Hurricane Michael

October, 2018 – Pensacola, FL to New Orleans We were scheduled to meet our best friends, Amy and Terry, at Fort Pickens Campground on the Gulf Island National Seashore the second week in October. They had a one week vacation and wanted to bring their new camper and their 4 dogs to the beach. We suggested the Pensacola Beach area because it was the most dog friendly of the locations we were considering.

The Fort Pickens Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is pretty amazing. It has a great campground, miles and miles of generally uncrowded beaches, and an old Fort to explore. We planned to stay Sunday through Thursday nights as the Friday and Saturday nights at the beginning and end of the week were booked many months in advance.

We had been closely watching a tropical disturbance for almost a week that appeared it might impact our plans. On the morning of our arrival it still looked like we might get by with only a rainy day or two in the middle of the week. Later that day and into the next morning it became more and more apparent that this storm was growing and was going to cut short our stay.

We made the most of what time we had. As soon as we got set up we headed for the beach. We had an awesome afternoon sitting in the sun and playing in the surf.

Monday morning Amy and I enjoyed a walk of several miles on the deserted beach while the boys explored the fort. The surf was starting to getting really big and just when we thought we were in the middle of nowhere we noticed surfers in the water and knew we were close to civilization.

We then loaded the dogs up and took them to the dog beach. Pensacola Beach has two dog beaches, one not far outside the national park gates. The surf was getting intense at this point and the blowing wind stung our legs. But the dogs loved their first dip in the ocean. This is what pure joy looks like on an old dog.

After we took the dogs home we decided to have lunch out. Peg Leg Pete’s is one of our favorite restaurants and a visit to this area would not be complete without a stop there. It was challenging to eat on their 2nd story deck as hard as the wind was blowing. You had to hold on to your napkin and food to keep them from blowing away. Even the bottles of beer would occasionally make a run for it! But it was totally worth it and we had yet another epic meal there.

After heading into town to run a few errands we arrived back at the park. We looked for signs of what the park’s plans for the storm were. There was no sign at the entrance gate and no one on duty. We stopped by the campground office and it simply had its closed sign up. We checked their website and it said nothing. We had already decided we were leaving first thing the next morning and that we were going to head west to New Orleans.

But when we got back to camp the campground was practically deserted. There were half a dozen campsites still occupied. We each went home and rested up a bit wondering if we were going to get a knock on the door telling us to leave.

Finally about 4 we took a walk. A fellow camper was out and we asked if someone had told all these people to leave. He said yes, about 2 o’clock they had come around and told everyone they had to be out by 7. We were a little miffed. They could have put a note on our door, or on the campground office, or even on the electronic sign they have at the entrance gate. Nothing!

We were processing this information when a park ranger drove through and we flagged him down. He confirmed we had no choice but to leave. I was certain we’d have a heck of a time finding another camp nearby but miraculously we got the last two sites at a park just off I-10 in Pensacola. It was only a 24 mile drive so we packed up and moved and were settled for the night by 6.

The park turned out to be pretty great. Five Flags Park had wide roads and sites, so backing in was no big deal, even though we were worn out and a bit frazzled. The owners (or possibly managers) were super nice and someone clearly had a sense of humor. There were lots of fun details, like laundry rooms made out of old streetcars.

Since we no longer had to get up early to move the next day, we sat up late playing dominoes. We kept seeing people going in and out of this gate which we decided was probably a portal to another dimension.

Amy and I had to know where they were going. So we walked through the portal and found ourselves in the parking lot of a BBQ joint. We remembered there was another portal in the park and decided we would return via it. But after walking to it we realized we needed a gate key to get back in. Oops! We walked back to our own gate and phoned the boys to come let us in.

The next morning we made the three hour drive to Louisiana. We stayed in Slidell, about 30 miles outside New Orleans at Pine Crest RV Park. The place was pretty wet when we arrived. Their lake was out of its banks and our friends had trouble finding a site that was dry enough for their pups to play outside.

Despite the campground lady saying there was nothing to do in Slidell (way to sell it!) we found the town very nice and enjoyed exploring it our first afternoon. They had a lot of retail options which we enjoyed for a short while. They had some interesting flea markets and a slew of antique stores in the historic district. We ended the afternoon at a bar downtown called The Brass Monkey working on our very rusty shuffleboard skills.

The next morning we hailed an Uber and set off for New Orleans. We started our day at the St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. The last time Jim and I visited we wandered through it on our own. Since then they have had too much vandalism and now you have to have an approved guide to visit.

This gentlemen offered his services and we forked over $20 bucks apiece, best money ever spent! Our guide was top notch and he was very informative and entertaining. We really enjoyed our tour and when it wrapped up about 11 AM we asked him for lunch recommendations and he gave us several all of which were in the first block of St Louis Street southeast of Bourbon.

We walked the third of a mile over and checked out our options. Then we had a bloody mary and decided lunch could wait so we wandered up and down Bourbon Street for a while. We’d hit a shop or two, then a bar for a round of drinks, then visit some more of their funky shops.

About 1 we decided we were satisfied with our explorations of Bourbon Street and we made a lunch choice. Antoine’s restaurant serves a casual lunch until 2 every day (at dinner there is a dress code). They have a $20 lunch special that includes several options for an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. They also serve 25 cent cocktails! The food was extraordinary. The cocktails were about the size of a double shot, they were pink, made with vodka, and they were yummy. The guys passed but I said “keep them coming.”

The building was historic and very cool. They have a ton of different dining rooms. The wait staff start in the main dining room and move up to the fancier ones over time. There was a waiter that had been there for almost 50 years!

We called it a day after that and caught an Uber back to Slidell. The Ubers were $40 each way including a $5 tip. Well worth it for a worry free day for 4 in New Orleans.

The next day we drove the truck in and paid around $12 to park downtown. We browsed the shops in the French Market and around Jackson Square.

We then had a nice lunch while listening to some great music at the Gazebo Cafe.

After that we went to the Garden District and strolled up and down the streets enjoying the many beautiful homes. While there we walked through the Lafayette Cemetery No 1 which didn’t require a guide.

The next day we parted ways with our friends and Jim and I headed for Florida again. We passed through areas hit hard by Michael. The damage we saw just from the interstate was devastating. There were miles and miles of shredded billboards, property damage, and forests just devastated.

We were ready to get to our home in Goodland and we made the trip in 4 days.

Headin’ South

September, 2018 – Springfield, MO to Gulf Shores, AL We managed to leave Springfield as planned two days after our daughter’s wedding. I was miserable with a cold and I asked Jim to please get me to the beach. I assured him if I was not cured by the time we got there, a good dose of sea and sand would heal me. So we made a beeline for Gulf Shores, Alabama.

We took 6 days to get there, stopping in 4 places along the way. The most interesting stop we made was 2 nights in Little Rock Arkansas. The Downtown Riverside RV Park was in the heart of the city and right on the Arkansas River. The price for our full hookup site was $31 per night per night.

There was a great pedestrian bridge just at the end of the park that you could walk or bike to the south shore where Clinton’s Presidential Library and Park are located.

The Arkansas River Trail runs for 21 miles along the river and if I had felt better there were tons of interesting places we could have biked to from our campsite.

I was starting to feel better by the 2nd day of our visit so we took a walk over that bridge and along the south shore stopping at The Central Arkansas Nature Center where they had lots of great exhibits.

We then continued a short ways to another interesting pedestrian bridge, the Junction Bridge, and then home.

It was about two miles round trip and felt great to be moving again!

Each night the bridges are lit with a light show at the top of every hour.

Once we reached Gulf Shores we had an amazing 4 nights at Gulf State Park. This is definitely one of our favorite parks. Last year around this same time we had a brief stay that was cut short by Hurricane Nate.

I was feeling about 80% when we arrived but one afternoon playing in the ocean and lying on the hot sand and that jumped to 95% cured. Another dose of sea water the next day and I was my old self. I, and I’m sure Jim, was happy to see her!

This is a very bike friendly park so we gratefully unleashed our bikes from their bumper carrier and set them free. There is a network of trails around the park totaling 15 miles that make up the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail. All the trails we rode were wide and either paved or most often, wooden boardwalk.

From our site we could bike less than a mile and cross one awesome pedestrian overpass to reach the beach. Our third day there we biked 5 miles total with a swim in the ocean as an intermission.

One of our favorite spots in the park is the pier. Admission to the pier is included in your camp fee. We love watching huge schools of fish darting willy nilly to avoid the predators stalking them from the depths. What is even better is when you actually get to see those predators.

Our first afternoon on the pier we saw a couple sharks and thought that was pretty awesome. We returned one evening to watch the sunset and were thrilled to see several more sharks as well as quite a few rays near the shore. But when I forgot my sunglasses that evening and we went back the next morning, our last, in the vain hope they might still be there, we really hit the mother load.

We saw shark after shark that morning. There was one spot where it was rather shallow and you could see them really well against the sandy bottom. There was a whole gang of sharks weaving in and out of this area so who knows how many there really were but at one point I saw 7 at once! I am pretty sure the majority of the sharks were Blacktip Reef Sharks although we definitely saw at least one nurse shark as well.

We had to leave on Friday morning as the park was full for the weekend. We had a big move to make that day, a whole 18 miles to Big Lagoon State Park just on the other side of the Florida state line. We were just riding out the weekend before moving to another of our favorite beach parks on Sunday.

As is often the case we had to seek a less popular camp for Friday and Saturday nights. Big Lagoon was actually a very pleasant park though: uncrowded, with lots of room to move, and just a few miles drive from the amazing Johnson Beach National Seashore.

Echo Bluff State Park

August, 2018 – Eminence, MO We had plans to meet our friends at Round Spring Campground the weekend before Labor Day. We realized we didn’t have anything going on the week before that required us to stay in Springfield so we left town on Monday. We had a tough time deciding where to go but finally landed on spending a few days at Missouri’s newest state park, Echo Bluff.

Echo Bluff was only a few miles from our weekend destination. It wasn’t quite open the last time we ventured this way in July of 2016 so we had never been there. And it is said to be frequented by the wild horses of Shannon County which I have always wanted to see.

We didn’t have to wait long. Soon after we got set up Jim spotted some horses near an old barn across the road from the campground. I grabbed my camera and headed that way.

I stayed on the sidewalk with a guardrail between them and myself, quite a distance from where they were, hoping not to spook them.

I was afraid they would leave when they noticed me. I was totally unprepared for what actually happened. They spotted me and started galloping toward me! Doesn’t the one on the left look a little maniacal with that hair?!

I hurriedly walked back to Jim who was coming to join me. I didn’t know what protection he could offer me from three crazy horses but I was pretty sure my old farm boy would know what to do. Thankfully we didn’t have to do anything. The horses reached the road, stopped running, and calmly walked past us. They must enjoy messing with the newcomers!

It turns out that these three horses, though part of the wild herd, choose to stay in and around the state park. In fact they appear to be a bit of a nuisance. We saw them being shooed out of many a campsite while we were there.

The pony especially seems to have no fear of humans and, of course, no training. This combination can make him quite the pest. One day he tried to eat our welcome mat. We put it away after that.

The park turned out to be a delight. Sinking Creek runs through the park. It is clear and warmer than the many spring fed creeks and rivers in the area. There are many places along its banks to wade and there are a few decent swimming holes to enjoy.

The park includes cabins and a lovely lodge, both of which had fairly reasonable rates.

The lodge’s back deck looks out on the park’s namesake, Echo Bluff.

The campground was beautiful each morning with mist rising from the creek and the sun rising behind the hills.

It was the perfect park for my morning walks. It was far from crowded in the middle of a week after local schools had started. There were exactly three miles of pavement between the campground, the lodge, the cabins, and their fabulous playground.

On Friday we made the big 3 mile move to Round Spring Campground. I shared the details of Round Spring Camp and Cavern with you on our last visit two years ago. I kept telling my family and friends that they had to make this float with us but it was so hard to get an RV site at the campground. I looked in May and this particular weekend, the one before Labor Day, was the only one they had any RV sites left. They happened to have three and we snapped them up.

As the date approached I started to worry that this group was not going to enjoy the float. The water was a little low in August so it wasn’t moving as fast as it does in the spring and a 9 mile float was longer than they usually like. Jim suggested that we look into putting in at Current River State Park which is around halfway.

This park does not have an official launch but when we visited several years ago they said they were working on one. Their website and everything else we could find on the internet suggested there was not one but we decided to drive over early Saturday morning to see what we could find out.

Several of us arrived soon after 8 am Saturday assuming they would be open. The gate actually said they did not open until 9 am so we parked at a nearby trailhead and walked past the gates. Soon after we began our walk to the river the gates were opened a couple times by employees arriving to work.

About the time we got to the main area of the park a gentleman pulled up and introduced himself as the park’s superintendent. It was still well before 9 but he offered to open the buildings for us and proceeded to give us an outstanding tour. Having been to the park before, we were most interested in showing our friends the gymnasium.

We were impressed with the diamond patterned ceiling which doesn’t have any boards more than a few feet in length. According to our guide this is one of only two examples of this construction still standing in the US.

We had never had the opportunity to tour the rest of the buildings before. Our guide opened each of them and gave us a ton of information on each. The whole property was a corporate retreat for a box company in its heyday.

There was a main lodge which included men’s quarters. Later they added a ladies dorm. And this building on the right was the pool hall.

One of the more interesting features of the buildings was the fireplaces which were all built with formations from a nearby cave, now closed. I realize from a conservation standpoint this is an atrocity, but it was done a really long time ago so we might as well appreciate how unique it is and how much craftsmanship it took.

After an hour tour we asked him what we came there for “Could we launch our kayaks from the park?” He informed us that yes we could but the best place to launch was pretty muddy at the moment and he wouldn’t recommend driving down there. Also he said we would have to have our vehicles gone by the park’s closing at 6 pm.

We headed to camp to load up our boats and get the rest of our group. We then drove back and put in. The place we chose was a bit of a haul and not terribly easy to launch but I think with a little more investigation we could have found a better launch in the park.

We had a great float. This launch cut the 9 mile float to less than 4 which was much more to our group’s liking. There was no need to paddle and plenty of time to fish. We stopped at practically every gravel bar and then spent almost an hour at our favorite spot, the confluence of Sinking Creek and the Current River not far above our takeout.

We enjoyed our time in this area very much. This visit cemented our opinion that this is one of our favorite areas of Missouri. It is nice to know that visitors now have additional options for camping and lodging in the area and another option for starting or stopping a float on the beautiful Current River. FYI: the local outfitters will pick visitors up and return them to their lodging in either Round Spring Campground or Echo Bluff State Park and they offer several great floats on the Current, most of which are around 9 miles long.

Florida! What?!

Goodland, FL – July, 2018 When putting together our summer calendar many months ago we realized we had one three week window where we didn’t have anything going on in Missouri. It was not hard to figure out where we wanted to go. We had a house, a boat, and a car in Florida.

We had been planning on buying a small used car next season so instead we found one before we left. We bought this 2006 Cadillac CTS in April. We got it for a great price and it only had 65,000 miles on it.

It makes it so easy to zip around Marco Island and Naples and to find parking in places our big truck just doesn’t fit. It gets a little better gas mileage and it will help keep the mileage down on the Ford. We hope we got a good enough deal that we’ll be able to resell her in a year or two and recoup most of our investment.

We booked flights on Allegiant Airlines from Springfield to Punta Gorda for $350 total. Then we rented a car for 24 hours on each end of our trip to make the 85 miles drive to our home in Goodland. We were able to rent at the airport and return it in Naples and vice versa. It was $85 one way and $55 the other. Ubers and such would have been over $100 each way.

We enjoyed three wonderful weeks in a place that is starting to feel very much like home. We have officially been Florida residents for some time now and are certain we want to eventually settle somewhere in this state. But for now we are loving this area. And this home, while not our forever home, is still very dear to us.

Many have told us how miserable Florida can be in the summer. We often heard how terrible the humidity is and couldn’t help but wonder how much worse it could be than Missouri which is a pretty humid place in the summer. During our stay there is no doubt it was humid. But we didn’t feel the humidity itself was what made it so uncomfortable.

The temperatures weren’t much different than they were in Missouri but in our opinion it’s the sun that makes the difference. This part of Florida is so much closer to the sun than the rest of the country. Unless you are lucky enough to have some cloud cover, the heat can be intense.

As far as working in the yard or exercising outdoors, we had to get those things done by 9am because after that it was just too hot. The only place to be after that was in the air conditioning or on/in the water. Guess where we preferred to be.

We had a great time boating and had our favorite beaches all to ourselves most of the time. The area is not really crowded in the winter but it is downright deserted in the summer.

We saw very few dolphins. I assume they enjoy the cooler waters further out this time of year. The water temp was around 87 degrees.

We had heard the fishing would be better in the summer.  We didn’t have much luck catching anything edible. But we still had fun trying.

We were fishing one day when I saw this Blue Crab swimming across the top of the water. Jim handed me the net and I scooped him up. A quick perusal of the fishing guidelines confirmed we could keep him.

Jim cleaned him and we added him to a shrimp boil we already had planned. We got about a teaspoon of sweet crab meat each and decided that although it was good it wasn’t worth his life or the trouble.

One of our neighbors, who has fished these waters most of his life, said that the red tide is the reason we weren’t catching. We are lucky to have only a little red tide around Goodland but it is really bad not too far up the coast. So it makes sense that it would affect the fishing here.

Another thing people often complain about is the rain during Florida summers. When our daughter spent last summer in Bonita Springs it seemed like it rained from the day we left in May until Irma hit in September. During this visit we had only a couple days where it rained, or threatened rain, all day long.

We woke to thunderstorms one morning and I grabbed a cup of coffee and my camera and headed to the back porch. The view was amazing! Huge thunderclouds and a lighting storm in front of us. The sun was coming up on our left and a full moon was setting to our right.

Unfortunately I failed to capture a lightning bolt. In this picture the light in the clouds to the right is actually lightning but you’ll just have to take my word for it. I finally put my camera down and just enjoyed the splendor.

Another night we were in the midst of a very loud storm and I stepped out the front door and got this image of lightning behind our neighbor’s house.

We did get our share of afternoon showers but generally they were a relief as they brought the temperature down for a short time at least. They did often create some drama in the sky and make for some beautiful sunsets.

It was really cool having this paradise seemingly to ourselves. So many of the houses of our fair weather neighbors were vacant. The guy across the street is a full time resident but he even went on vacation a whole week while we were there.

The ravages of Irma are still apparent on Goodland but they are slowly being erased. On our morning walks we’d occasionally notice a newly vacant lot where once there was a damaged house or trailer.

One sign of the area’s recovery is the reopening of popular restaurant that had been closed because of the hurricane . We had heard great things about The Crabby Lady and were excited to try it. We waited until our last Sunday there and went for an early dinner since they have live music on Sunday afternoons.

The restaurant is on the water and is apparently very popular with boaters. They are the only restaurant on Goodland that serves breakfast and the only one open during the off season. The band was great and we enjoyed our meal immensely. We look forward to many more Sunday Fundays at this establishment when we return.

Peddling Around Springfield

June, 2018 – Springfield, MO We spent all of June in Missouri. We hung out with our kids, played with our granddaughter, and caught up with our friends.

We also tried to get our bikes out as often as possible. Springfield is blessed with many great bike trails. It has miles of asphalt just for pedestrians and bicyclists.

It’s a little harder to find level pavement in this area of foothills. We certainly want to work up to some elevation gain but Jim’s trike doesn’t perform very well on hills. And I’m not even a huge fan of flying down hills. I usually ride the brake not wanting to take a chance on hitting something on the path and losing control.

Rails to trails are always a good bet for a fairly level ride since the trains the paths were designed for couldn’t handle steep grades any better that we can. Springfield has a great one of these, the Frisco Highline Trail.

It has about 8 miles of asphalt starting on the north side of Springfield and continuing south through Willard. It is a very nicely done trail with a bike rental stand at the Willard trailhead and rest stops like this one. The storage facility across the road has facilities for cyclists including a bike storage program.

This trail continues all the way to Bolivar, 30 miles away. The remainder of the trail is gravel. We rode a section of it and it was very hard packed. We’d like to do more of it as we have walked many miles of this trail in the past and it is very scenic.

One morning we checked out the Wilson’s Creek Greenway, one of the few trails we hadn’t walked before. The trail description I found said minimal inclines. Ha!

When we headed north from Tal’s Trailhead we had to climb a large hill through some woods almost immediately. At the top of the hill we came out of the woods and had to go through a gate. We were now in a cow pasture and there were gently rolling hills as far as we could see.

We made it about a mile farther before we came upon several short but steep hills and turned around. We pedaled back past the trailhead and continued another mile south hoping it would be easier in that direction. It was actually much hillier.

I ended up walking my bike a couple times and we finally called it quits with only 5 miles ridden but 370 feet in elevation gain

The trail was very pretty and if you are better prepared for the hills and ready for a challenge I absolutely recommend hiking or biking it if you are in the area.

One of our favorite trails is the Galloway Creek Greenway on the east side of town. We rode it on Father’s Day with our son, an avid cyclist. This trail is very popular but it is also quite wide so sharing the path was never a problem. The trail has several metal sculptures along the way.

You ride past many businesses including several bars and restaurants.

And the funnest part is riding under some busy streets and one train trestle.

This particular day we rode from the trailhead at Pershing Middle School to the old iron bridge over James River for a round trip of around 10 miles.

The South Creek Greenway is another great trail in the heart of Springfield without too many hills. It includes a great bridge over the very busy Kansas Expressway.

It has 6 miles of total pavement so it is about the perfect length for us as we enjoy getting in about 10-12 miles if there is not too much up and down.

We took the bikes to the Lake Springfield Park one morning and discovered it has a really scenic trail along the lake.

It was better suited to walking however since it was only about a mile long. We rode some other roads in the park to eak out a 3 mile day.

I haven’t been carrying my cameral on the bike and instead enjoy taking photos with my phone, often while in motion. I have certainly missed my camera a few times like when this red winged black bird kept swooping by one morning.

For all its convenience though I think the phone does a decent job.

Residents and visitors of Springfield are lucky to have these and many other trails and parks to enjoy. Information and maps for all these trails can be found at the ozarkgreenways.org website.

I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden!

Along with the Sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.” Lynn Anderson sure nailed it in her 1970 hit Rose Garden. It was released the year I was born and a favorite song of my dear departed mother who was known to regularly break out in song. So though I can’t specifically recall her singing me those exact lyrics when I threw a childish rant, I am still quite sure she did, and that she is the reason they, and many other lyrics, pop into my head, and usually out of my mouth, when an appropriate situation arises.

RVing is not all rose gardens, unicorns, and rainbows. I wouldn’t want to be accused of glossing over the pitfalls and troubles that sometimes go with the lifestyle. I try to tell it like it is in my posts and include in my accounts the bad with the good as in “A Great Weekend and One Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

But honestly there are a LOT of minor inconveniences and annoyances that it would just seem petty for me to bring up on a regular basis. But it also seems almost dishonest to never bring them up at all. So here is my top 5 list of the worst things about fulltime RVing.

Sometimes RVing Stinks! There, I’ve said it. Living in close proximity to your sewer system is usually the culprit. But why are you smelling your gray or, god forbid, your black tank? It is not always the easiest question to answer.

Example #1 When we first got our Mesa, it smelled really awful every time we changed locations. We thought it had to do with the actual movement of the trailer. We finally realized that trailer was so much more airtight than our last, that when we opened the slides it was pulling air from our sewer traps. All we had to do was open a vent or I often just hold the front door open a crack while I extend the slides and now it pulls fresh air into trailer instead of sewer gases.

Example #2 Our Mesa has a mechanical sewer vent in the basement. For some reason the manufacturer didn’t run the vent for the shower all the way through the roof. This results in a less than pleasant smell from our gray tank that sometimes emanates from under our kitchen sink. We thought the mechanical vent had just malfunctioned as they sometimes do, but we replaced it and it didn’t help. So we finally taped a plastic grocery bag over it, leaving some room for it to still work, and remarkably, it’s no longer a problem.

Example #3 The water from the bathroom faucet of the Mesa really smelled terrible. It didn’t make sense that the same water coming from the shower or the kitchen smelled just fine. It was just that sink.

This went on for months and was really annoying. We avoided using that faucet at all. Jim tried everything he could think of, even taking the faucet completely apart and cleaning it.

Finally, while perusing an RV site one sleepless night, he read that the clothes washer supply lines, when not in use or properly shut off, can somehow cause this. I still don’t exactly understand the how or why of it. But since he drained those lines and then closed the valves to them it has been fine.

Unfortunately it is not only your own sewer system you have to contend with. When you are in a trailer park you will often find your neighbor’s sewer dump in your front yard. You have no control over how or when they dump their tanks. If they want to do it in the middle of the family reunion you organized at your picnic table that is their prerogative.

They don’t make them like they used to. Our newer 5th wheel, which we love living in, just wasn’t built as sturdy as our old Alpenlite. Like so many things these days, it just wasn’t made to last. There are more durable models still out there but they are way, way out of our price range. There are also many less well made models available.

That brings me to the reason this song came to mind this particular morning and prompted me to finally write this post. On the way from Florida to Missouri one of our rear jacks stopped working. Jim announced that we had sheared a shear pin.

The same thing happened to the other rear jack about this time last year. Jim took that one off, finally located a new shear pin, and rebuilt it. So he knew what was necessary and he wasn’t prepared to tackle that project in the panhandle of Florida.

In order to get us moving again he did have to climb under the slide and remove the jack, which was not a minor project in itself. We’ve been making due with 3 jacks since then and Jim has worked on the jack several times and every time he puts it back together it shears the new pin. He’s finally decided that the jack is slightly bent and we’ve got a new one on the way.

My point is this. Jim is very mechanically inclined. He chooses to do the work himself. He wants to know how everything works so if we are in the middle of nowhere he can handle any situation. And he likes to save money too.

If he had to call for help or take the trailer into the shop every time there was an issue then we would be out some serious dough, occasionally homeless, AND probably dissatisfied with this lifestyle in general.

Where am I?! It is not at all unusual for it to take me a full minute or so to remember what is outside the thin walls of my trailer when I wake up, be it the middle of the night or at dawn. OK, that doesn’t sound like such a horrible dilemma.

But often sleeping in strange places night after night can be a challenge and disorienting. More often than not we are in an RV park, packed in like sardines, where other residents arrive late into the night or leave ridiculously early. Our neighbors are often celebrating their weekend or trying to enjoy their vacation and quiet time does not seem to apply to them. We try to go with the flow in these instances and are grateful that at least we don’t have to get up and punch a clock the next day.

That leads me to my next issue, lack of privacy! As a weekender, this is not a big deal. You’ll go back to your minimum quarter acre, your six inch walls, and your privacy fences on Monday.

However, if this is your whole existence then it is what it is. So if you are trying to enjoy your tiny patch of grass and one of your many neighbors is blasting some godawful music, having a fight with his girlfriend, or even enjoying (hopefully) marital relations on the other side of that 2 inch wall, well there is not much you can do about that. Boondocking is usually a dream, however if you are on public land and someone chooses to park right beside you, you are also out of luck.

Where the H E double hockey sticks is IT? Can your favorite and least favorite thing be the same?! I have a love/hate relationship with the amount of storage in my RV.

We once owned a large home. We also had an office in town with an apartment upstairs in case we didn’t want to drive a whole 30 miles home. And, of course, we had a travel trailer as well.

I swear we once owned a half dozen refrigerators. The only thing I disliked more than taking more perishables home than we needed, was getting home and having to waste gas to make the 10 mile trip back to the nearest grocery store for whatever we couldn’t live without.

I was constantly looking for stuff: tools, clothes, kitchen gadgets, etc. etc! I hated buying things we didn’t need because I couldn’t locate them. Usually as soon as I broke down and replaced an item I had given up on ever seeing again, it would magically appear.

My favorite thing about full time RVing is that practically everything we own is within a 50 foot radius. If it is not inside the trailer, in the truck, or in the basement of the trailer, then it just does not exist in our universe.  You would think keeping track of things in this limited space would be simple. Not!!

There are 44 cabinet doors and drawers in this trailer plus a large underbed storage area. There are plenty of places for us to lose things. Then we have a large basement which is thankfully accessible from both sides of the trailer. More often than not, whatever we are looking for is right in the middle of it and requires us to unload almost everything before we can reach it.

When we first started I was determined to stay organized. I made notes and drew diagrams of where everything in the trailer was stored. I even redid it a couple times. But I finally gave up.

The good news is we have the time to look for things and reorganize our storage areas as often as necessary. And when looking for one thing we often run across something else we forgot we even had. Sometimes we are very happy to see whatever it is and sometimes we realize we must not need it very badly and it joins our donate pile.

That’s all I have to say about that. That was a lot of words but I got it into one post and now I can go back to focusing on the many positives of having a location independent lifestyle. For us, they far outweigh the minor inconveniences and occasional unpleasantness.


Road Trip

Florida to Missouri – May, 2018 We completed our road trip from Florida to Missouri in 10 days. We made it back to Doniphan for Memorial Day weekend. We stayed there two weeks and have now relocated to Springfield where we plan to spend a few weeks.

After Top Sail we visited my dad and stepmom who live east of Birmingham, Alabama. From there we got an early start one morning and made the 5 hour drive to West Memphis, Arkansas where we stayed one night at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park. We paid $35 for a full hookup, gravel pull-thru site with our Good Sam discount.

We have considered staying at Tom Sawyer’s a few times in the past. But usually we get that close to home and find the energy to continue on. Not this day. We were happy to make to the I55 bridge and didn’t care to go another mile.

We were totally whipped and ready to throw in the towel even though it was only noon. We were also very intrigued by several awesome sounding bike paths in the Memphis area, one of which would have allowed us to ride over the Mississippi River. We hoped that after we had lunch and some rest we would be refreshed enough to load the bikes up and go have at least a short ride on one of them.

Unfortunately some storms moved in during the afternoon and ruined that plan. So we made a plan B. Jim has always wanted to visit Memphis’ Bass Pro Shops ever since it opened in the Memphis Pyramid.

From our campsite in West Memphis it was an easy 10 mile drive to reach it. Their parking is under a pretty impressive collection of overpasses. I liked how they framed the downtown skyline.

We have been to many Bass Pro stores but this one was one of their more impressive ones. Here’s Jim trying to decide where to begin.

Once you enter, the glass elevator in the middle of the pyramid is pretty hard to ignore.

You can ride it 28 stories to the top where there is an observation deck and a restaurant. The cost to ride the elevator was $10 per person. We would have paid it except for 2 things: I had forgotten my camera and it was raining pretty hard. We decided to save the experience for another day. Maybe we’ll even spring for dinner at the top someday.

This Bass Pro has the unusual distinction of having a hotel right in it. The screened balconies of more than a dozen rooms can be seen in this photo. I bet it would be a fun place to stay.

We wandered and enjoyed all the usual Bass Pro departments and a few unusual ones. The only thing I needed was a pair of sunglasses as I had made it out of Florida with only one pair and left that pair at my dad’s. But this store doesn’t just sell sunglasses.

They have a department where you can design your own custom pair and they will make it for you in a few minutes. No, I didn’t inquire what the price for that would be. I just held out for the next Walmart.

They had the usual Bass Pro fish ponds but some of these fish were gargantuan.

We wrapped up our tour of the two stories of merchandise without buying a thing. We headed back to camp as the storms where subsiding and wandered along the riverbank a bit. The campground has park benches spread out all along the riverbank and we enjoyed watching the barges go by.

The next morning there was a pretty nice sunrise over the river.

We made the short 3 hour drive to my hometown the next day. We spent the next two weeks working on my family’s river house and enjoying the Current River. They say the snakes are pretty bad this year. This one was right at the bottom of our steps one afternoon.

I don’t remember having so many foggy mornings.

It was just a year ago that we experienced An Epic Flood. My dad and older brother had reinsulated, sheetrocked, and painted over the winter. Jim and I hung the doors and trim and it is now ready for furniture. Fingers crossed that we don’t have to go through that again.

Diving the Keys

Florida Keys – April, 2018 Jim and I are working through a short bucket list of items we want to do before leaving Florida for the summer. Diving in the Keys was at the top of that list. We still can’t believe we were nearing the end of our second season down here and hadn’t been diving at all.

We were optimistic that now that the high season was waning we could find a campsite in the Keys. We did, at Fiesta Key RV Resort, between Islamorada and Marathon. Even with a Passport America discount for the first two nights, the cost averaged $80 per night, but it was well worth it. The resort was surrounded by beautiful, clear water. It had a very nice pool we never used because there was a great ocean swim area. Most importantly, it was still half the cost of the cheapest hotel room we could find and we got to sleep in our own bed.

We drove down on Sunday and dove Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon off Islamorada. The first day we made two dives to an average depth of 50 feet. The coral wasn’t much to look at, it was more like rubble, but the sea life was astounding. We saw eels galore, a turtle, lionfish; all on the first dive.

Our second dive seemed a bit like a bust with not nearly as much to see. That is until the halfway point when the dive guide turned us back toward the boat. Jim and I were in the back of the pack as usual and a big nurse shark came straight at me.

I banged on my tank with the pointer I carry to get Jim’s attention so he wouldn’t miss it. The shark seemed interested in me and kept heading my way. I thought it might come up and give me a kiss so I kept my pointer aimed at it in case I needed to poke it in the eye to make it clear I was not that kind of girl!

It veered away just a few feet from me and kept cruising the reef. A few minutes later another, larger nurse shark came flying past. On the way back to the boat we spotted a nurse shark a total of 4 times. We assume there were just 2 sharks but there could have been more.

I chose not to take a camera with me that first day of diving so I have no evidence of these encounters. It had been over two years since our last dives in Cozumel therefore I thought it would be a good idea to concentrate on my diving and not be distracted by my camera. I had a new underwater camera I was dying to try though.

I had been struggling with the idea of buying a new underwater camera. I had a waterproof housing for my Sony and we owned a SeaLife DC600. But honestly I was floored by how great Jim’s underwater pics were turning out with his old GoPro in its waterproof case.

We stopped in a dive shop in Panama City on our way into Florida last fall and they showed me the Intova X2. It is similar to the GoPro but is waterproof without an extra case and has some built in filters and lighting options. It cost around $500.

I took it on our Wednesday afternoon dives and although I’m still getting used to the settings, I am really pleased with its performance. Usually in underwater photography close proximity to the subject is the key to any decent shot. But this camera takes some amazingly clear photos at a distance. Like this one of our dive leader joining us in the water. I took it from the bottom, 30 feet below.

Wednesday’s dive sites were teeming with fish.

Both sites had beautiful hard and soft corals and were relatively shallow at around 30 feet or less.

I may not be able to capture all the colors of the ocean with this little camera yet but I like the simplicity of it. This pufferfish is blotchy brown so it captured it perfectly, even if you can’t tell that some of the fans surrounding it were beautiful shades of purple.

It also flawlessly captured this black and gold french angelfish.

The highlight of the day was this gorgeous turtle who didn’t seem to mind the half dozen divers hovering around him.

The Florida Keys offer almost as good a diving experience as we’ve found anywhere in our dive travels. The dive trips are reasonably priced as well at $85 each. We do not intend to let another 2 years go by before going again.

On one of our non-diving days we drove 65 miles south to Key West. The drive was nice and there were a couple of places we wanted to see there. We had spent a long weekend in Key West in 2009 so we weren’t completely unfamiliar with the area.

First stop was the Key West Cemetery. You know we love cemeteries, the older the better, and we had somehow missed this one on our first visit. This cemetery was established in 1847, on the highest natural elevation in Key West, after the previous cemetery was destroyed by a hurricane. The cemetery is 19 acres so it made for a nice morning walk.

Jim had read that there were several humorous headstones with sayings like “I told you I was sick” and “I always dreamed of owning a small place in Key West.” He had also read to watch out for iguanas. We walked the aisles, he looking for interesting headstones, while I watched out for big slithery things.

The day was warming up so I had better luck than Jim did.

Despite some intelligence on where these humorous headstones were supposed to be, he never did find one.

Another thing we didn’t find was a parking space anywhere close to our next point of interest. After driving the narrow streets in our big truck looking for one, we got a bit fed up and decided we’d save that destination for our next visit because we know we’ll be back. We had been considering lunch downtown as well but instead we turned our carriage toward camp and found an awesome seafood place called the Square Grouper on our way home along the Overseas Highway.

Trouble in Paradise

Panther Key, FL – April, 2018 Ever since we got our boat Jim and I have been saying we wanted to camp out on it or on a deserted beach. We are in our last full month in Florida for this winter and we figured we better get on with it before it got too hot or the rainy season kicked into gear. We chose a weekday just after Easter and made it happen.

We just wanted to sleep under the stars as far away from light pollution as we could, so we planned to go out one afternoon and come back the next morning. We took a tent and an air mattress to sleep on the beach but agreed we could sleep on the boat instead. We left it till we got there to decide. If there had been any other campers on the beach we might have slept on the boat. There weren’t. There was quite a surge where the boat was parked so it probably wouldn’t have been too comfortable.

We kept the meal plan simple. We only had one dinner and one breakfast to worry about so we picked up fried chicken from the grocery store to eat cold and made a pasta salad to accompany it. When dinner time came we were roasting. It was almost 90 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. That cold dinner tasted better than any hot meal we could have dreamed up. We planned to have cereal for breakfast.

We reached Panther Key, which is about 8 miles from Goodland as the crow flies, around 3. It took us about an hour to get everything we wanted off the boat and the tent set up. It wouldn’t have taken that long but we’d get a little done, stop to drink a cold beverage, and then work a little more. Did I mention it was hot?!

Once we were set up we wandered the beach as far as we could in both directions. Here is Google’s satellite view of Panther Key and the orange arrow shows about where we camped. The beach stretched less than a half mile on either side of our camp.

We walked all the way to the north end of the beach. But we only went a short distance to the south before having to walk out into the surf to get around trees. We hoped to walk all the way to the south end of the key in the morning when the tide was lower.

There were few other visitors to the beach while we were there. We probably saw a half dozen people all afternoon. After 6 we had it completely to ourselves. There were 3 boats we could see anchored offshore for the night.

Around 5:30 we couldn’t wait any longer to dig into that fried chicken. Soon after that, we caved to the enticing shade offered by our tent and the falling sun. We pulled our chairs, and the cooler of course, into its shadow and reveled in the relief from the blazing heat.

We hid in the shade for the better part of an hour. When the sun got lower, the temperature dropped precipitously, and we pulled our chairs back to the water’s edge for the big show.

We had the perfect location for a brilliant sunset. It was spectacular and the colors were incredibly intense. With so few clouds in the sky, however, it was far from our most photogenic sunset.

It was also remarkably swift, seeming to have only just started sinking before disappearing altogether. Some of the best colors were reflected in the sky to the north where two of the three boats within sight were anchored.

The third boat, a sailboat, was on the Western horizon, seemingly in the thick of the setting sun.

Right before last light you could see a few puffy clouds in the sunset and Venus rising to the right of it.

Next came the part of the evening we were really there for. In a very short time the stars started appearing and within the hour the sky was covered. The moon wasn’t scheduled to rise until after midnight so we had plenty of stargazing time.

It wasn’t in the same league as some of the most memorable nightscapes we’ve encountered, like our Colorado River float or boondock at Flaming Gorge, but considering how little effort it took to get here it was a pretty spectacular view. We could see the glow of both Marco Island and of Naples in the distance so if we go even further away from civilization next time the view will get even better. Sadly I wasn’t successful at getting any pictures.

We stared and ooohhhed and aaahhed until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore and then we retired to our tent. We both thought that after all that sun, water, and wind we would have no choice but to sleep like the dead. Wrong! Even compared to other nights we’ve spent in a tent and on an air mattress, this had to be one of the most uncomfortable.

Our biggest concern had been being hot while we slept so I didn’t bring enough covers. The sea breeze was constant and pretty chilly. We weren’t too cold, just uncomfortable. When the moon did rise it was unbelievably bright in there. And of course the air mattress deflated throughout the night.

Around 5 am Jim had had enough and he crawled out of the tent and started collecting firewood. I joined him as soon as he got the fire started and it kept us toasty until the sun came up.

It was about then that Jim realized that the boat had drifted in the night and we had a problem.

We had a rear anchor on her and a line from her bow tied to a tree on the island. Her anchor hadn’t held and so she had drifted south and closer to shore. She was only just stuck. If we had paid attention and caught it as soon as we awoke we probably could have corrected the problem. But we mistakenly thought the tide was still coming in so if she looked a little high in the water the tide would soon lift her. When Jim realized the tide had turned and was going out, he became alarmed.

We jumped in and tried everything we knew to get her into deeper water: rocking her, using a limb for leverage, adding the power of the motor. It was a no go. We were good and stuck and the next high tide wouldn’t be until 4 that afternoon.

We could stay all day. We had enough snacks and water. But 8 more hours in the blazing sun did not sound like a very good time.

Our boat insurance with Progressive includes a towing endorsement called Sign and Glide. We decided to give it a try. We called their 800 number and they dispatched a Seatow boat which reached us in about 45 minutes. In that time though the water dropped another foot and there was no way he could get our Bella off the sand bar.

We had spent that time packing everything up. We asked the captain, Eric, if he’d give us a ride back to civilization and then bring us back with him at high tide to pick her up. It turned out he was our neighbor and docks his boat at the other end of our canal. He agreed, so we locked Bella up, made sure her rear anchor was really, really secure, and abandoned ship.

He dropped us off on our dock and we drug our tails into the house. I made a big breakfast and then we took a much needed nap. We spent the afternoon puttering around the house trying not to worry about our girl out there all alone.

A little before he was supposed to pick us up at 3 the captain text that he was on a call in Everglades City and might be a little late picking us up. Everglades City is about the same distance as Goodland from Panther Key but in the opposite direction. So he would be going right past Bella to come back and get us in Goodland. We suggested that if he wasn’t towing a boat on his way back, maybe he could just get Bella and tow her home. He said he would.

So we waited, and waited, AND waited. About 7 Bella finally made it safely home. A different Seatow captain brought her and put her right in her slip. We spoke to him briefly and the gist was Eric was tied up on calls, he asked this guy (who turned out to be his father) to go get her and said he could pick us up if he wanted. He said the water had turned rough and if we had gone we would have been miserable and very wet so he did it alone.

We were ecstatic to have her back. She was a big salty mess, but she was home with no damage. We were extremely grateful to Progressive’s Sign and Glide team who checked in with us throughout the day and to both Seatow captains.

So what’s the take away from this experience? 1st: We need a better anchor or anchoring system before we take Bella out for another overnight. Jim has had his eye on something for a while and this will probably seal the deal. 2nd: We really didn’t know if a free towing endorsement on our boat policy would offer very reliable service when we needed it. So it’s reassuring to know they have our back.

Shark Valley

Everglades National Park, FL – April, 2018 Jim woke up Easter morning and said he wanted to go exploring. I thought “on Sunday, on Easter Sunday of all days?!” And then I got on board.

It didn’t take long to decide on a direction, and soon a destination was chosen as well. We packed a lunch and I grabbed my camera backpack. Then we hit the road just after 8am.

We drove East on US 41 for about 60 miles and arrived at the Shark Valley Visitor Center of the Everglades National Park. Our National Park Pass saved us the $25 per car entrance fee.

This Anhinga entertained us while we waited in the short line of cars to enter.

We took a quick look around the visitor center. It consisted of some outside exhibits, the gift shop, and the park office where they primarily sold tickets and rented bikes for $9 per hour. We decided we would take the tram tour and we bought tickets at $25 per person. We didn’t have to wait long as the next tour left in 10 minutes, at 10am.

We saw the first alligator within a few minutes of departing the station.

And then another.

And this couple.

And when we tired of the reptiles, there were birds.

So many birds!

There are at least half a dozen varieties of birds in this photo. Of course, the roseate spoonbills are the highlight.

It wasn’t always easy to photograph the birds but I did my best. We were at the tram driver’s mercy to stop or not, to move where the people in our car could see things, and to stay long enough for me to get the shot. He did a pretty good job.

We did have perfectly wonderful weather. It was warm, but cloudy. And we even got a refreshing sprinkle of rain a couple times.

At the end of a 45 minute ride we reached the highlight of this section of Everglade’s National Park. The 45 foot tall observation tower was built in the 1960’s. It really was quite impressive!

We were only given 15 minutes to walk down the path, up the tower, snap a few pics, and hurry back to the tram. From the top we saw a couple more gators, some turtles floating in a pond, and about a million White Ibis in the surrounding trees.

I would have liked to stay longer but we still had another 45 minute ride to return to the visitor center. The return trip was by another route so we got to see more of the park. Don’t worry, there were still plenty more alligators like this one which was the largest and oldest dude we saw.

One gator was even blocking the road and our tour guide had to get out and shoo him away. I’m sure all the bicyclers around appreciated his intervention.

The most exciting thing we saw was the only American Crocodile they apparently have in this area. They said that they had tried to relocate her to a more remote area of the park. They moved her 40 miles away but she found her way back! I was glad she was on the other side of the waterway.

We also saw a turtle nesting right beside the road, preparing to lay her eggs.

And this 1 foot baby gator was pretty cute.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour and did not regret spending the money. We ended up getting the last two seats together on the tram and were very lucky to be on the side (the left side when facing forward) which had the most views of the wildlife. I kinda felt bad for the people to the right of us as they didn’t have nearly as good of view.

If you are an avid bicyclist and have a bike with you, cycling the park would be the ideal way to see it. It’s 15 miles round trip and totally flat. We do have bikes but I wouldn’t trust them mechanically to make the trip and wouldn’t want to get stuck walking back.

We will visit again. Maybe next time we will hike a couple miles down the road by the canal and back the same way. Or if we invest in better bikes in the future we would absolutely take them there. There are also a couple short hiking trails that are easily reached from the visitor center.