Sweet Home Alabama, November, December 2022

Thanks for sticking with us over what is now coming up on two years while I got behind on posts, I heard from many of you wondering when the next post would arrive. There have been lots of challenges, losses, and new things to learn, and then, finally, it is time to just get on with it.

Thanks are in order.

I have to acknowledge how grateful I am for Susan’s steadfast love and devotion and support through all of my cancer surgery and treatments. She made it possible to work our way through it. I complained and griped, she listened, all she needed to do, and she is good at it. She provided the footholds to climb out of some pretty deep holes.

And to my friend Mike, who reminded me to allow people I care about and trust to know what you are going through. That act of love and trust allows them to return so much more. Care, concern, love, a listening post, and sometimes a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge to make you think about things more clearly. You get so much more in return than you ever thought was possible.

And to Bob, my “Up North” friend that I talk to almost every week, who was my never-ending source of positive reinforcement. And Lou, who always helped me stay on track. It is so easy to stray from the yellow brick road and get lost in every distraction, fear, and worry. Lou held the guiding lantern high. And Richard who has been through this himself, for reminding me that the future is a place we can get to. And finally to my dear friend, Ted, who would have been my biggest cheerleader at the finish line. I made it. Ted, very sadly, didn’t get there with me. I rang the bell as much for Ted and everyone else as I did for myself.

And to many more, all helped in their own way, many had no idea how much.

Off to Alabama

Winter in Minnesota is OK if you have to be there and travel is optional when the weather is bad. For the most part, we have been able to limit travel to the nice days when we are home and are privileged to be able to get away in the winter.

In late November, three weeks after Maggie Mae arrived and two weeks after my last radiation treatment the coach was loaded and ready to go. We took our time loading, a little bit every day. I was starting to feel the fatigue that the radiation oncologist said would set in a week or so after treatment ended and last for 4 to 6 weeks. At two weeks I was already feeling the fatigue, probably because I just didn’t slow down. And we had a puppy to deal with as well.

Tiny Maggie

We have a hard time remembering just how small Maggie was when she came home. Here she is with a toy dog pal who was about 12 inches long.

It surprised us just how much puppy stuff we accumulated and were bringing with us. It includes a large basket of toys. My friend asked if she had toys, I said, “More than I ever had when I was a kid.” Most of the toys we thought would be perfect got ignored for a worn sock or a plastic bottle or just an old tennis ball. She does have a couple of small stuffed dogs that were sleep buddies to make up for the loss of her litter mates. She likes these and treats them well. A small stuffed bear, a chicken, a cow, and a turtle fill out the soft toy zoo.

We brought along a small corral made of short fence pieces and a dog crate. She was over the fence in just a couple of weeks and never really liked the crate. We donated those to the vet she saw in Orange Beach. Better to go to someone who needed them.

Ready, Steady, Go

Our tire pressures had been adjusted on both the F150 and the coach for the temperatures at the time. The weather was still pretty warm so for the first time in 12 years we de-winterized the coach’s water system and added fresh water to the tank before we left. The heat had been on for about a week, set to 40 degrees.

We were ready. The day before we left we increased the temperature in the coach to a more comfortable level. The evening before we left we turned on the engine preheat system. The morning of departure we went through the departure checklist, turning off everything in the house that didn’t need to be on, setting the house temperature to 50 degrees, double-checking everything, and finally locked up the house.

The coach was out in the driveway, the F150 connected for towing, and the barn was locked up. Nothing left to do but depart. So we did.

Maggie had ridden in the coach once before. She was still not quite big enough to jump up on the couch so Susan helped her up and sat with her for an hour or so as she rode in a pet box. She was calm and quiet. We helped her up and down when she wanted. She often slept between the front seats. She just wanted to be close to us.

The little box didn’t last long as Maggie outgrew it quickly. She was OK on the couch with some help up and down. It took a couple of weeks before she was able to jump up on the couch by herself and another month or more before she would get off on her own.

We planned our travel days to be short with several stops each day. I was feeling fatigued from the radiation treatments and we were being careful to let Maggie out frequently. So instead of a three-day trip, we planned for five. Our route changed on the first day. It looked like our second day would have led us right into a significant storm brewing in Texas and heading northeast. So we went a different way from the original plan and arranged to stop west of Saint Louis where our friends Douglas and Amanda were staying for part of November and December.

Douglas and Amanda Meet Maggie

Amanda was very excited to meet Maggie. Everyone got along well. We had a few hours in the afternoon to visit, ate a pizza that was a St Louis favorite (unlike any pizza we have ever had) and played Quiddler in the early evening. It was quite cold that night and very windy as the storm moved south of us to the northeast. Cold but clear in the morning.

We had been hearing a clunking noise under the front end of the coach and the steering seemed to be getting sloppy. I crawled under the front end and had a look, it was very cold. I didn’t see anything out of order. So we packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed south.

Most of the places we were going to stop for overnights didn’t work anymore after our weather stop so we just figured out where we could get and went there.

We stopped at a rest stop and I just had to look under the front end again. There is a big steering gearbox that had been rebuilt a few years earlier. This time when I looked more closely, I could see a large bolt that was coming loose. When I touched it it fell out.

I got out from under the front end, got some tools and gloves, and crawled back under. I got the bolt started back in and threaded it in as far as I could get it by hand and then with the biggest wrench I had was able to get it as tight as I could. Then with a flashlight, I could see four slightly smaller bolts that were loose as well. A different wrench tightened two of them and a socket wrench got two more. I was pretty dirty, very cold. I hoped it was enough.

We finally got to an odd little campground in Clarksville, TN. Something about the last train rang a bell. Then off towards Nashville and south towards Birmingham. The roads through Birmingham are some of the worst we have ever seen. Many sections of the Interstate were so bad that 40 mph was a practical speed limit. Friends had recommended a campground at the (town of) Hoover Sports Complex south of Birmingham. We called and made a reservation, got there later in the afternoon, and stopped. Our short days and frequent stops plan was not working very well.

The weather was warmer, and I had a better look at the steering gearbox again, it seemed secure. I think when it was replaced they put all the bolts in by hand and never finished tightening them up.

There was plenty of room for Maggie to explore at the end of her leash anyway. The campground was a big parking lot with electrical hookups. There were water and waste connections but we didn’t need them for just an overnight stop.

Maggie was pretty happy on the couch when Susan rode with her.

We left Hoover, headed south towards Mobile on I65 then angled towards I10 east of Mobile. Then 10 miles east to Buc-ee’s. If you haven’t experienced a Buc-ee’s, they are the biggest gas station – convenience store – department store – fast food place you have ever seen. The biggest one is more than 74,000 square feet, bigger than five Trader Joe’s combined! It has the world’s longest car wash with 255 feet of conveyor. And 120 fuel pumps. It is an experience.

This Buc-ee’s even has its own two lanes on the exit ramp from I10. Past Buc-ee’s and south to the Baldwin Beach Express and then the Foley Beach Expressway to the high toll bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway and onto the island where Orange Beach is on the east end and Gulf Shores is on the west end.

Our RV Park used to be called Pandion Ridge. It was purchased a couple of years ago by Sun Outdoors, a big corporate RV park owner/developer. So now it is Sun Outdoors Orange Beach. Pandion Ridge just sounds better to me.

Pandion Ridge

At the bottom of the bridge ramp, we turn right onto Canal Road and then left after 1/4 mile into the RV Park. We were parked in Site 19 at the top of the map. This row is up against rows of tall long-leaf pine trees and all of the sites are pull-in. With the front window facing the forest, the sites seem very private. Our site was about 50 feet wide and about 120 ft deep. It was wider at the end by the woods than at the road.

The driveway was wide enough for two cars, the patio was about 12 ft x 20 ft, plenty of room for our shade room, a picnic table, and an LP gas fire-pit and chairs.

We arrived at the beginning of December, set up our shade room, hung the wreath, and the festive chili pepper lights, and plugged in the awning lights. We rearranged things on the patio after our first go at it. Mostly to get the door of the shade room under the edge of the big awning.

Maggie seemed to be the focus of most of our days. She went for a walk first thing in the morning, another walk later in the morning. An afternoon walk and a couple in the evening. We started just going around one of the loops in the section of the park we were in. As she got a bit older that increased to two sections and then the entire loop. And then we just kept adding in more, especially the section from Canal Road to the office where there was a wide grassy median for Maggie to explore.

We got a few packages from Amazon every week so stops at the office were frequent. The ladies in the office always stopped to greet Maggie, they voted her the cutest dog in the park. Even if we had no package to pick up Maggie always wanted to stop in anyway.

Christmas was coming. Maggie seemed to know something was going to happen, I think she could smell a new bag of treats.

Maggie at 15 Weeks
Yule Log

We had our “fireplace” going.

And packages carefully piled.

Maggie and Several New Toys

Maggie was exhausted from the excitement, she actually sleeps about 16-18 hrs a day in any case.

A Christmas Jig Saw Puzzle

Susan and I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles and we give each other a new set from Lee Valley Tools every year, one is a garden puzzle and one is a tool-related puzzle.

So we got to the end of December. A month in Albama. A month living with a puppy in the coach. A month of of recovery. A good month.

The weather has been quite nice. Better than we expected, mostly sunny days, some rain usually overnight, and some pretty sunsets.

Nice Days, Coolorful Sunsets

We have met new folks in the park too. One couple from South Carolina with two nice dogs that get along with Maggie (she gets along with everyone.) Maggie has been to the Vet down here to continue her vaccinations and other puppy treatments. Her first haircut is coming up too.

More Later, Much Love,

Susan and Roger and Maggie Mae

2 thoughts on “Sweet Home Alabama, November, December 2022”

  1. Congratulations on your milestone of whipping cancer! Maggie is a beautiful puppy and I am sure she brings you both much joy to be around. Wish I would have known you were coming through Nashville, we could have met up, as we were only 30 miles down the road in Lebanon at our kids homes. And yes, I -65 through Birmingham is horrible! Been there done that! We are on our way to CT now. I am volunteering for the COE recreation area there for 5 months. Will give us a chance to see all of New England, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI island. Safe travels and congrats again for your perseverance through a horrible disease! Kindness regards, Joe & Dottie Allen


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