Posts Tagged With: RV camping

Goin’ Local and Gettin’ Ready

Yep, it’s summer and we are staying local, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t busy.  This summer in particular is one where EVERYONE hit the road to go SOMEWHERE – but we are trying to avoid those crowds and just enjoy some time with the family.  So what did these two busy retirees do, exactly? 

A new 4-wheeling adventure?

Well, we took our grandsons to the Georgia Aquarium for some underwater adventures.  That was an amazing day and we just wowed the boys, sitting in front of the huge tank of fish, with the whale sharks and rays sailing past.  They loved the beluga and the sharks and couldn’t stop pointing out all the fish in the underwater tunnel as we were transported along the moving walkway. “More big fish, Pop pop, come on” was heard more than a few times.  Crazy moment in the main hall when someone called out to me to stop … turns out it was our former assistant principal Dr. Davis who is now President and CEO of the aquarium (and who also encouraged me to get certified to teach the engineering and technology classes).  Well, that led to a behind-the-scenes tour of the big tank and some private viewing moments.  What a nice surprise!

I was back to baking bread, with some camping coming up we needed burger and hotdog rolls and a Pullman loaf for PB&J sandwiches.  Had to keep feeding the sourdough, too.

We also camped along the shores of our local Lake Allatoona, something we thought would be a good opportunity for the grandsons to learn what the motorhome and camping are all about.  Even though we were in a cycle of daily pop-up thunderstorms, it was a very fun few days at the lake.  Our campsite was next to the swimming area, so when the boys, Karina and Jason joined us it was easy to walk back and forth.  The boys loved it and Wyatt took to the kayak like a pro.  Paddleboards and floats made it fun to splash, paddle and bob in the water, even when the rain came down.  Owen and Wyatt stayed the night with us, ate all our snacks plus a hearty pancake breakfast and we all splashed around in the lake the next day.

A few days later we drove to Chattanooga to visit with Alex and Bethany and most importantly to go off-road Jeeping with them and some friends.  It was important to Alex that we properly break in the Jeep with mud splashes and off-road bumps and bounces – and the long and winding Big Frog Road through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest certainly did that.  It was good to learn how to put it in 4-wheel drive, disconnect the sway bar and generally get the feel of off-roading, since we have our fall trip to the canyons of Utah coming up.  Kodi seems to enjoy the back seat of the Jeep, at least we heard no complaints.

We added a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium the next day and had fish tacos at Big River Grill (was that wrong?).

We also had the grandsons over for another night at home, since Karina was busy setting up her classroom for students this school year.  This time we pulled out the trusty inflatable pool and our “redneck trampoline” to entertain them (the old RV mattress is awaiting a bulk pickup).  We were also dog-sitting Allie, so there was much noise and movement around the house at feeding time.

And we are getting everything ready for another big adventure to the Southwest.  That meant getting 4 new tires for the motorhome, a check of the brakes, propane fill and new springs on one of the hydraulic leveling jacks (it still retracts very slowly).  Replaced a tiny spring in the screen door latch and pulled out and replaced the diverter in the shower faucet. I also replaced the very fogged up and yellowed headlight assemblies, replaced the amber clearance lights on the front with new LED ones and switched to LED bulbs on the red ones in the rear.  Even though we rarely drive at night, it just updates the motorhome and certainly improves the look up front.

A few extra accessories for the Jeep (storage nets, overnight cover, decent cooler and storage sleeve for the soft-sided windows), a GoPro mount attached to the front bumper and I think it is ready for off-roading.  And for Labor Day weekend I got to try it out in the Prentice Cooper WMA in Chattanooga. Alex invited us up to join Bethany’s parents on a trail ride just a few miles from their house and as you can see, it was a bit muddy, bumpy and dusty. We had lunch at an overlook of the Tennessee River with Chattanooga in the distance. Unfortunately the ride was cut short by a front driveshaft breakdown on Jim’s Jeep, which meant we had to go have a beer at Heaven & Ale in Chatt. Not so bad. And yes, I washed off the mud from Tennessee, both trips. 

I’ve got my various cameras ready for photos and ran through night-sky and sunset photo settings.  We’ve gone through our hiking boots, neoprene booties, trekking poles, backpacks and essentials to be sure we are ready.  Watched some great videos of hikes and drives in the areas we are heading (we particularly like “Adventures of A + K”) and feel like we know what to do in Canyonlands, Moab, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and … well, you will just have to wait for the pictures and stories. Our highlight Jeep drive will be the Shafer Trail from Dead Horse Point State Park to Moab. (I am trying a new app for hikes called AllTrails, which looks VERY helpful).

So, off we go in mid-September for another adventure.  Kodi and Merlin will be our back-seat critics, Jackie will navigate and of course we’ll have stories to share.  As our good friend Rich said “you always manage to find some cool brewery.”  What we won’t find much of is good internet, cell signal and WiFi, so it may be some slow postings on the blog.  But I will do my best to share our adventure. (Bit disappointed that Roadtrippers app is now very limited in their free version).

Part One of the Adventure – Atlanta to Canyonlands, mapped on Roadtrippers

Oh, and in case you were just a bit confounded by our 4-wheeling adventure through the sand, pictured as the white Jeep at the top of this post, maybe this will help put it in context for you (look closely):

Just having a little fun, there. Thanks for coming along on the journey as we explore Utah, northern New Mexico and the Gunnison River Valley with our Jeep (the big one) in tow!

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NC Mountain Getaway

This outing takes us back to the North Carolina mountains to camp with family and do a little work.  For our first few days we drove to John’s bucket-list project, Mystic Cabin just east of Asheville, NC.  Easily parked under the garage roof and set up with water and electricity.  John is ever closer to his certificate of occupancy that will allow him to fully move into this 2-year project and we hope to help get those last few items finished up.

On the list this time is nailing in the stair risers, installing interior doors, adding door trim, then moving the chop and table saws, tools, lumber and such out of the living room and onto the back porch.  That let us clear out the piles of sawdust, wipe down the windows and walls and install screens.  Showers work, the refrigerator is running, AC was cooling and we fired up the Wolf stove with fresh-baked hamburger and hoagie rolls.  

After a day we backed up and out of the driveway, hooked up the jeep and drove another 3 hours to Stone Mountain State Park near Roaring Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We are spending four days camping with Judy and Craig while their daughter Rachel attends Camp Cheerio, which was just along the ridgeline above our campground.

Driving from Elkin toward the park was through some very beautiful pastures and tobacco fields, and the park sat amid the rolling hills below the much higher peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  At camp it was an easy task to disconnect the jeep and back into the site.  Flat towing the Jeep is much easier than the tow dolly and the Rav4, with just a few connections using the Roadmaster tow bar and Invisibrake.  This should be a big help for our big trip out West in the fall.

Once in camp we unfurled a new purchase, a screen room to help keep flies and biting bugs out of our way.  The last trip to Florida featured an abundance of hungry mosquitos, so this lightweight and easy-to-assemble screen room is our answer to avoiding itchy bites the whole week.  This unit was lightweight, easy to assemble and had plenty of room for four chairs and side tables.  I am particularly reactive to insect bites and this of course led to a continuing discussion about certain blood types attracting mosquitos … but we actually didn’t have any, just annoying gnats.

Anyway, we were in an area of the mountains that had a lot of vineyards, but they were only open Thursdays through Sundays and we had arrived on a Sunday and would be departing early on a Thursday — so you know what that meant, we had to hustle out to get to a nearby winery before closing time.  We found a gem of a spot, ordered flights of 5 wines and had a wonderful time sharing and comparing the wines. 

Judy and Craig told of how long the check-in process at Camp Cheerio was that morning, but Rachel was properly settled in for the week, son Colin was out in New Mexico working as troop leader for the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch and now it was just the four of us camping.  As the wine ran out we got hungry and headed back to cook dinner and watch the stars.

Maybe an hour after we hit the sack our awning suddenly started blowing up and down with much thumping.  That’s not a good sign, so I jumped out of bed to roll it back in, while the wind was whipping up and thunder could be heard in the distance.  As lightning flashed and the wind blew, we folded up chairs and caught the rug before it blew away, also keeping an eye on the screen room (which we had fortunately staked to the ground).  It wasn’t long before we were pelted with big raindrops and retreated back to bed, this time with Kodi joining us of course.  Big booms of thunder cracked and echoed around the mountains and valleys as the rain continued to fall.  Not a restful first night.

But the morning brought clear blue skies and cool dry air.  It was a gorgeous start to what would be four beautiful days in the lush green mountains and we were able to take in some great hikes to waterfalls, slick rock streams and a view of the granite Stone Mountain outcropping. We also made a stop at a country store nearby to get some delicious ice cream scoops!

In fact it got downright cold at night, and since we had packed the motorhome during humid, 90 degree days back home (while our AC was out and being repaired), we only had shorts and tee shirts and were quite chilled around the campfire at night.  Doug bought a sweatshirt at the visitors center and Jackie found a small blanket in the Jeep, so we were fine the next day.  You would think we would know to pack for all types of weather by now. 

We found a fun brewery in Elkin for dinner and had ourselves some brews and wood-fired pizza.  Angry Troll was darn busy and the food was delicious, but they were closed the rest of the week, so we only got to visit once.

One of our hikes in the park was to a stream that made for a cool waterslide and with the recent rainfall it was easy for kids to slide down, even with some tubes. 

We just waded around, got our feet wet and tried not to slip.  Another hike was to an original homestead at the base of the mountain and as we hiked along the stream trail we could hear a growing chorus of girls’ voices walking along a parallel roadway – only to discover … Rachel(!) among the group of hikers from Camp Cheerio.  We tried not to make a fuss, but she spotted us and shouted “bring shampoo” before walking on down the trail.  Crazy timing.  This was a 12 mile hike the oldest of the group takes down from their camp to the waterfall and back up the mountain. 

We broke camp on another cool, clear morning as we reflected on some nice meals in camp, warm campfires, a serpentine road trip up the mountain to Roaring Gap in the Jeep and just a nice visit to the mountains.  Our next stop was back at John’s cabin three hours away.  We slipped the motorhome under the garage roof and Craig expertly backed their trailer down the driveway, leveled up and hooked up (thanks for the hookups, John).

We couldn’t pass up a drive to Asheville and dinner at Sierra Nevada Brewing.  We made sure to embarrass Jackie by recognizing her birthday, all while having some excellent beer and food.

Back at John’s we had some work to do.  Judy and Craig had to drive back to pick up Rachel, then return to hitch up and head back to Nashville. While the weather was good, Doug and John trenched and built footing forms for the cement that would be poured for the garage floor later in the week.  There was a pile of scrap lumber that had to be moved and a very large tarp under the deck that had to be dragged around front, cut up and taken to the dump.  We installed a large light fixture that hung from the ceiling above the kitchen island and wired up and installed the ceiling fan over the living room. 

We put down more of his flooring in the living room (not quite all of it).  Jackie ran the dishwasher, washer and dryer for the first time (and got us caught up on clean laundry) and we surprised her with a small birthday celebration.

But somehow chiggers decided to spoil things.  Either our last days in camp or working around the cabin, they found us.  Well, Doug mostly.  As I noted earlier, I don’t react well to insect bites and I kind of lost count of all the itchy spots.  Had to buy some extra anti-itch cream, but as you may know, you just have to wait out the itch for a few days. Arrghhh.

To celebrate both Father’s Day and Jackie’s birthday we drove to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock to find Hickory Nut Gorge Brewing and have … you guessed it, some beer and grub. 

On the way, John got a text from fellow brewcrew member Barb that she was in Lake Lure with a friend and how far was that from his place?  Well, of course we told her to join us at the brewery and soon we were all sitting alongside the Broad River enjoying the cool evening with beer in hand.  Jackie, John and I shared plates of pulled pork nachos as we looked up at Chimney Rock.  It was maybe 7 years ago that we paddleboarded on Lake Lure and climbed to Chimney Rock.  This was a nice night with good friends.

We had appointments back home and had some babysitting duties awaiting us, so it was time to return home after helping get John closer to moving into the cabin for good.  Other than the big thunderstorm at the start and the darn chiggers, this was a great outing.  Back home we will have to check over the motorhome to be sure everything is still ship-shape and clean things up and then write and post this blog.

Thanks for coming along on the journey.  What’s next?  We have our trip to the Southwest planned and booked, ready to head out in mid-September.  That one should be wild, as we explore Utah, northern New Mexico and the Gunnison River Valley with our jeep in tow!

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Finding the Forgotten Coast

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?

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Tennessee Weekend Getaway

 

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.

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Florida ‘Destin’-ation

 

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!

  • Beautiful sunsets

  

 

 

  • 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.

 

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Florida Replay

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.

 

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Florida Foul Play

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.

 

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Florida Triple Play

Well, here it is September and the end of the traditional summer, but what about this year has been traditional? Our last big outing to Florida was in March and we pretty much left as the doors were closing, literally. The pandemic had just become bad enough that bars, breweries, restaurants and even campgrounds were declared closed and we left on the last day that Grayton Beach was open to camping. It was our last planned day anyway, but it did feel weird at the time.

Now we are two seasons later and bars and breweries in Florida are still closed, but the campgrounds are now open. We were lucky enough to get reservations at some of our favorite spots in Florida: St. Andrews SP in Panama City Beach and Anastasia SP in St. Augustine. In-between we are trying out Henderson Beach SP in Destin. The panhandle area on the Gulf is a wonderful spot and we are hoping to enjoy the sun, sand and water for a true vacation. The motorhome is packed up, bikes, paddleboards and snorkel gear all ready to use once we hit the campground. We will probably also rent a golf cart at St. Andrews to shuttle us around and up to the beach.

Since it has been the start of one bizarre school year, we are frankly thankful that we retired from teaching not so long ago and I have to hand it to all of our colleagues who are still teaching, trying to be creative and effective with online, hybrid and in-person classes. Best of luck, stay safe and healthy. Our t-shirts declare “Retired Teacher – every child left behind” along with worries and concerns.

So, on to our latest Florida adventure. What new things will we discover, what new experiences will we have, what awaits us? How can I find some unique photos to add to the blog? Well, one topic will be the condition of St. Andrews following the damage from Category 5 Hurricane Michael just two years ago. The park and campground got hit pretty hard and we wonder how things have changed.

Once we arrived and set camp we headed to the beach. A lot less sand was there and a lot more of the rock jet exposed. But the water was still as clear as before and the sand just as white. An evening storm was moving along inland, but so far looking good at the beach.

More to come.

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Sweet Spot Alabama

Georgia has lifted many of the stay-at-home restrictions caused by the corona-virus, but we remain housebound most of the time, researching future adventures. Our deck and backyard serve as our outdoor escape, and what with all the critters, we could almost believe we are at the edge of some wildlife refuge.  (Is sleeping in the middle of the glass totems really the best spot?)

If you haven’t seen the videos of our backyard at night or the newborn fawn posing in front of the trail camera, you should take a moment to have a look now. 

Fawn’s First Days
What Happens at Night?
More of What Happens at Night



We were supposed to be on a big ship headed to Alaska this week, but as you know, all cruises out of Seattle, Canada and Alaska are cancelled. So we lamented our lost adventure to see Orca, humpback whales, eagles and more, but had our own sail-away party from the upper deck anyway. Gosh, you should grab a drink and join us for the celebration!

Alaska Sail Away

And since the motorhome sitting in the driveway was a strong reminder that we ought to be out camping somewhere, Jackie and her sister Judy got on the computer and searched out a spot that would be halfway between us (she is in Nashville) and a fun spot to meet up for a few days. The result was Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama, just 4 hours away and northwest of Birmingham. It is actually the Clear Creek Recreation Area in the William Bankhead National Forest. They reserved adjoining sites and we headed out for a mid-week get-together.

      

   

       

It was a great choice and the midweek arrival meant we had our half of the campground practically to ourselves. The weather was sunny and cool, the campsites wooded and nicely separated and the water in the clear lake was a perfect temperature. The only downside was that only one restroom/shower building was open and it was not in our loop. We were actually fine, but it did make it inconvenient for anyone who didn’t have onboard facilities.

     


We played it pretty low-key. We paddled around the lake with our kayak and paddleboards, bobbed in the water of the swimming area and rode bikes along a really nice bike path that followed the lake edge. If you want to get a sense of the lake and the bike path, watch this brief video, but be advised, the biking is a bit disorienting. 

Smith Lake Bike and Paddle video

   

Craig and I were delighted to learn that the nearest town of Jasper, maybe 20 miles off, had not one, but TWO breweries that were open. So of course we all had to trek into town and see what was on tap. Hands down the friendliest brewery was Twisted Barley, with most of the owner’s family helping out. We had flights of some really tasty beers – from IPAs to sours to pilsner and barrel-aged. Nice selection. We also ordered up some pizza and “pig wings” – little riblets that had a bit of a kick to them. Definitely worth a stop if you are in Jasper.

 

 

Maybe a block further down the street was the other brewery, Tallulah Brewing, with a really nice outdoor patio. We only stayed for a single beer, but it was a beautiful night out and the town was really quite cute, if a bit deserted.

 

As the weekend approached, more campers arrived and the boat traffic picked up, but we still had some nice paddles around in the lake. Soon it was time to pack up and head home, having spent a really nice couple of days in the woods.

  

It wasn’t without a few glitches, however, and this seems pretty typical when you are driving around in an older motorhome.

For some reason the electrical problem with the refrigerator (that I fixed back in the driveway) was back again. It meant that the fridge ran off of propane instead of electric, even when plugged in to shore power. The fix is to replace a 5 amp fuse on the control panel, which is difficult only because you can’t easily reach the screws that secure the cover on the back of the fridge. I replaced the fuse and all is well, so far, but I also replaced some screws with Velcro for easier removal of the panel cover the next time this happens (my knuckles thanked me).