Monday, February 26, 2024

Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky

 After we cross the Florida state line, we went less than a mile before stopping at a place we have heard a lot about, but never stopped. 

The Flora-Bama Bar is on the Florida/Alabama state line. Actually, in Alabama, the property the bar sits on used to be in Florida. That was until 1962 when Florida gave Alabama a 2 mile stretch of beach along the border.

Multiple levels, live music, inside and outside seating, the Flora-Bama is a must stop tourist attraction. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. Cold, wet and windy. Despite that we did have a good time as we met our friends and fellow Custer, SD residents Merrell and Vicki there. 

Bad hair day? Windy? Both?!?!
With the weather the way it was, everyone was inside. Between the people and the live music, we could not hear each other so we opted to go across the street to the restaurant and get a bite to eat. We spent an hour and a half talking and catching up. In my mind, I saw us spending the entire day with them sitting outside in the sun and talking, but it was just not to be today so after a late lunch we headed on our way. 

Our stop for the night was a Cracker Barrel in Pensacola. It has been quite a while since we have stayed at one, nice and quiet. 

The next day we were off to our next destination and our last visit with friends on our Great Winter Adventure. Dadeville Alabama is a small town of just over 3,200, two of which are our friends Guy and Sue who live in the Stillwaters community just outside Dadeville. Guy and Sue have/had been fulltime travelers for many years but recently got off the road. Speaking of which, if someone is looking for a really nice 37' Tiffin Class A, they have one for sale!

The Stillwaters is a gated community on the shores of Lake Martin which boasts over 700 miles of shoreline. Guy and Sue were residents here for over 20 years before going on the road and are now again. They gave us a tour of the area. Really, really beautiful. 

Having just emptied out a storage unit, Guy spent a good 30 minutes going through his garage handing me stuff, saying "You need this, and you need that" as he handed me stuff he no longer needed from their RV life. I was like a kid in a candy store! Thanks again Guy!

We only had one night here so we spent it catching up over a great steak supper with the best grits I have ever eaten! Their driveway was just big enough to fit our rig, so we were able to spend the night right there and have a goodbye breakfast with them before hitting the road.

Our next destination was another one that I had been wanting to go for several years. I think Nashville was higher on my list than Barb's, but she indulged me by booking 3 nights at the Nashville KOA. We did not get in until late the first afternoon, so we just chilled and planned out our Nashville day. There is a $10/person shuttle that will take you from the campground to the Country Music Hall of Fame, so we booked the first shuttle of the day and were off!

The main thing I wanted to see there was the live music and walk the strip. Since we were planning on coming into town both days, day one was dedicated to doing just that. Our first stop was Kid Rock's place. I went to the bar, ordered two Coor Lights and gave her a $20. She came back with my two beers and $2. Back home I would have received $12-$14 in change, but apparently not in Nashville. Being the big tipper, I am I told the bartender to keep the $2 and walked bewilderedly back to Barb with the 2 beers. 

The music was good, but too loud, so after finishing our beers we headed over to Ole Red across the street where the music was more to our noise level. We ordered some nacho's and two more beers (only $8 here) and enjoyed both the music and nachos.

From there, we walked about 15 minutes to the Ole Smokey Distillery where Barb picked up a t-shirt and I, a sign for our gazebo. 

We spent the rest of our afternoon at the Luke Bryant bar on the second level. A guy by the name of Clay Bitter was playing there and we really enjoyed his music. A great afternoon, but way more than we wanted to spend. 

The next morning, we were reviewing our options for the day. Country Musci HOF, Johnny Cash Museum, and other attractions. I was still run down from this dang cough though, so we decided to just hang out and take it easy. Instead, we did laundry (Barb), cleaned the camper (Barb), cut my hair (Barb) and worked on the blog (me).

After an hour or so drive the next morning, we arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park (24th NP) just in time for our tour. 

You take a bus ride from the Visitors Center to the cave entrance. Of all the cave tours we have done across the country, I think this one would rank near the lowest as far as enjoyment. There were 25 in our group and with much of the tour being narrow passages, it was more like a conga line with you just staring at the person in front of you. Luckily, Barb was in front of me, so I had that going for me. Not a lot of interesting cave features until you get to the last 5 minutes where they have quite a few very cool formations. 

It is really hard to get good pictures in a cave. Afterall, the lighting is not the best. I did manage to get a few that were blogworthy. To be honest, most of the tour was rather boring, but the last 5 minutes was worth the wait. 

From there it was up to Frankfort Kentucky to visit Buffalo Trace Distillery again as well as a couple more tours at other distilleries. For those of you who are into bourbons and whiskeys, you know that Buffalo Trace is like THE distiller in the area. They offer a variety of products, several of which are nearly impossible to find on the open market. These are Blanton's, Weller, Eagle Rare and E.H. Taylor. 

Whoever designed the marketing strategy for Buffalo Trace is a genius. As they offer one of these 4 for sale in their gift shop every day, randomly rotating them. What other company do you know where hundreds of people line up outside 3 hours before they open, waiting, having no idea what they are going to buy? 

Here's the kicker, once you buy one of a variety, you cannot buy it again for 90 days. So, some people are in line for hours not knowing if they can even buy anything. We had bought Blanton's and Weller on our way through in December, so we were only eligible to buy Taylor and Eagle Rare. In line we went not knowing if we could even buy anything. We arrived at 7:30 each day and were probably 50th in line. By 9:00 there were hundreds of people in line. Your first clue of what is being offered is usually when one of the employees comes out at about 8:45 and spills the beans. 

There are several Facebook groups dedicated to predicting what they will offer the next day. The first day we were there the odds-on favorite for our first day there was E.H. Taylor.

About 8:45am, word started spreading through the crowd that it was indeed Taylor. We were in luck our first day! 
After making our purchases, we headed over to a local park to kill some time before our tour at Castle & Key distillery. 

The Cove Spring Park in Frankfort is absolutely beautiful. Several natural springs, a creek and a picturesque setting in the Kentucky hillside. 
The park has a really nice children's memorial with each of the bricks below a memorial to a child. The picture to the right is the head of the spring and an old structure from back in the day. 

There were a few oddities in the park, like this mini-farm in a hollowed-out tree, or this strange looking creature just randomly hanging out in the woods. 
A great way to kill a couple of hours and walk the dogs while waiting for our next tour. The Castle & Key Distillery was founded in 2018, but the building in which it sits was built by E.H. Taylor (sound familiar?) in 1887. E.H. was the nephew of President Zachery Taylor. We were more interested in the history of the building than we were of the Castle & Key products. Very cool and historic building. 

As you can see, they have an open fermentation system which is then pumped into the still. 

The following morning, we were back at Buffalo Trace in the hopes that Eagle Rare was the allocated spirit of the day. It was the odds-on favorite, could we be lucky enough to get all 4 in just 4 visits?
Again, at 8:45, Barb and I we get the word that spirit of the day was an underdog; Blanton's, one that we could not buy. Barb, not deterred, said she was going to try, so at 9:00, we go in, she grabs a bottle, goes to the register. Denied. Oh, well, 3 out of 4 isn't bad. 

Then it was off to our last tour in the area. Bulleit Distillery is located a few miles west in Shelbyville. This is by far the most modern facility that we have been in. Everything appeared to be state of the art and computerized. They were founded in 1987 and this facility was designed with tours in mind giving the touree a pretty interesting experience. Our tour guide was very good too, which really helped. 

We ended the tour with a tasting that was paired with some spices which you smelled before and after tasting each of the bourbons. It was the first time we have ever done that and was pretty interesting. 
That was our last event for our winter vacation, and it was time to head home. We made it just west of St. Louis that afternoon before we pulled into a truck stop for the night. The next day we woke up and were on the road by 6am with just over 800 miles from home. The plan was to break it up into two days, but as we got going, we just kept on going and going and going. I would drive a few hours, Barb would drive a few hours, the girls just slept between their potty breaks every few hours. The girls are such good travelers. Dakota just picks a spot and sleeps. Zoey moves around every so often tucking her head into various crevices. 

Barb just gets annoyed with me as I do not make a very good passenger. I was able to sleep a bit, but mostly annoyed her.
15 hours later, we pulled into driveway exhausted! An hour later we had a fire going in the fireplace, it is good to be home!
So, with that, our Great Winter Adventure is over. 76 days, 6,957 miles, 29 stops, 2 wineries, 5 breweries and 13 distilleries. Lots of fun, fishing and great visits with family and friends. My cough is all but gone, I am feeling much better, and we are looking forward to sleeping in our bed!
The news does not stop there though, we had a very special package waiting for us when we got home. Actually, it was mailed to our neighbor, who put it on our counter. To say we were thrilled when we opened it would be the understatement. What was it? Tune it next week to find out!

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Goodbye Florida

Traveling now for 9 weeks is a little bittersweet. We are still enjoying see the sights, our friends and family, but we are also missing our home. When we get a little homesick, we will pull up the cameras and see what is going back in South Dakota. We had this visitor the other day.

How’s my cough you ask? Horrible. Week 3, some days I feel like I am getting better and only have an attack a couple times throughout the day. But then at night when I try to lay down it really hits. Hacking so much I get dizzy. My lovely wife bought some Vicks Vapor rub that she lovingly applies to my chest each night while quietly singing Soft Kitty ala Big Bang Theory. If you are unfamiliar with this scene, you can watch it here. The only difference between Barb doing it and Penny is near the end of the song, although Barb was still singing, she had stopped rubbing. When I opened my eyes, she was holding a pillow at both ends hovering inches from my face with a rather scary look in her eyes. 

Thank God, we have tolerant friends in Dan, Jeannie, Liz and Mike who still wanted to hang out with us despite my coughing.

Dan and I got out fishing two more times. This time on a large lake up near Gainesville. We left early each morning trying to get the morning bite on crappies.

Our plan was to fish the flooded timber around the lake, and I do not mean going along the edge and casting into the timber, I mean going into the timber and fishing amongst the trees. This was a first for both of us. When I saw the impenetrable wall of Spanish moss and trees the first thing, I thought of were spiders and snakes that were no doubt lying in wait for some unsuspecting fisherman to get too close. 

As we approached the trees and started pushing through the moss, I was constantly on the lookout for both. We would push through, fish an area for 20-30 minutes, go back out to the open water, go down the shore and find another area to push through. Sure enough, I soon saw a snake lay on a branch as we approached. No way, not going through that hole! 

The waters were only 1-2' deep in there, but that did not matter to the fish, as we’d pick up one in this spot, 3 or more in the next. By noon both days we had about 20 nice fatties to take home with us!

Day 1
Day 2
These two outings would serve as the last of our fishing adventures on this trip, but we sure had a lot of fun between the surf fishing on the east coast, ocean fishing in the keys and this lake fishing on the gulf side. 

While we were doing this, Barb and Jeanie were on their own adventures doing whatever girls do while their men are fishing. One day they went on a farm tour on the outskirts of Ocala. They said that although the farms themselves were interesting, the guide was not very good.

Another day they went swimming in the Rainbow River. Now that looks like fun!

One evening we bought a 1/2 bushel of fresh oysters. The only way we like them is grilled on the 1/2 shell. Our first challenge was shucking a couple hundred oysters without cutting our hands up with these oyster knives. 

Once they were shucked and laid out on cookie sheets, we applied toppings to them. Garlic/parm, various hot sauces, bacon. We ate about 20 each and had oyster belly by the end of the meal. 

Dan and Jeanie have two labs: Star and Sally. All the dogs got along well, with no incidents. 

We spent our last night in the area back over at Mike and Liz’s giving Zoey and Dakota one last playdate with Tux.  

The next morning, we loaded a hood and grill from Mike’s jeep that he asked us to deliver to a friend in Apalachicola. Since that was our next destination and the parts were to be delivered to a bar his friend owned, we were more than happy to! We arrived at Belle's Winery and Saloon midafternoon and met the owner, Mel. Super nice person, if you are ever in the area, stop by Belle's.

Barb and I with Mel

This destination also included the first campground we had stayed at in quite a while. And believe me, we needed it. We had not dumped our tanks since we were in Everglades NP many, many days ago. The Tate's Hell State Forest Cash Creek campground is a quiet little park within the Apalachicola National Forest. At $23 a night W/E, it offers a nice, quiet place to hang your head for the night. 

The next day we drove across the bridge to check out St. George Island and the state park. The beaches on the park are beautiful, but not dog friendly. Barb and I walked one beach and it was just loaded with sea shells.

We did find a beach outside the park that was dog-friendly, so we were able to get the girls out for a walk on the beach before we went to lunch at the Blue Parrot right along the waterfront. 

We knew our friends Dino and Lisa had spent some time here a few weeks ago and when I saw this gentleman metal detecting on the beach, we thought perhaps Dino was back to try to find more treasures.


It was then that I noticed this guy did not have a Busch Light in his other hand, so it definitely was not Dino. 

Our favorite stop in the area was the Chestnut Street Cemetery. This was by far, the most rundown cemetery we have visited with many headstones turned over. Maintenance had fallen way, way behind. 

The cool thing about this cemetery was the pamphlet at the entrance highlighting many of the gravesites within the cemetery. This is the first time we have run into this and found it very interesting. 

Following this pamphlet really added an interesting element to our visit, bringing history and context to many of the sites. Like these two; Louisa Bruni and Frank Messina whose story goes like this:
Although Louisa (7) was a year older, Frank Messina (8) was her uncle, the youngest brother of Louisa's mother. The two were playing on the dock (in 1882) when Louisa fell into the river. Frank jumped in to save her, but her struggles caused him to drown also. When their bodies were found her arms were wrapped around his neck.
The Messina family experienced another tragedy a few years later when 11-year-old Clarence Joseph Messina was playing on a dock and fell in and drown in 1901.
Then there is Charles Marks, a seaman and ship's captain. His house was burnt down by the Union Navy during the war and was accused of murder for the killing of two Union sympathizers.
There were dozens of child and infant sites where children succumbed to Yellow Fever.

There were dozens of stories listed in the pamphlet, but I will leave you with Marie Hickey who was married to Patrick. Both of their lives came to an end in October 1907 when Marie slashed Patrick's throat above a store on Market Street. Marie then cut her own throat. 
It is unknown what caused Marie to do this, but I would not be surprised if Patrick had a hacking cough and she just had had enough!

This stop brought our Florida adventures to an end, now we are off to Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky where more adventures await!