Update 9: November 26, 2006

Scorecard: (as of this update): 211 days; 20410 miles (Car: 8337, RV: 12073); 30 states; 26 National Parks; 8456 photos.

We arrived at Susan’s uncle’s house in Cape Coral on November 20th. This will be our residence until the first of February. It marks the end of seven months on the road so far; the first half of our trip is over. Staying here will give us a chance to decompress from the constant travel and have a nice place to welcome the new baby into the world.

It was nice to spend Thanksgiving in an actual house, and it’s nice for Justin to be able to have room to roam. It’s funny though, because he seems a little bored here so far. We think that’s because when we’re on the road, we’re constantly busy with traveling, sightseeing, hiking, going to the beach, and all the other things we do outdoors. Today he seems better, and (thankfully) has managed to keep himself busy on his own.

It’s been about six weeks since the last update. As a result, this update is one of the longer ones we’ve done. I know that it’s sometimes difficult to find time to read the updates, but let me offer you this: it will be the last update for close to three months. One possible exception will be a very short update to let everyone know when the baby arrives next month.

Because we waited so long to complete this update, there was a lot more work to do than usual. Fortunately, Susan agreed to help write a couple of updates. The author of each update is listed.

Shenandoah National Park: October 14-19, 2006 (Location 52 on the Map)

Susan (with unwelcome editing from Jeff):

Shenandoah National Park lies along the Blue Ridge in northern Virginia, near the north end of the Appalachian Mountains. We arrived at the perfect time: during the changing of the leaves. This is the part of autumn we’re deprived of in Phoenix, so it was a treat to see the beautiful colors at their peak. We were able to hike three different trails in the park despite a down day due to rain. At thirty weeks of pregnancy, the hikes were getting progressively shorter with the longest there being a 2.9 mile round-trip hike to the top of Hawksbill Mountain. Typically, I slow Jeff down even with the extra thirty-plus pounds of Justin and the carrier on his back; but I managed to keep up. As we left the park, we drove the remainder of the 105-mile scenic route along Skyline Drive.

After Shenandoah, we turned toward Williamsburg, Virginia. We drove south to Chesapeake to have dinner with my friend Bridgette, her husband, and her two sons. We had a short but wonderful visit, and Justin had a blast playing with Matthew and Aidan. He was so upset about leaving that he refused to say goodbye or thank you. As a staunch practitioner of the lessons in his Elmo’s Good Manners Game book, this was testimony to the fact that he had so much fun.

The next day, we went to Colonial Williamsburg. This is a touristy place that gives you a sense of being in the 1700’s, with the restored buildings and volunteers dressed in the garb of the era. However, it does not resonate with the history of the Revolution we had hoped for. We lamented the fact that we didn’t go to Jamestown or Yorktown instead. But the day was nice, and Justin was extremely well-behaved. He even maintained his potty training regimen while there. Usually displaying an adversity toward public toilets, he managed to use one in the women’s room quite effectively. He was so proud of himself, that as we approached the saddle maker’s shop, he proclaimed to the Colonial-clad woman who greeted us, “I pooped on the potty. It was a big poop!” Fortunately, she was a grandmother with a two-year-old grandchild of her own, so she wasn’t bothered by his candor. In fact, she praised him for his accomplishment.

As we left, we purchased a 5-disc Revolutionary War DVD set in hopes of learning more about the Revolution that we realized we are so ignorant about. We drove away, and we were again surrounded by outlet stores; the same outlet stores that blistered the scenery of the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Amish country of Lancaster County. And again we wondered why people can’t simply appreciate the beauty or history of these great places without the ruinous commercialization.

For photos from Shenandoah National Park, Click Here

Great Smoky Mountain Nat'l. Park: October 23-29, 2006 (Location 55 on the Map)

Jeff:

And the commercialization continued.

I suppose we should have figured that at the most-visited park in the US, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there would be more of the same. In Cherokee, on the eastern side of the park, there was miniature golf, a water park (although it was closed for the season), and about a hundred moccasin stores. Not to mention the casino. In Gatlinburg, on the western side, there were more shops and hotels than you could count. Up the road from that were the Dollywood amusement park and the Dollywood Splash World water park.

Fortunately, you can stay inside the park and not have to deal with any of that. But even inside the park, the park’s popularity combined with the changing of the leaves, conspired to make driving and hiking a crowded affair. So instead of spending too much time at places like the visitor’s centers, picnic areas, and pull offs on the side of the road, we found some longer trails away from the crowds and were able to enjoy our week-long visit without sharing it with too many others.

One hike in particular stands out. We set out on a six-mile loop trail that would take us to the top of a nearby mountain and back. We figured that after doing a four-mile hike the previous day, Susan could handle it. As she progressed through the pregnancy, she was certainly getting slower, but if she took it slow, she didn’t have too much trouble. So we took off, and before long, Justin and I were well ahead of her. We were halfway into a somewhat strenuous two-mile uphill stretch, when I decided to let Justin out and let him walk on his own. I figured that as slow as he is, Susan would catch up to us soon enough. Well, Justin was faster than I thought and Susan was slower, and she simply wasn’t catching up. So I had Justin stop and eat a snack so we could wait for Susan to catch up. We waited. And waited. And waited. I finally decided we should turn around and go back for her. Maybe she was hurt. Or having a baby. As we were getting packed up to head back, here came Susan, walking slowly up the hill towards us. In hindsight, I see that we shouldn’t have left her behind. She said she felt terribly alone being on the trail with no one else around, in an area she wasn’t familiar with. And for the first time on any hike she’d been on she didn’t think she was going to make it. She had stopped to lean against a tree and cry. It was another lesson to me to make concessions for her pregnancy. You’d think that after seven months of Susan’s pregnancy, I would have gotten a clue. But you’d be giving me too much credit.

This stop was our coldest of the road trip so far. I had filled up the propane tank prior to getting there, but it was cold enough that we were running the furnace much more than usual, and I was a little bit concerned about running out of propane sometime in the week we were there. We didn’t, but it was close. The cold, along with a rain storm we had one day, produced some beautiful displays. In the valleys throughout the park, the low lying clouds and fog produced the “smoky” effect that the area is named for. And at Clingman’s Dome, one of the high points in the park, the weather coated the leaves of the trees with a thick layer of frost and ice, leaving the ground bare. I heard on the news the weekend after we left the Smokies that the ski area just outside the east side of the park was opening for the season. I guess we left just in time.

For photos from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Click Here

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