Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy New Year

We've been busy settling into our new place in Wanchese and enjoying 50+ degree temps (it was 60 on Christmas). I haven't had time to get at-home internet yet and I don't have a vehicle to get to an internet cafe much so photos of our "Redneck Revival" house need to wait. Here are some of the things we've been busy doing during our month in North Carolina:
  • Explored Matamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge and saw flocks and flocks of swans, ducks of all sorts and some deer.
  • Bought a new space-age memory foam mattress (like a Tempurpedic only different). This replaces the inflatable "bounce house" Eddie Bauer mattress we've been sleeping on for four, yes four, months.
  • Went to a hunting camp near Windsor, NC for the weekend. Robin shot a deer and we've been eating it ... yum!
  • Entered Robin in my family's annual Christmas Sock Contest and he won! (Photos to come.)
  • Endured our first Nor'easter (sort of) ... it was blowing about 40, much like a typical winter day at Dry Tortugas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Celebration of First Flight

Today in my new neighborhood is the 106th annual celebration of the Wright Brothers' first flight.

Robin will be an official Park Service Represenative and I'll be attending as a spectator.

This will be my first visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which includes a 60-foot tall granite monument on top of a 90-foot hill.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I learned that "cheesers" is the nickname for people who live in my village, Wanchese.

Today we will get our very own post office box. I am truly looking forward to being able to receive mail, especially without having to rely on 4 or 5 other people to coordinate getting the mailbox key and manage to get the mail to the appropriate recipient.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Where in the world...

is Wanchese, NC? (I tried to find more web info about the area but that is the best I could do.) Our place is just south and east of Mann's Red and White, a local store.

After a whirlwind week packing, loading, driving and finally arriving in North Carolina, we went on a whirlwind search for temporary housing. Although we had a temporary Park Service house on the beach, we decided to get our truck out of the pelting sand and seasalt.

We looked at more than 25 places, including a foreclosed house that would have been a fantastic deal (if most of the floor joists not been rotted out).

Our new home is in Wanchese (a village, not a town because it is not incorporated). "It's about as close to Alaska as you get around here," said one local resident who lived in Alaska for a while. They even had a community luncheon last weekend with free fish, ribs, beer and wine!

I can't believe how excited I am to clean and unpack.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Scenic South Carolina

We are officially on the road and spent the night in scenic Santee, South Carolina...with free WiFi for guests. Wow, what a luxury!

Traveling with us is always an adventure. We have a loaded down 16-ft trailer in tow and a chest freezer in the back of the truck. The freezer is filled with Alaskan halibut and salmon. An extension cord snakes through the parking lot from the truck to our hotel room.

We expect to make it to Columbia, North Carolina tonight.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Phases 2 and 3 complete

With the help of movers, we packed up Key West and completed Phase 2 of this drawn-out move. Next, we headed to our third location: Titusville. We are almost done packing up the good stuff (guns, 4-wheeler, etc.). At long last, we head out of here tomorrow. Yippee!

Next stop: who knows (we have yet to map out our route because we've been too busy packing to try and get online till now).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Phase 1 of 3 complete

OK ... we moved all of our stuff out of the fort and are on to Phase 2: Packing up Key West. Ug.

I need a beer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hatteras here we come!!!

After a 6+ hour drive to the Keys followed by a 3-hour ferry, we've been on Garden Key packing and loading all of our stuff from the fort to the Park Service boat. We head out from Dry Tortugas at 0700 for our journey back to Key West.

Then, it's a meeting with the movers and then me moving all of our stuff (because Robin is restricted from moving stuff) from the boat to our Key West apartment. It's sure to be a fun-filled weekend.

Expected Hatteras arrival date is December 3 or 4 with Robin's first day on the job as Dec. 7.

I'll post as I can pending Internet accessibility.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ahoy, Hatteras!

After more than a year in the heat and humidity, we are now moving to yet another island outpost, only this one is accessible by road: Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. We are super excited about this move and are really looking forward to getting four seasons of weather again.

Robin will be the maintenance mechanic supervisor for Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island, Fort Raleigh and Wright Brothers. I will be continuing the next chapter of Karen's Great Adventure, starting my book and searching for a "real" job (sort of). (If you have any leads in that area, let me know.)

Stay tuned for the exciting and ever-changing logistical details of how we will get all of our stuff from Fort Jefferson to Fort Raleigh and surroundings ... without Robin's physical assistance because of his still recovering knee.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quote of the day

"Damn infomercials. I'm done with 'em. Unless it really looks good."

Robin in response to the $15 in postage he had to pay for returning one of the [several] money-back-guarantee infomercial products he got sucked into buying during his knee recovery.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Top 10 things learned on our Bahama cruise

  1. Different accents (with crew members from 59 countries and passengers from 38) made every conversation a comical misunderstanding. When Robin's mom asked for iced tea, the waiter (from somewhere in Indonesia) wanted to bring her ice cream.
  2. You can get all the steaks and desserts you can eat, no questions asked. Or you can get all the free ice cream and coffee you want. But if you have more money than sense, you can wait in a the ridiculously long line to buy Ben and Jerry's ice cream for $4.75 or Seattle's Best coffee for $6. If you want the artificial sweetener Splenda, you'll have to ask. They treat it like gold and store it in a back vault somewhere.
  3. The onboard personal trainer is not really a personal trainer. He's just a front for selling detox supplements. A 3-month supply will run you about $500 for supplements or $800 for bath oil and a cactus exfoliating brush -- ouch.
  4. If the winds are blowing 30+ knots because of the tropical depression we were in, don't expect to enjoy all of the amenities. The winds and the 6-8 foot seas made it too rough for the tender boats to get to Cococay, the cruise ship's private island, so we didn't stop. They will also close the onboard climbing wall. The swimming pool, on the 12th story of the boat, becomes a wave pool, so be careful!
  5. Tipping is not at your discretion and you are told what to tip each person. Under the cruise ship's guidelines, your head waiter and your stateroom attendant can each expect to rake in $1,452 on a 5-day cruise. They work 9 months straight, so that ends up to be $52,200 a year in tips alone.
  6. Contrary to what the taxi drivers tell you, you can take a one-way ferry ride to Paradise Island (home to Oprah Winfrey, Nicholas Cage, John Travolta, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan). The taxi drivers tried to convince us it was cheaper by taxi because you had to buy a roundtrip ferry ticket and the ferry stopped running in an hour. (We took the ferry one way and a taxi on the way back.)
  7. Robin is a natural at his casino game of choice: the Bar 7's slot machine. (He tripled his money but ended up putting it back in. The "free" drinks were worth it!)
  8. You can't bring your own alcohol on board. That would cut into their profits. Drinks were $8.25 plus a mandatory 15% tip/fee (and for your convenience, they add it on automatically). If a couple had two drinks each a day, drinks would cost more than the entire 5-day cruise. For those of you teetotalers who can't live without your soda for 5 days, $24 gets you all the soda you can swallow for the length of the cruise.
  9. Don't bother taking any cash on board. The only place that will accept it is the casino. The cruise ship wants you to link your credit card to your stateroom key card. They don't like taking your credit card, either, but will do so under duress.
  10. If you stay at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, the cheapest night there is $440. Again, more for one night there than the entire 5-day cruise for a couple! The aquarium at Atlantis is awesome and is free after 5 p.m.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bon voyage

To get a break from this record-setting heat in Florida (it was 106 degrees the other day with the heat index), we decided to take a cruise to the balmy Bahamas.

We latched on to this last-minute special for Florida residents ($150/person plus port charges and taxes). Robin's mom and aunt are going along. We'll be celebrating my belated birthday and Robin's aunt's birthday.

We sail on Monday for 4 nights and 5 days, going to Nassau and Cococay.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Exhausting recovery and rehab

I tell ya, it's hard to recuperate! After Robin was released to travel, we took a road trip to see my injured mom in Iowa, with a stop to see my long-recuperating base-jumping brother. The trip was relatively uneventful and very relaxing, except for the constant attention I had to pay to my forgetful mother and over-exuberant Robin.

We stopped at Big South Fork, TN on the return and stayed with a friend. If you're traveling through Georgia, remember my advice to avoid Macon at all costs. Drive a bit further to Cordele ... it's waaaay worth it!

This week, Robin goes in for his 6 week evaluation. All is going great with his recovery and we expect to see him off crutches and in the knee brace following that appointment.

Stay tuned for some exciting developments coming soon!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Quote of the day

"I'm so full I couldn't even eat an ice cube."

Robin in response to all the yummy fresh produce (butternut squash, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, raspberries, apples and more) we have access to on the mainland.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Recovery and rehab

Three weeks after surgery, Robin continues to do really well with his physical therapy and recovery. His staples are out and he's halfway through the 6-week crutches requirement.

Thanks to our friend Gordie, we're still in St. Augustine with easy access to the doctor, physical therapy and the gym. (Now that Robin has been cleared to do a little light lifting ... machines only. No plates. No barbells. No dumbbells.)

See some pictures of Robin's recovery, staple removal, my birthday and more.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Birthday time!

It's my birthday and we are going to Orlando! Guaranteed to get to the front of the line every time because Robin will be in a wheelchair and I'll have my birthday button on!

We're not sure if he'll be able to do any rides besides the kiddie rides so stay tuned for pictures and a recap of how it went.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quote of the day

"Pain is just a sign of weakness leaving your body."

Robin during his first post-op, modified workout (only slightly mind-altered from the pain med withdrawal symptoms).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Coleslaw wrestling

You can't help but watch TV when you're hanging around the house recuperating, getting up at all hours for the next dose of pain medication, having another icing round and searching for short excursions to take during the day. Boy, the things we have learned from infomercials, regular commercials, talk shows and other shows at all hours.

One thing we just missed was the annual Coleslaw Wrestling event, held in Samsula, FL and not too far from where we're staying. (But, we will mark it on the calendar for next year!)

Who knew you could watch women wrestling in a pit of 2,000 pounds of raw cabbage? The event slogan: "We have done for cole slaw what the moon did for rocks." (Not to worry, either, because after the event, they feed the slaw to livestock.)

This event is so huge, they even have aerial camera support. The Cabbage Patch Bar hosts this infamous event, along with several other out-of-the-ordinary events (including a sexy banana contest, a bike drop and skydiving), all with the understanding that "nudity is not only an accidental by-product of those activities, it is the reason our friends attend, participate, and enjoy viewing the proceedings."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Top 10 similarities between Mom's and Robin's lastest medical events

You wouldn't think a broken wrist and knee surgery have much in common. But when it comes to The Twins (Mom and Robin), the eery similarities are readily apparent. Or if you want to just feel pain, take a look at some photos of the surgical event (warning: some are gory).
  1. Both were worried about something happening to their clothes before they were ready to leave the hospital and wanted to hold onto them.
  2. Both had a mean nurse.
  3. Both can't "ambulate" unattended and need supervision for most activities.
  4. Both can't use their right arms or feed themselves.
  5. Both were drugged beyond belief.
  6. Both have a groggy memory and recall about events.
  7. Both are very anxious to get better.
  8. Both have great meals prepared for them.
  9. Both have physical therapy daily and get chauffeured around.
  10. Both suffer from impaired judgment and think they are OK to do more than they can or should.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Quote of the day

"I itch like a chicken with lice."

Robin in reference to the surgical stockings he has to wear for 6 weeks.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Top 10 knee surgery highlights

Robin's surgery went well and he is home for recovery. Here are a few highlights from the experience.

  1. It takes about an hour and a half to install a new cadaver ACL and it's an outpatient procedure so you'll be home by noon.
  2. It can take up to two days for two nerve blocks to wear off and is pretty painful when it does. (Robin's wore off today and we are counting the minutes until Robin can take the next roundof pain meds.)
  3. A combination of anesthesia effects, pain medication and antibiotics, all with side effects of dizziness and light-headedness, combined with a leg numb from two nerve blocks, makes for a scary experience when getting accustomed to crutches.
  4. Ambulating is commonly used in the medical world instead of "getting around."
  5. The St. Augustine Surgical Center does not have water, snacks, comfortable chairs or a comfortable temperature (it's freezing in there!) so prepare accordingly.
  6. ACL and meniscus repair involves 4 incisions, 11 staples, a leg shave and scrub, 5 injections, 2 vials of blood removal, a shot of valium and an antibiotic injection.
  7. A large vial of blood contains only 8 to 10 ccs of platelets (used in Robin's elbow and knee injections to repair cartlidge and soft tissue injury).
  8. An ice cuff machine is very expensive ($255) , very cumbersome, not guaranteed to work and is difficult to convince the manufacturer that the unit really failed and needed immediate replacement.
  9. A CPM machine (constant passive motion) is rentable only and its goal for ACL recovery starts at a 60-degree bend and progresses to a 120-degree bend after a week or so.
  10. If you're tired enough, you can sleep through the drone of the CPM machine and the pump of the ice cuff machine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Medical mayhem

Ah, the world of healthcare.

My mom fell recently and broke her wrist (badly). Unfortunately, this happened after hours, on the weekend (of course) so she got to spend the entire weekend in the hospital because the staff didn't want to call in the surgeon and doctor. Plus, she had to stay there 3 days for her senior care to pay for it. Anyway, she's still waiting to get a cast and reportedly was to be discharged to a rehab facility soon.

Robin undergoes an ACL revision and meniscus repair on Thursday. This procedure entails a 3 to 4 month recovery, which we will spend in Florida and other locations around the country (like Iowa to see my injured mom) and Kentucky (or similar) if Robin can hunt from a wheelchair.

I plan to take blow-by-blow pictures of the event so stay tuned for the before and afters!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pet project

Now that I have some spare time, I'm starting a book project. Please vote for your favorite post and/or type of post. Leave a comment if your answer doesn't quite fit into one of the categories.

Remember, I'm in Florida so you can vote early and vote often!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kodiak photos

We had a great time in Kodiak and I really liked the town. It reminded me a lot of Sitka and Southeast. (Heavy sigh.) Here are a slew of pictures from our Kodiak trip.
  • Kodiak oddities: See the local brewery, home of Sarah Palin Ale, Robin demonstrating how to pee in a funnel, a U.S. nuclear missile site, how to park your plane at your house and more odd shots from Kodiak.
  • Kodiak cabin: See the cabin we went to look at in Viekoda Bay, including the "his" and "hers" bathrooms, a Russian sauna and an elevated deer skinning station that keeps you and your meat safe from bears.
  • Kodiak friends and family: See us and The Boys and other friends in and around Kodiak.
  • Kodiak fishing: See me an my first king, the halibut slaughter (when the guys got 300 lb + of meat) and more.
  • Scenery and wildlife: See fox and buffalo, mountains, oceans and more scenic views in and around Kodiak.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Quote of the day

"My back's great ... as long as I don't move."
Words out of both my mom's and Robin's mouths on the same day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Top 10 Kodiak trip highlights (so far)

  1. Managing to get our huge, supposed-to-be checked bag through carry-on security after purging all liquids and leaving them with a secret contact. (All valuable contents ... like my expensive hair stuff ... secured and in hands of friends.)
  2. Seeing real wildlife ... like eagles, puffins, sea lions, porpoises, sea otters and a really cool fox.
  3. Waiting on the second floor with no railing in a dark, dark cabin in the middle of the night to pee in a weird funnel contraption because I couldn't climb down the ladder in the dark and face being met by a bear outside.
  4. Seeing the parents of our future grandchild and our other Boy who made a trip to E.R. for a partially sliced off tip of his index finger.
  5. Flying in a small plane over The Emerald Isle on a calm, sunny day to explore property in Viekoda Bay.
  6. Catching a 34-pound king salmon for the first time and eating king salmon!
  7. Spending time with some longtime friends of Robin's.
  8. Trying Sarah Palin Pale Ale beer at the Kodiak Brewery.
  9. Enjoying nice, cool comfortable weather (upper 50s) and not being all sweaty and slimed up from sunscreen.
  10. Seeing Kodiak and all the places Robin knows and being on the Alaskan waters again.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Another Alaska anniversary

I am so excited! Robin and I celebrate our two-year anniversary with a trip to Kodiak, Alaska. This will be my first trip to Kodiak (Robin lived there for several years).

We will see The Boys (both in their mid-20s), friends, some property for sale, some wildlife (whales, bears, etc.) and all that this area of Alaska has to offer. And yes, of course, we will be FISHING for salmon and halibut.

In preparation for hauling back all that fish we plan to catch, I actually had to research and read baggage requirements. Here are some interesting things I learned:

Allowed in carry-on luggage:
  • Human organs: They did not specify how, what or why. I guess anything goes. I assume you would be questioned, regardless, so be prepared if you're traveling with an extra kidney on board.
  • Ashes: Provided they are in a sealed, leak-proof container that fits in an overhead compartment. They did not specify what type of ashes so I assume this applies to all ashes, human and otherwise.
  • Reading material: Provided it is a "reasonable amount," reading material does not count towards carry-on luggage. (It scares me that they think people can determine "reasonable" for themselves. So far, my experience hasn't led me to believe that people are very good at determining "reasonable" on their own.)
Allowed in checked luggage:
  • Alcohol: If you can keep it under 5 liters per person and it is less than 140 proof, have at it! Just keep it in "retail packaging." However, forget about it if you are traveling to Barrow, Bethel, or Kotzebue, Alaska where you no longer have all your basic American rights and can't possess such contraband. Then it's a big no-no. I guess residents there could learn something from the folks in Santa Rosa where they can control their alcohol consumption. If you travel out of Santa Rosa, you can check one box of wine per person at no cost.
  • Critter stuff: Un-mounted antlers and horns, raw capes from big game and bear hide, provided it bears special labeling and meets normal size and weight restrictions.
  • Pepper spray or chemical repellent: Provided it is less than 4 ounces, a less than 2% active ingredient and a cap, case or other mechanism in place to prevent accidental discharge. (Unfortunately, most bear sprays exceed the active ingredient percentage allowed so they suggest you buy such items at your destination and leave them behind upon return.)
  • Ammunition: Provided it is securely packed in the original manufacturer's package or in a container designed for ammunition and of sufficient strength to protect it from accidental crushing or discharge. (Note: having a single 22-bullet is not acceptable in your carry-on luggage, regardless that you have no weapon whatsoever. Just ask Robin.)
  • Firearms: Defined as "designed to or may be readily converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive." They must all be unloaded and packed in a hard-sided container that is locked and you must have the key or lock combination in your possession. All parts of the firearm must be packed in the same container as the firearm itself.
  • Paintball cylinders: Provided the regulator valve is completely disconnected from the cylinder and the cylinder must have an opening to allow for a visual inspection inside.
Not allowed in checked luggage or carry-on:
  • Wet ice: That's frozen water, folks. I know I always considered this a dangerous item so I'm glad travelers can't posses it! But, you can have dry ice ... up to 5.5 pounds per item, provided it allows for the release of carbon dioxide gas. (FYI: Gel ice is the preferred type of ice and styrofoam is not an acceptable container.)
  • Radioactive materials: If you have something radioactive, leave it at home, along with any other hazardous materials such as poisons and infectious substances.
  • Self inflating rafts: Although I think this would be better as a carry-on, leave your raft at home ... or anything else in a pressurized container such as butane fuel, scuba tanks, propane tanks and C02 cartridges.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The unemployed

My nephew Scott, recently laid off from his civil engineering job, joined me for some fun in the sun at Fort Jefferson. What better way for two recently unemployed workers to spend some time but by kayaking (in a kayak that had a hole in the hull and was taking on water -- a lot of work to paddle that thing!), snorkeling and exploring?

See the photos of our adventures.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shark porn

Now that I have some time on my hands, I can take advantage of some of the cool stuff around here. For example, I spent a morning with Wes, a researcher studying the mating habits of nurse sharks and learning all about shark fornification.

A step ladder is a primary tool in this process, along with standing in waist-deep water. Pretty neat stuff!

See the photos of how all this stuff works.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fort headlines

  • Leaking toilet wastes 3,000+ gallons of water: Due to a negligent resident who continues to ignore repeated pleads from maintenance to make sure the toilet shuts off, non-potable water loss has exceeded 3,000+ gallons over the course of three days, a 300% increase. (Maintenance has turned off the toilet until repair parts arrive.)
  • Population explodes 85%: A huge influx of people has elevated the population to a whopping 37. This far exceeds system capacity of 20 people. Potable water usage is expected to skyrocket 400% to 1,600 gallons/day. This population explosion follows a brief week of relief for the much-overloaded system when the recommended 10-12 residents held potable water usage steady at a respectable 400 gallons/day. Non-potable water usage was around 350 gallons/day.
  • Extreme water shortage expected: Due to all of the above and a project for dredging out the sand from the moat, maintenance expects that all water making activities will cease due to stirred up sand and salinity in the moat. Rain is not expected.
  • Water shut off 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.: Due to a potable water leak somewhere in the thousands of feet of PVC piping, water was turned off nightly for 3 days while digging commenced. This saved 1,200+ gallons of potential wasted, good drinking water. (Maintenance dug, located and repaired the leak.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ice cream!

What originally was going to be a gathering of 10 turned into a crowd 25-strong for my Independence Day celebration. Robin cooked up a mess o' meat, including deer and beef burgers (all was dee-lish).

We had both vanilla (two gallons) and chocolate (a big 5-gallon container) ice cream. We had all the toppings we could think of: hot fudge, raspberry sauce, strawberries, bananas, Robin's peanut butter sauce, pralines, whipped cream (real and canned), peanuts, sliced almonds, cherries, caramel, Twix candy bars, M&Ms and more. It was AWESOME!

See photos.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence day

My seasonal Park Service job is officially over. We are having an Independence Day party to celebrate the event. As with most island gatherings, this will be a potluck. We're cooking a deer haunch ... thanks to Robin's Kentucky Kill from last fall during our roadtrip and move here. I hauled it out of the deep freeze and it's thawing now.

In a herculean effort, we also have ice cream to commemorate this occasion in a memorable way. Getting ice cream to the fort entailed the coordinated efforts of island support on Garden Key and in Key West, plus the vital assistance of the M/V Fort Jeff crew and the ship's freezer. It is going to be an ice cream social event, complete with $40 worth of toppings. I can hardly wait!

Although fireworks are not allowed at this national park, I foresee a "kitchen accident" with sparkley things. Stay tuned for the photos!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Loggerhead getaway

Loggerhead Key is 3 miles and a world away from Garden Key, home of Fort Jefferson. A couple weekends ago, Robin and I went to Loggerhead Key for our standard days off. We went snorkeling and kayaking and had a great time, even though we had no running water due to a downed water system. And even though a sandbar shark kept stalking us while we snorkeled, causing us to make a beeline for the beach.

We stayed in what is known as the "Little House", while some friends of ours stayed in the "Big House" (also known as the party house, complete with icemaker, that the Coast Guard uses when in the area).

See some photos of our Loggerhead weekend, including an exciting photo of a turtle nest and our only way to shower (no nudity, please).

(Although Robin has since gotten the water system back up and running, a lightning strike just destroyed the power source that ran the water pump. Sigh. A maintenance man's job is never done.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Top 10 reasons why our ghetto Jetta is the perfect vehicle

In preparation for hurricane season, we swapped out our 2007 Toyota Tundra with a circa 1998 Volkswagon Jetta. It was originally recovered from a wreck, fixed up by Robin and subsequently (ab)used by Robin's son.
  1. Weight loss aid. The air conditioning is broken, resulting in significant weight loss from all the sweating.
  2. Built-in mister. When it rains, a leak in the windshield mists the passenger (a pleasant relief from the sweltering heat).
  3. Great donut. The spare tire comes in mighty handy whenever one of the old tires blows (which is what happened last weekend and we drove 150 miles on it from Homestead to Key West).
  4. Health aid. The significant amount of water we drink because of the broken A/C contributes to clean pores and bladder health.
  5. Easy spot. Unique body work and features (different colored hood, broken off spoiler, different colored bumper) make it easy to find in any parking lot.
  6. Conversation starter. A theft-proof radio frozen in the locked-out mode encourages conversation because there's no music.
  7. Gas economy. This cruiser gets 34+ miles to the gallon (way better than the Tundra). We hardly ever have to fill up.
  8. Easy parking. Measuring a full 5+ feet shorter than the Tundra, it is a dream to parallel park and get around the narrow streets of Key West.
  9. Blank canvas. The hood and various other parts need some paint and body work, the perfect artistic outlet (we're thinking about painting a shark on the hood).
  10. Worry free. It's already beat up and not worth much monetarily so we don't worry about scratches, dents and dings from all the yahoo drivers, bikers, scooters and pedestrians swarming around Key West.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


It's been a while since I posted some photos so here are a few of work and play.

  • Work: Getting trash off Loggerhead Key and Garden Key is always an endeavor. For Garden Key, we load it all on the park service vessel, haul it to Key West, unload it from the park service vessel into a truck and then haul it to the dump. From Loggerhead, we airlifted the trash using helicopters! Take a look!
  • Work: It's a huge birding migration area, especially on Bush Key. I headed there one day with a renown researcher. See some of the birds.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Marilyn Day

My longtime friend Doug (a loyal blog reader) just lost his wife, Marilyn. She valiantly battled cancer (and multitudes of health problems over the years) but lost the war.

When I asked Doug how I could help or what I could do, he simply asked that I have a "Marilyn Day" ... a day spent with a loved one doing absolutely nothing productive except enjoying the time together.

I challenge all of you to a Marilyn Day and make the time to enjoy a day with a special loved one ... and make it an annual event!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Top 10 islands with uncanny resemblances to Garden Key

  1. Island of Misfit Toys (the island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon).
  2. Gilligan's Island (a group of castaways on an uncharted, uninhabited island, complete with a dimwitted, accident-prone crewman and a condescending character reminiscent of Mr. Magoo).
  3. Fantasy Island (a seemingly island paradise riddled with oddities and bizarreness just beneath the surface).
  4. Survivor Anywhere (isolated in a remote wilderness location with strangers and given a minimal number of tools with which to survive; laden with challenges to test endurance, problem solving, teamwork, dexterity and willpower).
  5. Lord of the Flies (a group stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results).
  6. Vanuatu (a South Pacific island facing tremendous pressure on local ecosystems where freshwater and waste disposal are increasingly troublesome issues).
  7. A mysterious tropical island in the South Pacific, home of Lost (where a group of strangers are forced to work together to stay alive with survival threatened by mysterious entities).
  8. Borneo (an island that has no escape from the suffocating heat and humidity).
  9. Más a Tierra (the island where Robinson Crusoe lived, complete with captives, mutineers and more).
  10. Deliverance (oh wait, that's not an island but the plot still applies: expecting to have fun and see the glory of nature but instead, face both nature and mankind conspiring to send you through a crucible of danger and degradation).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Tower of Terror

Disclaimer: Don't tell Robin's mom about this story. (See blow-by-blow pictures of this account, except for the injury part where we were busy tending to the situation.)

The park's one regular phone line is a Radio Telephone Interconnect (RTI) system. This setup uses a radio tower and repeater to relay voice data that eventually ends up at the phone company in Key West, providing us rudimentary phone service. The system uses a solar battery array. These batteries are housed on a 60-ft Airforce tower constructed in the middle of open water 35 miles from nowhere. Periodically, these batteries need servicing. The Last Man is the lucky guy who gets to do this.

When I heard the plan for how the batteries get serviced, I pitched a fit. Not just one fit, either. I pitched 3 fits to 3 different people.

Robin and I questioned the safety of this operation. I pleaded with the boss to give us a week to get a better way lined up (like asking the Coast Guard to help or towing the small boat out with a larger boat for a base of operations). I made phone calls. All to no avail. This is my last pitch here and I'm sure someone will get in trouble for it.

The plan was to cross 35 miles of open water each way, hope the wind didn't kick up and leap from the small, bumperless boat to a metal-grated platform. Once you reach the platform, you have to tie off the boat and get all the tools, a ladder and battery water up the tower using ropes and pulleys.

Because of high seas, 3-5 ft waves and big, big swells, reaching the tower took 3 1/2 hours instead of the usual 1 1/2 hours. Once we finally reached the tower, the swells and surges at the base of the tower were 6+ feet. It's a good thing Robin is such an experienced captain who was able to be spot-on 4 solid times for the transfers. Anyone with lesser experience would have resulted in a very bad situation.

As it was, the situation was bad enough. Making the leap from the boat to the tower was gonna be tough. There is very little margin for error. Plus, there are posts waiting to impale you, rust, salt water spray and bird poop everywhere to complicate sticking the landing.

Unfortunately, one of the guys did fall. Fortunately, he did not fall into the water and get crushed between the tower base, surging water and lurching boat. He is injured and is now in Key West seeking medical attention (probably just a broken wrist).

Of course, the Park could avoid this fiasco entirely if they would simply work with the Coast Guard. Or work with anyone else who has the right equipment and training for such an operation. Or do away with this archaic system and simply spend a little money to have a second emergency satellite phone.

I am at a loss regarding who I should speak with next to avoid this dangerous situation.

Suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Top 10 things seen in the moat

(My personal, no-maintenance aquarium right off our balcony.)
  1. Nurse shark
  2. Upside-down jellyfish
  3. Mangrove snapper
  4. Moray eel
  5. Spiny lobster (giant!)
  6. Angel fish
  7. Rainbow parrot fish
  8. Turtle (Spot)
  9. Puffer fish
  10. Sergeant majors, sea cucumbers and a bunch of tropical fish I don't know the names

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The last man

A friend of mine alerted me to a recent article in Fortune Magazine by Stanley Bing that really hit home.

Titled The last man, it talks about how elevator usage rates prompt an investigation into finding a remaining lone employee. This sole employee always has too much to do because things malfunction due to lack of maintenance. And, he has the audacity and initiative to make things better.

Here at the fort, that would be Robin, the lone maintenance guy trying to fix everything that has been in a woeful state of neglect. On any given day, The Last Man never stops moving and doing, maintaining complex, jerry-rigged systems that are pushed way beyond what they were designed to do.

For example, in a typical day, potable water (drinking, showers, laundry) use is around 900 gallons. Lately, there's been a 33% increase, with usage hovering around 1,200 gallons/day. Not a very good thing for the poor reverse osmosis system that can only make about 1,000 gallons of water a day, provided the sea water salinity level is low enough.

Then there's the cistern water, used mainly for flushing toilets. Typical usage is around 300 gallons a day, about 200 flushes. Lately, there's been a 150% increase, with usage around 500+ gallons a day, about 333 flushes. Not a very good sign for a rainwater-supplied system where there hasn't been measurable rain since February 2.

Of course, all that water and waste must go somewhere. The leech fields are taking on more than 1,000 gallons daily and the poopy tank gets almost 400 lbs of sludge a month. Redoubt and Mt. St. Helen's could pale in comparison when that eruption blows!

Meanwhile, a staff of 5-6 law enforcement rangers handled a whopping 65 law enforcements incidents over a 365-day period (less than one incident a week).

Now that the internet is back and general population usage is limited right now due to bandwidth testing, I can't wait to check more of Bing's writings, like Crazy bosses and Bulls**t jobs.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Near the breaking point

I returned from Iowa to an island filled with strife: the Internet connection was down.

While merely annoying and an inconvenience in most locations, this is a very serious issue here in the land without phones and other "normal" communication methods. Internet chatting, Internet phone calls and the like have become expected here, and are greatly depended on.

On this island of 25 or so residents, rumors spread faster than a wildfire across a drought-stricken plain with 30 mph winds. The rumors and conjecture surrounding this downed connection were pretty entertaining (and continue).

The truth was much more boring and quite a letdown compared to the crazy rumors circulating about this event. The cause was a simple, yet complex equipment failure. Simple because a part needed to be replaced. Complex because the part and the repair guy had to be here at the same time.

It only took about two weeks but now it's back!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Top 10 things I learned on my Iowa trip

  1. My mom has the equivalent of a 10'x 18' hole in her house. This is based on an evaluation by a guy from the home heating assistance program who came with his laptop to evaulate the house with a fan and wind tunnel contraption, an infrared camera and other equipment. (The goal for houses is a 10' x 20' hole so that was good news.)

  2. The Marine Corps has Semper Fi (Always Faithful), the Coast Guard has Semper Paratus (Always Ready) and according to my brother, Sergeant First Class Smith, the Army has Semper Gumby (Always Flexible).

  3. My hometown still holds the annual Easter Egg hunt. It is still going strong with thousands of participants.

  4. If you look in the manual hard enough, you can find out how to disable the seatbelt warning chime and light, child lock features and other safety features. (But you have to be coordinated, buckling and unbuckling the seatbelt at least 3 times in under 10 seconds).

  5. There is a book coming out this fall about my hometown. (See previous entry.)

  6. A primary ingredient in meth production, anhydrous ammonia, is a common chemical farmers plow into the ground at this time of year. (There is also a large meth production industry around my hometown.)

  7. Conversational topics to avoid with my mom include a.m. vs. p.m., her alleged tandem skydiving experience and whatever is written in her daily planner.

  8. The annoying town whistle still blows and will knock you out of bed at 7 a.m. (It also blows at noon, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.)

  9. My brother's garage, complete with free weights, treadmill, elliptical and cable TV, has become the local fitness club.

  10. The Iowa DOT goes overboard on their enforcement of tire tread on any equipment driving down the road.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hollowing out the middle

There's an interesting book about my hometown.

My brother (who's shipping out to Iraq soon) and his wife appear around minute 1:01 of the trailer.

Check it out!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Climate change

I was greeted in Iowa with snow, overcast skies and blizzard warnings. The brief taste of winter weather was nice for a change from the 80 degrees and steaming humidity, but I'm glad it is now back to a balmy 50 degrees and sunshine.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On the road again

We head back to Key West tomorrow for our scheduled 4 days off. On Friday, I head back to the land of semi-reliable internet and phone service: Iowa.

I'm going back to see my mom (who recently had her driver's license revoked by the neurologist who didn't think she should be driving with a brain tumor) and my brother Lee (who is once again being deployed to Iraq).

In the meantime, my loyal and not-so loyal readers can take a look at some photos I was finally able to upload: Robin's birthday (awesome!), fishing (depleting the stock) and the big boondoggle digs going on at the fort: an archeological expedition and a contractor flushing a rag down the toilet and stopping up the entire septic system for a day.

See the photos.

My next blog will be posted from the confines of my hometown's public library, still run by the mean librarian as when I was growing up (if she doesn't hold true to form and kick me out because I'm no longer a hometown patron).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fort report

Here are some recent happenings at the fort...
  • A team of archeologists returned for a Big Dig. It turns out that a few years ago when the maintenance staff was putting in a leech field (part of the sewer/septic system), the onsite person who made sure they didn't "disturb" anything spotted some pieces of glass and pipe stems. So, they returned 5 years later, directed Robin to get out the backhoe and dug a gimongous hole. (Photos to come.)
  • Despite warnings to turn back from the ferry captains, one boater decided he was man enough for the 30+ knot winds. He's been stranded here since Saturday (of last week).
  • Despite warnings from another 100-ton master captain, today's ferry captains decided to push their limits and come, even though winds were a steady 34 knots and gusting.
  • The stranded boater previously mentioned narrowly missed being sliced in half this morning by another boat when that boat's anchor broke free and ran into the other boat.
  • When leaving the island today, a stupid camper who was staying the night somehow remained on the ferry. The ferry had barely cleared the shallow channel on the departure and suddenly stopped, churned up the bottom, turned around and waked everything in its path (in a no-wake zone) to return to the dock to return said stupid camper.
  • A couple of reporters from Lonely Planet guide books were here and received their own personal tour of the fort and island from yours truly.
Now, it's off to bed for me, until the 3 a.m. wake-up call when we slog out to check the lines on all the boats. So far, 6 lines have broken and that's just today!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Birthday bash

We head off the rock today for a weekend getaway for Robin's birthday. We are headed to Disneyworld, Seaworld and a visit with Robin's mom.

Robin's been talking up Seaworld and the "all the free beer you can drink." (I plan to verify this statement.) This could promise to be another hysterical episode like last year's birthday (see Return from civilization).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Search and rescue

Robin and I went out fishing the other day on a rare relatively calm day (only blowing 10 knots or so). It was sunny, hot and the fish were biting. Robin had one on and called me to come over and help him net it. In my haste (and Robin's impatience), I failed to properly secure my rod in the rod holder (big mistake).

While we were getting Robin's fish in the boat, all of sudden .... zzzzzzzzzzip!

There went my new expensive rod, being pulled by a fish, over the edge of the boat and into the water. Not only that, it snagged another one (Robin's matching and equally expensive new rod) and took it along. I started to go for them (hey, they were expensive and the water is 70+ degrees). They were only a foot out of my reach. Robin yelled at me to stay in the boat. Then he ran up and marked the man overboard on the GPS (wow, what a great invention that is).

Today, we were fortunate enough to have a couple scuba divers who were willing to go on a treasure hunt. Sure enough, thanks to Robin's quick action with the GPS, they retrieved one rod in about 15 minutes. They went down a second time and again, success! They came up smiling and with the other rod.

Because the rods weren't exposed to oxygen and were submerged in the salt water, they will be good to go. Robin is out there hosing them down and soaking them in fresh water now.

I think we owe the divers some fish. A lot of it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The High Seas Diet and Fitness Plan

(This list compiled during the latest journey on the M/V Fort Jefferson, when we went 8 mph for more than 6 long, grueling hours due to rough seas and having an injured boat limping along in our wake.)

Reduce caloric intake the natural way with nature's own cleansing and purging routine!
  • Foods on the approved list include soft foods (easy on the way down and on the way up) that are low in calories such as yogurt, oatmeal etc.
  • Drink a delicate balance of tea and water. Both help you avoid the dry heaves and both are low in calories. This very delicate balance is recommended because you don't want to drink too much liquid that will require a trip to the head -- an evil place to be avoided at all costs.
  • Being on the water for such an extended period of time is a natural deterrent from eating high fat, high volume foods such as Big Macs, french fries, ice cream. In addition to not having access to such food, it kills your appetite for days (and sometimes for days prior due to dread of being on the high seas).
  • Wearing seabands on your wrists makes them fall asleep, making it more difficult to negotiate getting food in your mouth.
  • Taking motion sickness pills will knock you out for days, which you will spend sleeping and therefore not be awake to eat.
Get in a great, inexpensive all-over body workout! No expensive equipment to buy ... simply a sturdy ship rail!
  • Getting sick works your abs better and cheaper than the ab lounger, ab roller and other costly ab machines.
  • In addition, you get in plenty of knee bends (going for distance over the rail), which are easier on your joints than squats.
  • Gripping the rail provides a burn in your arms and shoulders that will last for hours and is a surefire upper-arm and shoulder toner.
  • Burn bonus calories from the chills and shivering that results from being in the constant sea spray and wind.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Top 10 job duties I did as Interpretive Ranger First Class

  1. Received (finally) my first official key that gets me into doors here at the fort. (Still waiting for apartment keys and a key to my place here at the fort.)
  2. Raised the American flag over the fort in the morning. (One day it almost got blown away! Thanks to my quick reflexes, I was able to avoid this catastrophic event.)
  3. Explored Bush Key with one of the bird researchers to see the nesting birds and scout for the lone crocodile. We didn't spot the crocodile, but we did see sooty terns, baby sooty terns, sooty tern eggs and frigate birds with the males all poofed up looking for a lady. (Photos to come as soon as the wind dies down.)
  4. Served as official "medical recorder" to document a medical incident for the EMT on duty. (Allergic reaction to sunscreen so no need to call the helicopter this time.)
  5. Spent hours counting, recounting and counting some more all of the campground and entrance fees. This included counting and packaging the money into units of 25 bills. Then I had to recount and repackage the money into units of 50 bills. (Only the government would make you spend $5 in staff time to count every $1 collected.)
  6. Recorded the daily weather in the official log used by NOAA. (The last time it rained here was Feb. 2 when we got 1.56 inches. Yesterday's low was a chilly 59 degrees!)
  7. Got to play with my new park service radio. (My radio call number is 241.)
  8. Worked with my first Junior Ranger who took the pledge and received a Junior Ranger badge. (I, too, have a ranger badge. I tried to get them to let me wear the Junior Ranger one but they wouldn't let me.
  9. Looked everywhere for a chair I can use instead of the circa 1954, straight-back elementary school wooden chair that I've been using.
  10. Tried and failed numerous times to get my computer log in and access. (Somehow they can't seem to figure out how to reinstate what I had at Glacier Bay. I foresee another fingerprinting ordeal.)

Saturday, February 28, 2009


As you know if you're a regular reader, wind plays an important role in my life. It kicks up the seas so I get seasick. It messes with the satellite internet so I can't check email. Or make phone calls. Or upload photos. Here is the error message I've been getting when it's blowing more than 20 (which has been most of the week):

Web Acceleration Client Error (506) - Suspected Recent Satellite Link Outage

The satellite link was operating properly up until the most recent web page request, but the last request could not be successfully sent across the satellite link to the Web Acceleration Server. Possible causes for this include recent changes in weather conditions or equipment problems in the Network Operations Center. Trying again at a later time may result in restored service due to either improvements in the weather conditions causing the service outage or rectification of a network problem in the Network Operations Center. If this problem persists, please contact your service provider for additional assistance.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back to a new grind

Thanks to having non-compete status from my year+ as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer and the Park Service's Centennial Initiative program, I now have a seasonal job as an Interpretive Park Ranger! Surprisingly, one of my past background checks actually suffices and I don't have to get re-fingerprinted.

My first week of work was spent trying to get computer access, uniforms and what a surprise -- keys! This is the start of my second week of work, begun aptly enough by chumming the fish. (At least I wasn't wearing a nice new shiny uniform that got all nasty.)

Only 123 days (out of 129) to go!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Top 10 Rules for living at 1644-A

Here are a few items we were admonished for at our Key West shared housing unit. (These are all in addition to the "helpful" advice blasted at us, such as don't use V05 shampoo, don't drink tap water, don't drink Coke, don't eat any meat except Greenwise brand, don't drink any milk except Greenwise brand, etc.) Fortunately, we have since moved into a different, friendlier apartment at 1645-D.

  1. Don't leave the dryer door open.
  2. Don't move any of the bricks blocking the doorway. (They are there to prevent evil/negative energy from entering the household.)
  3. Don't move any crystals placed around the house. (They are strategically placed; similar to the above.)
  4. Don't bring food into your bedroom. (I won't even comment.)
  5. Don't have any guns in the house. (We're both taking a concealed carry class soon.)
  6. Don't scratch the pans. (Like we've never cooked before.)
  7. Don't eat the blue tortilla chips. (Like we eat other people's food.)
  8. Don't leave the bread bag on the kitchen counter. (I thought kitchens were for food storage.)
  9. Don't leave dirty dishes in the kitchen for more than 60 seconds.
  10. Don't leave the grill dirty and make sure you spend at least 15 minutes cleaning the exterior after use.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Air conditioning

Ever since we moved into this 6-month old housing unit, the air conditioning has not worked. Robin spent an entire month trying to get a part for the A/C. It finally got here, but that didn't work, either, because the circuitry blew out.

A friend of Robin's is a licensed air conditioning dude with a company just outside of Miami. He made the trip out here yesterday. He and Robin ended up installing a new A/C unit and hooray, after 2 1/2 months of trying, we now have air conditioning!

Now we are in the "testing phases." Here are some excerpts from all the manuals that came with the unit. The first two are my favorites:
  • In the CHAOS mode, the wind blows like natural breeze by automatically changing fan speed according to the CHAOS logic. (Huh, I didn't know there was any logic behind CHAOS.)
  • You cannot switch the indoor fan speed. It has already been set by the Fuzzy rule. (Huh. I guess it makes sense that you can't change something set by a Fuzzy rule. I wonder what a Fuzzy rule is. I think there are a lot of them.)
  • Being exposed to direct airflow for an extended period of time could be hazardous to your health. Do not expose occupants, pets or plants to direct air flow for extended periods of time. (Hmmm, maybe it wasn't good to be standing right in front of it when that puff of stuff came out when it started.)
  • Do not drink the water drained from this product. (Duh!)
  • This limited warranty does not apply to damages resulting from running the product in a corrosive atmosphere. (Great, the person who purchased these did a great job researching.)
  • Do not let the air conditioner run for a long time when the humidity is very high. (Ditto the above comment.)
  • Do not install the product where the sound or hot air from the outdoor unit could be offensive to neighbors. (Sure hope it doesn't piss off the birds.)
  • Do not install the product where it will be exposed to salt spray directly. (Now that's gonna be tough on a windy place surrounded by the ocean!)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sonic boom day

So far today, there have been 6 sonic booms that I have counted and it's only noon.

One of them was so loud I thought a chunk of the fort by my house dropped into the moat.

I'm glad we're spending $6 million/side x 6 sides = $36 million to preserve it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Top 10 features of $328,000+ government housing

I live in a pre-fab housing unit inserted into a fort casement (about 900 sq ft). This unit is less than one year old and was installed under government contract at a cost of approximately $328,000. (I still don't have all of our moving tubs put away but as soon as I do, I'll post pictures.)
  1. Paint so cheap it rubs off with your finger and is so thin you can see the brand of the drywall and where it was made. (Robin got his elbow and arm covered with paint one time when his arm hit the wall getting out of the shower.)
  2. Air conditioning that doesn't work at all. (It's only been really hot a few times and mostly at night. Robin promised to get it fixed by March before it starts getting really hot.)
  3. Light switches wired the opposite way they should be.
  4. Only one exit/entry with no way out in case of fire or other calamity. (Unless you count jumping off the second floor balcony into a moat filled with crumbling brick and two feet of water...I'm thinking seriously about investing in a fire ladder.)
  5. Random holes punched in the drywall that were never finished off with the electrical.
  6. No pulls on any cabinets or drawers (and half the kitchen cabinets open the opposite way they should, too).
  7. A hole in the ceiling over the shower where they never installed the light fixture.
  8. Two kitchen cabinets unusable because they ran the plumbing right through the center of them.
  9. Plastic molding that no longer sticks to the walls and is peeling off two to three feet at a time.
  10. Remote controlled ceiling lights and fans but the remote control doesn't work right and the wall switches don't work unless you press a series of buttons on the remote control in the proper order. (It takes about 3 minutes to turn on and off the light or fan.)

Friday, January 23, 2009


Fort Jefferson, where I live, is on Garden Key. Three miles away is Loggerhead Key, which is home to the area's only vital, functioning lighthouse. Buffeted by winds and hurricanes, Loggerhead Lighthouse is kept up and running by devoted volunteers who come and stay for a month at a time.

See photos of Loggerhead.

One set of volunteers, Robin and Terry, are notorious for the coffee they serve up in cups that hold about a quart of the caffeine- and sugar-loaded concoction. I was lucky enough to sample some of their home brew one day when my Robin was getting his tour of the utilities and I tagged along (as official volunteer).

These utilities consist of several interesting systems that truly take some ingenuity to keep them functioning. Because it's still the Dry Tortugas (no water), there is water collection from a precarious setup that intakes from the ocean and pumps it through a reverse osmosis machine (same as it is here on Garden Key).

Power comes from a generator and a solar array (with its accompanying battery array). The volunteers have to keep everything running.

Reportedly, the island has been free of Tortugas Squirrels since around 2001. However, there is fresh evidence of a recent infiltration (probably from a Coast Guard vessel).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Top 10 things fort living and Southeast Alaska living have in common

  1. Luggage is similar ... lots of hauling around lots of stuff in plastic tubs, grocery store bags, garbage bags, etc.
  2. Remoteness. Reaching either location is possible only by boat or plane ... only Dry Tortugas sea planes just went out of business so now it's ferry access only. (Lots of Dramamine for me!)
  3. Travel is extremely weather dependent. (Alaska is usually related to fog, winds and visibility; Dry Tortugas is all about wind, wind, wind.)
  4. Logistics, logistics, logistics. Access to anything is a long way away so you better a) be prepared, b) be stocked up on everything and then some and c) have creative problem solving skills.
  5. Technology is challenging. Satellite internet service in both places is heavily affected by atmospheric conditions (wind, rain, etc.) so don't bank on having access. Phone service is spotty at best but usually better in Alaska (although you could lose service for no apparent reason and without warning for days on end at times).
  6. Traveling is time intensive so be prepared. Bring food. Bring reading material. And more of both than you think you could possibly need. And maybe a sleeping bag and pillow.
  7. Fishing is good and is a mainstay of our diet.
  8. Weather is consistent. (Alaska has rain and clouds; Dry Tortugas has wind, wind, wind and sun.)
  9. Black and white birds are everywhere. (Alaska has magnificent bald eagles; Dry Tortugas has buzzards.)
  10. Interesting people from all walks of life are doing all sorts of interesting things.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chugga chugga

Now that the wind has died below 30 knots, I posted the photos from the Cuban landing a couple of weeks ago.

This group of 14 Cuban guys landed on Loggerhead Key after a 26-hour journey across 90-some miles of open ocean in a homemade boat (called a chug and quite an engineered contraption). Yikes!

See the photos.

This is all quite a process and is a real drain on the entire staff. The law enforcement rangers hauled them over to the fort from Loggerhead in the middle of the night (of course) and guarded them all night. Then, it's waiting until the Coast Guard can come and retrieve them (hopefully at daylight the next day but that doesn't always happen). In the meantime, law enforcement gave them food, water and clothes ('cause the ones they were in were nasty)!

Marching them out of the fort was quite a scene. All the tourists were scrambling for photos. Some even wanted to pose with the group of Cubans and get their photo taken. (Fortunately, this was quickly kiboshed by the lead law enforcement dude.)

Once the Coast Guard arrives, all the Cubans have to put on life vests (yeah, that makes a lot of sense after the way they just traveled!), get on the Coast Guard tender and then go to the Coast Guard cutter. After that, rumor has it they get $4000 or so and get to stay.

Then, the crew here at the fort has to retrieve the chug. In this case, it's taking a boat over to Loggerhead, towing it back to Garden Key and hauling it out of the water. Then, the chug stays here until they can decontaminate it (drain it of fuel and stuff), chop it up and haul it back to the mainland for proper disposal (dumping in a landfill).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Quote of the day

From Robin after yet another single glass of red wine gave him a headache:

"That's it. I'm not having any more red wine. Unless someone offers it to me."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Island fever

We've been at the fort since December 16, almost one month straight. Normally, it's a 10 day on, 4 day off work schedule. We've been here so long because Robin's co-worker is recovering from a head injury and his supervisor is on vacation. Thus, there's no one to work except Robin.

Rats seen: dead, one baby and one on my balcony
Tourists seen: too many to count
Cubans seen: 14 (pictures to come)
Chugs seen: 1

In a mere 2 days, weather permitting, we get to leave our little 21-acre island.

I hope it's calm!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Key condundrums

Keys are an important part of life. You usually don't realize how important they are until you are locked out of where you want to be. Like your house. Or the post office box. Or your room in the shared apartment.

I tried to get sets of keys to all of the above. So far, I haven't succeeded. I'm not done trying, though. (Now I'm starting to get pretty pissed off about it.)

Four full-time employees are based in Key West. A rotating staff of 8 people go through Key West every 9 days. At any given time, there are at least 4 people, usually 8, who come to the fort each week, often on different days. That typically leaves two opportunities a week to bring out the mail. (That's if you don't count the daily tourist ferry, who's staff always offers to bring the mail out to us.) We've been here since November 25. We've received mail twice. I've been told we can't duplicate the mailbox key because it "isn't in the budget." (Home Depot sells keys for $1.59.) I've also been told that the person who holds the mailbox key won't pick up anyone else's mail besides their own, siting that it is a felony to pick up someone else's mail.

Here at the fort, when the wind blows a certain way at our place, it slams the front door shut and locks it as you leave. Robin and I have one key between us. Again, there are no duplicate keys. (I guess it has never been in the budget to make them, either.) When this happens, I have to track down someone who has the master key. (Yep, there's only one of those, too.) He's been on vacation since before Christmas.

I also don't have a set of keys for our apartment in Key West. Same song, same dance.

Solving these very simple issues does not require any out-of-the-box thinking here ... it barely takes any thinking at all. I'm thinking about some TV show or movie I saw where they made key imprints in bars of soap. That might be what it takes!

Friday, January 2, 2009

All in a day's work

Whatever happened to those dreams of an isolated, deserted island? It sure isn't deserted here!

This past week, both ferries have been at full capacity, hauling about 125 people each every single day. That's a daily influx of 200 people.

Add to that some guy accidentally falling off the second story and subsequent helicopter medivac. We worked past midnight that night, clearing the landing area, notifying campers, all sorts of stuff.

Then, our first batch of Cubans arrived last night. The poor law enforcement ranger has to stand guard over them until the Coast Guard comes to pick them up. Reportedly, the Coast Guard is not cooperating fully in arranging the pick up. Hope I don't have to get my bear spray!

I'm tired!