For those of you who have been following my Blog and wondering what happened, you will happy to know that Connie and I are both well and more or less fit. We have had quite a spring and summer.
I more or less dropped off the Blog when Connie and I found ourselves living what could be considered a normal life. We were spending the majority of our time at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and traveling independent of the motorhome for personal family reasons.
There was a fun trip we took to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to meet up with my brother and sister-in-law for a few days of golf, eating too much and just being together. I missed documenting that event and it is now far enough in the past that too many of the details have faded. There were a few details that remain fairly clear. John and I golfed three different courses in the area. We would go back to two of them. Neither of us played to our strengths and I think it fair to say we played into our weaknesses to a great degree. So I apologize to John and Sandi for missing that opportunity to be publicly humiliated by their brother.
Soon after that trip we found ourselves not traveling in the motorhome. Our decision was based on a variety of things and although we would have had a lot more fun exploring new places we made the correct decision. By parking the motorhome in a place we could trust we made ourselves available to support Connie’s family during a time when support was important. We also made it easier to schedule and attend those darned dental appointments which finally came to an end with the removal of Connie’s braces.
Once we made the decision to the stay put, we then had to consider making ourselves somewhat useful to the campground at King’s Bay Submarine Base. As it turned out the campground had only one couple confirmed to be camp hosts during the summer months. This is an unacceptable situation for both the campground and that single couple scheduled to work. The normal arrangement at this particular campground has two couples who act as camp hosts responsible for checking campers in after working hours and keeping an eye on the grounds through the evening. The host is responsible for locking up the community center each evening and then reopening in the morning while providing hot fresh coffee for those campers who want it. With two couples and with the campground open seven days a week, the job requires about 20 hours per week per couple. There is another couple normally assigned the responsibility for cleaning the community center, restrooms, laundry and the area around the building. Finally, there is another couple responsible for maintenance. In the summer months the major maintenance burden is mowing lawns and trimming bushes. Fully staffed with all these volunteers, no one works much more than about twenty hours per week. We decided that with only one couple on the hook, the park could easily slip into disrepair and lose its high reputation for being such a wonderful place to stay.
We also knew that with only two couples volunteering we would be working much harder than one would expect to work in a retired status. However, duty called and we answered the call.
That decision would have a great impact on the way we spent the last several weeks. First of all the other couple were not there when we made our decision to work. We did not know for sure when they would arrive. Nor did we know whether we would all get along.
While we had been gone, the former manager left without her relief having been identified much less on station. As it turns out the wonderful woman who was keeping the office opened is the wife of a former shipmate of mine. Therefore, we instantly had common ground and easily developed a great relationship. The last of the winter camp hosts was waiting for our arrival so he could convince us to become camp hosts. He gave us his proposed schedule and as it dovetailed with our immediate needs easily, we agreed to go to work. For reasons beyond their control the proposed schedule fell apart and we found ourselves as the only host couple several days before we anticipated.
Some two weeks later our counterpart couple returned to the park from a cruise to Europe. Chip and Gidget have turned out to be absolutely wonderful people whom we have developed what will likely be a long-lasting friendship.
By three weeks into this experience we learned just how large a bite we had taken. The restrooms were in need of deep cleaning because of the heavy winter and spring traffic. While there had been very little rain to this point, the weeds were growing, well, like weeds. So, we had to mow and trim. We quickly learned how to operate high tech lawn equipment. We also learned that to mow the entire park without trimming takes 14 person hours.
As soon as Chip and Gidget signed their contracts we turned over to them so we could get some rest. Subsequent to that first period of duty we tried to rotate on a weekly basis. There have been two exceptions to that rotation. Chip and Gidget wanted a two week span to attend a Holiday Rambler rally in Illinois. As payback, they spelled us for two weeks starting on August 6, so we could fly to Denver.
Coincidentally with their arrival was the arrival of the rainy season. We are now deep into the rainy season which is also concurrent with temperatures in the nineties, prime conditions for growing grass and weeds. Now, the mowing must be done on a weekly basis and quite honestly that is not often enough. We were just too thinly manned to mow any more often than weekly.
We finally got a new park manager late in June. Fairly early on he hired a half a couple to take over the cleaning responsibilities on a firm twenty hour per week basis. The camp host covers when she is off.
On August 1, he hired a half time maintenance host to help us with the mowing and to try to get the park ready for the fall and winter season. That included repainting the restroom floors and painting of the fence. The maintenance host has been busy. The rest of us helped him by keeping the mowers moving.
By the way, this park currently has 50 paved sites with gravel roads and grass plots separating each of the sites. Beyond that, the lawn extends on both sides of the park to the tree line. There is a rather large community center with a large common area, laundry room, women’s, men’s and family restrooms with showers and a breezeway that attracts all sorts of spiders, crickets and mud dauber wasps. I dare say that the breezeway takes more maintenance and cleaning attention per square foot as any other part of the park.
We have completed our fourth month as camp hosts and we have certainly developed some thoughts about the experience.
I would first say that we have had a wonderful time greeting the campers, helping them settle into their campsite and familiarizing them with the park’s amenities. The relationship with the campers also extends to serving ice cream on Monday evenings, delivering pizza to those requesting it on Tuesday evenings and the occasional cookout/pot luck dinner when we try to get everyone in the park to come together to share travel experiences and a meal. Without exception, the campers have been wonderful to work with. Their questions and concerns have been valid and I believe we have worked well with the manager to work through the issues.
I would also say that the maintenance work has not been too bad. By that I mean the work has certainly been within our capabilities. We learned some new skills along the way and that is certainly not a bad thing. I was able to exercise my maintenance skills by maintaining the mowers, trimmers and various rolling stock assigned to the park. The major down side of the maintenance job was the environment. Although we tried to work in the morning as much as possible, we still found ourselves in bright sunlight with temperatures well into the nineties by the time we knocked off. The humidity was sometimes smothering. I found that I could walk from the motorhome to the community center, a distance of about thirty yards and arrive with sweat running down my face. The southeast Georgia summers remain as brutal as I remembered them. The other down side of the environment is the mosquitoes. I do believe that if they were to coordinate their attacks a bit better they could suck a person dry of blood products within an hour. Those little women are absolutely vicious.
I would also say that the cleaning was not too terrible. Connie would argue this point with me as she does not like cleaning our bathroom, much less a public facility. I am not as bothered by those things and my early days in the Navy honed my skills at head cleaning. Like riding a bicycle, once you know how, you never forget. I think the greatest challenge the cleaning provided was the deep cleaning of the floors. When we first arrived, I thought the floors were worn through the paint to the concrete and therefore beyond making them look good. One day while cleaning toilets I splashed water on the deck and set to scrubbing it off. To my amazement my scrubbing with a 3M Scotch Pad had caused a really clean spot. The next time we swabbed the decks I got myself a scrub brush and really scrubbed the men’s room deck. What a difference. The problem was that I absolutely wore myself out hand scrubbing such a large area. I have not had the desire to repeat that effort in the other two restrooms or the laundry room.
When considered in the bits I have above, each individual position, although not challenge free, is very manageable. When you put all three disciplines in the hands of one couple at a time you can see that overload can be in one’s future. There is another factor that plays into all of this. That is the pride factor, or the pride and work ethic factor. I am certain that other couples who only wanted a place to stay at a reduced rate may not have cared how long the grass grows or how often the trash is removed from the restrooms or indeed how often the restrooms are cleaned. We have certainly run into camp hosts who cared nothing for the people they were checking in to their park. On the other hand I remember a state park in Florida where the 70 something year old woman camp host responsible for cleaning the women’s restroom kept that place so clean you could eat off the floor. Connie commented that no matter what time of the day or evening she went in there, the hostess was there cleaning something. We have also seen our share of not too clean restrooms. All of us whom worked at Kings Bay this summer share a close relationship with this park and therefore hold a lot of pride in keeping it looking as good as possible. Therefore, I think it safe to say that we have given more than what would have been reasonably expected of a volunteer group.
Connie has really taken to riding the Toro Zero Radius Lawn Mower. This is a dual bladed riding mower that is steered with two levers instead of a steering wheel. The levers actually control two transmission boxes; pushing forward on either lever causes the associated drive wheel to roll forward. Pulling back causes the associated drive wheel to roll backward. The mower goes around in a pretty tight circle when pushing one and pulling the other lever. With this level of maneuverability a good operator can do a pretty good job of cutting the grass. Well, Connie was by far the best driver of this machine. She called it her mower and really would rather that Chip and I kept our hands off of it. When she learned that there was a maintenance host hired she became somewhat despondent to think that she would have to give up her mower. I was the first to drive that mower and after a short self administered driving lessen in the back of the park where no one could see me I set out to mow the sites. After spending several hours on it I was still not very comfortable that I was always in complete control. Watching Connie operate it I got the sense that she was in complete control and enjoying it. Several of the campers had a great time sitting under their awnings watching Connie expertly cut the irregularly shaped plots of lawn between sites. I think if we become too poor to continue to live the retired life, I will hire her out as a professional lawn mower.
We are now finished with this experience. In the last few days we have started to discuss what the experience has meant to us as a couple and individually. I think we both agree that we feel as though we have served a purpose and provided a necessary service. We also agree that we could see ourselves doing this again some time in the future. However, we would be more careful to make sure that twenty hours per week would be an absolute limit so we would have time to enjoy the area we would be in at the time. As far as what sort of duties we would prefer or shy away from, Connie would love the Camp Host position and she would really like to do office duty in the future. Of course if the right equipment were available she would certainly mow lawns again. For me, I don’t think there is any position I would not take on again. I would not take on more than one of the positions at any time.
As a sideline, one day I was working at some maintenance task and one of the campers came to me and offered me a job as a camp host at the commercial park he manages in the Bradenton/Sarasota, FL area. As he talked about the job, it certainly seemed to match my twenty hour rule. In fact he was quite firm that twenty hours would be the absolute limit. The responsibilities were a cross between office work, greeting late check-ins and cleaning restrooms at the end of the shift. Quite honestly it sounded really good. The area has a lot to offer as well. However, he wanted us this winter. This winter we will be in Southeast Arizona, at Ft Huachuca for the months of November and December.
This has been a great experience and we would not trade it in for anything given the situation we and the campground were in at the start. I would not like to repeat the totality of the experience, but as I said I would certainly do parts of it all over again here or somewhere else.
I mentioned a two week trip to Denver. Well, Denver was just the starting point. Connie and I took what was supposed to be a 6:10 AM flight from Jacksonville, Florida non-stop to Denver, Colorado. We got off to a less than perfect start as the plane was nearly two hours late leaving Jacksonville. I slept most of the way across the country, so I don’t have much to say about the actual flight. We arrived just under an hour late, so the pilot did a good job trying to get back on schedule. My brother John met us at the airport and took us to a car rental agency close to where we would spend the first several nights. Once in a car we went to the hotel to learn that we were way too early to check in. So, John took us home with him and the vacation was officially underway.
We spent four nights in Denver allowing for a round of golf, a driving tour of the mountains to the south and west of Denver and some great restaurants as well as home cooking at John and Sandi’s home.
Late in the week we took off in our rental car to Sheridan, Wyoming with short stop in Cheyenne to have coffee with our friend Beth. Beth’s husband Jim once worked for me on the USS Simon Lake in La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy. Unfortunately, Jim was in Kansas so we missed catching up with him in person. Beth called him while we were having coffee so I could talk to him for a few minutes. It was good to see Beth and see for ourselves that she has lost none of her high energy and positive thinking.
Our reason for going to Sheridan was to visit my two remaining aunts on my father’s side. Coincidentally with our plan to go up there they were planning a small family reunion. I think they had hoped to get some twenty or thirty Madias and Madia off-spring together. As it turned out there were about 75 of us who came together. My cousin Greg whom I had not seen since our first year of College in 1969 was there with his entire family (six children). He and his wife Dede have two sons-in-law, but only one of them was able to attend. It was really great to see Greg again. As importantly it was just plain fun to talk to his children and tell them stories about the trouble Greg and I used to get into when we were kids. I may have ruined their image of their father. Oh well. The reunion was just wonderful. It was really fun getting to know people I had no idea I was related to. I left Wyoming when I joined the Navy and was only back a handful of times to visit my immediate family during my 35 year career. I had lost track of most of my cousins. Now most of them are grand parents many times over.
Following the reunion and a day of touring the area with my Aunt Rose Marie, Connie and I jumped across the Big Horn Mountains for a ride down the central part of the state. I had not made that trip in close to 40 years, so it was almost like a new route for me. It was certainly a new route for Connie. We had a good time, but we really missed having our motorhome to sleep in. We stayed in some of the most expensive fleabag motels I have ever been in. Part of that was my fault for not planning our stops and then calling early in the day for reservations. We wound up looking for a room late in the afternoon each night and then having to take what was left. I will allow you to imagine how ugly that lack of planning turned out. One of the highlights had to be the two hour stop at Independence Rock where nineteenth century Americans gathered prior to striking out on one of the several trails leading to the west coast. Although I had been to the rock several times before, our nomadic lifestyle put a different filter on the visit. Connie and I agree that were we one of the many Americans living in the mid-1800’s we too would have been drawn to the idea of trekking to the west. Likewise, were there a new frontier to explore we would be at the front of the list to go there.
Eventually we got to Greeley, Colorado where we found my sister Mary Ann’s place of employment to get directions to her house out on the prairie East of Greeley. As it turns out Mary Ann works for a former Navy Submarine sailor. We were both in Kings Bay together for a few months as his tour there was winding down while mine was just getting started. We did not know one another, but we certainly knew a lot of the same people.
Mary Ann and her husband Jerry own a wonderful home outside Greeley, way outside. They have enough land to support the boarding of their two horses. They are really happy with there home and the horses seem to like it a lot too. We spent a great three days and nights with them before going back to Denver for our last night before flying back to Jacksonville. The highlight of our stay with Mary Ann and Jerry would have to be the wonderful dinner Jerry prepared. As usual when faced with great food I ate too much.
Our last night in Denver turned out to be a mini-family reunion as Mary Ann, Jerry, there son Christopher and his fiancé all came down and we met up with John, Sandi and there daughter Kristina for a wonderful evening out at one of John’s favorite Italian restaurants.
To end this, the flight back to Jacksonville was as perfect as a flight in this era could be. We left early and arrived on time. We were more than ready to be back in our rig and sleeping in our own bed again. Two weeks was too long this time.
We had only one week of duty left when we got back to the campground. We spent the remaining time there working to get as much of our stuff out of our friend Trish’s house as we could. We also compacted our remaining stuff in storage into a space half the size we had been storing it in. We donated a bunch of no longer worn clothes to charity and we stocked the wine cellar in the coach for the weeks ahead.
Finally we spent most of the last two weeks just saying goodbye to our friends. Even though we were more than ready to leave and continue this adventure, leaving was not going to be all that easy. We had renewed a lot of friendships and made a few more adding weight to that anchor that was holding us fast. It goes without saying that we will miss Trish and Jay a great deal. We have spent some great times with the two of them. They are more like family than family. Gidget and Chip left the day before we did and it was really difficult to see them go. I am sure we will find a way to get back together before too many months pass. After all, we both have rolling homes and the need to be no where in particular for most of the year.
Today we weighed anchor and got the coach rolling once again with our little gold Subaru in tow. Following what was not the perfect underway due to a burned out turn signal, we were finally on the road. Our plan was to get Kings Bay well into our baffles (that is submarine talk for behind us) but not try to set any sort of record for driving distance. We wound up 189.5 miles from where we started our day. We are spending the night at George L. Smith State Park outside Twin City, Georgia. We got here in time to tour the park on foot and do a little bird watching before settling in for the evening.
This was a stop not planned for what it had to offer but for where it was in relationship to where we started and where we are trying to get to in the next few days. As is often the case when we just look for a place to start this place is pretty neat.
The park was once a water turbine powered sawmill, cotton gin, and finally grist mill. The still operational mill sits on the damned end of a 412 acre lake where it dumps into the 15 Mile Creek It offers a wonderful campground and many day use activities such as canoeing and fishing. There is a small museum associated with the mill explaining its history. The park is named for a former Georgia State Supreme Court Justice who was born and raised in the area. This is a beautiful state park and a perfect place to resume our effort to see as much of this great country as we can.
The adventure has officially resumed and we are happy.