It works! We had our first swim tonight.
We left Miller’s Ferry reluctantly and with some concern about the weather. Yet another storm system was barrelling through the south with the threat of tornados, high winds and other misery. The predictions for the north were much worse. After the time we had spent lingering in southern Alabama I was looking at the calendar with no small amount of concern. We had to start making time north if we were to get home before our health insurance ran out but this storm system looked even worse than the last one. So we decided to move as far north as we could and still be outside the severe weather zone. We also decided to stay three nights which would allow the system to pass us and clear further north.
We arrived in Forkland Alabama Army Corp of Engineer campground to a nice surprise. Each of these campgrounds has a flavour to it. We had been to Forkland before but the flavour was nondescript woods. This time it was glorious spring and the wildflowers were in full bloom. As if that was not pleasant enough, a full on eruption of migrating songbirds meant the campground was positively thronged with red headed woodpeckers, blue birds, finches and warblers. And third, a storm of delightful whimsical art had hit the place. All over, stumps of wrecked trees had been transformed into birds and animals and mushrooms. The whimsy was positive, friendly and lovely. And so we settled in to a wonderful spacious campsite with our own dock not far from the washroom/shower/tornado shelter.
There was one downside to our arrival. The campground host warned us that they had recently had a huge number of rattlesnakes appear. From his description, my guess is they have a wintering place nearby and they had awoken and spread around the campsite to warm and then disperse. Garter snakes do this back home so we have a brief spell of little snakes everywhere. I had done my best to train Misty that little garter snakes were terrible and she needed to stay away from them. I didn’t know if the training would transfer to the rattlers if she encountered one nor if she would recall training from the year before. We were careful never to let her out of the trailer without first inspecting the site and if we went out at night we always had a flashlight and checked where we walked. We did not see a single snake.
The storm system rolled in as forecast on our second day and we were once again watching the radar and checking the warnings. We seemed to have a sweet spot and storms raged north and west of us. As the system got closer a tornado watch was announced and the campground host stopped in to make sure we knew the washroom had a central reinforced room that doubled as a tornado shelter. At one point we were under a severe thunderstorm warning but I could see on the radar we were only in it because of the placement of the county border and the storm was going to miss us so we stayed in the trailer. We heard a lot of thunder and lightning to the north as it rolled by but that was all. We were safe. I was very concerned about the huge mess to the north, especially Nebraska and Iowa where most of the states were in a flood warning but we were fine in.
We spent our days again taking long walks, and many training walks with our Misty. The campground was actually crowded with lots of little kids and so we had plenty of opportunity to practice sitting nicely while children pet you and not barking your head off like an idiot and yanking the leash every which way when passing another dog. Misty did very well. We had one comical episode. A woman there had three long hair “teacup” chihuahuas who got loose and charged at Misty. Her reaction was hysterically funny. She froze and then slowly put her head down while these three little dogs, each one just the size of her head, barked furiously and acted like they were going to attack her. She was just bemused. Her reaction seemed to be “What are you?” I was very proud of her. Everyone around was laughing and laughing as the owner ran around trying to scoop them up while they dodged her and kept up their empty threats against Misty. Eventually we just walked away while she continued to ineffectively call, try to scoop, and get frustrated. People, train your dogs! I couldn’t help but think how one of those dogs would have been a nice meal for a rattlesnake.
After the third day amid alarming flood reports coming out of Nebraska, we left our site and headed off to our next stop, Lake Grenada area of Mississippi.
What could be more exciting than the special privilege of seeing wild dolphins busy fishing? There is a large family (pod) of dolphins that goes up and down the coast around the estuary of Ochlockonee river. Dolphins are delightful and curious critters. I have been informed this pod is bottle nose dolphins.
The dolphins have an interesting way to hunt fish. They drive the fish up onto the shore where the water is shallow and then race top speed through the water. They then do an incredibly fast 180 degree turn and swim back through the area they stirred up. I’m not sure what they were eating. If they are hunting mullet they use a different technique and the mullet can be seen jumping in the air trying to escape. We saw no mullet today so the dolphins were after something else.Their speed and power is just amazing.
One of the littlest dolphins came very close trying to get a good look at us. Misty spotted this and leaped in the water trying to chase the dolphin.
Misty kept going until we called her back. She was a fair way out. She had a funny look on her face as she swam back the first time as if she was a bit surprised how far out she was. She had no trouble swimming back. She went out after the dolphins twice. Both times she was responding to the little one coming very close to shore. The other dolphins did not seem a bit bothered by this. The big ones just kept right on fishing.
Misty came back to shore each time excited and happy with her encounter with dolphins. Can dogs hear dolphins? Can dolphins hear dogs? The little dolphin was definitely curious.
It is a very special privilege to get to watch wild dolphins doing dolphin things and for a dog to have a chance to swim with a dolphin. Today was very special,
We made another decision to enjoy the journey instead of racing to get to the destination so we decided our next stop would be Miller’s Ferry Campground, yet another Army Corps of Engineers campground near Camden, Alabama. It was only 107 miles closer to our eventual destination but it is such a nice place we had to stop. We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up slow and easy, and drove at a nice easy pace on quiet back country roads. We made a stop at a lumber yard to pick up some replacement wood planks for parking our trailer on if the ground is soggy. (The ones we had were splitting.) Plus I needed to get some new connectors for that overheating melted connection.
Everyone I know in the RVing community has been robbed or cheated at least once. So far we have been very lucky and it hasn’t happened to us. We have been told criminals tend to target Canadians because they know we are unlikely to be carrying guns. I credit the alert dogs we always have with us. We nearly got robbed again and again, the dog saved the day. We were in the back of the lumber yard chatting with the nice young man who was cutting our 12 foot board for us and I had foolishly left the truck window down half way with my purse in plain view. Suddenly, I heard our Misty giving her alarm bark. It’s a very impressive big booming “Rowr! Rowr! Rowr!” Though she’s gentle as a kitten she has a set of big white teeth many alligators would be intimidated by. I looked up just in time to see a man pulling his arm, hand empty, out of the truck and then watching him run off as if a demon were chasing him. Misty was really angry and she wouldn’t calm down as quickly as she usual does. I gave her the command that all was well now, praised her up for the alert, and she finally put her hackles down and laid down again in back. I wonder if that apparent would be purse thief got himself a bad start when this 70 pound black dog rose up from where she had been sleeping in the back to give her big booming alert bark. I hope he soiled himself! He sure pissed our Misty off. Misty was madder at him than she was at those herons.
We arrived at Miller’s Creek just after 1:00pm and then settled in to a lovely spot. We even had our own private dock! My first job was fixing that loose connection. Again, birds, open space, wonderful scenery, flowing stream. This park is very popular and so even for winter it was about one quarter full. We have several lovely long walks. The sun was shining all day. The temperatures were not quite at T shirt level but a sweet pleasure.We stayed two nights. They had a nice laundry for only $1/load so we got caught up on that chore. We met a nice couple who showed off their fancy Bigfoot trailer and shared lots of advice to consider for our next travel trailer.
We found we were back in Spanish moss territory. We also found a whole lot of bamboo. Bamboo may not be native to North American but it has to be the nicest grass there is.
Overall it was a wonderful stay and I’m so glad we decided to travel only 107 miles that stage of our trip to take the time to enjoy Miller’s Creek. Life is too short to miss such wonderful pleasures. That stop for the sheer pleasure of it completed, we continued on our way towards the Florida PanHandle.
On our way out from Minden to Collinsville we saw a gas station selling propane tank refills. I don’t mean the exchanges, I mean refilling your tank for you. $12 for our tank. We got an empty tank refilled and we topped up the gas tank. About 300 kilometres later, we pulled into a store to stock up on a few things. Just as we turned into the parking lot there was a terrific clunk and a funny noise and we stopped in a safe place and got out. One of our sway bars had come loose and was dragging on the ground. We had not put the pin that holds the lifter part of the sway bar set up back in properly so it fell out. To get to our propane tank you have to lift the tank away from the pin. We had not even lost the pin. It was still hanging there. Some angel was watching over us that day. If that had gone on the main highway in interstate traffic with big rigs all around at 55mph who knows what might have happened. As it was we were going about 10mph and just slowing to park. Lesson learned. An inspection showed us no real damage. Thank you to that guardian angel.
Twiltley Branch Campground was yet another exceptionally lovely Army Corp of Engineer’s campground. Because my husband is an American citizen, he has a senior Passport America and so the fee for us was a mere $9.50(US) a night. This was a much larger facility that Caney Lake. It had three different campground sections in it, each one holding three times more camp sites than Caney. We got a site in “loblolly” section and we had the whole place to ourselves for three days we stayed. We arrived to lovely warm sunny weather and went for a nice long walk.
By evening it had clouded over and overnight it rained and rained. To the south were some violent thunderstorms that reached severe level but not where we were. We awoke to soggy ground and wet everything but by midafternoon the sun was out and we took another nice long walk. The following morning yet another storm system was coming through (actually the back end of the one that had just passed us over to the south) so we walked down to the campground office and paid for another night. The rain started up again about half way back so we got back to our trailer feeling wet and cold. A change of clothes, a cup of hot tea and we were ready to face the world again.
We had one amusing little incident with Misty. Misty is only nineteen months old and so we are still doing a lot of obedience training with her. One of our first professional dog trainers we worked with told us if you have the dog with you all the time and they see all kinds of people doing all kinds of things and if you take every opportunity to socialize them, you get a smart dog who knows what’s normal. They won’t react to normal things, only to people acting weird, in trouble or up to no good. That advice has certainly fit our experience. So we had Misty with us and while my husband was inside paying I put Misty through her sit, stay, lie down, stay, and stand stay paces. She mostly has it though stand is one she’s still working on. She does need a fair bit of reminders and she can be distracted. Anyway, she was standing beside me when the fellow in front of us came out and she looked at him. I gave her a verbal reminder to “stay” as she was shifting her body weight to go say hi. She froze. She did a perfect stand stay. She smiled her big toothy grin at him. The man stopped in his tracks. He gave me a sick smile, and then instead of passing on front of us, he went back around the office and went to his truck the long way. He was afraid of our sweet Misty even though Misty was perfectly behaved and had done nothing but look at him and give him a doggy smile. Some people find a well trained dog far scarier than an untrained one. My husband says it’s because you just never know what else a well trained dog might be trained to do. Misty is trained to alert bark at anything she thinks is weird or out of the ordinary, not attack. We have trained all our dogs that way and it has served us well. We have never had one of our dogs bite anyone.
While we had no human neighbours the lovely bays on two sides of our site had plenty of interesting feathered neighbours. We had some snowy white egrets, two great blue herons, yellow warblers, and innumerable ducks of assorted types and some western grebes in view all the time. We also had a huge osprey catch fish right outside our campsite. The Osprey carried the fish up to a tree in our campground and proceeded to gut it and fillet it right there. Of course the Osprey didn’t discard the gutted part. That was a wonderful pleasure, seeing such a magnificent bird of prey so close.
Misty seemed to think the great blue herons were some sort of vicious enemy that must be driven away. She barked and barked but they just ignored her. We kept telling her “off bird”. We expect Misty to bark a warning at strange things but we also expect her to shut up when we have investigated the cause of her alarm back and told her to ignore it. For some reason she just wouldn’t quit about the herons. We’d tell her “off bird” and she’d look at us like we were stupid. Perhaps the way they ignored her bugged her. If she barks at the other birds they would move away. The herons would just give her a dirty look and carry on. Random barking for no good reason is not something we tolerate. It meant she could not spend her usual long stretches sitting outside watching the world go by. Eventually my husband figured out that to Misty “bird” means one of those little tweeters. When he started telling her “off heron” and pointing at the heron she finally got it. We were telling her “off bird” but that great blue heron was no bird in her books. We were telling her not to worry about birds while she was telling us about the pterodactyl fishing outside the door. No wonder she thought we were being stupid!
We had another of those little RVing mishaps at Twitchley that make life interesting. After my husband showered the morning we were set to leave I smelled that ominous order that says electric short. After tracking down I discovered one of the connections to the hot water heater was hot to touch and the plastic was partially melted. Diagnosis was a loose connection. Bumping up and down in an RV going down the highway, if it can come loose, it will come loose. We needed to stop at a hardware store and to get more connectors of a larger type and better quality. Meantime the hot water heater had to stay off. That could have been very bad if it had progressed to the point of causing a fire. Life in an RV means always being aware of and following up on any little thing that seem out of order. You just never know when paying attention to a funny noise, or a weird smell, or a clunk means you prevent a disaster. He was with us again.
Our trip south began with a new nice twist. One of the joys of living in an RV is traveling but most people, including us, get stuck in the idea of a specific destination and an urge to get to it was quickly as possible. Over time, we have found the very best trips are those where we take our time and let weather and circumstances guide the when, where and how long of pausing.
In the past, we have always started our journey south in the cold with a frenetic dash trying to get to warm climes as rapidly as possible. There are two reasons for this. First winter comes in Manitoba well before we leave and so we have to fill our water lines with antifreeze to protect the lines through the cold. Before we can use the water system again, we have to reach temperatures warm enough that the lines won’t just freeze right up on us. The second reason is there are simply very few campgrounds open in the north in November. Past trips have meant we make a long mad dash first day to Fargo, North Dakota where we spend one miserable cold night in a truck stop. We wake up early and immediately drive hard all day to get to the first full service campground on the main 29 interstate going south. That campground is in Sioux City North, South Dakota. Typically, we then stay two nights because we’re both exhausted and tired and need showers and a break. Then we make another mad two day drive south in order to reach Kansas or Oklahoma where the weather is better and some of the campgrounds are open. Finally, we can relax and begin to enjoy the trip.
Last year we went went to Wyoming first. In our explorations for places to stop on the way to Wyoming, I discovered there are full service campgrounds open in North and South Dakota. They are in the central and western portions and not on the 29 interstate. If you look at the map of North America you can also see that the 29 north/south interstate doesn’t actually go straight north/south. It veers off to the east. We often found ourselves following that interstate south and then having to backtrack to the east to get to some of our favourite campsites in Kansas. This year we decided to indulge ourselves and go through the central parts of the Dakotas and Nebraska and see some new territory. First stop, Minot, North Dakota where there is a full service KOA campground open year round.
The trip itself was miserable because of a stiff south east wind that made the trailer buck and fight the truck. I try to drive at precisely 55 mph or just over 90 kmh because that is the setting the trailer travels best at with reasonable gas mileage. The one time we had a sudden blow out I did not loose control and I was able to safely stop, which I attribute to not going over that speed level. The roads were not in great shape. Mostly bare but some ice spots and the south east wind meant it was tricky to keep the speed at the right level.
One very nice part was a brief stop in Neepawa to see our son and his family. We left with a bag of painted rocks compliments of Lizzie Burke from the fun group Neepawa Rocks. I learned about this group while babysitting the grandkids. We took them out to the bird sanctuary and park in Neepawa and the grandkids found painted rocks. From this I learned how it works. You find a pretty painted rock and you can either keep it or rehide it so someone else can find it. All the group asks is that you post your find on their Facebook page. I now had a whole bag of rocks to deposit on the trail south.
I left the first rock in Brandon. My husband wanted to stop for lunch but I was in my usual “Joe Gotta Go” mode. The idea of stopping made me feel so resentful. I had to give myself a mental shake. It’s the journey not the destination. If my beloved husband wants to stop for a bite to eat I need to be grateful I have a husband to enjoy a bite to eat with, not get all resentful about stopping. I decided a nice bowl of soup would turn the stop into a welcome break for me as well. I left the first rock on a ledge outside the Tim Horton’s on the number one in Brandon.
We got through customs without a hitch in spite of Misty taking a dislike to the agent and acting as if she wanted to eat him. We do encourage her to let us know about potential bad guys but we have also trained her to shut up on command and behave herself. After giving the border agent a start, and getting the shut up command, she lay quietly in the back seat grumbling in her “I’m obeying you but I am not happy with you” doggy way. She did not understand why we were ignoring her warning and letting this bad guy search our truck and trailer. Fortunately, our cat Klinger remained unseen as the agent searched the trailer. Klinger is usually a friendly cat but he has occasionally expressed the same opinion about border guards and he is not as obedient as Misty. It was a female border guard who gave Klinger the nickname “that f*cking demon cat from hell” after one of his “I don’t like you” greetings. She had startled him in his hiding place while searching for contraband. Since then I always warn them the cat is in the trailer and I say he hates everyone but me.
The trip from the border to Minot was uneventful. We saw a herd of four cow moose ambling across the field. One thing very nice about being off the interstate is you don’t have many big semis and so traveling was much easier. Once in Minot we pulled into a Walmart to stock up. The list of fresh fruits and veggies permitted into the US is short and ever changing so we simply don’t bring in any. We leave all the fresh stuff with the neighbour when we depart. We stop and restock over the line. Walking around Walmart there were piles of stuff marked as for Black Friday only. As usual for Black Friday I saw nothing I wanted. It was just lots of “stuff”. There are certain foods that you can only get in the USA. I was delighted to find smoked ham make from turkey at our first stop and we stocked up. I was so looking forward to a breakfast that included a slice of fried turkey ham. The campground had a nice doggy park for Misty and she had fun running around. We saw deer and rabbits on the nature trail. It was too cold and icy to go walking but we did leave a rock behind. And so our first day of traveling turned out to be fine.
We have had our Misty for almost 1 year now. She was born May 2 and moved in with us July 9. She weighed 66 pounds at her one year vet check. Misty has nicely settled in to life as our dog. She has learned all her basic commands like sit, stay, shake paw, and lie down. She walks very nicely at heel without pulling. She knows to bark at strangers and strange things but to ignore the ordinary around us. She has our schedule figured out and she knows how to let us know when she needs/wants something. She prevents us from being too absorbed in our work by nudging our elbow aside and sticking her head in our lap. She is still a lot of puppy, getting overexcited and forgetting her manners sometimes, but it is less and less and for shorter and shorter periods of time.
She has her own private space in the yard that is fenced and secure. She goes in and out whenever she wants and sits on the deck watching the world go by or she digs or plays with her toys. She likes squeaky toys and stuffies. Her bed is beside our desks because she likes that best. She is not allowed to sleep on our bed with us because the cat won’t allow it, so she sleeps in the doorway or by our desks at night.
One of our favourite activities is our daily walk. We walk out of town onto a country road going about a kilometre or so out and then back for a typical daily walk of two kilometres. Sometimes we go more, sometimes less depending on weather and how we feel. Misty, being black, really feels the heat so we have to be careful not to overexert in heat. (If its hot we go swimming instead.)
Misty is not yet 100% reliable on recall, especially if she spots another animal. Since we often see a skunk, and the occasional coyote or bear on our walks I still keep her on leash. (That goes double for that resident skunk we see or smell almost every walk.) The 27 foot horse lunge line is perfect for these walks as she can range up and down and off to the sides almost as much as off leash but she’s still safe. There is always lots to see and sniff.
For me the best part of the walk is the ever changing wildflowers. I know dogs don’t see colours the way we do but I like to think her smell palette is as pleased by the scents of our walks as my eyes are by the wildflowers. She acts like that is true.
Taking your dog for a walk in the country is not just good exercise. It is food for the soul. There is a sense of peace and calm and perspective walking a dog. If I didn’t have my dog insisting we break to take our walk, we’d probably hardly ever get around to it. Dogs live in the moment and love the moment in which they live. I am blessed to have good health and a nice dog to share a daily walk with and remind to let go of my work and pause and go look at wildflowers. No wonder dog people are fitter and live longer.