Life itself sure is an adventure, as I learned from this trip. Jackie and I booked this Florida vacation to St. George Island on the Big Bend of the Florida Gulf coast about a year ago when we had little on the calendar. Now it comes wedged in between two family weddings, a wonderful college graduation event and a celebration of life.
The days before our departure were the usual frenzy to get everything ready. We took the motorhome to have the cabin AC repaired, scrubbed the roof to a nice clean white finish, waited for the new steel bumper and tow bar to be installed on the Jeep (our new tow vehicle) and I was getting ready to bake two loaves of buttermilk sourdough for the trip. I was also finally feeling better after a bout of stomach virus. We got the Jeep back, practiced connecting and disconnecting and considered ourselves ready. Beach stuff packed, an assortment of warm and cool clothes stuffed into the closets and drawers, liquor, food and ice stocked into the fridge… we were ready.
Then I got the call from Dad’s nursing home and we learned that he died that afternoon. Wow. Shock to the system, now what do we do? Stay? Go? Delay? Of course we spent time late into the night on the phone and computer, talking, crying, writing, thinking, remembering … not really sleeping much. But we decided that Dad wouldn’t want us to change plans so in the morning we gathered ourselves and got set to leave town. I did post a tribute to dad before we left – if you haven’t already read “The Visit” you should.
The Jeep was an easy hook-up compared to the tow dolly and Rav-4. We carefully went through our checklist and were confident we had it in “N” in the transfer case and “Park” in the auto transmission. It was freewheeling.
This is a new experience for us and I should fill you in just a bit. On our last camping trip we chatted up a couple who had a Jeep Wrangler that they towed 4-down (rather than like we do with a tow dolly, where the front wheels are up on a tow platform). They said it worked really well for them and were ready to sell that unit and buy a new Jeep pickup, but we didn’t come to a deal on the price. It did get us thinking seriously about how much easier it would be to tow that way, especially if we were going to be going cross-country again in the fall. So in short order we found ourselves the owners of a low mileage 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, complete with the learning curve that goes with it. A new spot around the corner from us, Jeep Wave, was a great source of help. We ordered a steel bumper, tow bar, wires and cables and … well, let’s just say we put the COVID stimulus money to good, local use.
So as we were double-checking the brake lights and turn signals Jackie noticed that the motorhome signaled left and the Jeep signaled right. Oops. Better stop at Jeep Wave and ask JD to have another look. Yeah, let’s have a look at that wiring. Ok, only 2 hours later and we were actually on the road. Good thing we didn’t plan to drive all the way to the Florida Panhandle on one day, because it was 4:00pm before we pulled into our campsite in south Georgia in the Kolomoki Mounds State Park.
Actually, the trip was smooth and easy, with a little anxiety once we passed Columbus and we couldn’t find a gas station until the last minute (quarter tank is last minute to me). You might chuckle if you have ever driven south of Columbus, Georgia and done this: as you approach Fort Benning there is this very impressive overpass with tall statues and eagles and all sorts of stars … and a very quick exit to continue on past the base. Except if you are entranced with the Brandenburg Gate look of everything and suddenly find yourself at the military checkpoint. Oh well, they saw us coming, waved us around and just somehow knew that this Winnebago was not really heading onto the base. Made our U-turn and got the heck outta there, sheepishly.
Oh, and about the final approach to Kolomoki Mounds. We were doing great on a nice 2-lane farm road in pretty countryside, with orange-red dirt, when the final turn had barricades and a sign that the road was out in 2 miles. Hmm. GPS says the entrance is 2.1 miles ahead. We called the office this morning and they didn’t say anything about the road being out … think we should try? Creeping along we finally saw the final barricades ahead and, yes, it was closed. Before the entrance. Sandy shoulders, no big parking lot in sight, umm, now what? Well the owner of the wide, sandy, kind-of-a-turnaround front yard just happened to drive out and told us we were fine to turn around there, her husband parked his semi there at night. Ok then. Tight as heck U-Turn and we were on our way around to the OTHER entrance to the park. Crazy, right?
The site at Kolomoki was a pull-through, since we were only there one night. We needed to get a wifi connection to complete some online paperwork related to Dad and the only wifi was nearly a mile away at the visitor’s station, so we stopped there on the way out in the morning, getting another late start.
The park was quite nice, campground along a small lake, but it was very muddy from recent rains and we really didn’t get out and around the mounds from a village that dated back almost 3,000 years.
The rest of the trip to Eastpoint, Florida along the Apalachicola Bay was smooth and soon we were driving behind the dunes on St. George Island State Park. A beautiful island with a very small town (one t-shirt shop, two small grocery stores) and a fair amount of vacation homes up on pilings. Much of the area was hit hard by recent hurricanes. The campground was an easy setup, only 60 sites with water and electric, and soon we had the Jeep disconnected and the motorhome set and level.
So how did we spend our week? Well we spent time at the beach of course, with some really nice days of warm water and bright sun.
We rode bikes a bit, walked around with Kodi to chat with other campers and sat out when the mosquitos weren’t too bad. Even around our propane firepit they were pretty fierce. But the nighthawks zipped around above us to gobble up a few and we listened to frogs and chuck will’s widows.
I just had to find a beachside bar and have a beer and raw oysters. The Blue Parrot is the perfect spot on the sand, actually the ONLY beach bar, and the plate of ice-cold, sweet oysters tasted too perfect with a pint of Oyster City beer. Cheers to you, Dad! I know he would have joined me if he could. Jackie had a basket of fried Grouper fingers that were tender and sweet. My, my, it is so rough to be retired!
One of the days was supposed to be overcast, so we drove to Apalachiacola that day to play tourists and also get another plate of oysters. The town was cute, but certainly adjusting to the loss of oystering on the bay. It is officially closed for 5 years to allow the oyster beds to recover, so all the oysters you get in town are from elsewhere. We did find Oyster City Brewery in town and stopped in for a sampling. Also ate dockside at The Half Shell and had oysters and grouper.
Speaking of breweries, there is another one in Eastpoint just at the base of the bridge to the Island called Eastpoint Brewing. Really good fruit and sour beers that were very mellow and frankly some of the best I have had. Nice spot on the bay and some of the friendliest owners!
We made sure to take the windows off the Jeep and pull the top down for some fun driving along the beach road. Sure was fun.
Last night in camp we had a big thunderstorm (while we were eating more fish tacos at Paddy’s) and it was still raining when we hooked up the Jeep. But the sun came out soon enough and our drive up along the bay to Tallahassee and on to Thomaston and Moultrie in south Georgia was really easy.
Our destination for one night (to break up the drive back to Atlanta) was Reed Bingham State Park. Very nice spot under a live oak with full hookups – really an easy stop.
Kodi, Jackie and I walked a short trail called the “Gopher Tortoise Loop” before dinner, which was a nice sandy trail and darned if we didn’t spot several of their burrows, one with the tortoise in the doorway. It wasn’t our first time seeing them, but kinda cool anyway. Jackie was disappointed not to see any indigo snakes.
We noticed a lot of big Class A motorhomes in camp and lots of dogs. Not little Yorkies and poodles, but dobermans and border collies. Turns out they are setting up for an agility meet tomorrow — too bad, Kodi would fit right in (except we really never trained him for agility).
We are back home now, the motorhome is mostly unpacked and we are already plotting the next adventure. This was a really nice Florida vacation and a good chance to reflect, remember and celebrate the life of my father, someone who was so big in recreation and who set our family off on many, many camping adventures.
Thank you to everyone who has shared memories and sent their thoughts and prayers our way. It has meant a lot … a lot.
Thanks for coming along on the journey. What’s next? Maybe another trip to the North Carolina mountains to finish up John’s cabin and camp for a few days with family … a big fall swing through the Southwest? Who knows?
The sun felt warm as we sat in the courtyard on a cool spring morning. Dad’s shoulders were hunched in as he leaned forward to hear our conversation. He didn’t hear so well these days, mostly because he refused to wear his hearing aids. That made it something of a shouting session sometimes, but we learned to write down short phrases and questions, or lean close to his good ear. It didn’t help that we were all wearing masks – I think he counted on a bit of lip reading. This was the first in-person visit in months due to the COVID restrictions and the conversation wasn’t as important as a hand held tightly or a shoulder rub. My sister and I were spending some time with Dad at his new residence, a very nice nursing home, but it wasn’t really home.
I opened my laptop to share some pictures of the wedding, but the glare made it impossible to see, so we moved the wheelchair back to a shady spot where he could see the screen better. It was my nephew Adam’s wedding, his grandson, and the family had gathered for the outdoor celebration. Dad couldn’t make it, so Linda and I were telling him all about it, from rehearsal dinner to the low-country boil at the reception. I was flipping through the pictures a bit too fast for him, “slow down” he said as he tried to identify each member of the wedding party and guests pictured. We made it through most of them until he declared “Let’s go inside, I’m cold.” It was too nice for that, so we rolled him into the sun again, setting the laptop aside for now.
“Better … feels good,” he said quietly as the sun warmed his back. He sat in the wheelchair quietly, pale and thin, his feet wrapped in bandages, a few spots burgundy with dried blood, and his toes peeked out, swollen, dry and dark pink. But the wounds were healing and the circulation improving in his left leg thanks to the recently inserted stent. That leg had been “gimpy” for some years after a bout of polio left him paralyzed from the waist down for nearly a year. That was in his late 20’s. His recovery earned him a Jaycees “Man of the Year,” but it was tough on a young family. Linda said he needed a haircut and he ran a hand over his head, pausing along the scar from brain surgery. “That was when you had that subdural hematoma,” I said. “Another one of those moments when we thought we lost you.” At 94, he has taken a few lickings but keeps on ticking, as the phrase goes.
We asked him how he was doing and if he needed anything. “A new pair of legs” was his answer, and he chuckled a bit with a tinge of sadness. “Those legs served you well, Dad.” was my reply. He looked at me and slid down the edge of his mask. “They were good years. Took me to lots of places around the country.” He was referring to his track years in high school and college, jumping to record heights in high jump and running hurdle relays. Those size 13 feet lifted him up and over the bar to set National Champion high jump records, a World Record shuttle hurdle team and made him a selection on the Look magazine All-American Team two years in a row.
Linda took the chain from around her neck to show him the mini track shoes she wears. “They say UNC and the year. Underneath there is your name and your records. Did you get one each time you set a record?” she asked. He shook his head yes, slowly. “So how did you decide you wanted to do high jump?”
“Don’t know, I just always did.” We already knew he built his own high jump pit in his backyard as a youngster and practiced at home. He was tall in elementary school and always told us he was six foot in the 8th grade. It made him a natural choice for basketball (starting center for 2 years) and the long legs helped with running and jumping events. His dad told him he should look at trade school because the family couldn’t afford college.
But his success at Plainfield High School track got him into meets in the state and championships in New York City’s Madison Square Garden (Melrose Games) and in Philadelphia (Penn Relays). Setting records for his jumps in high school got him named to the PHS Hall of Fame and caught the attention of coaches and others. During a meet at West Point the general asked him to apply to West Point, “Come jump for us.” But the draft for WWII caught up with him and his pals a week after high school graduation.
A few weeks before our visit I found some notes among the files we had just moved from his apartment, so I was familiar with the story.
“We all got on a bus at City Hall and went to the processing center in Newark for physicals. This was July 1 and they sent us back for July 4 weekend. Our parents couldn’t believe it, they thought we were 4-F. Did it all over again July 5, 1945, then to Ft. Dix for a week, then a train to Camp Wheeler, Georgia for Infantry basic. A lieutenant from Indiana University knew me from track competitions, so we ran by ourselves, not with the troops.
I played basketball on the company team, tried out for the camp baseball team, but threw my arm out pitching to Philadelphia Phillies catcher Bobby Bragan. The team had several Philadelphia whiz kids.”
“I was squad leader of the platoon. Basic was tough on a lot of guys. One guy committed suicide the second week of training. I was later called to the captain’s quarters and ordered to Newark, NJ. for the West Point exam. Was told how to wear the uniform, given money and orders. I went home then for a day, then the exam, then back home, then back to Wheeler. At Wheeler they said, “What are you doing here?” Said I didn’t know where I was supposed to be so I came back. Lost a week so I was put into another group to finish.”
“One Saturday, three of us went to Atlanta, hitch hiked, got a ride on top of a truck loaded with watermelons going to market. And my only time in jail – MP’s picked up the three of us for not being dressed properly (loose neckties), kept us in jail 11 am – 3 pm. Good news is they had to feed us lunch, free.”
“After basic, I had to report to Camp Pickett, Virginia for staging to either go to Europe or Pacific to fight Japan. Around this time the Nazis surrendered. While waiting at Pickett I volunteered for office duty in the Records Processing Department just to keep busy. Most weekends I came home via Reading Railroad from D.C. to Plainfield (Friday evening to Monday morning). I was able to compete in several indoor track meets.”
“My next assignment was to Camp Kilmer, NJ where they kept me in the Quartermaster Corps, processing records of troops going overseas. Kilmer was only 15 miles from home, so I commuted each weekday by bus. I had a staff of 8, 5 civilians, 3 GI’s. Told them to pull any records of Plainfield guys who then had to see me. I asked them “Want to hang around a while or go?” A few orders just sat in my desk drawer for a week or so. Also competed in several meets while at Kilmer. I was selected to the USA pre-Olympic team competing against Canada in Montreal. Won second in high jump.”
“You were a hot commodity then, Dad, everyone wanted you on their team,” I spoke into his ear. “So if you had offers from West Point and other colleges, what made you choose UNC?” I asked. He slipped his mask down below his chin, “they were on the quarter system and I could start in the spring. A buddy and I realized we could change programs in the Army. There were two armies then and if we signed up for a year with the regular army we got like a week off. But we knew when we would be discharged. I got out in March and enrolled at UNC. Showed up, registered and got my books. The coach had his limo ready,” as Dad made a wide gesture with his hands, “and we all drove to the Florida Relays to compete. Never made it to my first class.”
He and mom often said their time at UNC Chapel Hill were some of their best. The summer of his sophomore year Jack came home to Plainfield for a break. Friends Irene (Binny) and Jim were headed out and wanted to know if he would double date if she brought a friend. That was when he first met Nancy and they knew it was special from the start. They both loved the Jersey shore, picnics, dancing and movies.
Judging from a tattered bundle of letters I recently found, Mom was smitten by the tall handsome fellow and he was equally in love with the nurse from Muhlenberg Hospital who was just finishing up her training. That summer was something of a whirlwind, if long-distance romance, judging from their letters. They spent time off at the Jersey shore and at least a few weekends in Chapel Hill. Nancy and the other nurses stayed in a house next to the hospital, just down the road from dad’s house in Plainfield. She wrote, in a series of letters:
“I am now sitting out on the front porch with Margie having a brew. Incidentally I just saw your Mom & Pop drive by in the coupe. They didn’t see us though. … Joe came and went with Ginny. Bill came for Binny, and Les is now sitting on the porch swing with Beth. You know, this refrigerator is getting rather expensive. We offer everyone a beer and before you know it the darned thing is empty just waiting to be refilled again. Well, that’s where all my money goes.”
It seemed the refrigerator was quite the story.
“I called your Mom and Dad Thursday night wanting to know when they had a free night. So I tripped over last night to see them. We had a very nice talk. Your Pop made delicious ice cream sodas. He drove me home. I happened to mention that the refrigerator wasn’t working and that the hospital wouldn’t fix it. He offered to come over today and try to fix it. He came over while I was off and took the motor out. While working he blew the main fuse. We laughed so. Your mother called tonight and said he was going to take it to work Monday. He also blew your main fuse. In low tones she said he isn’t a very good electrician.”
“Your dad came over tonight to put the motor in the refrigerator. It still doesn’t work, so there’s apparently something wrong with the switch, etc. He felt so bad because it wouldn’t work and I because he had gone to so much trouble. Sensitive, aren’t we. You and I are certainly going to make a fine pair too because we’re both so sensitive. One of us should be hard to complement the other.”
In the fall, she wrote:
“I haven’t progressed much further in any plans. I guess I told you I tried on several wedding gowns. The one I liked was $75. You can’t get one for much less than that either. I’m going into New York one of these days and shop around. There must be something else available. There’s such a wide variety there anyway.”
“My mother brought home a wedding gown that belongs to a friend of ours the other day. It’s simply beautiful – cost $100 when new. I tried it on and it’s a little snug so I’ve determined to go on a diet. Remember I said I always wanted to be swept off my feet and I thought I hadn’t been with you. Well, the more I think about it, the more I realize I was. It all happened so quickly I guess I didn’t notice.”
Their Christmas wedding wasn’t extravagant but it was special, held in Plainfield with a reception at Nancy’s home with a dress borrowed from a friend and a ring bought from Jack’s Aunt Mae. Mom’s family was proudly working class, too.
They lived in a large three-story Victorian house in Rahway. Her mother, Myra, who had been a nurse in WWI, ran a tea room and antique shop on the main level and took in boarders on the upper floors to pay the bills. For a short time, Nancy and Jack lived in the attic rooms when I was first born.
Myra worked at Cheerfield Farm, Tennessee in the early 1920’s as a nurse superintendent, caring for children thought to be susceptible to Tuberculosis.
From the Farm’s 1921 Annual Report: “She has a big warm heart, and an intense interest in her work that has meant much to all of us. She is the local head of the establishment, in all its departments; and also has personal charge of our 25 little boys — sleeping on their sleeping-porch and looking after their health, their clothes and their conduct. If Miss Wallace and Miss Wood were working simply for their salaries the results would have been very different; but they are eager to help these little children, and take genuine pride and pleasure in their work.”
Her dad Rogers, “Grandpar” to us, had been a medic with the Roosevelt Hospital Unit in WWI, American Expeditionary Forces Hospital 15. He later worked as accountant for the railroad and as bookkeeper for their church.
Nancy’s parents met during the war in France. I recall Grandpar talk about treating the wounded and how bad it was for those in the trenches. I found another batch of letters that Rogers wrote back to his sister Eloise, “GoGo” from his time in France (1917/18), eventually in a field hospital not far from Belleau Wood:
“As I wrote you in the last letter, we landed at Liverpool last Thursday and were taken to Southampton on a special train arriving at Resting Camp. … When we left the ship at (censored) we understood we were going to rush right to France and be there on Saturday which is their national holiday, but we are not there yet. We haven’t done anything but loaf since we have been aboard. This boat has been a hospital ship for quite some time and I guess the very bunk where I sleep has had a good many wounded men in it.”
“At the dock in Southampton before leaving there was a troop of Scotch Highlanders on their way to Egypt. You see soldiers everywhere. I guess we won’t see any more of England for awhile. You see we have to cross the English Channel and wouldn’t leave till the hospital ship that is over on the other side now starts for this side. It takes about 6 or 8 hours to cross and we will be convoyed. I forgot to tell you that one of the ships that we passed on the ocean was sunk after passing us.”
“Xmas was like every other day that we have had for the last month rainy. I thought I might go down and see the review that the President was going to hold about 20 miles away but it was such a rotten day I decided not to. About 10 o’clock the President with General Pershing and the whole party passed right by the hospital on their way out to the review. They were going very slowly at that time and I got a good view of them.”
“In 10 days it will be just 1 year since we sailed (it seems like 3 or 4 years) and we expect to have some kind of celebration if the war will let up a bit and not make us work too hard just on that day.”
The breeze outside blew a few leaves around and Linda asked Dad, “so tell me a story about Mom.” Dad seemed to stare into the past for a moment and was silent. He raised a hand and waved it off for a moment and reached for a tissue. Not going there, too painful still. Mom died just three years ago after a long bout with dementia and Alzheimers. He cared for her diligently and lovingly at home, trying his best to keep her where she was comfortable and where the surroundings were familiar. We all know it took a lot out of him, but he was firm that they would stay together “at home.” He made her a promise 69 years ago and would stay by her side until the end.
“I used to be the one in charge,” he said. “Doug’s in charge now. He’ll look after me … and the rest of you.” That one hit me hard as my throat tightened and my eyes teared up. Linda was already sobbing and Dad was wiping his eyes slowly. It was a tough moment, coming to grips with the passing of family responsibilities, from a once strong and proud father to his son who was now in charge of his care and well-being.
It was an accomplished life for someone who came from a working class family, only a generation removed from immigrating to this country. My grandfather Pop never gave up much of the family’s roots, saying “some things should be taken to the grave,” but of course that only added to the mystery and speculation about our ancestors.
It was thought that his father Hans had jumped ship in New York harbor and that he was something of an amateur boxer, but maybe that was just a polite reference to bar brawls. One story held that young Pop was sent to bring his dad home from the bar, but got cuffed in the ear in the process – the reason he was deaf in that ear. Pop never spoke of it.
But Pop learned a trade, using his broad hands and solid German build to learn carpentry. He built the family’s first house in Plainfield, but lost it in the depression. Dad recalls kids coming to the door those years, asking for food.
Years later, when Jack (dad) was at UNC he used the GI loan program to buy materials for his dad to build a new house in Plainfield, helping him get it started along with one next door for “the aunts.”
Helen, dad’s mother, and his Aunt Mae were the daughters of a baker Bert “Pop” Waldron and his wife “Ma” Florence. Dad would often tell the stories of how he and his dad would load up crullers and doughnuts on the train to New York and sell them to commuters headed to work on the Staten Island Ferry for 10 cents each.
Pop worked in the bakery for a while, driving Helen, Jack and his sister Elaine to the beach at Point Pleasant on weekends with a load of crullers. The men would hawk the doughnuts between the cottages while the ladies spent the day at the beach. He figures they made enough to pay expenses for the day. Sixty cents per dozen.
So the GI Bill and those legs (track scholarships) helped put Dad through school, into an early coaching job at Riverside Military Academy and eventually into parks and recreation administration (with a whole bunch of awards and accomplishments).
One of the nurses came out to the courtyard to remind us that our visit was up and it was lunchtime. Too quick, too soon, so much yet to say. We leaned in to grip and hug dad (the “no touch” rules be dammed) and said our goodbyes. She backed the wheelchair around as my sister cried and we watched as he was pushed toward the doorway. A thin arm was raised as we waved and turned away.
It was a good visit, but it was still tough – not knowing when or how we would next meet up. He had a stent operation for the other leg scheduled for later in the week, so we were optimistic, but we walked away with that happy/sad mix of emotions swirling inside us.
It is now just a month after that visit and Dad’s surgery on his right leg went well and he was regaining more circulation in that leg and foot. The wounds were healing, although he had a touch of pneumonia that they were treating. It seemed he was again on the mend, even though he had almost no strength in his legs. My brother said he took time recently to explain how the staff used this lift to hoist him up and out of bed and into the wheelchair. Jeff sent a picture of a lunch of fried oysters he brought him just this weekend.
And today I got a call from the nursing home that Dad didn’t wake up for dinner and he died peacefully in bed. Quite a run, as he would have said, 94 years and then some. A life lived well — filled with hard work, decency, courtesy, respect and concern for others. And a lot of adventures along the way. Jack and Nancy will be missed.
Upon Further Reflection …
Reading through some of my family’s notes and letters, I am reminded that what we are going through with the COVID-19 pandemic has similarities to the panic felt by many parents in the 1950’s when the poliomyelitis virus (polio) was sweeping across the country. Cases were worst in the summer and it was thought that it spread through commonly shared recreation facilities, such as pools, lakes, playgrounds and movie theaters. Contaminated water was ultimately the cause. The highly contagious virus was finally eliminated from the US with the Jonas Salk developed vaccine. More than 400 million does of the vaccine were distributed between 1955 and 1962. There were references to it in my mother’s letters to Jack:
“It’s a good thing I came back Wednesday because the floor is busy. Quite a few very sick patients. The polio cases are mounting. One young boy from Rahway died today. There are about 6 others in the Isolation Ward. A word to the wise – STAY AWAY FROM CROWDS!. It pays in the end. I really don’t think it is such a good idea even to go in the pool. Although you just never think it could happen to you.”
And later that fall (1949):
“We admitted a child today with an ear infection. After I helped Dr. Loeffler do a spinal tap on him we discovered he has Polio so immediately transferred him to Isolation. We had to scrub the beds thoroughly and burn the toys of the other child in the room (even his favorite teddy-bear). Of course I’ve got all the symptomes at present.”
Mom did not become infected (even though she imagined she could have). Dad did contract the polio virus when I was in kindergarten, possibly while supervising some of the recreational activities he was responsible for. His half-year bout left him paralyzed and I vaguely recall hospital visits and later a collection of canes that dad used. He recovered to be able resume a normal life, but did suffer muscle loss in his abdomen and in his legs.
Researching polio I have learned that there is a diagnosis of Post Polio Syndrome, which occurs in people who survived polio anywhere from 10 to 70 years later. Muscle loss, fatigue, trouble swallowing, speaking and breathing are all symptoms. Seems to me that would explain the quite sudden loss of muscle strength and fatigue that Dad experienced this past year. The effects of polio returning to the same areas of injury. Much like today’s COVID-19 virus, you never quite know the long term effects of damage to the body.
Sounds like a movie sequel or something, right? Or maybe it’s like Harvest Hosts, where vineyards, orchards and farms allow RV owners to stay a night or two on their property to soak in the ambiance of a working farm. No, this is a “working adventure” where we take in the ambiance of helping build a cabin in North Carolina. The kind that builds character and puts sawdust in your hair.
Ok, by now you must have figured that Jackie and I drove the motorhome up to the hills of North Carolina to help her brother John get closer to finishing up his “bucket list” cabin building project, otherwise known as his two bedroom cottage in the woods, Mystic Cabin. We were really pretty excited to help out and had spent the usual few days packing the motorhome, stocking the fridge and fine-tuning the electrical and water systems. Two new front tires on the motorhome were ready for action.
I replaced yet another faucet, this time in the bathroom sink (because it was leaking and needed updating). So, we cranked up and started to back out of the driveway, only to find the engine running rough and “Low Engine Power” flash on the dashboard. Hmm. At the very edge of the driveway I discovered I didn’t have enough power to drive forward, so there we parked (fortunately not blocking the road).
I hooked up the trickle charger on the chassis battery and drove our car to two NAPA dealers in search of a new, stronger battery. The old one was six years old, so likely not going to keep a full charge. With the new battery installed, the engine started up with gusto and we started off once again. Otherwise the trip up took maybe 4 hours on a pretty day with no other problems. We stayed the first night at John’s current residence and in the morning gathered up a few tools and supplies before driving a half hour or so to his cabin in the woods (actually in a largely undeveloped neighborhood of log cabins). This would be a shakedown of how well his garage and hookups would work for us both this visit and future ones.
We did manage to get out of his trailer’s driveway without problems (see a previous post where we got royally bogged down in the mud and needed a tow). I was also just a bit concerned about navigating the driveway to his cabin, but it was dry and well-packed, so we were able to squeeze under his big garage, with a bit of the tail sticking out. You will notice that the garage is a work-in-progress, lacking the walls and concrete pad so far. But that is on the to-do list.
First I had to connect a 30 amp box and outlet to his underground power feed and see if that would work for our needs (we disconnected the one at his trailer and brought it over with us). That powered up the motorhome just fine and didn’t pop any breakers, so step one was good. Next step was to connect to his water spigot and see if that would hold without leaks. Looked good, but when John fired up his water pump to draw water from his well, there was a lot of loud shouting from the crawlspace and “shut it down – water is spraying out . . . ” and assorted other choice words about the plumber. It seems several joints had not been crimped and just popped off. So, a trip to Lowes for some PEX pipe and proper fittings let us replace about 20′ of pipe and get the system up and running properly. Problem solved and we got his newly installed bathroom sink, toilet, shower and our motorhome hookup all running properly with water. We also got his water heater running later in the week for him to take the first shower (important first-steps).
So what was on the working list this time? Master bath and bedroom needed the tongue and groove pine installed and the outside deck railings needed the top rail added. We cut the rails of 2×6 for Jackie to sand and stain and then started on the ceiling of the bathroom. Generally easy cuts and install, but we had electrical boxes to cut out for the fan and several light fixtures. Over the course of the the week we moved on to the walls of the bedroom and ceiling, with lots of cutouts for the outlets, and finished up, leaving only the window trim to finish. The handrails on the deck were screwed down and some extra finish trim added to the upper window wall.
Things really moved along well with us staying on property and the three of us managed just fine in the motorhome. Weather was clear and dry, getting into the 60’s and 70’s daytime, but unexpectedly cold at night. We woke the first morning to 26 degrees and a frozen water hose. Ok, let’s not do that again! Nothing froze in the motorhome, although the heat pump (electric) switched to gas heat each night (good to know it does that automatically). We unhooked the supply water hose each night and wrapped the spigot, only using water from our onboard tank until it warmed up — but the temperature dropped to 26/28 each morning before eventually thawing out the hose.
John helped me do a motorhome oil change, once things warmed up one day. In the cabin we started a fire in John’s firebox/fireplace, which did a great job taking the chill off the workspace. Even though we were able to grill up some delicious steaks, burgers and sausage each night, it really was too cold to eat outside and we only sat around the firepit one night, bundled up.
John is keeping a slideshow of his progress, updated when he can, so you might want to see what it takes to go from uncleared lot to “final” cabin at Building Mystic Cabin.
Well, it was time to head back home after a week, so before we left we “fed” the septic system by emptying our grey and black water tanks (thanks for the full hookups, John). Out the driveway and the back gates of the neighborhood and we were on our way on a sunny, blue skies day. Since the weather was so nice we thought we would try a different route home, one that took us closer to Asheville than Greenville and up and over the mountains. Heck, the long climb up Mt. Saluda wasn’t all that bad . . . but we soon learned that was the least of it. Once we made it to Brevard the road became a definite thrill through the mountain towns of Cashiers, Sapphire Valley and Highlands. I mean the kind of curvy, rhododendron lined, up and down and all around cool kind of road that you would enjoy with a motorcycle or sports car, but maybe not a 33 foot motorhome. It was pretty rough on trucks, too, as you can see from the curve taken slightly too close. This one took a while to let us pass.
So the journey showed us all the wonderful mountain retreats, including the towns of Clayton, Dawsonville, Dahlonega, Rabun Gap and Helen in Georgia and around Lake Toxaway, Lake Burton and Unicoi Lake — like a summer vacation all in one day.
Yep, that shortcut took us 3 hours longer and Merlin was quick to point out that 7 hours was a wee bit too long (are we there yet? meow). But as we often say, we are retired, what’s our hurry?
Safely back home now, unpacked again and reflecting on trips upcoming and in the recent past. It was just one year ago that we set off for Florida as the nation started to shut down behind us. A creepy feeling started to set in as schools, sports, restaurants and bars started shutting down – even the beaches and campgrounds on our last day at Grayton Beach State Park were closing. What a year, but what hope there is for the year ahead. We have both been vaccinated, as has Dad, and the restrictions on skilled nursing facilities are being lifted, making an in-person visit possible for our upcoming visit to Hilton Head.
What’s next? Two family weddings, one college graduation, a week of camping on St. George Island, Florida, (4 more new tires on the motorhome) — and warm sunny days. Oh, and a new purchase will keep me busy in the kitchen, too.
About a year ago my brother told us about a great time he and friends had at a cabin in Edisto Beach State Park, SC over Valentine’s Day. Why don[t we join them next year and bring the motorhome? Ok, we made the reservations for about a week’s stay and as the date neared we planned out how to de-winterize things and pack for our earliest camping of the season.
As it happened, we needed to spend a few days taking care of some things for Dad, who recently moved from his apartment into a longer term facility, so an extra few days were spent at Hilton Head Island. I managed a window visit with Dad and found him to be in darn good spirits for someone just a month past 94! Cheers to you, Dad (the mug was a birthday present reminder of the fun of our many cruises together).
A discovery in Bluffton was a new whiskey and vodka distillery that will be opening in a month! Can’t wait to check out Burnt Church Distillery.
After that brief visit we drove along the coastal marshes and over rivers that make up coastal South Carolina, from Beaufort to Edisto Island, just south of Charleston. Roadways with canopies of live oak and Spanish moss; small country churches and old post offices felt like a step back in time. The campground was pretty empty when we arrived mid-week, so it was pretty easy to park, level and set camp. Very reminiscent of Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine with the fern and moss covered trees and sandy ground. Even though it was in the 40’s and grey skies, we were set to enjoy the week and since it wasn’t actually raining yet, we unhooked the bikes and rode around. There are a lot of hard-packed sandy trails around the park, weaving through the woods, over marsh boardwalks and along the creeks. We were also close enough to bike to the beach and explore.
Edisto Island is pretty much a quiet community of homes with very little of the typical beach scene. No mini golf, only one t-shirt shop and maybe 6 places to eat, one marina, one gas station and a small grocery. So if you enjoy a quiet beach getaway, Edisto is your spot.
Shelling seems to be a big activity, along with searching for shark’s teeth. The state park section of the beach was loaded with oyster and other shells. On the other side of the jetty there was a lot of dune repair with lots of sand being trucked in to build back what storms have washed away. I was told by a local that they had a hugely successful turtle nesting season just this year and they hoped to continue that trend.
We were determined to enjoy the local food scene, so had dinner at McConkey’s Jungle Shack. Back porch dining seemed pretty popular with the locals, although it was maybe 6 tables. The fried flounder we ordered was generous, nicely battered and cooked – tacos for me, fish and chips for Jackie – but was on the mild side. Needed some malt vinegar or something salty to perk it up.
Next day my brother and his friends were set to arrive at the cabin so Jackie and I took a drive out to the beach campground section and a loop around the island. Unfortunately, the weather got worse: colder and wetter. Fog enveloped the area and drizzle turned to rain. We met up with the cabin gang later that night for a campfire during a dry spell (but that came to an abrupt end with more rain).
The guys headed out for a bike-around the next day while the rain held off and later there were board games and beer at the cabin. Splitting up for dinner, our foursome went to Coots Bar and Grill on the ocean and had some pizza that was piled high with toppings. Jackie and I turned in early but the next day we all tried a repeat of board games, beer and bonfire, only to have the rain shut down the fire ring early. I tried to pre-pack most of our stuff (that had been taken out, but not really used) and grilled burgers, but the next morning it was obvious that it was time to go. It was officially Valentine’s Day, so we exchanged cards and finished packing up.
The ground was so soaked that large puddles filled many of the campsites and anything left outside was soaked. We hit the dump station right behind fellow campers Brian and Sharon and then it was 6 1/2 hours back home. Long, wet drive but traffic was light at least.
Back home we unpacked the fridge, brought in the clothes, dog and cat and crashed. Next day we learned it was going to drop below freezing, so quickly drained any remaining water in the motorhome pipes, plugged in to run the heater and crossed our fingers. Overnight and next day it stayed in low 20’s, so it was a smart move to “winterize” quickly again.
Not every camping adventure turns out to be sunshine and sparkling weather, but that doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the trip. It was nice to discover a new spot and spend some time with family and new friends, safely and masked up as needed. We were able to combine it with a trip to see Dad, even though a window visit, which is something that has been nearly impossible to do under COVID restrictions. We can put another pin in our map of places stayed and look forward to our next adventure. A working weekend in NC with John (this time parked at his not-yet-finished cabin) and a Gulf camping trip later this spring … two family weddings and a graduation coming up, too. Oh, and probably a lot more bread (you really should check out the videos).
Thankful that we can continue our adventures! Stay safe, stay healthy.
At the turn of the calendar page into 2021, I reflected back on one aspect of the past year that was a positive for me: learning to bake bread. As it happens I was gifted a book considered one of the bibles of breadmaking for Christmas 2019: Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. Thus began my journey deep into the world of baking bread – from basic white to poolish, bigah and sourdough to pizza, hamburger buns, Italian loaves and holiday breads.
My success in baking some beautiful loaves of bread was quickly dashed by the pandemic-induced baking craze that made flour and yeast suddenly in short supply. Fortunately, I was just stocking up my pantry and had bought a 25lb bag of King Arthur flour, a large jar of yeast and smaller bags of whole wheat and bread flour just before the shelves went bare. But it turned out to be kind of cool being part of a “movement” of home bakers. At least it was easy to find recipes, tips and pitfalls on the internet and to learn from others.
How has this new hobby in retirement progressed? Well, I do frequent the baking aisle of the grocery store now, the kitchen has a semi-permanent dusting of flour, my list of essentials grows gadget by baking pan and I now own 5 cast iron dutch ovens. I also frustrate Jackie at times when she needs some counter space while I am mid-loaf in the baking process. But she also has been a big help as “official taster” and with sewing my own design (patent pending?) bread pillow. I gave a few to my baking crew of friends and family.
This hobby also means I get to share some of my loaves with friends and family, who seem rather eager to have me drop by these days. “Did you bring bread?” The grandsons love PopPop’s bread! Just before we all had to stop gathering indoors we hosted a “make your own pizza” party and we learned about pizza dough, peels and pizza stones (sometimes sloppy but always delicious).
Along the way I have baked some really good sourdough, some soft and delicious white breads, pumpkin sourdoughs, chocolate cherry loaves, crusty Italian loaves and crackly pizza doughs. – with just a few “oops” loaves. I made and fed my sourdough starter, though I refuse to name it, and passed some along to friends and family (who may or may not be thrilled about it). I also struggled with what to do with the “toss” — that part of the starter that you remove after feeding to leave you with only about 100g. I simply couldn’t toss it out, so I discovered things like sourdough waffles and sourdough biscuits. My starter remains in the fridge until the day before we bake, and any excess usually becomes a delicious stack of waffles. Yes, I know I added a few extra calories to our diet — but who can resist fresh baked bread?
Discussing my baking wish list with Jason this fall he told me that he had a well-used Kitchen Aid mixer that he would gladly pass along. Wow, really? So another appliance lives in the kitchen “area” now. I added accessories like a mixing blade, wisk, pouring spout and a dough hook – so I am ready to rock! Did I tell you about the flour fail/splash event when I first tried mixing the dry ingredients? Ha! good thing I didn’t have the video for that mess of flour.
I now have a growing group of us who are each baking and sharing pictures and recipes, tips and flops . . . just some good fun in our new era of socially distanced learning and fellowship. So that naturally led to “hey Doug, can you show me how to . . .?” and my video response. Heck, everyone is posting pics and videos of baking these days, so why not?
Listed below is the playlist of my bread baking videos – rather proud of them but I’d like to get better at the process. Yes, Kodi barks in the background sometimes, lights reflect off the counter and some of the shots are a little tight to the action, but believe me, the bread tastes great! Enjoy, and maybe try your hand at a new hobby. At least this has a useful purpose and we get to eat something (as opposed to my glass totem hobby).
When the weather turns cool and leaves turn colorful you think of heading to the woods, hills and mountains somewhere not too far away. If it is to be a camping weekend and if you don’t plan ahead and make a reservation to camp at a state park, you really can’t do that on a whim. We were lucky, however, to find a private spot along the Tennessee River very near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Jackie says these spots are called Hip Camping, where a landowner might have just a few spots suitable for camping that they rent out – most are without any utilities, considered boondocking. But the River Life RV Resort is a new effort by Delon and Laura Henegar that does include water, electricity and sewer and was a perfect getaway for a weekend get-together with Judy and Craig.
They were anxious to try out their new Grand Design trailer and since the location was halfway between the two of us (Nashville and Kennesaw) it made a perfect meeting spot for the weekend. An added bonus is the location might be just 10 minutes from our son’s new house on the north shore of Chattanooga. We decided to head up Friday morning and stay through Monday morning – lucky retirees that we are.
I should add that we all kept our interactions outdoors, with plenty of hand washing and sanitizer, in an effort to stay as safe and healthy as possible.
Well it turned out to be a perfect weekend – the weather was sunny and warm during the day and darn cool (cold) at night, but that’s just what you want for a fall weekend. We might have been one weekend and one rainstorm too late for the peak leaf colors, but it was still a beautiful view of the brown and golden hillside across from our campsite. It was mostly a “sit around the campsite” adventure and I’ll give you a quick recap and post some pictures so you can see how very cool the site was on the curve of the Tennessee River.
River traffic was surprising. There was a flotilla of several cabin cruisers headed downstream on Friday and back upriver on Sunday. Also several racing boats came barreling around the bend, engines crackling with power. A long barge with tugboat powered past us going downriver and later returned with more barges, but at a much slower pace against the current. I chuckled at the grill that was fired up in the stern and wondered what was for dinner. “A pirate’s life for me” kind of rattled around my head.
Just prior to this trip I replaced the kitchen faucet in the motorhome with one that sat up just a bit higher and had a pull-out spray head. Always have my fingers crossed with plumbing, but it seemed that this was a solid install (in the driveway anyway). However, as I stepped out of the RV the first morning there was water dripping from under the general area of the sink, so “shut off the water, shut off the pump!” ensued. Turns out that the cold supply side had not quite seated properly and was, of course, spraying water everywhere under the sink. It got mopped up and I made the connection properly snug this time and all turned out fine, if a bit wet for a while. But we have some familiarity with water issues like these, as you may recall from previous posts. Ahh, never a dull moment in the motorhome.
We had a little trouble getting a good fire going on the first night, but with some fresh, dry wood for Saturday night it wasn’t long before the flames were kicking up and the heat warming our hands and feet. Alex and Bethany joined us for what the group declared as game night and much laughter ensued. Beer, bourbon sipping, s’mores and hot chocolate rounded out the evening, with a little stargazing, too.
Off site, Alex and Bethany took the girls (Rachel and Bailey) for some trail riding in the Jeep and Jackie and I took a short hike up along a beautiful stream that was clear, cold water amid a boulder field. That was after the brief rainy morning cleared out on Sunday. It made for the perfect end to a crisp, clear, fall weekend.
Owner Delon couldn’t have been nicer and we enjoyed learning about how he crafted the sites on the hillside himself with bulldozer and excavator. He grew up in the area and knows the spot well. For just being the first year of operation it was well done – with more improvements planned for next year. If you would like to know more about our hosts and their resort, click on this link: River Life RV Resort
Well, that wraps up another adventure. We are now back home getting ready for a socially-distanced Thanksgiving and making plans for maybe one more outing before Christmas. The deer are still hanging out in the backyard, leaves have covered our entire yard and driveway and I am back to baking all sorts of bread – and getting darn good at it, too.
Thanks for following along on the adventures and stay safe.
The last part of our Florida journey begins as we head east out of Destin and Henderson Beach State Park to make a brief return to Falling Water State Park in Chipley. We had planned this stopover as part of our initial itinerary so the trip to the Atlantic coast would be in two smaller runs. Little did we know we would have been evacuated to the park as part of the Hurricane Sally “drive around.” So although this was our second visit, at least it was dry and sunny.
Once making camp we hiked a rather long trail to the waterfall again, turns out that yes, there was still water there. But it did look brighter in the sun and the rest of the 3 mile hike was filled with lots of wildflowers blooming. Fall seems to be a lot of purple and yellow colors: asters, goldenrod, wild indigo, sunflowers and such.
The trip east to St. Augustine took 5 hours, surprisingly, but it was flat, straight roads with little traffic but rain for the last miles. As we made our way around the historic district and across the Bridge of Lions we remembered the last time here when Jeff and Vic joined us for a few days and we met up with Phil and Jennifer, friends from home. But it was in the 90’s then and right now it was 70’s and drizzly.
Not to worry, we got ourselves settled into the Anastasia State Park campsite with no problems, although all we put out was the awning for now. Didn’t take long for the mosquitos to find us. Funny, we have been watching DVD’s the past week or so, since over-the-air TV hasn’t been available, and one of our selections was the first three Jurassic Park movies. This campsite could definitely make you think you were there on the island, with overhanging trees, palmetto leaves, Spanish moss and vines hanging from the branches. Need to watch those puddles for vibrations …
It cleared off and we drove to the beach access. As we did we got a nice teaser (also a reminder from last visit) as two spoonbills flew over the car. Naturally I didn’t have the camera handy. My previous visit here was an unsuccessful attempt to get a photo of the spoonbills. Looks promising? But the next day, as we were scanning the marsh from the beach boardwalk we only saw egrets and ibis. Jackie asked an obvious birder (big camera, pair of binoculars) where we might see spoonbills and his reply was “well, they’re kind of all around.” But he did add that peregrine falcons were migrating through and “there’s one now.” Actually, we did see another falcon but no more spoonbills yet.
Since we had a cloudy day, chance of rain and the surf was pretty wild, we drove back to the St. Augustine historic district and walked around the oldest city in the US. Very quaint and filled with history of the Spanish settlement – and plenty of shops for the tourists. Lunch at the Prohibition Kitchen was a huge burger and beer cheese soup that hit the spot on a drizzly day.
So what else did we do?
One nice, breezy but sunny day at the beach with some wild surf
Another brewery discovery and two flights at Bog Brewing
Dinner on the rooftop of the Salt Life Food Shack (yes, THAT Salt Life) and lucked out with half-price sushi rolls and happy hour beer!
Dark night walks with Kodi around the camp, only to get bit by those darn skeeters
Add another brewery to the list: Old Coast Ales
Beach time watching the shore birds. This time we discovered that the ruddy turnstones (sandpipers, not a musical group) took quite an interest in us – standing around at our feet – looking for a handout? Also marveled at how much the sand was covered in shells and bits.
Searched for the spoonbills every day, with no success
Did see gopher tortoises again
And then we packed up for the road and drove to Hilton Head Island. This was an extra few days we added once we heard from Dad’s community that he needed a bit of help with some essentials. It took us 5 hours, somehow a bit longer than expected, but where we were staying was a very nice private spot: Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort & Marina. We’ve been here before and it really is nice – it’s the closest spot to park the motorhome and also see Dad. So we have the weekend to take care of a few things, meet Dad under limited COVID conditions and visit with my brother Jeff , Vicki, nephew Adam and his fiancé Ashley.
We did manage to get all of our assistive items set for Dad, had lunch of fish, shrimp and calamari on the bay at Hudson’s (saw dolphin but had to run indoors from the patio mid-meal due to a downpour) and met up with Adam and Ashley to see their new home. Oh, and Jeff got his hot tub powered up and bubbling, so we got some time to unwind.
We finally head out for home as this weekend wraps up. Watching yet another hurricane (Delta) hit the Gulf coast we are thankful we aren’t still in the area. This month in Florida has been a bit more rain, a bit more driving for Jackie than we had planned and a whole lot more of Florida than we expected but that’s why we call these things adventures. Great fun in the sun, surfside eats and new breweries to explore – but it’s always nice to get back home, too.
Are we there yet?
Thanks for coming along on the journey. What’s next? Maybe a fall trip to the mountains, a “deep cleaning” of the car and motorhome for sure. Who knows?
A month in Florida in late September, camping beside some of the best beaches – what could be better? It’s that retirement dream we all have while we are grinding through a tough week at work. Well, that’s what this trip is for us – or was planned to be. As you no doubt read in the earlier posts, Hurricane Sally had other ideas. But once we finished our panhandle “camp-around” to avoid the tropical storm and flooding we were back on track at Panama City Beach and now are actually set to leave Henderson Beach State Park in Destin after nearly two weeks in a wonderful campground.
Racoon River was a good stay for 4 days, since it was just a block from the beach. And yes, we did see a couple of raccoons trekking across the road one evening. The weather started to cool down into the 60’s and 70’s and it continued to be pretty breezy and overcast, but we rode bikes and tried to get the best of our beach time. Within biking distance was the Shrimp Basket, so we ordered a take-out meal of fried fish to enjoy back at camp. Breaking camp was easy and the short drive to Destin meant we were settling in at Henderson Beach early in the day. There are only 60 campsites here, so you have a lot of privacy. It can feel like you are in the middle of a scrub pine woodland – until you hear music and voices from the club level of the condos that are barely 200 yards away. Even though we enjoyed a Saturday evening wedding reception from afar (“I present Mr. and Mrs. …”), it was a wonderful, spot and a generously large pull-through.
The 10 days we spent here were different each day. Things started off overcast and breezy, somehow the remnants of the tropical storms Sally and Beta. We had double red flags keeping us out of the water a few days, so we drove to the public beaches of Miramar Beach one day.
On the not-so-great days we did some shopping and searched out WiFi service. We can’t pick up any over-the-air television stations, so it’s a good break from whatever is going on in the world. We drove to Destin Harbor and walked the shops. Once the rough water and waves cleared, along with lots of debris in the water from the storms and flooding, we were back to awesomely clear, smooth water. Some quick hits on what we have been up to:
Lunch at Back Porch beach bar was amazing – huge fish tacos, filet of red snapper, smoked tuna dip and baked oysters with crab and cheese (actually went twice)
Steak dinner at camp, complete with long sleeves and sweater!
Lazy days at the beach with flat, clean, clear water to splash around in
Watching pelicans and osprey dive for fish
Evenings around the (propane) campfire
A couple of skates in the water (yeah, Doug stepped on one that fluttered out of the sand and we watched it swim along and then disappear back into the sand)
Only one sighting of dolphin this whole trip
Watching the shorebirds
A visit to Destin Brewery to have a flight of beer each (and get that fridge sticker!) Good brews!
Too many trips to the WalMart across the street for WiFi and incidentals – one for long sleeves and pants, since the temps got down into the 60’s. All Doug brought were shorts and tees – it’s Florida after all!
A video call with our grandsons from the beach
Long, long walks from the campsite to the beach via a lovely path and boardwalk. Doug finally hooked the beach cart to the bike for part of the mile long trek
Plenty of aircraft – both from all of the coastal air bases but also from the tourist helicopter rides across from our camp
Walking Destin Harbor and spotting a frigate bird high above (joined by an osprey, for comparison)
The latest way of advertising to the beach crowd – floating billboard
Doing a load of laundry at the bath house (it’s been a couple weeks, after all)
Finding out that there IS WiFi at camp at the bath house, but on the last day
So as we dust off the sand, disconnect the water and electric, pull in the slides and pack up the bar once again we are off to one quick night at Falling Water SP (again) on our way to Anastasia SP on the Atlantic coast at St. Augustine. We will definitely put Henderson Beach SP back on our camping list for the future.
More to come, so stay tuned. Sign up to be notified of the latest posts.
So when we last left off on our fall Florida adventure we were camped out in High Springs, Florida blogging and beer sampling at the High Springs Brewery. You know one of our travel goals is to magically find the nearest brewery to sample new brews and catch up using their wifi. And somehow we manage to find those local gems, enabling us to help the local economy just a bit and upload our stories and pictures.
We did manage to get a weekend stay at a campground just a block off the beach in Panama City Beach, so we packed up once again and hit the road to go back about 250 miles west to restart this Florida vacation. I have some pictures to share of the springs here at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, which actually started as a privately operated swimming hole until it was recently acquired by the state. So not everything in the campground was up to the usual standards (such as no breakers on the electric hookups).
Maybe the most white-knuckled part was the road in and out of the park. When we first drove in I was surprised that we were driving down a sand road, not a dirt road, but a two-rut sandy track. I carefully kept moving down the half-mile long drive following along behind Jackie and was sure glad we weren’t towing the car on the tow-dolly behind us. But it got better – naturally we had an overnight thunderstorm the first night with rivers of water running through camp. When we decided to try a trip to town for wifi (and cell service) we felt ready to tackle the sandy road after watching a FEDEX semi driving in. Heck, if he could do it … but dang, it was a wild ride out and through the big puddles. Our RAV-4 did its best impression of a 4WD Jeep as we splashed up and down and swam and skidded along the track. It was just as bad coming back in and I just kept wondering how in the heck we were going to get our rig outta there. Again, I shudder to think what we would have done if we were towing the car.
Maybe I am a bit jumpy about getting bogged down after the stuck-in-the-mud episode at John’s place this spring, but I surely did NOT want to add “sinking in quicksand” to this adventure. So the next morning I took several deep breaths, instructed Jackie to lead on (but to keep moving no matter what) and I would follow behind. I’m telling you, people pay to do these mud runs, probably not in 33 foot motorhomes, but they pay for an experience I would just as soon never repeat. As I navigated around most of the deepest puddles and tried to find solid, dry tracks to follow, side-slipping and bouncing along I finally spied the last big mudhole. This one would not stop me, so I hit the gas and figured there was no stopping me at this point! Made it through, but I think we owe the park a couple of bags of sand (they can come wash it off!)
Enough of the dramatics – we actually had a nice 5-hour drive across the Apalaciacola River basin and surrounding swamps and pine forests. One handy tool we have used this trip is a pair of 2-way radios we brought along. It made it easy to share navigation info and gas status between the two vehicles instead of relying on the cell phone.
We are now back in PCB in a decent campground that is very close to the action. First thing after getting set in camp (again!) was to get to the beach. Yes, the sand was just as white, but the water was definitely murkier brown, not the see-your-toes clear gulf we love. Well, what can you expect, the flood waters are still receding. We swam a bit, sat in the beach chairs a bit, then went back to shower, change and go out for dinner (before we got chased away again). We took our Fat Tuesday mugs with us for frozen daiquiri refills at Pineapple Willys and finally felt like we were starting the beach vacation. Along with a LOT of other people. And kids. Guess the fall breaks are starting already?? Ah well, we had our face masks and got a nice table way out on the pier at a big table all to ourselves. Fried oyster po-boy and mahi-mahi strips made it a perfect beach dinner. And those brain freeze daiquiris!
Back home it seems they got a good round of rain from Sally, too. Terri was nice enough to check on the house and yard – our rain gauge said 4” of rain but otherwise all was ok. Friends are good!
To round out our stay at PCB we really wanted to swim more, but we got a cold front that blew in, overnight showers hit, temperatures went to the 60’s, breeze kicked up from the northeast and the sun hasn’t been seen in days. We hear that Tropical Storm Beta is sending some clouds our way, too. So we spent a day cleaning up the motorhome and restocking some food and drink. Of course had to drive to Pier Park and wander the shops, with masks, and basically not spend money but comment on all the other folks wandering around.
Also opted to unhook the bikes and ride along the beach road, looking for potential rental units for the future. By Monday, our last day here in PCB, it was still overcast, but at least the water was getting back to clear. Since our pass for St. Andrews was still valid we drove to the park to see what it was like.
The campground was still closed off and there was a lot of water in places you normally don’t see it, Making our way to the beach revealed a big transformation. The same spot next to the jetty where just a week ago we were sitting on beach chairs was now a new channel from the lagoon to the gulf. A big new area of sand filled half of the children’s lagoon and there was lots of dune erosion. Sad to see such damage. Good thing they had moved out the heavy equipment we saw last week, but I am sure more will be back to rebuild these dunes and fix the breach.
And with a bow to tradition, we went to Sharky’s for lunch, complete with grouper sandwiches and “Shark Attack” drinks on the beach. Still one of our all-time favorites.
Tomorrow we pack up and head to Henderson Beach State Park in Destin. A phone call confirmed that they are open, minus some of their beach. Looks like we are in for more overcast and rainy weather, but we are ever optimistic that this warm and sunny Florida vacation will yet happen. A good omen was a bald eagle we saw circling overhead.
Stay tuned and thanks for following along. I feel so good that there are friends and family out there who actually enjoy reading these musings. Happy Birthday wishes to Linda, btw.
A month along the Florida coast, soaking up the sun, snorkeling in the clear salty water, chilling on the beach with a cold beer. It was going to be a relaxing time away from isolation at home. That is until Tropical Depression 19 (yes, the same no-good 19 that hangs with COVID), turned our triple play into one big foul play.
As the storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico trying to become Hurricane Sally barely a day after we arrived in Florida, we were told that St. Andrews State Park was closing at 3 PM. That meant we had to scramble to find alternate arrangements. Jackie got on her phone and found that there was a spot at Falling Waters State Park, just an hour north of PCB in Chipley, Florida. We booked two nights, hoping to return to St. Andrews once things blew over. Since the campground at St. Andrews sits barely a foot or two above sea level, it was all but certain that the 3 foot or more storm surge, combined with heavy rain, was going to flood the entire campground. So, off we went to the north.
Kitesurfer as the big winds kicked up!
Longer hair can be a pain!
Even feathers get ruffled
Much of the park remains untouched since Hurricane Michael.
Look close to see the needle fish
Last one to leave …
Well, someone is happy
Looks like trouble
It wasn’t too bad breaking camp on Sunday, since we had pretty much pulled everything in the night before when a nasty thunderstorm blew through. That meant we had Saturday at the beach and some time early on Sunday. We had no problems getting to Falling Waters, and were chuckling a bit since we had a night booked here later in the month anyway. So we leveled up and hooked up, waiting for the rain to begin. This seems like a proper spot, since it is one of the highest points in Florida, although we were advised in the afternoon that we MIGHT be asked to evacuate if the storm moved east. Doubtful.
But before all that we took a short hike to the waterfall and sinkholes at the park. The tallest waterfall in Florida (75’) is certainly different, as it spills into a deep cylindrical sinkhole of limestone. Pretty cool. Upstream there was a small lake that was open for swimming. However, as you can see from the swimming area, there was a mixed message – swim, but please avoid the gators.
All in all it wasn’t a bad spot to ride out the storm. We had books, crochet and a few DVD’s on hand. But by lunchtime the second day (this is now Tuesday morning) we had the knock on the door to tell us the park was evacuating everyone. Back on the search for our next spot (one that would be northeast of the coast but not too far away) and we located a spot on the southern side of Lake Seminole at Three Rivers State Park. It was already raining pretty steady and we both got soaked as we first did a dump of grey and black water, then connected up to electric and water, leveled up and put out the slides. We were just along the shoreline of the lake, but the place had taken a pretty big hit from Michael two years ago and the trees were pretty sparse. Well, it was only for three nights and, fingers crossed, we might be able to get back to St. Andrews.
Lake Seminole in the distance
Fun Fact: When the ground is saturated with water, fire ants love to float by, grab your ankle and, well, bite. Good to know for the future.
On the road
Rained all night with three tornado warnings for PCB vicinity and alarms about flash flood alerts. As we were having early morning coffee (on Wednesday) I suggested we get dressed just in case and sure enough we got another knock on the door to say they were evacuating the park and we needed to head out. That meant another scramble on ReserveAmerica to find availability somewhere well east of us this time. We booked a spot at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park outside Gainesville, about 3 hours away. Drenching wind and rain this time as we pulled in the water and electric and hit the road. It was blinding rain driving on I-10 with the wipers on high and trucks throwing up spray and splash. We decided for this trip not to tow the car, which now meant Jackie was doing a lot more driving, but it sure made departure much quicker without having to hook up the tow dolly and ramp the car onto the trailer.
As we crossed back into Eastern Time Zone and into the park we could actually see the sun. Set camp and then put on bathing suits to hop in the clear spring water – a beautifuly clear sand bottom swimming hole that was …. Yikes cold! Maybe 72? Well, it took a little getting used to, but we were swimming at last, looking through snorkels at the underwater spring and nearby bluegill fish. Oops, a late afternoon rainstorm had to remind us that it wasn’t quite over yet, but cleared in time to grill a steak and dry out for a while. We haven’t even been gone a week and we are in our fourth state park! But overnight and the next day, Thursday, we had bands of rain and thunderstorms come through, even though the hurricane is now around home in Atlanta. We did manage a quick dip back in the Spring, which certainly felt refreshing.
So this is Thursday and we hope to go back to PCB and resume our trip back at St. Andrews State Park. However, a call to the park told us they won’t be open until Monday at least, and we only were to stay until Tuesday morning anyway. Another call to Henderson Beach told us they weren’t sure they would open by Tuesday. So off to find some wifi (the High Springs public library, on a picnic table outside). Our best bet might be a private (more expensive) spot in Panama City Beach near Pier Park called Raccoon River. Might work, but we are waiting on a call back for availability for the next 4 days. If we can’t book that spot, we might just pack up and head home.
All is not lost, however, as we discovered the High Springs Brewery in town and are busy uploading pictures and editing this blog. It’s a cute little town and seems to enjoy being the center of “springs” activity. Oh, and we heard back from Raccoon River and we can stay there the next four nights! So back to PCB for now and fingers crossed that Henderson Beach will open on Tuesday and we are back on track.
Thanks for following along on this crazy adventure. More to come.