Day Trip to Philly, Organ Concert, and Travel to Midlothian

Just a short post to catch ya’ll up. 

We headed out from Bull Run on our 3 hour trip to Philadelphia for the Saint Saëns concert about 1100 on Saturday morning…having routed ourselves around the really, really boring drive up 95 (and coincidentally around the 8 bucks worth of tolls we would have paid on that route)…anyway, we arrived at the Comfort Inn near the airport about 1500. After a quick nap, shower, and getting dressed we headed off for dinner. Our original destination was a Ted’s around the corner from the concert hall but it turned out to be closed so after parking in the garage across the street from the Kimmel Center we headed to a nearby Fado’s Irish Pub instead. Fado’s is a chain but it’s sort of upscale. We had 2 beers each…started with a Guinness and a Smithwicks and then had a Newcastle Brown Ale each. Along with that we had some Jalapeño Cream Cheese Puffs and then some mini burgers…topping it off with a great brownie with ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce and whipped cream. After that we headed across to the concert hall for the concert.

The first half of the concert was the Prokofiev Violin Concerto #2 and the Casella Symphonic Fragments from La donna serpente…neither of which did a thing for us. They were well played but didn’t turn us on much. The faster parts of the Casella were pretty decent but the slower movements didn’t seem to really go anywhere…and the Prolofiev didn’t have much of a melody to follow, it just seemed like disjointed playing. After intermission we had the Saint Saëns and it was pretty wonderful. After the lack of upper register in Charleston a week back this organ was truly well voiced…and both the soloist and the conductor believed in giving the organ the leading role in the symphony (it is named Organ after all)…so they really let it rip. The conductor kept the tempo in the finale down a bit slower and more majestic (we prefer it that way) and I’m pretty sure that (as Scotty used to say)…he gave it all she’s got at the end. Truly magnificent performance.

Here’s a nice shot of the organ pipes. The soloist sits right below the large set of pipes you can see and there are another two smaller sets to his right and left behind the seats you can see under the pipes. Pretty impressive organ loft we said…and played to perfection as well.

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After the concert we headed home but got stuck up in the aftermath of both a Phillies game and the Frozen Four NCAA Hockey Championship…Connie got pretty aggravated by the traffic but we kept at it and eventually got through the backup and to the hotel where we went to sleep pretty quickly.

Sunday morning we got up, hit a church right close to the hotel for Mass then headed home, arriving about 1300 after a couple of errand stops on the way.

Monday we got up, packed and hitched and hit the road about 1100 for the 130 mile trip down to Midlothian to see their human kids…we’re parked in site 103 at Pocahontas State Park Campground. We had to stop by the dump station on the way in for about an hour and flush our tanks several times trying to get whatever was stuck to the side and screwing up our level indicators loose…we think we accomplished that. One thing we forgot was the Pocahontas has no sewer connections at the sites…so we’ll be walking 100 yards to the bathhouse to take showers. We left BAT hitched up just in case we end up having to go and dump partway through our stay…Connie’s sort of bummed about that. Next time we come here we’ll have to see if we can find a full hookup campground instead. Here’s a shot of our site this morning…taken in the rain.

Pocahontas Site 103

Today we headed over to Bryan and Jenn’s…she’s off on spring break with her mom and he’s at work but we’re doing laundry and Connie is working while we wait. They’re coming over for dinner tomorrow and we’ll have a nice meal with them.

That’s about it…hopefully we’ll figure out some fun stuff to do at least a couple of days while we are here…Connie has more work to do and Neil needs to do a drop off and pick up from the storage location near here as well.


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Hanging Out in Northern VA

Well, I gotta admit we haven’t done much since our arrival here in Centerville VA. After our second travel day from Selma NC to Centerville VA on Saturday…we got parked and setup in site 124 here at Bull Run Regional Park. Sunday we had dinner with some old work buddies of Neil’s and hashed out all the problems of the DoD over beer and Mexican food at Uncle Julio’s Mexican Cafe.

Monday Connie worked all day and it was raining so Neil just stayed home. Wednesday was errand day…we visited Cassaday and Company and met with our financial advisor Nick, picked up some stuff we needed and that was about it. Thursday was a nice day so while Connie was off getting hair and nails done Neil went on a bike ride. Tomorrow we’re heading into downtown DC to pick up some Euros and British Pounds for our upcoming Ireland/Northern Ireland trip…we’ll get more cash when we get to each country from ATMs but didn’t want to hit the ground with no cash money at all.

Saturday we’re off to Philadelphia for a Saint Saëns concert with our return on Sunday afternoon…then Monday we’re off to Midlothian to see Bryan for a couple of weeks. He’s got lots of packages we ordered as well as some mail for us to pickup…and has offered to let us be his college students and let us do laundry…score!!

Here’s a shot of our site #124. It’s a little uneven but we got leveled so life is good. No satellite TV though…the trees are in the way and even though the satellite controller says we have visibility the DirectTV receiver says we have no satellites. We up the the batwing antenna but don’t have real good signals on it either as we are pretty far out from the antennas being in the western suburbs…so our channel selection is limited but we’re handling that fine.


Along the interwebs this week Neil found a couple of pictures he thought ya’ll might enjoy. First up is some fireman who have jury rigged something that just clearly isn’t going to work…I can guarantee that the train wheels won’t roll up and over the hose they have crossing the tracks.


He also found this picture of an owl…it’s hard to tell whether the owl is actually the same color as the tree or whether somebody photoshopped it. Heck, it’s actually hard to determine that it’s actually an owl and not just some sort of projection on the tree. He’s looked at it several times and can’t make up his mind whether it’s real or not.

There are a couple of owls that are primarily gray in color…but nope that are this specific shade and pattern…and you can’t see either eyes or ears…so he’s really not sure either way. What do you think?

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That’s about it…not really doing much this week…we mostly came here for Connie to visit the college and meet students and to park the house while we drove up to Philadelphia for the concert on Saturday.



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Travel Day to Selma NC

Had a really great travel day today. Got up at 0600 and had coffee and some cereal for breakfast then started getting ready to move at 0800. We hitched, stowed, retracted, dumped and were on the road by bat 0920. A short trip of about 5 miles to I-26 W for 33 miles and then onto 95 N for 225 miles into NC then off the highway at exit 98. A short 3/4 mile later we were at RVacation RV Park a few minutes before 1500. This is a popular spot as we saw at least six rigs pull in between our arrival and 1520 when we were safely parked in our site H3. After checking in we pulled maybe 70 yards around the dumpster and then straight into the site. Nice full hookup 50 amp amp site…wide and easy peazy to pull into. Will be a nice exit in the morning.
We didn’t get hot and sweaty today…so we decided no shower was necessary…so all we hooked up was power. No water or sewer, didn’t unhitch since it’s just overnight and just put the jacks down enough to keep the house from rocking.
It’s a bit windy but the satellite TV locked right on and the park wifi is good so we are good.
Dinner. Will either be crab ravioli (hey, it’s Lent for another coupla weeks) or we might look for a place to get a bite. We are sitting here having a Murphy’s Stout.
Tomorrow it’s another 260 mile day straight up 95. We exit at Quantico Marine Base and head west across Prince William County to Bull Run Regional park where we will be for 9 days.
CYAs. Here’s a shot of our site…we would definitely stay here again.


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More Hikes


I gotta tell you…all these years the adults have been married and today we discovered that they are Trend Setters! Woot!. Details about that a bit later.

In the meantime…we went on nice hikes on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Yesterday we headed off to Mount Pleasant which is just north and east of Charleston across the Cooper River and went for a nice hike of about 2 miles. It was in this ritzy neighborhood but they have a nice hiking trail around the outside of the neighborhood between the houses and the marsh so we got some pretty good views as we headed around. We were able to get a few decent pictures and then stopped at an Irish Pub in the commons area of the neighborhood for lunch. We had some pot roast sliders that were excellent and a French Dip that was decent but not excellent. Split those between the two adults and had a beer each and called it lunch. After that we headed home and had a shower and dinner. 

Along the way we got a nice picture of the marsh, a shot of one of the smaller houses that bordered the marsh…the largest ones were probably 3 times this size, a white heron out in the marsh, and a Wood Thrush in one of the backyards.


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We didn’t have the long bird lens on this hike so Neil had to crop the shots down a bunch to get decent sized pictures…sorry about that.

Today we again got up early and after Connie took care of 2 student crises we left the house about 1100 or so for today’s two planned hikes. We got to the visitor center at the Francis Marion National Forest and quickly determined that the I’on Swamp hike that was our original plan was not in the cards…the young fella at the visitor center is an avid hiker and he told us that the ‘skeeters and noseeums were pretty fierce down in the swamp and recommended against it. He instead recommended a hike up north a little bit that was his favorite hike in the Forest, it was along a creek leading out towards the barrier islands. So we headed up there and had a nice 2.5 mile hike…it was an out and back and it was getting pretty warm but it was a pretty pleasant hike. Unfortunately the wildlife was completely unseen on this hike. We spotted a cormorant in the creek a couple hundred yards from us but he was backlit and by the time we got to where it was it wasn’t any more. We heard a couple of hawks of some sort but couldn’t find either of them. We heard a couple of dozen of what we have named Taunty Birds…you know the type, they’re small, make a lot of noise and flit around the foliage so you can’t really see them…they’re noise is just them taunting you.

The only almost wildlife we spotted today was this spiderweb at the last bench we stopped in for a water break right before we got back to the car.

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You can see the spider’s body just above the center of the web.

That was the sum total of today’s sightings…pretty much nuttin’.

We headed home, had a shower, and ran down to the Texas Roadhouse down the road a couple miles for dinner. Beef Tips for Connie and a grilled pork chop for Neil…we had enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow and also saved a couple of their really tasty rolls and some cinnamon butter for breakfast. We’ll load those up with some bacon and they’ll make a right tasty meal.

Tomorrow Connie has to work all day since she’s goofed up mostly this week. Neil is headed out to the commissary for groceries and to get some fuel for BAT…then he’ll pack up the outside stuff for our travels on Friday and Saturday. After that we’ve got a Saint Saëns concert tomorrow night.

We head out of here Friday with an overnight stop in Selma, NC then continue on Saturday to Bull Run Campground in Centerville, VA for 10 days.

Oh yeah, guess I better tell you about that trend setter thing. If you take a look at it’s an article from the Wall Street Journal titled “Best seat in the house? The bar.” We’ve been eating at the bar for years because you can eat cheaper and still get food from the same kitchen, it’s a more low key and informal way to eat, and you meet a better class of people at the bar anyway. We have almost always chosen to eat at the bar even if there are seats in the restaurant available. Turns out that according to that article this is the latest trend in the restaurant biz…Neil and Connie were amazed that all these years they had been on the bleeding edge of gourmet eating and just didn’t know it. Woot!


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Fun Stuff in Charleston SC

After our dinner at Bowen’s Island Restaurant Friday we pretty much just stayed home on Saturday since it was raining. Sunday we got up early for 0730 Mass at the local parish and then after lunch headed off to visit the restoration site of the CSS Hunley.

The Hunley was the submarine that conducted the first successful attack on an enemy warship on Feb 17, 1864…but never returned from it’s mission. Here’s the story in case you’re not familiar with it.

The Hunley was a submarine 44 feet long, 3 feet wide and 5 feet tall…it was built in Mobile AL in 1862 and sent via rail to Charleston where General Beauregard was trying to break the Union blockade of Charleston. The Hunley sank 3 times during development…killing it’s crew of 8 each time. Undeterred, Charles Dixon convinced the general to let him try once more and with an all volunteer crew set out on the evening of Feb 17 to attack the USS Housatonic which was the largest and most successful ironclad in the Union Navy. The Hunley approached with 150 feet before being seen and rammed their torpedo (on a spar sticking 16 feet out the front of the submarine) into the aft starboard quarter of the Housatonic just ahead of her screw. The torpedo had 135 pounds of black powder which…unfortunately…set off the main magazine of the target as it was located directly inboard of the warhead detonation point. The resulting explosion tore the entire stern of the Housatonic off and she sank in 3 minutes.

The Hunley failed to return to port which was to the Northwest of the point where the Housatonic on the north end of the Isle of Palms at Breeches Inlet. Several contemporary reports indicated that signals were seen from the Hunley after the blast but the submarine was not seen again.

After years of searching, in 1995 an investigation team from the National Underwater and Maritime Association (NUMA) led by the author Clive Cussler (of Dirk Pitt novels fame) found the Hunley about 1000 feet southeast of where the Housatonic sank (i.e., further to seaward and the opposite direction from where the Hunley was intending to return to port.

The Hunley was salvaged in 2000 and has been essentially in a large tank of water at the former Charleston Naval shipyard ever since undergoing preservation. It’s been drained and some preliminary investigation done including recovery of the crew’s remains for burial but is still in a fresh water bath working on cleaning the accretion deposits off of the hull. The fresh water will be replaced by a sodium hydroxide solution for probably a year or so to soften the final layers of accretion. At that point it will be carefully scraped clean and restoration will begin. The entire process is expected to take another 5 to 7 years…at which point the restored vessel will go on display.

So…what happened that caused the Hunley to sink? Truth is…nobody knows. Although there were some contemporary reports of the Hunley signaling with a blue lantern as expected so that signal fires could be lit to guide it back to port there are precious few facts. Here’s what is known.

  • It was located 1000 feet southeast of the attack point, directly away from it’s intended port
  • it was mostly filled with sand when salvaged
  • the crew was all at their individual station and not gathered under the hatch as if they were trying to escape
  • the torpedo 135 pound warhead was designed to explode about 16 feet from the Hunley’s hull…which was riveted steel. It should have survived this explosion
  • the actual explosion was more on the order of 5,000 pounds of black powder
  • despite previous thinking that the torpedo was designed to separate from the spar and be detonated via a rope after the Hunley backed away from the target…examination of the recovered spar showed that the torpedo was permanently bolted to the spar; hence it was designed to either explode on impact or was triggered via rope on impact.

So…from an engineering standpoint Neil thinks it is unlikely that they survived the original blast and that the contemporary reports were incorrect. Most likely…the crew was disabled by the blast which resulted in them remaining at their stations. The blast likely also opened some of the seams in the hull…otherwise it would not have been full of sand as the hatches were intact and sealed. The ship then gradually sank to the bottom…the tide in the area at the time would have carried it towards the southeast to where it was found. After coming to rest on the bottom the hull filled with water and the crew perished. Within 20 years or so the hull was covered by sand. This sand caused an anaerobic environment which helped preserve the hull. Salvage efforts immediately after the Civil War were concentrated at the attack point and between it and the end of the Isle of Palms to the northwest of the attack point…which meant that they were looking in the wrong place. As I said…this is just conjecture…but it fits what few facts are known. The only sticking point was the contemporary reports…but since there was more than one of those from both Union and Confederate sides…that tends to give the reports a little more credence. Who knows…it’s just one of those mysteries of the sea.

The ship was essentially found by accident…most of the NUMA crew had lost interest and headed home including Mr. Cussler but the skeleton crew on the search boat just happened to be southeast of the Housatonic wreck site…got a hit on the magnetometer…and dove down 28 feet, digging out the sand and found the Hunley.

Anyway…we did get a few pictures. Here’s a photo of the Hunley shortly after it was raised.

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Here’s a shot of Connie inside a life size cross section of the hull cranking away on the main engine crankshaft (the Hunley was human powered).

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Finally…the only shot we could get of the Hunley itself. Sorry about the poor quality but we couldn’t get inside the glass partition. The end to the right of the picture is the stern.

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With that we headed home.

Monday we headed off for a hike at the Old Santee Canal State Park. The Santee Canal connected the Cooper River (which leads down to Charleston on the coast) with the other river systems in South Carolina and allowed river commerce to the interior of the state. We had a nice 2.5 mile or so hike and did get a few nice shots along the way.

Here’s the canal remains.

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Just across the way a bit is the Cooper River.

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Along with some white lily like flowers we spotted and a couple of turtles sunning themselves on logs.

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We also spotted our lone bird sighting of the day…this is a Great Horned Owl which is roosting on an abandoned Osprey nest.

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After our hike we came home and had a shower then went off for dinner at High Cotton…our other favorite restaurant in Charleston. The food was superb as usual…grilled Tilefish for Connie and Steak with Crab Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Shrimp for Neil. We had a couple of pints of locally brewed stout to go with it an all was wonderful. After dinner we did get a couple of shots of downtown Charleston by request of Neil’s baby sister.

The Four Corners of Law…both a panorama and a shot of the church on the diagonal corner.

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A shot of a gaslight lamp (Connie got this out the car window while Neil walked up and got the shots above).

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And finally a couple of panoramas of The Battery area. One of Battery Park itself and the other looking out over the water. You can just barely see Fort Sumter where the first shots of the war were fired…it’s towards the left side of the water panorama right at the left end of the tree line you can see…the trees are actually on the far shore a couple miles past the fort.

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With that we headed home and called it a day.

Tomorrow and Wednesday are more hikes, Thursday is pack/grocery day and Friday we’re off on a 2 day transit up to the DC area.


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Dinner at One of our Favorite Low Country Dives

Well, after our arrival on Tuesday we survived a couple of rainstorms, Connie did some work, Neil went on a couple bike rides, and Neil repaired our water supply hose. On that the connection on both sides of our water filter setup started leaking; he tried replacing the hose washers but that didn’t help much so he ended up buying a male and female replacement fitting and after installing those the leaks stopped. With all that going on…pretty soon it was Friday and since it’s Lent we needed seafood so where else would we go but to Bowen’s Island Restaurant. I gotta tell ya’…Guy Fieri would really love this place…although he would have loved the old one better as it was much more dive-y. Back in the day…Bowens was a little concrete block building with about 300 square feet of non kitchen area and an outside uncovered porch for customers to eat. You pretty much ate what they caught that day…it was all fish, crab, oysters or shrimp…and it was pretty much all fried. They had soda and beer in the can, paper boxes for your food and precious little of anything remotely approaching atmosphere. However…the food was really, really good…and was pretty cheap to boot. 

Fast forward 35 years after our first visit and about 10 since our last visit and a lot has changed. First off…the old building burned down a year or two ago and has been rebuilt. Unfortunately for the charm that the former dive had…it’s 2 stories with a large bar and enough seating for probably 300 people between up and downstairs. There’s also a line since it sort of got famous in the tourist rags and hence it isn’t just a locals only joint any more. They’ve also seriously upped the menu selections…before they had oysters fried but now they also serve steamed (well, more boiled than steamed actually) along with a bunch of other dishes including non seafood.

Nonetheless…we got in line and Connie got us a couple of Palmetto Ambers (a local brew—SC is the Palmetto state so that’s where the name comes from)…and ordered a  tray of steamed oysters and a fried oyster dinner. Connie sat out on the porch and held a table while Neil ran downstairs to get the oysters. Envision a lunch tray like you used to get in the cafeteria in 5th g race piled 6 inches high and you would be about right. These were not shucked like they would be in a higher class joint but came with a dish towel to hold them and an oyster knife to shuck them yourself. There must have been 2 dozen or so total for $14.95…worth it but we were glad we didn’t pay the extra 7 bucks for all you can eat. About halfway through the tray our fried oyster dinner showed up and we split that as well (well, the oysters and fries anyway…Neil ate the hushpuppies and Connie the cole slaw).

Verdict…the steamers were OK but not outstanding…if they had been shucked they would have gotten a better grade but since neither of the adults are highly proficient oyster shuckers they took longer to eat than they should have. The fried ones were outstanding; although they were more of a light tempura like batter rather than the cornmeal that we fry them in over on the Gulf Coast. The beer was cold and tasty albeit a little hoppy.

We also met some new friends…Jason and Kristin and their young son Brody. He’s in the Air Force stationed here and they are transferring shortly to Oklahoma. They were at the table next to us on the veranda and we chatted while we ate about life in the Navy, AF, and Japan. Here’s a picture of the family we took as they were leaving.


Connie had taken a picture of them before but since he was smiling in this one they quickly had us grab another one for them. They then headed off followed shortly by us and we made our way back to the house.

After that it was TV until bedtime. Tonight we’re headed off to the Summerville SC Elks Lodge for beer and bar snacks for dinner. Tomorrow we’re off to see the salvage wrack of the CSS Hunley…which made the first successful submarine attack on an enemy warship in an attempt to break the naval blockade during the Civil War. Then we have a couple of hikes scheduled for this week as well as dinner at High Cotton…our second favorite real restaurant in this area (the favorite one closed some years back when Robert the owner/chef retired).

Then…Friday we head off on a 2 day travel segment to the Northern Virginia area. We were going to stop and see our friend Stu and his wife…but turns out they’re out of town this weekend for a race up in the DC area so we’ll just catch them on the next road trip.


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Travel Day to Charleston SC

Tuesday morning we got up at 0600 and after coffee and breakfast got up and started getting ready to leave about 0800. As per usual, Connie did the inside and Neil the outside. He didn’t have much to stow since we only put the lights underneath the house but he got them rolled up and re-stowed them and our outside chairs in the basement. After that he got our holding tanks dumped and the hoses and such stored away.

Meanwhile Connie got the inside finished up and about 0920 or so we went through our pre-underway checklist, got hitched up and ready to go. We left Pelican Roost almost exactly on schedule a few minutes before 1000.

We stopped for lunch at an El Cheap truck stop in Georgia…had some pretty good fried chicken. Once we were at the South Carolina welcome station about 2 hours from our original destination (the Joint Base Charleston Fam Camp) we called them to see about openings…this was our plan so that if they were full we could just go directly to the KOA in Mount Pleasant. Turned out that the Fam Camp was full…they had some overflow available but that’s water/electric only so we told them we would call them back and decided to just go to the KOA. Called the KOA and they’re booked solid for the next 3 weekends for some reason (despite it being early in the season and we didn’t figure their would be any issue with site availability). 

We regrouped a little bit and did a little more campground searching in the Charleston area…called 2 more places and both were likewise full. At this point…Neil said that maybe we should just move our SC stop to Columbia instead of Charleston and while we were considering that Connie decided to check and see if there were any other military campgrounds in the area. Turns out that the Naval Weapons Station at Goose Creek about 20 or so miles up the Cooper River from the old Navy Base had a campground…a quick phone call got us 10 days in site 24.

We reprogrammed our GPS and headed for Goose Creek…on arrival at the base we slightly misinterpreted the directions notes that Neil grabbed off of the campground website and wandered around the housing area on the base for a few minutes before finally figuring out where the campground sites were. We drove directly in and headed for site 24…only to be intercepted by the camp host who wanted to know who we were and why we were here. We told him that the reservation folks told us to just drive in and go direct to the site…but apparently they forgot to get the word out to him. Nonetheless…he quickly finished up the paperwork for our registration and we got backed in just fine. Here’s a shot of our setup.

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As you can see; we’ve got a nice concrete patio/driveway area and although it’s not a concrete pad there are concrete strips for the wheels. We had to back through a mucky area right at the road intersection about one BAT length out of the frame to the right (it’s a really long site) but that was no worries. Since it was pretty cool and looking like it wanted to rain we skipped most of the outside setup until today. Neil’s headed out for a bike ride in a bit but he’s going to put up the flag and signs before he head out.

What a nice little find…no noise, woods behind us…way better than the Air Force Base where we would have planes landing throughout the day and night. We’re really glad we happened across this one. Had some burgers and leftover potatoes and veggies for dinner and slept late this morning. 

Connie’s off to get her nails done and Neil is doing outside setup and bike riding. Late this afternoon we’re off to the SMART Muster at the fairgrounds nearby…turns out it’s less than 2 miles from where they used to live…I’ll go by and grab a picture of the first non apartment they lived in way back in the late 70s. After that it’s the SMART dinner and entertainment then we’ll see about fun stuff and work for Connie maybe some tomorrow…probably the latter since it’s going to be cool but Friday and over the weekend are supposed to be warm and sunny so we may save the fun stuff until then.


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