This is Joy (our van) and the gang - Em, Jay, and Hoggle!

This is Joy (our van) and the gang -
Em, Jay, and Hoggle!

We purchased a ’97 Ford E150 High-top Conversion Van for $3,000 to go on a road trip adventure around the country. We decided to name her Joy since she represents an 
opportunity to bring more joy into our lives by escaping the rat race for awhile. Here is a photo with our new ride when we first bought her!

The rest of the blog posts will be in reverse chronological order. Hope you enjoy reading about our retrofit process and van adventure! We welcome and encourage comments and questions. Thanks for reading!

Grandma Becky makes a mean breakfast. She had the bacon cooking before we were even up.  After filling up on that, eggs, fruit, and her homemade strawberry and guava jelly (she’s very crafty), we headed out to a day full of activities she planned for us. 

Devil’s Millhopper Sinkhole

Devil's Millhopper Sinkhole-4The first was Devil’s Millhopper Sinkhole. Florida is filled with sinkholes. Sometimes they swallow up houses. But this one has been around for quite a while.  It’s deep, hundreds of feet. This time of year it is full of this cool blue water. The water comes from runoff and eventually seeps into Florida’s aquifer.  There is a stairway all the way down.  I don’t think you can swim in this one, but we’ve heard of others where divers go to the bottom of these things. 

Jon at Devil's Millhopper-1This was the first time we had a chance to really try out Hoggle’s backpack. It worked really well. He didn’t fuss at all for the 30 minute or so trip up and down the sinkhole. 

Grandma Becky stayed at the top this time, understandably not wanting to tackle all the stairs. She told us as kids she would take cardboard and slide down the hole to the bottom. But now it’s roped off and there are threatening signs to not go off-path. 

 

 

 

 

Paynes Prairie – La Chua trail

Grandma Becky on La Chua trail at Paynes Prarie-2

Paynes Prairie was once a lake until a sinkhole opened up and drained the whole thing. Now it’s a big prairie and swamp.

On the north side of the prairie is the La Chua trail.  It’s a half mile paved/boardwalk trail to a sink, and then a grass walkway out into the prairie.  The trail is known for its gators, which we saw a few.  There are a lot of birds, something called a pig frog (which fooled us into thinking we were hearing the wild boar that roam there), and some wild horses, even a couple of pretty newborn babies. The biggest gator we had ever seen out in the wild was just laying on the side of the trail. It’s almost as if the gators are tame.

Jon with Alligators on Paynes Prarie-1We also used Hoggle’s pack on this trail too in order to sneak him in as dogs were not allowed. Even the gators were fooled by our Hoggle subterfuge backpack. Good thing too, as I’m sure Hoggle would’ve make a tasty snack. The backpack hid him pretty well, which is good to know. And we devised an intricate system of standing in strategic positions to hide him from the numerous trail guide volunteers out that day.

Molly with Wild Horses on Paynes Prarie-1 Wiiiillllllllllddddddddd horses couldn’t drag me aaaawaaaayy! … I will ride them, someday.

Butterfly Forest

Molly with Butterflys at Butterfly Forrest-12After some lunch Grandma Becky took us over to the butterfly rainforest on the University of Florida’s campus. Here is where Hoggle’s luck with his backpack ran out. They wanted us to check (store) the large external frame backpack before they let us into the forest (not realizing that there was a wiener stowaway tucked inside). So Jay made an excuse for needing to get some things out of the pack first and gracefully ducked outside. Grandma graciously volunteered to look after Hoggle for us on a bench outside while we looked at the Butterflies.  

There were a ton of really cool butterflies. Jay got some good pictures of some of them. They must have liked Em a lot because a few of them landed on her. We’ve heard that this means she is pure of heart and spirit…  Jay must not be because the only one that landed on him was on his old muddy boot.

Butterfly Forrest-5Butterfly Forrest-17Butterfly Forrest-14


After all that touring we went back home and Grandma still had the energy to quickly whip up a lasagna dinner to feed us and Em’s aunt, uncle, and cousins.

Molly with the Stones-2

Other Compelling News

Jay has found himself to also be a traveling computer technician.  He’s set-up/fixed/optimized his mom’s, Em’s parents, and Grandma Becky’s computers.  It’s the least we can do when people are being such wonderful hosts to us! 

 

DSC_6838

DSC_6840We made the two hour drive down to Jacksonville to meet Em’s Aunt Reba for lunch. We were glad to be able to catch up with her before she started her trek back to her new house in Marianna! It was awesome seeing her and getting the scoop on her goings on.

We then made the drive out to Alachua, FL to stay with Em’s Grandma who she hadn’t seen since 2007.  She made us a great chicken dinner which reminded Jay of his grandma’s meals. She also made some home made strawberry jelly that we get to take with us, which was really delicious.  For dessert, a classic – banana pudding.

We got to see pictures of Grandma’s trips to Hong Kong and Brazil. She’s a world traveler and has more energy at the age of 76 than we do! We can only hope to have something close to her health and vitality at that age.

Grandma has several new adventures on the horizon. She wants to sell her townhouses and go travel on a rail trip across the United States, go on a two-week road trip in order to get to a port to go on an Alaskan cruise, and also to take a river cruise down the Blue Danube. We hope she is able seize the day and do all of that, and we also hope one of her trips takes her out our way to CO to visit sometime soon!


Joy Updates

So far, after the accident with leaving the solar panel unplugged, it has had no problem keeping up with the fridge.  It’s getting warm and sunny during the last few days in Savannah and now Florida.  The reflectix keeps it pretty cool in the van.  As much as a metal box in the full sunlight can.  No more mechanical problems either. The A/C is working to, so old rust valves that Jay used to isolate the rear A/C evaporator unit are holding pressure. 

Hoggle Update

This just in, Hoggle misses his old couches and is angry with us for getting rid of them. He seeks out other people’s couches everywhere we go and looks at us like, “Guys…where the hell are my couches?!?! You HAD to know that I loved those couches!” Hopefully he will adjust to life without couches. It’s going to be tough.

Today we went on a small tour of Savannah.  It began with Jay getting up early to see Joey and Kaddie off to work.  They were leaving on their lake vacation at lunch and we wanted to spend time with them.  Joey was upset that I didn’t form the topping on his toaster strudel in the shape of a heart.  Next time, I’ll remember.

Wormsloe-3Em slept a little later and when she got up we went to Wormsloe plantation.  Jay went to college in Savannah, Armstrong Atlantic, but this was one of the many places you would never go when you live in Savannah, except maybe on a school field trip.

The plantation is famous for it’s long oak-lined driveway.  It should also be famous for high entrance fees – $10 a person.  We said screw that and just took some pictures from the parking lot.  It was pretty enough there.  And there’s plenty of things to see around Savannah without paying extra.  Em was so irritated by their fees that she considered throwing her banana peel out the window, just to teach them a lesson – but she restrained herself..

After Wormsloe, we met Joey and Kaddie for lunch to get some Pho, a favorite of Jay’s and Joey’s, among others, during their days at Georgia Tech.  While this Pho may have not been quite as good a deal as it is on Buford Hwy in Atlanta, it was tasty none the less.

Bonaventure Cemetery-27Before we met John and Andrea for dinner we went to another old cemetery, Bonaventure.  This Savannah landmark is known for a lot of things like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Like Magnolia Cemetery, Bonaventure was founded around 1850, but has a few older residents in it, including some of the original colonists that came over with George Oglethorpe. The Telfairs also reside here.

Bonaventure Cemetery-10Bonaventure is similar to Magnolia in feel, but features a little more statue work.  We couldn’t decide which one we like better.  They are both really cool places.

IMG_20140410_191037438_HDRJohn and Andrea picked us up with their big dog Otis and we went down to River Street for dinner. Andrea was sweet enough to find a nice restaurant we could bring our dogs to down there.  She had to hear Hoggle go nuts after we left him in his crate the previous night when we went to get some Mexican food.

Because of the long wait we had some time to walk around on River Street.  Both John and Andrea (and later Otis when he spilled Andrea’s) got some famous Bloody Mary’s.  And unlike most places in the states, you can walk around with booze in hand on the street.  Jay remembers walking around the mall in Savannah drinking beer during his college days.

Tubby’s on River Street served us some fried food.  Good southern fried food.  Asparagus, calamari, hush puppies, and crap [edit: crab] cakes.  They didn’t always keep up with their sauces, but we made sure we had what we needed.  They then drove us back to the house where we went to bed kind of early to wake up the next morning and leave.

armstrong atlantic and joy-3Which we did.  But we stopped briefly at Armstrong Atlantic on the way out, for old times sake.

Joy fixed and ready to go-1Joy is back up and running!  We were hoping the van might be ready for us by Monday evening, but Mr. Yearwood did manage to get it fixed for us by Tuesday evening (woohoo!), so we started packing it up that night and this morning, and now we are in Savannah, GA. But it’s all good because the delay gave us some bonus quality time with Em’s parents.  The new heavier duty springs really lifted Joy’s rear end and she is looking better than ever.  And the repair cost about half of what we were quotes in Knoxville because of Randy’s awesome mechanic!

Sparta, GA-1We drove from Em’s parents’ house through the back roads. Our route took us down a dirt road of middle Georgia, through a classic small southern town featuring the courthouse/clock tower in the middle, with a small park and old country stores.  We might not see that for a while now.  Here is a picture out the van window of Sparta’s town center. 

We then got to our destination in Savannah, GA to Jay’s friends. We had a nice dinner with them. Jay slammed the restaurant door in some poor girl’s face by mistake. We met their new loud and very independent and helpful new roommate Rosalina (an automatic vacuum cleaner robot) named after the housekeeper from the Goonies. And of course a took a couple of essential group photos.

Savannah gang - Kaddie, Joey, Molly, Hoggle, Jon, John, Anndrea-2

Savannah gang - Kaddie, Joey, Molly, Hoggle, Jon, John, Anndrea-5

Kitty Lovin’ in the Mornin’

Molly playing with the kitty-1_thumb[1]Molly playing with the kitty-2_thumb[1]

Anna and Jonathon have four cats.  One of them is shaped like a shotgun.

Mt Pleasant

Pitt Street Bridge-2_thumbOn the way to the beach on Sullivan Island, we stopped at the Pitt Street Bridge walk in Mt Pleasant, which is just over the Cooper River from Charleston.  It was a blustery walk, especially so for April.

A local fisherman, who Anna was able to identify by accent alone as a true local, was able to pull himself away from his beer and take a picture of all of us!  Anna knew everything about Charleston and was a great guide :)

Pitt Street Bridge-4_thumb         Pitt Street Bridge Boat_thumb

Fort Moultrie

Molly and Anna in jail_thumb[1]On the eastern tip of Sullivan Island, guarding the western edge of the entrance to Charleston Harbor is Fort Moultrie.  We stopped here quickly to see the fort and the beach.  The fort dates back to revolutionary war times, where a victory against the British here helped galvanize the colonists against our imperial oppressors.  The fort in those days was made of Palmetto logs, which helped repel the British canon balls. They worked so well they eventually gave name to South Carolina as the Palmetto state (credit Wikipedia).  See Anna and I trapped in fort jail in the adjoining photo.

Hoggle mostly enjoyed touring the early 20th century battery and trying to eat dead jellyfishes on the nearby beachfront.  He was much irritated when we tugged him away.

Hoggle eating a Jelly Fish_thumb[1]

Molly and Anna on beach, Ft Molutrie-1_thumb[1]

Magnolia Cemetery

Magnolia cemetery was beautiful, eerie, and full of history. It looked like a great place to shoot a scary movie. The gloomy weather added to the atmosphere. These statues below kind of reminded me of the Weeping Angels on Doctor Who.

Magnolia Cemetery-23_thumbMagnolia Cemetery-24_thumb

The cemetery was first built in 1850 and features a number of Confederate grave stones – a feature any old deep south cemetery probably has. The inscription on the Sons of Charleston Confederate Monument highlights the difficulty with Southern history:

In Memory
of the sons of Charleston
who
fell around her walls;
who
sleep on many battlefields
in
Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania,
Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia,
Louisiana, Mississippi, and
North Carolina
and who
lie in distant graves around
their Northern prisons.
— • —
These died for their State

Magnolia Cemetery-30_thumb[6]The inscriptions for the civil war memorials Jay has toured in the North have a slightly different feel.  This along with the newly placed confederate flags display that the South’s relationship with its history is troubled.  On one hand its understandable to be proud of your history and mourn those lost, especially family members.  On the other hand there is such thing as being on the wrong side of history; slavery in this case.

The confederate flag is a symbol of both these things. One is the history of the south, not unlike the Don’t Tread on Me flag (before it was hijacked by the modern-day tea party) is a symbol of the revolutionary war, and is worthy of remembrance.  It’s also a symbol of the deplorable slave state the confederacy was.  And in Magnolia Cemetery it seems to be a symbol of the former.  Though it is possible that some of these flags are placed by those who are still holding on to the past and would love the south to “rise again”, representing the latter whether they intend to or not.  It’s not a simple issue. The feelings run deep and the opinions on the issue are probably equal in number to the graves in this cemetery.

Magnolia Cemetery-25_thumb[2]Magnolia Cemetery-6_thumb[4]

 

Magnolia Cemetery-22_thumbHoggle seemed to really love the cemetery. I think he kind of saw all the tombstones as his own personal obstacle course for us to play chase with him. I imagine folks wouldn’t appreciate it much if we started taking our dog to cemeteries to play chase though. We’ve decided that Hoggle is a wonder dachshund too, even if he isn’t THE wonder dachshund. Or maybe there can be more than one THE wonder dachshund. Buffy THE Vampire Slayer did end up having more than one slayer!

And so ended our weekend in Charleston! Thank you to our gracious hostess and host for an awesome time!

Angel Oak

Molly Jon and Anna at Angel Oak-4_thumb[3]After sleeping in we decided to head out to see one of the highly acclaimed Charleston landmarks, a 400-500 year Southern Live Oak known as the Angel Oak Tree. It features the classic long large limbs that sprout from a short trunk, only to quickly return to the ground, and then snake around in the dirt and sprout back up again.  Truly a unique tree and like nothing we’d seen before.

Molly Jon and Anna at Angel Oak-2_thumb[3]

Despite its reputation as being a must see, I have to say we found it to be an underwhelming experience. While the tree itself was very beautiful, the folks in charge had posted ugly signs all around it, big wooden posts and metal wires holding the branches of the tree up off the ground in unnatural positions, and security personnel who kept yelling at us to keep our dog outside of the invisible but apparently highly essential “dog boundary.” After being admonished twice for trespassing the invisible boundary and then sent to stand in shame about 20 meters behind the tree with the other similarly perplexed and punished dog-toting boundary-crossing criminals – we were over it.

We ended up finding a number of other beautiful oak specimens around Charleston.  They may have been smaller, but more enjoyable because of a better atmosphere and less crowds.

Hampton Park

After the Angel Oak trip, we decided to pick up some lunch and head over to Hampton Park. Beautiful landscaping, more live oak trees, and flowers. We enjoyed our lunch and took a leisurely stroll. It was the perfect afternoon, well…aside from the biting gnats.  They looked a lot like the dreaded sand gnats famous in Savannah.

Molly and Anna under the oaks in Hampton Park-1_thumb[2]Walking in Hampton Park-1_thumb[3]Walking in Hampton Park - molly and hoggle and anna_thumb[1]

The Battery and White Point Park

No trip to Charleston is complete without a trip to the battery! A waterfront stroll, and another pretty park. Saw some great oaks to rival the Angel. And lots of folks setting up hammocks to enjoy the beautiful spring day.   A lot of hundred year old homes line the waterfront, filled with the folks who I think may have had a closer connection to Jay Gatsby than the rest of us.

Molly and Anna at the Battery_thumb[2]Molly and Hoggle in Battery_thumb[2]White Point Park - Battery-5_thumb[3]

Going to Xiao Bao Biscuit Restaurant

hanging out at Xia Bao Biscuit , Molly Jon Anna Jonathon (1)_thumbBack at the house, some more folks gathered for this evening’s affair – a cool Vietnamese fusion restaurant/bar. And one of the best parts – we got to meet one of our blog followers, Kathy, that we had never met before! We felt kind of like disappointments given that we didn’t actually have the van to show to her, but it was awesome to get to meet someone supporting our adventure. She makes a mean chocolate cake!

The restaurant, Xiao Bao Biscuit had great food and a unique very fun ambience. Not to mention – delicious ginger beer.  We ordered some Okonomiyaki, which Jay really enjoyed years ago in Hiroshima, Japan (where it is famous).  He didn’t think it was quite as good at this place, but I enjoyed it. Boy oh boy, I’m craving some more ginger beer now. They told me how to make it like theirs – I’m going to have to give it a try.

Welcome to South CarolinaWell, the van is still at the shop so we decided to try to maintain our itinerary as much as possible by taking our car (since we still have it here at my parents’ place) down to Charleston for the weekend to visit my longtime friend Anna. It was her boyfriend Jonathan Miller’s birthday and they had a fun-filled weekend of activities planned!

King Street Dinner and Bar

When we arrived it was time to head out for an evening of dinner and drinking in the hip and trendy downtown Charleston, S.C. We had some delicious sushi at a place called O-ku with their friends Ed, Michael, and Taylor. Then we toured a few of the many bars in the area. Ginger beer seems to be popular around those part – which is awesome because I love that stuff.

Sammy the Wonder Dachshund

Jonathan Miller, Anna’s boyfriend, is the author of a series of children’s books that center around the various adventures of a wiener dog named Sammy. All of his illustrations are created with the ingenious use of layered construction paper. He really does amazing work and his books are very well known around Charleston. When we finish our trip and have jobs again, we plan to commission an illustration of Hoggle from him for our wall! He’s made amazing ones of their cats – they look exactly like them.

Charleston Magazine

Anna Evans is a talented editor of the popular Charleston Magazine and is in charge of a major section of their monthly issue. She has been working there since college and has amassed a wealth of knowledge about her city. It made her an amazing tour guide during our visit!

**More to follow about Days 2 and 3 in Charleston soon!

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