Posts Tagged With: motorhome

Chill’n in Florida

Here it is spring already and 2019! I know, we have been quiet since we got back from our Maine trip and the Halloween cruise, but that doesn’t mean we have been hibernating all fall and winter. We winterized the motorhome after hosting family for Thanksgiving, we had more family with us for Christmas and have spent some quality time with our grandsons.

 

I made a trip to Hilton Head to check on Dad, we made a few improvements to the house, I crafted several more glass totems and Jackie was busy with crochet projects.

 

But the worst news was when we had our reservations cancelled to St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach for this summer. The damage from Hurricane Michael has been pretty devastating to the area and the campground has only limited sites available, so the decision was made to cancel all reservations for the year and open it to walk-in (drive up) only. That’s pretty risky when you have to drive 6 hours with fingers crossed that you can find an opening when only 30 of the 200 sites are even available to campers. So St. Andrews is off the schedule this year.

About that Florida Chill

Our first camping adventure is to Big Lagoon State Park in Florida (west of Pensacola Beach next to Perdido Key) for an early adventure with family (Colin and Rachel’s school is on spring break). We uncovered the motorhome, rinsed and sanitized the water system (and yes, the hot water does flow!), checked to see that the fridge works, put air in all the tires and packed up for about a week along the Gulf coast.  Now we consider ourselves pretty sharp, but I don’t know what we were thinking when we packed our gear for this trip.  We had bathing suits, flip flops, snorkel gear, beach chairs and umbrellas, paddleboards and a kayak all loaded – but as we rolled out on Saturday the temperature was 40 degrees!  Needs to warm up a bit.

It didn’t get much warmer as we approached Peridido Key and it was overcast and breezy.  But we made camp in a very nice campsite and caught up with Judy, Craig, Colin and Rachel once they arrived.  Naturally, we all had to explore the trails, boardwalk and waterways the next day to see what fun we could get into and we all quickly learned that it was not at all swim weather, or paddleboard weather, or kayak weather (Gulf water temperature was maybe 63 degrees).

 

   

 

A short drive into Pensacola for lunch followed our hike, but this was St. Patrick’s Day and we weren’t sure what to expect along their entertainment district.  No problem, we had a nice walk along Palafox Street and stopped in at World of Beer for some good food and cold beer. After placing orders for several flights of beer we were told, “no flights today” so settled for some pints of local brews instead.  I ordered the deal of the day: an amazing andouille sausage sandwich with slaw that was huge and the table shared wings and a big pretzel.  One last stop at Perfect Plain brewery for a flight (I liked the Carrot and Ginger Saison) and we were set to head back to the campground.

 

 

The forecast said we would be warming to the mid 60’s with some sunshine soon, so we decided to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum the next day and then check out the beach on Perdido Key.  We spent a lot more time exploring the museum than we expected, since it was a great (and free) attraction.  I recommend you visit if you are in the area and have a look at some amazing aircraft, including the Blue Angels, of course.  But aircraft ran the spectrum from helium balloons to WW1 and WW2 aircraft, Vietnam-era Hueys, Coast Guard helicopters, a Marine One helicopter and plenty of jets.

Yes, Nixon is onboard.

Later in the afternoon we tried the beach for maybe a half hour, but it was just too windy and chilly.  Maybe tomorrow.  Oh, but those plans got changed to be a Segway tour around historic Pensacola in the morning, which turned out to be sunny and warmer.  Now Jackie and I have done a Segway tour in Washington, DC, so we figured we had this one nailed.

And, yes, we did just fine the six of us zipping behind our tour guide along the streets and sidewalks of downtown like a swarm of bees buzzing along.  However, about midway through the tour I got a little flummoxed and lost my balance forward just a bit.  If you know how Segways operate, you know that is the instruction to go faster, so zipppp I go forward a lot faster than intended.  I tried to dig in my heels to slow down, but meantime the curb came up fast and I was soon bouncing and spinning circles, dragging around the road.  Finally let go, got my foot untangled, dusted off my pride and we got going again.  Yep, I have a few brush burns on my knee, but otherwise lucky that was all.  Oh, but hotshot nephew Colin had an encounter with a bush that left him sprawled on the ground later, so it isn’t always smooth running on these “simple” scooters.  Emerald Coast Tours did a great job of showing us the historic district and we learned a lot (for instance, did you know Pensacola was the first colony in the New World – before Plymouth Rock and Jamestown?).  I was surprised to learn that Andrew Jackson was Florida’s first governor – wasn’t he a Tennessee native?

Well, I needed to recover after that, so we found one more spot for lunch, Big Top Brewing, and had ourselves a flight and some fish tacos.  Beer was good, tacos were tasty, but it was the first time I had mullet fried in a taco.  Was I eating bait?  Actually, the Hawaiian Lion Coconut Coffee Porter was good.  Before we ended the day around the campfire we tried about an hour at the beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore, but it was windy and chilly despite the sun.

   

 

Last day in camp it was sunny, upper 60’s and we all went different directions for a while, bike riding, walking along the lagoon, and an aborted kayak attempt.  Finally packed into the car and over to the beach at Gulf Islands NS (with our senior passes it was free admission), and spent the afternoon in beach chairs.  It is a gorgeous beach, but it was just a bit too early to enjoy the water.

Just a bit nippy, eh?

 

Dinner was a great spot along the water in Pensacola, the Oar House, where we started with drinks on the patio but moved indoors when the sun went down and it got cold again.  The grouper po’ boy I had is a serious contender for best grouper sandwich.  This one was a monster slab of grouper on a bun with remoulade sauce and lettuce – a big mouthful for sure.  Judy had ahi tuna, Craig had shrimp and grits, Colin shared some of his fried oysters, which were very soft and tasty – everyone enjoyed the food. This place was fun and would be an ideal spot in warmer weather, with a big outside bar overlooking the marina.  Good choice.

 

 

 

 

We got ourselves packed up and out of Pensacola the next day, which of course was a cloudless blue sky, and were soon headed north to Montgomery, Auburn and Atlanta.  And of course to welcome us home, I-285 started with a wreck, major backup and plenty of traffic.  But it was all good.  Pulled in, unpacked some stuff, ate a quick dinner and off to bed.

 

 

Consider this a successful first camping adventure of the 2019 season, even if we miscalculated the Florida panhandle temperatures in March.  We might just try next year’s week in Grayton Beach State Park but with far less of the watersports gear (in fact, none).  But seriously, isn’t March a little early for a school to have Spring Break?

What’s Next?

We have plans for May camping in the Georgia mountains and might head to the Okefenokee this fall, but no big multiple-week trips have been planned out.  Of course our BrewCrew will be volunteering at the Kennesaw Beer Fest in April and we plan to host a final retirement party for one last group of our good friends who are saying goodbye to teaching.  Gosh, retirement is rough.

Thanks for reading along – check out some of the previous posts and enjoy the photos.

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Salem Harbor to Shenandoah Valley and Home

Another episode in our continuing adventure to see the fall colors in New England (and sample plenty of craft beer along the way).  Yes, our wonderful site on the Salem harbor waterfront was really windy last night, so much so that we pulled in the slides to keep from rocking around.  But not much rain and it was clear and chilly in the morning. Did the whole disconnect, hitch-up and head out routine on our way back through Salem and off to Rhode Island.  

We made it around Boston and then Providence to mid-state to connect with an old friend.  It took a little maneuvering to get the motorhome in and around the stone walls to the farm, but with some help we settled in next to the horse paddock at Laurie and Brian’s place.  Actually worked out great – a good long walk around the farm with the dogs, delicious dinner and conversation to catch up and back to our own place on a darn chilly night.

Woke to another sunny, chilly morning and it was time for a repeat of the hitch-up, head out routine.  This was going to be a pretty long haul to get us into Pennsylvania and close to another brewery on the list: Yuengling Brewing.  Lots of historic rivers and bridges to cross on this drive from Connecticut to New York and Pennsylvania: Connecticut River, Hudson River (impressive), Delaware River.  Quite a few hills and mountains and very scenic, but not much of the fall color yet. As we headed to Scranton, Jackie checked on her phone to confirm the details of Yuengling in Pottsville, just a little further on.  Well, it looks like we were gonna cut it close if we wanted to make it there by closing time at 5 – but then Jackie said it looked like winter hours meant it closed at 3. So we were out of luck and out of time for that brewery.  

I was impressed with the mountains around Scranton and how cool the landscape was as we drove through the Poconos and closer to Harrisburg.  We decided to stop for the night at a KOA – pull-through site with full hookups. Very nice spot that was only 2 miles from the AT, not that we were planning to hike it, but it must have been close to where our nephew Adam made it (so proud).


I have to take a moment to say that this, like all our adventures, is a true partnership.  Yes, I do the driving, but Jackie is busy navigating, checking ahead for the best gas prices, calling ahead to some of the breweries to ask about parking, and being an extra set of eyes when we get into tight situations (including the very tricky gas stations).  We each have our set-up and pack-up routines, which helps us remember everything and we aren’t afraid to double-check each other. Anyway, it does take two when you drive a rig like this. And then there is the whole hitch/unhitch the car routine.

So that brings us to another day on this series of travel days.  Not too many pictures to share, as it doesn’t work to shoot while moving along and besides, who wants to see an interstate highway?  It was a good start leaving the KOA, sunny and in the low 40’s. We did not stop in Hershey to see chocolate world (another time perhaps), nor did we stop at the Lindor chocolate factory that we saw at the last moment, but we did have a nice drive.  Southern Pennsylvania heading toward Harrisburg was filled with small farms, the barns and silos dotting the landscape. Green fields were sprinkled between brown cornfields, most in mid-harvest. As we slipped into Maryland and West Virginia, the traffic increased and the hills were a bit more rolling.  We crossed yet another important river: the Potomac.

Into Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley was just amazing.  Blue skies, green pastures, old homes and farms all with a dark green backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Very cool, but no hint of fall color here. Jackie got back on the navigation and located our next destination: Devil’s Backbone Basecamp and Meadows.  We first learned of the DB Vienna Lager while pouring at one of our beer festivals back home and knew we wanted to stop here. Plus, Adam stopped here on his AT hike and said it was great.  Up and over the ridge from Staunton, I think it was Rooster Gap, we found our country road and wound our way along. Wow, there is a winery, wait slow down, there is a cidery. A distillery, a brewery …. Gosh the choices.  But we kept on until we found basecamp and checked in.

This is a pretty new operation, the campground just opened this year.  But is has generous room for rigs, full hookups and dump station, and lots of tent sites for AT hikers and others.  The grounds have a bandshell, outdoor bar, lots of outdoor seating, a distillery, breakfast spot and of course their tap room and brewpub.  So we walked around with Kodi, who met lots of folks, had ourselves a beer and relaxed a bit in the sunshine. We both liked Gold Leaf Lager, I enjoyed the Cran Gose, a cranberry sour and we made plans to come back for dinner.  Dog back in camper, cat fed and we went back for a flight each and a delicious meal. I mean great!

The only moose we saw on this trip:

Jackie ordered nachos with smoked chicken, I ordered a smoked top round (shaved) on Cibatta au jus.  Both were amazingly flavorful. On the flights we sampled Trail Angel Weiss (was best with the nachos), UK Lager and Vienna Lager (good with the beef) and a Brut Lager that was very dry, light and crisp.  Saving it for last, we tried their Hibiscus Hard Lemonade (6.3%) which was really quite nice. A stop in the gift shop and then a welcome walk back to the camper in the dark. We really like where this spot is going.  Definitely worth a stop if you are driving nearby.  We learned that the next day the campground was booked with vintage VW Campers … now that would have been fun to see.

Merlin is getting anxious to be home — and we have one more stop before home, somewhere near Bristol, Tennessee.  Might not be blog-worthy, we shall see.

As we left the valley at the DB Basecamp it was one wild ride.  The hairpin turns and switchbacks on the road up the mountains, and then back down again were a thrill (Jackie disagrees).  Crossed under Skyline Drive on the Blue Ridge Mountains and the AT again. The mountains were green, the sky blue and just a bit of mist was rising from the James River as we followed along.  What a gorgeous day, but no hint of fall color here.

As we get closer to closing the loop on this trip approaching Knoxville, we end where we began, with a home Tennessee football game causing traffic and trouble.  No campsites between Bristol and almost Chattanooga were available. We didn’t make advance reservations for this last part of the trip, since we weren’t sure how far we would drive.  So, as we sat in some nasty traffic in Knoxville, we made the decision to push on to home. It made it an 11 hour driving day, but when we pulled in (at our non-moving house), it felt good.

So at the conclusion of this 28-day “Big Loop” to see fall colors, we will have driven through 16 states, two countries, a total of over 3,800 mile (not counting the car excursions) and sampled oodles of craft beer and ate great regional food.  It was definitely worth it – all the driving, all the gasoline, the cold nights and the rainy mornings. We caught up with old family friends, did a few hikes, had our share of pumpkins, apples, fall festivals and scary Halloween decorations, saw some new wildlife and definitely got to see all the beautiful colors of fall.  Phew! Now one week to do the laundry and pack swimwear, shorts and t-shirts for a cruise to the Bahamas with Dad and John. I guess we are just a bit crazy. Thanks for reading along.

Until the next adventure …

Oh yeah, there are just a few photos that didn’t make the blog the first time around that I thought I would share:

Walking and picture-taking in Acadia:

The rungs, iron rails and walkways of the treacherous Precipice Trail:

The vintage campers from Salisbury Beach State Park:

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RV Fixes and some Frisky Dolphin

Oh, you’re back home already?

So when we last checked in with our non-cruise adventures, we were headed back home from Panama City Beach with oil pressure problems (ding, ding, ding – can’t drive faster than 45 mph) and no hot water flow in the motorhome. It was a great beach vacation, and we were welcomed home by our herd of deer (at least 3 – 4 fawns this year), but we did have a few “oops” moments.

The Fixes

Back home we quickly changed gears, put the motorhome away and packed our bags for Alaska. If you read that posting, you know how awesome the cruise and whale-watching were. But soon we were back home again, taking stock and figuring what came next. Well, there were several fixes that were needed, and thanks to a visit by Jackie’s brother John, we had one more adult scratching his head over the hot water problem. We all agreed it must be the backflow check valve, but the solution still evaded us.

The previous week I took the motorhome back to the folks who changed the oil just before we winterized and they said the only thing they could figure was that there was too much oil in the engine, causing oil pressure problems for the regulator. I confessed to adding one quart, but they drained an extra 5 to 7 quarts out of the engine (which by my reckoning was their fault for not properly draining and refilling the oil in the fall). They did find a bad spark plug and performed a tune-up, so now the engine runs much smoother and we don’t seem to have the oil pressure problems. One problem solved, then.

Back to the hot water — it seems the check valve is at the very back of the hot water tank and nearly inaccessible. We could barely reach around the tank and found the elbow fitting as it left the tank, but beyond that, pretty impossible to mess with. John took a small hammer and tapped at the elbow a while, hoping to dislodge the ball valve, but no luck. On to the slideout problem then.

You see, just as we were packing up to run ahead of the tropical storm that was about to pound Panama City Beach, the slides barely retracted, squealing all the way. Something was not right with the hydraulics. But it took us several YouTube videos and internet searches, plus looking all over and under the engine and chassis to actually find the hydraulic fluid reservoir. Some mechanics we are! Once found, it was very low on fluid. So three quarts of transmission fluid (recommended) later and we had operational slides and jacks that worked just fine.

But still no hot water flowed through the pipes. Plenty hot in the tank, just not leaving the tank. “Hand me that hammer one more time,” John said. Tap, tap and presto! We finally had hot water flowing through the pipes. Yes, that was one tricky problem that was finally solved. I still wasn’t happy with the water pressure using the water pump, so I ordered a stronger, quieter replacement, and we had much better water pressure while off city water service. Ok, then, we were ready for another short trip to be sure everything was working fine.

On to Hilton Head Island …

Campsite at Hilton Head Marina RV Park

It was time to check in with Dad in Hilton Head anyway, so we booked a couple nights at the HIlton Head Marina RV Park. This is a park where the sites are owned but rented out by the owners when they are not in town. Very nice location of the Intracoastal Waterway just as you land on the island. Found a great spot and hooked up, leveled up and checked in with my brother and Dad.

Some sites have dock access

 

Low tide at the dock

We were lucky that Jeff wanted to head out in his boat, so we spent Saturday on the water. He put the boat in from the Oyster Factory in Bluffton, ran down the May River and we met him at our dock — what service! Vicki and her sister Sharon were onboard and we headed out to Harbor Town and South Beach on the Sea Pines tip of HHI. Nice sandy beach along the inlet, with very refreshing water to bob along in. We gazed at the houses along the shore of Daufuskie Island and then along the waterways of Hilton Head Island on our way back. The tide was up as we motored down Broad Creek and into Shelter Cove marina to drool over the gorgeous boats in the harbor.

… and the Frisky Dolphin

As we passed under the causeway bridge we spotted some dolphin, something we are all pretty used to seeing. Except that these were very active. It must have been a pod of 20 to 30, with youngsters mixed in. They were tail-flipping, rolling on their backs and just pinwheeling all around us. A little chat back at the dock and we learned it was mating season, so that explains the frisky behavior. We really had not seen that much activity from so many at once before.

Frisky Dolphin Video:  Click HERE

Next day we met up with Dad at his apartment for brunch (two omelettes!) and shared stories. Good visit followed by some time in the pool at our RV park and talk of maybe spotting some manatees in the marina (no luck, however). While floating in the pool with some good craft beer (Holy City Pluff Mud Porter) we struck up a conversation with some other craft beer lovers from South Carolina and Virginia. A lot of suggestions were shared, plus good reports of the campsites at Devil’s Backbone Basecamp. We are going to look at that, since we already planned to stop there on our way back from Maine this fall. Always fun to make new friends in camp!

Later, while taking pictures of the beautiful sunset, a father and son were at the fish-cleaning station working on some nice size Cobias. Never caught them, but they were reminiscent of some of the big bluefish and tuna we would catch off the New Jersey shore.

I couldn’t stop snapping sunset pictures, since it was such a great evening on the water.  Nice time so far, even though the temp was in the 90’s.

Oh, but we did have another one of those “didn’t expect that” moments.

It was almost too good — engine was running nice and smooth, slideouts working just fine, hot water flowing in the shower and sinks. Life is good. Oops, the fridge doesn’t feel so cold, in fact that beer is almost warm! Hmm, looks like an error message on the display. Try to run the fridge on LP gas – nope, that didn’t work. Go back to AC or Auto – nope, still a “reset” error. Oh, the book says that one requires a technician to repair. Great. Ran to the store, bought a cooler and ice and did things the old-fashioned way. So, everything is cold, just not the way we expected. And another trip to maintenance shop, since I don’t think I can solve this one by myself. The more I read about it, it seems to be a lockout problem, where the power board needs to be reset.  Well, at least this didn’t happen on the first day of our fall 6 week trip to Maine and back. Now THAT would have been a big down arrow.

Not complaining here, just explaining how life with a motorhome goes, for all the newbies who might be reading.

So goodbye until the next “oops” moment, or better yet the next amazing adventure!  Be sure to roam around the site and check out all the photos of our past adventures. Our next trip is north to Maine and the fall colors, but I can’t guarantee how quickly I will be able to post about it. Just “follow” us and you will get a note when it happens.

See ya ‘round.

Doug

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Of Devil Rays and Dolphins

As promised, I am writing our next blog from Panama City Beach – a camping vacation in our favorite spot on the gulf coast: St. Andrews State Park.  Since this is our fifth visit, (see 2015, 2016, 2017) it might be hard to find some unique stories and shoot some new photos, but these two weeks have a lot of special meaning, so let’s recap the adventure:

It starts with Mother’s Day.  We traveled and arrived on Sunday and went straight to the beach — found it just as beautiful as we remembered.  The soft white sand beach, while narrow, sloped gently into the water with almost no waves and clarity that beats most pools.  Jackie says she had a perfect Mother’s day, sitting on the beach with drink in hand, sunlight sparkling off the turquoise water.  The colors are as beautiful as the Caribbean and the snorkeling along the jetty was nearly as good.  Lots and lots of fish (blue tang, bluenose wrassie, mullet, sheepshead, angelfish, sergeant major, yellow tail) can be seen on the gulf side and the lagoon side.  Just amazing.  Click on the word link:  Snorkeling highlights video

It continues with our anniversary.  We celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary at Sharky’s, a perfect beach bar and restaurant.  You can sit beachside and enjoy what we swear is the best fried grouper sandwich.  Since we remembered to bring our Fat Tuesday cups from last year, we got our fill of tropical drinks much cheaper.  It was a perfect, magical evening as we watched the sun set on the surf.

The cups also came in handy at Pineapple Willy’s one rainy afternoon when Jackie was searching for wifi to download books to her Paperwhite Kindle.  Jackie consumes books, so this was a “must do” event.

It becomes something special.  Wherever we go we manage to find something special.  This time it was while we were knee deep in the water.  A small raft of dark shapes was headed our way and we watched in wonder as we were surrounded by five or six rays zooming along, mouths open, feeding on plankton.  Up and down they bobbed, wings flapping, sometimes the tips out of the water, moving around us in the shallow water.  We learned they were devil rays, looking like small versions of manta rays, maybe two feet across.  They would move back and forth along the shore in groups of two to twelve and we saw them almost daily.  Every once in a while you would see a splash where one would break the surface, but the most fantastic moment was when I saw one shoot four feet into the air, do a slow flip and then dive back into the water.  What a treat. Check out the videos by clicking on the word link:  Devil Rays Video

And of course this area is great for spotting dolphin.  Sitting on the beach you watch the various dolphin tour boats and jet-ski tours arrive at the end of the jetty and watch for dolphin.  And most times they are not disappointed:  the dolphins appear and jump about for the tourists.  We almost become “ho-hum, another dolphin,” but we were well entertained one afternoon as the dolphin must have found a thick school of fish and furiously zipping through the school and shooting out of the water.  One or two were jumping four to five feet in the air, maybe a dozen times or more.  Quite the show and something that you don’t always get to see.

One evening as the lagoon calmed down I hopped on a paddleboard and paddled along shore to see if I could find some stingrays.  We saw several on a paddle over to the point of the inlet and I was hoping to find them again.  No luck, but on the way back Jackie called to me from the dock and we both spotted several dolphin bobbing around.  One was a mother/youngster pair, easily seen as they sliced up and out of the water.  I just sat on the board as they fished within feet of me, spitting and fluking.

Another afternoon we were similarly treated to a small pod of about 8 dolphin within 25 feet of our boards – bobbing and splashing about.  The water was so clear you could see them beneath the water, turning sideways to show their lighter belly and then breaking the surface.  Very special.

I spotted some spoonbills in the marsh one morning on my way to the beach, but I only had my phone to snap the shot – not my best shot.  Spoonbills have been an elusive bird to get on camera for me, so this was something of a catch at least.  I figured I could find them again the next day, but was treated instead to a turf war between gators.  While snapping shots of one alligator in the marsh, a second male came lumbering in and quickly dispatched the other one out, watching to be sure he got the message, his tail flipping back and forth.  You might be surprised at how quickly these boys can move!

It ends with the school year and a tropical storm.  We know our fellow teachers back home are celebrating the end of the school year and a few teachers in the family are within days of their school year ending.  We congratulate them all on making it through another year and especially Linda, who finished her first year back in the classroom teaching autistic students.

As we pack up camp we are under a tropical storm watch, with nasty weather brewing in the Gulf and heavy rain headed our way.  We returned the golf cart, brushed off the sand, packed up chairs and toys and pulled in the awning.  A good time to be headed away from the coast and back home.

And of course, an “uh-oh” moment.

Jackie and I have come to the conclusion that no matter how well planned you are, each camping trip seems to have at least one “uh-oh” moment.  Somehow something unexpected happens and you hope it is a simple fix, not AC failure or a cracked windshield or blown tires.  This time it was all about water.  With the prolonged cold spring we didn’t de-winterize the RV until late, which meant that this trip was the first of the season.  The week before heading out, we drained the potable antifreeze and flushed the water system.  Into the main water tank went bleach to sanitize it and another flush of the water lines to sanitize and rinse them before adding a few gallons of fresh water to the tank.  We also needed to fill the LP tank, which was no problem.

But there was one itty bitty detail.  The first drinks I fixed in camp tasted a bit off – like gulps of swimming pool water off.  I made ice from the tap and it seems we must have been a little heavy handed with the bleach.  Yech.  Ok, toss that drink and let’s use bottled water for the ice.  That meant a trip to the store for a few more gallons of bottled water for the ice and coffee, but worth it until we flush out more of the water in the system.  Well, at least it is sanitized.  (Note to self: use far less bleach and do a better job of flushing and rinsing the water lines).

The other glitch involves hot water.  We have it — we just can’t get it through the lines. The water tank fills and heats water just fine, it just doesn’t flow from the taps.  Grrr.  A bit of a head scratcher, which had me draining the tank, bleeding out any air, trying the water pump, flipping the bypass valve each way — and then doing it all over again to no avail.  This one will require some research and tinkering at home, maybe a vinegar rinse of the tank and a systematic check of the lines for a blockage.  Since we are using the camp showers, the only need for hot water is washing dishes, so filling a container from the water heater drain outside worked for now.

A plate of oysters and a grouper sandwich at Hunts.

Thanks for following along on our adventures.  Next up for us is our Alaska cruise – in two weeks!  Jeff and Vickie will be along with us to zip line, whale watch and explore the inside passage.  I hope to have some cool pics and video to post after that wild journey, so keep an eye out.

And be sure to check my nephew Adam’s blog about his continuing Appalachian Trail adventure: Adam’s blog.  He has video and stories about the first 300 miles posted now.

Doug

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Of Mighty Rivers and Wildflowers

Ok then, we are off on our trip to the West — so it means a lot of driving the first few days.  Also means getting an early start.  I have to admit that my plan for “wheels up at 0600” was thwarted a bit due to darkness.  As I was sipping on my coffee at 5:30am I realized that it was going to be way too dark to hitch up the car on the tow dolly, so it was more like 0800 before we hit the road. We plan to drive around 300 miles each day and find quick pull-thru spots near the main roads.  Don’t even want to disconnect the car from the tow dolly.  Sometimes it can be a KOA or typical RV park, but sometimes we are surprised by the state and local campgrounds we find.

a Roadside Iowa (6)

First day was rain all the way through Nashville and into Kentucky.  We camped near Paducah, KY (which incidentally was the filming location for part of How the West Was Won) at a clean, paved RV park that was very quiet and had full hookups.  As we pulled out on day two, we had the best weather for driving through the cornfields of central Illinois – a cloudless blue sky with bright green fields of soybeans and tall corn.  Very flat and just gorgeous. We crossed over several of those mighty, historic rivers that were plenty full of muddy, brown water:  Cumberland, Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois Rivers.  Soon to come was the wide Mississippi.  Driving across and along them, you really can understand the importance of these rivers for transportation and commerce and how they shaped the cities that sprung up on their banks.  Keep playing back those river scenes from HTWWW.

Weldon Springs CG

We stayed the second night at an old gathering spot for folks in the late 1800’s, the Weldon Springs State Park.  Very nice campground with only about 15 of us in camp.  Wandering out at dusk, we discovered some beautiful meadows and prairie fields filled with wildflowers.  Naturally, our favorite ungulates were there.  A doe, two fawns and a young buck (hmmmm, wonder if they followed us from home?) were munching in the field keeping a careful eye on us.

Young buck in Illinois

Third day took us through more cornfields (seriously, we grow a lot of corn), as we made our way through the rest of Illinois, across the Rock and Mississippi Rivers and into Iowa, where there were more cornfields and rolling hills.  Our evening stop is at F.W. Kent Park, a real gem of a county park.  Since we got here early afternoon, a hike around was in order.  More fields of sunflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, milkweed and a host of other flowers that elude immediate identification.  Did my best to capture a few before the battery died in the camera (of course!)

 

I should note that due to some great advance planning on Jackie’s part, we have been eating good in camp.  First night was mac ‘n cheese with ham, last night was a spinach quiche with smoked sausage and tonight it’s chicken enchiladas.  Yumm.

Next two days take us closer to South Dakota and the Badlands.  I hope to get some good stories and pictures to post.  Not every post is my best work, but at least you will know what we are up to.

More to come, as the adventure continues . . .

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Beach Tales 2

Jackie reading

Good beach read

Heck, who doesn’t like a good sequel, right?  Well this is the rest of the story of our camping adventure along the Emerald Coast of Florida.

Sandy feet to remember later

Sandy feet to remember later

It continued to be great weather for us: hot, sunny and bright with water temps reaching the mid 80’s.  While most folks probably think that is a great temperature for swimming and bobbing in the waves, it turns out that summer water temperatures have a dark side.  What the travel brochures don’t tell you is that warm water usually means more marine life.

Marine life warning

Marine life warning

I recall spending summers at the Jersey Shore and late August usually meant warmer water and jellyfish.  And if you stayed at the beach during the hot summer, you probably know this.  Just the same here in the Gulf of Mexico – the purple warning flags went up and we spotted more and more moon jellies and felt bits and pieces of them zapping us once in a while.  That tapered off after a few days, but what also appeared in the beautiful, clear water was Junegrass (that is the local name for a green algae bloom).

Good day at the beach

Good day at the beach

This band of green hugged the shoreline most days and we found ourselves moving along the beach to find a relatively clear spot of water to splash around in.  It was really more a nuisance really, and maybe it would not bother you if you didn’t mind swimming in a soupy broth, but it did put a damper on the experience.  Chatting with locals we learned that it is something that stays all summer once the water gets warmer.  Sun + nutrients + warm water = algae bloom.  Just something to keep in mind.

World of Beer b

Nice lunch at World of Beer

Our last day in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park was not a good beach day, so we drove to Destin Commons and had lunch at World of Beer.  While it looks like we sample a lot of beer these days, the important word here is sample.  Then of course I have to do it for my readers, you understand.  Love their flatbreads paired with some beer from Apalaciacola’s Oyster City Brewing (loved First Light of Day blonde summer ale) and Atlanta’s SweetWater (Jackie likes their Bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout – Cork N’ Cage series).

World of Beer 2

World of Beer, Destin

Not All Who Wander Are Lost - our new mantra.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost – our new mantra.

While the beaches we visited were great, getting there can be a good bit of exercise.  We are almost thinking of them in terms of beer calories now.  “That was at least a two-beer trek.”  This campground is said to be a half-mile to the beach access, but by our estimates it must be twice that.  You can take the tram, but that means waiting for the twice-hourly pickup and that’s not always what you want at the end of the day.

Tram to the beach

Tram to the beach

Option 2 is walking the paved road with chairs, towels, umbrella, cooler and beach toys (not recommended for families) or Option 3 is riding your bike.  We managed to hitch up the trusty Tommy Bahama beach cart to Doug’s bike and rode our way to the beach access — which worked out fine.  Oh, but you aren’t toes-in-the-water yet.  You still have the long boardwalk to traverse and then the soft sandy dunes to drag your cart across.  Set up umbrella and chairs, relax, swim and then repeat the trip back across the sand and back to camp.  So yeah, probably worked off at least a beer or two there…

The long walk across the dunes

The long walk across the dunes

Last night in camp we were prepared for thunderstorms and were not disappointed.  We had packed up everything, so it didn’t cause us any problems, but I couldn’t help but think about those folks in tents and tent-campers who would be watching the canvas all night for drips and leaks.  Our only leak came on the road, as a crack in the upper part of the windshield appeared and started leaking when we hit some intense rain in Alabama.  Another call to GEICO for windshield repair when we get home.  I think this might have been from one of the stone pings we got while on the fall trip out West that eluded the crack repair in the fall.

Heading home at last!

Heading home at last!

So off we go, back home for now to enjoy the 4th of July and hopefully some time with the grandchildren.  Not sure about the next summer camping adventure just yet, so stay tuned.

Be sure to check the updates in the Mews, Places and Foodie pages.

 

 

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Beach Tales

St Andrews 2016 (100)b

A month in Florida is hard to beat: a perfect mix of sunny weather, sparkling clear water, a white sandy beach and plenty of little fish to chase around the water.  That’s been our June so far, with a few stories to share.  We don’t have wifi here in St. Andrews State Park so it has been a convenient excuse to postpone updating the blog and just enjoy the sand and surf.  But a trip to Starbucks will give me time to share what’s been happening:

St Andrews 2016 (65)b

St Andrews 2016 (111)b

St Andrews 2016 (132)b

We love Panama City Beach and St. Andrews State Park.  For us it is a very casual, friendly and laid-back vacation spot.  Can’t beat the campsite, with a view of the Lower Lagoon, a nice breeze and lots of kids on bikes and golf carts zipping around.  We arrived just as the rain stopped from tropical storm Colin and many of the sites were underwater.  A high tide surge added a little more waterfront to many sites, too.

Nice (?) waterfront site

Nice (?) waterfront site

St Andrews 2016 (6)b

High and dry at St. Andrews

The storm cut into the dunes along the Gulf beach, creating a cliff of sand.  You know how kids always want to get buried in the sand at the beach?  It usually means someone gets totally covered in sand and has to rinse off.  Well, sadly, a teenager who had been digging tunnels and caves in this particular sand wall was trapped when the sand collapsed on him.  We were watching the boys dig the tunnels, but minutes after we left the beach emergency crews arrived to dig him out and administer CPR.  Unfortunately he died the next day.  Kind of a rough start to the week.

Ready for the beach

Ready for the beach

Jackie’s sister Judy and family came down to PC Beach mid-week and we spent time at the beach together, snorkeling along the rock jetty and splashing around in the surf.  Just had to snap a shot of us all getting slathered with sunscreen!  We joked about the long trek to the water with all the gear and laughed about the big deck umbrella they brought along.  One afternoon a dark line of thunderstorms moved along the coast as we watched and debated when to pack up.  That decision was made quickly when the wind rack kicked up and umbrellas started to go inside-out.  Jackie grabbed and shut ours down just as we watched Judy’s umbrella go airborne in a slow-motion tumble that pierced itself on a pole, then lifted and tumbled further over the dune.  Ok, time to go.

Tut, tut looks like rain!

Tut, tut looks like rain!

Back at camp we got a phone call that our niece lost her glasses in the scramble.  Could we come help look for them?  Tracing our steps back from the parking lot, down the long boardwalk, up and over the sand dunes and down the beach to the scene of the crime, we looked earnestly for the purple frames.  Not much luck, but I brought a small fan rake and began to skim the area where we were sitting.  Probably useless, but just maybe … wait, what’s that?  Something popped up out of the sand as I scraped along and Presto! there were the glasses.  Great save.

20160608_214449  20160608_214522

Another vacation goal was to seek out local craft breweries and compare the samplings.  We found Nivol Brewery in a strip shopping center and were pleasantly surprised by their operation.  Had some samples of wheat, porter and red ales – they have only been open a month, but have a good selection of local beers on tap.  With their full license pending, we had to buy a souvenir pint glass but could then have a fill of our choice of beer.  We chatted up the brewmaster, who already knew about and carried Burnt Hickory brand and had been visited by Dry County (they have the same tank system), but of course we talked up Southern Sky Brewing, too.

Maybe the strangest craft beer sampling came the next day.  An internet search listed “Screw and Brew” locally, so I just HAD to see what that was all about.  A definite pint glass purchase, I figured.  Jackie helped navigate the location, “wait, you just passed it” … well, according to the online maps, but we didn’t see anything.  U-turn and try again.  “Turn here,” as we drove past a small hardware store and through their side parking lot into a pretty gnarly back lot.  Hmm, that wasn’t right.  Back out front we noticed a small sign in the window “home brewing supplies” and thought what-the-heck.  I left Jackie in the car (this was doubtful) and I ventured in.

Hmm, inside it was pretty much a hardware store, with a wall of home-brew supplies.  “Can I help you?”  Uhh, well, I guess I got the wrong spot.  We are on a hunt for local craft breweries.  A smiling clerk said he could recommend several spots (Fishale, Nivol) and I said those were already on our list.  “Ok, well thanks, I guess I got the information wrong.”

“Hang on, I do have some wheat beer if you’d like a sample” he said, and I cautiously nodded okay. “Just follow me out back.”  Ok, this was speakeasy creepy and I was wondering if I would have to know a secret password or handshake.  Out through the stockroom to that gnarly section of the back room and garage … a rusty fridge had a tap installed and an off-kilter kegerator was nearby.  “Don’t have any fancy glassware, (oh darn, the whole point of the visit), but if you are ok with Styrofoam…”  Next thing I know I have a cup of foamy beer in my hand.  “What do you think?  It’s better this week.”  Well, here goes nothing – lot of head but it’s actually not bad.  We walk back into the store and he says he just can’t keep the beer cold enough in the kegerator, it keeps tripping the circuit breaker…

I thank him for the beer, wish him well, take the rest of the cup back out to the car for Jackie to finish (I mean, seriously, am I supposed to just drive off with this beer?  No DUI for me, thank you).  So chalk that one up to the weirdest sampling ever.

2016-06-16 15.16.47

Local samplings at Fishale

Just down the road we stopped in at Fishale, which was a real pub that featured a lot of real craft brews on tap.  Spent time sampling all sorts of Florida brews and decided to visit Grayton Beer on our way west later in the month, since we liked their 30A Beach Blonde.

Best Grouper Sandwich!

Best Grouper Sandwich!

Caught up with one of our fellow teachers from school when we learned she was staying in PC Beach with a friend, too.  Our suggestion was to meet up for the best grouper sandwich in town at Sharky’s on the beach – which lived up to expectations.  Still the best sandwich in town!  We shared stories and encouraged her to join the ranks of the retired (just maybe one more year of teaching she thinks!).  Good fun all around.

Good Friends

Good Friends

So as I wrap up this posting, I should probably share one last story that just goes to prove that you really do need to check and double check your vacation plans no matter how careful a person you are.  We came back from the beach on our last day in camp and sat out to enjoy an adult beverage and the nice breeze.  We had been talking about what we needed to pack up so we could roll out easily the next day, Monday.  Our plans from 11 months ago were to stay Monday to Monday (2 weeks) and then move to Topsail Hill State Park for 10 days.

A golf cart with two park rangers pulls up … “You know that checkout is 1:00 pm.”  Yes we do, we plan to be out tomorrow by noon for sure.  “You were supposed to be out TODAY by 1:00 (it was now about 6:00).  Yikes, no way, we had a Monday check out.  We scrambled to pull up the reservation info on our phone as he explained that they found another site for the folks who DID have the next reservation and we didn’t have to leave until the morning.  But would we please settle up with the Camp Office in the morning?

So what was the story?  Turns out we had a Sunday to Sunday reservation but put it into our Google calendar as Monday to Monday. The reservation at Topsail Hill was fine, but we got the one at St. Andrews goofed up by one day.  Kept wanting to say, “that’s not us, we aren’t those kind of people… we are rule followers and are well-planned… we are retired teachers (and are always right) …we went out West for 6 weeks… “

Ah well, (sigh), honest mistake.

2016-06-21 18.46.40

Happy Birthday drink for Jackie!

 

2016-06-21 19.20.59

Jackie’s birthday celebration at Dewey Destin’s Harborfront restaurant.

Next stop is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.  Probably won’t get to post until we are back home.

Check out lots of great photos of the parks here.

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Base of the Rockies

Traveling across the rest of Kansas and into Colorado across the prairie plains, it was amazingly wide open, mostly flat landscape. We saw our first pronghorn as the Rockies started to appear on the horizon. More wind farms of dozens of huge wind turbines along the way. The closer we got to Colorado Springs, the bigger the mountains. Pikes Peak is hard to miss. We have stayed two nights at a cozy little RV park in Falcon. Our site looks out across a huge meadow with Pikes Peak in the background. This morning we looked out to see a herd of pronghorn. Since we are in rut season, the males were zipping around herding the females. Way cool.

Pronghorn watching his herd

Pronghorn watching his herd

Last night we went into the Springs to check out yet more micro breweries (yes, it does seem like a theme at this point) and had dinner at the Ritz Grill. What a nice town, very walkable, dog and bicycle friendly and the sunny weather has a nice cool edge to it. Breweries we sampled included Phantom Canyon, Fieldhouse, and Gold Camp.

Phantom Brewery

Phantom Brewery

Today we tried our best to get to Golden early, but two accident backups on the interstates slowed us down and we waited almost an hour to start the tour at Coors due to the Saturday crowd. Truth be told, we kinda zipped along the self-guided tour of the plant to get to the sampling room. Oh yeah!

Here's to you!

Here’s to you!

Ice cold

Ice cold

Responsible sampling of course, but some nice flavors. Then we walked around Golden to find Mountain Toad Brewery and found their beer very refreshing. Golden is yet again a small, friendly, walkable town with a lot of charm.

Welcome to Golden

Welcome to Golden

Streetside

Streetside

On the way out of town we had just enough time to check out Red Rocks Amphitheater, only to find it was booked for an evening event, so we didn’t get down into the actual amphitheater to see it. We also only saw Denver from the mountain, so that will probably have to wait for another trip. So much to see.

Denver

Denver

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Ok, story time once again. As I have said before, when you travel with an RV there are a lot of moving parts and systems to get straight. If you try to rush the departure or arrival too much, you miss a detail that might bite you. When we packed up in Goodland’s KOA, we added some water to the onboard tank. To do that, you flip the lever to City Tank Fill from City Fill. Once you add water you are supposed to flip the switch back to City Fill (which I have labeled city service, because “fill” confuses me). Sounds good, right?

Well, when we arrived in Falcon and hooked up water and electric, we thought all was well and went inside to have lunch. Benji needed to go out a bit later, so Jackie opens the door and says, “Uh, Doug, we have a problem.” Water was running out of the bottom of the RV and down out of our site. I rushed to shut off the supply and we opened the basement door to find the plastic bins of tools and such all overflowing with water. Arghhh! I had forgotten to flip the lever and we had overfilled the water tank onboard once again (happened in Florida also). Talk about feeling like a schmuck, it took me most of the day to dry everything out and get over blaming myself. Just another cautionary tale.

So each time we depart or arrive, I am pledging to take it slow and deliberate so we don’t miss anything critical.

Cheyenne Mountain is coming up tomorrow.

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Saddle Up and Westward Ho!

Packed and ready to roll the coach on our fall adventure out West!  If you are a motorhome traveler you know the drill.  For the rest of you, let me recap how a motorhome trip is different from packing the car for a week at the beach.  Remember, you are taking a small house with all its onboard systems, so your pre-trip checklist includes:

Plumbing and sewer

You need some fresh water in the tank, but not too much, since you don’t want to haul extra weight. Once you get to a campsite with city water you can connect with a hose and run from that. A small pressure regulator is important so you protect against high water pressure damage. You have to be sure to switch to city water service, not tank fill, otherwise you will discover (as I did in Florida) water pouring out of your overflow hose under the RV about 10 minutes later.

Greywater and blackwater tanks should be empty to start. The lowest sensors in our black tank don’t seem to register, so we are going to pour a solution of borax, water and dish soap into the toilet at the start of the trip to clean them. A bag of ice down the toilet to rattle around while traveling (as recommended) didn’t really do the trick the last trip. You should keep some water in the toilet bowl to block odors (like any p-trap at home). You need your sewer hose and connectors.

Power

You have a generator, which should be in good working order, for the times when you are boondocking. Boondocking or dry camping is when you don’t have any water or electric hookups available. Also you have two sets of batteries: house and engine. Even though they connect and can help spread the charge, you want all of them charged and ready. We have a small solar panel that adds a trickle charge. Be sure you have a surge protector for your electric cord (shoreline).

LP gas tank got filled last week. With our system, you can power your fridge with shoreline electric (when you are hooked up to electric at home or camp) or run off the LP gas, or run off house batteries (or run the generator while on the move or when boondocking). I pre-chilled the fridge in the driveway before stocking it with food.

LP gas can also be used for cooking on the stovetop and oven and it is a source of power for the heater if you can’t run the generator (campgrounds often have quiet hours after 10 pm).

Hey out there, did you pack the cat food?

Hey out there, did you pack the cat food?

Hydraulics

Our motorhome has four hydraulic leveling jacks that are used in combination with jack pads and chocks to level the motorhome. The pistons need to be clean and sprayed with a dry silicone lubricant so they will completely retract when it is time to break camp.

Tires, oil, coolant, wipers, running lights

Since you are also a motor vehicle, every part of the engine and wheels needs preventive maintenance. Tire inflation pressure is important and can vary with the amount of weight you are carrying. Tires on motorhomes wear more than the mileage would indicate, (UV damage and dry rot as I learned on our Florida trip) so you need to keep an eye on their condition.

Kitchen

And of course you need all the pots, pans, dishes, utensils, grill and pantry for your camp menu.

Linens

This motel doesn’t come with maid service, so you need sheets, blankets, pillows and towels.

Planning to add more states to our camping map.

Planning to add more states to our camping map.

But now it is all packed, the tow dolly is ready for the car to be strapped on and we’ll head out. First stop will be in Alabama just northwest of Birmingham on Smith Lake for a night. Then on to Memphis for a stopover.

If you want to follow our progress, check back often or click the “follow” link.

Hey, thanks for checking in and “Happy Trails!”

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It’s a Hard Knock Life . . . sometimes

To borrow from “Annie” – today was that moment when I felt like I was scrubbing the floor in triumph, only to find my efforts had been undone. Let me explain (and by the way, we are not off on an adventure this week, that is coming up next week).

Getting the van ready for our upcoming trip out West, we wanted to get the black grime off the roof and return it to the bright white that it should be. And looking down on it in the driveway is a daily reminder of just how grimy it has become. So up on the roof of the van I went, bucket and brushes in hand. Naturally, I didn’t want to slip on down to the driveway, so the scrubbing was done on hands and knees. Got it all scrubbed clean by lunch and left it to dry. After lunch, Jackie helped as we repeated much of the hands and knees work to apply a UV protectant to the newly clean roof.

2015-09-03 14.34.32

Sparkling clean roof!

Ok, looks great and should make it through the 6 week trip out West just fine. Except that Mother Nature had other plans. Round about 3 o’clock an intense thunderstorm rumbled through the neighborhood – no kidding, this one had very high winds, rain, hail and explosive lightning and thunder. As you can see, the result is that the very clean roof is covered in branches, pine cones, pinestraw and leaves. Arghh. Well, I guess I know what I am doing tomorrow. Sometimes it is, briefly, a hard knock life.

Arghh... just moments later after the storm.

Arghh… just moments later after the storm.

Afternoon “Relax, Refresh and Rejuvenate”

We stopped by our former middle school this afternoon to meet up with many of our colleagues and friends. They have a nice tradition (thanks to Jen, their Teacher of the Year) of getting together on Thursdays after school to wind down and catch up with each other. It was nice to hear that the school is doing well with new administrators, some new faculty and a whole new crop of 6th graders. Great job, teachers!

I mentioned that I had just read about a recent research study that had implications and some possible explanations for some of the student behaviors and performance issues many of us had witnessed while teaching. You see, sometimes you just scratch your head and wonder why it is so difficult to conduct class, convey a concept or motivate students to jump into the topic and learn all they can. You say things like “it must be something in the water” or “does everyone have ADHD?” or “this lesson always worked in the past.”

The six-year study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicated that growing up in severe poverty affects how children’s brains develop. Educators often hear that poverty affects student achievement, and we respond that we can’t fix poverty or be held responsible for any resulting lack of achievement. That is important to note these days, since teachers are evaluated on student achievement and may soon have their paychecks dependent on that achievement. But how does poverty affect student achievement? This study suggests that poverty affects parts of the brain that controls attention, self-control, planning, inhibition, emotions and complex learning. Those parts of the brain were 8 to 10 percent smaller for children of poverty.

Wow. That is a solid explanation for the exact behaviors teachers find vexing and frustrating – all leading to lower achievement. The study estimated that 20% in score gaps could be explained by the slower brain development. Clearly, poverty does have an impact.

Hey, we are off to Myrtle Beach next week, so look for some beach pictures to be posted.

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