Up North and Down Under

We take a break from the boat for some other travel.  First is a quick road trip back to Minnesota. Then we fly to Australia to visit Danica and Fab near Melbourne as they eagerly await the arrival of their first child — and our first grandchild.

Our early fall was planned to be downtime as we waited out the end of hurricane season before continuing south.  We thought we would take the opportunity for a road trip to Minnesota to see friends and sort through some of the stuff we had in storage, then head to Australia to see Danica and Fab.  Our last visit there had been pre-COVID and seemed like a lifetime ago.  Shoot, that three years was more like dog years if viewed from the perspective of how our lives had changed.

But after our rather inglorious return to Norfolk with a winged boat and then a winged Dave, we had to adjust plans a bit.  Once the engine was fixed, we moved the boat a week earlier than originally planned the short distance to Atlantic Yacht Basin, where we had arranged long ago to leave it for a month in their very protected location.  Now it would be fiberglass repair and installing a new anchor while we were away instead of just boat storage.  Sitting there on their long face dock watching the parade of boats heading south through the Great Bridge Lock and Bridge was a flashback to almost exactly two years ago when we were doing the exact same thing. 

A regular sight from the dock at AYB.

Minnesota Road Trip

October 13-20, 2023

Then it was off to Minnesota!  We rented a car so we could take Roxy and also pack up a few things to take to the storage garage.  Planning a 1300 mile road trip each way is way easier than a 1300 mile boat trip!  We took a more westerly route to avoid Chicago, which proved a beautiful drive up through the mountains of West Virginia with near-peak fall foliage.  Driving over the Illinois River on the highway almost exactly a year from driving under that same bridge in the boat was a little surreal.  There was a tow and barge making its way upriver, and we realized we had a totally different perspective on this after having shared the waterways with them for five weeks.  It was a minor epiphany on just how much we had experienced and changed.

We drove over this bridge across the Illinois River a year almost to the day after we passed under it on the boat.

We had a busy four full days in Stillwater.  Meeting up with old friends, colleagues, former coaches, and neighbors made it feel like returning home.  We introduced our friend Colleen to our favorite Pine Tree Apple Orchard, where we ate apple cider donuts in the parking lot like we used to do every fall.  We enjoyed the Stillwater Harvest Fest activities with a couple of Dave’s high school buddies and watched the Pumpkin Regatta, where a handful of hollowed out giant pumpkins serve as very unstable canoes for people crazy enough to get in them and race.  Dave attended his former church.  We ate at favorite haunts and wandered down the still picturesque Main Street, marveling at the obvious positive changes but also seeing so many of the things we love about the town are still the same.  It was cozy and familiar like a favorite chair and book on a crisp fall night. 

Can't go to Stillwater without a trip to Candyland.
My favorite seasonal decoration!
The Pumpkin Regatta

We took care of necessary business, going through our storage unit and Dave unloading almost all his track officiating equipment on his former colleagues and school programs, realizing that it would be much better to have it used now; he also knows that if he returns to the track world, he wants to enjoy officiating and not running whole meets.  A friend took some tools, and garden power equipment went to Dave’s church.  (Why did we even save that in the first place???)  We kept some heavy winter wear, but otherwise almost all other clothes similarly fell into the ‘why?’ category since highly likely it would neither fit nor look anything but outdated by the time we would use it. It was another mini-purge, but after two-plus years on the boat we found we could stand there unemotionally and say ‘we’ve still got a lot of stuff!’   So we closed up the garage on the last day knowing there was still more things of which to dispose.  But we also could see we had made a serious dent in it all — and it felt good. 

While we worked in the storage garage, Roxy practiced her Drop Flop and Rolls.
Roxy claimed Aunt Tootie's old armchair. This dog has never met a piece of upholstered furniture she didn't like.

The two-day drive back was even prettier as we wound through farm land and mountains and hills, and crossed back over rivers.  Back at the boat, we were happy to see the fiberglass repairs were almost complete and she was looking good! Our brand shiny new anchor was also installed and ready to go.    


Oct 25 - Nov 8, 2023

A few days after returning to Virginia, it was off to Australia!  We were leaving Roxy with a sitter I had found on Rover.com.  Roxy always gives us a guilt trip when we leave her anywhere.  But when we got her out of the car at the apartment complex the evening before our departure, there was a squirrel right there to chase up a tree.  Then as we approached the door, the aroma of their steak dinner grabbed her olfactory attention.  When the door opened she charged in as if she owned the place, nose held high to better follow the wafting scent.  We quickly went through instructions, and Roxy barely gave us a glance as we left, so focused was she on the potential culinary delight before her.  I suspect the bond was thoroughly cemented with the first morsel of steak.  Not surprisingly, we heard later that she had settled in well.  Oh the power of Squirrels and Magic Meat!

Our route to Australia started with a 12:30 pm flight from Norfolk, then Atlanta, LAX , Sydney, and  Melbourne.  We planned breakfast and then final boat preps before heading to the airport about 10.  At 9 we received a text from Delta that our Norfolk flight was delayed until 3:30.  But that would get us to Atlanta an hour AFTER our flight to LAX departed!  Dave managed to get through to a real live agent, who gave us a not-good option through Detroit that would cut it a little close for the LAX to Sydney flight, and with only one flight a day if we missed it would have to wait a whole 24 hours for the next flight.  But there was one other option:  an earlier 6 am flight from Norfolk to Atlanta also happened to have been delayed and was now scheduled to depart in two hours!  So we dumped out the brewing coffee, hastily did our final preps, and raced to the airport!  We made it, but so much for a leisurely start.  Guess all the pivoting, changing plans, and problem solving of boat life had served us well. 

Once in Atlanta, we thought we could now take a deep breath and relax.  We were wrong. About 45 min before boarding, Dave received an alert on his phone from our boat monitoring system saying that the frig temp was rising, meaning either we had accidentally turned it off (no big deal other than loss of some condiments, as all perishables had been discarded) or the door had not been completely closed in our haste to leave (a big deal because the compressor would run to complete destruction as it attempted to refrigerate the entire cabin).   As we worked on who to call to go check it, Dave turned to me and asked “Did you turn off the propane to the stove when you threw out the coffee?”  I honestly couldn’t remember.  It’s normally such a routine muscle-memory thing to do the three-step process whenever we cook that I don’t have to think about it.  But in the frantic activity to leave  I couldn’t recall what I had done.   Now if we didn’t burn out the frig, we could potentially blow up the boat.  Well that was just ducky.

But Dockmaster to the rescue!!!  Dave was able to get them on the phone and explain how to get into the boat, asking him to check the frig and the propane.  The guy probably thought we were total idiots and should not be allowed near a boat without adult supervision.  But he called back a few minutes later to say the frig had indeed been open a tad, and he had turned off the propane.  Crisis averted.   I decided this had been the nautical version of “Did I leave the iron on?” (and yes, I realize anyone under 40 is going to wonder why anyone would ever worry about an iron).

NOW can we relax and start enjoying the vacation?  Yes!  The rest of the flights were uneventful, and we did our luggage transfers, customs, etc.  to get to Melbourne, where we hopped on a bus to where Dan and Fab picked us up in Geelong near their home in the afternoon.   A beach walk – the first of many — was a great way to get a second wind and stay awake to adjust to the time difference.   

The beaches had lots of this very pretty pink seaweed.

With Dan being 38 weeks pregnant (and doing very well), we were happy to stick with short excursions to nearby places on the Bellarine Peninsula and just hang out with them.  Both Dave and I got sick for the first time since before COVID (five airports on two continents provided a wealth of exposure opportunities) giving us another good excuse to stay home, to include a day of putting up the Xmas tree with the holiday playlist in the background.  We visited nearby towns and places like Geelong, Tourquay, Port Arlington, Queens Cliff, Barwon, and Point Lonsdale.  Dan took us to their favorite restaurants and cafés all with their unique charm and settings.  We celebrated Dave’s birthday at the farm-to-table Basils Farm, where I was in heaven wandering among their large herb and vegetable gardens and their vineyard.   Jack Rabbit Winery was another great lunch outing, sitting on the patio high up overlooking the kelp bed ‘tiger striping’ of Port Philip Bay below and Melbourne across in the hazy distance.  There were bakeries and patisseries in abundance, beach walks with Bickie the Dog on a different nearby beach each time, learning the local idioms, and just absorbing the non-tourist culture of everyday life in suburban Melbourne. 


Point Lonsdale
A mural on a coffeehouse in Torquay.
Sick days mean lots of naps all around.
Tis the season! Dan made molasses cookies from Dave's grandmother's recipe on our Day of Christmas Spirit.
The beach walk in Geelong had all these painted bollards. This one depicted a surf lifesaving club.
Breakfast on the beach at Geelong
A Rudolph Valentino bollard.
Birthday celebration!
Basils Farm for Dave's brithday.
Wandering the huge herb garden at Basils Farm
Kelp beds create this 'tiger striping' of the coastline.
The view from Jack Rabbit Winery, with Melbourne in the hazy distance.

So with 10 days of living the local life around the suburban Bellarine Peninsula and not really being a tourist, a couple of observations stood out to us.  The first is the focus on being outdoors, with outings being simple and easily accessible. There’s always people out walking, dogs are allowed on the beaches, and there are lots of parks and open spaces.   Public bathrooms are way nicer and readily available.   Picnic tables and seating areas were everywhere.  Cafes all had outdoor tables and parking is easy.  What there was not was expensive amusement parks, movie mega-theatres, or the demand to be passively entertained.  It seemed to be more about who you are with rather than what you are doing. 

The second observation is a pervasive relaxed aura. People go about their business in an efficient but unhurried manner.  There just didn’t seem to be the impatience and need for speed that we frequently feel in US cities.  Granted, we were in the suburbs where there wasn’t bumper to bumper traffic and crowded public spaces.  But it seemed to go beyond simple numbers.  The Sydney airport was packed with people from all over. There was the usual hurrying between gates, chatter in many different languages,  and juggling of carryon bags and cardboard coffee cups at the gates — the usual airport pandemonium.  But it seemed a happy, relaxed pandemonium.  No raised voices, or stink eyes to fussy toddlers, or putting bags on the seats to keep anyone from sitting next to them.  It just felt different.

Even the flight boards at the airport encourage you to relax.
All the kelp reminded me a lot of the San Diego coast.
Bickie is a total beach dog.

Our trip home was the reverse itinerary of our trip there.  We had very uneventful flights, and in fact the Sydney to LAX plane was only about half full so we had the row all to ourselves.  The time change going back was tough.  It was way easier to grasp leaping forward and skipping a day in one fell swoop on the way to Australia than it was to wrap my brain around time travel backwards to LA but then forward to the east coast.  Clearing customs was unbelievably easy.  We both have Global Entry, and when we got to LAX we just scanned our passport at a kiosk, looked into a camera which used facial recognition to verify who we were, and a few seconds later the door silently slid open and that was it.  It was indeed LAX that won the weird sighting of the day award:  a tall, thirty-something guy in plaid flannel pajama bottoms and fuzzy slippers, holding a  tiny fluffy white dog and talking on his cell phone while waiting for his carryon baggage to come out the TSA checkpoint scanner.  Weird.

We arrived back in Norfolk around midnight.  The boat was exactly where and how we had left it.  The next day we had a happy reunion with Roxy, complete with all kinds of squealy dog excitement.  She had indeed been quite content with her accommodations, complete with daily squirrel encounters and taking over their couch as her undisputed turf for the duration. 

Chilly few mornings at the boatyard as we prepped to head south.

Now we turned our attention to heading south.  It took a few days to restock and resupply just about everything.  The boat needed a serious cleaning after being in a working boatyard for a month.  Dave had his ortho follow up and the wriest is healing but not healed, so he will still be in the splint and we will just figure out any adjustments we need to make in our underway routines to accommodate his limited use of his left hand – i.e. I’ll be doing more solo line handling, fueling, and pumpouts. 

We already have noticed the shorter daylight hours and colder mornings.  Time to join the migrating boats and continue our pursuit of 70 degrees. 

UPDATE:  We're grandparents!!!

After we returned from Australia, sweet Baby Asher was born!   The whole family is doing well, and Asher has ascended to his rightful throne as Master of The Universe as Danica, Fab, and Bickie the Dog take up their proper orbit around him.  

Pops’ Stats Corner*

  • Miles travelled by boat:  33.6
  • Miles travelled by car:  2,570
  • Miles traveled by plane: 20,780
  • Total miles traveled: 23,383.6
Making herself at home at the sitter's.

*Pops is the family’s affectionate name for Dave’s dad.  He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked.  This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.

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7 thoughts on “Up North and Down Under”

  1. Hello Karen and Dave, love reading your posts! Lots of adventures for you two. Karen, you are such a great writer and photographer.
    The next time you travel back to Minnesota, please make time to stop in Iowa. We’d love seeing you! And you are always welcome to stay with us.
    Congratulations on your new grandson!!
    Happy holidays!
    Sue and Bud

    1. Thanks Sue — and good to hear from you! Hope you and Bud are doing well. Would love to see you next time we’re passing through. If you’re snowbirding this winter, we will be on FL east coast until heading to Bahamas mid-February.

  2. Linda Cangin Bennett

    Hi Karen and Dave,
    Love reading your well-written descriptions and seeing the beautiful pictures.
    Is Asher your first grandbaby or grandson? Of course, Kurt has me well beaten with his two granddaughters and new grandson, but they are keeping him and Anita so busy with almost full-time babysitting.
    My one and only, Andrea’s three-year-old daughter Parker, is going through the “terrible threes” and the first year nursery school infections, but being with her is so much fun. We were all together at Drew’s parents’ lake house in NW PA for T-giving. Stephanie came up from Charlottesville Wednesday night and is leaving later today.

    I’d love to see you again, but that might have to wait until I get a new aortic valve and am able to visit Kurt and Anita in FL.
    Lots of hugs and congratulations.

    1. Asher is our first grand-human. The three year old period is rapidly alternating periods (as in minutes) of irresistible cuteness and ‘what planet are they from?’

      Hope procedures go well and recovery quick.

  3. Congrats to Danica and Fab for beautiful Asher!!! And to the two of you as new grandparents (of the 2-legged variety).

    We are looking forward to your return to the Sunshine State. Hope to get some visits in finally. Love, AnK

    P S. Wow, Pop’s stats page really blew up with all that air travel miles.

    1. Counting on seeing you this winter.
      Yes, traveling halfway around the world and back does run up the mileage. Guess it’s a bit of padding the numbers in a way.

  4. Karen and Dave, congratulations on your grandson. He’s beautiful! I’m glad to hear everyone is doing well. Great post and photos (as always). It was so good to see you both when you were here.

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