Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Biking on Jekyll Island

We spent all day Sunday biking on Jekyll Island, a barrier island near Brunswick, which has (fortunately) remained fairly undeveloped. They've created a network of 22 miles of very well-maintained bike trails, so we were able to bike from one end to the other, through forests and along the ocean. At times, we felt like we had the whole island to ourselves!

On a different note, today Mike will get OC'd (maced) in his class. He's not sure how long it will take him to recover, but probably at least a few hours. That's something that I'm glad I'll never have to experience!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Family Fun

I spent the last three days traveling around southern Georgia and northern Florida with Mike's brother, his wife, and their adorable 14 month old daughter. Mike joined us for a trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore, where we hiked along the beaches and trails before waving our goodbyes to him as he returned on the ferry to the mainland. The rest of us spent the night in a very pleasant campground, surrounded by tall saw palmettos, live oaks, and the sound of the ocean's waves. The next day we returned to the mainland and drove to Ocean Pond, a pleasant campground in northern Florida. We got to the campground after dark, so we weren't sure what to expect when we awoke the next day...but it was a beautiful place. The "pond" was actually quite large, much more like a lake, and it beckoned to us to swim in it. That is, of course, until the camp host told us that there were alligators in it. He added, "oh, don't worry about it, because parents let their kids swim unsupervised in that lake all the time." Apparently they haven't had any attacks, but that's not enough to convince me to swim with the alligators!

We hiked about six miles along the Florida National Scenic Trail. It's quite flat compared to other national scenic trails, and the forest that we hiked through consisted of pines and palmettos...quite different than the Continental Divide Trail!

The next day, we drove to the east entrance of Okefenokee Swamp, which is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. We toured an old homestead and learned how the occupant had made a living as a "swamper." The boardwalk led us to a viewing tower, overlooking a lake which might have been teeming with alligators. We saw several gators lurking in the murky water, and a few long, black snakes in the understory of the forest. I, for one, was appreciative of the boardwalk, as it enabled us to walk above all of these creatures and avoid potential "interactions." Mike and I plan to go on an overnight canoe adventure one of these weekends, and I'll return with his parents at some point in April.

This morning I cuddled with my adorable niece one last time before they headed on to continue their travels. Now I'm getting settled once again into my Georgia lifestyle.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Surprisingly, Surviving

Mike's room, and the view of the pool out his window.

Mike has nearly finished his first week at FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, in Brunswick, GA), and surprisingly, he says it's not as bad as he expected it to be. All federal law enforcement officers (National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, etc...) are required to attend this academy once they've been hired into their first permanent job. The training can last anywhere from 3.5 months to 5 or more, depending on the agency you work for. Mike's class is going to last 4 months.

Mike is really impressed with his instructors and classmates so far. Most of his classmates are married, mature, and work well as a team. I'm so glad to see that he's feeling upbeat and positive about this experience so far! Yesterday he had his first set of physical testing (running, bench press, agility, flexibility, body fat) and surprised himself with the good results. He went immediately to the campus clinic afterwards and was diagnosed with bronchitis. Let's hope he gets better soon...

I live with a great couple about 15 minutes from Mike's "home". I've come to really enjoy the dogs I live with! The tiny chihuahuas are so cuddly and cute. Mike and I have been able to see each other for a couple of hours every night. Sometimes he'll have night classes, but so far, it's working out great.

Thanks for all of your prayers!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

At Home in Georgia

Pictures from the drive across the country: Golden Gate Bridge, packing the car with too much stuff, views through the windshield, Buffalo River National Scenic Riverway, Little River Canyon (another NPS site), azaleas (which are blooming everywhere in Brunswick!)

Well, after an 11 day road trip through 10 states (including the length of California), Mike and I have arrived in Georgia and made ourselves at home. I’m living with a married couple in their beautiful home just outside of Brunswick, about 15 minutes from Mike. I have a large bedroom, bathroom, and walk-in closet to myself, and full use of the kitchen and other living areas. In the mornings, I wake up to the sound of a cardinal chirping right outside my window, and then I eat my breakfast on a large, screened-in porch. The horses and dogs greet me with tail wags and winnying, and the birds continue to sing.

We didn’t know what to expect for Mike’s lodging. When we arrived at the academy, the lady that registered him said that there are two types of housing- the older dorms, which they call the “crack houses”, and the newer ones, called the “Taj”. Any guesses where Mike ended up? That’s right, the Taj! We drove about a mile further onto the campus, and discovered three large, five-story yellow buildings, with a pool in the courtyard. He has a room on the fourth floor, complete with a double bed, couch, chairs, a kitchenette, and a private bathroom. And, of course, an ironing board, which was quickly put to use when it came time for Mike’s uniform to be ironed. He even has maid service every day, so he comes home to clean linens and towels (or “terry service” as they call it). Also, dining hall offers a lot of variety, and he eats for free. All in all, it’s a pretty nice setup!

We’ll probably be able to see each other most evenings, and we’re looking forward to our weekend adventures together. From what I’ve seen, this area of Georgia is quite beautiful, especially the old homes in Brunswick, with bright pink azaleas blooming in the yards. Thanks for your continued thoughts and prayers!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Galapagos of North America

So we're officially on the road again, after having checked out of our apartment on Thursday morning. The southbound travel through California was smooth, but lengthy. We traveled via the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco to San Jose, where we spent a night with Mike's wonderful cousin and second cousins.
The next day, we drove to Santa Barbara, where we met up with our Peace Corps friends (who we last reunited with in the Virgin Islands, a few winters ago). We had a terrific time catching up over a delicious Italian meal. Thank you to our amazing hosts so far!
We took a ferry to Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands (a new national park for both of us), and saw several humpback whales enroute. We had little idea what to expect upon arriving in the park...but it blew us away. The island is vibrant green, filled with vegetation at this time of year. Hillsides of yellow flowers with a backdrop of the aqua colored ocean made us feel like we had arrived in paradise. We hiked up 1,800 feet to a viewpoint along the Montanon Ridge and saw whales spouting in the distance. Later, we watched the sun set over the ocean from a perch high on a cliff, in complete solitude. We camped for a night under the eucalyptus trees in a very peaceful campground. On the ferry trip home, our captain spotted two humpbacks and brought us within 200 feet or so. We were all amazed as one whale demonstrated pectoral fin slapping on the surface, to scare the krill into a ball so the other whale could dive deep and swallow them. So beautiful! I love marine mammals.

(By the way, they say that the Channel Islands is like the Galapagos Islands of North America, since there are nearly 150 endemic species found there--and nowhere else on earth.)

Now we're in Las Vegas, briefly visiting my parents and sister. We spent the day hiking around the Springs Preserve, a fascinating outdoor museum which demonstrates gardening techniques for super dry climates. After an evening of swimming and relaxing in a jacuzi, we're ready for bed! On the road again tomorrow morning, heading toward Albuquerque.