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I don’t know about y’all, but 2020 wasn’t anything like I expected. I got to work from home for the first time in my life, had some medical ups and downs, and then there was this virus thing affecting all things travel. Consider this our open Christmas Card to our readers, where we share our year with you on a personal level. I’ll give you a behind the scenes look at the year 2020 for Coleman Concierge and the stories behind our stories, but we hope that you follow a link or two since these are our favorite articles from the year.

Moving to Huntsville

Our last post of 2019 was Orlando Beaches on December 6. We took the rest of the year off to move from Orlando to Huntsville. Four days later, we arrived at our new home in Rocket City in the middle of a snowstorm. We actually stopped at the Unclaimed Baggage Center on the way into town to buy a coat. So yeah, there’s a store just outside of Huntsville where all the lost luggage ends up.

Jenn likes to poke at me because she was right that I needed a winter coat for Huntsville, and all my dismissive comments were proven wrong. I feel good that I got a North Face jacket at a bargain price. The secret to a long and happy marriage is that you can both be right.

We figured we had a month or two of back content to catch up on while we unpacked. We finished up Montana TBEX articles for Bighorn Canyon and flyfishing and Egypt content for Abu Simbel and Nile River cruises. To fill in, we published additional supporting content from existing silo structures to maintain weekly publishing, like scuba guides for Cancun and Panama City Beach and bike guides for Key West and Jekyll Island.

Jenn also hopped on a plane and flew to New York in person for the International Media Marketplace (IMM) conference. Not only was this a genuine face to face meeting with thousands of people, but we also generated content for a side trip she took to the Catskills in winter

Quarantine – The Ultimate Writing Retreat

We filled out our post-move editorial calendar, but we were counting on a busy spring to bring in fresh content. Our moms were scheduled to come to Huntsville in late March, then trips to Puerto Rico, Colorado, and Gulf Shores in the Spring. We also hoped for some connections from IMM to come to fruition. Of course, that didn’t happen. By the end of March, the world was shutting down for the longest 14-days ever.

Within a matter of days, the office went from wash your hands to go the F home. It was surreal in so many ways, including not going into the office every day. I had great ideas, like finally starting freelance writing and getting in the best shape of my life.

The freelancing worked out. We landed quite a few gigs and wrote some poignant pieces about how extreme sports taught me about femininity (ghostwriting for Jenn) and being an ally for my son during his transition. The ‘best shape of my life,’ not so much so. I ended up with a tweaked knee that I battled all summer and fall.

All in all, life was good, and I spent many hours on my butt in the writing chair, which might have led to the clotting issues coming up in a couple of sections. The best news is that Jenn and I work well together, day in, day out, and every day.

Building Castles in Our Minds

We continued writing for Coleman Concierge during the COVID spring. It was obvious that we weren’t going on any trips anytime soon, so we got creative. We started an homage series to all the places we lived before.

We wrote romantic getaway guides for OrlandoTucson, and Southern California and bike guides for San Diego and Tucson mountainroad, and trail riding. Even though we had to use a lot of stock photography, these are some of the better pieces we have written because of our time and focus.

There’s a chance that when this pandemic ends, one or more of these might be a breakout article for us. However, our deep writing plans started to fizzle as house guests arrived for the summer.

Ben Franklin Says House Guests Are Like Fish

I considered titling this section all good things must come to an end. For some unexplained reason, I felt the need to complicate the good thing we had going. Our first houseguest was our niece, who was contemplating moving to Huntsville (and even into our house). Then my mom popped down, and then we hosted our Physician Assistant and videographer friend, Janiel, who needed a break from working the COVID tents in Salt Lake. Then I had a high school friend pop in (dangers of living too close to Ohio), but the real kicker was our daughter suddenly showing up on our doorstep with her two cats for an indeterminate stay a couple of weeks before Janiel’s visit.

Living with our daughter, Dreya, again was tough. She took up a lot more room than she did in high school. She was out trying desperately to stay in college, but I had forgotten way too much math and physics to help her study. Also, as it turned out, taking Calc-4 as a five-week televideo course and then missing the first week to go to my son’s wedding was doomed from the start.

Mercifully… Eventually… she withdrew from most of her classes, and we could focus on the underlying issues that brought her here. We took her for brain scans at the Amen Clinic and learned she was Autistic. We helped her get her driver’s license at 22 and buy her first car. We also helped her get a job ski bumming in Tahoe. So, after the end of our summer of discontent, we drove her back home in her car.

Ben Franklin Statue Boston via Canva

Learning to Road Trip Again

Taking kiddo back to California was not our first post-COVID road trip. That honor belongs to popping up to Chattanooga to see Lula Falls. This was an interesting ‘first trip’ because, even though it’s less than 2-hours away, we ended up crossing over eight state lines that day. Still, all we did was hiking in the woods, so it was super mellow.

Our second trip was with the Cahaba Lily Society to canoe and to see Cahaba Lilies. We felt a bit like goobers because we didn’t bring our masks for the put in. That trip was fun because we met a kick-ass drone pilot, as well as a top-notch paddler who trained with Chris Jonason, who taught Jenn swift water rescue back in her whitewater days in Washington State. It felt great finding our peeps in the deeps of the south.

We were feeling pretty good by our third trip, a romantic getaway to the Smokies for waterfalls and biking Cades Cove. However, Gatlinburg during COVID didn’t feel like a getaway. It was super crowded with very poor mask etiquette. That was probably just the universe’s way of kicking us in the butt for not bringing our masks to see Cahaba Lilies. To put these trips on the timeline of house guests, we picked Dreya up at the Nashville Airport on the way home from Gatlinburg.

We picked up a fifth trip to Detroit for my son’s wedding in late May during a lull in Wayne County cases. The first night was a bit scary, to say the least. He lives in the Bagley District on 7-mile, and we visit Ferndale on 9-mile all the time. I figured a MAJOR chain hotel on 8-mile shouldn’t be a stretch.

Let’s just say there’s a reason Eminem wrote, “Man, fuck this shit, yo, I’m goin’ the fuck home. World on my shoulders as I run back to this 8 Mile Road.” At least we made it through the wedding and the first time seeing my ex-wife since she left Tucson without the police getting called. We also made it off 8 Mile with all our hubcaps and kidneys. 

We were the teachers for our next trip with Janiel and Ashley to Panama City Beach for diving. This was the first post-COVID trip for each of them, and an early opening state is a heck of an inaugural voyage. Mask etiquette was exactly as you’d expect at the grocery store, so we stocked up on essentials and hunkered down. I don’t think Ashley left the hotel room again except to go diving.

The added stress level affected the dives too. We all had trouble with dive basics that we should have known by heart, and this experience was enough for Ashley to get her advanced dive certification and Janiel to get her own dive computer. We had peeps. We had friends, only now begins the summer of our discontent.

Cahaba lilies on the Cahaba River Alabama
Lula Falls
Biking Cades Cove with streaks of sunlight bursting through the trees

The Summer of Our Discontent

We finally ended our frenetic house guest schedule, save kiddo and bonus cats, and started to look for romantic getaways to escape the seething stress of home. As F. Scott Fitzgerald says, “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.” This is especially true if you’re getting your ass handed to you in vector calculus and seeing your 2020 graduation plans fade into the ether. I know this feeling. I felt it 20-some years ago in Quantum Mechanics. That course tested the foundations of my soul (and my perceptions of reality), and I still joke that if your quantum is broken, you’d better look for a different mechanic.

We managed to find eigenvalues corresponding to the allowed energy levels of our blended home. We pitched and landed a romantic getaway to Hamilton County to ride the Monon Trail. We also were invited to a writers retreat in Sevierville, just outside of Gatlinburg. Just before we were scheduled to leave for Sevierville, I was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis.

I stayed at home and wrote about the transformative power of not traveling, while Jenn had a romantic getaway to Sevierville all by herself. The kicker was that Sevierville was the Smokie Mountain getaway we were hoping for with super cute cabins, private hot tubs, and plenty of elbow room.

I survived the acute stage of DVT and was cleared to travel (but not dive) for our rescheduled trip to Gulf Shores. We were going to head down on September 17, but Hurricane Sally smashed into the town on the 16th, cutting off power and water for two weeks. Someday, sometime, we will actually make it to Gulf Shores.

Hometown Heros

By early October, we got kiddo shipped back to Tahoe for ski-bumming and started to focus on generating a lot of local content. We published our first Huntsville piece since TBEX four years ago and another one just a couple of weeks ago. By now, you’d probably guess that it was a bike guide and a romantic staycation, and you’d be right.

We didn’t ‘need’ the romantic getaway now that kiddo was back in Cali, but I have loved biking in Huntsville. I found my favorite route where I leave out of the garage and bang out 30 some miles of road riding with 4000′ of elevation gain. Doing this a couple of times a week has finally gotten me to lose a little weight, and my knee feels completely rehabbed from the spring. In fact, this is the first time since spring that I feel, no kidding, well.

All the bike content we’ve been putting out caught the eye of Rails-to-Trails, and they invited us to be ambassadors. We chose to write about Alabama’s premier rails-trail, the Chief Ladiga and promptly went down to Calhoun County for a visit. For the Conservancy, we wrote a heartfelt article titled The Long Trail Home that described what it meant for me to be back in Alabama and how bike trails connect the pieces of my past.

We also headed west to see Franklin, Tennessee, and a natural wonder road trip through the Bankhead National Forest. We had plans to visit all Alabama’s 20 natural wonders of 2020, but, with Gulf Shores getting canceled, again and again, that will have to wait for 2021.

Arrington Vineyards

Fall Fading Into Winter

This year was Jenn’s first fall experience east of the Mississippi and my first time back in the land of leaves since college. The wet spring and mild fall made the Alabama leaf show exquisite. Maybe it was nature’s recompense for our summer of suffering.

In addition to becoming Rails-to-Trails Ambassadors, we also landed our biggest partnership yet, (Jenn has been trying to manifest this one for years!) with Zimmer knee replacements. Jenn is helping them with a new campaign she is passionate about, centering on educating and empowering patients to make informed decisions about joint replacement surgery in partnership with their healthcare professional. She knows all too well the pain of joints that need replacing and the freedom that comes with new knees. We’re spending the earnings on the camera of Jenn’s dreams, so look for a marked increase in her already fabulous photography for 2021.

The last leaves have fallen, along with the season’s first snow. It didn’t stay for long, but kiddo is now skiing intermediate slopes in Tahoe and is guaranteed a white Christmas like the one we’re having in Ohio. Our niece ended up moving to Huntsville after all, getting a job in IT and getting engaged, but not moving into our house (thank goodness), and the boys are still happily married in Detroit.

A wild and crazy 2020 is almost in the books, and our editorial cupboard understandably bare. Next week, you’ll hear what we’re looking forward to in 2021, other than health and a modicum on normalcy. Until then, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year.

We are excited to share our journey with you!

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