When Rich and I left Rod and Trish, we headed east out of Missouri towards St. Louis. Rich wanted us to see the “Archway to the West” and as we rode I-64 I was able to get some decent shots of the archway and the St. Louis skyline. Then we crossed the state border into Illinois going almost halfway across to spend the night in Mount Vernon. We attended Mass in the lovely church of St. Mary’s on Saturday 27 August which left us free to have a small lie-in on the Sunday before making tracks for Louisville, KY and Richard’s family.
Like most of the days on this trip, God blessed us with perfect weather for riding as we finished crossing the state of Illinois, clipped the bottom of Indiana, and rode into the blue grass state of Kentucky. I could feel Richard’s excitement mounting as we rode closer to “home”. The plan was to head to his sister Rose’s home, unpack the bike, then head over to the Kentucky State Fair with Rose, her husband Ronnie, and their kids, Megan and Kalin, to meet up with another sister, Robin, and her daughter, Brittany, and his brother, Robert and his wife, Sylvie, and their son, Patrick. Wow, what a reunion!! I had not seen some of these folks since Thanksgiving 2004!
We spent several fun hours at the fair. I found some great HOT dip mixes and some wonderfully decadent fudge, while Richard ate a Krispy Kreme hamburger?????? (yes, that was a hamburger between two doughnuts!!), and later he could not resist trying some “fried Koolaid”. While some of the others went to a concert they had booked to see, Rich and I strolled around the rides for a while. We had fun tempting the “guess your age” guy who made my day and gave me a “prize” after guessing me to be 15 years younger than I am. Whether he was being truthful or gallant in his guessing I’m not sure, but I was happy. Then the tiredness of the ride hit in and we headed home to get a good night’s rest. We needed to get our beauty sleep because the next day we were putting on a Bar-b-q for the family and even more people were coming.
So on Monday we went shopping then got busy cooking and preparing food. By 4pm yet another sister, Rhonda, arrived with her daughter, Ginny, followed shortly afterward by Rich’s step-Mom Ruth, his step-brother Ryan and his step-sister Rachel and her husband Michael with his son in tow. The crowd was rounded out when Robin got there with her son Dustin, and finally we were able to tuck into all that good food. A little later, as we rested full tummies, Kalin took Dustin and they went to pick up Brittany and her girlfriend who had been attending a school sport meet-up. By that time we were ready for some dessert and enjoyed some wonderful concoction that Sylvie had made.
Our final day in Louisville, Rich went to get his (final?? who knows) tattoo in honor of his retirement. Of his eight tattoos, Lucky in Louisville has created 5 of them. This one he actually created around a small existing one of a dolphin that Rich had done in Washington, DC some years ago. Lucky extended the water/wave line under the dolphin , then added the letters USN over the top of everything with a sunrise and the year Rich entered the Navy at one end, and a sunset with his retirement year at the other. It’s really beautiful.
That evening we hooked up with Rose and Ronnie and the kids, Robin, and Richard’s old school friend and partner-in-crime, Fonda with his wife Sherry. We had a great meal and wonderful socializing at a very good Mexican restaurant, where we all ate a bit too much because the food was great!.
Next day, Wednesday 31 August, it was time to load up our faithful Harley, say our farewells, and hit the road again as we headed towards North Carolina. It had been a good visit with family and hopefully it won’t be so long before we see each other again.
Last year I attended a conference with my friend Kathi in Panama City Beach. Included in our registration was a ticket for a cruise of the harbor and nearby environs. But we do live in Florida and a hurricane was threatening and we weren’t even sure if the conference would still run or whether it would be canceled.
As frequently happens, and very luckily for us, the hurricane made a last minute hook and veered further out into the Gulf. Our convention was on. However, as we got closer to our destination on I-10 from Jacksonville, we became aware that we were probably going to feel at least the edge of the hurricane in Panama City Beach.
We checked into our hotel and got our first view of the ocean. The water was pretty churned up sending long rolling breakers crashing onto the shore. The wind was blowing real strong and we wondered if our harbor cruise would be canceled. We were not too sure if we would even want to get into a boat with weather conditions as they were!
We went down to the reception area and found out that the cruise was on and shuttles were running down to the harbor. We decided to go check it out and were so pleased to discover that most of the area that the boat would be operating in was very protected. So, along with about forty other people, we boarded and set sail into the approaching sunset.
The coastline was very pretty and there were little islands dotted around here and there. Seagulls and pelicans swooped low over the water, probably hoping for a last meal before the sun went down. The captain announced that he was going to pull around and head into an area where they usually saw dolphins. Kathi and I decided to station ourselves right at the front of the boat so we wouldn’t miss a thing.
We cruised along a stretch of the outer harbor without seeing a single dolphin. We were all scanning the waves but to no avail. After running a little over time, the Captain said he would have to turn around and head back into the harbor. Shortly after his announcement a shout was heard and sure enough there were a couple of dolphins swimming ahead of the boat dipping in and out of the water. We were all very excited and quite happy to have made the sighting.
At this point Kathi and I decided to step back from the front to allow others to watch. We sat a little to one side (don’t ask me if it was port or starboard, I’m not a sailor!) and just chatted as we watched some of the small islands on our return to port.
Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, immediately to the side of the boat and right in front of our eyes, a dolphin leapt out of the water. This was not one of those curved-body, breaking-of-the-waves jump. This was a straight-up-in-the-air, shot-from-the-barrel-of-a-gun, all-muscles-involved leap of joy.
We gave a great shout and leapt to the side railing. My heart was beating wildly as I watched this incredible creature. Just as he reached the pinnacle of his leap he gave a slight twist to one side, then went crashing back down into the sea.
I was breathless, speechless, almost dizzy with joy at this amazing sight. I clung to the railings trying to take it all in and was about to say something to Kathi when, whoosh, with a sudden surge the waters opened and up he came again. His body was sleek and powerful , his muscles rippling smoothly, glistening in the last rays of the evening sun. It was almost as though he was saying, “Look at me! See how beautiful I am!”. And oh my God yes, he was strikingly beautiful as he hung fleetingly suspended in mid air.
He disappeared under the waves and I could feel my happiness collecting wildly in my throat. I wanted to shout and scream and jump. Tears were welling up in my eyes, the emotion was so strong. We scanned the surface of the water but to no avail. The show was over and the Captain turned into the port channel and took us safely back to our berthing.
I was quiet for this last leg of the cruise. I needed to process the feelings, the sense of wonder that filled me. I said a quiet thank you to God in my heart for this amazing gift that he had presented me with. This world is truly an incredible creation that I need to appreciate and respect more and more with each passing day. Back to the hotel we went and I slept with a heart overflowing with gratitude and love that night.
Just south of St. Augustine, Florida on Route A1A is Marineland. My husband and I had read about Marineland when we researched dolphins in Florida. However, when we did our initial research we learned that it was closed for renovations. So we put it on the back burners of our minds and only just remembered about it last year.
Marineland is actually a town, albeit very small. The population in 2006 was – ten!! There are probably more people employed at the Dolphin Conservation Center than actually live in the “town”. The Center was originally built in 1938 as one of Florida’s first theme parks and was described as the world’s first “oceanarium”. In 1999 Hurricanes Flloyd and Irene caused a prolonged closure and also much damage. In 2003 it was decided to completely close the place and do a major overhaul.
It was opened as the Dolphin Conservation Center in early 2006 and is now a hands-on interactive center for the public and the dolphins. There are many different “packages” that can be booked offering a range of interactive programs from swimming with the dolphins, to training them, to painting with them. Yes, I did say painting! However, it is also possible to pay just a general entrance fee and simply admire and watch the dolphins as they swim freely in a huge round tank and then watch a short “performance” as the trainers put them through their routines. As you watch them in the round tank you may get lucky and find yourself playing “catch” with the dolphins as they toss their balls over the walls of the tank to unsuspecting members of the public!
It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to drive there from where we live. So one beautiful day in late spring 2008 we decided to take the Harley for a run. The weather was perfect – not too hot, a nice breeze, and no rain on the horizon. We chose to elongate the ride by following 17 south past Palatka, then we cut across SR 100 and enjoyed a beautiful ride over to A1A. What a blessing it was to be enjoying God’s creation together!
We parked the bike, paid our admission fee, and headed on in. The set up is very beautiful with a well laid out visitor and gift center and also a small restaurant/cafe. We followed the walk along the sea wall from the center over to the dolphin tanks. There were hundreds of butterflies (Monarchs I think) so it may have been migration time for them.
As we approached the first big round tank there were three or four dolphins swimming there and no sooner did they see us than they began to toss their toys over the top of the tank to us. We spent a while “playing” with them and just watching the grace and beauty and strength of their bodies as they moved so easily in the water. I don’t think I will ever tire of watching dolphins swim.
Shortly after this we were called to come to the big rectangular pool (about half the size of an Olympic swimming pool). A couple of trainers entered the pool and opened the gate to the tank. One of the dolphins came through and we watched as the trainers showed us exactly how they trained the dolphins and we marveled at their intelligence. The gate was opened once more and two more dolphins came through and for the next fifteen to twenty minutes we were mesmerized as they leaped into the air, carried trainers on their noses, on their backs, and showed off their talents, skills and intelligence.
Although this was a much smaller “show” than any I had seen before, I still enjoyed just being in the presence of these incredible creatures. I always feel as though I am in the presence of some great energy. For me being with the dolphins is a very spiritual experience. We rode home after the show and I know my heart was full of joy and my soul was singing. And I found myself wondering when my next dolphin experience will be.