Yep, that’s right. We are spending two weeks in Florida, camping at a favorite spot: St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach. And we have the top down on the jeep to enjoy the sun and fresh salt air. That’s topless in Jeep-speak. What were you thinking?
Adventures of 2023
This is not the start of our spring adventures, though. That actually started a few weeks back over Easter weekend. So let me get you caught up before I share this Florida adventure. You see, we had this big family camping weekend planned out while we were in St. Andrews back in October. It was kinda funny the way it happened. Judy, Jackie and Bethany were talking about trying to find a campground that was close enough for all of us to meet up, and Fall Creek Falls State Park in mid-Tennessee seemed to be the right spot. Just a couple hours from Nashville, Kennesaw and about an hour from Chattanooga. Perfect. So while Alex was putting the finishing touches on our seafood dinner “pot luck” over the wood fire, the gals announced that they found open reservations for Easter weekend at the park – and we could all book sites around our own cul-de-sac.
Alex was trying to get their attention to say the scallops, shrimp and fish were hot and ready, but they were calling over to John “quick, log in to your account and book site … for that weekend!” Well it was a bit of a frenzied moment while everyone booked their part of the cul-de-sac, including Bethany’s parents from Memphis who were “in” too (via phone call). Ok, everyone booked, all set! Now let’s eat.
That was the plan, anyway. But things didn’t quite work out that way.
Fall Creek Falls State Park, TN
One week before the Easter camping weekend, family situations changed for Jim and Dawn and for Judy and Craig, such that neither group was able to get campers ready in time. Bethany’s parents rented a house nearby for the weekend and Judy, Craig, Rachel and Colin, who had just sold their trailer, came anyway to bravely camp the weekend in tents. But we would be missing one camper completely: John. More about that in a bit.
We were all determined to make the best of things in a really nice state park. Except that the weather was also working against us. Jackie and I were a day ahead of everyone else and had a nice afternoon upon arrival. But as everyone else arrived on Good Friday for the weekend, the temperatures dropped into the 40’s, rain rolled in and it became pretty miserable. We were downstream of everyone else, so we had a small creek running through our site. Alex and Bethany were on a large site, level and uphill from everyone, so they were fine. Judy and Craig pitched a tent borrowed from Alex, plus two pup tents before the rain started and we thought we would all be fine. It could have worked, except that it was awful weather for tent camping: temperatures in the 40’s, rain and drizzle the whole time. It didn’t make for a great first night, so in the morning Judy’s group decided to head back home to get dry and warm. Who could blame them?
The rest of us, plus two long-time friends of Jim and Dawn, huddled around Alex’s firepit at night, and considered options for the next day from our RV living room. Well, you know full well that we have some sort of “brewery compass” which meant that we found Happy Trails Brewery maybe half an hour away. We had a delicious lunch and some local and regional brews to quench our thirst and soon declared that the day wasn’t a bust after all.
Speaking of the rain, my Jeep’s windshield wipers once again failed to work. From our October post you will recall that we had quite the crazy evening with the top down and a sudden rainstorm in PCB. That night John was in the back seat getting soaked as I tried to see through the raindrops on the windshield … without the wipers working. I thought I had it all fixed and working this winter, but they refused to work for Easter weekend. Hmm, new project when I get back home.
Even though it was not the weekend we had planned, we did get in some nice hikes to the falls just before the rain came and, naturally, the day after everyone else headed home. We stayed one day later, which meant we got a nice and sunny last day (but things still needed to dry out).
Speaking of repairs, before we headed out once again, I was determined to fix our tail-light connection to the Jeep. Ever since we got the Invisi-Brake installed, the turn signals on the Jeep were flipped from the Winnebago while towing. That meant if the motorhome signaled a left turn, the Jeep was signaling a right turn. A short term fix was to connect the plug upside down, but that was a temporary solution at best. So I took the time to diagnose which wires were connected wrong, made the correction and now everything works as it should.
St. Andrews State Park, FL
Our first stop heading to the beach has lately been in Eufala, Alabama at Lakepoint State Park. Staying there for one night just breaks up the 7 hour trip enough that we don’t arrive tired and grumpy. Besides, we are retired … what’s one more day? A nice enough pull through spot in a park along the lakeshore that was pretty empty. Next morning it was just over 3 hours to the beach and we wouldn’t be able to check in until after 1:00 anyway, so it was an easy ride.
So yes, here we are again in St. Andrews State Park. Much different since the hurricane damage of a couple years ago, but certainly an upgraded experience for folks in motorhomes like ours. We have our electric bikes with us and of course the Jeep. Yes, I took apart the windshield wipers again, this time replacing the motor and articulating arms and we have wipers that actually work in the rain now. If you read the post from the fall camping trip you will note that they failed me then, which made for a wild ride to dinner!
Our site was just fine – in fact it would be hard to complain about any of these sites in the newly rebuilt park. Level, clean, full hookups, water views – just not as many trees as before and missing a lot of the character that made this campground special. But it was a bit on the slim and narrow side, so when we finally got bikes, chairs, shelter, grill and picnic table all situated, we were kinda tight. The wind was pretty strong, gusting to 30 mph, and the air was long pants and sweatshirts kind of cold. Had to really secure the shelter, since it was almost airborne a few times. A few light showers came through the first two days and the Gulf was whipped up with huge waves and no swimming was permitted. It looked wild – more like a storm in the Atlantic.
But as the days went on the temperatures stayed in the 70’s, water calmed down and we had blue skies, even if still breezy. So what did we do?
Riding the eBikes
Since we had our electric bikes and it wasn’t swim weather, we rode around campground and over to Patches Pub for a beer and grouper sandwich. It was there that we learned it was the start of Thunder Beach, a week-long motorcycle event. Of course. We manage to find bike weeks wherever we go. But it was pretty cool to see all the crazy cycles.
In the morning we started off on the bikes only to find Jackie’s rear tire was flat as a pancake. Gave it a good going-over but found no sharp objects or obvious leaks. Wouldn’t hold air though. A run to Walmart to get “green slime” to fill and fix the leak. Unscrewed the inner plug, added the green stuff and pumped in the air. No good, still went flat. Tried that twice and then gave up, went to the beach.
OK, one of the other ebike owners in camp said he had a flat and took his bike to Steve’s Bike Repair in Panama City. Hmm. Well, surely fixing this shouldn’t be that tough. I have replaced many inner tubes on bikes at the shore and growing up, how bad can it be? Well, yes, it is the rear tire where all the gears, motor and disc brakes are, but can’t be impossible. Off to PC we went to find Academy Sports and a new inner tube. We stopped for gas and while pumping Jackie asked “Did you see the spot across the street? Steve’s Bike Shop.” Hmm, well sorry Steve, gonna try this repair myself. Got the tube, and a set of plastic hooks to help lift up the outer tire from the rim, all set to operate. And yes, we were successful in replacing the new tube. For the heck of it we filled the old one with air, found the spot where it must have leaked (on the inner/upper side – strange). That tube is still holding air several days afterward. Go figure.
But the days spent at the beach have been magical. The color of the water in the Gulf is just amazing and hard to describe. Clear, turquoise to dark blue, with soft white sandy beaches … can’t find anything better. And the temperature gradually warmed up to be very refreshing. At this park that abuts an inlet from the Grand Lagoon to the Gulf of Mexico you have the benefit of two beaches along the rock jetties. On the lagoon side is the children’s pool: a relatively shallow and sheltered cove that had clean, clear water and all sorts of fish. We alternated between the two beaches, depending of the wind and surf.
Umm, lights out?
Midway through our stay the humidity increased and temps went into the 80’s, so we turned on the AC before bed (also to help Kodi get through the day) and within 10 minutes the camper went dark. Hmm. No power. Must have been a breaker. I checked the inside breakers, nothing was off. Outside box, same thing. Surge protector at the box had green lights. Well, check everything again, flip and reset. Nothing. Well, the fridge was running off house batteries, so food was ok. One last check at the surge protector to unplug and re-insert all the cords and problem became clear. The plug from the RV power cord was fried. Once I got it disconnected, one of the pins just jangled loose. Well, too dark, too late at night, will have to wait till morning. Opened all the windows and hoped it wouldn’t get too sticky hot.
Yes, another trip to PC to find a new plug. None at Walmart, an ok replacement at Lowe’s and Home Depot, but once Camping World opened I found the one I wanted. Bought a new surge protector, too. Back in camp I cut off the old wires, clipped back the insulation to good wire and replaced the plug. Success and we were back with power. Just one of those things that happens to these outdoor plugs and sockets periodically (and always at inconvenient moments).
Just minor problems. Still, beautiful weather, lots of beach time and plenty to do. Watching campers come and go, waiting for the Bald Eagle to reappear (first day spotting), searching gator lake for gators (none spotted), watching three sharks swim by us (maybe 5 foot long, species unknown), catching the dolphins in a feeding frenzy just beyond the waves, spotting a box turtle on the move, walking Kodi several times each day around camp, jeeping out and about, topless. Good times.
Ever heard of “Duck, Duck, Jeep?” Well it is a special Jeep thing (much like cruise ducks) that folks do to surprise you and bring a little sunshine to your day. A little rubber duck is placed on the driver’s doorhandle, sometimes with a note that says you have a pretty awesome Jeep and wish you a happy day. You can either keep the duck, pass it on to another Jeep or post a picture of it to a page online. We have a supply of ducks and cards in our Jeep, ready to surprise folks with, but this trip we were surprised ourselves by the number of ducks that landed on our Jeep. We must be in their migratory flight path! What fun.
Oh, and of course we had to hit our usual beach bars: Pineapple Willy’s for frozen daiquiris and Mahi mahi sandwiches, Sharky’s for the same and Patches pub for the only grouper sandwiches we can find. We waited for a table at Schooner’s, an always-busy spot, and were fortunate to get a beachside spot just in time for the nightly cannon blast at sunset (it’s a small cannon with a darn loud bang). We did order grouper baskets which were delicious! Beachfront bars and grub are just fine by us.
So on the next to last day in camp it is overcast and breezy – a good time to sit and write about this adventure. There is a severe thunderstorm rumbling across the lagoon and we are wondering if it will come this way. Might want to put the top up on the Jeep, just in case.
Oh yuck! What a discovery. As we got to the Jeep something looked very wrong. The spare tire and in fact the entire rear end of the Jeep was covered in splat. What?? OMG we were “splashed” by one big bird, no doubt a heron flying overhead. It was inside the back, too. Covered the flippers, chairs … fishy, chalky icky. So we spent some time with the hose, rag and bucket cleaning it all out and putting up the top. Guess our topless time is over. Man, that was one healthy bird.
So back to the very long story here. For the trip back home we stopped at Chattahoochee Bend State Park north of LaGrange. That’s only 2 hours from home, but we can then miss the perimeter around Atlanta and make it home by noon rather than at the end of a seven hour trip.
Sad News this Spring
So why was John missing from our Easter camping trip? A few things have happened in our lives this spring that remind us that time is precious and we really should enjoy every day. I mentioned we were missing Jackie’s younger brother John from our Easter camping weekend … well, life takes some crazy turns when you least expect it. Just before we left for our January cruise aboard the Prima we heard from John, who was in the Philippines. We knew he was there for 3 weeks visiting his fiancée but we didn’t expect a phone call. He had been in a motorcycle accident, was banged up with some road rash and pain, but told us not to worry he was in good hands.
Midway through the cruise we got a text that he was back in the hospital for gall bladder surgery. The next morning another text that he died from internal injuries. Shock. Absolute shock. Horrible news that put a sad end to our cruise (we learned of it while in port at Grand Cayman – never got off the boat). So . . . much of this spring has been spent doing what you do when a family member dies. You know from our previous posts that we helped him build his cabin in the mountains, which he finally moved into about a year ago. You also know we camped with him in his new truck camper last fall and had future camping plans. Now we are helping empty the cabin and making decisions about his camper. It’s tough. I asked him why he decided to design and build the cabin himself. “Bucket List” was his answer. “Always wanted to …” and that list included pilots license (bought his own plane), bass fishing (bought his own boat), scuba (got his instructor’s license), motorbikes, mountain bikes, mini-bikes, and recently his truck and camper for boondocking out West. He could be grumpy and stubborn at times, but if you needed help with something he would be there to help and offer advice. We miss him at each stop on this trip, since he would have been right there with us, and that leaves so many emotional tripwires.
One other bit of sad news hit me this spring. A very dear and lifelong friend had passed away. Laurie and I knew each other since we were very young, in fact our moms were both in nurse training together and they had known each other since second grade, or so the story goes. We were born just months apart and remained close friends through college and into our adulthood. Laurie and I were both super interested in the natural world, both went to college for wildlife and biology degrees and kept our friendship going through tough times for each of us. From previous posts you will recall that we stopped to see her on our trip to Acadia National Park and you probably caught some of her comments on this blog. She was traveling with us in spirit and shared in our adventures through the pictures and stories. Gone too soon and someone who will be sadly missed.
Our next adventure will be a cruise with our grandsons, Jason, Karina, Alex and Bethany aboard the Carnival Mardi Gras, so keep your eyes out for the next recap of fun aboard the high seas. Thanks for reading along.