There have been a lot of things that I swore I would never do. I have done them all.🤷♀️Now, I’m doing it again. Once I retired, I had zero plans to ever go back to work. Writing and blogging, sure; those things bring me joy. A structured, on-a time-clock job? No way. I’ve had enough of living my life around someone else’s schedule, not being able to travel, etc. However, almost three years ago, Kenn landed the perfect retirement job; it’s an “intermittent” position with extremely flexible hours. (Intermittent means that it’s part-time, but has a cap on the number of days and hours that can be worked over the length of the position.) His boss didn’t bat an eye when Kenn told him that he would be gone for the month of September last year. Kenn usually works two or three days a week and spends most of his time driving heavy equipment; he loves it. I told him that if I could find something similar, I might give it a go. He talked to one of the other supervisors and one thing led to another.
I started my new “intermittent” position as a Biological Science Aid for an entomologist last week. As of this writing I’ve only worked three days but I have enjoyed it. Getting out of the house and getting a lot of exercise has meant that I’ve slept better at night, LOL. Of course, working outside in the Georgia heat and humidity has been kind of rough. I coat myself in sun screen and wear an SPF-50 over shirt for added protection. Basically, the clothes I would normally wear when hiking are the clothes that I now wear to the “office”.
My new supervisor was on leave the week I started so one of the other full-time employees showed me the ropes. She greeted me with a stack of supplies including a master key that will get me into virtually any office and a key to my very own work truck.😮 I was not expecting that! However, since I already drive a big honkin’ truck, driving one at work is no big deal.
One of the new skills I’ve learned is how to drive a John Deere Gator. I feel all kinds of fancy driving across the fields in a utility vehicle.😂
Unlike Kenn, I don’t see myself working this position for more than a year or so. In the meantime, it’s flexible enough that I can live my own life and we can still travel all while I bring in a little extra money. I may be turning 60 in a few months, but I’m not to old to try/learn new things!
Once we realized that Mammoth Cave National Park was only about an hour and a half from Louisville, we added it to our list of things to see during our trip. The day after the wedding festivities ended we packed up the camper and headed down the road. It felt great to arrive at the campground at noon instead of spending all day in the truck. Then I remembered that we had changed time zones so it was actually only 11am. Even better!
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of traveling as retirees. We frequently forget that we can adjust our schedule as needed – and on the fly. So, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I rocked the retirement thing that day. I knew as soon as we got the camper set up Kenn would be asking “So, what do you want to do today?” so I headed him off at the pass. I told him “I don’t want to do anything today. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m tired of being in the truck. I just want to sit outside and read.” Not to mention that we had spent three days people-ing. As much as I enjoyed meeting people and visiting with everyone, this introvert’s batteries were completely drained. I needed to recharge. And I did. All day. Kenn got in the truck and went out exploring later in the day. I stayed at the camper with my Kindle app. It was heaven.
The next day, well rested, we headed to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Now, there are two things to know about Mammoth Cave. (Well, more than two but I’m only going to list my top two here.)
Unlike most national parks, there is no entry fee at Mammoth Cave. According to one of the rangers on our tour, this was a part of the deal when the land was bought up by the state before being given to the federal government: the families who had lived on the land would never have to pay a fee to go “home”.
Mammoth Cave is named for the large size of the cave system; there are no mammoth fossils. (Fossil loving me was greatly disappointed, LOL.)
While there may be no fee to enter the park, visitors interested in touring the caves must purchase tickets (which do cost money) for ranger-led tours. There are a number of tours to chose from; we went with the Domes & Dripstones tour. We arrived at the park an hour or two ahead of our tour just to get the lay of the land. This gave us a chance to locate the stamp for our National Parks passport book and to buy the required souvenirs; in this case, a Christmas ornament. Note to self: check all gift shops before making a purchase. We bought an ornament in the first shop and I found one I liked better in the third shop which meant backtracking to the first shop to make a return. Not really a big deal but it could have been avoided with a little extra care on my part.
We decided it would be a good idea to pick up a couple of bottles of water to take with us on the tour. (When my throat gets dry, I start coughing and my throat gets dry a lot during allergy season. It’s not COVID people, it’s just allergies!) While Kenn was in line to get water, I noticed that the shop also sold soft pretzels. Since I never like to pass up the opportunity for a soft pretzel, I asked him to get one. Y’all, this was the biggest soft pretzel I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t even complain about the $8 price once I saw it.
By the time we finished sharing pretzelsaurus (including scraping off most of the salt) the rest of the tour group had arrived at the shelter. Ranger B arrived to give us the required safety briefing, we loaded up onto two buses, and were on our way. Ranger Alex regaled us with information about the park on the way to our destination. One interesting tidbit: Although the park is forested, there are no old-growth trees since it was predominately farmland for many years. Planting trees was one of the functions performed by the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
The tour began in a sinkhole where Ranger B reminded us not to touch the rocks. Due to the fact that the caves do not receive rain, wind, etc. they don’t want the oils and lotions on our hands to damage the delicate ecosystem. Admittedly, I did touch the rocks a couple of times. In my defense, for once, it wasn’t a matter of me being contrary. (Shocking, I know.) In one spot it was just reflex to put up a hand to keep from bumping my head on a rock. (I had already banged my head when getting on the bus, LOL.) The second time I was navigating a section with a low ceiling and narrow path; my foot slipped on the damp floor and it was either touch the rock with my hand to catch my balance or touch it with my face. I chose the least painful of the two.)
The group stopped at two or three areas while the rangers gave us more information regarding the early days of the park. And, as always on a cave tour, there was a point where the lights were turned off just to show what true dark actually looks like. I have the utmost respect for spelunkers, especially the ones who did their scouting without modern equipment; I wouldn’t want to be exploring a cave system with nothing better than oil lamps.😬
In my opinion, the most spectacular scenery was in an optional section near the end of the tour.
The original entrance to the caves is still in use but we just missed a tour group and weren’t interested in waiting around for the next one so we just snapped a couple of pictures and went on our way.
White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, has wiped out 90% of the bat population of Mammoth Caves. One phase of fighting this disease is that, at the end of each tour, all participants must walk across bio-mats soaked with disinfectant to remove any contamination possibly transported out of the caves on footwear.
All in all, a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. The next time we find ourselves in the area, we’ll probably stop in and take a different tour.
During all of our previous trips, we have kept interstate travel to a minimum. The idea of towing in high-speed, bumper-to-bumper travel didn’t appeal to either of us. All of that changed with our recent trip; with as many miles as we were traveling, interstate was frequently the simplest way to get from Point A to Point B. Of course, interstate travel also meant that I didn’t do much driving on this time around.
This trip was a learning experience for us in many ways and one of the things we were learning was just how far we could comfortably travel in a day. The most we traveled in one day was 377 miles; we started the morning in Blountsville, Tennessee and stopped for the night in Williamsport, Maryland. Biggest lesson learned: 377 miles in one day is bit much. Going forward, somewhere between 250 and 300 miles a day will be our goal.
Most of the 377 miles mentioned above was spent crossing Virginia on I-81. If you are ever traveling the same route, I have two things to say: 1) Bless your heart and 2) I’m sorry. Virginia is a beautiful state and I would love to spend some time there NOT on the interstate. What makes this stretch so bad? First, it’s the trucks; there are semis everywhere. Second are the rest areas. Or maybe I should say, the lack of rest areas. Many of the rest areas in Virginia are Cars Only, which rules out anyone towing a travel trailer. The rest areas that do allow trucks (and therefore RVs/travel trailers) tend to be overflowing with semis. It was often easier to just keep driving than to find somewhere to stop and stretch our legs (or get away from the trucks) for a bit.
Much to our surprise, the day we “only” drove 282 miles on mostly non-interstate roads was the day that really took the wind out of our sails. We started the morning in Unadilla, New York and stopped for the night in Lake Winnipesauki, New Hampshire. I was so looking forward to a day without being on the interstate but driving the back roads of Vermont with road work around every other curve was not a relaxing experience at all, LOL.
Another thing we learned is how much the condition of the roads impacts your travel. As native Georgians, most of our trips are in the Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina area and its a running joke with us how bad the roads are in South Carolina. Seriously, as soon as you cross the border into South Carolina, the roads become absolute garbage. (Unless you’re near Clemson University; those roads are pristine.🙄) However, the roads in the south aren’t exposed to the same weather extremes as those in the northern states. Not only do the northern roads take a beating from the weather but there is a shortened season for repairing that damage so there was roadwork absolutely everywhere. (One of our neighbors at a KOA in Maine used to pave roads in the state for a living and he said that they were required to have all road surface work completed by October 1st or October 15th depending on the location.) Also, after a day of taking a beating from the roads sometimes you go to bed and still feel like you’re being bounced around, LOL.
I try to think of each trip as an opportunity to learn. Our trip out west in 2019 taught us to take the weather at our destination into consideration when planning a trip. (Some areas actually have winter weather that lasts more than a couple of weeks. Who knew?😂) This trip we learned not to over-estimate how far we can comfortably travel in a day and also that other things such as road conditions or other unexpected delays may impact our plans and that that’s okay. We haven’t quite made the mental transition from traveling while working, which meant that we had a limited amount of time available before we had to be back at work, to traveling while retired which means that our schedule can be adjusted as needed. We’re working on it.
Jack Hill State Park is located in Reidsville in southeast Georgia; it’s just far enough south that the red clay soil is changing over to a more sandy variety. We have family in nearby Statesboro and rather than make an overnight trip with a stay in a hotel so I could attend a baby shower, I talked Kenn into turning the trip into a long weekend so we’d have more time with family. Thus our stay at Jack Hill. (I didn’t exactly have to twist Kenn’s arm; he’s usually up for a trip, especially after our travels were so limited during 2020.)
When Kenn told me that he’d made reservations at Jack Hill, the name didn’t ring a bell with me. True, I don’t have the names of all of the Georgia state parks memorized but, until 2020, the park was known as Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park. According to the park website, the name was changed to honor “the late Georgia senator who did much for the community.”
I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at the park and I have to say… I absolutely loved it. Jack Hill is a small but beautiful state park. I haven’t been able to find any information on the age of the park but it felt fairly new. Older parks, no matter how well maintained, show their age in various ways. Sometimes it just the presence of buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 40s, or just the inevitable wear and tear that develops over time. Jack Hill has none of that. The park office, the cottages, the bath house (or comfort station if you prefer), even the individual campsites all had a new look and feel.
Jack Hill has a 12 acre lake just a stone’s throw from the campground. If you like golf, there is also an 18 hole course. (Neither of us gives a whit about golf so we didn’t bother to check out the course.) In our efforts to find out the age of the park, we discovered that the 2020 Foot Golf Championship was held at Jack Hill State Park. 🤔 What? You’ve never heard of foot golf? Neither had we. It turns out that foot golf is a cross between soccer and golf in which players kick soccer balls into 21-inch cups. Who knew? I think I’ll stick to hiking and kayaking.
Jack Hill is an 30-minute drive from both Statesboro and Metter which made it easy to meet up with family. Not only is the park pretty but so is the area around it; our daily drives took us through a landscape dotted with farms, small towns, and old architecture – all of which I love. Every time we get together with the southern branch of our family, we all say we need to get together more often. Here’s hoping that from this point forward, we actually will – and Kenn and I won’t hesitate to stay at Jack Hill again.
You can put your hands down, it’s not that kind of stickup. 😀 Maybe I should say this is a stick “on”. If you’ve spent any time at beaches, campgrounds, or trailheads you’ve encountered vehicles whose rear was covered in decals and bumper stickers espousing the things that are important to the vehicle owner(s) and commemorating the locations they’ve visited. Our Highlander, Bonnie, was well on her way to becoming one of those vehicles. (Now that Bonnie has a home with my daughter-in-law, she is sticker free. Bonnie, that is, not my daughter-in-law. Although, technically my daughter-in-law is also sticker free.)
Kenn is a minimalist when it comes his Tacoma, Paco. Paco has no stickers or bumper stickers. Now that I have Ruby the Big Red Truck, I seem to be the same. So far, Ruby has no decals or bumper stickers and I don’t see this changing any time soon. (She is sporting an N7 license plate on the front in support of Mass Effect, my favorite video game series.) However, the same can’t be said for our travel trailers. We have added stickers for many of the various campgrounds we’ve visited to each of them. One of biggest decisions is where to put the decals. On our Micro Lite the decals are going around the window on the slide. I still have several decals I need to apply. I guess I need to set up a reminder to get out and get it done some morning before the good old Georgia heat and humidity kicks in.
A few years ago I gave Kenn one of the US maps many RVers use to show the states they’ve traveled to. We never got around to putting it on our RPOD which I guess worked out for the best since we would have had to purchase another one for our Micro Lite. However, we need to put it in place before we head out on our road trip this Fall. Of course, that means we have to decide where we’re going to put it which is where we stumble.
Do you have the state map? If so, where did you place it?
Tallulah Gorge State Park is located in Rabun County in extreme northeast Georgia. Tallulah Gorge is one of the parks that we have made many day trips to through the years but September 2020 was our first time camping there. We stayed in Site 36 which I dubbed “the worst site in the park.” This site itself was fine; it was a corner site with access from two directions. So, what made it so bad? The tiny clump of trees at the corner which meant that no matter which direction you chose, the travel trailer would have to be at a ninety degree angle to the tow vehicle in order to back into the site. We’ve had a travel trailer for several years now but backing into a site can still be a test of the strength of our marriage; this one stressed both of us. However, in spite of our stress levels – and the guy who decided he had to drive through our site while we were backing in (seriously, dude?) – the process went easier than we expected. The campground host came over after we got set up and told us that we had done a good job; I really appreciated that.
There are lots of things to do at Tallulah Gorge and they all involve hiking/walking. There is a suspension bridge, a rim trail with several scenic overlooks and the gorge floor. Gorge floor hikes require a free permit that must be picked up from the interpretive center on the day of your hike; permits are limited to 100 per day. Also, those planning to hike the gorge must wear proper footwear, meaning no Crocs or flip flops. I highly recommend the gorge hike if you get the opportunity.
We did the gorge hike with our boys when they were young. Close to the end of the hike we had to work our way across the river so we could climb out the other side. Our oldest son still insists that we almost let him “wash out to sea”. He was actually safely tucked away in a small pool. It was his younger brother who was headed over a small falls. We snagged him before he went over but life was exciting for a few minutes, LOL. Ah, memories! On another note, I wouldn’t trade being a “boy mom” for anything.
One thing to remember when visiting Tallulah Gorge or any outdoor location in Georgia is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Our visit was in September which is when the brutal temperatures of August are behind us and things begin to cool off. However, “cool” is a relative term. Temps in the 80s (Fahrenheit) with a humidity level of 60-80% is brutal for those of us who live here much less those who aren’t used to such high humidity.
Note: For some reason, WordPress decided not to let me caption my photos. (insert eye roll here) The first photo is, obviously, Tallulah Falls. The second one is from underneath the suspension bridge. Why? Just because I like geometry of the supports.
I didn’t get to travel much when I was young so Kenn and I wanted to make sure our boys had a chance to see a little more of the world. We couldn’t afford to take them on cruises or jet off to international locations but we could at least get them out of the house and introduce them to the sort of places that we love. (They would probably say we took them hiking far too many times, LOL.)
Time and money management were always important on our trips so I planned everything down to the nth degree. I researched the locations we were planning to visit, booked the hotel rooms/cabins, and planned out our activities for each day. Looking back, I may have occasionally over-planned, but it was a labor of love.
Keeping up with details, planning, and organizing are just a part of me and have served me well both at home and at work. However, I think the last four years of my day job sort of burned me out. I enjoyed what I did but it required an extreme amount of organization; my days were ruled by a schedule that was usually booked at least a week in advance. Now that I’m retired, I’m enjoying having flexible days without having to account for every minute of my time.
Somehow, without our even discussing it, Kenn came to my rescue because he is now the one doing most of the planning for our trips. We decide together where we are planning to go and when and he handles making the reservations. I’m still the money manager but I’m happy not having to deal with all of the details.
We cancelled our road trip plans last year due to the pandemic but this year we are fully vaccinated and ready to hit the road. We’ll be taking a trip up the east coast this fall. This will be our first time traveling long distances with our travel trailer so I’m sure we’ll be learning many lessons along the way which, of course, I’ll share here. 🙂 As proof of his new role as Chief Trip Organizer, we already have reservations at a campground in Maine. Go, Kenn!
I have now officially been retired for two years. Kenn retired a few months after I did so he has been retired for about a year and a half. I can honestly say that the decision to retire was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I told Kenn about my plans to retire he looked at me and said in all seriousness, “I don’t think you’re going to be very good at being retired.” Really? My response was “I am going to be awesome at being retired.” I am pleased to announce that I was correct. I have indeed been awesome at being retired.
Awesomeness aside, retirement does come with some adjustments. We were used to getting paid every two weeks. We now get paid once a month so that took some adjusting, but it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. Full-time retirement was a bit too much for Kenn so he got a part-time job with the local branch of the US Department of Agriculture. It’s pretty much the perfect retirement job. He works two or three days a week and gets to drive tractors and other heavy equipment. (Insert Tim Allen Home Improvement noises here.) The best thing about his job is that it’s flexible. If we want to hit the road for a few weeks with our travel trailer, we can.
This past weekend, I had an epiphany. Our normal method of travel has been to get in the car/truck and get where we need to go with little to no dawdling/side trips. When we were working this was a necessity; we needed to reach our destination to make the most of the time that we had. However, now that we’re retired, we still travel the same way. What’s up with that? We talk about side trips but don’t take them. Why not? We just haven’t changed that long ingrained mindset yet. Last weekend, we had a short visit with our grandson and then hit the road on Monday to take him back home to South Carolina. The trip followed our “normal” routine; the only stops were brief ones for snacks or restroom breaks. (Honestly, being able to help out with our grandson is one of the main reasons I wanted to retire. I was a happy Grammie to be able to make this trip and make things easier for our kids.) We stayed in SC overnight and returned home on Tuesday.
We got up Tuesday morning, checked out of the hotel, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed home. Instead of our usual stop at a convenience store or truck stop, Kenn pulled in at a small nursery and we spent a pleasant 30-45 minutes looking at plants and visiting with the cat and the elderly man relaxing in rocking chairs on the porch. When we got back in the truck (with several new plants) I was absolutely blown away at how relaxing that simple stop was. We made another stop in one of the small towns we always say we’re going to visit. None of the antique-y stores were open since they are only open on weekends but we did a little sightseeing and agreed to make a return visit sometime soon. Hats off to Kenn for breaking us out of our routine and helping us start what I hope will become our “new normal’. I’m looking forward to seeing what this new way of thinking about travel brings.