Posts Tagged With: RV camping

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).

The fridge fuse (on left) and control panel

And I have suspected a leak in the hydraulic system used to push the slides in and out and the leveling jacks down. I had to add a significant amount of fluid on our last trip and learned this trip that, yes indeed, we have a leak. While setting camp, we lowered the jacks to level up and began to move the slides out the sides until we lost pressure and things stopped. Since I was out of the transmission fluid used in the pump, a trip to town and the nearest NAPA dealer was in order. It was there that I also bought extra buss fuses to repair the fridge. Back in camp I added the extra fluid that allowed the slides to fully extend, but I was able to see the spot where we were leaking fluid while it was under pressure.

The area where the hydraulic fluid leaks

Of course I kept wondering if we would be able to fully retract the sides of the motorhome and get out of camp and back home. I discussed the problem with John, Craig and did some online research, but figured I had one shot at holding down the leak and getting back home to make repairs. And … that’s how it worked. I held pressure on the leak, Jackie flipped the switch to bring the slides in, fluid leaked but pressure on the spot kept it to a minimum and now I have to figure out how to make the repair. Not to worry, we won’t be headed out for at least 2 months.

 

So another adventure ends and a few more await us this fall.  Thanks for reading along and stay tuned to learn about our next trip to Florida (St. Andrews SP, Henderson Beach SP and Anastasia State Park) for nearly a month.

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Searching for Spring Sun

How about a little rain? How about a LOT? It has been quite a stretch of rainy, wet, cloudy weather so far this year in our part of Georgia and we need to find some warm sun! That means it is time to uncover the motorhome and make preparations to head south for a week or so.



Luckily, our winter months have had their share of fun adventures – we even had a day of snow. A new adventure in the kitchen, thanks to Alex, was to learn breadmaking in the Ken Forkish “Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast” method of artisan baking. So many delicious loaves of bread have now been baked and shared – plus homemade pizza dough. And that called for a gathering of the BrewCrew to celebrate a leap-year birthday and make personal pizzas. Such fun. And of course the brewery visits continue.

   

 

Once the cover was pulled off the motorhome this month, John helped me change the engine and generator oil and filters. The roof was cleaned and waxed with UV cleaner/protector, tires were inflated, rotated and brakes checked. Hydraulic fluid was added to the slide/jack system, the water tanks sanitized, rinsed and filled and minor repairs made. Bikes got the once-over (and one new seat), chairs and small tables wiped down and we started to fill the pantry and fridge and pack up clothes. Yep, it was going to be an early start to the camping season.

Roof cleaning 2020

All-important roof cleaning

This outing is to Grayton Beach State Park in Florida to camp with our family from Nashville. It is their spring break, so Craig, Judy, Rachel and Colin will be camping in the park with us – well, near us. Hopefully no “oops, left that beef stew in the microwave the last time out” mishaps will occur. You may recall reading the post about our trip to Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola last year.

We decided to break up the trip to Florida by staying one night outside Eufaula, Alabama at Lakepoint State Park.  Then, on our way back from the panhandle, Jackie and I are going to spend a few days in FDR State Park in south Georgia, a visit that should be both hiking and history-filled. 

As we prepare to head out, we are learning more about the spread of the coronavirus and the active measures our local and state governments are taking to limit transmission of the virus.  All schools in the area are closed, all major sports and public events are cancelled – all of this you know.  Although we are well and are taking recommended precautions, we do feel just a bit odd at the start of this adventure. But  life in the motorhome will be rather contained anyway, so we press on.  Might affect our brewery visits, though.

So off we go to escape the cycle of rain and overcast skies and find the warm Florida sun.  The trip through Atlanta and south towards Columbus was smooth until Kodi let us know that there was a brewery nearby in LaGrange … well, actually we saw a billboard for the exit. 

 

We were in no hurry and it was lunchtime, so the brewmobile pulled into a really nice spot at Wild Leap Brewing. We had a beer each and some delicious smoked brisket from a food truck.  Kodi had a wonderful time meeting the patrons, being fed dog biscuits and generally just enjoying not being in the motorhome.

Lakepoint State Park

Not too much further along we were in Eufaula and pulled into our site at Lakepoint State Park for the night.  What a great spot along the lake! We had a pull-through spot and didn’t have to disconnect the car, so we were all set to leave quite easily the next morning.  This might be a regular stop on our future trips to the Florida panhandle.

 

Grayton Beach State Park

After a nice morning drive through some small Alabama towns and the Florida panhandle we arrived at Grayton Beach State Park.  Recent improvements to the park mean that the sites are certainly ample and all have electric, water and sewer. Our spot was an easy back-in and we soon were joined across the way with Judy, Craig, Rachel and Colin.  We arrived on Sunday and did a little biking around the campground and up to the beach to see how nice it was.

Monday morning was a sunny start to the week.  We spent time at the beach, working on our early sunburn and testing the chilly water.  The weather is great so far.

  

  

 

  

  

 

 

  

We all decided to ride bikes around the corner for dinner at the Grayton Beer Brewpub and had a delicious dinner.  A flight of beer each was accompanied by grouper sandwiches and pork nachos and then a ride back to the campground.

  

 

    

 

It was almost sunset, so Judy and I grabbed cameras and hustled to the beach to catch the spectacle, which was naturally not as bright as the night before (when we didn’t have cameras).

  

 

   

Enter COVID-19

Tuesday morning (St. Patrick’s Day) was another nice sunny start to the day.  We learned, however, that the coronavirus was going to have an effect on our trip.  Now this is not news to you, but we haven’t had access to TV and news, with only spotty information on our phones.  We know from our teaching friends and family that schools are cancelled for weeks. Slowly the news of cancellations trickles our way and we learn that our campground will close on Friday.  That’s not too bad, since we were heading out on Friday, but it does seem weird — like a hurricane evacuation.

  

I drove to a favorite brewery in the area, Idyll Hounds Brewing, before dinner and learned it was their last night serving from the taps.  Starting tomorrow all bars have been ordered closed and restaurants to operate at half capacity. Now I understand the need for social isolation and preventive measures to keep this virus from spreading quickly through the population, but it hit me weird that our camping would be so affected.  But by the time you read this on my post, things will certainly have changed again and of course you are all too familiar with the run on groceries, toilet paper, bottled water and the like. Strange times indeed, and we certainly are not as affected as so many others.

  

 

  

    

  

But back to our otherwise wonderful time in Florida.  We rode bikes around Western Lake today and into Watercolor and Seaside resorts.  Wow, that was like major spring break time. Loads of people, but nearly all under 30.  None of the “elderly” in sight. We have now realized that we fall into both the Senior Citizen and Elderly categories .. not yet at the “infirm” and frail designation.  Anyway, word is that the beaches will “close” on Saturday. How do you close a beach anyway?  

  

 

 

 

 

 

We keep hearing of playgrounds, parks and campgrounds closing, but the weather and water are perfect here.  We did indeed find the Florida sun — it is out, warm, no rain in sight and we even braved the water, which seems to have warmed from the 65 degrees or so.  Such a contrast from what we left at home (and we are wearing shorts! Bathing suits! T-shirts and bare feet!) The rest of the week will probably be beach time, biking, photography, crochet (both Judy and Jackie) and reading.  No paddleboards this time, since we figured it would be too cold and windy — heck, what do we know? And I need to find a bar or something that will be open for me to upload pics and this blog story. May have to wait a few days.

  

    

One last dinner out was delicious.  We all enjoyed our meal at Hurricane Oyster Bar, but I especially enjoyed the oysters on the half-shell.  These were monsters, nice and sweet. Yes! I got my seafood fill, and Jackie had some delicious smoked, spicy tuna, declaring it a wonderful meal out.

So I will close this story for now, with an update to follow that will finish the trip back home.  This trip was a success in our search for the sun in Florida, but it was weird in so many other ways around us.  Hoping all our friends and family stay safe and healthy.

The Adventure continues …

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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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Moving along in Michigan

Fort Custer State Rec Area

With a nod to Jimmy Buffet, our changes in lattitude have changed our attitude for sure.  It dropped the temperature considerably – we left the low 90s and are now in the upper 60’s.  We will take that for sure.  We are about to head out, continuing our trip north to Michigan.

But I need to share another “oops” moment.  In Wapakoneta we actually did not have rain overnight, but Jackie woke me in the middle of the night saying she heard water running.  Under the kitchen sink water was spraying all over — I hopped out the door, squish, and ran around to shut off the the water supply.  Well it seems we must have had a pressure burst overnight, which dislodged the plug under the sink water filter, so water was streaming out of the bottom storage bin, which fortunately had only the outside chairs and tables.  But it was a pretty good puddle and some mopping up to do under the sink.  Never a dull moment.

On the road in the morning, again with drizzle and clouds, headed up and across Indiana, bypassing Fort Wayne and into Michigan.  We made it to Kalamazoo area rather early in the afternoon and set up at Fort Custer State Recreation Area. It was a really nice site in a pretty empty campground.  We had filled our water tank in Wapakoneta, since this was electric only. Since the weather cleared, we took Kodi for a walk around the trails and nearby lake. We were surprised to see trumpeter swans in the lake, feeding among the pond grasses.  Kinda cool. The fields were filled with purple asters and milkweed stems that were releasing their silky seeds. Not much fall color yet, but we are hopeful.

Of course the highlight of this stop was going to be a visit to Bell’s brewery – in this case their Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo.  But before we got as far as Bell’s we found Arcadia Ale Brewing and pulled in to see what they had on tap. What a great spot! The tap room opened up to a wide garden area with outdoor seating along the Kalamazoo River.  Although it was still cloudy and a bit drizzly, it was still a wonderful afternoon sampling a flight of their scotch ale, stouts and a very tasty Michigan raspberry and blueberry witt.

Just across the river was Bell’s – not much from the outside but a very cool tap room inside.  We ordered a flight each and a food order. Jackie had mostly stouts, I had some of their tap-room-only brews and liked a saison they featured from a local homebrewer.  The Imperial Octoberfest was great with the meal, but Jackie loved their Brown Ale. Doug paired his beer with a grilled Michigan trout sandwich, Jackie had a burger with cherry jam and bacon.  Good stuff all around.

Next day was another travel day further up the “mitten.”  Another overcast start to the day as we headed up toward Grand Rapids.  Unfortunately it was too early to stop at Founder’s Brewery – we just had to watch as we drove by.  But as we rolled over the hills and farmland, we spotted a harvested cornfield that naturally had plenty of Canada geese.  But in the midst of them was a pair of Sandhill cranes . Rrrrrrppp. Stop the van. Get the shot. Get back in and keep going.  

We were taking a 2-lane road through the country that had some really nice farms along the way. One was a field of gourds and pumpkins being harvested, others had self-serve farmstands at the end of the driveway.  Nice. We also realized we would have time to stop in Frankfort just before checking in at our campground. Frankfort is a lovely town on Lake Michigan that looks like it would be very busy in the summer. The wide main street had plenty of room for the motorhome to park, so it was quite easy to stop and check out yet another brewery for a flight.  Stormcloud Brewing had a nice patio and we had some nice beer. Oddly, our favorite was their Georgia brew with peaches and pecans. Actually better than similar ones we have had back home.

We pulled in to the Platte River Campground in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and set up.  Plenty of time to head up to see the dunes and shoreline of Lake Michigan.  But more on that in the next post.

Platte River Campground

Thanks for keeping up with us as we head to New England and the coast of Maine in search of fall colors.  Stay tuned for more.

Doug

 

 

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Kentucky headed to Michigan

Off to a good start here – once we made it through Knoxville on a football Saturday with half of Tennessee headed for the game.  Our first night was a nicely wooded KOA in Corbin, Kentucky.  Got all hooked up just in time for the rain to start.  It continued well into the next day as we made our way to Cincinnati, Ohio.  Showers stopped just in time for us to get caught in a construction delay and we kinda got turned around in search of a distillery on the Kentucky side of the river from Cincinnati, but once we found New Riff Distilling we knew the brew tour had begun.

We had a nice sampling of their newly released bourbon and an amazing Wild Gin, which was locally sourced and bourbon barrel aged.  Truly an amazing flavor, unfortunately we are on liquor purchase restrictions.  You see, we will be crossing into Canada by the end of the week and you can only bring one bottle per person of alcohol across.  Kinda crimps our style, since we packed for a month’s trip and gosh, here we were in Kentucky Bourbon territory!

However, this was a special afternoon after all, with a huge liquor store in the same parking lot that had a brewery attached: Braxton Labs.  We had a small flight with a cream ale, tropical stout, New England raspberry milkshake IPA and blueberry strudel.  What a wild assortment.

Before we left, Jackie noticed the growler fill station and got herself a 32 oz. of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, one of her personal favorites.  Lunch in the motorhome with some iced tea, then back on the road.  Rest assured, we don’t drive impaired.  Most of these flights are about 16 – 20 ounces total, and we split them.  So don’t worry.

 

 

 

We arrived at Wapakoneta KOA just off 1-75 and celebrated the cool temperatures (low 70’s) with the crowler of beer Jackie bought.  A good day was capped off by a gorgeous sunset.  Off to Michigan tomorrow.

Thanks for following along – hope to have more posted soon.

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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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