"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Has It Really Been a Decade?

Of all the exotic places we kicked around over the last year or so as ideas as to where we would spend our 10th wedding anniversary, we can't say that Gulf Shores, Alabama, was on the short list. But as the fates would have it, the first place we ever traveled to together as a couple (albeit not married...shhhh, don't tell anyone) wound up being a great place to see a decade of marriage come to fruition. It all started as a plan to attend The Hangout Music Festival, a Bonnaroo-style, 3-day festival held on the beaches of Gulf Shores which was taking place the same weekend as our May 19th wedding anniversary. Instead of camping like at Bonnaroo, festival-goers must obtain nearby lodging instead. We found a great-sounding beach house nearby and after offering the 2 extra bedrooms it has to some friends of ours who quickly accepted the opportunity, we suddenly had a plan.

Wednesday, May 18: We rented a car from our local Enterprise office for a week at a wonderfully low rate. We got an early start and the drive down in the Nissan Altima was comfortable and without incident. We caught up with our first housemates for the trip, our friends Gary and Cary, just inside the Alabama state line at the welcome center on I-65. After a quick stop for lunch, we made it to the rental house around 4 PM.

The house was as great as advertised (photo above). It was spacious and clean with all the modern conveniences including fast WIFI, satellite TV and a sweet in-ground pool (photo below). We got unpacked, stocked up big-time on groceries (photo above) and hit the pool for a relaxing dip before dinner. Gary prepared a wonderful meal for us four that included sauteed shrimp with a spicy pineapple salsa. Our last two housemates, our friends Chris and Tarryn, got a later-than-anticipated start from home and didn't arrive until just after midnight.

Thursday, May 19: HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US! We all slept in a bit this morning after our long travel day and decided to head out as a group later that morning to the beach which was just a block away. The house had a golf cart that we packed all our beach stuff on for an easy commute. We also had 3 nice bikes for our use. The beach was quiet and clean. Most of the houses on the beach were empty and we only saw a few other people a good distance away. The weather was beautiful. With an almost constant breeze, the temps and humidity were very tolerable. The tide was strong with impressive breaking waves for the Gulf.

The original plan of attending The Hangout Festival kind of fell through for a few different reasons. One, they didn't sell individual day tickets as we were expecting like the did last year. It was never our intention to go all three days since we had such a great house to share with good friends near the beach. By the time they announced that no one-day tickets would be sold, the event was sold out....good reason not to sell one-day tickets I guess. We did discover a "pre-party" event going on this evening with tickets being only $15 each. They had a half dozen bands of which we had never heard of but at least it was held at The Hangout Festival grounds and would give us a chance to check the area out. Gary and Cary opted out of this little side trip, so the remaining four of us headed out to catch the shows which started at 7 PM. We had a hard time finding a place to park (more on that later) and by the time we found a place and located will call (nice job of Ashlee coolly cutting the long line to get the tix), the first band, Romany Rye, was already on the stage. They sounded pretty good and we got a seat on the outer deck of the actual bar/restaurant, The Hangout, to check them out while we grabbed some dinner. Unfortunately the beer selection, the food and the service at The Hangout were not very good which was a huge disappointment and definitely a strike against the idea of attending the festival itself in the future. Restoring our faith, however, was the performance by the next band, Big Sam's Funky Nation, out of New Orleans. This blues, rock and funk quintet with trombone and trumpet taking center stage and flanked by a sizzling lead guitar and thumping bass and percussion were a great band to see live. We enjoyed their entire hour-long set as did the swelling crowd around us. Ashlee and I finished the show in the front row yelling for more.
After waiting an extremely long time for the next band to take the stage and encountering yet more bad service from The Hangout , we agreed in unison to call it a night. Unfortunately, our night was far from over....when we got back to the side street we had parked on, our car (Chris and Tarryn's to be exact) was gone. It had been towed despite being parked legally we thought on the road right-of-way without any warning signs posted. The next two hours plus were spent expensively taking a cab to the out-of-town towing company, paying an exorbitant fee to get the car back, listening to the tow company's BS as well as the local cops, and finally getting back to the house. As I have said before, we will not dwell on the negative in this blog and it won't be used as a place to air our gripes about the few bad things, people, etc. we encounter in our adventures. Instead we will chalk it up to experience and again remember it when we decide NOT to attend The Hangout Festival in the future. There are way too many good outdoor festivals nowadays to choose from all over the country. We are already looking back at the whole experience and laughing about it despite the insulting, disgusting manner that it all went down. But, hey, screw it and screw them!! We're at the beach!!

Friday, May 20: We spent a gloriously lazy day at the pool and the beach. The highlight to us was playing in the surf which was even stronger than yesterday, letting huge waves pound us into gleeful submission. It wasn't a nude beach, but it might as well have been as Chris temporarily lost his shorts in one strong wave break, and Ashlee her top in another. It was Chef Gary again that evening whipping up another amazing meal. This time glazed chicken breasts with a mango salsa were the stars of the show. The nights were cool and the little portable fireplace provided at the house was a welcome addition to the pool area. We gathered around it after dinner burning driftwood and other dead-fall we had found nearby. Smores were made available and under the clear, bright sky with a million stars shining down, we couldn't have asked for much more.

Saturday, May 21: We all slept in again this morning and lazed around the pool for the most part (except for a rousing 4-hand game of poolside Scrabble) as we awaited the time to leave for a scheduled 2 PM kayak eco-tour that I had found nearby thanks to Groupon. com. We drove about a half-hour north to the town of Foley and met Captain Chris Nelson, owner of Alabama Kayak Adventures at the Graham Creek Preserve. We hopped in our individual sea kayaks and paddled south on winding Graham Creek which feeds into Wolf Bay, an estuary of the Gulf. It was a fairly tough paddle as we went out two miles non-stop into the bay and stopped briefly at a long, thin strip of land jutting out in the bay. Here we were shown osprey (photo left)and blue heron nests high up in the trees. We were hoping for more wildlife viewing including perhaps one of the many pods of dolphins that call this area home, but we were not so fortunate. Overall, it was a nice time and a good accomplishment for us all. After getting back to our cars and changing clothes, we opted to head to the tiny hamlet of Bon Secur, Alabama, and have dinner at a place called The Tin Top Restaurant, a recommendation by Capt. Nelson. He was right on the money with this tip. It's a great little, mostly-locals place with a vast menu including a lot of fresh seafood (we had blackened trigger fish and spicy Gulf shrimp as our entrees).

We got back to the house around sundown and were relaxing around the pool when Cary made quite the discovery at the back of the property:

Yep, we had paddled four miles in kayaks without seeing much more than a few birds and some jumping fish and we come back to find an alligator in our back yard. Now, granted, he was a pretty small, young fella - 2 or 3 feet at most - and we were safely observing him from a dock high above the small wetlands pond he was in (another sweet perk to this house is that it backs up to a nice, natural wetland that not only provides wildlife for viewing and hearing - great frog songs at night - but also makes the back of the house and pool area very private). There is a cutesy little sign at the dock saying "Don't Feed the Alligator." We thought it was a joke until now and as the gator floated patiently watching us gawk at him from above. It was obvious he was waiting on a snack and the sign was actually a real command. We heeded the warning reluctantly and resisted the strong urge to toss him a piece of turkey just to see him gobble it up, but he can't always depend on the kindness (and dumbness) of strange humans. We ended the night with an impromptu poker tournament at the dining room table. Teaching the game to the willing ladies was slow, but enjoyable, as well had a good time savoring our last night in this great house.

Sunday, May 22: It was with heavy hearts that we packed up this morning and left our wonderful little house near the beach. Gary and Cary headed out first, and then Chris and Tarryn. We did the final close-up on the house and discovered that our little gator was back again. We named him "George", told him goodbye and headed west back toward Foley. We stopped for an early lunch at Lambert's Cafe, a Cracker-Barrel-On-Steroids kind of place that is famous for its "throwed rolls." Basically, if you want one of their piping hot rolls for your meal you just raise your hand when the cart comes by and they sling you one through the air (check out the short video below). It's a gimmick, but they know what they are doing. Not only are the rolls delicious, but everything else we ordered was top-notch as well. We walked off our lunch with a little outlet mall shopping before heading on north for an easy ride home.
Despite what happened at The Hangout, we really did love this area, the house we rented and most of all, our companions. Thanks so much to Gary, Cary, Chris and Tarryn for spending this special time with us. We hope to travel more with these great folks. We are definitely bookmarking the house for another stay sometime. (http://www.beachhouse.com/32440.htm).

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