Posts Tagged With: RV travel

Goin’ Local and Gettin’ Ready

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

A new 4-wheeling adventure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NC Mountain Getaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finding the Forgotten Coast

Life itself sure is an adventure, as I learned from this trip.  Jackie and I booked this Florida vacation to St. George Island on the Big Bend of the Florida Gulf coast about a year ago when we had little on the calendar.  Now it comes wedged in between two family weddings, a wonderful college graduation event and a celebration of life.  

The days before our departure were the usual frenzy to get everything ready.  We took the motorhome to have the cabin AC repaired, scrubbed the roof to a nice clean white finish, waited for the new steel bumper and tow bar to be installed on the Jeep (our new tow vehicle) and I was getting ready to bake two loaves of buttermilk sourdough for the trip.  I was also finally feeling better after a bout of stomach virus.  We got the Jeep back, practiced connecting and disconnecting and considered ourselves ready.  Beach stuff packed, an assortment of warm and cool clothes stuffed into the closets and drawers, liquor, food and ice stocked into the fridge… we were ready.

Then I got the call from Dad’s nursing home and we learned that he died that afternoon.  Wow.  Shock to the system, now what do we do?  Stay?  Go?  Delay?  Of course we spent time late into the night on the phone and computer, talking, crying, writing, thinking, remembering … not really sleeping much.  But we decided that Dad wouldn’t want us to change plans so in the morning we gathered ourselves and got set to leave town. I did post a tribute to dad before we left – if you haven’t already read “The Visit” you should.

The Jeep was an easy hook-up compared to the tow dolly and Rav-4.  We carefully went through our checklist and were confident we had it in “N” in the transfer case and “Park” in the auto transmission.  It was freewheeling.  

This is a new experience for us and I should fill you in just a bit.  On our last camping trip we chatted up a couple who had a Jeep Wrangler that they towed 4-down (rather than like we do with a tow dolly, where the front wheels are up on a tow platform).  They said it worked really well for them and were ready to sell that unit and buy a new Jeep pickup, but we didn’t come to a deal on the price.  It did get us thinking seriously about how much easier it would be to tow that way, especially if we were going to be going cross-country again in the fall.  So in short order we found ourselves the owners of a low mileage 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, complete with the learning curve that goes with it.  A new spot around the corner from us, Jeep Wave, was a great source of help.  We ordered a steel bumper, tow bar, wires and cables and … well, let’s just say we put the COVID stimulus money to good, local use.

So as we were double-checking the brake lights and turn signals Jackie noticed that the motorhome signaled left and the Jeep signaled right.  Oops.  Better stop at Jeep Wave and ask JD to have another look.  Yeah, let’s have a look at that wiring.  Ok, only 2 hours later and we were actually on the road.  Good thing we didn’t plan to drive all the way to the Florida Panhandle on one day, because it was 4:00pm before we pulled into our campsite in south Georgia in the Kolomoki Mounds State Park.

Actually, the trip was smooth and easy, with a little anxiety once we passed Columbus and we couldn’t find a gas station until the last minute (quarter tank is last minute to me).  You might chuckle if you have ever driven south of Columbus, Georgia and done this:  as you approach Fort Benning there is this very impressive overpass with tall statues and eagles and all sorts of stars … and a very quick exit to continue on past the base.  Except if you are entranced with the Brandenburg Gate look of everything and suddenly find yourself at the military checkpoint.  Oh well, they saw us coming, waved us around and just somehow knew that this Winnebago was not really heading onto the base.  Made our U-turn and got the heck outta there, sheepishly. 

Oh, and about the final approach to Kolomoki Mounds.  We were doing great on a nice 2-lane farm road in pretty countryside, with orange-red dirt, when the final turn had barricades and a sign that the road was out in 2 miles.  Hmm.  GPS says the entrance is 2.1 miles ahead.  We called the office this morning and they didn’t say anything about the road being out … think we should try?  Creeping along we finally saw the final barricades ahead and, yes, it was closed.  Before the entrance.  Sandy shoulders, no big parking lot in sight, umm, now what?  Well the owner of the wide, sandy, kind-of-a-turnaround front yard just happened to drive out and told us we were fine to turn around there, her husband parked his semi there at night.  Ok then.  Tight as heck U-Turn and we were on our way around to the OTHER entrance to the park.  Crazy, right?

The site at Kolomoki was a pull-through, since we were only there one night.  We needed to get a wifi connection to complete some online paperwork related to Dad and the only wifi was nearly a mile away at the visitor’s station, so we stopped there on the way out in the morning, getting another late start. 

The park was quite nice, campground along a small lake, but it was very muddy from recent rains and we really didn’t get out and around the mounds from a village that dated back almost 3,000 years.

The rest of the trip to Eastpoint, Florida along the Apalachicola Bay was smooth and soon we were driving behind the dunes on St. George Island State Park.  A beautiful island with a very small town (one t-shirt shop, two small grocery stores) and a fair amount of vacation homes up on pilings.  Much of the area was hit hard by recent hurricanes.  The campground was an easy setup, only 60 sites with water and electric, and soon we had the Jeep disconnected and the motorhome set and level.

So how did we spend our week?  Well we spent time at the beach of course, with some really nice days of warm water and bright sun. 

We rode bikes a bit, walked around with Kodi to chat with other campers and sat out when the mosquitos weren’t too bad.  Even around our propane firepit they were pretty fierce. But the nighthawks zipped around above us to gobble up a few and we listened to frogs and chuck will’s widows.

I just had to find a beachside bar and have a beer and raw oysters.  The Blue Parrot is the perfect spot on the sand, actually the ONLY beach bar, and the plate of ice-cold, sweet oysters tasted too perfect with a pint of Oyster City beer.  Cheers to you, Dad!  I know he would have joined me if he could.  Jackie had a basket of fried Grouper fingers that were tender and sweet.  My, my, it is so rough to be retired!

One of the days was supposed to be overcast, so we drove to Apalachiacola that day to play tourists and also get another plate of oysters.  The town was cute, but certainly adjusting to the loss of oystering on the bay.  It is officially closed for 5 years to allow the oyster beds to recover, so all the oysters you get in town are from elsewhere.  We did find Oyster City Brewery in town and stopped in for a sampling.  Also ate dockside at The Half Shell and had oysters and grouper.

Speaking of breweries, there is another one in Eastpoint just at the base of the bridge to the Island called Eastpoint Brewing.  Really good fruit and sour beers that were very mellow and frankly some of the best I have had.  Nice spot on the bay and some of the friendliest owners!

We made sure to take the windows off the Jeep and pull the top down for some fun driving along the beach road.  Sure was fun. 

 

Last night in camp we had a big thunderstorm (while we were eating more fish tacos at Paddy’s) and it was still raining when we hooked up the Jeep.  But the sun came out soon enough and our drive up along the bay to Tallahassee and on to Thomaston and Moultrie in south Georgia was really easy. 

Our destination for one night (to break up the drive back to Atlanta) was Reed Bingham State Park.  Very nice spot under a live oak with full hookups – really an easy stop. 

Kodi, Jackie and I walked a short trail called the “Gopher Tortoise Loop” before dinner, which was a nice sandy trail and darned if we didn’t spot several of their burrows, one with the tortoise in the doorway. It wasn’t our first time seeing them, but kinda cool anyway. Jackie was disappointed not to see any indigo snakes.

We noticed a lot of big Class A motorhomes in camp and lots of dogs.  Not little Yorkies and poodles, but dobermans and border collies.  Turns out they are setting up for an agility meet tomorrow — too bad, Kodi would fit right in (except we really never trained him for agility).

We are back home now, the motorhome is mostly unpacked and we are already plotting the next adventure.  This was a really nice Florida vacation and a good chance to reflect, remember and celebrate the life of my father, someone who was so big in recreation and who set our family off on many, many camping adventures.  

Thank you to everyone who has shared memories and sent their thoughts and prayers our way.  It has meant a lot … a lot.

Thanks for coming along on the journey.  What’s next?  Maybe another trip to the North Carolina mountains to finish up John’s cabin and camp for a few days with family … a big fall swing through the Southwest?  Who knows?

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Off to Florida’s East Coast

The last part of our Florida journey begins as we head east out of Destin and Henderson Beach State Park to make a brief return to Falling Water State Park in Chipley.  We had planned this stopover as part of our initial itinerary so the trip to the Atlantic coast would be in two smaller runs.  Little did we know we would have been evacuated to the park as part of the Hurricane Sally “drive around.”  So although this was our second visit, at least it was dry and sunny.

 

     

     

Once making camp we hiked a rather long trail to the waterfall again, turns out that yes, there was still water there.  But it did look brighter in the sun and the rest of the 3 mile hike was filled with lots of wildflowers blooming.  Fall seems to be a lot of purple and yellow colors: asters, goldenrod, wild indigo, sunflowers and such.

The trip east to St. Augustine took 5 hours, surprisingly, but it was flat, straight roads with little traffic but rain for the last miles.  As we made our way around the historic district and across the Bridge of Lions we remembered the last time here when Jeff and Vic joined us for a few days and we met up with Phil and Jennifer, friends from home.  But it was in the 90’s then and right now it was 70’s and drizzly.

 

Not to worry, we got ourselves settled into the Anastasia State Park campsite with no problems, although all we put out was the awning for now.  Didn’t take long for the mosquitos to find us.  Funny, we have been watching DVD’s the past week or so, since over-the-air TV hasn’t been available, and one of our selections was the first three Jurassic Park movies.  This campsite could definitely make you think you were there on the island, with overhanging trees, palmetto leaves, Spanish moss and vines hanging from the branches.  Need to watch those puddles for vibrations …

   

It cleared off and we drove to the beach access.  As we did we got a nice teaser (also a reminder from last visit) as two spoonbills flew over the car.  Naturally I didn’t have the camera handy.  My previous visit here was an unsuccessful attempt to get a photo of the spoonbills.  Looks promising?  But the next day, as we were scanning the marsh from the beach boardwalk we only saw egrets and ibis.  Jackie asked an obvious birder (big camera, pair of binoculars) where we might see spoonbills and his reply was “well, they’re kind of all around.”  But he did add that peregrine falcons were migrating through and “there’s one now.”  Actually, we did see another falcon but no more spoonbills yet.

   

     

   

Since we had a cloudy day, chance of rain and the surf was pretty wild, we drove back to the St. Augustine historic district and walked around the oldest city in the US.  Very quaint and filled with history of the Spanish settlement – and plenty of shops for the tourists.  Lunch at the Prohibition Kitchen was a huge burger and beer cheese soup that hit the spot on a drizzly day.

So what else did we do?

One nice, breezy but sunny day at the beach with some wild surf

   

 

 

Another brewery discovery and two flights at Bog Brewing

 

Dinner on the rooftop of the Salt Life Food Shack (yes, THAT Salt Life) and lucked out with half-price sushi rolls and happy hour beer!

Dark night walks with Kodi around the camp, only to get bit by those darn skeeters

Add another brewery to the list: Old Coast Ales 

Beach time watching the shore birds.  This time we discovered that the ruddy turnstones (sandpipers, not a musical group) took quite an interest in us – standing around at our feet – looking for a handout?  Also marveled at how much the sand was covered in shells and bits.

Searched for the spoonbills every day, with no success

Did see gopher tortoises again

And then we packed up for the road and drove to Hilton Head Island.  This was an extra few days we added once we heard from Dad’s community that he needed a bit of help with some essentials.  It took us 5 hours, somehow a bit longer than expected, but where we were staying was a very nice private spot: Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort & Marina.  We’ve been here before and it really is nice – it’s the closest spot to park the motorhome and also see Dad.  So we have the weekend to take care of a few things, meet Dad under limited COVID conditions and visit with my brother Jeff , Vicki, nephew Adam and his fiancé Ashley.

We did manage to get all of our assistive items set for Dad, had lunch of fish, shrimp and calamari on the bay at Hudson’s (saw dolphin but had to run indoors from the patio mid-meal due to a downpour) and met up with Adam and Ashley to see their new home.  Oh, and Jeff got his hot tub powered up and bubbling, so we got some time to unwind.

We finally head out for home as this weekend wraps up.  Watching yet another hurricane (Delta) hit the Gulf coast we are thankful we aren’t still in the area.  This month in Florida has been a bit more rain, a bit more driving for Jackie than we had planned and a whole lot more of Florida than we expected but that’s why we call these things adventures.  Great fun in the sun, surfside eats and new breweries to explore – but it’s always nice to get back home, too.

Are we there yet?

Thanks for coming along on the journey.  What’s next?  Maybe a fall trip to the mountains, a “deep cleaning” of the car and motorhome for sure.  Who knows?

 

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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 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.