A Bluegrass Backyard Adventure.

The backroads of the Kentucky Bluegrass Region are great for day-trip exploration!  The scenery is absolutely beautiful!  Drive 30 minutes outside of Lexington in any direction and the winding country roads will offer awesome views of grass covered rolling-hills, dissected by mile after mile of horse fences and countless creeks!  Follow a creek long enough and you are more than likely going to pass one of the many bourbon distilleries in the area.  Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve Distilleries all have visitor’s centers and offer tours if you are interested in seeing how the only truly all “American” spirit is produced and of course you can always take a bottle home with you!  Horse-lovers will not be disappointed, some of the horse barns in the Bluegrass countryside look like European estates!  Just remember, horses live in those buildings… not people!  I should be so lucky!

I spent about 4 hours on the Big Old Mare today exploring the Bluegrass, I just couldn’t resist. The sun was shining at 8:00 AM and no rain was in the forecast, so I knew it was time to saddle-up the old sway-back and go for a ride.  For day trips, I like to have an area in mind but don’t always follow a pre-determined route.  That way I’m not slave to a map or GPS.  Today was no different, I just headed north from Lawrenceburg and tried to follow the Kentucky river toward Frankfort as best I could.  After crossing over the river and numerous creeks half a dozen times, I arrived in Frankfort a few hours later, just in time for lunch at the Cliffside Diner.  No matter where you explore, food always makes an adventure more enjoyable!  The Cliffside is a stone-throw away from the Kentucky State Capital and overlooks the Kentucky River.  Due to a row of trees between the diner and the river, the views from the restaurant aren’t that great but the food was excellent!  I will definitely visit the Cliffside again!  After lunch I crossed the Kentucky River again and headed south on Hwy 1659, aka McCraken Pike.  The road follows the east side of the Kentucky River for a few miles and then follows Glenns Creek all the way to the town of Versailles, often referred to as the “Horse Capital of the World.”  Yes, along the way you will see more horses than people!  On McCraken Pike you will pass the Old Taylor Distillery (closed since 1972) and the Woodford Reserve Distillery.  I stopped at both, long enough to stretch my legs and take a few happy-snappies!  It’s amazing how just a few hours of exploration make you feel like a new person!  

Don’t forget your map when you explore the Bluegrass!

    

The Cliffside Diner in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Really great food!
The Old Taylor Distillery.

The Old Taylor Distillery seems to come out of nowhere… you round a corner and bam… there it is… it’s definitely worth a photo-stop!  Rumor has it the property has been recently purchased and will soon produce bourbon again!

The Old Taylor Distillery sign.
An abandoned building, part of the Old Taylor Distillery.
Some Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels.
I stopped at the Woodford Reserve Distillery but didn’t enter the Visitor’s Center today.  They were busy with a suit and tie event and I was not really dressed for the occasion!  I will visit again in the near future, it will give me an excuse for another day-trip! 
I thought about trying to strap a barrel on the back of the Big Old Mare but decided against it!  The Kentucky backroads are narrow, hilly and winding… I might have ended-up in a creek!

Above and below, there are a few dirt roads in the Bluegrass region, great for dual sport motorcycle exploration!

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A “Titan” of a Storm….. 2014.

As I’ve said before, perspective is everything.  For someone living in the northern United States, a Winter-storm that drops 6 inches of snow overnight is nothing special…. but for residents of central Kentucky, 6 inches of snow anytime is a big deal!  When someone or something is referred to as a “titan,”  it means they are gigantic in size or power… so I think the name “Titan,” given to the most recent storm to hit Kentucky, is quite appropriate!  Wow, and to think that just a week ago I was in 80 degree weather of Florida…. Did I return too soon to the Bluegrass State?  While in Florida, I missed two months of snow and cold weather, so none of my family and friends have offered any sympathy!  I guess I just need to “cowboy-up” and enjoy a few days of snow, this may just be the last storm of the Winter….       

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The Dentist and the Tax Collector……

Forgive me if I don’t seem overjoyed about departing the beautiful, 82 degree, sun-soaked weather of Florida to head back north to Kentucky and “polar-vortex 3.0!”  But that’s exactly what I did a few days ago!  There are 2 people you should never ignore, the dentist and the tax collector.  Everyone knows if you ignore the dentist, it can eventually lead to a pain in your tooth…. and, if you ignore the tax-collector, it can eventually lead to a pain in your butt!  Not wanting to suffer pain in either location, I returned to Kentucky for a few weeks!  In early December I broke a tooth on a frozen piece of carmel candy.  I saw the dentist before departing for Florida a few months ago, but the crown would not be ready before my Florida departure.  Now the crown is ready and I can repair my chom-pers.  I also need to assemble all my income-tax documents and send them to the accountant, so I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone….. or should I say… one trip!  I had a wonderful time in Florida, and I avoided a bitterly cold mid-west winter so far this year.  But before my celebration begins, I see that “polar-vortex numero 3” is about to descend on the northern United States over the next few days!  Oh joy!

I took a slightly different route from Florida to Kentucky this trip.  The easiest and fastest route is highway 75 almost all the way, from door to door…. but, I wanted to see a few new sights and took highway 127 from near Chattanooga to central Kentucky.  Highway 127 is a 2 lane road almost all the way and passes through some pretty interesting little towns….. like….

– the hometown of Mark Twain’s parents….
– the hometown of WWI hero, Sergeant Alvin York….
– the Wolf Creek Damn and Lake Cumberland,
  to name a few……..

It was a beautifully sunny day for the entire trip, that is until less than 20 minutes from home…. when the wind and rain conspired to greet me!  Welcome back to Kentucky they laughed….!
Anyone who has traveled the backroads of Kentucky and Tennessee, knows that it is a “feast” for the eyes… maybe not a Pacific Coast Highway type “feast of beauty,” but an interesting “feast” of a drive nonetheless!  Small towns with Norman Rockwell type town squares, rolling hills with limestone rock cliffs, horse farms, Amish buggies and drive-through liquor stores next-door to Baptist churches are just some of the sights you can feast your eyes upon.  I stopped at a few places along the way… and of course, met some interesting characters… at a small convenience store, a middle-aged, bearded man introduced himself, told me I was “saved” and gave me 3 small stones with the word “Jesus” written on them.  He told me Jesus was the rock and now I was free to do as I wished with the stones.  I thanked him and took the stones with me.  What else could I have done?  At another stop, I met an 85 year-old gentlemen on the front porch of a country store, carving wooden sticks?  He was friendly and said the wooden indian statues were almost as old as he was.  He looked like he was taking a break from filming an episode of the “Andy Griffith Show.”  Then there was the guy that just needed $1.27 cents more to get a gallon of gas for his stranded car… he even had a small gas can in tow, to make his tragedy look so much more believable…. and there was the nice young waitress who recognized I was not from Tennessee by my “accent” ?  I have the accent… oh ok….. if you say so…. oh and throw some more “matters” on my “sam-itch” while you’re at it young lady!
Wandering off the normal paths can be a lot of fun!

The grave of Sergeant Alvin York in Pall Mall, Tn.
The home, now museum, of Sergeant Alvin York.
The Mill where Sergeant York worked before and after the war.
A triple-decker in rural Kentucky.
London has double-deckers, we have triple-deckers in Kentucky!
A few silent indians greet customers at the Country Store.
The Wood Carver, making shavings?
I stopped for fuel at the wrong place!
The only service I got was from an angry bird who made his home in the pump!

          

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Urban Boon-Docking Safety Tips for the Vehicle Dweller.

Bertha and I boondocking on 17 Mile Drive in Pacific Grove, California in 2012.

Over the past 3 and a half years I have done a fair amount of vehicle traveling, to include 2 trips from Kentucky to California and back, 2 trips from Kentucky to Florida and numerous trips throughout the midwest!  I’m happy to report that I have enjoyed safe travels during all these trips!

During most of my travels I boon-dock about 75% of the time.  The other 25% of the time, I stay with friends or pay to spend the night at a campground or RV park.  Many of my friends ask where “I stay” when on the road.  I say boon-docking and then often need to explain what boon-docking is.
Many respond with, “I could never do that… just park somewhere and spend the night… aren’t you worried…”  This response is probably common with many of my vehicle-dwelling blog readers who also boondock.  I tell my friends that boon-docking can be safe and a lot of fun!

Just in case you’re a new reader, a quick web-search defines boon-docking as,

(boondock) A brushy rural area or location; To camp in a dry brushy location; To stay in a recreational vehicle in a remote location, without connections to water, power, or sewer services.

That definition looks pretty good to me but I would also add that,

(boondock) can also occur in an urban area on city streets or parking lots, where you over-night park or camp in your vehicle without fees,

The more I thought about boondocking, it got me thinking about what tips I would give someone preparing to go boondocking for their very first time, more specifically Urban Boon-Docking.  So, I decided to compile a list of tips for travelers new to Urban Boondocking.

Below are a few of my Urban Boondocking Safety Tips:

-Be alert, use your instincts, use common sense.
Be aware of your surroundings, check around your vehicle before exiting.  If a particular location doesn’t look or feel right, move to another spot!  There are usually plenty of other boon docking spots!

-Avoid boondocking in high crime areas.
Most crimes occur at night and in close proximity to rest stops, gas stations, convenience stores and ATMs, avoid boondocking near these high crime areas.

-Avoid boondocking in high alcohol-sales areas.
Not all people who drink are drunks, but drunks are no fun to deal with late at night, when you are cozy in your vehicle, trying to get some sleep.  I recommend avoiding parking near bars, alcohol package stores and other places where you may encounter lots of drunk people!

-Avoid parking in areas that have reduced visibility.
Avoid parking near dumpsters, wooded areas, construction equipment or anything else that may reduce your visibility.  You want to be able to see people approaching your vehicle as far out as possible.

– Boondock in well illuminated spots.
Many vehicle dwellers try to find the best “hidden, out of the way” parking spot when Urban Boondocking.  They think that if they can find a dark, out of the way spot, nobody will bother them.
I take the opposite approach, when I urban boondock.  I try to find the best illuminated spot in plain view.  I think if a resident sees a van circling a parking lot and then going to the back corner to park is considered more suspicious than just parking in plain view under a streetlight.

-Lock your vehicle at all times.
I recommend locking your vehicle at all times, even if you leave your vehicle for only a moment.
It doesn’t take a thief more than seconds to open your vehicle door and grab a few items.  This includes locking your vehicle when you are fueling up.

-Do not open the door for anyone, unless you know who they are.
Do not open the door of your RV, just because someone knocks on the door!  Make sure you can see who is knocking, if you can’t see them, ask them to move to an area where you can see them!  Even if someone claims to be a police officer, don’t automatically open the door.  There is nothing wrong with calling the local police dispatch to confirm that an officer is at your vehicle door!

-Keep all valuables out of view.
Store all your valuables out of sight!  Thieves are opportunists, they are more likely to risk going to jail, breaking into a vehicle they know has valuables, than one they have no idea what’s inside!

-Keep your blinds shut at all times.
If a would-be thief can see into your vehicle, he will know that,
a) You are not in your vehicle and he is free to break-in, or
b) A woman is alone in her vehicle, and maybe in his eyes, an easy target!
Remember, out of sight, out of mind!

-Install a CO / Fire and LP detector.
Portable, battery operated carbon monoxide detector / fire detectors are inexpensive and easily installed on the wall of your van, truck bed or RV.  I have a CO / Fire Detector installed in the camper shell of my Tacoma because I often sleep in the bed!  Your life is certainly worth the $30 to $50 dollars a detector costs!

-Maintain a low profile.
Try not to bring unnecessary attention to you and your vehicle.  If you park in a Walmart parking lot at 2 AM, and look like just another late night shopper, you probably won’t get a second look.  But on the other hand, if you breakout the BBQ grill, lawn chairs and clothesline tied to a lamp-post, you will definitely get unwanted attention.

-Always be courteous.
The old saying that you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar is true for boondocking too!  It doesn’t matter if you interact with the police, shopping mall security or another patron, be friendly and  courteous!  That person just might return the favor!

-Have your keys in your hand and at the ready as you approach your vehicle.
When you approach your vehicle, have your keys at the ready.  If you fumble around in a bag or purse looking for your vehicle keys, you give a criminal the opportunity to sneak up on you while you are distracted, looking for your keys.

-In parking structures, avoid stairwells.
If you decide to doondock in a Parking Structure, it’s safer to go up or down levels on the ramps and not in the stairwells.  Stairwells at night are often high crime areas.  On the ramp just remember to watch out for passing automobiles.

-Install a kill switch or vehicle alarm.
Homes with alarm systems have a much lower burglary rate, and since your vehicle is your “home,” think about installing an alarm or kill switch to prevent theft of your belongings or worse yet, theft of your vehicle!

-Strategically park your vehicle. 
Park your vehicle in a direction that provides the most visibility on your doors, to include the van rear doors or truck tailgate.  If the criminal has out of sight access to your doors, he can more easily break in!  When I park my Bigfoot Truck Camper I always make sure the rear door is most visible to passers-by.

-Hide copies of important documents.
Thieves want to spend as little time as possible in your home / vehicle.  They can’t steal what they can’t find, so hide copies of important documents like vehicle registration, insurance, etc…

-Record serial numbers of important electronic devices.
Record the serial numbers of important electronic devices like cameras, laptops, GPS units, etc… It may not prevent theft but it just may help you get stolen items back form the police if they are recovered.

-A few places I’ve had safe boondocking experiences.
24 hour big box store parking lots.
Medium sized, chain hotel parking lots, most are extremely well illuminated.
Church Parking Lots, ask first!
Police Department Parking Areas, or rather, close to police departments.
Costco / Sams Club, they often have free wifi accessible from the parking lots.
24 hour Fast Food parking lots, added bonus is inexpensive, tasty coffee in the morning!

I hope these tips help keep you safe during your next Urban Boondocking Experience!
Please comment below if you have other tips!

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Want a Great Meal While Wandering… Go Ethnic!

I recently blogged about “Frugal Eats” while Wandering (Traveling).  Often, the best meals I find are at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants off the beaten paths!  A pricy restaurant does not always mean a great tasting meal!  I have had great success finding reasonably priced, awesome tasting meals by following the crowds! A restaurant, food-truck or food-stand that is always busy with local customers usually means that the food is great and reasonably priced!  Another tip to finding great meals is to seek out ethnic neighborhoods wherever you wander!  In Singapore I ate perhaps the best Indian fish curry I have ever had, in an Indian neighborhood.  While I lived in Brazil, I ate some of the most incredible Japanese food in the Japanese district of Sao Paulo, the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan.  The foreign immigrants to any new country build neighborhoods where they can retain many of the customs and traditions of their homelands!  We all know food often ranks at the top of the list of the customs and traditions all ethnic groups seek to hold onto!  For at least the last 30 years in America, the largest group of immigrants has been Latinos!  One of the largest concentrations of Latino-immigrants in America is of course in Florida, where I am currently wandering.  Mexicans are the largest group of Latino-immigrants in Florida, so it goes to reason that finding great tasting, inexpensive Mexican food here in Bradenton should be easy!  Oh yes it is!  Within a 5 min drive of where I am staying, there are probably 2 dozen “taco-trucks.”  Over the past 3 weeks I have managed to sample tacos from 4 of the busiest “taco-trucks” close to home!  My friend and his son have never eaten at any of the taco-trucks, even though they drive-by them just about everyday!  This week, I took them to my favorite one and they loved it, I’m sure they will be regulars!  2 great tasting, authentic Mexican tacos and a beverage for under 5 dollars is a certainly a great food-find just about anywhere!  So my simple tip is, don’t be afraid to venture into an ethnic neighborhood to eat, no matter where you wander, even if that neighbor is just a few miles from home!

Below are a few pictures of tacos from 4 different taco-trucks in Bradenton.

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Marvelous Marrakech 2012.

After two days of walking the streets of “Marvelous Marrakech,” I am suffering from visual overload.
I will try to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.  They say a picture paints a thousand words….     One can easily get lost in the “Medina,” and boy did I… more than once!  But it’s a good kind of lost… the kind you don’t mind…. the kind that is actually pretty fun!  The sights, sounds, smells, everything is amazing!
Before I arrived, I read some reports on-line that some people felt pressured in the Medina by overly-aggressive shop-keepers.  I have had nothing but a positive experience.  Remember that you are under no obligation to buy anything, if you are not interested in a shop simply look the gentleman in the eye and say “no thanks.”  Try to be friendly, smile and just say “no.”  I have found that the people are usually very friendly in return.  Remember that they make a living selling to tourists so some might try to put the hard sell on you.  Also don’t forget to bargain,  I start at 50% of the original asking price and try to get it at a little above that.  It’s kind of a game for the vendors, they will often offer you mint-tea as the price negotiations go back and forth.  They will not sell for a loss, otherwise they wouldn’t be in business for very long!  So be firm on your price limit, if you walk away, they will either let you walk or offer you a better price.  But remember, never get angry, and be polite.  There are lots of shops selling the same things so you should shop-around!
The Medina is busy all day, motorbikes will race-by you, swerving around carts with donkeys, young boys are running errands for their fathers, often delivering a plate with glasses of mint-tea and bread.  The locals will go about their daily activities of visiting with friends, having lunch and all the while, selling their goods.  It’s a maze of activities that seems chaotic at first but the longer you observe life in the medina, you see that there really is some order to the place.    

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Update

I know I have not posted anything in a few weeks.  Sorry for the long delay, but…  I have been really, really busy.  A few weeks ago I accepted a job overseas and have been getting ready to leave Kentucky for a little while.  The job was on short notice and I only had a few weeks to prepare.  I am now in DC for a week or two (meetings, corporate training…) before I deploy overseas to Africa.  Yesterday I took the AmTrak Acela Express Train from DC to NYC for a meeting… it was a great way to travel, the train was comfortable, clean, great service and pretty darn fast (we arrived in NYC in about 2 hours and 45 mins).  My meeting lasted only about an hour and then I was back on the Acela Express heading to DC…. I didn’t have time to do anything in NYC other than the meeting.  I only snapped one cell phone picture with my iPhone in front of Penn Station while waiting for a taxi.  I hope to be in Africa in a week or two and will post some great pictures!

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A Little Sunshine and a-Lot-a Rain….

It’s amazing what just a little sunshine and a little rain (actually a lot of rain in the last 3 days) will do to plants.  The pumpkins I planted about 6 weeks ago have really taken off.  They might not be the size of the “Great Pumpkin” by Halloween but I am confident they will be ready for someone to turn them into pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving!  That is provided the deer don’t eat them first!  So far so good, the deer have stayed clear of the great pumpkin patch…. keep your fingers crossed!

Above, after about 6 weeks of growth, the pumpkin plants are really starting to take off…. amazing what a little sunshine and a little rain will do….Anyone care for some pumpkin pie?  What else can I make with pumpkins!

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Bisbee, Arizona 2012

Copper put Bisbee, Arizona on the map at the turn of the 20th Century.  At that time, the rapid growth of the US electric grid and the nationwide phone network caused the demand for copper to skyrocket!  Bisbee had much of the copper the US so desperately needed and workers from all over the country came to seek employment in the mines.  At one time, the population of Bisbee reached a height of 20,000, significantly larger than the current population of about 5,000.  Today Bisbee is an eclectic mix of people, many of whom call the town home because of the enjoyable climate and laid-back lifestyle!  If you are in South East Arizona, a visit to Bissbee should be on everyone’s itinerary!    

Above, a view of the store-fronts of old Bisbee.

Below, the Art influence once again shows itself in Bisbee, Arizona.

Above and below, the “Copper Queen” Hotel shows the wealth the town had due to the massive copper mine.

Above and below a few of the many historic trailers found in Bisbee, Arizona.

Below, Bertha sits overlooking the Lavender Mine in Bisbee, Arizona.

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Big Bend National Park in South West Texas.

About as far South and as far West as one can go in the state of Texas is Big Bend National Park.  The Park’s Southern boundary consists of 118 miles of the Rio Grande River, which of course, is the US Mexican border.  Big Bend is an absolutely “must visit” National Park at least once in a lifetime.  My buddy Dave recommended I visit the Park and boy what a great recommendation that turned out to be!  Thanks Dave!  The Park is a magnificent mix of sceneries, from desert rock formations and mountain peaks of up to about 7000 feet to the majestic Rio Grande River cutting its way through rocks hundreds of feet deep on either side.  Upon arrival, I stopped at Panther Junction, the Park’s main Ranger Station, and got an overnight permit to stay at the “K-Bar 1” remote camping spot.  The camping spot is just off the main road leading to Rio Grande Village, where I planned to spend about 4 hours paddling my kayak the next day.  A word of advice, if you think you want a remote camping spot at Big Bend, I recommend you stop at Panther Junction Ranger Station as early as possible and reserve a spot.  Camping spots can fill up quickly and since the Panther Junction Ranger Station is centrally located it will save you a trip back to the Station later in the day.  If you don’t stay at the Park overnight you can always stop by the Ranger Station on the way out and turn-in your camping site for issue to another camper.  Most camping areas have only about half a dozen spots and there is plenty of space between you and the next campsite.  The best thing about the Park is its remoteness, and that means almost no light pollution, allowing for great star gazing.  On my second day of visiting the Park I must admit, Kayaking the Rio Grande was an awesome adventure I hadn’t really planned for until I got to the Park.  I left Bertha parked at the picnic area in Rio Grande Village and set off in my kayak going up stream for about 3 miles.  Along the way I passed the Hot Springs and of course when I headed back downstream back toward Rio Grande Village, I stopped for a soak in 105 degree waters.  I was surprised how narrow and shallow the river is in sections.  The drought over the last year has left the river lower than normal but still deep enough in plenty of areas for a few hour paddle.  Just be prepared to drag your Kayak over some low spots!  Below are a few pictures of my 2 day visit to Big Bend National Park!

Above, Bertha faces North West at the K-Bar 1 Camp Site in Big Bend National Park.

Below, looking up-steram on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park in my Innova Kayak.

Above, a quick stop along the US side of the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park… or was it the Mexican side?  Gee,  I don’t remember,  did I stray into Mexico… oh no… did I?  Oh well it’s the Rio Grande for sure!

Above, another picture of the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park.

Below, after my trip on the river, I followed the trail from the picnic area toward the Hot Springs to get a good view of the Rio Grande from above!  In this picture I am looking up stream from the Rio Grande Village Area, this time I am sure I’m in the USA!  USA on the right, Mexico on the left!

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