Posts Tagged With: RV camping

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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Bighorn Boondocking

Heading out of Custer State Park our next destination was Bighorn National Forest just outside Buffalo, Wyoming.  One stop along the way was Devil’s Tower Monument, you know, the one made famous in “Close Encounters?”  Since we had been busy watching bison in camp for a few days, we needed another stop at Rapid City’s Wal-Mart for basic supplies, then off we went to Devil’s Tower.

Devil’s Tower and Smoke Ring sculpture

As close as we could get.

The only glitch we discovered was there was very limited parking for motorhomes and trailers, in fact it was at the base of the tower and not yet up to the Visitor’s Center.  Even though we could have disconnected the car to drive closer, we hopped out, took the shots and kept moving.

Devil’s Tower Monument

As we got closer to our destination, I kept scanning the low hills for anything that looked like mountains.  Our campsite was in the Middle Fork Campground and it was hard to see anything that fit the description of mountains, but then it was very, very hazy on the drive.  I couldn’t figure why so much haze and ground level ozone in such a wide open area, but then we learned we were in the path of smoke blowing down from wildfires in Canada and Montana.  As we got closer to Buffalo we finally spotted the mountains looming in the haze… looks like a proper location after all.

Umm, I guess we should shift to a lower gear…

Well, yeah… it was several miles of 7 and 8% grade up, relentlessly. Up, up we went, while the engine temp did the same.  But the outside temperature did the opposite, going from upper 80’s to low 70’s.  Wow, we had a bit of a pause to go downhill a bit, then Jackie shouted, “there, the turn is there –  slow down.”  We exited the highway, across a narrow cattle grate and the road seemed way smaller, in fact it turned into dirt and gravel.  Hmmm, okaaaay…  are you sure this is it?  Oh yeah, the next turn was even tighter, across more cattle grate and less gravel.

Are you sure this is the right way? Can we fit in there?

But the sign announced the campground.  We took a deep breath, drove very slow and across a one-lane bridge, found our gorgeous campsite and decided to disconnect the car and tow dolly and hope there was a turnaround ahead for the motorhome.  There was, and we eased into the site, one that was the BEST ever.  A clear mountain stream rushed along the site and we were in the midst of beautiful spruce and ponderosa pines in a narrow gorge that was now in the mid 60’s.

Great campsite in the spruce and fir forest.

Middle Fork of the Bighorn River, alongside our campsite.

We knew the spot was without electric or water hookups, but there was a handy water pump across from the site, just in case.  Took Kodi off for a walkabout, chatted with the camp host, grilled a great meal, played a game of cards and went to bed with the sound of the stream.  Next morning it was 42 degrees and we were dead on power. The house batteries had drained to nothing and we couldn’t even crank the generator to recharge them.  Ugh.  What went wrong?  I think we forgot to switch the fridge from automatic to LP gas.  It drained the batteries overnight.  So I cranked up the engine (hooray, that worked) and tried to get some charge to the house batteries, but it was never enough to spark the generator or start the fridge, even on LP gas.  So we were without electricity and although we had plenty of water, we couldn’t operate the pump to get it out of the tank.  So the hand pump across from us came in handy for cold, fresh mountain water.

Our campsite was in the wooded gulch in the foreground.

Since we got up way early, thanks to Kodi’s alarm, we took a break to hike out of camp a bit and discovered the beautiful vista we missed the day before: Cloud Peak Wilderness area in the Bighorn National Forest.  It was clear early morning, but within an hour the smoke moved in and you couldn’t see them at all.  Other than that, we totally loved the spot.  We did a late afternoon hike into the wilderness for less than a mile before the elevation got to us (trail was 8,000, camp was 7,400 feet).  We did make a run into Buffalo with the car (down then up the 7% grade) to get a couple bags of ice to put in the fridge.  Total boondocking camping without showers, running water, electricity, heat … oh my, could we survive?

A tribute to the Native Americans who died at Little Big Horn.

The view from Last Stand hill.

We were only in camp two nights and took off early in the morning to see if we could get to our next stop: Billings, Montana and a KOA.  Short detour to see the Little Big Horn Battlefield (Custer’s last stand against the Indians) and on to civilization and an electric outlet!

a Billings KOA (2)

The KOA was actually the FIRST KOA in the world. Very nice facility.

a Billings KOA (8)

The camp sat along the Yellowstone River… how cool.

We made it, hooked up and got everything running again.  Nothing in the fridge or freezer spoiled, in fact the ice cubes were still good.  Lesson learned for the next stop off the grid (which will be Glacier for a week) – we need to check the fridge and be sure to run the generator before turning in at night to be sure everything is charged up.

Lots of hay was being harvested in this region of Montana.

Eclipse Day!  We were off to Great Falls, Montana and figured to be about halfway there by 11:30’s solar eclipse moment.  The route we took was a wonderful 2-lane road that went over the hills of Montana and through the Musselshell River valley, quite scenic.  We still saw plenty of wildfire smoke in the distance, but it was easy to see the many hay fields and sheep grazing around us.  Magpies flew up from the road shoulders as we passed a lot of worn and weathered small towns along the way.

The town of Moccasin, Montana

We stopped in Judith Gap to watch the eclipse, which was around 90% and we had glasses in hand ready to view.  As you can see, everyone in the area pulled off the road to watch the event.

Judith Gap, Montana — where we stopped to watch the eclipse.

The crowd of eclipse watchers left the road and the traffic came to a standstill.

We noticed it was a bit dim outside, but we still saw our shadows just fine.  Ah, well.

Ready with our eclipse glasses … where is the camera?

We made it to Great Falls in time to disconnect the car and check out the three breweries in town, celebrating the “non’clipse” we witnessed.  Mighty Mo, Black Eagle and The Front Brewing were a lot of fun with very friendly people.

Black Eagle Brewing

Mighty Mo Brewing

The Front Brewing

Our campsite was the KOA in town, conveniently located just behind a huge Wal-Mart.  So we are well stocked and ready for our journey into Glacier.

You will notice how convenient the Wal-Mart is to the campsite.

Actually, the view from the other side of camp is quite “Big Sky.”

Yes, more adventures for two former teachers who should know to read and follow all directions.  Blame it on the altitude, we were woozy headed.  Stick with us, as we are headed to Glacier National Park.

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Of Mighty Rivers and Wildflowers

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

a Roadside Iowa (6)

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

Weldon Springs CG

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

Young buck in Illinois

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

 

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

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

More to come, as the adventure continues . . .

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Wheels Up at 0600 . . .

The big loop

I always wanted to use that phrase, even though we are not flying anywhere, but it kind of seemed to fit the moment as we embark on our next big Western adventure. And as with all good stories, there is a little background information needed to bring you up to speed.

Valve stem extension

Tires and wheels are an important part of motorhome travel, as we all learned two years ago when we popped a flat tire. I have been just a bit concerned with one of our rear tires not holding full pressure between trips, so I took the motorhome to a great local spot for tire work, Contractors Tire. They figured the problem was a leaky stem hose, so we went ahead and replaced it. You see, to reach the stem of the inner rear tire there is an extension on the valve that brings it out where you can check pressure or add air. Happy that that is now fixed.

Worn tire on tow dolly

While checking the tow dolly tire pressure, one tire was definitely worn and had a pretty good chunk missing from the tread. Looks like it might have lost air pressure on the trip home. I ordered a replacement, actually a pair, online and have them now installed. I would have used the spare, but the valve stem on it bleeds air when the cap is removed, so it is pretty much impossible to get it to 80 lbs pressure. I also took that one to Contractors Tire where they quickly replaced the valve stem. So now we have three good tires for the tow dolly and all are at proper pressure. Yes, motorhome owners are pretty much consumed with tires (and toilets – the two big topics online).

Our new rug says it all.

Now about that trip – where exactly will it be taking us? It is a journey that follows much of one that my family took in the summer of ’69 (see prior blog about Plotting the 2017 Adventures). We have 5 days to head north and west to South Dakota and the Badlands and Custer State Park, where the adventure will really get started. From there we head to Bighorn National Forest, Devil’s Tower and on up to Glacier National Park, with a brief glimpse of the solar eclipse. Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park will come next, with a whitewater rafting trip down the Snake River. Leaving the wild west, we head southeast to meet up with friends Dan and Terri at Santa Rosa/Grayton Beach on the Florida panhandle before the final drive home.

We have a new spotting scope that we hope will help us see wolves, bears, moose, bison, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn and whatever else happens to be around. I definitely hope to be posting some good photos, but I will need time to crop, upload and post them.

We also hope to continue our search for the best craft beers around. Looks like there are plenty of breweries along the way, so we will do our best to sample and report our findings. It’s tough, but somebody’s gotta do it.

To get ready for the trip, we read up on all the parks and “must see” attractions and watched “North by Northwest,” since it features scenes at Mt. Rushmore. But the movie that really set the mood before heading out is the classic “How the West was Won.” Do you remember the bison stampede?  It was filmed in Custer State Park, South Dakota, one of our first big stops.

Just a little inspiration.

Hope to post more from the road very soon. Follow along as we embark on our latest adventure. Take notes – there might be a test at the end.

First stop outside Paducah, KY.

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Kodi’s First Camp

Jackie and I were just itching to get out on our first adventure of 2017, so we finished up the de-winterization of the motorhome and packed for a trip to the Georgia Blue Ridge mountains before Spring Break hit the area schools. Plus, we wanted to introduce Kodi to our camping adventures and be sure we had the camper truly ready for the season.

Getting the van all set for camping meant adding water and bleach to the main water tank, running it through the lines and letting it sit overnight, then flushing and filling again for a final rinse. Our leveling jack is repaired and a double-check of everything showed we were ready to roll. What we love is how easy it is to pack the fridge, stock the pantry, load the bedroom closets and drawers with clothes and fill the bathroom with essentials and BAM! we are set to go.

Since we were headed for Helen, Georgia, specifically Unicoi State Park, we opted not to hitch the car but have Jackie drive it with Kodi as passenger. Not his first trip in the car, but first time with a seat harness. He has a nervous stomach, so he and Merlin had to go without breakfast (oh… the pain and agony of the starving cat!), but the little puppy still was drooling for much of the trip. We are taking to calling this his “flip and spit’ behavior – and if you were in the car with him you would understand. Poor guy, but we all arrived safely at camp ready for adventure.

Unicoi campsite

We chose a full-hookup site that was an easy back-in and connection to electric, water and sewer. Our initial frustration was the lack of any information on the Unicoi State Park website about the available campsites, options, fees or even the choice of registering online. A couple of unanswered phone calls later and I finally reached someone to book a site, but it was first-pick of what was available once you got to the campground. That’s not too unusual for some state parks and Corps of Engineers campgrounds, but the lack of information online was disappointing.

Hmm, think we like camping?

Always at home …

Set camp and walked Kodi around to get his bearings, check out the lake, camp store and some of the trails. A dinner of grilled salmon was a nice finish to the day. Boom! Crack! and we had a good ol’ thunderstorm on our hands overnight. We were plenty high and dry and everything was out of harm’s way, but if you have camped in the rain, you know how noisy the raindrops can be – like lots of snare drums tapping. Not a peep out of Kodi, however. Oh, except a waaaaay early morning call of nature, once the storm had passed.

I hate plumbing . . .

Did I tell you how much I hate plumbing… toilets… water lines… all that? Oh, I manage to handle it just fine eventually, but water is such a pain when things go wrong. I mention this now because as I am having my coffee in the camper I hear Jackie remark that there is water on the bathroom floor. Not good. Something in the supply line for the toilet is dripping and of course the only option is to shut off the water. Hmm, maybe if I tighten the cap underneath? Nope, made it worse.  Well, shut off the water and tackle it later, maybe.  “Let’s go wander around Helen,” Jackie suggested, so I was all in.

It was a short drive into ‘Alpine Helen’ as it bills itself. and we went to take in the atmosphere of a German alpine community. Eh, maybe not so much, but it was kind of pre-season, so that may be why about half the shops and restaurants were closed. If you have been to Gatlinburg, TN, you just have to scale it back a little, add some German names and gingerbread to the buildings instead of logs and cabins and … well, you get the idea. But we had some bratwurst, kraut, corned beef and craft beer along the Chattahoochee River on a nice sunny day, so it all worked out just fine. Picked up some hearty bread and Danish at a local bakery and we headed back to camp.

The afternoon hike around Unicoi Lake was an easy trek for Kodi, but Doug didn’t find many blooming flowers or local wildlife to capture with camera, to his disappointment, but we did see the newest section of zip lines that were almost ready to use. Some pretty long runs across the lake. The course that was already in use looked challenging enough, so we decided we would try it tomorrow. Oh, and all that hiking let Kodi sleep through until 8:30!  Yay, that’s a lot better than his usual 6:15 am.

Hmm… water problem was still not fixed.  I turned off water, took the cap off, decided it must be a worn “O” ring and off I went in search of the nearest Wal-Mart (Cleveland, not too far really). No “O” rings, but Teflon thread tape and special rubber leak-stop tape might work. Nope, in fact even more dripping. So the solution was to put a pan under the leak and only pressurize with the water pump as we needed water, then letting off the pressure. Staying hooked up to the city water was just too much pressure (oh, yeah, wasn’t that the whole idea of full hookups though?). This fix will have to wait until we are back home.

Hiking to Anna Ruby Falls.

Our last full day was a beautiful, sunny and warm day, perfect for a hike up to Anna Ruby Falls. The senior pass came in handy once again, as we didn’t have to pay parking/admission. What a great easy hike up along the creek to the double falls. Wildflowers were blooming and kept Doug busy snapping pictures, while Kodi met lots of kids along the trail with no fear.

We grabbed a quick lunch back at camp, then signed up for our zip line adventure. The course was 11 zips and 7 cable bridges and as we suited up in our harnesses, we were reminded of our favorite TV show “The Amazing Race.” With Jackie in the lead, off we went with our two guides. Just the four of us, so it was a very personalized tour. What fun!   Here is a short video of Jackie on the zip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OR5Eobzro-s&feature=youtu.be

Navigating one of the 3-cable bridges.

 

Hanging on at one of the zip line high posts.

 

Stepping across one of the cable bridges.

Climbing up and across and zipping along the cables at treetop level was very cool. Our only other zip line experience was through a jungle in Guatemala, but that involved a lot more hiking up the mountain. Ahhh, back to camp for an adult beverage and a couple of strip steaks on the grill. Gosh, camping is tough work.

Kodi made it through his first camping trip just fine, adapting to the motorhome, the camping routine, up and down the steps and leash-walking around camp to meet kids and other dogs. He’s going to be a great adventure companion (we really think Benji is giving him some advice).

Back home I tackled the toilet water supply problem. Took the supply diverter off the toilet, unhooked the hoses and will run to Camping World for a replacement. That should do it for now. (Did I tell you how much I hate plumbing?)

Hey, thanks for reading about our adventures. Be sure to “follow” us so you get updates as they happen.

Here are some quick stats on how our blog has been received:

We have readers in 7 countries!
2015 we had 6,220 views and 503 visitors
2016 we had 5,712 views and 584 visitors
And so far in 2017 we have 508 views and 141 visitors
The most popular pages are: Zion “Straight Up Land”, Hike Inn, Hard Knock Life, Caribbean Adventure and Memories of Benji.

How cool is that?

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Plotting the 2017 Adventures!

The rather mild Georgia winter is almost over as we make plans to de-winterize the motorhome and hit the road with some new adventures.  I figured it would be a good time to update everyone and share the excitement of a new season of outdoor fun.

The motorhome got a cover for the winter.

Repairs and Diagnostics (skip if you aren’t much into RV maintenance)

First task was to correct the problem of our motorhome’s gimpy back leg, so to speak.  The leveling jack for which I replaced the springs and foot would not extend and it was more than my feeble brain could figure out, so we uncovered the van, drove it to our local RV shop and within days they made the repair and had everything back to order.  It seems a solenoid needed replacement.  Yippee – back to “four on the floor” when needed.

The leveling jack that needed replacement springs and foot. The wood wedges were needed to expand the springs enough to install.

Back in the driveway I ran the generator a bit, connected the shore line for electricity to charge the house batteries and did a bumper-to-bumper diagnostic.  The dashboard 12v power outlet (formerly known as cigarette lighter) had not worked since I replaced the radio, so this was a needed repair.  Simple, right?  Not so fast, buddy.  The nice thing about the Winnebago dash is that it is hinged, so you can swing it up to have access to all the gauges and connections.  But you also have to have enough flexibility in your wired connections not to unplug things when you do that.  The short wire on the 12v socket needed to be a longer one, so I replaced a longer negative wire and connected to a grounding screw in the frame.

Power to the positive was harder, since I couldn’t find a handy splice or available connector in the wiring nearby. It must have been spliced into the old radio power supply.  The remedy for this was to run a new wire from the fuse box way over on the left side to the outlet way over on the right side.  Hmm… how to best do this?  Let me remind you that I taught 6 years of technology and engineering, one unit of which was electricity and electronics – but that really doesn’t mean I have all the right wires, connectors and electrical understanding to just bang this out without thinking.  A hammer, nails and lumber — that I can do. Automotive… not so much.

But after a few runs to several automotive supply stores I found a nifty add-a-fuse power splitter that let me connect to the radio’s slot on the fuse panel and we had success!  Radio works, power outlet works, and now we can conveniently charge the cell phones and such on the road.  Yes, we do have an inverter with AC outlet for just that sort of thing, but it is above the windshield and not within reach while driving.

Adventure Planning

So what’s next on our travel bucket list?  We want to do some more camping in the Georgia mountains and maybe nearby Alabama and Tennessee State Parks this spring.  We booked two weeks back at St. Andrews State Park, Florida in early summer, which is our time for snorkeling and paddleboarding.  But the big trip late summer and fall will be out West to visit Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks.

Just a wee bit ago (yes, that’s Doug) there was “The Great Camping Adventure of 1969.”

We researched and planned out the trip to do a southern route to Grand Teton NP, then Yellowstone NP and on up to Glacier NP before the snow arrived.  Booked the date in Yellowstone and were all set to book Glacier when … my, my, what do you know?  A little ‘ol 5 minute solar eclipse was scheduled to pass along the Tetons on the very day we wanted to stay there. Booked up full — the whole county. Nothing available until weeks later. We were told by park rangers that they had been getting calls about it 5 years ago! End of days? Nah, not for us, but it did require an entire re-working of the trip.

So I reversed our path to a northern route to Glacier NP first, then looping back down to Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP.  We made the changes in reservations and filled in the gaps. On the trip out, we will camp in South Dakota in the Badlands NP and Custer State Park, checking out Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial and the Black Hills.  From there we stay in Bighorn National Forest, check out Devil’s Tower National Monument and then to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  Lots of hiking planned and probably a rafting trip down the Snake River, too.  I bought a new lens for my camera to better capture the wildlife and scenery and we are looking into buying a spotting scope for more close-up wildlife sightings (wolves maybe??).

“The Great Camping Adventure of 1969,” probably in the Needles section of the Black Hills.

Some of this is revisiting places my family camped in when we pulled off “The Great Camping Adventure of 1969.”  Yes, during the most historic summer of the century, while hippies were hitch-hiking to Woodstock; Watts and Newark were burning from riots; Charles Manson and cult were murdering Sharon Tate and men were first landing on the moon, my family of six was packed into a Plymouth station wagon, pulling a Cox pop-up camper, speeding across the US on a 6-week grand adventure! No TV, no Internet, no cellphones or social media, just a poke-your-sister-in-the-backseat kind of entertainment.

In Yellowstone we listened by car radio one night as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon.  Yep.  Missed that one live on TV.

New Traveler

Every good Shetland Sheepdog knows how to keep a close eye on the flock.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know about Kodi from the postings that Merlin (our cat) has been making on his Mews page.  Kodi is a few months old now and is somewhere between a toddler and a teenager, dog-wise.  He loves going for walks on a leash, fetching a ball, rope knot or any of his toys, and is just learning some agility.  He has made some new dog friends and visited lots of folks already.  But the best part is that he will soon be joining us in the motorhome on our camping adventures.  He has checked it out and it seems to work for him – although we haven’t rattled down the road with him in it yet.  Benji will always be our special Adventure Dog and travels with us in spirit, now Kodi is set to learn what it is like and joins Merlin in the motorhome as we head out into the world together.

Kodi trying out the agility tunnel.

So while we await the arrival of nasty yellow pollen and plan the final de-winterizing of the motorhome, we do what everyone else at this time of year does: we plan for the upcoming season of warm weather, sunshine, warm water and wild adventures.

We will report back from time to time, so follow along with us!

PS. Merlin says you should keep up with his Mews page, too.

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Beach Tales 2

Jackie reading

Good beach read

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

Sandy feet to remember later

Sandy feet to remember later

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

Marine life warning

Marine life warning

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

Good day at the beach

Good day at the beach

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

World of Beer b

Nice lunch at World of Beer

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

World of Beer 2

World of Beer, Destin

Not All Who Wander Are Lost - our new mantra.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost – our new mantra.

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

Tram to the beach

Tram to the beach

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

The long walk across the dunes

The long walk across the dunes

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

Heading home at last!

Heading home at last!

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

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

 

 

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