Posted by: wheelsandfeet | February 20, 2011

Back on the road from Miami

The VDub is all fixed up.  found a great VW shop in South Miami that I would highly recommend.  His name is Enrique. His shop is The Wizards.  This guy is fantastic. drove his own VW bus from New York to Argentina back in the 70’s…I think it was the 70’s…he also heads up the VVWCA (vintage volkswagen club of America) Miami chapter. they hold a big VW fest every year that he organizes every hear as well called Volksblast.  We just missed it this year, dang it.  So the VW ended up getting new bushings for the clutch lever and both right and left front lower ball joints.  I think the upper right might need to be done…later.

Our first stop was Jimbo’s on Virginia Key.  Wow. a cultural experience that I think absolutely everyone should see. a beer, some smoked salmon, and some bocce did us good.

we had a fantastic time in Miami hanging out at Paul and Katia’s warm and welcoming condo.  What a great stop and what a couple of hard working and gracious hosts.  Many thanks to you, Paul and Katia, directly from my and nicole’s “wheelsandfeet!” Ha ha!  We ate well and slept well.  We hung out for a day on Miami Beach, just a short stroll from the condo, livin the life of the cool, calm, and collected with our beach chairs,umbrella, and cooler of Corona!  Went for a swim in the ocean…and the water was nice.  We were able to hang out in South Beach a bit where we strolled down the boardwalk at sunset and headed onto ocean drive for a couple martinis.  We strolled down Lincoln Ave. where the shopping is “all that.”   fer real.  The Miami Boat Show was getting ready for the big shindig while we were there.  Ever see a mile of yachts, seriously…about a mile, docked worth any where from $1 million to $50 million?  ridiculous. really.  Katia worked up a crazy cous cous and lamb meal that was fantastic. and, on the last night we went out for sushi.  perfect.

Miami was great.  I thought the public transportation was great.  The train was only a block from the repair shop. 1 transfer downtown to a bus. bus stop was right out in front of the condo.  It was way different than the last time I was there!

returned to Key Largo to FINALLY pick up Malto and load up our gear from the storage garage.  So disappointed when we picked up Malto from the Pet Motel in Key Largo.  He was in very rough shape and still is recovering.  He has a coffee cup dish size rash on his tummy.  He also has an infection on the side of his face that’s about 7-8 in. x 4 in.  awful.  and no call from the pet motel letting us know what was going on.  He felt skinny, his breathing is still pretty shallow and rapid, although, it’s just starting to slow down.  we are staying in Tampa for a couple days to collect our thoughts and give Malto a nice place to recuperate. had to cut the fur on the side of his face to be able to clean his skin.  soap, water, some H2O2 and antibiotics B.I.D. (twice a day!!)…he seems much more comfortable now heading into his second night of solid comfortable sleep.  such a bummer for our buddy…

as we were trying to plan on where we were headed next, I got a call from my buddy, Chris, who’s out of Cocoa Beach!  We were thinking soft white sand beaches near Pensicola then off to the Bayou!  right…you may remember when I said we were done with Florida!?!  Well, Chris mentioned a small little endeavor that can be seen from the beach just a couple blocks from his place this thursday at 4:50 Eastern.  ready???  We’ll hopefully get to see the Space Shuttle Discovery’s final launch real, live, and in person! so, we think it’s worth another delay…after all, we really don’t have a schedule.

So we’re looking forward to some camping for a couple days on the coast somewhere…and then heading over to Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral for the big launch!  Exciting!

Right now, I’m looking forward to a little sleep.


Posted by: wheelsandfeet | February 14, 2011

Fun in the Florida Sun!!!

Let me try to help catch up on our status – while Patrick is dealing with a recent credit card fraud issue, getting the van fixing, and just catching up on stuff since we have internet access now…… 

So more than a month late, we have arrived and explored parts of the sunny state of Florida.  Initially we planned on being in the Keys for New Years and paddling the Everglades with Pats friends The Kobak brothers, but one thing led to another and we ended up in Florida at the end of January, starting in St. Augustine (Pat details below).  Then to Cocoa Beach to hang out with Pat’s friend Chris Hamm.  We had an awesome time – Thanks Chris for all your hospitability.  In Cocoa Beach we visited the famous Ron Jon’s Surf shop, on the way out of the store, they asked us if we wanted a free night at the Ron Jon’s resort,

Ron Jon's Resort - Cocoa Beach, FL

all we had to do was listen to a 90 minute time share presentation; so without a place to stay that night, we said – of course!  We got there, checked in, played a game of mini golf, ate at the restaurant, hit the hot tub and pool. The next morning we headed to our 90 minute presentation (ended up being 3 hours), the gal that was trying to sell it to us did a great job, we walked out of there thinking….it is not a bad deal – for someone else.  They allowed us to use the facilities the day of our presentation, so I hit the gym, Pat the pool and hot tub.  Because of tornado warnings (and free entertainment) we stay in Ron Jon’s as long as possible.  We ate at the restaurant, watched a movie or two in the theater, ended up staying until all the fun closed at 11 pm.  Then off to the parking lot to boon dock it for the night.  Thanks Ron Jon’s for two night stay – for free :).  We had plans to head to Orlando to see Disney World, MGM Studios, or any of the famed parks, but……we got to Orlando, looked at the hype and the cost to mingle among the hundreds of happy vacationers and quickly decided – no way are we up for that!  See ya later Mickey may be next time!  Then we kept heading west to Crystal River – place suggested by Hamm. 

There we got the chance to snorkel with the Manatees!  So cool, we got to see hundreds of Manatees just doing their thing, they nibble on ya, they give you kisses, follow you – just neat – they make you feel so small, but they are just sweetest sea creatures.  Check out the video Pat took our snorkel with the Manatees on flicker

Rainbow River near Crystal River, FL

 (link under the Photos tab above) this video shows the number and size of them!  The next day we kayaked the crystal clear waters of Rainbow River – also really neat – good lead – thanks again Hamm.
Next stop, Tampa for some Gasparella fun with Pat’s friend Tori….pirates, beer, and beads – oh my!  On our way to Tampa we stopped at the City of Homosassa to witness the Money Island and The Freezer – both with good/weird reviews from people we have met.  After traveling down a couple of unmarked roads and stopping to ask for directions, we found Monkey Island. This place is disturbing. 

I guess quite some time ago a guy bought this island and thought it would be a good idea to place three spider monkeys on it.  The bar that neighbors it – The Monkey Island Bar – lets you view them and contemplate what you’re looking at over a beer or two – we skipped the beer and contemplation part cause we quickly came to the conclusion it was disturbing and headed out to find The Freezer.  Down another fishing village-ish back road, we stopped to ask directions at a fresh fish market.  Along with getting the directions we were looking for, we bought a quarter of a bushel of oysters, a red snapper and salmon fillet for a BQ we were go to that night at Tori’s cousins house. With the directions, we found the Freezer – an old fishing freezer warehouse turned into a restaurant.  As soon as you stepped thought the plastic streamer freezer door – you knew it was a real local place to go.  You could get a beer for a $1.50 and a basket of steamed mussels and shrimp for about $7 each – so good!  But the word on the street is the freezer is operating not up to local code……the restaurant gets fined for a number of violations, then just pays of the fines and keeps operating, The Freezer is to be shut down, but until the city does, this place will be hopp’n with locals- good for people watching 🙂
That night we finally made it to Tampa. The BQ at Tori’s cousin’s house was great!  Pat and I learned from the Floridians how to shuck and grill oysters.  No shuckers tools, so a couple of screw drivers helped open those tasty little guys open.

Tori and Us..... GASPARILLA!!!!!

We ate them raw, steamed on the gill and with all sorts of yummy garlic, butter and more.  So good.  And the fresh fish was to die for!  The next day GASPARILLA!!!  Tori showed us the ropes; she made us a morning drink to get us started right, packed a cooler of beer and we headed down to the parade.  It was hot day, but all worth it once the floats with pirates throwing beads got the crowds all fired up!  So many pirates in an eyes view!  What a blast – thanks Tori!!!!
Now down to the Keys for some fun in the sun.  We had to dropped Malto off at the kennel for this one – dogs are not real welcome in the Keys – Malto gets to hang out at The Dog Motel with a number of his furry friends.  First stop – Key Largo.  We made our home at the Key Largo Kampground – nice place. From the campground we kayaked the mangroves,

Key Largo, FL

then the next day; with our campground neighbors, we attempted to scuba dive.  We had three tank dives and were only able to complete one of them, due to the waves, the wrong weights, and the chill in the air made all of us cut out early.  The first dive was about an hour at the Molasses Reef, what we saw was beautiful, but the surf shifted us around, the lack of weight brought us to the top and the shallow waters made our dive,

Key Largo, FL - The African Queen

we will say, uncomfortable.  I was sea sick before I got in the water and remained  until I got out.  Disappointing but we learned a lot.  After the dive, we grabbed a bit of lunch and checked out The African Queen.  Then we just bummed around Key Largo and soaked up the sun for a couple days.
What a life…. now off to Key West.  We stayed at Leo’s campground, about 4.5 miles north of the heart to Key West.  Our camp site was right long the mangroves so we could launch our kayaks from our campsite to explore the Mangroves.  These were real mangroves, tight and smelly.  This was an interesting paddle, we were lucky on other couples used the small mangrove “water way” earlier that day so we did not need to sweep it of its cobwebs.  This mangrove led us to a busy channel with power boats and more mangroves.  It was a good, interesting paddle. Just about daily we rode our bikes the 4.5 miles to check out the heart of Key West – Key West was Key West for us – we had a good time.  We checked out the southernmost point of the U.S. – got the must have picture.  Walked down Duval Street, had a number of good meals, checked out the sunset festival to see the sword swallower, the guy on a unicycle juggling torches and knives – just sick!  Also scored a couple tickets to a reggae festival, very fun.  We were also able to successful completed two reef dives, just awesome!

Key Largo - Scuba

We had a great time in the Key West area – spendy but fun.  We were minutes from leaving the campground and discovered that the van had bit of an issue, the bushing or something with the vans shifter needed work.  So Pat and the friendly campground neighbors temporary fixed it so we could make it to Miami to have it fixed.  In order to have it fixed, we needed to have a place to store all or stuff, so we rented a storage unit in Key Largo.  Then popped into Miami to have the VW guy look at the van and order the necessary parts.  The VW dude told us to drop the van off the next Monday. So a perfect time for us to explore the Everglades. 

The first night in the Everglades we stayed at the campground (free of charge). The next morning got up early to get our back country permit for camping and headed out to the Roberts River Chickee (see pictures if you are wondering what a chickee is 🙂 – about 14 miles from Flamingo (one of the boat lunches). 


The wind was pretty much to our back but it was windy enough to make the open waters challenging – the comfort of the chickee was great!  The next morning we traveled to our next stop – the Hells Bay Chickee – this spot was great, we were awoken by flocks of American Coots traveling up and down the bay – these little guys actually run on top of the water – so funny to watch.  When you get 50 to 100 of them together it sounds like a gunshot when they take off – spectacular. A larger splash got us out of the tent to find 4-6 dolphins swimming nearby in the shallow water – yet again – spectacular.  As we contemplated how gentle these waters felt, we spotted a gator swimming off the next key – he was meandering around in the waters, but birds were swimming within a foot of him without a care in the world.   The colder water and air (defiantly not cold) must have kept the gators on land and out of our sight – so bitter sweet. We only saw 4 gators the entire 3 day trek.  But got to see number of shore bird – herons, sandpipers, cormorants, egrets and more.

After a fine morning at the hells bay chickee, we paddled back to Flamingo.  The winds treated us pretty good as we traveled through the water ways of the mangroves and open water back to our base.  And by the way, something we learned is that the Everglades Nation Park System accessible to humans is largely consists mainly of mangroves and open water, not the grassy swampy areas that is thought of, will at least I use to think of.  Once we made it back to Flamingo, we rested that night (free of charge again) at the campground – love the euro van. The next morning it was raining and windy – up to gusts of 20 mph – so we hung out in the van while the rain slowed and contemplated braving our next plan paddle along the coast of the everglades in Florida bay.  Once it hit 11:30 am we knew that we need to get paddling because we would not feel complete if we left without doing it.  Re-packed the kayaks, grabbed some food and started out into the bay.  The Florida bay is only 1 to 5 feet along the shore which makes it tricky.  The winds gave us a good 10 mile paddle, but totally worth it.  We arrived at East Cape Beach Campsite

East Cape

 in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset, have a fire on the beach, and spot a couple dolphins feeding within 20 feet from shore.  After a decent night sleep we packed everything up and headed back to Flamingo.  The paddle back was not too bad considering there was a small boat warning out due to high winds. 

With our weary, but strong bodies we packed the van up we headed back to Key Largo with plans to store our kayaking gear in our rented storage unit, camp at the Key Largo Kampground for the night, to get up early to get the van to Miami to get fixed. Now we are waiting at a Star Bucks to in Florida City for the word if the van parts arrived at the shop – three calls later – no word yet.  We may be in Miami a little longer then we planned, but fortunately, Patrick knows some great folks here (believe it or not 🙂 so we have some fun to be had other than just waiting. 

Alright, back to trying to find a flight back to MN to get my driver licenses renewed by mid March, can’t believe I forgot to do that………….. Hope all is well on your end, whoever may be reading this!

Posted by: wheelsandfeet | February 14, 2011

thought for the day…

Mentally, Nicole and I are done with Florida on this particular adventure.  It will have been four weeks in in good ole FLA for us tomorrow.  Spent five days in the back country of The Everglades…a few days inland and a couple days on the coast.  Beautiful and ridiculously remote and unique.  amazing to be in such wild country and still be in the U.S.  Now, we’re waiting for a part to arrive at a VW repair shop.  While in Key West, a part holding the clutch lever broke.  Now it’s held together with a couple cable ties, pretty soundly, really.  The part was supposed to have been ordered last tues.  It’s Monday.  It’s not here yet.  We’re hanging out at a nice Starbucks in Homestead, FL right now, though.  and there’s plenty of room for us to chill for a while.  Waiting…waiting…

while we were in The Everglades, I found out that I had purchased make-up at a mall in Moscow.  I didn’t know that I was worried about how I looked to the birds, gators, crocs, and dolphins…but, apparently, I did!  Yep…someone f’n hacked into our joint travel account using the numbers on my card and bought make-up from a mall in Moscow.  Seriously, shit happens to me in Florida (enter Hamm and one flip flop).  Hopefully, the part for the VW will get in today.  Hopefully, the credit card fraud claim will be figured out.  We think it must’ve happened in Key West.  Folks down here can be especially desperate.  The Russians down here already have a bad name among the locals (sorry all you Russian friends reading this…but there’s a reason this time)…I was a little taken aback when I heard about general tendency to not necessarily favor the Russian immigrants down here.  Now, I chime right in.  I don’t normally do that.  I’ll get over it.  More often I run into issues to worry about with locals than an immigrant population trying to assimilate.  But, this time my credit card was hacked by someone who bought make-up, etc. from a mall in Moscow.

So here we are, typing away at a familiar Starbucks, feeling fairly content waiting for a part, waiting for Nicole’s insurance claim to be tied up, waiting for my credit card fraud crap to be figured out, waiting to get Malto out of The Pet Motel in Key Largo (it’s been two weeks now, poor guy), but he has so many friends to play with (we can see him playing as we drive back and forth, passing by)…he likes it there and is getting some good exercise…, waiting to empty the storage unit and load up the van again, waiting to be somewhere that we’re excited to be again…we realize we’re on an adventure. we’re not working.  but now, we’re not having fun.  can’t imagine working where I couldn’t have fun while not working.  We’re getting more and more familiar with what we don’t like so much.

maybe that’s why ignorance is so nice…there’s a lot of time wasted doing things, being places, meeting people for which and whom you don’t particularly care.

maybe that’s why ignorance is so nice…’cause ya don’t waste a lot of time figuring out what ya don’t like.

Posted by: wheelsandfeet | February 7, 2011

From South Carolina to Georgia to Florida…

The last time we posted I think we were in Charleston, S.C.  From Charleston we headed to Savannah, GA. Some people refer to Savannah as a “Dirty” Charleston.  It’s pretty easy to see where folks are coming from when you see these two cities one after the other.  “Dirty” is definitely a relative term.  If I were to make an analogy comparing the idea to another area I might say Uptown is a “dirty” Edina.  Not sure I’d say that every time but it’s a quick comparison for the folks at home…Savannah is a fantastic city filled with life.  The Savannah College of Art and Design owns something like 52 buildings in Savannah so there’s a huge presence of free and creative thinking.  Folks love to have a good time and are real laid back hangin out in all the city squares (parks).  They say you haven’t seen Savannah until you’ve sat in a city square watching the world pass you by.  Beautiful architecture, great food and DRINK!, thick history.  Savannah was spared by the Union in the Civil War because it was agreed that the military could use it peacefully.  It’s definitely known for its pirates back in the day which makes for a fancy twist on the tourism industry that the folks of Savannah take advantage of with no shame.  We visited the Pirate House for dinner…a damn good time and damn good food.  I think we had a Jambalaya type seafood mix.  Mmmm.  We walked the riverfront where I whooped it up on St. Patrick’s Day back in college.  The St. Patty’s day in Savannah is a Mardi Gras style crazy ass good time fer sure!  We did a pretty cheesy but worthwhile bus tour of the city.  Worth it to know what’s passing by but just walking the city and hangin out in the parks is the thing to do…

St. Augustine Florida. The oldest city in the country.  The oldest house is there, too! neat! 😀  St. Augustine is a beautiful city as well.  There’s a crazy old fort of which the city stands in the shadow.  Built by the Spanish it has a European ambience with many historic buildings and even a fortress (Castillo de San Marco) on the harbor.  We were able to take the wandering of the fort pretty slowly but that left less time for us to wander around town.  There’s a solid amount of attention paid to the doors of buildings in this town. so cool.  Doors say so much.  The door to a structure usually says it all a bit like how you can tell what kind of man you’re talking to by the shoes he wears on his feet.  We had a nice big fat juicy piece of candy at a local candy shop.  I had a carmel and chocolate marshmallow kabob.  Wow…that thing was fantastic! there’s a photo in there somewhere taking a bite oughtta that thing.  We also visited The Fountain of Youth! YEP!  gonna just get younger now.  we both took a big drink of it.  As much as it is a  tourist trap it’s still worth the trip.  Ponce de Leon hung out in the fountain (with many ladies as the photos depict…oooweee!)  One of the original caretakers/organizers of this fine visit gave his heart and soul to this place.  It is the very property on which the history of the U.S. began. Ponce de Leon claimed it from the Timucua in the early 1500’s.  It’s been an archaeological site for decades revealing artifacts from…well…I’ll just copy and paste this part:

1. Ponce de Leon’s recording landmark and accompanying artifacts.
2. First Christian Indian burials in North America with Mission Period interments
3. Timucua Indian hut foundations and relics
4. Artifacts indicating Timucua habitation for about 3000 years on this site

St. Augustine was a great stop, fer sure. how could you not?  after all, it’s where the U.S. began!

The next stop was in Cocoa beach…a great stop to stay with my good buddy, Chris.  we’ll continue that visit on the next post!

I think it’s bedtime for now…getting sleeepeeyyyzzzzzZZZZzz.z….

Posted by: wheelsandfeet | January 24, 2011

Deeper into the Southeast

(at the time I wrote this post…)  It’s January 18th.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day was yesterday.  Still need to hear the speech.  I had the intention of listening to it yesterday when I was interrupted by a small drip in the ceiling of the van.  Usually, not a big deal.  There’s always been a small drip here and/or a small drip there depending on the angle of how the van is sitting.  These VW Eurovans (and Westies and Buses, I presume) are infamous for having a leak or two.  This model, the 1995 Eurovan for a drip specifically in the front near the driver’s seat.  And, I’m sure there’s some water that gets into the lid above through where I installed the roof rack.  I need to silicone the outside of the tracks of the roof rack before the whole van decides to short out.  The drip that interrupted me this time is dripping through a light in the ceiling…nerve wracking…and the nagging feeling that something always needs to be fixed.  Well, gotta stay on top of it.  There are a few things that need to be taken care of…or, is it written, “of which need to be taken care?”  I think I prefer “need to be taken care of” even though, in which case, the sentence ends in a preposition.    What’s the big deal.  And, no, not with a question mark because I’m really not asking.  I’m saying “What” is the big deal…because a sentence ending in a preposition really isn’t “what”…that’s for sure.  So, you can imagine how a drip through a ceiling light in the van interrupted the plan of watching the “I Have A Dream” speech especially now that you’ve seen how much even sentence structure can throw me for a loop.


So where are we??? 😀


Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina.  Beautiful.  No hotels.  No developments on this island, anyway.  There’s one more island in this string of several that has it’s own bridge at the beginning of which states, “Security gate at end of bridge.”  Yep.  It’s the old ‘gated community that is an island’ trick.  Saw the houses on the shore of that island a couple days ago from the Hunting Island Nature Center and fishing pier.  Fripp Island has some pretty impressive real estate from what we could see.


Where was I at the end of the last post…I can’t remember.  I’m not online at the moment.  I think Dahlonega, GA.  Ah.  Right.  Nicole and I ended up getting our bikes all set to ride…all repairs done…Jon at Cycleworks in Dahlonega set us up.  Great shop with the full gamut of bikes from used bikes to mosey around in to bikes that could be used in the Tour de France or World Cup Mountain Biking competition.  He had all the parts we needed used and on hand.  Perfect.  Now we’ll have to see if it’s worth it for Nicole to make an insurance claim.


The hills of northern Georgia are fantastic.  The two lane roads are well kept and easily drivable but dip and dive like kiddie roller coaster at the county fair.  Perfect for a nice sunny afternoon drive.  We need to get back there to do some biking on those roads.  It seems they were made for bikes, not cars.  We drove through the western tip of North Carolina headed for The Rose Hill Plantation in South Carolina.  We had a travel center stop off the highway near the plantation in mind  to stop and get a good night’s rest similar to a Flying J.  All the travel centers around here are Pilot gas station/truck stops that tolerate overnighters.  It’s definitely worth it to them.  As we’ve been staying at them, we’ve been buying gas, coffee, DVDs, books on tape, you name it!  We woke up ready to get a tour of a plantation. finally, after all these years…


Rose Hill Plantation was a relatively humble plantation.  We were lucky enough to get a personal tour by the State Park Ranger/Architectural Historian himself.  He was a very inquisitive fellow not interested in the State Park Ranger part of his job at all.  He was very much an Architectural Historian who was in the middle of rewriting history as it pertains to The Rose Hill Plantation.  He was also restoring the house back to its original state.  An overwhelming mission.  The plantation dates back to 1811.  It was built by the father of William H. Gist who took over the house and later became the governor of South Carolina.The most interesting aspect about this place is that Governor William H. Gist known as the secessionist governor was instrumental in starting The Civil War.  As you may or may not know, the first shot of The Civil War is credited to happening at Fort Sumter just out from Charleston, South Carolina.  Well, as the plantation website explains, “In the days following the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina Gov. William H. Gist was characteristically blunt ‘The only alternative left, in my judgment, is the secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.’”  This meant that Gist needed to compose a letter to The President requesting to secede from the union and that he did!…one week before another governor took office.  Gist basically left this letter on the desk of the oncoming governor so as to avoid being credited with its implications.  As it turns out, Governor Gist had to sign the secession letter (incidentally, the smallest signature) since it was he who was politically instigated the movement.  Hence, ultimately, The Confederacy was born and shortly thereafter, The Civil War ensued. Plantations were and are a way of life in the south.  The economy was built on them.  At one time, the plantation owned and operated upwards of 9000 acres including a blacksmith shop, a wood shop, a boat works, rye, oats, cotton, mutton, and several other things is now a beautiful 44 acre state historic site surrounded by an amazing array of birds and woodland (and snakes, most notably Frank, the 9 foot rat snake!) held together basically by the park ranger who lives on site and gives tours while he pursues his dream of making history himself by restoring this beautiful little slice of American History.


Posted by: wheelsandfeet | January 24, 2011

and even DEEPER…

here’s the intense editorial…sorry for all the loose connections. I wrote this over the course of 4-5 days or so and my thoughts are pretty random in the first place!

The Rose Hill Plantation was not what I expected.  I expected something a little different.  The guide was sure to inform us that a plantation isn’t what most people think in that what defines it is the multitude of productions taking place on the same farm.  I tend to think any farm back in the day, north or south, needed to have a multitude of productions. No, this was a little different.  The slave trade wasn’t mentioned.  Not once.  I was most curious about that little tidbit.  In 1994, I spent a semester studying in Germany.  While there, I studied, more specifically the German language including literature and grammar as well as Hitler, the Nazi propaganda machine, and a German religion class covering everything from The Anabaptist movement to Martin Luther.  When I visited a concentration camp in Germany, I expected to see and learn more about the third reich, Hitler’s propaganda machine, and the paralyzing situation created by a huge mess of different variables.  I didn’t expect to see simply where people had lost their lives…and I didn’t.  I walked alone around the compound of Sachsenhausen, a relatively small concentration camp or work camp only about an hour outside Berlin.  One of the first things you see is the big black iron gate with the words Arbeit Macht Frei (work will make you free or literally translated is work does freedom or something along those lines) bent and twisted into the iron at the entrance.  I was ready, mentally prepared, and had a healthy curiosity brewing about that part of human history.  I walked around the area inside the gate on a cold and dreary late winter afternoon.  The sky was grey and there was a bite in the breeze.  I was glad to be alone although I had ridden the train to Sachsenhausen with a couple of classmates.  I just wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone or worry about what they wanted to see this time.  There were four black iron ovens set on brick that opened on one end.  Protected by a steel shelter maybe 15 feet above, if I remember correctly, to spare them from erosion for the time being.  Each oven was about the size of a coffin.  This is where the dead were burned.  Imagine having to be the person whose job it was to load the ovens.  Well, that’s what I thought about at the time.  It didn’t take long to see enough of that and move on, take a wander and a breath of fresh air (the entire compound was outside).  My spirit was rejuvenated enough for my curiosity to come creeping back into my brain after a 10 minute stroll.  There in the near distance I noticed a little white building with the word PATHOLOGY painted on the sign outside the front door.  I hate to admit it, but at the time I didn’t really know what that meant.  In this context, it just didn’t register.  “Pathology, hmmm…the study of…the study of medical stuff?”, I thought. I realized my blunder shortly after opening the creaking front door.  The room was about 20 feet wide and 20 feet long.  There were two ceramic tubs set up diagonally that were about 10 inches deep with a drain on one end.  These tubs were on legs that brought them up to about waist level.  Tools were on a table adjacent to each tub.  Tools…including those that you would see in an operating room: a scalpel, a Kelly clamp, forceps, gauze, etc.  I remember pictures of Doctors in a glass case.  Everything was written in German.  There may have been English translation, but all that I remember is German.  I was standing in an operating room.  This close to Berlin, I wondered if the University of Berlin was involved.  The Nazis were known for their wildly inhumane medical experiments.  I remember the floor was a black laminate tiling like that of a kitchen and the walls were an unspectacular white with a few windows in the room.  I noticed a stairway leading down in the corner of the room.  After a few grounding breaths, I proceeded downstairs.  There was nothing.  The room was about 20×20 if I remember correctly, the same floor plan as the upstairs.  The floor, the walls, even the ceiling was covered in the classic small clay colored tile like most industrial bathrooms.  But why were the ceiling and the walls tiled in a basement?  Why were the support posts also tiled?  Why were there rays of light shining through the back door when I had just walked into a basement below ground?  I walked over to the source of the light and noticed it was coming from the windows of two side by side doors painted white inside and out both of which hinged open to make enough room for even a car.  I looked through the windows outside and doors and noticed a ramp with deep grooves dug into the cement driveway.  Initially, I thought maybe the doctors used this ramp with their car and parked it down here using the basement as a garage.  I walked back to the middle of the room and leaned on one of the tile covered supports to soak in the moment.  Each breath could be seen as the warm air met the chill of early spring.  The moment I thought I’d seen enough, I stepped back ever so slightly with my right foot ready to head back up the stairs to continue touring the grounds.  My worn out brown leather boot planted on a drain had shifted the drain cap just enough to hear the metal to metal clink.  It was at this very moment that my life would take a major emotional shift.  It was exactly then that I realized the room I was standing in was used to store bodies.  My body went completely numb.  My eyes filled with a teardrop and infinite condolence.  That was my experience at a concentration camp or what can be referred to as a work camp during the Nazi reign.  The learning experience becomes more than figuring out who’s fault it was that these circumstances came to be.  The learning experience is about the capability and limits of human nature collectively and what future generations need to do in order to avoid such horror.  The history needs to be confronted, discussed, and experienced.  I saw, felt, touched, smelled, and heard to the best of my ability a tangible slice of the time, the zeitgeist of The Third Reich. It was an experience I will never forget.


Slavery existed in The States a century earlier.  It was also a very dark time for The United States and the backbone to the civil war.  Buying and selling humans.  This idea today seems completely preposterous.  Of course, there were humane plantation owners.  There were even black slave owners.  According to Wikipedia, by the 1860 United States Census, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million.  1860.  4 million.  Why is it that we don’t learn more about this dark time in US history?  Defenses are still very high and not open to discussion on most counts.  As a matter of fact, the State Park Ranger who gave Nicole and I a personal tour of the plantation didn’t mention slavery once.  This plantation had about 9000 acres during its peak years.  It doesn’t matter if slavery was in the north or south.  If not for Lincoln and a very well established industry not to mention how far from a safe port where slaves were bought and sold (Savannah, GA ,for example), the north was no different from the south.  We were and are all Americans.  Even Lincoln had slaves.  There is a slave museum in Charleston, SC that we visited.  It was very nice and informative.  It had one attendant and the dimensions were about  20ft x 40ft x 2 floors.  There was a woman visiting the museum while we were there who was asking the attendant why some slaves after the abolishment of slavery still lived on their plantation owner’s land.  The attendant explained that after slavery was abolished, the slaves were granted land on the plantation.  They owned it.  Where would they go?  How could they sell the plot?  It was there own land and they were gonna keep it.  The visitor had the hardest time trying to understand why the slaves wouldn’t want to move away and forget that it ever happened.  Well,  as a culture, that’s what we ARE doing in a lot of ways.  We’re forgetting that slavery ever happened.  People don’t talk about it much.  The real spirit of slavery is definitely not taught in school.  It’s too bad, really.  It’s not about whose fault it was because no one alive is at fault.  It’s about learning from history, discussing history, and sharing what we learn with each other and our kids.


I guess I could’ve just said the south has been interesting.  I guess I’ll have to get to what we’ve done the last couple weeks in the next couple posts!


YIKES! that was quite a sidetrack…that is if you’re wondering what exactly it is that we’re up to…




Posted by: wheelsandfeet | January 10, 2011

From Carbondale, IL to Dahlonega, GA

On the road…we’re taking a break from it for a few days thanks to a wicked storm in the hills outside Atlanta that either hunted us down or we carried with us…I’m thinking we carried it with us.  It must’ve been stored up in the Yakima Cargo bin or in the dry storage area of the kayaks on top of the rig.  I’m leaning towards the dry storage since the cargo bin is locked.  Either way, old man winter found a way to join us on our road trip again.  Nicole and I went sledding today. Georgia.That’s right! just over 1 hr NE of Atlanta into the Chattahoochee National Forest basically at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail (pronounced ‘A-pu-LATCH-in’ if you’re curious) there’s a fresh 6 inches of snow that should be followed by about 1/2 inch of ice.  Ever hear of a region forecasting the amount of ice that will be falling/forming in a winter storm?  Wal-Mart was even out of sugar.  hilarious.  gotta stock up for the storm!  gotta go to town to stock up on bread and milk!  Taking into consideration the condition of the roads when they’re dry, navigating them when they’re snowy and icy is definitely out of the question.  The driveway to the hostel that Nicole and I are staying at has to be at 13-15 degrees.  Ever hear of a switchback?  Apparently, harsh road conditions happen so seldom out here that when you say switchback the locals just think waste of money and time!  The Hiker Hostel is where we’re hunkering down and it’s a great spot to do it.  We have a private room and bath, there’s a kitchen in the lower level to use anytime, plenty of movies to choose from, free laundry, and breakfast is included…all for $40/night.  We just wish we could enjoy the area more.  The hostel provides transportation and shuttling for the AT (Appalachian Trail) which is merely 6 miles away.  when we got here, there was a group of 5 people who drove down from Toronto (16hrs on dry road) for cycling.  The cycling around here is the real deal.  Even Lance Armstrong trained here.  It would be awesome to use our bikes to explore.  Oh well, there’s only two things that can force us to stand still. 1-mechanical failure (check!) and 2-mother nature (check!).

interrupted by a call from the insurance company…to be continued.

Posted by: wheelsandfeet | January 7, 2011

Out of Carbondale, IL and Moving On!!!

Nicole Here: Yes, we made it – out of Carbondale, IL, that is.  Carbondale and southern Illinois treated us well, but it is time to move on.  The bikes are repaired for the most part, minus the fork and a couple of things on my mountain bike. Phoenix’s Bike shop in Carbondale was very good to us – Thanks! 

New Years day we roamed the roads of the Shawnee National Forest (SNF) to find a boat launch into the Cache River Cyprus Swamps.  We spent the night in the parking lot of the boat launch only to be awakened by eager duck hunters starting at 3:30 am!  In the morning we hauled out the kayaks and paddled through the maze of cyprus trees – it was fantastic to be on the water and having some fun in this beautiful area.  The next day we tracked down the Jackson Falls Climbing Area in the SNF.  Got there a bit late, so we finished exploring the climbs and locating the access back to the top of the cliffs with the light of a dim headlamp and Pat’s trusty Iphone.  Jackson Falls looks like a great place to climb, maybe we will be back when it is a bit warmer.  Then off to the Garden of the Gods State Park for a good short hike to get an eyeful of the very cool formations. There we had the state park camp ground to ourself, had the first campfire of the trip, and a good night sleep. 

After all that fun we headed back into Carbondale to figure out the bikes and trailer deal.   Shopping for parts, putting parts on the trailer, contact with the bike shop, insurance companies, ect….. tension was high.  One last night in Carbondale then bike would be done.  In the morning of our last night in Carbondale  sleeping soundly parked in a multi business parking lot,  we unknowingly had three or four cop cars circling the Rig, they did not knock; our fancy bling (kayaks and gear box, ect….) must have told them that we were no threat, or they were just were just that impressed.    After a day parked in front of Phoenix Bike shop to working on the trailer and waiting for the bikes to be completed, we had our fill of the cold, waiting, fixing things and the comments from the friendly day time  “crazies” that frequent the bar next door to the bike shop;  we could finally take off.  It felt good, really good to have the van wheels moving forward and the bikes back intact – celebration time.

Today we visited Mammoth Caves National Park.  We took a  2 hour tour of a portion of the caves system – fun. 

We are now near Bowling Green, Kentucky wondering where to go next, we wanted to make it to Nashville tomorrow, but of course, the weather is not in our favor – 80% chance of snow.  We do not want to risk driving ain risky weather – lord knows we do not need an other mishap!  So now where to go………

Posted by: wheelsandfeet | December 31, 2010

Happy New Year(‘s Eve)!!!

It’s been an interesting last 5 days…as I’m sure the next 5 days will be!

Cruisin out of the snow belt was a good goal and we made it.  After having a great time in Decorah, IA and saying goodbye to the Hengestegs, we cruised out hwy 9, crossed over to hwy 52, and made our way towards the border…of Iowa, that is. 😉  Seeing the grand ole Mississippi is always a treat. The bluff country of Iowa really stands out in my mind as one of the great overlooked, peaceful, and welcoming areas of the U.S.  Several examples stand out: The Haystacks covered in snow, the herds of cattle bellowing out steam as they munch on their afternoon feed always looking so content, the brilliant red barns standing out in the hills and valleys below the highway.  These things kept my mind in a pleasant space as we were about to embark on a long journey to get out of the snow belt before the overcast turns to freezing rain.  Those quaint highways in the hills along The Mississippi turn to hell’s gate when they are covered in black ice.  We took Arne’s advice and rolled through Balltown, Iowa.  What a crazy little village.  Classic.  Riding through this country on a road bike would be fantastic.  The roads are winding and rolling and friendly as all get out, I tell ya.  We didn’t actually talk to anyone.  We just knew.  Highway 52 to C9y between Millville and Sageville.  We would’ve taken the ferry across The Mississippi to Cassville if we would’ve been there between March and October.  There will be other chances to take a ferry in the VW and we will take them.  Through Dubuque, Illinois welcomed us with open arms! State #3! WOWEE! 😀  I’ve always heard good things about the quaint little artisan town of Galena, Illinois and it was high time for us to check it out for ourselves.  It’s true!  Very cool town.  We stopped by a cafe with breakfast all day along the main drag of shops to indulge in a hot meal of a couple “signature dishes”. Mmmm…I got the Hobo Scramble and Nicole got the Fried Meatloaf at The Victory Cafe.  Perfect.  Ate the leftovers for dinner…at a hotel…we’ll get to that soon.  As we were eating brunch I thought I should call my buddy Gale since he grew up no more than 20 miles from where we were! Maybe, we thought, we should play a trick on him and take a photo of his parents place and text message him the photo.  We were thinking he was back in Minneapolis!  Wouldn’t that be funny?!?  well, on the other hand, avoiding freezing rain sounded good, too…so we just gave him a call.  Of course, he was there, at his parents in Stockton, Illinois, a mere 30 minutes from us!  Crazy. Coincidences on the road never cease to amaze me.  In this case, as much of a bummer as it was, we had to pass on meeting up with him because we were determined to get out of snow country that day!  Are you getting a sense of forcing it a bit yet?  We didn’t think we were.  After all, we took the time to cruise the bluff country and see Galena.  We are on vacation!  Time should not be an issue.  We even took a quick snapshot of Ulysses S. Grant’s house on the hill in Galena.  Nice!

Once we got through Galena we took another little detour back to Iowa to use a Kwik Trip card given to us as a gift by Nicole’s parents.  We didn’t figure out that Kwik Trips only exist in MN, WI, and IA until we were in Illinois!  Oh well, only about a 30 minute detour through more scenic bluff country.  But, we should’ve taken the couple minutes to figure that out sooner!  Good grief.


Note:  Take the time ahead of time to save time and money later…life in a nutshell, right?  An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure, right?  good grief.

So! Back to Iowa quick through Clinton, home town of my good buddy Ben Roels, right Ben?  You bet! Got ahold of him via text only to find out that he had just recently left Clinton to return to his current nice little hometown of Vail, CO.

Well, at this point we were done screwin around on country roads.  It was time to hit the Interstate for a while.  HWY 80 to HWY 74 through Peoria to HWY 55, chip off St. Louis by using Cty Rd. 4 to HWY 64 to HWY 57 and down to Shawnee National Forest for some hiking, checking out rock climbing, maybe some mountain biking…fun fun FUN!  Believe it or not, on with another ridiculous coincidence…the Stiney’s were headin back from a family Christmas outside Chicago in Brent’s hometown of Spring Grove in the northernmost part of Illinois.  Brent had given me a call to see where Nicole and I were on our road trip.  They were pretty excited for us.  They have had their share of road trips!    Turns out we were all headed to Shawnee National Forest. Crazy.  Crazy! haven’t seen Brent for at least 2 years or Ali and the kids, albeit very briefly, for at least 5!  They are too good of friends not to have seen for so long.  Nicole and I were planning on getting in touch with them the morning after we found a place to rest our heads.  They were planning on getting a hotel nearby.  Turns out we should’ve stayed in the parking lot of their hotel.  We could’ve even used the pool! We didn’t.  WE KEPT GOING!  forcing it.  not good.  1000+ miles into the trip at this point.  getting tired. hungry.  we pulled off the highway to check out a campground.  I put the van in reverse to read a sign at the campground…yep. forgot about the trailer.  little jackknife. didn’t think much of it. we were going so slow…not even 1 MPH. no damage.  checked to make sure the trailer was all right.  everything looked good!  since we didn’t want to pay the $17 to sleep there we kept driving! what?  well, it was 1030 pm.  we decided to stay at a rest stop 10 miles down the highway.


we looked in the rear view mirrors and the trailer was ripping back and forth like a Wildebeest in the jaws of a crocodile.  UNBELIEVABLE!  at 70MPH, our trailer with our two road bikes and two mountain bikes mounted on top and filled with gear to the gills below was about ready to slam into the VW, let loose and fly down the highway on a path of complete destruction, or fly violently into the guardrail smashing all of our goods only to flip off the highway and head straight down a ravine into a knot of trees, hillside, and swamp.  We couldn’t believe what was happening.  “Maybe everything will be just fine”, I thought to myself. Slowing down nice and steady, pulling off the highway in a controlled manner, staying out of oncoming traffic’s way…keeping the trailer upright…now THAT would’ve been great.  Well, we were able to pull off the first two steps.  It was the keeping the trailer upright part that we weren’t able to pull off.  The trailer flipped onto its side scraping the highway from one side then to the other.  NO!  The bikes were smashed.  NO! NOT NOW!

The VW damage could’ve been worse, but we will have to deal with that later.  It was drivable.  It was 11pm on an interstate in the very southern tip of Illinois.  Nicole, myself, and Malto were stranded in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere with too much damage to think about…but we were safe.  It was sprinkling.

well, at least it wasn’t freezing rain.

We’re not sure what happened.  Who knows.  AAA gave the trailer a tow.  The local sheriff’s dept was fantastic giving us a lot of tips on what to see in the area while we waited for the flatbed tow truck.  There were two policeman that came to the scene to help.  We were a little distracted but they kept us interested.  One talked about how he wanted to do just what we were doing but had to wait for the kids to grow up a bit.  The other talked about how the same thing happened to him but the trailer actually slammed into the back of the vehicle he was driving.  The upgrades that I did to the trailer including the galvanized steel reinforcement siding and diamond plate top were hugely involved in keeping everything intact.  The locks popped off the lid opening it up, but the retractable cable lock that I got from Menards on a whim kept everything intact that was stored inside.  No yard sale of our gear all over the highway this time…that was a big deal.  we stayed at a cheap motel and ate our leftovers from Galena…not so much with a smile.  but not quite with a frown either.  I guess we were a little melancholic and downtrodden at that point.  bummin…could’ve been worse, for sure.

Now, we’re at Barnes and Noble. sippin coffee eatin chewy sweethearts.  replaced the rims on the trailer and so far so good! bikes are at the bike shop getting assessed for damage to get a quote to the insurance company.  oh yeah, the bike racks are a mess, of course.  ho hum.  time to start eating cheese sandwiches.  It’s new years eve.  we were hoping to be in Key West, FLA!  then we heard Beale Street in Memphis for New Years was awesome.  instead, for the big festivities of the New Year celebration, we’re headin to Key West Bar and Grill right here in Carbondale, Illinois.  we’re hopin to go for a hike with Malto tomorrow.  We’ll keep our plans pretty humble for now, I think.

On one hand, as everyone says, Life’s Too Short…but, if you’re already really livin it the way you want to, there’s plenty of time.


Posted by: wheelsandfeet | December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!

we’re enjoying the snow after the record breaking snowfall here in Minnesota…yep…still in Minnesota, but we’re ready to get out.

We made some last minute changes to the rig (the Volkswagen…duh!) including a new windshield wiper motor and trailer tarp tie down, we embarked on our first mileage with the full set up.  It was awesome to get out on the open road.  We dropped a couple last minute boxes off in Mound at Ma Needham’s place.  From there we went southwest out of Mound only to see Ma Needham one last time out on the open road.  Leave it up to her to be the last one there for the final send off.  Although, she didn’t sport the accordion this time as she has been known to do!  No better way to say good bye to mom when embarking on the road trip of a lifetime but on the open road.

We had a little trouble reaching our destination of Springfield, MN to visit Nicole’s wonderful Grandmother, but nothing to speak of, really.  We had a really nice dinner of a few simple Subway sandwiches.  I really love how Nicole’s grandma, Audrey, has made it a point in her life, after some 90 years, to KISS…keep it simple stupid! 😀  Nicole and I have become very familiar with that whole concept (enter in the movie 180 Degrees South,, seen sometime in May).  Since we saw that film, we have made it a point of simplifying our lives.  Highly recommended…and, in light of the latest economic times, living is cheaper and more fulfilling when it is lived more simply.  Well, the roads were dry when we went in to Grandma Scholtz’s apartment.  Not the case when we left.  2-3 inches of snow were already freshly laid on the pavement for us.  Hmmm…well, as we were leaving, I thought we’d start driving and stop anywhere we needed to and sleep in the VDub if driving conditions turned to crap.  We took a right hand turn…POOF!…a big hill.  TOO STEEP FOR THE RIG!  The wheels were turning and turning and turning…ummm, turning turned into spinning and going backwards instead of forwards! YIKES!  How am I going to turn this rig around, trailer and all, while facing up a hill in the snow not able to see the trailer and no driveway to reverse into?  I backed up so the trailer turned to the right a bit, put the rig in drive to make a hard right turn, and saw the snow bank directly in front of me.  Knowing damn well I couldn’t make the turn, of course, I had to try it anyway.  After all, we’re on an adventure and, if need be the trailer can easily be taken off…but, seriously…think I wanted to do that in the dark and while it was snowing?  Well, this time I wasn’t up for it.  So, with physics on my side this time, I slammed on the accelerator!  AND INTO THE SNOW BANK I WE…HAhaha, just kidding.  With the front wheels spinnin’, the nose of the rig just slid right down the hill, and VOILA! TURNED AROUND I WAS!  and the trailer was fine.  perfect.  Off we go!…using a not so steep route out of Springfield, MN this time!

Springfield to Winnebago in near white out conditions and completely unable to see the road turned into Springfield to New Ulm pretty quick.  Ever hear of this fancy place they call Wal-Mart?  Not a fan, truly.  making mince meat of any small business in the area, Wal-Mart has taken over too many private business destroying small town culture and making front door greeters out of small business owners because they can’t compete with out right pirating of goods’ prices by buying in such massive quantities. Don’t get me started.  BUT! they do graciously offer a free and clear place to park overnight with all the resources you never knew you needed (filling up landfills across the country, uh-hum)!  SO!  where was the first night spent on our “6 month” road trip of a liftime???  WAL-MART!  good grief…and I have to thank Wal-Mart for their gracious hospitality.  They even provided a plowed front lawn in the morning, a hot cup of coffee, and an awesome pair of Dickies Bibs for $20, and a nice new set of wiper blades for the rig after we woke up from a cozy 8hr nights sleep.  Now we’ll both be sportin the bibs!  Oh well.  THANKS WAL-MART. OUCH!  You got me this time!

We left the New Ulm Wal-Mart (have I said Wal-Mart enough yet?) with the big plan of taking the high road to Winnebago.  I should mention, Nicole and I don’t have a GPS for driving (we have one for hiking) because we want to see America by no digital means of direction because we think you lose an edge of the essence of road tripping. I also need to mention that Nicole was driving her car separately because she needed to drop her car off at her parent’s place in Winnebago so I didn’t have my trusty navigator.  I’ll appreciate having her by my side as my trusty navigator from now on no matter how many wrong turns we end up accidentally taking.  Mark my words.

It should take about 1.5 hrs to get from New Ulm to Winnebago.  We took ‘the scenic route’.  ended up in Jackson, MN.  a bit off.  well, WAY OFF…but the roads were awful and to pull over was not an option unless there was a plowed gas station.  There was no plowed gas station.  To turn around would’ve taken plowed turn lanes which there was none. And, would you want to ride with me in a snowstorm while I was driving and checking the map?  Needless to say, a GPS would’ve come in handy THIS TIME.  All my judgments are already falling to pieces here.  GPS…Wal-Mart…other drivers (at one point there were about 20 cars behind me)…I’m taking a hint, okay?  good grief!  Well, after a treacherous drive through awful conditions, we did arrive in Winnebago safe and sound.  Malto was happy to run through the snow like a dolphin in the sea out in front of The Johnson’s warm and welcoming abode.  The driveway was clear and ready for the rig to be parked since Nicole’s dad, Tom, worked hard at getting it ready for the visitors…specifically a 1995 Volkswagen Eurovan camper with a trailer.

Very hospitable. and a fine Christmas with the Johnson’s it was.  very relaxing.  very good food.  very much appreciated. but, we’re off to the far horizon tomorrow!


We’re hoping to visit the farm in Garner, IA.  Aunt Becky and Uncle Dave, Ali, Derek, and, of course, a legend in her own time, Grandma Boehnke.  I’m very excited.  And, so far, the roads and weather are predicted to be good.  After visiting the farm, we’re off to good ole Decorah, IA.  Can’t wait for that either!  we’ll be visiting the good folks of Arne and Robyn.  staying at their place in town and cross country skiing up to their land in the country to check out their soon to be warm and welcoming, earth friendly abode.

BRING ON THE BUTT SLEDS and warm beverages!
Our Wheelsandfeet adventure has officially begun.  We are for real.  It’s starting to feel that way, too.


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