Sleet, hail, and then rain fell, horizontally due to stiff winds. Winter was announcing itself to the mostly naked trees and leaf-clogged streets of Traverse City, which was struggling to collect them all before heavy snows began. (This year, lots of huge trees had held them close until the last second.)
I zipped my long, black down-filled coat right up to my chin, pulled on my new winter boots and trudged outside for Bryn’s evening constitutional. I’d foolishly grabbed a sturdy black umbrella from the hallstand, but in the first minute, the wind capriciously reversed it, allowing rain and blowing leaves to go right to my head with wet splats. Ugh!
Bryn’s rain-slick raincoat gleamed in the fading light; her paws sank into leaf-filled puddles as, undaunted, she searched for the perfect spot to add even more water. Tomorrow- and tomorrow- promised more of the same of this torrential gloom. I shivered, miserable. To top it off, my formerly waterproof footgear leaked like a sieve. My feet froze.
Joe rang me as Bryn and I sloshed through the drenched neighborhood. “ I have someone to cover for me for this coming weekend. Let’s flee south!”
Perfect. After we dried out I looked at a computer atlas. The Florida Panhandle had been great fun last year when we’d explored Panama City and its surroundings. Bryn had loved the dog parks, which were huge and green and full of lovely trees and lots of dogs. But we wouldn’t revisit it when there were so many fresh sights to see in the same area. My finger settled on Pensacola Beach, then on Gulf Breeze. Something new!.
Two days later Traverse City drizzle still wandered down my windowpanes, creating interesting trails as they crisscrossed. Bryn and I hit the road south at 9 a.m., aiming for wet, dreary Saginaw. Three hours later we arrived, transferred our stuff to the ‘95 van, and, by one o’clock p.m. Joe, Bryn and I were off!
Nearly six hours later we arrived in Cincinnati at the La Quinta Inn, which welcomes dogs, no extra charge. After Bryn’s walk, we slept.
Four a.m. arrived, cellar-dark and freezing cold. I popped awake, wishing for my long underwear. After a drive-up coffee and bacon stop at MacDonald’s we hopped onto the interstate south, though Kentucky, Tennessee, and then into northern Alabama, where our breaths materialized as a ghostly vapor at rest stops. Southern Alabama, though, was significantly balmier. Ha! We were catching up to late summer!
Finally, toward late afternoon, we entered the Panhandle and rounded a curve... and there was Pensacola Bay, gleaming in the dying sunlight. The huge blue sky glowed hot pink and peach over a ruler-flat landscape, the vast picture enhanced by fluffy white cirrus clouds. Five minutes later we found the parking lot of the Quality Inn (there are no La Quinta Inns in Pensacola Bay that are on the water). Our second floor balcony showed off the huge bay’s gracefully curved basin. Our room was spacious, with a fridge, a microwave, two roomy, comfortable beds, a couch, desk and one entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, including a glass door that opened onto the two-chaired balcony, only feet from the bay. Splendid! (Downside: The Quality Inn charges $25 per night for Bryn. So, the total price was about $125/night, including taxes. La Quinta accepts dogs fee-free.)
This inn is home to La Brisa, an upscale restaurant. We walked, fed and settled Bryn before walking there for a glass of merlot to celebrate the next 3.5 days in this very different environment.
Some things to note:
‘Dogs must not weigh more than 25 pounds’- but staff didn’t seem to care one whit that Bryn weighs 53 pounds.
Bryn immediately stepped on a tiny, straw-colored ‘cholla’ cactus seed that lay in wait amid the hotel’s manicured grass. Each one- a dot surrounded by long barbs- is about the size of a baby’s little fingernail. She stopped dead and looked up at us, shocked, afraid to move. It’s like treading on a tack. I searched; a multi-needled rascal was lodged between her left front toes, and the very devil to remove. I was repeatedly stabbed before successfully dislodging it.
Almost impossible to spot, these tiny impalers lurk even in the pure white beach (and land) sand, which, by the way, is as fine as triple-sifted flour. (Grass needs a lot of water as it struggles to grow in this superfine natural substitute for soil.)
Chollas HURT. Dog boots and tweezers are a must for future visits.
Back in our room at bedtime, I stepped on another one; its barbs stabbed me right through my thick socks. After painfully extracting it I crawled nose-close along the entire carpet- and found 4 more, brought in on previous visitors’ shoes. There was even one hiding in my jeans cuff. The barbs pierced my fingers through three folds of denim.
The upsides: the weather warmed to 65 degrees, and we were treated to a stunningly beautiful sunset over the calm water.
A huge gray crane stood in shallow water a foot from shore, still as a statue, waiting--- for unwary minnows, perhaps? And our beds were the best!
Next week I’ll feature fine Thanksgiving food, Bryn adventures, traveling stones, and Big bangs...