow predicted for later today through to tomorrow. I’ve only been back 10 days and I’m tired of this weather. I’m still in recovery mode from the trip and feeling overwhelmed with everything I want to do. I’m beginning to think overwhelmed is a constant state of mind for me.  

I started working on the new book, thinking I’ll call it “Not Too Cold for Alligators” to tie it into the 2013 trip as there were similar aspects with this one. Plus, I did see more alligators on this trip. Photos are slowly being edited and that’s one of the bigger issues and it drives me crazy. 

For the most part, books are either picture books or story books (novels). Yes, some pictures and images can be added to the latter, but printers/publishers frown at combining pictures with a lot of text. The printed version ends up unaffordable. Still, I am pushing. The technology that is available should allow more pictures with story. 

I never did manage to pull together a full picture book of the 2013 trip and wonder now if I should combine those photos with the current ones. There are many very good pictures that haven’t been shown. I work hard to get these photos and if they can’t be shared, what is the purpose? 

As a photographer and a writer, it is important to me to use both photos and the written word. I figure if I talk about it enough, a solution will come my way on how to resolve the issue. How can I tell my story with the written word and pictures and have the book be affordable? 

Of course, the book isn’t the only thing on my mind. I’m trying to update all my spreadsheets to properly track expenses, art inventories, sales, etc. Each year improvements are made; as my art evolves so must the record keeping. There are lots of ideas and desire to do new drawings and paintings, too. And I still have those unfinished works on the easels.  

There are bills to pay, house to maintain, and the freelance job with the InterTown Record. That means editing, putting together the community calendar, writing and arranging the weekly column, and any extra stories or interviews that come my way. 

I have to continue downsizing and it’s imperative I find a smaller house. Time management has never been my forte. But I’ll keep trying. 

Enjoy your day. Stay warm and safe.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 23

February 11, the last travel day

I can’t get out of this crappy Days Inn fast enough. As soon as it’s light, I’m out of the room and getting the luggage trolley. I haul everything out and bring the trolley back while leaving the car running. The windows are all icy. The desk clerk checks me out and never asks how the stay was, never wishes me a good day. While I like Port Jervis, N.Y., as a stopping place, next time I travel in this direction, I’ll have to either stop sooner or drive later to another town. I never want to stay in this place again! 

I scrape and wipe the windows because they’re still not totally defrosted and I’m on I-84E by 7:30 a.m. The sun is blinding and I swap glasses. The speed limit is 65 mph and the roads are clear so traffic moves along. Windshield picks up salt and grime; not good for trying to get photographs; doesn’t matter anyway, as the traffic is heavy. 

Google maps had been perused before leaving the hotel. There are three ways to get home from here and all are almost six hours give or take five minutes. I could return the way I came which would be I-84 to the New York Thruway to NY 7 and to Rte. 9 across Vermont and to Rte. 114 in Henniker to Bradford. Or, I could stay on I-84E into Hartford, Conn., and pick up I-91N to Rte. 9E in Brattleboro, Vt. The third way is recommended by friends Gayle Hedrington and Candy Bliss, and that’s to take the thruway to Rte. 7, but staying on Rte. 7 in Vermont before taking Rte. 11 across the state into New Hampshire and catching Rte. 103 home. They say that way is a pretty ride. 

The final decision will be made when I get to the turn off. I tend to stick to something more familiar… especially on the return home. Plus, I want to get a photo of the bridge across the Hudson River that I missed the last time, so when the turn off to the thruway comes up, I stay on I-84E. Five minutes later, I regret that decision as the traffic becomes bumper to bumper, stop and go across the bridge. No photos can be taken in this situation. Then there’s the toll after the bridge and as I approach, the two lanes widen into many and I don’t know what lane to be in. 

The signs are hard to read, but I finally make out, on the far right, something about all vehicles. Luckily, I am able to cut over four lanes. I don’t even know how much. It’s only $1.50. I tell the guy how confusing this is and it’s hard for drivers unfamiliar with this route to know what to do. (At least it’s cheaper than the thruway… though not enough to be a big deal.) 

Connecticut is boring; at least it is to me and I again regret the decision not to take the recommendations of friends. Next time, I promise. There also seems to be more city-type areas along this route and closer together. I make it through the tunnel in Hartford and take the right onto I-91N and the traveling gets better. Snow banks are higher and some of the signs are buried. The further north, the more the traffic thins and I am more comfortable. There are better views and road crews are out cleaning up snow in preparation, I guess, for more snow coming. 

Gas is getting low so I stop in North Adams, Mass., and decide to also have something to eat. I haven’t eaten at a Friendly’s in years and order French toast and bacon. I only eat half and get a to-go box. There’s an Irving station across the street and that has the cheapest gas I’ve seen all morning at $2.11/gl. Getting out of there is tough with the traffic backed up from road crews cleaning up snow, can only go one way out at one exit which is the wrong direction and no cross traffic. To come out at the lights, I have to contend with a stream of traffic from BJ’s and whatever else is down that way and there are a lot of vehicles.

Someone finally lets me into the left turn lane and when the light turns green, I follow the car in front. Unfortunately, I forgot to pay attention that these lights don’t have arrows and the light is green from both directions. I turn right in from of some guy shooting straight across and earn a blaring horn for my inattention. Thank God that’s all that happened.  

Back on I-91N, I cross the Vermont border at 11:42 and I’m in New Hampshire at noon. I just want to be home at this point. There’s more snow, but it’s not until I reach Bradford that it hits me that there really is a lot of snow. I swear there’s more here than I’ve seen all day! 

I get to my driveway which has been plowed nicely. However, my walkways haven’t been shoveled. That’s a let-down. I back into the garage, get out, and run into the house without bringing anything else but the camera.

“Kitty, I’m hooommme!” I yell, but I don’t have to because she’s right there. She’s meowing and rubbing against me even before I put the camera down. I scoop her up. “I’ve missed you so much!” Tears run down my face and I just hug and cuddle her. I try to put her down, but she clings so I walk around the house just holding and petting her. She finally lets me set her on the table and she sits there while I bring everything inside. 

I make a second trip to the bathroom and her hear meowing again. “I’m in here,” I holler and she comes running. She’s been close by and even now sleeps in the chair beside me. 

Well, I’m home. I’m going to relax the rest of the day and tomorrow I’ll have to dive into paperwork and getting things in order. Oh, there’s a lot to do and I can’t even think about working on the book yet. Yep, home and work. There’s lots to do… starting tomorrow.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 22

February 10 

I woke up early and was in the shower at 5 a.m. Everything is packed but the laptop. The morning writing is done and when I pull back the curtains, I see snow in the parking lot lights. Wait a minute! I hung out here two extra days to avoid snow. The forecast said rain. 

I finish up and am eager to get on the road. I take a couple of small bags out to the car. The doors are frozen and I have to give a tug to get them open. I start the vehicle to put on heat and defroster while I’m rearranging and things inside. I scrape the windshield and move the car to the covered drive up and bring a trolley to the fourth floor to load up the rest of my belongings. I’m all checked out and ready to go at 7:15 a.m. 

The temperature is 32 degrees and the weather helped in the decision of the route. No extra sightseeing today. I head up Rte. 17N. Traffic is heavy, but after awhile, when away from the city, the highway narrows and the traffic thins. This is the Virginia I love with the open rolling hills and farms. I take some photos… maybe I’ll do a book of Taken along the Highway. 

The driving isn’t bad. I catch I-66W to I-81N and cross the West Virginia border at 8:55 and cross the Potomac River into Maryland 20 minutes later. There are patches of snow in the fields now and the speed limit drops to 65 mph and it’s only 60 mph going through Hagerstown. The Pennsylvania border is crossed at 9:25. 

I love, love, love the farms along this route with their humongous fields and huge silos. Again, there is much open countryside, rolling hills, and interesting trees. (I need to find out the trees that have white and brown trunks and limbs. Usually the upper trunk and branches are white.) But sometimes the big trucks block my view. Awwww.  

There is more snow in the fields and now in the meridian. I-81N climbs and a couple of cities – Chambersburg, Harrisburg – are passed. The terrain becomes rockier. Three hours go by and I keep driving. My legs start to ache as the driving goes on and on with me picking up the camera occasionally to get a couple of shots. Sometimes my brain kind of zones out and I catch myself drifting. I yawn a lot and I’m on my second bottle of water. For some reason, I’m very thirsty today. 

The gas gauge drops. I push further and finally take a break for lunch when I reach Wilkes-Barre, exit 168. I saw a sign for Applebees, but decide on Red Robin. I’ve never eaten at a Red Robin. It advertises “gourmet burgers.” There’s a bar inside and TVs every few feet. Oh, my, God! Then there are little computer things on the table with more advertising. I hear a guy in the next booth talking about being able to play games on these things… for a price. Gosh, can’t people come in for a meal without TVs, computers, and cell phones? 

The burger is good and you can have all the fries you want. When I go to pay, the waitress says the credit card can be run on that computer on the table. I’m not sure how I feel about all that. While the burger was good, that would not be a place where I’d return. 

There are no gas stations near the restaurants. First I drive one way for a bit, then turn around and come back by the restaurants and stores. I find a Sheetz station at the bottom of the hill on another road. How confusing. The gas costs $2.39/gl. The most expensive I’ve seen all day. 

New billboards now have flashing advertisements. Personally, I think these should be illegal. It’s too easy to get distracted and not watch the road, especially the ones that advertise more than one product or event. Also, there were times when the flash made me jump thinking it was police or emergency vehicles. Some signs are very, very high. Again, I find these hard to read. When looking up that high, it’s hard to see the traffic around. I don’t get it. 

The speed limit on I-81N drops to 55 mph due to construction areas around Pittston and for miles further. Some vehicles never slow down even though there are signs threatening double fines for speeding in these zones. This makes the driving even more tedious. For some reason, I have a harder time keeping awake when moving slower and do a lot of wriggling in my seat. 

Scranton is reached and it’s up, around, down on I-380 and finally east on I-84. Hmm, I should have looked at the atlas to see how many exits. It’s easy to count down because it gives an idea how far  to go, but when the exit numbers go up, I have no idea how much further and I don’t remember the towns I traveled through on the way south.  

I thought I had another half to an hour more to go and am surprised when I see the sign for Metamoras, Pa., and Port Jervis, N.Y. I consider driving further, but a stop is needed anyway, so I may as well call it a day.
The woman at the desk isn’t the friendliest. Oh, I miss those southerners! This one could probably care less if I booked the room or not. She assigns Room 105 and I go check it out (and to use the facility). There’s a good-sized vanity in the bathroom, but the sink is at the same end as the toilet. That’s kind of yucky to have to squeeze beside the toilet to wash hand or, worse even, brush teeth! 

I get my things inside the room. I have to pull up on the door handle from the inside to get it to latch. Oh, I’ll definitely be double locking tonight. The TV is old style and there are not enough electrical outlets for this day and age. I unplug the coffee pot so I can plug in the laptop. The chair to this desk is not a swivel desk chair nor on rollers and it has a cigarette burn in the seat cushion (and this is a non-smoking room). 

One thing I do like is the burnt orange comforter on the bed. The spot of color is nice against the white sheets and the white snow bank outside the window.  

However, this price is the average I’ve been paying for rooms and this one if far less quality. I understand older and things getting run down, but to charge the same price as better quality places… Then again, there isn’t much else between here and home unless I want to drive a lot further (either direction).

But I did my goal today. Tomorrow I’ll arrive home.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 21

February 9 

I’m not ambitious today and think I’ll just hang out at the hotel. I write for awhile then go down to the breakfast room for biscuits and gravy. At least the TV isn’t blasting depressing news – except for the storm in the northeast. I’m glad I chose to stay in Fredericksburg until tomorrow. 

Part of me would like to go back to that battlefield I saw on the tour yesterday, but I just don’t feel like driving. I have two more days of heavy driving to get home and I want to save my energy for that. I do pour over Google maps again. I could be in Port Jervis, N.Y. in a little over five hours depending on traffic, weather, and road conditions, but that would be going I-95N a bit more then taking I-495 around D.C. and catching Rte. 15N. I don’t want to go anywhere near Washington and I-495 is a toll road. 

There are a couple other options. Rte. 15N could be accessed by going east along I-66 from Rte. 17N and that would bring me into Harrisburg, Pa., where I-81 would be picked up. Rte. 15 goes through Gettysburg. Then there is that route those people told me to take yesterday. But it would be so tough to go by historical places and not stop. Any stopping might not get me to the New York border because I’ll be too tired. 

I’ll see what tomorrow morning brings and make decisions then. I’ll be checking the weather and the routes. I want to be out of here by 8 a.m. 

I finish catching up on the blogging and work on editing photos. Eleven pictures are posted to Facebook. I’m only up to the first full day in St. Augustine and that was Tuesday. St. Augustine is one of my favorite places. I love the history, architecture, and friendliness of everyone and it doesn’t feel hectic there. I had loved the Nature Coast of Florida, too, where Andrea and Lance have their house. 

I again have lunch at Perkins Family Restaurant. I drive over because today is much cooler than yesterday and there’s a bite to the air. Later I go for a swim and sit in the hot tub… figured out where to turn it on this time. One of the workers has been painting and propped the door open while he cleaned brushes and equipment outside. Oooh, that air is cold coming in. I keep my shoulders below the surface. Steam rises from the water.

Back in the room I am totally unambitious. Maybe it’s because I didn’t sleep well last night. Yes, I am a bit worried about the journey home, then being home with all that snow. Snow is beautiful, but I don’t want to deal with it and the cold any more. Gosh, I’ve been saying that a lot, and once I actually see how much, I’ll probably be saying it more. 

Still, I want to be in my own place, sleep in my own bed, and enjoy the company of my little fur ball. I can’t wait to cuddle her.

Travels with Sasha Day 20

February 8 

A good night’s rest; maybe the swim and hot tub helped. I spend an hour and a half back and forth between Google maps and trying to decide if I should move on or hole up here. With sleet, rain, snow through Pennsylvania, snow across New York and continuing into Monday, I decide to stay put. Tuesday and Wednesday look to be clear days, so I’m make the run for home then. I could make it in one day, but if I drove straight for 11 hours, I wouldn’t be able to get out of the car without falling on my face… if I could move at all. There will be a stop for one more night after leaving here. I’d like to shoot for Port Jervis, N.Y. 

I go down to the lobby to let them I’ll stay two more nights. The rate is $5 a night lower. I fill my travel mug with coffee. Hopefully this stuff is better than the in-room coffee; it is. As usual, there is nothing appealing on the breakfast bar and listening to that TV turns my stomach. 

The coffee is stronger, but bitter. At least it’s drinkable. I catch up on more blogging, check messages, edit a newspaper column and call about the trolley tour. No, they do not do hotel shuttles and it’s a tour only, no getting on and off. She gives me directions and I’m heading out by 10 a.m. The temperature is 60 degrees.  

The woman had said to go to the bottom of the hill and take a right at the lights. Near the bottom, there’s a blinking light and further on a full set of lights. At the blinking light is a Visitors’ Center sign and I turn right. She had said to get in the left lane. Wait, this is only a two way road without extra lanes. It’s more of a country road running along the river. This can’t be right. I have to drive a bit before I find a place to turn around. 

I return to Rte. 17 and take the right at the next set of lights. Ah, this is better. What the woman failed to mention was that many of these are one-way streets. What’s worse is that I can’t see street signs for some of them. Do I look on the left (as I need to turn left) or do I look to the right? I miss Charlotte Street where I am supposed to turn and go through two sets of lights before reaching one where I can turn left. The next left puts me on Caroline Street and I’m starting to drive past a street when I see the trolley. Oops. Good thing no one is behind me. I pull in the exit only way to a parking lot. It’s Sunday morning and things are quiet. I figure I can get away with it. I straighten out so I can pull into a head-on parking space next to the trolley. 

The Visitors’ Center doesn’t open until 11 a.m. on Sundays, so the tour is given first and the tickets bought afterwards. I’m a little early and chat with the driver/tour guide. Another guy gets on. He’s a driver/tour guide in training and in talking about my traveling north, he suggests taking Rte. 3W to Rte. 29N Rte. 17N to Rte. 66W instead of Rte. 17N. A woman boarding hears him and agrees saying it’s a much nice route with less traffic going through Chancillorsville and Culpepper.  

Soon we are off for the tour. The trolley has large windows. There’s one problem. The top window is a huge arched piece and the bottom is a small 12-inch high two pane wide window where the right slides to the left to open. Unfortunately, the frame between the top and bottom is right at eye level. I can’t see over the top without standing and to see out the bottom, smaller windows, I have to bend over. Not a very comfortable to manipulate the camera. And the front windows, which are very tall, are a little narrow for photographs. 

But the history stories are great although I’m not into statues and monuments. It was interesting to hear something of George Washington’s younger years and the farm from which he came. There’s a university here named after his mother, Mary.  

The driver explains that all the streets are named after King George’s relatives and that Sophia Street is pronounced with a long i. Many of the older houses are narrow because at one time, property taxes were determined by the width of the house. The trolley travels around the city and to the edges. The city is along the Rappahannock River which once was a major seaport as it was much deeper in the earlier days. When the railroad became prominent, shipping down the river to Chesapeake Bay wasn’t as lucrative and the bigger ships stopped coming. 

Many stories are told, but I focus on trying to get photos. Oh, I wish I could get off the trolley for a few. He stops often to tell the tales, but the angles aren’t good for pictures. To actually visit these places, I’d have to drive here as some are not within walking distance. Fredericksburg needs to have trolleys like St. Augustine and Savannah. 

The spot that interests me the most is the Fredericksburg National Military Park. The driver had been having us imagine most of the buildings not here and there were just fields looking from the hill down across the river. He talked about the union and confederate soldiers on either side of the river. The confederates had burned the bridges into the city and held the high ground. Union soldiers would build pontoons to try to sneak across the river at night. It was December and too cold to swim.  

However, at this one park, that has been preserved is open except for some trees, he says, “Imagine the hundred thousand wounded soldiers screaming in agony, crying for help, for mothers, wives, and loved ones. The sound would be echoing across the hill and valley. If they weren’t dying from their wounds, they were freezing to death in the December cold.” 

In that moment, I could hear them crying. Can you imagine thousands of men screaming, crying, or moaning? I could see bodies, thousands of bodies, littering the expanse of the hillside, writhing in pain or totally still in the odd positions they dropped. It’s one thing to read about these events in stories or to see movies, but to actually be in the place where this happened; my heart contracts and I choke down tears. It’s hard to describe what actually being in this place is like. 

I am reminded of when I visited the Virginia Civil War Museum off I-81 on the trip down and I stood in that family’s farmyard and envisioned what it was like to have a war overrun your farm and have your fields full of dead and dying young men. I was emotional that day, too. Would you ever want to eat crops from those fields again?  

Maybe more people need to experience moments like this; feel the dying, seeing the hurt it does. Yes, the land will replenish, but there are still scars to it and to those who can feel the horror and grief of war.

There are a couple of cemeteries. The one for the confederate soldiers have many unnamed graves where bodies were buried sometimes two or three to a grave because the soldiers were unknown. There are even a couple of mass graves.  

I pull myself back to the present as the trolley rambles on. It takes a few minutes to get my head out of that space and soon the trolley is parked. I pay for my ticket inside the VIC center and she gives me a map to show how to get back to I-17N and the hotel. First, though, I want to walk around. It’s only a block to the river, so I cross the street and head down the hill. 

However, this part of the river doesn’t have a lot of nice views. I do enter a parking lot with signs saying No Trespassing, Parking for Motorists Only. Hey, I’m only after a few pictures. As it is, there are other people here relaxing in the warm sun and enjoying the views. 

I go back to Charlotte Street and wander for a ways in one direction, then cross the street to return. There are many little shops and cafes. Each café has a couple little bistro chairs outside which makes is nice, especially on a day as beautiful as this. I plan to lunch at an Irish pub, but there is a 20 minute wait and I choose to move on. 

I stop in an art gallery and meet Robyn Ryan, the docent of the day and an artist. We have a magnificent conversation about art, creativity, and the courage to change styles. This is a highlight of the day and the art work on the walls is amazing. I love the different styles, techniques, and media. 

Eventually, I head back to the hotel and stop at the Perkins Family Restaurant for a delicious burger, fries, and chocolate mousse cream pie. I would definitely like to see more of Fredericksburg.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 19

February 7 

I wake thinking about getting home. Google maps and are studied. It’s four and a half hours to Scranton, Pa. with the weather saying 39 degrees and rain. It’s six hours from Scranton to Bradford, N.H., but the weather forecast for Monday is lots of snow. No matter what, tomorrow will not be a good travel day. 

I check out the breakfast around 7:30. Ugh, nothing appealing and the thought of sitting there listening to the TV blaring depressing news is something I am not going to do. Why do places have to have TV blaring everywhere now? Can’t people do anything without being bombarded with negative happenings? I refuse to listen and return to my room. 

I spend the entire day editing, working on the community calendar, and writing my column. I periodically check messages and answer. I finish up before 4:30 and because I haven’t eaten, go to the front desk for delivery menus. There’s no one around the pool and it looks so inviting that I hurry back to the room to change into a swimsuit. 

Oh, the water is warm and feels so good. Up and down the length of the pool, sometimes face up and other times swimming; back and forth until I’m tired… at least 15 times. Then it’s over to the hot tub where the heat warms muscles and bones. So good! 

It would be nice to have some conversation, but traveling alone leaves a lot of silent times. I get out and dry as well as possible and head back to the room. I feel better than I have in days! 

I order delivery and enjoy another good meal, then settle to watch TV for an hour or so. A good day!



Travels with Sasha Day 18

February 6 

I can’t wait to be out of this crappy hotel! The one good thing, the bed was very comfortable and I slept well. The bags are packed and loaded in the car as soon as it is light. I go back inside to have a biscuit and gravy. That is as dull and dry as this hotel. Ugh, I can’t even eat it. Even the gravy is tasteless. Maybe it’s just me and I’m ready to be home. I throw my breakfast in trash and in turning I lose my balance and fall against an older woman. Good thing I don’t knock her over. 

I’m on the road by 7:30 and the temperature is 30 degrees. Google maps said Fredericksburg, Va. is six hours away. The Santee River is crossed. How beautiful! This would actually be a nice area to explore – someday – like I say all too often. The driving is tedious and I push for North Carolina before stopping for gas. (I should’ve stopped before the border because gas there was $1.98/gl. and on this side, $2.14 (I do find one for $2.09.)  

The speed limit in North Carolina is only 65; funny how dropping 5 mph feels so much slower. The driving is a bit tedious and just before Florence, the speed limit goes up to 70, then later drops back to 65. Many vehicles don’t even bother to slow down while others stay in the middle lane and drive slow.  

I take a break in Selma to visit a historic train station, but then I don’t explore it. I do take a couple of train photos, though, as it’s still an active area. My feet and legs are aching and it helps to walk about a bit.  

The Virginia border is crossed at noon and the lady at the VIC says Fredericksburg is two hours away. She gives me the Hotel Coupon booklet for the discount at the Comfort Inn & Suites then shows me a flyer dropped off by Wingate by Windham reps about a special they are running. Most hotels charge an additional $10 or more a night for Fridays and Saturdays and I’ll be checking in both of those nights. Regular nights for both hotels are the same, but Wingate is only charging $5 a night more for the weekend. Plus, they not only have an indoor pool, but also a hot tub. Oh, my. Wouldn’t a hot tub feel nice on my aching body.  

Oh, dear, what a decision. Comfort Inn & Suites has that wonderful mineral pool and they were so nice to me in 2013. But this trip is supposed to be different. Why should I think the Wingate wouldn’t be as nice? Well, I’ll make the decision when I get there. 

I opt to take I-295 around Richmond to get photos of the Varina-Enon Bridge over the St. James River. This had been the first Oh, My, God bridge I crossed in 2013 and back then I didn’t realize I could take pictures while the vehicle is moving. (Don’t tell anyone.) Fantastic! I love these bridges. If I wasn’t driving, I could get more and better pictures. 

I was one hurting puppy by the time I reached Fredericksburg. Oh, was it difficult to walk! Good thing I have the walking stick. The Wingate is chosen and I’m assigned Room 424. Bonnie says it will be quieter after I explain that I’m the editor of a local newspaper back home and I work on Saturdays. I also need to do laundry and she tells me how to get to that room.

This room is great! It’s spacious and the light by the bed was on when I come in making it a warm welcome. There’s room for both suitcases, plus a good-sized work desk, an easy chair with footstool in the corner from where I can watch TV, plus other amenities.   

The dirty laundry is dragged to the laundry room. Everything costs four quarters. I put the money in the soap dispenser machine, but the little box doesn’t drop down which mean I hobble down the hall to the front desk where she hands me a box. Everything fits in the washer, but a couple of items. I hide the suitcase behind the door and return to the room where I work for half an hour, then go back to tend to laundry. 

The dryer is loaded and four quarters are put in the machine for Bounce. Again, nothing and I hobble back down the hall to the desk and then back to the laundry room. OK, set, and it’s up to Room 424 where I order delivery of fettucini Alfredo, Caesar salad, and tiramisu which arrives in half an hour and is delicious. 

I return to check on the laundry. Not dry and I’m out of quarters. Crap! Another hobble to the front desk and back and the dryer is restarted. Up on the fourth floor, I finish dinner and clean up the work folders. An hour later, I’m back in the laundry room. Noooo! Still not dry. By now, I can hardly walk. You’d think with all the walking I’ve done the past two weeks that this wouldn’t be happening. Somehow, though, the day’s driving did a number on me. One more trip to the front desk. 

Third time was the charm and the clothes were finally done. However, I had little energy left and took care of the clothes in piece meal; do a few items, sit. But I got it done. Oh, that bed felt so good when I got in it!

Travels with Sasha Day 17

February 5

I leave St. Augustine at 8:10 a.m. to begin the trek north. The temperature is 56 degrees and it’s raining. Only a right-hand turn is allowed and then it’s a scoot across three lanes to the left to do a U-turn, then I-95 is an immediate right. It’s a good thing I asked because my sense of direction is off. I thought north would be a left onto the interstate, not right. 

Traffic is heavy, but moves along in spite of the rain. I’m not going to be able to get photos with the windshield wipers going. I decide to take the I-295 beltway around the city of Jacksonville. That might not be a smart move as the traffic is stop and go, bumper to bumper, for half an hour.  A Patti Griffin CD keeps me from boredom and the singing helps the time go by. When was the last time I sang? It feels good. The beltway crosses Marion Creek and the St. John River on the N. Dames Point Bridge; a huge cable-stayed bridge like those that had so thrilled me on the 2013 trip. Up and up and over; aieeee! 

Forty five minutes later, I am back on I-95N. 

The St. Mary’s River is crossed at 9:30 a.m. and a quick stop is made at the Georgia VIC. I am sad leaving Florida. I wanted more bird pictures. I wanted to explore more. I get a little weepy. Stop! No regrets! I did what I did and loved it. There will have to be other times to come back and make new discoveries and revisit favorite places. The plan is to drive through this state and get into South Carolina before stopping for the night. I take a little stretch and am soon back on the interstate.  

The rain becomes lighter and more periodic. Many creeks and rivers are crossed and I hold the camera up to catch shots of the Brunswick and Turtle rivers. By now, I’m quite hungry as I didn’t have anything for breakfast. I stop at I-Hop in Brunswick for strawberry and banana pancakes. I can’t eat them all and I’m back on the road by 10:50 a.m. after getting gas for $2.09/gl for a total of $20.09. How’s that for numbers? 

The Savannah River is crossed into South Carolina at noon and at 1:45 p.m., I check into a Comfort Inn & Suites in Santee at Exit 98. The temperature is 61 degrees and I’ve driven 1,596.3 miles. At first, the desk clerk said I couldn’t check in until three, but then found a room that was ready. This woman is probably the least friendly person I’ve come in contact with on this entire trip. She didn’t make me feel welcome at all. If I wasn’t so achy, I’d continue to the next Comfort Inn. 

I settle in to a less than great room. There was a bit of a musty smell when I opened the door. It’s dark, drab, and depressing. The bathroom door slams shut and makes me feel I’m being locked in. It looks like it might have, at one time, been a hallway door before they went to card keys. There’s one easy chair squeezed into the corner between the bed and wall. There’s no way to watch TV from that corner and the large footstool that matches the chair wouldn’t fit beside the bed and the heater. The desk chair, when I push back, hits the bed. Do I sound crabby? I am. I’m tired, achy, and I am used to friendlier people down here. 

I get my work started for the week as I plan a lot of driving tomorrow to make Fredericksburg.




Saturday, February 7, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 16

February 4 

Today I want to do the Alligator Farm, but it’s raining. It wasn’t supposed to rain until afternoon. As I wait for the shuttle, a yellow cat is by the door, so I go out to talk to him. I sit on the bench and he gets up beside me and for some attention. He makes me miss Pele even more.

Pam is the shuttle driver and when I explain my problem getting on and off the trolley yesterday, she says the front car usually has one of two wider seat entrances for people with walkers and such. She’s right as I climb aboard the last seat in the first car. It’s still an effort to pull myself up, but it’s much better than yesterday.

The rain isn’t heavy and the temperature is warmer than yesterday. I get off at Stop No. 16 and wait about 15 minutes for the bus to the beaches on Anastasia Island and the Alligator Farm. The trolley driver said the bus drivers are not tour guides and do not tell stories, however this guy chats and it’s good. Gosh, I wish I could remember all the stories and information that all these people provide. He’s good at explaining about the return, too. The Alligator Farm is the first stop, so I don’t get a chance to see the beaches.

There are many more alligators than I remember. Lots of pictures are taken along with different signs so I can make identifications later. There are many different types of ‘gator and even a few crocodiles. I’m eager to see the rookery and all the birds and make my way around in the opposite direction from my visit in 2013.

Unfortunately, the rookery is a bit of a disappointment. There were many herons and roseate spoonbills, but they were all sleeping. But the alligators! Oh, my God, are there alligators! They are more interesting and there a little food machines along the way so people can feed them. There are so many! Thank heavens that the boardwalk is high above the ground and waters. There are alligators everywhere and all different sizes!

I also photograph Galapagos turtles and some African birds. Some of the exotic birds are behind thick mesh fencing so pictures are impossible. That’s disappointing. It starts raining a little harder. Good thing I’m near the end. I pass through the gift shop and sit on an outside bench awaiting the bus back to town.

Of course I am aching from walking the Alligator Farm, but when I get off the bus, I head down Aviles Street, one of the oldest streets in St. Augustine. This road has areas set up in old Spanish style like an old hospital. Pam, the shuttle driver from this morning, had said to see this, but at the moment, I don’t feel like paying any more and keep walking… and walking. I cross King Street to the waterfront and make my way back to the bridge. I’d love to walk across to get pictures, but there’s no way. I hobble back to the trolley stop.

There are two places back at Stop No. 1 for which I have tickets. Thankfully they came with the three-day trolley pass because the Tea and Spice place wasn’t doing a tour until later and the Old General Store Museum had a tour in progress. I didn’t want to hang around and Pam took me back to the hotel. She tells me, on the way, that St. Augustine is all decked out in white lights in December and January and they give special night tours. December is very busy, but January is their slow month. She says I should come back next January.

She drops me at Blondi’s, a diner in the parking lot. I haven’t eaten all day and enjoy a delicious burger, fries, and a glass of white zinfandel. Then I hobble back to the hotel. Oh, I ache after another day of a lot of walking, but St. Augustine is a wonderful place and worth every step.






Travels with Sasha Day 15

February 3 

The early morning is spent catching up on the blog after having a rubber-waffle for breakfast. Next trip I will bring a real knife, fork, and spoon. The cheap plastic utensils provided are horrible, plus a lot of waste. All the hotels talk about being “green,” but a lot is thrown out with the use of plastic utensils, foam plates and cups, etc. I don’t know how much, or if, they recycle… everything goes in one trash bucket. I already bring my own coffee cup and the next trip will also include a brewer and my own coffee. The coffee in the hotels isn’t very strong or flavorful; well, there’s flavor if you like the taste of warm, dirty dishwater.

The front desk calls the trolley shuttle for me. Yoshi talks me into doing Old Town Trolley Tours instead of the Red Train Trolley. I don sweater and jacket from the car as the temperature is quite cool. Juan is the shuttle and what a nice guy! We stop at another hotel and pick up a couple from New York and we chat about the weather back home. (Everyone is talking about the storms in New England!) 

Old Town Trolley’s home base is at the Old Jail. A woman with Switzerland across the back of her jacket cuts in front of me as I’m standing in line. I’m so shocked, I’m speechless. She is totally oblivious, so intent on… whatever was her concern. Most people are so courteous around here that I can’t believe she is so inconsiderate. I feel invisible.  

I finally get up to the counter. They offer deals with multiple sites to visit. I purchase a three-day pass, but I’m not interested in the jail. My ticket includes a museum, trolley, and Alligator Farm. (I want fabulous bird pictures.)

I wander through the museum. It’s interesting, but what really catches my attention is at the end. One wall has a series of miniature train sets with working lights to depict the Eastern Florida Rail System. How cool is this! There are a couple of engines running around the tracks. It’s set up as how it was years ago and I try to recognize landmarks. 

I leave the museum without looking at the store items. I’m not interested in souvenirs or candy. The trolley is being boarded and head on over getting on the third of a four-car set. Many people are already on board and a couple in the last row move over on the seat. 

Uh, oh, this isn’t easy. The steps are a little high and the entrance to the seat is narrow between the rows. I struggle and the man reaches over to give me a hand. I give him my walking stick so I can have better leverage to heft myself up. It’s a squeeze to get into the seat, but soon we are off.  

It’s cold. People are pulling coats tighter. I love the history and the stories. Yes, it’s cool, but this is a great way to get around the old city. The plan is to ride the trolley throughout one trip, then choose where to get off, however, at Stop No. 6, I get off… or try to. It’s not easy manipulating walking stick and taking care not to bang the camera on the car. 

I put my right foot down and that put the widest part of my body in the narrowest part between the seats. I got stuck. Talk about embarrassing! I couldn’t get down and needed the help of another man to to pull myself back up. He just guides and is there if I should fall. A woman says to put my left foot down first and that worked. I thank them and quickly move off. 

I want to get a new pair of Birkenstock sandals. The man in the store is very helpful. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything I really liked and if I’m going to pay $100 for a pair of shoes, I’m darn well going to like them! 

Next we look at Vionic sandals. Andrea had recommended these. However, what he has in stock has too many straps (I want slip-ons) or there’s the thing that goes between the big and second toes (which do not fit my feet). I leave the store disappointed and head across the alley to the Silver Feather where I choose a pair of earrings to replace the pair where I’d lost one. (However, they were not the right shade of green.) 

The streets are wandered, photos taken. Andrea had asked me to look up a friend who works at the Old School House, but he isn’t there. I do come across a man in a side alley playing a didgeridoo with a dog beside him dressed in costume. I approach after a few minutes and after others have moved away. I don’t want to take photos without asking. 

That is a great conversation. Come to find out, he once lived in Gonic. I take photos and got a story and he will be in my next book. I continue along St. George Street trying to decide where to have lunch. There are so many places to choose from and I can’t decide. I’m really starting to ache and enter an enclosed section of little shops, like a mini-mall. There’s a restaurant at the end, but the blaring TV is a turn-off and I head out the door. 

Uh, oh, where am I? I’m near Flagler College and I cross the road to get photos of the dining room. I find out later on another trolley tour that there are special panes protecting the Tiffany windows from the outside elements. That’s why I can’t get good photos! I can see the bump-out of what used to be the pool in the Alcatraz Hotel. The Alcatraz is now The Lightner Museum and the pool area is a café, so that’s where I head. By this time, the walking is extremely difficult. 

I order a chicken sandwich with Cajun coleslaw and zinger iced tea. The slaw is too spicy for me and the waiter brings balsamic rice instead. It’s a good meal and after eating, I painfully make my way to the trolley stop out front. This time I choose the front seat of the fourth car. By now, it’s quite cool and I pull my jacket tighter.

When we get back to Stop No. 1, I again need assistance getting off. The narrow space and manipulating camera and walking stick while backing down two steps… most of the time I don’t mind being short, but when the rise in steps (and bathtub walls) are high, it’s difficult. 

Juan, the shuttle driver, is nearby. “Are you ready to go back to the hotel?” Oh, yes! He remembers I’d mentioned earlier that I like history and regales me with stories all the way back. Gosh, I wish he could take me all around. He loves St. Augustine and says, that in spite of the tourism, it’s quiet here.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 14

February 2 

I’m showered, dressed, and writing at the kitchen table when Andrea comes out of her room for coffee. She is going to try again to make reservations for Tucson. As much as I have enjoyed their company, I’m ready to move. I especially don’t want to be in the way as they are getting ready to travel themselves. 

I get the atlas out of the truck and figuring out ways to get to St. Augustine. With all the snow and cold back home, I’m trying to put off heading north. Lance says to take Rte. 40 to 19 and that will take me into St. Augustine. It’s a real pretty drive with lots of horse farms and we’re talking about driving when Andrea comes out and starts talking about all she has to do to get ready to go to Tucson. 

“How about if I leave today,” I say, and she agrees. I’m packed and leaving 45 minutes later. It’s a bit of a teary goodbye. It was nice spending time with them and I enjoy having someone show me around and tell me stories of the area. 

It’s raining and 68 degrees as I leave. Gas is purchased in Dunnellon for $2.08/gl. (The sign by the road said $1.98 and I don’t see anything saying it’s more money for credit. Oh, well.) Soon I’m on Rte. 40 east. Lance was right. The horse farms are amazing. I’d like to stop for pictures, but I’m eager to get to St. Augustine.  

A stop for lunch is made in Polatka at a Golden Corral and it’s back on the road at 1 p.m. Rte. 19 comes to a T at Rte. 17. Uh, oh, which way now? I first turn south, but that feels wrong, so I turn around and head north. That feels wrong, too, so I pull over and get out the atlas. Ah, I need to go south through East Polatka and cross the St. John River. Finally there’s a sign for St. Augustine and a left is taken onto Rte. 207. 

This all passes through the Ocala (oops, forgot what it’s called). A lot of this territory is scrub pine. Periodically there are pull-off areas. I think they’re four-wheeling parks. The sand along here is yellow. I do see a couple areas that might be interesting to explore, but I keep going. Where we have moose or deer signs in New Hampshire, there are bear signs here. It might not be a good idea to wander around alone. 

I reach the Comfort Inn & Suites at 2:15 p.m. The temperature is 61 degrees. I’ve driven 1,718 miles since leaving home. The bad news is that because I stayed with Andrea and Lance, I do not have a Florida Hotel Coupon Book. She does give me a AAA discount, though.  

I’m exhausted and settle in for the night.


Travels with Sasha Day 13

February 1 

I’m doing my morning journal writing at the kitchen table. Andrea comes out of their bedroom for coffee and says she wants to paint on Tuesday and go to Tucson on Wednesday. I agree she should go as she needs to get items to sell at the mine this summer. She says I should stay until Tuesday. 

We talk about what to do for the day. I need to check the internet for anything that came in to the folders after I signed off yesterday. We agree on Rainbow Springs Park and she gives directions. They will meet me there and call my cell when they are ready to leave.  

I head off to McDonald’s to finish up the last minute work for the InterTown Record. Again, there are so many people pouring through the doors. It’s amazing the business that McD’s gets. I order two hash browns and a medium orange juice, set to work, and finish in just over an hour. Now what? 

I hear a ringing. Where’s that coming from? Wait! That’s my cell phone. I dig it out, but it’s so noisy in McD’s I can hardly hear what Andrea is saying, so I say, “OK, I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.” I pack up and head out. 

There’s no problem finding the park. I wait for about ten minutes and Andrea and Lance show up with the two dogs. (They had further to travel than I.) We head off down the path to the ticket booth and once we pay the fee, we move further. This is on a hill and it looks down onto the river. I have never seen water so… turquoise. I thought the Caribbean waters were beautiful, but this… this is totally amazing! It’s so beautiful, tears come to my eyes. 

How to describe the water… it’s a gorgeous shade of turquoise in the sun and very clear. Andrea said if the breeze wasn’t creating ripples, we’d be able to see where the water bubbles up from the ground. There’s even a swimming area and the water temperature is 72 degrees all year round. The sand on the bottom is very light, almost white. There are not words to tell what this is like. 

For a short time, the three (five counting the dogs) stay together. Andrea and Lance explain about the park. Soon, they head off. I don’t want them waiting for me and I am very slow. Berlin and Dana need serious walking as big German have to have more exercise. I take my time and take many pictures. At one point, I see cigarette butts stuck in a fence post. Disgusting! 

It’s a climb back up to the visitors’ center and the trail goes off the other way. Thankfully, it’s brick, cement, or boardwalk, so that makes walking easier, but the hills are tough. I find downhill is worse the walking uphill. Photographs are taken of the various waterfalls and remnants of the old phosphate mine… very few ruins. (I’m curious about phosphate mines. They said there used to be a lot.)

Further along, I come to an area where animals were once kept. After the phosphate mine, this was turned into an animal park. (I’ve got research to do later.) The walking becomes a struggle. Arrghh! Why is it hurting to walk? I push on as always and at one of the highest points in the park is a pool and here bubbles can be seen where the spring pushes to the surface. I make my way back to the VIC. More people are swimming now and I will not take pictures of that, however I did take some of the azaleas that are coming into bloom. They are beautiful.

I get back to Andrea’s. It’s 71 degrees. She’s trying to book air fare, hotels, and car rentals. It’s not going well. She gives up and we hang out chatting. I get out my laptop and import 832 photos. Yikes! I work on deleting excess and poor photos while she and Lance go to Carol’s to help her with something. That also gives me time to finish reading the book she let me borrow. 

They get back. “I don’t feel like cooking!” Andrea announces.

“Let me treat you both to dinner for putting up with me,” I offer. 

They take me to Stumpknockers on the Withlacoochee River. (Stumpknockers are fish who live around the roots of the cypress and cypress knees to avoid predators.) Again we sit at an outdoor table. Andrea and I wander along the river bank taking pictures while the food is being prepared. Oh, this is lovely with the cypress along the banks and in the water. Long dreadlocks of Spanish moss hang from the limbs. Absolutely gorgeous. I’m hoping to end up with a couple of pictures that will make good drawings. 

The food is delicious and later, after talking for a couple of hours, we remember the Super Bowl. It’s the middle of the third quarter. Arrggh! We agree the commercials are disappointing, but, boy, am I glad we got to see the end. What a fantastic finish!