Sunday, March 23, 2014

All good things must end

There was another day to the Rally but there was nothing more we wanted to see or do so we broke camp and headed for home on Thursday. We figured it would take two days to get back home; we planned to stay in a commercial campground Thursday night so that we could dump and arrive home with empty holding tanks.

After consulting the Triptik, Jean laid out a course more to her satisfaction and we headed out. First off, we topped our fuel tank, then got right on the interstate for a short run. We generally prefer secondary roads; they are more relaxed and you get a better sense of the country you are driving through.

At a Coke (and bathroom) stop in late afternoon, we brought up camping app on the smart phone. We picked a spot that looked interesting in Greenville, SC, and punched it into the GPS. When we got to Greenville it took us into the country and then announced that we had arrived. There was no campground in sight, no sign on the road, just a driveway leading to a house. So we drove in. The driveway led past the house and to a small campground behind the trees. There were a few trailers parked there and some empty spaces. There was no office and no one around to ask. It was like a deserted movie set.

So we looked  up another nearby campground and put it into the GPS. This led us to the other side of Greenville to the Springwood RV Park. At least this one looked more like what we expected, and it did have an office. The office was closed (by now it was about 6:00) but there was a phone number posted. We called the number and in a few minutes a man arrived on a golf cart. He was very friendly and opened the office and checked us in. He pointed us to a convenient full-service space and left again. We found a very level spot on the space and hooked up the electric. Taking a walk Gene found that the campground had no baths and showers and no trash bins. Is there something strange about Greenville campgrounds?

Next morning we dumped our tanks and hit the road for Virginia, buying breakfast on the road. The route took us within sight of the mountains for a while. It was pleasant but otherwise unremarkable. We made good time until we almost got home. Driving south of Lynchburg, we saw a big traffic jam on the other side of the road. There was a burned-out car towing a big trailer at the side of the road, along with fire engines and police.

Observing the slow-moving backup on the other side we said that we were glad not to be in that. No sooner had we said this than we ran into a backup of our own. This one was not moving, just sitting. Way up ahead we could see a big column of smoke. After a while, everyone had to pull onto the shoulders to let an ambulance and a fire truck creep up the road between us.

Eventually the line started moving a little. First a few cars in one lane, then a few cars in the other. We finally got to a point where we could see a long string of fire engines ahead. We never did see the burning (or burned) house (as we suppose), but we did have to go across a large-diameter fire hose laid across the road.

That little adventure cost us about an hour, but we still made it home before sunset. Happy to be home, but thinking about our next adventure.

The usual statistics: We were gone 20 days and covered 2,485 miles, including 11 days parked in one place. I'll figure out how much (gasp!) it cost later but that will be my secret.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Last day at the rally

You haven't heard from us because we have been busy. This rally is HUGE! There are about 2,500 motorhomes here and at least twice that many people. It is held at a large fairground and there are acres of parked motorhomes, most of them big Class As. We are in a group of Roadtrek brand, Class B motorhomes --- probably a dozen or more. The whole operation is big, so we did a lot of walking.

It is a very well-done fairground, and rally takes place when the many Bradford Pear trees are in full bloom. Sunnier and warmer it would be a pleasant place.

The main activities are attending seminars (there are about 125) on a wide range of subjects of interest to RV people; visiting the vendors (two buildings full), touring the new coaches being shown by builders and dealers, and just hanging out. There is also entertainment every night. We figured it would be big, but this is overwhelming. So what did we do?

We spent a lot of the time attending seminars. They included: Microwave/convection Cooking, RVing to Newfoundland, Battery Fundamentals, Safer, Simpler /RVing, Use This Not That, Solar Power 101, and on and on.

One night they had square and line dancing. It got started half an hour late because they hadn't set up the sound system. It was fun for a while, but dancing on concrete gets tiring.

It wasn't until late in the week that we had time to visit the vendor booths. However, we made up for lost time by spending like sailors (actually charging like sailors, when sailors ran out of money they had to quit). The rally itself was not all that expensive, but there are a lot of things here to spend your money on --- including vendor food when our small refrigerator began to look a little empty.

The only evening entertainment we attended was a show by Jeanne Robertson. A friend of ours in Williamsburg recommendeds her as a very funny woman. The recommendation was, if anything, understated. I haven't laughed so hard in years.

We arrived in the rain, and it was rainy and cold for 2 1/2 days. Finally yesterday afternoon it cleared up enough for me to set up the portable solar system that I had brought along for the purpose. Since we are dry camping (no power or water) it seemed like a good idea but it didn't get much use. Tonight we are running the generator.

So now we are better educated, have had lots of exercise walking, and spent more than would be prudent. I guess it is time to pack up our little gypsy caravan and head back to winter. (Jean is studying the maps as I write this.) Maybe we can drag some of this better weather with us.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Rainy Night in Georgia

Happy St. Patty's Day! It is certainly green and rainy here; is this what Ireland looks like? Several thousand motorhomes parked on the muddy grass, we are at a monster motorhome rally in Perry, GA. We are parked in a nest of other Roadtreks, but most of the people are in big Class As.

Roadtrek group. Ours is on the right.

There are a lot of interesting-sounding seminars, along with other activities. This is going to be a quick blog entry before I head out to the first one.

We got here yesterday morning, after dumping our holding tanks (we had already taken on a tank-full of water) and topping off the propane. Parking here is dry camping, which means completely self-supporting. Seems like an oxymoron considering all the rain.

The first thing we did was get the motorhome weighed ---- each wheel individually. This will help us get the rig balanced, and tell us how much tire pressure to carry. Wednesday I will be attending a seminar on that subject (as well as see the results of the weighing).

Today will be seminars on cooking with the microwave-convection oven and taking a trip to Newfoundland. Future seminars will cover both technical (mechanical) and lifestyle subjects. There are also new rigs on display and a ton of vendors trying to sell us stuff.

We expect to be here until Friday, then it's back to winter. I will try to keep you posted. But for now it's into the rain and off to Newfoundland.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Last day in Palm City

Photos by Anna

Friday, the last day. Jean and Anna did some shopping, then went to the beach to look for shells. Gene got some jobs done around the motorhome and continued to work on his hiking stick. He ran into a problem when he was almost finished, so that will take some considering (probably after he gets home).

When the ladies got to the beach the tide was high and it was windy, so any shells were in the wash. They visited a couple of other places, including an area called House of Refuge.

House of Refuge

The big event of the day was dinner and dancing. Dinner was a pot-luck at Sandy and Anna's church. This was followed by square dancing on the patio. We hadn't square danced in many years and Gene wasn't sure he could keep up. Not to worry. Most of the folks had never square danced and hadn't a clue. We were rock stars by comparison. The caller was very good, with a sense of humor, and got everybody moving to the music.

Everybody on the floor, that is. Most of the people sat and watched the shenanigans on the dance floor. There were still enough brave souls to make up three squares. There was also some line dancing; and two sets for the Virginia Reel, which baffled some of the dancers.

We left a little early since we had a long day tomorrow. It turns out we also had to pick up Hannah and her bicycle from downtown Stuart.

Our goal for Saturday was to drive about 400 miles to Georgia and check in at a campground (that I had gotten a reservation for). There we need to fill the fresh water tank, dump the holding tanks, and hopefully top off the propane before showing up in Perry in the morning to get the Roadtrek weighed and be parked for the humongous motorhome rally.

We are getting close enough to heading home to start worrying about the weather in Virginia.

PS We made it to the campground by daylight and filled the water tank. Things look good so far.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Relaxing in Palm City

Time for a little catch-up

Monday we went to the beach again. It was a pleasant day and we had a relaxing time. Anna and Jean were able to spot a spinner shark and some interesting birds, but Gene missed them all.

Tuesday we went for a sail aboard the scow-schooner Lily. Scow-schooners are a rare bird nowadays (Gene has only seen a total of three in his lifetime). This one was built in the '70s during the oil embargo with thoughts of moving freight under sail. But then fuel got (relatively) cheap again and she was put out to pasture. Now she works day charters out of Stuart.
Scow-schooner Lily
It was a perfect sailing day, sunny with about a 10-knot breeze. Neither of us had ever sailed on a scow before. It moved surprisingly well for what is in effect a barge. Being wide and shallow, it heeled very little --- about the same as a multihull would in the same conditions (though not as fast).

In keeping with Florida tradition, the horn for the boat was a conch shell --- quite effective.

Wednesday Jean's granddaughter, Hannah, sat for her cosmetology certification exam. She had taken it once before and missed a number of questions that had not, in fact, been covered in her classes. This time she studied extra hard. We dropped her off, with the idea that we would spend the time at a local wildlife preserve. But first we had some lunch. After lunch, while we were getting gas, the phone rang and Hannah said she was ready to be picked up. She had blasted through both parts of the test in less time than was allowed for just the first part. She had passed with flying colors, scoring very high on every section, including the one she had missed before. She was issued her certification on the spot.

On the way home we stopped at a farm that Sandy and family patronize for oranges. It is called the Pagoda, and the house and a shed follow that idea.

They also have a large swimming pool in the front yard. Nobody has swum in it for years and it is presently the hangout for a couple of alligators. Ah Florida!

To celebrate we all went out to a small, but very good, seafood restaurant for dinner. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

Over the last three days, Gene has had a running thing with the local Publix pharmacy.  He just needed to get a prescription refilled and wanted to pick up a tube of ammonium lactate cream. They didn't have the cream in stock, so they had to get it --- pick it up tomorrow. Then they got the wrong stuff and had to get in the right stuff --- pick it up tomorrow. Since the Publix is about a half a mile or so away, Gene got in three days of walking exercise. I guess that's one way to do it.

Today, Jean is out shopping with Anna and Hannah so Gene is dog-sitting YumYum. Maybe he will be able to work on a project putting a nice new grip on his hiking stick. If it gets done in time I will include a picture.

Ah, what other adventures await us?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sprint for the middle

The first part of the trip consisted of a fast tour down the west coast of Florida. For the next part we will be visiting Jean's son Sandy and his family in Palm City, on the east coast. But first we have to get there.

After a quiet night in the very crowded, but amazingly quiet, campground in Hollywood, the morning's work included filling the fresh water tank --- which ran out after breakfast --- and dumping the holding tanks. So hooking up the fresh water gear was the first task.  I had walked to the (closed) office and got some information about the site. In it I found out that there are two water taps, one with clean water and one with non-potable water. So I was able to hook up to the correct one and take on 30 gallons. I used the other water to flush the black-water tank when the time came and found it was a filthy, brown color. It was also the most obvious water tap, so had I not gotten the information, that's what would have gone into the tank!

We had to turn the rig around to dump the holding tanks, since the sewer pipe was on the wrong side of the site. That required a lot of backing and filling in the narrow space, but our neighbor helpfully moved his car which made it a little easier.

With all those (and other) tasks done, we headed out to find the Walmart we had been told about. It was a lot farther than we expected along a wide, crowded street. To look around this part of Florida, you wonder if there are any people left in the rest of the country --- or have they all moved here. We finally found it, but other than restrooms, it didn't have any of what we were looking for.

So time to launch ourselves back into the rushing river of steel and head for Palm City. Drivers here are crazy. We saw a woman driving a black pickup talking on the phone as she passed an ambulance with its red lights flashing. Traffic gradually thinned out as we made our way up I-95 the 60 or so miles to Palm City. City traffic up here was still busy, but not quite as heavy. After making only one wrong turn we arrived at Sandy's about 3:40.

Here we faced another problem. His neighbor across the street is never home and his driveway lines up with Sandy's. We usually just pull into his driveway, which allows us to back right in to Sandy's beside their cars. When we got there the neighbor's driveway was full of cars, due to a party next door. The street is too narrow to easily maneuver a 22-foot vehicle into position. So once more it was back and forth in tight spaces, but we managed it. As soon as we had the Roadtrek leveled up on blocks, the party broke up and everyone drove away.

After a lot of visiting, we all went down to the beach for an hour or so. I took a couple of pictures, just so the blog won't be all naked text. Not too exciting, but better than just heavy traffic which was the only other option.

So much for Sunday. What adventures await us in Palm City?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Everglades

Today was devoted to the Everglades. So I might as well show the required picture of an alligator right away and get it over with.

After breakfast in the Cracker Barrel we headed to the place we thought we were going to stay last night but found the gate locked. When we got there today the gate was open. We went in and found out that they lock the gates at 7:00 (people who are checked in get a code for the gate). We went in and sat at the launch area for a while hoping to see some manatees, but no luck.

Then Jean realized she had left her jacket at the restaurant. She called them and they had it at the front desk, so we headed back to get it. But first we stopped to take some pictures of the last remaining walking dredge (a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Site). These machines were used to cut the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades. They can walk forward through the swamp.

After picking up the jacket, we headed back into the 'glades. Our destination this time was a 24-mile loop road that we read about in an online RV blog. But first we spent an hour or so walking a boardwalk that went back into the forest. Lots of informational plaques. It was an interesting walk but we hadn't expected to take in so we had neither camera or binoculars with us. There wasn't that much to photograph anyway --- the boardwalk has a bit of traffic.

After stopping at a visitor center, we finally found the loop road. It is a narrow (but two-way) gravel road. Right at the beginning there were a lot of cars parked along both sides of the road, reducing it to one lane. We had to wait for several cars and pickups coming out. We asked someone what was happening and we were told it was  a pig-pickin' and a country dance. After we got past that things got quieter. It was quite rough until we crossed the Big Cypress Natural Preserve border, where the road got smoother (but still gravel).

Much of the road goes through a classic cypress swamp, with lots of trees growing out of the water. We spotted several large wading birds, as well as views of the swamp itself.

Yes, Waldo the Gator is in here, too.

 We have seen a lot of interesting birds without getting out of the motorhome. One we hadn't seen before was a swallow-tailed kite --- impressive (sorry, no pictue).

We spent a lot of time in the 'glades, so that when we got back to civilization we were shocked and disgusted at the press of cars and people. We were trying to find some indicated campgrounds while negotiating crowded six-lane (each way) highways. We finally found one in Hollywood that was an RV and mobile home park. By now it was well after dark and we wound around on narrow roads among close-packed trailers to try and find the office. When we found it, it was closed and dark of course. A couple in a pickup asked if we needed some space, and hearing that we were, they went off to look for one. While they were gone, a man on a bicycle also inquired if we needed space, and mentioned three that he knew were vacant. Most friendly folk. The couple with the pickup came back and guided us to a space and here we sit, hooked up and enjoying more quiet than we had expected.

One never knows when you start out in the morning what adventures await you throughout the day.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sanibel Island

We were one of four motorhomes at Cracker Barrel last night (one other Roadtrek). Being the casual, laid-back folks we are, we were the last to leave in the morning.

We headed straight out to Sanibel Island. For those who may not know it, Sanibel Is. is widely recognized as the best shelling beach in the country.

There are a few shells on the beach.

 The beach is hard white sand, complete with lots of people. It was probably the most crowded place we have been. We despaired of finding a parking place in the public lot when we spotted a sign that said "Parking for vehicles 20 feet in length and over only." How civilized. There were two such spaces and both were empty. We are 22 feet long, so we grabbed one.

 We started at the lighthouse beach. Besides the lighthouse, there were several dolphins cavorting just off the beach (along with a few pelicans). That kept our interest for a while.

After about an hour we decided to head to the other end of the island to another parking area that we understood also had long-vehicle parking. The ride was long and slow and our "parking meter" was running. (You buy a ticket for X number of hours of parking. The same ticket works in any parking area.) The other parking area was larger and not as crowded and we found a space in the shade rather than using the RV spaces.

After collecting a few small shells, we decided we had enough (and our ticket was running out) so we headed out. We took the main island road back to the causeway. It was bumper to bumper and moving slowly for several miles. The island does not have any traffic lights. Instead, the police direct traffic at the busier intersections. Even after we got off the island, the traffic was slow and crowded.

It was a windy day, and off the causeway parks, the wind surfers and kite boarders were tearing up the sound. It's amazing they don't run into each other.

Our destination was a state park campground listed in the directories that Gene had stayed in several years ago. Traffic was heavy in Naples, and it was well after dark when we arrived --- only to find a locked gate and no sign of any campground. Major disappointment. Perhaps we will be able to solve that mystery tomorrow. Meanwhile, all the commercial campgrounds in the area charge $50 and up, and there is no Walmart parking short of Ft. Meyers. So we ended up in the Naples Cracker Barrel, our favorite backup situation.

But tomorrow we need to be in a campground with hookups.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rainy day

The forecast said chance of showers. We got a steady rain starting in the night. Gloomy and rainy with occasional thunder, so we had an easy, laid-back morning. Finally got away about 11:00 and headed down the highway for Sarasota.

In Sarasota we stopped at the Classic Car Museum. Tricky getting into, and tight parking. We spent an hour or so there and found it very interesting (Gene was more interested than Jean). There were lots of cars, from 1908 to the 1990's and later. Some fairly pedestrian and some way out concept cars and sexy racing cars. There was even a drag-liner. There were some exotics even Gene had never heard of. There were two MG-TFs, a car Gene coveted for years. One of the more startling exhibits was an "art motorcycle;" a motorcycle with all sorts of stuff glued, welded, and otherwise attached to it. The driver's seat was a western saddle, and the passenger's an old-fashioned tractor seat. We couldn't take any pictures, so there is nothing to show you, unfortunately.

It was still raining when we got out, so we had a nice lunch of sandwiches made from roadside-stand tomatoes. Then we headed south, and in downtown Sarasota we came upon a lot of sculpture, mostly abstract, but there was this 20-foot copy of a famous photograph taken at the end of WWII. It felt kind of funny taking a picture of a sculpture of a picture. Won't that lead to some sort of feedback?

Luckily the rain had stopped (though the sky wasn't really that blue) and we found convenient parking. While we were there, Gene took a picture of one of the huge, garish hotels we saw from time to time. Not the biggest or most garish, but a representative example.

Then it was off toward Ft. Meyers. The road was longer than expected, and pretty boring. Some parts were like driving through South Dakota.

We parked in the usual Cracker Barrel. The buildings are all exactly alike (even the merchandise) so every night is like deja vu. But you can't beat the price.

The sky appears to be clearing, so we are hopeful for a trip to Sanibel Island tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bad start, good day

Today got off to bad start. We had planned on visiting the Panama Canal Museum, and then on to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary (as shown on the map). The route to the museum looked pretty straightforward on our detail (though still small scale) map and we set off full of confidence. We soon got lost in a maze of numbered streets and avenues, none of which were shown on the map. We finally found a Kangaroo service station and went inside to seek help.

The man there was very friendly, and pulled out a much more detailed map. But the museum was nowhere on the map. He finally told us how to get to the intersection we wanted and we set off hopefully. Thanks to his directions, we found the required intersection; but no museum, only a dead mall. The last time Gene was there, several years ago and in a different location, there was talk of having the University of South Florida take it over. Some day if we have the time and the interest we may follow up that lead.

So scratch one idea, on to the next. According to the map, the Seabird Sanctuary was at the end of the street we were on, so off we went. When we got to the coast, there was nothing but a solid row of condos. No sign of any kind of sanctuary. So far we were batting .000.

Well, we were at the shore, let's find some beach to stroll on. So we just headed down the road. One could occasionally get a glimpse of the Gulf between the high-rises, but there was no place to park and no obvious way to the beach. We finally stumbled onto a public parking lot for the beach in Madeira Beach (nothing north of that). We bought an hour's parking and took our beach stroll. I don't know if the whole beach is open to the public (like in Mexico) but access is certainly limited.

Most of the beach is guarded by condos

The people congregate at the few public accesses

We missed the sanctuary, but did see some interesting birds at the beach.


As we went further south along the beach, the buildings got lower and there was more frequent public access. But forget it in Clearwater, Largo, Seminole and points north.

After a delightful lunch of fresh cantaloupe and ham salad (a good combination) we crossed the entrance to Tampa Bay and made our way out to Anna Maria Island. That, too, was crowded where the bridge connected, but we drove up to Anna Maria at the north end and found a much more relaxed situation.

After a long talk with a sailing snowbird on a bicycle, it was time to find some place to lay our heads. We made our way back to a Cracker Barrel in Bradenton, ate in the restaurant, and settled in for the night. Tomorrow Sarasota.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Full tourist mode

Today we got into full tourist mode. Checkout time was not 'til 2:00 so we slept in. Then had a leisurely breakfast and did morning chores. Got away about 11:25.

First stop was at a fruit stand where we got some strawberries, a little melon, and a tomato (with thoughts of tomato sandwiches for lunch).

First side trip was to the beach at Hudson. The beach was tiny and there was no free parking, so we pressed on. After looking at the AAA tour guide, we settled on Tarpon Springs. We went down to the Sponge Docks (Tarpon Springs was settled by Greek sponge divers). Getting away from the crowded part, we found on-street parking a couple of blocks away.

Joining the crowds, we looked in shops and listened to the buskers. We were told about a Greek grocery, where Jean was able to buy some mastika for her Christmas tsourekia. Now we know three places in the US where you can find it. Then we went into a restaurant and got really good gyros.

Back at the Roadtrek, Jean took YumYum for a walk while I looked at a really big trawler parked at the end of the street. Here is a bit of the net end.

Jean read that you can sometimes see manatees in this certain bayou, so we drove to the center of town to Craig Park. This is a nice area, with lots of big homes facing an inlet. We walked around (very slowly) with YumYum. A dolphin showed up briefly, but no manatees today. The park has some lovely, old live oaks covered with Spanish moss.

If you look very closely you can see a blue heron waiting for an old guy to toss a cast net for fish. He was very patient but the fisherman wasn't interested.

We headed out about rush hour and drove to the Cracker Barrel in Clearwater. It is right next to the airport, but other than that we found a nice, level parking place. We are still full from gyros, so we will have a light supper and go into the restaurant for breakfast.

What other adventures will await us tomorrow?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Off to Florida

Our annual trip to Florida got started later this year. We left on 1 March, a couple of weeks after a big snowstorm, and just before another one hit. The timing had nothing to do with stormy weather (though we lucked out on that) but in order to attend a BIG motorhome festival in Georgia on our way back.

As usual, the first couple of days were just get-there days. No touring, just keep moving (and keep ahead of the storm). We got a late start Saturday, and made Florence, SC the first night. We ate and stayed at the Cracker Barrel, which is becoming standard for us.

Sunday we headed for Cedar Key. After several hours of increasing traffic on I-95, Jean (the Navigodess) got us off onto US17, which parallels I-95 but is infinitely better. We pushed on through South Carolina and Georgia into Florida. Then across Florida. By 7:00 at night we had made it to Gainesville, where we gave up and hit another Cracker Barrel for supper and the night. A quiet, level space behind the building --- this one's a keeper.

Today we got a leisurely start. We decided to bag Cedar Key (we've been there) and head for Crystal River. After a short side trip due to missing a poorly-marked turn, we got to Crystal River about 1:00 and wound down. We walked around a little, admired a rough-and-ready reproduction of a sailing scow (gaff sloop), and went through the little museum at the visitor center.

Then back to town where we found a shady parking place in a mall parking lot and had a casual lunch.

It's a jungle out there

Across the street we took a short (.3 mile) hike on a boardwalk through the coastal jungle. Didn't spot any birds or other wildlife, but then it was the middle of the day.

About 3:15 we found and checked in to the Chassahowitzka River Campground (say that five times fast) and Gene went about "summerizing" (more positive than "de-winterizing") the Roadtrek. All went more or less well until he got to the part of flushing out the anti-freeze and filling the lines with fresh water. Then all he got was a little spitting and a lot of air coming out of the faucet. After trying a number of different ideas, and taking a long walk, he tried re-setting the fresh water input to the pump. He must have put it on crooked when he removed the tube to the anti-freeze. It screwed on farther, and things seem to be working now. That must have been the source of the air leak.

We heard from the folks back home. After a 65 degree day yesterday, they have several inches of snow and an overnight forecast of 5 degrees. We had to decide whether or not to run the air conditioner. Location is everything.

Back in the saddle. More adventures tomorrow.