2/19/17: Gone With The Van

I do love Northern Michigan’s white world. 
Except. Lately, winter’s gotten weird. One minute it’s snowy, the next minute rainy, then icy, and then snowy again... I sat in the kitchen, gazed out the window and howled at the moon. (There is no sun. Not reliably, until we march into March or April.) 
Weather that can’t make up its mind makes me nuts. 

Bryn wanted to run, but found it difficult to get around out there. In dog parks she had no brakes. Worse, icy balls immediately collected on her face; she’d stagger over to me, eyelids weighed down, virtually blinded. Her muzzle would ‘glue’ shut from heavy, wet ice/snow. Her paws collected ice balls. She’d wind up on her back, trying to wave/rub them off, or drag her face along the snow, which made the situation infinitely worse. 
I found the ice more intimidating this year, too. 

For most frustrating, hair-pulling situations there’s usually a solution. Wandering the net one freezing morning I’d happened upon a tiny ad depicting the Florida Panhandle’s Panama City Beach, showing a million miles of snow-white sand highlighting the incredible Gulf of Mexico. 
Oh, Lord! 
That little photo haunted my dreams. 

February’s a slow month. Many of Joe’s patients migrate to Florida for a few weeks. He could get away for ten days if four of those days were weekends. Best of all, our younger daughter Lisa would be back from Rome in time to watch the birdies exactly on the day we wanted to leave. 

So. Last Thursday evening, February 9th, after gathering up basic essentials- not forgetting our new metal detector and its operating manual- I popped Bryn into our elderly, well maintained GMC van- and drove to the hospital parking lot. Joe came out a few minutes later, at exactly 5:00 p.m., and took the wheel. We pointed south. 
Panama City, HERE WE COME!! 

We drove down I-75 to Dayton, Ohio’s La Quinta Inn  (dogs welcomed for no extra charge) just off the expressway. It was now ten p.m. 
We fell asleep, pleased that five hours had been knocked off a 22-hour journey. 

4:00 a.m. Friday morning dawned cold and dark. 
We ordered drive-thru McDonald’s coffee and bacon, and drove for 16 hours down I-65, then through the rich greenery of Alabama’s back roads, pausing only for gas, fast food, and to see to Bryn’s needs. (A great traveler, she loves looking out of the window at the changing terrain. Our doggie never eats en route, drinks just a bit, and sleeps a lot.) 

Friday evening, at nearly ten o’clock, we staggered into the parking lot of Panama City Beach’s La Quinta Inn, and stopped under a palm tree. The air was fresh, with a very light breeze. Fragrant flowers perfumed the air. It was 62 degrees, calm, and forecast to warm to 70 +... 
Bryn staggered out into the night, blinking, and sniffed appreciatively. Hey, Boss, this is different! 
Yeah! For nearly six lovely days, there’d be no more shivering. No more feeling trapped inside the house. 

While I checked us in, I had an idea. 
“We’ll be here for 6 nights; how much more would it cost to upgrade to a suite?” 
Concentrated mutters, and a furrowed brow. 
Computer keys clicked. And clicked. I held my breath. 

The clerk finally looked up, smiled, and told me. 

“Only $100.00 more for the whole week??” 
 The room we had reserved on the road- the usual hotel sort- was really cheap right now, as it was the slow season. No tourists. Very soon, though, spring break and Easter would change all that. 
But for now... 
I’d just been offered the upgrade deal of the century. 
She even let me see it before deciding. 
I looked. Was delighted. 

We left a sleeping Bryn in the van, deciding to unpack later, and walked 100 feet to a bar and grill. It was well after ten p.m. Two glasses of merlot and 6 delicious hog wings were just the thing to celebrate. 
The reward for that marathon drive? Nearly six days in paradise. 

There’s a trick to enduring the trip to the bottom of the continent. 

-We listened to stories- sea sagas for Joe, thrillers for me. So time passed quickly. We didn’t notice our numbed bottoms. 
-Another essential gadget really helped- active noise-reducing headphones that, with a flick of a button, stopped the low highway rumble that leads to extreme ear-fatigue, while allowing normal conversation. (We realized their value very early in my flying days: our super noisy Grumman Tiger Snoopy-dog cockpit was instantly converted to one where Joe and I could chat with airport controllers, or our passengers, in a normal tone.) 
-Plus, the weather kept getting warmer, pulling us further and further south. 

After moving into our suite, we looked closer at it. 
O.K, it did look a bit tired, but it was only a mile from the beach. It boasted a kitchen sink, a nice microwave, and enough counter space for our own coffeemaker. It had a fridge, a huge bedroom with two closets and a big bathroom, a big living room with nice couch and a curvy, jet-black desk for our computer perusals. 
It was perfect. 
I set out our pile of books, and Joe unpacked his guitar.... 
Bryn cleaned her bowl, washed it down with a big drink, settled down to chew a nice Bully Stick, and then sniffed every inch of the rooms until she chose where she wanted her bed- under the desk. I obligingly shifted it there, and that was that. 
We fell into bed. 

And woke very early Saturday morning, made our own coffee, filled our heat-retaining thermos/mugs, microwaved some bacon and drove straight to the beach.  In dawn’s first light we stared at the astounding sight. Bryn went crazy. Receiving permission to run, she dashed full speed up and down that endless expanse to smooth out her travel kinks. 
She found a stick, threw it herself, retrieved it a few times, then stopped dead to stare at the white sand. Oh, boy! 
She began to dig. She dug and dug, threw the smallish stick into the hole, inspiring more furious digging from every angle as she pretended to bury it. Sand flew as her front end sank lower and lower, until until only her hinder and plumed tail showed. Chuffing happily she lay in the cavern’s depths and peered out at us sitting in our camp chairs, laughing. 

Throwing off our shoes and socks we grabbed our mugs and walked along the water’s edge. Bryn sampled the ocean, only to spit it out, confused, and we noted giant ocean liners far, far away... 

The peace, quiet, and incredible beauty had attracted only one or two other walkers barely visible in the distance. Squawking, low-flying gulls and a few large sandpipers shared our pleasure in the eastern horizon’s pastel-colored dawn. 

This new southern world offered clean, warm, pure white sand, instead of clean, cold, pure white snow.  (No wonder the sun winters here!) 

Vive la difference!

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