Dry Tortugas National Park

Full Disclosure – we are no longer traveling in our RV nor is it still 2017, however, the adventure continues!

Earlier this month we visited Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, continuing our quest to explore all 47 of the National Parks located in the lower-48.  We’ve now visited 44!

We had the pleasure of our friends, Kirby and Betsy, joining us for this excursion which included a two-night stay at a great Airbnb in Key West, FL called Blu and hosted by Shawn.   He was an awesome host who met us upon our arrival and shared lots of local info to make our stay even better as we got to experience some of the places that the locals enjoy rather than only the tourist traps.  The best part of our Blu stay was the four beach cruisers included in the deal.  We rode those bikes all over the island and had an absolute blast doing it.  By far, the best way to get around down there.

We have a friend, Todd, that has lived in Key West for the past fifteen years.  Although we are not able to coordinate schedules every time we get to Key West, this trip we got to have a couple of beers with him the evening we arrived.  It was great to catch up with him and, after a couple of beers at Hog’s Breath Saloon, he brought us to the Green Parrot to listen to his favorite band from New Orleans playing an early set.  

As an added bonus, although we didn’t plan it this way, we just happened to be in town during the offshore powerboat racing 38th Annual Key West World Championships event.  I love it when a plan comes together!  According to their website (www.superboat.com), Super Boat International Productions (SBIP) is the premier national and international sanctioning body for offshore powerboat racing around the world.  They were expecting sixty boats to be entered in the 2018 event, including multiple entrants in the Superboat class that has no restrictions on engine horsepower nor number of power plants.  The dry pits for these racing machines, capable of reaching speeds of 180 MPH, were located at the Truman Waterfront.  We were able to ride our bikes past many of these boats loaded on their trailers and even chat with some of the owners.   Key West is considered one of the top venues in the world for its exceptional viewing opportunities and its position at the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico which can create extremely challenging sea conditions.  Portions of the training runs and actual races were happening right off of Mallory Square, giving us a great viewing location complete with bars and excellent live bands.  We also got to see the race boat parade one evening and had dinner at a harbor side restaurant on another.  What a deal.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anyway, back to the main reason for our trip, visiting Dry Tortugas National Park which is located about 68 miles west of Key West, FL, out in the Gulf of Mexico.  This park encompasses 100 square miles and is mostly open water, although, there are seven small islands here too.   They are called: Loggerhead Key; Garden Key; Bush Key; Long Key; Hospital Key; Middle Key; and East Key.  There are two ways one can get to this park, either via sea plane or boat.  We chose the less expensive method, opting for the 2 hour 15 minute cruise on board the Yankee Freedom III ferry service.  We checked in at 7AM, departed the ferry terminal at 100 Grinnell Street, Key West at 8AM and arrived at Garden Key about 10:15AM.  This one day round trip included breakfast, lunch and snorkeling gear in the price.  We departed Garden Key bound for Key West at 3PM that afternoon, arriving there just in time to bike over to Mallory Square for another sunset celebration.

The ferry docks only at Garden Key, the second largest island in this park at about 14 acres.  It is home to historic Fort Jefferson, one of the nation’s largest 19th century forts.  The fort was built between 1846 and 1875 (although never fully completed nor fully armed) to protect one of the most strategic deepwater anchorages in North America as well as the primary shipping lanes between the Gulf Coast and the eastern seaboard of the United States.  Included in the ticket price of the ferry excursion is a National Park Ranger-led tour of this fort that is well worth the 45 minutes it takes.  The Ranger will share much of the history of the fort, leaving you more informed and with plenty of time to enjoy the beaches and perhaps one of the best snorkeling locations available.

We did try snorkeling, unfortunately though, we did not find the best spots.  There are maps available on the ferry indicating where the best coral reefs can be found.  I even snapped a picture of the map while en route to the park.fullsizeoutput_1785  For some reason, we just forgot about it and randomly chose to snorkel off one of the beaches.  Big mistake.  Take the time to plan where you are going to snorkel so you get to enjoy the abundant marine life while you are there.

 

If we make it back to this park, we are going to camp overnight.  Camping is allowed just outside of the fort wall, it just takes more planning and gear.  There is no fresh water on the island, no food, no stores.  Its remote and primitive.  However, after having been there for a day, its exciting to think of just how beautiful the sky will be after dark with no artificial light to obscure the view.  Also, imagine what an exceptional spot it must be to view the sunset.  And if you’ve ever enjoyed the experience of night diving, consider the experience awaiting you while taking the recommended night snorkel along the outside of the moat wall.  Being in or under the water is an entirely different experience at night and one sure to be memorable.

Whatever you intend to do on your visit, plan ahead and be sure to coordinate your travel plans.  We started our journey from Fort Myers, FL, taking the Key West Express ferry out of Fort Myers Beach to get to Key West.  You can also drive or fly directly into Key West, FL.  Here you can take another ferry or a sea plane to Dry Tortugas.  Since we chose the Key West Express, it was important to know that it does not sail on Tuesday nor Wednesday.  And even more important to coordinate that schedule with availability on the Yankee Freedom III ferry to get to Dry Tortugas.  Finally, finding a available place to stay that lines up with the two ferry dates.  

This three day excursion was non-stop fun the entire time. (Well, almost the entire time. The ferry ride did get a bit long…)

IMG_0046

Only three parks to go…

ttyl,

K&S

We’re Back!

Hi again!

We’ve been away from our blog since December 31, 2017, almost nine full months.  Feels  longer than that.

Anyway, back then we said “Farewell, For Now” and promised to let you all know when we re-started our quest to visit all the National Parks in the Lower 48.  Last week we visited Acadia National Park in Maine and it was a totally different experience than what we had grown accustomed to, that’s for sure.

You may remember that we sold Our Way, our RV.  So, this adventure was car-camping, sleeping in a tent and not having all the luxuries that come with driving “your home” to the next park.  That’s right, no king-sized bed, no kitchen, no refrigerator, no living room with that comfy L-shaped couch, no TVs, no stereo and NO BATHROOM or SHOWER – ouch!  Hey, we had a blast anyway.  It just took a little getting used to.

We spent five nights at the Blackwoods Campground within Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, just 7 miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine.  What a beautiful place.  We arrived late on Monday afternoon, set up camp and headed into Bar Harbor for a quick (and easy – remember, no kitchen, no frig) dinner at a fun Irish Pub named Leary’s Landing.  We even had some pub-food with our Guinesses!

On Tuesday, we made breakfast at the campsite and headed out to run some errands.  The weather forecast called for rain most of the day (and it was unfortunately accurate) but it was only cloudy when we left the campsite.   So, we took a drive on the Park Loop Road to go to the top of Cadillac Mountain hoping to enjoy the view overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  Turns out that as we ascended Cadillac Summit Road we drove into the clouds and the mist slowly turned to rain by the time we reached the peak.  No view today.

Oh well, off to the LL Bean Outlet in Ellsworth to purchase a new tent.  The one we used the night before was more than twenty years old, smelled mildewy and was no longer rain-proof.  We improvised with a tarp to keep our gear as dry as possible, however, that wouldn’t rid us of the smell.  Fortunately, the outlet had a great cabin tent in stock that we were quite excited to get and test out in the continuing rainy weather.

You may also remember that our 2017 RV Adventure started off being about visiting National Parks, but, somewhere along the way, also morphed into visiting as many local brew-pubs and/or breweries as possible.  As luck (or destiny) would have it, on our return trip to the campground we happened on a road sign indicating that the Atlantic Brewing Company was only 1.4 miles to our right.  Well, deciding to make the most of a less-than-perfect-weather day, we took that slight detour and had a great time at the tasting room and a good lunch at the Mainely Meat BBQ located on site.

Cooking dinner, cleaning up and enjoying a campfire with a couple of cold ones brought us to the time to test the new gear.  The tent, a Bigelow Easy-Pitch six-person cabin tent, provided more than enough room for our queen-sized air mattress and gear and plenty of head room for both of us!  It smelled new and proved to be rain-proof, sweet.

Wednesday was our first hiking adventure in the park, walking seven tenths of a mile  from our campsite to connect with the trail head for the 7.1 mile round trip on the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail to the summit.  You can read more about this advanced hike at https://www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/acadia-national-park-cadillac-mountain-south-ridge.  We were fortunate to have a partially sunny day to experience the incredible views of the mountains, forests, islands and ocean from the many vistas along the ridge.  If you decide to hike this trail, wear layers and bring rain gear.  The weather changes super-quick on this trail as it winds its way from about 200′ above sea level at the base to 1,530′ above sea level at the summit of the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

We chose the Gorham Mountain and Ocean Path Loops for our Thursday hike, again from our campsite.  This is a more leisurely moderate hike of about four miles round trip to the 525′ summit that you can learn more about here: https://www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/acadia-national-park-gorham-mountain-loop.  This trail brings you along the coast for some beautiful ocean views and a stop at a natural attraction called Thunder Hole, a shallow underwater cave that creates the sound of thunder when the rising surf traps air in the cave.  The best time for the most impressive action at Thunder Hole is about two hours prior to high tide so plan your visit accordingly.  Also, if you like a good nut-brown ale, you may want to test out Atlantic Brewing Company’s version of Thunder Hole.  Its well worth it!

Bar Harbor was our destination late on Thursday afternoon (after we waited for the AAA van to show up at our campsite to jump-start the car battery that I had drained while trying to charge our cell phones…).  We did some site seeing around town to enjoy the many parks and gardens, do some shopping and select a spot for an early dinner.  Paddy’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, located just across West Street from the water with views of the cruise ships, fishing boats and yachts in the harbor.  A wonderful night but just a bit too chilly for ice cream cones.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our plans for Friday morning breakfast at the campsite changed quickly when we realized we didn’t have any milk left in the frig, oops, cooler.  Rather than running to the store and back, we decided to pack up and get on the road.  We found a great little restaurant called The Colonel’s Restaurant and Bakery on Main Street in Northeast Harbor, Maine.  Great atmosphere, friendly people and really good food.  Since the sun was shining brightly as we departed Northeast Harbor, we opted for one more attempt at a clear summit on Cadillac Mountain.  The drive up was encouraging as the sun was shining the entire way.  Once at the parking lot, while awaiting a spot to open, the wind picked up, the clouds rolled in and we got a partially clear view from the top with cold winds ripping about.  Still, a view worth the ride.

Another great adventure at a beautiful park.  We hope to continue with one or two more parks later this year.

Thanks for following along!

ttyl,

K&S

 

 

Farewell, for now.

Siobhan and I thought that today, the last day of the year, would be the perfect time to let you know just how much we appreciated you joining us, albeit virtually, for our 2017 RV Adventure.

We had the experience of a lifetime and thoroughly enjoyed sharing it with all of you.

Sometimes we weren’t sure if anyone was even reading our posts and other times we were amazed at how many followers we had and the suggestions and comments we received.

Having a post to write kept me sane (kind of) when I needed a task to focus on.  Knowing that others might be interested in “seeing” the sites that we were about to experience caused us to give some extra thought to what we were about to do so as to better share it with others.  That led to taking more pictures and documenting this adventure.

Having so many wonderful experiences in such a compressed timeframe was a bit overwhelming at times.  This blog helped us keep things straight and caused us to document our adventure in a way we likely would not have if it weren’t for the following we had from friends and family and even friends we had not yet met.

Thank you, sincerely, for expressing an interest in our adventure.  We are honored to have been able to share it with all of you!

We hope to visit the five remaining National Parks located in the “lower 48” sometime during 2018.  As we do, we will post our adventures here.

Then, maybe, we might even get to the last ten National Parks outside of the “lower 48” which are found in Alaska, American Samoa, Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands.

So, until then, farewell for now.

ttyl,

K&S

 

So, how much?

We’ve met many new people during the course of this great RV Adventure of ours and often get questions like:

“OK, so how much does it cost to do a trip like this?”; “Doesn’t the fuel cost a fortune?”; “Aren’t campgrounds expensive?”.

This post is intended to shed a little light on these questions while providing you with some ballpark estimates for future planning should you ever decide to do something similar.

Since there are so many different RVs and at such different price points, we will skip that part of the equation.  Its easy enough to learn about that on your own by attending a local RV Show, visiting a local RV dealership, checking out RVTrader.com or just browsing the web.  Lets just leave this up to you, your choice based on personal preferences and budgets.

We opted for a gas-powered RV.  It was 34′ long and required 12′ 10″ of clearance.  That should give you an idea of its size since that impacts fuel consumption.

Also, who knows how far your particular travel plans will take you.  We drove about 16,000 miles during our seven month adventure throughout the US while visiting 35 States and 37 National Parks.

With that in mind, our approximate costs were:

Campground Fees = $4,200.00

Fuel = $5,500.00

RV Maintenance = $700.00  (Important to note that our RV was under warranty and Tiffin Motorhomes provides an unparalleled warranty that covered almost everything we needed addressed throughout the entire adventure.)

National Park Entry Fees = $80.00  (Important to note that these fees could add up rapidly at $25 to $30 per park.  Take advantage of the National Parks Annual or Senior Passes that allow two people entry to all the National Parks for a full year.  More info is available at https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm)

Activity Fees = $1,800 (Remember to budget for expenses such as canoe rentals on Jackson Lake while visiting Grand Tetons or bike rentals to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and taking the ferry out to Alcatraz Island for a tour while in San Francisco or riding the High Roller ferris wheel while in Las Vegas or taking an Open Bus Tour through Hollywood or touring Graceland to learn more about Elvis Presley while traveling through Memphis or, well, you get the idea.  Once you spend the time to travel to these places, you want to experience all that it has to offer.  You will need to set aside some funds to do this.)

Of course, there are many other expenses to consider (RV storage costs while you are not using it, RV insurance, extended warranties, tow vehicle equipment, satellite subscriptions for the four TVs in your RV, wifi hotspot equipment and data plans to stay connected to the internet and your family and friends, mail forwarding services, trip planning software, camping club memberships) if you decided to jump into RVing.  However, the expenses listed above are the big hitters.

So, excluding the cost of the RV we chose, Siobhan and I had the incredible opportunity to experience a steady diet of one beautiful place after another for seven full months while traveling throughout this amazing country for roughly $12,000.

Not bad for a bucket-list item, especially when you compare that with the cost of a one-week cruise or a 10-day active vacation for two!

Hope this is helpful.

ttys,

K&S

 

Favorites

Those of you that followed our blog throughout the year may remember a couple of topics that we intended to treat as recurring posts; craft brews and favorite quotes.

As it turned out,  we never really got around to keeping up with that idea on either topic.  So, here we are sharing our two favorite quotes and our list of favorite craft brews.

Regarding the craft brews, we did here from a few of you about this blog “feature”.  It truly made our day when a couple of our friends let us know they were headed to Moab, UT for a vacation and planned to check out one of our favorite craft brews, Dead Horse Amber Ale, at the Moab Brewery based on one of our posts!

Here are a few more brews to check out if you are ever in the area.  We are certain we could have a great trip around the country just trying out local craft beers 🍻!

Each beer appearing in this list will be awarded from one (🍺) to five (🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺) pints, depending on our tastebuds.

August 29, 2017 – Gran Marais, MN – 🍺🍺🍺 Boundary Waters Brunette brewed by Voyaguer Brewing Company. Their Boundary Water’s Brunette is a wild rice brown ale. We liked it enough to grab a growler-to-go for our stay in Grand Portage, MN.

August 17, 2017 – Custer, SD – 🍺🍺🍺🍺 Armstrong Ale brewed at the Buglin’ Bull bar. Characterized by its boldness and rich-redish color, just like it’s namesake, General George Armstrong Custer, this malty extra-special bitter ale has a bold sweetness with a full body. We really wanted to get a growler to go but they were all out of growlers. Too bad because we both loved this brew!

August 14, 2017 – Moose, WY – 🍺🍺🍺🍺 Teton Amber brewed by Grand Tetons Brewing Company located in Victor, ID. Teton Amber is a full bodied, American-style amber with a rich copper color which comes from the roasted Crystal and Munich malts. They use Idaho Cascade and Super Galena hops to achieve the unique, fresh flavor and smooth finish that is long and complex on the palate. Originally brewed in 1989, this is their longest standing Signature beer. After all these years it’s still a brewery and regional favorite. A true beer drinker’s delight. We had to give this one four pints because we had that many, more than once, while staying at our absolutely favorite National Park.

August 7, 2017 – Bozeman, MT – 🍺🍺🍺 Mountain Nectar and🍺🍺🍺 Sticke Shift are both brewed by MAP Brewing Company. Siobhan really enjoyed the Mountain Nectar, a seasonally available brew while I preferred the Sticke Shift which is available year-round. Sticke Shift, a German Alt Amber and Gold Medal winner at the 2016 NABA, has an even balance between hops and malt, which results in a very clean and drinkable beer.

August 6, 2017 – Kalispell, MT – 🍺🍺🍺 Rope Tow Pale Ale by by Kalispell Brewing Company. This crisp, copper-colored ale delivers a pleasing balance of malt from 2-Row, Munich and Crystal paired with a good dose of floral, citrus hop aroma from Cascade and Kent Golding. A nice sunny day on the roof-top patio in downtown Kalispell, a wonderful place to taste!

July 26, 2017- Port Townsend, WA – 🍺🍺🍺 Men’s Room Red brewed by Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, WA. This red ale is amber in color with a light hop aroma and toasty malt finish. It is brewed for The Men’s Room Radio Show 99.9 KISW The Rock of Seattle. We enjoyed a few while sitting outside on a second-floor deck overlooking Port Townsend Bay on the Puget Sound.

July 22, 2017 – Eugene, OR – 🍺🍺🍺 Dead Guy Ale brewed by Rogue Ales. An ale inspired by the style of a German Maibock, brewed using their proprietary Pacman yeast, Dead Guy Ale is deep honey in color with a malty aroma, rich hearty flavor and a well balanced finish.

July 21, 2017 – Eugene, OR – 🍺🍺🍺🍺 Hombre brewed by Hop Valley Brewing in Eugene, OR at the Eugene Tasting Room. This was one of those Amber Ale brews available on the Tap List at that time. Who knows if it is or will be available again? We certainly enjoyed a few on the patio on a sunny Saturday afternoon in downtown Eugene.

June 1, 2017 – Moab, Utah – 🍺🍺🍺🍺 Dead Horse Amber Ale brewed by Moab Brewery in Moab, UT. This beer is a traditional English mild ale with a well-balanced malt-to-hop ratio. This one is worth coming back for again and again.

May 29, 2017 🍺🍺🍺 – Montrose, CO – Fat Tire Ale brewed by New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. This Belgian-style ale contains English floral hops, subtle malt sweetness and spicy, fruity notes from Belgian yeast create a balanced yet magical combination.

May 5, 2017 🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺 – Downtown San Diego – Cali Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale, brewed by Mother Earth Brew Co. located in Vista, CA. This brew is golden to pale in color, medium body, low bitterness and a thick white head. Ahhh….so good!

ttys,

K&S

 

 

 

Sold!

There she goes.  That’s right, Our Way is sold.  We closed the deal yesterday.

Right from the start, 15 months ago,  we decided to buy an RV, travel around the country, see as many of the National Parks as we could on an extended but concentrated adventure and sell it upon our return.  At that time, it was just our plan and we really didn’t know how it would turn out.  We just hoped that we could get it all accomplished by the end of 2017.

Well, now we do know.  We were able to sell Our Way within our timeframe after having an adventure of a lifetime.  We checked off a significant item on our bucket lists and are in the process of closing this chapter of our lives (stay tuned, there will be one or two more posts after this one).

We were happy to meet the buyers yesterday, a very excited couple with dreams of doing something similar to what we have just completed.  Seeing this really nice couple being as excited as we were about their upcoming adventure made it easier for us to move on to our next adventure….more on that in an upcoming post.

ttys,

K&S

 

Stronger Together

Many people have asked us, “how did you live in such a small space for such a long time”?

It’s a fair question.  We’ve given it much thought and want to share our insights with you here.

First, we were not used to living in a small space and we certainly were not accustomed to spending every moment of every day together.  Prior to our RV Adventure, we did spend a fair amount of time together yet also spent a significant amount of time independently.  We both have individual interests that we pursue with our own friends and our exercise routines and the ability to just hang out in our own private space at home.

Once we moved into the RV, that was history.

Lets face it, we were now sharing a total of 272 square feet (thats right, 8′ x 34′, that’s it!), living on the road, spending our time (mostly) in places that we had never been before and where we rarely new anyone else.  It was “just the two of us’ as the song goes.

Yes, it did take some getting used to.  It wasn’t easy to start with.  It did take a while to get used to the smaller space available to each of us and the lack of our own individual space.  Once we adjusted to that and got to know how to “get out of each others way”, everything got progressively easier.  We certainly learned a lot about ourselves and each other.

So, if you intend to do anything like this, here are some things to keep in mind:

Prerequisite – you certainly better be best friends at the start of the adventure!

Recognize that you each have some growing and adjusting and compromising to do and its going to take some time to perfect those changes.  Its a dance…

Practice your listening skills – you will need them.  As my Dad once told me way back when I was young (oh, so long ago), “Listen twice as much as you talk – that’s why God gave you two ears and only one mouth”.  Maintaining a positive living environment, especially in this small space, requires way more listening.

Develop your sensing skills, too.  We all know that understanding your partner’s needs and desires often times has more to do with what is not said…this is magnified by the small space.  At least, it was for us.  Tune in to those often subtle hints.

Remember, it’s all about the journey, not the destination! (Refer to previous post on this topic – valuable lesson for those that have not yet learned this one.)

Lastly, stay busy.  We had so many incredible adventures packed into this journey.  Sure, we spent a ton of time in the RV but that was mostly driving or sleeping.  Other than that, we were on the go, outside, exploring the amazing destinations on our itinerary.  We ran ourselves so ragged trying to see everything we could in each area we visited that we actually had to force ourselves to “take a rest day” every now and again.

All that said, we agree that our relationship is stronger now than ever before and we wouldn’t trade this time together for anything.

Stronger together, undoubtedly!

We learned how to successfully coexist in only 272 square feet with only “the stuff” that we could bring with us or rent for the day along the way.  We had so much fun and continuous adventure, its going to be interesting to experience how we adapt to reentry into the “normal lifestyle” of our pre-RV-Adventure lives…maybe.

ttys,

K&S