Our 2021 Year in Animals

Longleaf Trace Trail Ride-3

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Welcome to our 2021 year-in-review article, where we go through a rundown on the great adventures we had last year. Our voice rings through loud and clear in these pieces, so be warned. If you’d rather get our traditional ‘Lonely Planet’ style pieces, click on the links, and you’ll be good .

Instead of your average, ordinary recap, we’re doing the 2021 year-in-review with all the animals we met along the way. So buckle up, and let’s go!

Bahamas Liveaboard Diving With Sharks and Iguanas

The Bahamas were our first trip of 2021 and our first flight post-pandemic. We heard there were spaces on the Aqua Cat luxury liveaboard if we could make it to the Bahamas in two weeks. We barely had time to schedule PCR tests, but we were on that plane at the end of January.

We loved the boutique service with the airport pickup and spent almost the entire trip aboard the Aqua Cat, including our departing covid tests. The weather was a bit touch and go and kept us on the northern portion of the Exumas Cays. We dove about a dozen different Bahamas dive sites, and the crew was exceptional in describing the rest of the region. They also helped us write some great liveaboard tips, but we had to include “bring warm clothes” because of our experience.

We had animal encounters above and below the water diving in the Bahamas. On land, we got to feed iguanas on a desert island. We saw all kinds of critters in the water, from fish to turtles, but our favorite was the shark encounter. The Agua Cat uses a simulated carcass feed with no guest interactions, which is one of the most ethical forms of shark feeding. The experience was amazing.

Snowmageddon Mississippi and Louisiana Tour With Goats and Sloths

After the Aqua Cat, we were ready for some warm Gulf weather on a biking tour of Mississippi and Louisiana that included a Valentine’s Day Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Southern Blogger Explore conference in Tupelo. We planned on biking Coastal Mississippi, New Orleans, Tammany Trace Trail in Louisiana North Shore, Longleaf Trace in Hattiesburg, and Tanglefoot Trail in Tupelo. The weather had other ideas.

It rained like a cow on a flat rock in Coastal Mississippi and started snowing in New Orleans. We did have one clear day of riding in New Orleans, and Ed suffered through freezing weather to put some miles in on the Tammany Trace. By the time we reached Hattiesburg, we were snowed in. Thanks to Paige at Visit Hattiesburg we had a great FAM trip and made good contacts along the way, but the weather wasn’t cooperating.

The weather kept most sane animals (and people) inside, but we did have a clear day at the Hattiesburg Zoo. We didn’t get to do their famous sloth encounter (which science has demonstrated that the sloths love) by monitoring their cortisol levels. However, we got to see them along with other animals, including the super cute and curious goats from the petting zoo and a walk through kangaroo enclosure.

Biking Beaumont With Herons and Alligators

We headed to Beaumont, Texas, in March, primarily because of a long-time virtual friendship with Lauren from Visit Beaumont. The weather was finally breaking, but Big Thicket Swamp still wasn’t green enough for the stunning photography we were hoping for on our paddling trip. It was great to meet Lauren IRL, but next time we’re paddling, we’re going to make sure there are leaves on the trees.

The biking, however, was better than expected. Beaumont was America’s first oil boomtown, and the downtown was super cute and almost deserted. We hoped for more from Sea Rim State Park, but it had taken a beating from recent hurricanes. Cattail Marsh was a pleasant surprise and would have been particularly fun if we had fat-tire bikes with us. We also had just enough time to take a lap on the Live Oak Bike Route in Ocean Springs, MS, on the way home.

There were animals everywhere in Beaumont since it’s on several migratory bird flight paths. Our favorites were this very photogenic heron we saw in Big Thicket and the Alligators from Gator Country Adventure Park. Like other parks of its kind, Gator County rescues problem gators and gives them a permanent home in the park.

Baby Bears in Gatlinburg

We had a baby bear photography tour on the books for over a year and even invited our friend, Janiel, to fly out from Salt Lake. We were all crushed when our guide, Barry, came down with covid at the last minute.

Since we had everything booked, we went anyway and completed our Gatlinburg hiking guide to go along with our Cades Cove Loop and waterfall guides. We even got to spend a day in Dollywood, which is actually a pretty good theme park with some decent coasters and a great introduction to the region. We even saw a bear or two in Cades Cove.

Barry healed up and fit us in for a tour in mid-June. We had neighbors, Bill and Cathy, from Orlando, meet us for some cabin time. The bear tour was absolutely worth it, and we got those coveted-mom-with-cubs shots. As of now, we have had our fill of self-funded trips to the Gatlinburg region, so we’re on the hunt for sponsors for next year’s eastern mountain trips.

Boating Lake Martin With a Side of Goats and Horses

Next up was Lake Martin, America’s largest man-made lake when it was built. Today, it’s the summer home to Birmingham’s 1%. This invitation came out of the blue when Brandy contacted us from connections with the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

Lake Martin was pretty good with a mixture of opulence and outdoors, but Brandy was outstanding. She set us up on an action-packed trip with a phenomenal cast of characters. We wrote three articles from a single weekend of adventures – on the lake, off the lake, and romantic getaways. Ed got to see his first bald eagle in the wild, but the pictures weren’t great. For animals, we got to see the goats of Goat Island and take a horseback ride at Russell Crossroads

Return to Mississippi With Cattle and Heron

We rescheduled our weather impacted Gulf Coast trip in three segments. There were weekend trips to Hattiesburg and Tupelo and then a long, four-stop trip with Gulf Shores, Coastal Mississippi, Louisiana North Shore, and Louisiana River Parishes. We had perfect spring weather for Tupelo, so Jenn rode the Tanglefoot Trail end-to-end. The Hattiesburg trip came with record high temperatures, which had everybody and their brother flocking to the Okatoma River and Ed hammering out the last 40 miles of the Longleaf Trace on his own.

Back-to-back hurricanes definitely threw a wrench into the Gulf Coast road trip. The oceans were murky and treacherous in Gulf Shores, so we scrubbed diving. Our waterfront cabin on the North Shore was flooded, and the River Parishes were evacuated and left without power. Somehow, Coastal Mississippi was spared from this carnage.

It was great to work with Anna from Coastal Mississippi again, but the floodwaters and wind kept us from doing the kayaking tour portion of the trip. Floods buckled significant portions of the coastal trail from Biloxi to Bay St Louis, but the rest of the biking was fabulous. It looks like we still need to finish the Gulf Coast trip. Gulf Shores got rescheduled for spring 2022, so the weather should be stable. The rest is TBD.

There were animals everywhere on these trips, including a return visit to the Hattiesburg Zoo (but still no sloth encounter) and a sunset dolphin cruise on a tiki boat. We got some great shots of farms off the Longleaf Trace and herons at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Central Missouri With Elvis the Duck and Bonnie and Terry (the Bass)

We went to Central Missouri for a midsummer road trip that was generally hot as snot. It was a four-stop special (Lake of the Ozarks, Columbia, Fulton, and diving the Bonne Terre Mine) pieced together by Marjorie at The Beenders-Walker Group. We loved her transparency and professionalism and went slightly off-brand a couple of times to support her sponsors. Ed really enjoyed the golf lessons, and we’re actually planning a much bigger gulf guide article that’s dragging on trying to get the golf pros to contribute. We also appreciated the Churchill Museum. Not only was Ed grooving on the history, but they also opened up special just for us, and we submitted our article about the experience for a historical travel award (fingers crossed).

Our on-brand travel featured a lot of biking, including Ed’s long-awaited taste of the Katy Trail with a guide and shuttle. Marjorie also set us up with guides at four other Missouri State Parks (Ha Ha Tonka, Lake of the Ozarks, Rockbridge, and Finger Lakes), which was awesome. She did a fabulous job hosting, so big thanks go out to her and her team for all their hard work.

We failed two opportunities to photograph celebrity animals in Missouri. The first was meeting Elvis, the Duck at Super Dave’s Paddle Sports on the shore of Lake of the Ozarks. He rescued a family of ducklings that included Elvis. Super Dave had to protect Elvis from his siblings after a fishhook disfigured his bill. He was the ugly duckling. Dave and his family raised these ducks, and his daughter even taught them to fly. They are all still hanging around, and Elvis even goes into Dave’s trailer, but we forgot to take a single picture.

Bonnie and Terry are the only two fish in the Billion Gallon Lake at Bonne Terre Mine. We even wrote our Bonne Terry piece from their ‘fish-eyed lens’, but we couldn’t capture them in ours. So, with two failed attempts, you’re stuck with the baby deer we saw at Old Kinderhook.

St Augustine With Peacocks and Frogs

On the subject of long-time relationships coming to fruition, we finally made it to St Augustine! We started talking with Barbara when we lived in Orlando when St Augustine was only an hour away, but we couldn’t get things on the book until we moved 10-hours away in Huntsville. She set us up with two uber-romantic hotels (Ponte Vedra Inn and Club and The Collector Inn) to support our Romantic Florida Getaway piece and a lot of biking.

St Augustine was as beautiful as promised, and north Florida is turning into a biking mecca. Not only are significant portions of the coastal road A1A bike-friendly, but they are putting in several bike corridors, including the St John River to Sea Loop and the Florida Coast to Coast Trail. We’re looking forward to returning in 2022 for more regional biking.

You might have expected us to take a couple of pictures of horse-drawn carriages in St Augustine. We should have… we really should have. We’ll blame the rain and sourced some for our romantic St Augustine piece, but that will not do for a personal narrative. Instead, we’ll give you the beautiful peacocks from The Fountain of Youth Archeology Park and a frog from the GTM preserve.

Staying Home With the Cats

We weren’t on the road full-time in 2021 and had some significant downtime to enjoy the cats, build local content, and take some short trips. We put out three new local guides for hiking, mountain biking, and paddling. It feels like these three guides and the road biking guide are destined for some kind of capstone piece.

We also took day trips for waterfalls, fall colors, and adventuring around Scottsboro. This year, we lost one cat unexpectedly (our daughter’s little buddy Nicolas) from a rare parasite. We have one more we’re watching for our daughter that we expect to give back in a year. We will miss her terribly; we have both not only fallen in love with her, we are a wee bit obsessed…lol!

Our other two are our old ladies (Whiskers and Toki) we’re looking to enjoy for as long as possible. That means we’ll continue taking shorter trips until we’re cat-free, and then, who knows. It’s a big world, and life is short!

Looking Forward to 2022

With weather and pandemic, we’re not publishing any fixed travel plans for 2022, but we are stating our intentions. The year should start off with a bang when we launch our fully revised website. The dev site looks awesome, and we can hardly wait! Hopefully, it makes a splash at the IMM trade show. We have to mind the budget with the website expenses, but we should be flush again by Q3-2022. We’re also hoping to publish our first book from all that Mississippi and Louisiana biking.

2022 should also be a pivotal year for training. Jenn has several intensive business and photography courses lined up, and Ed is finally completing his Dive Master training. We have several conferences coming up, too, so we’ll have to schedule our classes and sidebars well to launch book writing right. Finally, just to put this energy out into the universe, we’re looking for the right regional partner to generate focused work like we did for Mississippi. It should be someplace that speaks to multiple site pillars and could culminate with a capstone book. You’re free little idea, come back to us someday .

Thanks for spending time with us, and we hope that something we said was helpful for you, or at least entertaining. We hope you all had a safe and happy 2021, and 2022 is even better for you‼️

If you can’t get enough of these ‘behind the scenes’ pieces, go ahead and subscribe to the site in the signup box below, and you’ll receive our weekly newsletter, The 9-5, for free, which is filled to the brim with narrative goodness and what we are up to IRL (in real life ).

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2 baby bears in a tree

An owl in a tree and a turkey on the ground

Bear in a flower field

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