Posts Tagged With: RV camping

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).

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.