Our Central Florida Routine: Bouncing Between Wekiwa Springs and Lake Monroe

Having secured and prepaid the vendor fee for four Saturdays at the Lake Mary Farmers Market, we scurried back to the region following our five day visit to Venice.  For our two and a half week stay we would end up spending the majority of our time at Wekiwa Springs State Park, but with two weekends at Lake Monroe County Park.

PKM did not enjoy her birthday costume…

As I have mentioned before, this is almost a pattern for us.  We prefer the public parks over private resorts in this region, with Wekiwa and Blue Spring State Park being our top two.  But with weekend availability difficult to secure without long range planning, we often end up at the very affordable and usually more easily available Lake Monroe site for a few days.

… but she sure enjoyed her “cake.”

We started with three days there, punctuated by our Saturday market, the second of our four.  We had great success, even better than our first week at the market, which we really needed after our big upgrade and repair bill on Serenity from October.  Then it was back over to Wekiwa Springs for the middle of the week.

Aside from the fantastic first magnitude spring, we really love Wekiwa for the wildlife.  Every visit we are almost assured of seeing wild turkeys, deer, wood peckers, and box tortoises.  Our weeks there this season were no exception with multiple sightings of all those, along with a brightly marked yellow rat snake down next to the spring itself.

Son Jackson was able to join us a couple of days there, and we snorkeled and free dove around the main spring a lot more than I recall ever doing.  Nothing deep or dangerous: I have zero interest in cave diving, besides, you can only get about 15 feet down before the outflow pushes you back up.  Even though the water temp is pretty steady at 72 degrees, the shorty wet suit I bought at a community yard sale in Key West really made a huge difference in how much time I could comfortably spend in the water.

Jackson and his brother Hollis visiting for the day.  Can’t think of anything that goes better together than power tools and drinkin’.

Then it was back to Lake Monroe for the long Veterans Day weekend and our third Lake Mary market.  We had just “so-so” results, lower than the first two Saturday’s.  A year or more ago we would have been quite satisfied with the sales that day, but our expectations have risen quite a bit as we have increased our inventory and become more selective in our market participation.

PKM and her new friend the gopher tortoise

At least Veterans Day was a rousing success.  Quite a few restaurants and other businesses offer free or discounted meals and services to vets over the weekend, and we took advantage of this through several sit down meals and a car wash.  The highlight was Texas de Brazil, one of the better Brazilian style steak house chains, where Jackson and Andrea joined us for dinner.

If you have never tried this type of restaurant, I highly recommend it.   You pay a set fee for the huge salad bar (it has a lot more than salad) and then the wait staff brings different cuts of meat directly to your table and slices off a select portion based on your preferences.  I believe they had 16 different cuts of steak, pork, chicken, and lamb available.  My $50 meal was free, the rest of the bill was discounted.  If you have vegetarians in your group, or just someone not enthused about massive quantities of meat, they can choose the salad bar only option for significantly less, and it is a great meal in and of itself.

Our diligent monitoring of the Reserve America site paid off when we managed to secure a full week at Wekiwa Springs due to a cancellation, allowing us to finish off our Central Florida time at our preferred location.  We participated in our final Lake Mary market for this season, and it was straight out disappointing.  It is difficult to correlate sales fluctuations when so many factors can effect them.  It may be timing since we were far enough away from Christmas and too close to black Friday, or perhaps the “oh a new vendor lets check them out” effect has worn off.  Here’s hoping that our upcoming Naples market is better. 

We did a lot of geocaching in the area, just as we have at nearly all of our stops ever since Stepmom Marcia reignited my enthusiasm for it back in early September.  If you cache in an area enough you usually find a that a high percentage of the caches are placed by the same few hobbyists.  It’s always interesting to discover their patterns and tendencies.

Some of the caches are quite big, like this ammo can out in the scrub forest.

This time it was Bobby Bear whose hides I spent a lot of time searching.  His caches stand out in that he has a, shall we say, stricter interpretation of the difficulty ratings.  All caches are assigned a difficulty rating from 1 to 5, and a terrain rating on the same scale.  A 1.5 difficulty is usually an easy find.  Many of Bobby Bear’s: not so much.  Whenever I pursued one of his hides I mentally doubled the rating he assigned so as to have realistic expectations about how hard it would be. 

Others are pretty tiny, just big enough for a scrap of paper to act as the finders log.

Our geocaching took us as far south as Orlando, were we stopped in at yet another Moose Lodge for a drink before heading home.  I think this is our 26th Moose Center we have visited since joining up in Venice, FL years ago.  If you RV or otherwise travel a lot within the US, we recommend joining one of the various lodge-type organizations.  Being a member provides you with an additional option for social interaction, a place for very affordable drinks and food, and some of them have RV spots either free or very cheap. 

Next up:  Down to Coral Springs for an unusual Thanksgiving.

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46 Months Fulltiming: October 2018 Report

The Distance:  855 miles, way less than our huge September route, but a solid amount of movement as we explored The Panhandle, Central Florida, and part of the Southern Gulf Coast.  In 2018 we are up to 9,141 miles.

Zig Zagging our way across the state.

The Places:  We entered Florida on the 1st of the month and stayed five days at Topsail Hill State Park where Dad and Marcia are work camping.  It was our first stay at this excellent state park, but the red tide was strong during the latter half of our stop.  From there we headed east to Tyndall Air Force Base’s Family Camp, planning on a three day visit, but had to evacuate a day early as Hurricane Micheal came straight for us.  We fled east to Gainesville, staying with Cousin Robb and family for four days before backtracking a short bit to stay at yet another new Florida park, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park for a full week. 

At Topsail before the red tide became a bit too much to enjoy the beach.

We began our Central Florida rounds with a move to Grand Lake RV Resort near Ocala in order to be positioned for the annual McIntosh Festival at which we had recently been accepted as vendors.  After that it was back to one of our favorites in the region, Trimble Park near Mount Dora for five days.  Unable to extend our time there, we went to our go to weekend spot for this area, Lake Monroe County Park.  We closed the month with a run south east to Venice to visit Rose’s mom, Gloria, and other family members.

The dog costume parade at the Lake Mary Market.

October saw us in public campgrounds and with family for the majority of our days: 18 days in public parks (12 state, 6 county) and in the homes of family for 8.  We stayed at a military park for 2 days and a private resort for 3.  We had full hook ups for 10 days, partial (electric and water) for 13, and the aforementioned house living for 8. 

The Budget:  Despite a few very successful market days, we ended up 65% over budget, almost the exact amount of our big repair and upgrade bill from Mr Mobile RV.   That also puts us over budget for the year for the first time, and by an amount that will be very difficult to claw back with only two months left.  Normally I think we could do it with a bit of an austerity plan and more aggressive market participation, but the remainder of 2018 includes a full month at one of our most expensive parks, and there is a major holiday coming up as well.  Yes, Winter Solstice is spendy for everyone, I’m sure.   Ah well, we will get as close as we can. 

We have done A LOT more geocaching ever since being re-inspired about the hobby by Stepmom Marcia back in September.

The Drama and the Improvements:   As reported here, we did some major work at the very end of this month.  We originally planned on just replacing the main awning fabric, fixing an awing strut, and doing some roof seam calking.  But our front A/C failed and the guy I trust to do honest work recommended we not just nurse our 11 year old roof along with seam filling, but rather reseal the whole thing.   Which we did, it looks fantastic, appears to be easier to keep clean, is reported to be helpful in climate control, and comes with a renewable warranty.  So yes, we think we made the right decision, but it did cost us!

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

August Monthly Report

September Monthly Report

And here are our 20172016, and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

To the Southern Gulf Coast: Venice, Gloria, and some big things for Serenity

The day after our first of four Lake Mary markets we headed south to visit Rosemarie’s mom in Venice, a seaside town an hour or so south of Tampa.  We have visited many times, going back years before our RV life, enjoying a few very welcome consistencies: bacalaitos upon arrival, a steady flow of other Puerto Rican food during the stay, and one or two local restaurant meals.  This visit would provide all of that in spades.

PKM managed to find a gap behind Gloria’s kitchen counter, and covered in cobwebs, required assistance to get out. 

Each visit there are often changes.  This last Spring saw Gloria moving in to her own house in a mobile home community.  During that visit we helped get things squared away both inside and in the garden, and I sold a bunch of her excess items on craigslist to provide her more space and a bit of extra cash.  This visit Gloria introduced us to her new steady, Jerry.  Upon arrival in town I parked Serenity in the usually empty lot beside her house, which the park manager allows me to do for $5 a night as long as we make no connections.  We got ourselves and the cat situated inside Glorias home, and then headed over to Jerry’s for the aforementioned bacalaitos.  Oh yes, and also to meet the man. 

An ever blooming orchid of some type we brought for Gloria’s Birthday.  When the bloom falls off, another one is right behind it ready to open.  In theory.

We had a great five day visit; Jerry was very welcoming and we enjoyed his company.  We spent part of an afternoon lounging by his community’s large pool complex, hit a couple of thrift stores, and had dinner at one of their preferred spots, Bogey’s, a local sports bar with excellent food and service. 

For Gloria’s birthday Jerry took us all out to one of our favorites: the upstairs dining room at The Crows Nest.  Our timing was poor as Gloria had been coming down with something that peaked that very day, but she wanted to soldier through rather than reschedule, so we did. 

We also attended the pot luck Halloween dinner and dance at Jerry’s community center, costumes highly encouraged.  We settled on something we had pulled off to great success years ago in Miami Beach: Dia de los Muertos “sugar skull” make up with clothing flourishes to match.  Our horror make up kit was of far lower quality this time, so we were a bit disappointed with the results, but it was enough to win the costume contest!

Still in full make up, we capped the evening with a visit to the local Moose Lodge.  For years, since well before we were full time RVers, the Venice Lodge had played a central role in Gloria’s social activity, and our visits usually included multiple stops there.  In recent years not so much, but we have enough fond memories of the place (and appreciation for the affordable drinks!) that we try to stop in at least once each visit to the area.

We met another of our kind at The Moose.

Backing up a bit: the morning after our arrival I drove Serenity half an hour further south to Mr Mobile RV Center in Port Charlotte.  Bill did a small bit of work on our rig 18 months ago, and at a later point provided over the phone technical advice free of charge.  I was impressed with his honesty and work quality, and resolved to use him for repairs and upgrades if at all feasible.  Since then he has shifted from a purely mobile operation to a fixed location with mobile response capability.

Weeks ahead of our arrival I had made arrangements for him to have parts and time available to replace our torn main awning and one of the strut brackets, fix our front AC, which had stopped even trying to come on, and inspect the roof, which given the age, climate, and appearance, we expected would need a good bit of Dicor sealant work on the seams, at a minimum.  Upon arrival he did an immediate inspection, and said I could nurse it along and put a bunch of tubes of Dicor on it after a thorough cleaning, but he strongly recommended a roof reseal using the relatively new silconized elastomeric material, the main thing he works with these days.

Damn that roof looks nice!

Reviews on RV websites confirm the advantages of this material:  a more reliable and long lasting roof (which Bill warranties for a full year, extendable each year he provides a $75 inspection and adjustment) it is easier to clean because things tend not to stick to it, has better interior coolness due to high reflectivity, and gives the roof a very neat and uniform appearance since elastomeric reseals are seamless.  The roof has been my biggest concern for a while now, so we sprung for this full reseal.

New vent fan and vent pipe cover.

Within four days he called to let me know everything was done and Serenity was ready for pick up.  He had replaced the AC motor, installed and repaired the new main awning, replaced the crank up TV antenna with a fixed bat wing (per discussion), and for no extra labor charges installed a new vent fan cover, black tank vent pipe cover, and a rear running light reflector to replace damaged or missing ones.  We got all this for $2,220, all in.  Yes, that will put us way over budget, but it needed to be done, and we are very happy with the work.  We plan on working our annual repairs and upgrades into our future Venice visits. 

New fixed TV antenna.

The last night of our stay we headed to the local bowling alley to watch Rosemarie’s brother Jerry (yes, this will continue to be confusing) play in a league match.  Nephew Dj and niece Laura were also there, so it was a fun family event, and I learned a lot about bowling in general and league play specifically. 

So that’s it for Venice and for October, putting us only 28 days behind assuming I get the end of month report out quite soon.  After that, we return to Central Florida for three more Lake Mary markets while bouncing between Wekiwa Springs State Park and Lake Monroe County Park.

PKM loves Gloria’s patio.

Trimble Park, Lake Monroe, and the start or our Lake Mary market run

Flush with success from the McIntosh Festival, we moved on to one of our favorite Central Florida locations, Trimble Park near Mount Dora.  We try to spend a few days there on our way out of Florida each Spring and as part of our return route in the Fall, but hurricane damage and availability have prevented us from staying since March of 2017.  We really love this place but it can be difficult to secure reservations: it is pretty popular with the local weekend RVers, and the campground itself is tiny: only 15 sites.

Sometime during the last year and a half they have modified their reservation rules: it is still by phone or in person only, but now instead of an unassigned general reservation and you pick your spot upon arrival, it is a traditional space reservation system.  Boo, we liked being able to scout out the park and perhaps even switch sites if one of our favorites opened up.

The weekend popularity of the place meant we could only secure five days, Sunday through Thursday, and we didn’t get one of our preferred spots, but it was still a great stop.  Five to seven days is about our preferred sweet spot for stay length: it allows us to relax, unrushed, enjoying a full set up and the local scene, yet permits a pace of travel that keeps us on the move, able to see a lot of places, old faves and new ones alike.

A local told us that there are some wild peacocks that roam an area a few blocks from the campground.  He wasn’t lying.

While there Rose crafted away, restocking our supplies in teh wake of brisk sales at the McIntosh Festival, and working on some new seasonal items in preparation for a series of four upcoming markets at Lake Mary.  We also managed to work in a dinner with Anthony and Anita’s family, very long time friends of Rosemarie, their daughter Bella, and Anita’s sister Yoli at their preferred downtown Mount Dora eatery, One Flight Up.  They have both indoor and exterior balcony seating available, and we enjoyed excellent meals, wine and desserts: very recommended. 

Our campground neighbor Carol meeting PKM.

After our five days were up, we shifted to our “go to” central Florida weekend spot, Monroe Park.  It’s a Volusia County park, and even on relatively short notice we have never failed to secure a weekend spot.  Aside from far greater availability compared to our preferred popular state parks in the area (Wekiwa Springs and Blue Spring) it is dirt cheap: just under $17 a night, all in.  For that you get mostly large sites with 50 amp power and water under a canopy of oak trees.

Our assigned site at Lake Monroe

They also have a shower house with eight separate rooms, each with toilet and shower, rather than one big room for each sex.  If you have a boat, the park has a ramp and plenty of trailer parking (no swimming allowed, besides, this lake has a LOT of gators.) A bike or hiking path leads a couple of miles up the way to the very attractive Gemini Springs. 

There are downsides to Lake Monroe Park which will no doubt cause some to balk at even considering a stay there.  It’s in Florida woods next to a body of fresh water, thus, mosquito heaven.  With the ranger shack unmanned and no onsite camp host, the rules are, shall we say, loosely enforced.  By this I mean dogs aren’t always on leashes, barking is not addressed, and quite hours are frequently violated.  Yes, less than ideal.  That’s why it is cheap and available. 

The Lake Mary Market Manager, Jessica, incorporates seasonal events to spark additional attendance and fun.  This week it was a dog costume parade and contest.

If that has not scared you away, the place has other noise issues.  The train whistles from nearby tracks can be heard quite clearly in the campground sporadically through the night.  Perhaps worse is the Sanford Power Plant across the street, which creates a “steam-rushing-hissing” type noise for large parts of the day and night.  Rosemarie and I are in the habit of wearing ear plugs to bed every night, so the noise doesn’t bother me, though the trains penetrate through to effect Rose.  That said, the availability, location, and low cost mean we will be spending several weekends here a month, though this has to be carefully monitored: you are only allowed 15 days here per calendar year.   With our series of Lake Mary markets, this place is just too convenient to turn up our noises.

Speaking of which, we renewed our Seminole County Tax Receipt permit ($25) and prepaid for four of the Lake Mary market events.  Last year we were only guaranteed two, though two more opened up for us, because the city employed market manager enforces a “maximum of two of the same type of vendors at any one event” policy.  Apparently one of the other jewelry vendors has dropped out because we got all that we asked for this season, and our first week provided very solid results, ending our October Central Florida time on a great note.

 

South to Citra and the McIntosh Festival

Two years ago we selected Grand Lake RV Resort in Citra, FL, from the Passport America list as a good short term stopping point before we began bouncing around the state visiting friends and family.  Our timing was quite fortuitous in that we were able to participate in their semi-annual community wide yard sale.  It was the easiest “market” we have ever done; we simply set up a table in front of our site and sold a modest amount of jewelry with a fraction of the effort we would have spent on a traditional event.  It worked out so well that we made minor adjustments to our scheduled return to Central Florida in 2017 in order to do it again to even greater success. 

Our site at Grand Lake RV Resort: $20 a night all in, full hook up, 50 amps.

Both years a number of the long term and seasonal residents asked us why we weren’t doing “the big festival up the road” or something to that effect.  So this year, admittedly rather late in the game, we did a bit of research and inquired about vending at the annual McIntosh 1890’s Festival just a few miles away.  The tiny town of McIntosh, about 450 residents, hosts this one day extravaganza, with hundreds of vendors arrayed long multiple blocks in their historical district.  They estimate 30 to 35 thousand visitors for the festival in recent years.

Of course, we were too late, they were full up vendor-wise, but they could put us on the cancellation list if we sent them (by regular mail only!) an official request and pictures of what we sold.  Which we did, thinking it was a long shot and resigning ourselves, not unhappily, to another year at the community wide event at Grand Lake (which they intentionally schedule on the same day as the McIntosh festival in hopes of getting some bleed over traffic.)  But a couple of weeks before the event we received a call from the vendor organizer, Beverly, to let us know they had a late cancellation and we were welcome to participate.  Yay, us.

Just after dawn on festival day, already half set up.

Rosemarie went gangbusters on the jewelry and home decor items to significantly increase our inventory in hopeful anticipation of a big crowd intent on spending.   Come game day we headed out before dawn with Loki loaded to the gills.  The McIntosh event, despite functioning entirely by mail and phone, is incredibly well organized.  There was plenty of signage to direct us to vendor check in, where they provided directions to our site marked with a numbered stake which we would use to reclaim our vehicle from vendor parking at the end of the event.  With so many vendors trying to unload on narrow streets, there was a bit of chaos, but less than you would expect for a festival of this size, probably because a good portion of the sellers had apparently set up the night before.

Crowds like this until the mid afternoon.

Well before the official start, festival goers started to arrive, with a trickle rapidly growing into a crowd.  We sold steadily throughout the day, and even with the $150 table fee, the most we have ever paid, it was still a record setting market for us.  We both took a brief opportunity to explore a block or two of other vendors, but not nearly as much as we would have liked; we were just too busy.   We certainly had plenty of food options, and the big pretzel and gyro we eventually decided upon were fantastic. 

We had steady business most of the day.

The break down was far more chaotic and stress inducing than the set up since every vendor was trying to retrieve their vehicle, many of which were trailers or vans, and maneuver the narrow streets around other vendor vehicles.  We are fortunate that Loki is so small; I was able to park him in a close spot few others could manage.  We made our escape and arrived back at Grand Lake tired but elated.  Another bit of good news is that now that we have participated, we are on the automatic invite list for next year, so we won’t have to hope for a cancellation.

Next up:  Mount Dora and our first Lake Mary market this season.

Gainesville and Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

Having evacuated Tyndall AFB’s Family Camp to flee the path of Hurricane Michael, we landed at Cousin Robb and Colleen’s in Gainesville.  We have stayed with them a couple of times before, enjoying short stays in an actual house and bonding with the twins, Maeve and Nola.  Things were even more convenient this stop; they have moved a few blocks from their previous home and the new place has a larger driveway that accommodated Serenity.

Big ole driveway, room enough to even put out the left side slides.

When staying with friends or family, we try to make ourselves useful to offset the inconvenience of house guests, however welcome we may be.  In addition to springing for pizza and bread rolls at their preferred joint, we made sure the fridge was stocked with beer (though we consumed our share as well,) made a repair to their jammed and off track pocket door, put a new handle on the porch screen door (admittedly after I broke the original,) helped the twins with geography studies, and upon request extended our stay one day to mitigate a latch key situation.  Yay us, such responsible house guests.  Don’t you want us to visit?

Not at Robb and Colleens.  This is foreshadowing…

I spent a good amount of time geocaching the local area, and even took the girls on a short hike to find a couple.  They had done some caching as part of a school event once before, but this time we found a great one in the woods that had a selection of trinkets for them to pick over while I added some replacements from my stash.

PKM, however, was not happy with the new addition to their family, a still young cat named Nova.  Apparently Nola had made a presentation to the family, including charts and other visual aides, justifying the acquisition, and who can argue with that?  PKM can, that’s who.  As chill a cat as she is, happy with all adults, nearly all children (even graspy little toddlers,) and even most dogs, the one thing she hates is other cats.  She instantly goes into hissy territorial mode whenever one is in sight.  We kept them separate, but between Sunnybelle’s (their dog) intensive, insatiable curiosity and Nova’s mere presence, our cat devolved into an angry “NO ONE TOUCH ME EVER” critter until we were able to engineer a greater degree of distance between her and the animal hosts. A lesson learned for other visits with cat owners. 

Still looks angry.

We were lucky enough to secure a full week reservation at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park in High Springs, about 30 minutes west of Gainesville.  Haven’t heard of this Florida State Park?  Probably because it was a private place between 1958 and 2017.  The state purchased the 407 acre property and, after a few months of renovations, opened it in October of last year as Florida’s newest state park. 

I say we were lucky to get a week because the place is popular and has only 18 RV sites (plus another 7 tent only spaces.)  The popularity is fully justified: the park is fantastic, and is near the top of our list not merely for Florida State Parks, but for any state park, perhaps even any RV park at all.  The main spring is gorgeous!  A little smaller than the similar looking Wekiwa Spring State Park, but with a jumping platform and a much longer crystal clear swimming run and boating run out to the Santa Fe River.  One clear advantage it has over Wekiwa is that the RV sites at Gilchrist are a hundred yards from the spring rather than two miles.

In addition to miles of hiking and biking trails, the park also has two other clear springs just a couple of hundred yards from the main one, and one of them is great for casual swimming and snorkeling.  Apparently most of the visitors are unaware of or don’t care about the existence of these other springs, so even during peak hours you might very well have them to yourselves.

The second spring.  Hard to see from this picture, but its a great little swimming hole.

Robb stayed with us one night there, and got to enjoy the place after the park closes to day users, meaning the normally crowded main spring was virtually empty.  Colleen brought the girls out for an afternoon after their Wednesday half day at school.  We all had a fantastic time, swimming in the main spring, snorkeling, paddling or wading down the main run and up the secondary run to the previously mentioned smaller stream, and generally being as loud and excited as ten year old kids can be. 

Halfway down the run from the main spring to the Santa Fe river.

We spent a lot of time on the jumping platform, perhaps 8′ above the water’s surface, even Colleen took a turn.  I managed to catch a few underwater shots just as the girls were entering the water. 

Rose and I sprung for a half day tandem kayak rental in order to spend a few hours on the Sante Fe River.  In addition to the natural beauty and wildlife, we ran across other springs leading out from short runs into the main river.  Apparently this region of Florida has the highest concentration of fresh water springs in the world. caches and a bunch of others in the general area.  It is not exactly a high density caching area, but there were plenty of rewarding hides and I picked up a surprsing number of “trackables” (serialized items that you can track the movement history of online) that I will move to another city or town.

We also did a bit of geocaching, clearing all but one of the cache’s in the park and a bunch of others in the nearby area.  I found a surprising number of “trackables” (serialized items placed in caches that you can register on line an check their travel history.)  I dropped off some I had found in other states, and plan on moving these to other cities and towns.

We found one geocache inside this giant cypress.  

Is Gilchrist for everyone? No, no it is not.  I was reminded of this as I swam in Wekiwa Springs the other day, and chatted with a couple of other RVers there, one of whom had a lot of negative things to say about Gilchrist, which he had also recently visited.  The road in to it is about 1.5 miles of pure washboard dirt that requires you to creep along at less than 10 mph or risk vibrating your molars out.  The dirt road from the front gate into the campground is very rutted, and you have to be very careful so as not to bottom out. 

Rose caught this great picture of me diving down to the bottom of the main spring.  If you find the negatives of Gilchrist too much, I will happily take your spot.

Some of the sites are quite awkward to back into. Ours had a very large oak nearly in the center of the entry way, requiring me to turn around and drive the full loop in order to make a rather challenging back in from the opposite side.  Last, the loop itself has not been cleared of tree limbs and branches such that a big rig will have a very tough time with parts of it.   So if these are things that concern you, stay away! 

That oak tree that sort of looks like it is right in front of my RV?  It really is.

Next up: Our first Fall market, and its a big one!

Return to Florida: The Panhandle, Another FL State Park, and Dodging a Hurricane

We left Wanee Lake headed south west towards Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Florida’s panhandle.  It was a bit out of our way; normally we would hit this region of the state on our way out as part of our run towards the west part of the country like we did in 2015 and 2017.  But since Dad and Marcia had secured a two month work camping gig there, we made the drive.  Besides, Topsail has been on our “must see” list of Florida places since the very beginning of our RV full time adventure.

This is one of those really popular Florida state parks that can be tough to secure anything more than a few weekday openings, but by frequent checks on Reserve America we caught a five day slot off of a recent cancellation.  The timing worked perfect for us, leaving plenty of days to meander back towards Central Florida for our first market obligations there.

PKM sporting her halloween pig costume.  She does not enjoy it.

The place exists on the high end of the price and amenities spectrum for a state park: 50 amp full hook ups, digital cable, swimming pool, shuffle board, the works, really, and feels a lot more like a private RV resort than a state campground, at least until you explore the area beyond the RV park.  It has miles of hiking and biking trails through the scrub forest and a beautiful white sand beach.  The park even provides a shuttle service for the half mile run to the beach.

All of this comes at a steep price: about $48 a night after taxes and the reservation fee.  Dad and Marcia are doing this place the right way, getting that expensive site in exchange for a half days work every other day or so.

We had a great five days there, spoiled a bit by the onset of red tide about half way into our visit.  We biked to the shore on our second day under great conditions on the beautiful beach with very clear water and light waves.  By day 4, however, as soon as we got within a few hundred yards of the water you could feel a sharp pungency in the throat and allergy reactions quickly followed.  At the time we were hearing reports that this year’s red tide was covering areas that had not experienced it in decades.  The campground was far enough away and blocked by forest such that we did not notice the effects there. 

As is often the case when we visit friends or family, this stop focused heavily on food.  In addition to some shared meals at the campground, we all hit Bang Bang Shrimp Wednesday at Bonefish, one of Dad and Marcia’s favorites and fast becoming one of ours.  After three years we finally made it back to Hurricane Oyster Bar near Grayton Beach.  This place had really made us happy while we were on an Apalachicola oyster binge in 2015, and our return visit this year did not disappoint.  We highly recommend it, particularly the oyster po’ boy.  We also split a big breakfast at one of the very well reviewed local spots, The Donut Hole.  Eating out three times in five days is very unusually for us, and we will be reeling it in for the remaining part of the month.

 

Having picked up our geocaching hobby in earnest ever since Iowa, we of course headed out on bikes to find some of the ones at Topsail.  Almost all of them were green containers hidden in green vegetation, which Rose is far better at finding than I, so a good thing she came along.

 

This is an unusually large container for geocaching, most of them are very tiny.

Oh yes, we also had a major electrical issue crop up.  It started with the rear AC failing to come on at all, not even a hum.  Upon investigation we found other things not working, such as the water heater and certain electrical outlets.  After some research I figured the likely culprit was a partially bad Automatic Transfer Switch, the electrical component that detects power provided from either the shore power cable or the generator, and shifts the connections to one of those, and when absent shifts back to the house batteries.  Once we emptied the compartment blocking access to it and removed the wood divider, it was instantly apparent that this was the problem as part of the plastic cover was melted.

Noting for it but to get a mechanic, and I found a well reviewed local service that was available to come out and replace the ATS with a better model that same day.   So thanks for Lacey’s RV Service for the quick response.  No one wants an unexpected $697 repair bill, but we are grateful it was a relatively quick fix.

After our five days at Top Sail were finished, we headed an hour and a half down the road for our first visit at yet another Air Force Base family camp, this one at Tyndall AFB a little east of Panama City.  We managed to catch the last available spot for the weekend in this wooded, medium sized campground on a bayou leading into the East Bay.  Reasonably spacious full hook ups with free “WiFi” (a Verizon MiFi Jetpack hotspot good for 15 gigs of data, but requiring a $100 security deposit) for $25 a night, all in.

The campground is quite decent and to our tastes.  Though some of the sites were a bit tight, that was due to big trees and vegetation, not because of the closeness of neighboring rigs.   We planned to explore the local area and beaches on our last full day there, but mother nature had other plans. 

As we were making the transition to Tyndall, predictions for Hurricane Michael were solidifying, and we were right in the path with landfall expected around the time we would be leaving.  So we pulled chocks and left a day early, sprinting east to Gainesville to stay at Cousin Robb and Colleens to ride things out.  Dad and Marcia evacuated from Topsail in the opposite direction, heading west and inland.  Our understanding is that Tyndall’s family camp, like the base, sustained heavy damage from a near direct hit, and may not be open any time soon, if ever. 

Next up, Gainesville and Florida’s newest state park.

45 Months Fulltiming: September 2018 Report

The Distance:  2,270 miles!  The most of any month this year, one of our biggest ever.  We made our great casino run from Michigan through Wisconsin and into Iowa, then turned east through Indiana before shooting due south all the way to Georgia.  Total for the year is up to 8,286.  Pretty sure we will crack 10K before New Years.

Google route maps only allow ten points, which made creating this screen shot a bit challenging.  That’s a lot of movement for us!

The Places:  We spent our last night at the Marquette Tourist Park before making our casino run, which finished with a one night stay at HoChunk Gaming in Nekoosa.  After another one nighter in a Walmart lot, we had five days at Hickory Park outside of Ames, Iowa to visit daughter Andrea.  We had another one night stay, this time at Condit’s Ranch, before beginning our eight day window repair stop in Elkhart, Indiana.  We turned south to meet up with Dad and Marcia in Brown County, Indiana before Rose flew to Virginia and I took the rig south.  I had a relaxing few days at the Arnold Air Force Base Family Camp in Tennesee before pushing on to Snellville, outside Atlanta, to pick up Rosemarie and hand out with cousin Marissa and family.  We finished the month with a four day stay at Wanee Lake Golf and RV Resort.

Saw an awful lot of asphalt this month.

All told this month we spent 9 days in a public parks (6 county, 3 state,) 6 in private parks, 3 at military bases, 9 in parking lots or repair facilities, and 3 in the driveway of family.   Some of that was just me while Rosemarie stayed with family in VA for five days.  We had full hook ups for 5 days, partial for 18 day (surprisingly, 15 was electric only, and three with power and water) and dry camped for 7.

Lakefront site at Hickory Grove outside of Ames, Iowa.

The Budget:  Sadly, almost 28% over budget.  The amount of miles we put in meant spending a whole lot at the gas pump this month.  That combined with $570 on tires for Serenity and our new Captains Chairs left our finances a bit stretched.  We are still under for the year, but since we have some significant repair and upgrade work in mind once we reach Florida, it’s going to be a real challenge to stay that way.  We only had one market this month, right before we left Marquette, but will pick up the pace with weekly events starting in late October and continuing on until just before Christmas.  Hopefully that will get us back on track.

My high tech planning and budgeting tool.

The Drama and the Improvements:   Oh yes, we had some of this.  If you read this post, you already know the story.  It started with excessive wind noise inside the rig whenever we got up to speed, the investigation of which revealed a large gap between the top right corner of the windshield gasket and the frame of the motorhome.  This is the same spot that had come loose previously, with that windshield repair less than a year old.  We duck taped the gap until we could be in one spot long enough to arrange for a fix.  We were relieved to find that Duncan Systems, the company contracted by our insurance agency (Progressive) to do the previous windshield accepted this as warranty work.

I’ve pulled part of it down, but you can still see some of the duct tape above the windshield.

On our last day in Ames, Iowa we drove to a glass shop, thinking this would be a relatively easy job.  Unfortunately, Duncan Systems had not adequately explained the scope of the work, and upon arrival this local shop said it would be at least a half day job and they could not fit us in until after the weekend.  We skipped it and made arrangements with Duncan to do the work at our next destination, Elkhart, Indiana.

Looking out the front of our rig, windshield removed.

There began our eight day fiasco at Master Tech RV.  We parked overnight in their lot so as to be ready for inspection first thing in the morning, as arranged.  Upon examination, they informed us that the gasket needed to be replaced to do this right, and it took Duncan two days to get it to us, even though it was only 15 miles away.  Once installed, the left half of the windshield cracked!  It took Duncan systems three days to get us a replacement, but once received was installed the same day, and we were able to be on our way after a few hours of cure time.

Morning fog outside of Master Tech RV’s warehouse repair facility.

We also had tire issues.  Back in Ames I had purchased a used tire to replace the inside right rear, very bald tire, thinking that a one year old used one would better match up tread-wise with the one year old outside tire.  Less than 800 miles later this tire completely failed, requiring me to nurse the rig up a back road for 9 miles to a truck tire shop, where, $350 and one hour later they had me back on the road.

Beefy new drive tire.

In the area of upgrades rather than repairs, while in Elkhart we stopped by the RV Furniture Outlet and purchased new captain’s chair to replace the horrific looking ones we have been living with.  This was badly needed, but had we known about the amount of repair work we would be facing in the coming months we might have skipped this improvement.

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

August Monthly Report

And here are our 20172016, and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

Georgia! Snellville and Wanee Lake

I made the run from Arnold AFB in Tennessee to Snellville, a town on the outskirts of Atlanta, parked the rig in Marissa and Ray’s yard, detached Loki, and make it to the Atlanta airport arrivals lane just in time to pick up Rosemarie as she was coming out of the terminal.  Perfect!  Last time we visited I parked Serenity beside the driveway, which has a pretty steep grade, making it very difficult to get even close to level.  This trip we opted for the front yard: plenty of space, quite level, apparently not against the neighborhood rules, and easier to get back onto the street when it was time to leave.

There followed three days of family time with cousin Marissa, Rey (her husband,) Titi Clarivel (grandmother,) Annalise and Sara (daughters,) with Betsy (mom) and her teen children Gabriella and Gami stopping in regularly.  We celebrated my birthday on our first evening there, complete with a cake and candles, and on our second we had a big barbecue cook out with way too much food, though not nearly as much as we had over purchased during our last visit.  We would end up leaving with a lot of leftovers from the event plus some of Titi Clari’s dishes to boot.

I did a bit of geocaching, Rose got to catch up with family, and next time we stop in we hope we can do it on a weekend when Rey isn’t having to work all day and then come home each evening to visitors crashing his pad!

Accurate in every way.

From Atlanta it was on to the tiny town of Ashburn in south Georgia for a five day stay at Wanee Lake Golf and RV Resort.  This place has been on our short list of best value RV campgrounds ever since we stumbled across it two years ago during our return run to Florida.  We now make it a regular part of our route planning.  When we stopped in earlier this year, new ownership had just purchased the property and were beginning upgrades.

At the time we worried how much prices would go up, and now we have our answer: three nights on the Passport America 50% rate is $19.50 ($16 in 2016),  additional days for PA members are $35 (which is 10% off, in 2016 they were $24, i.e., 25% off,) the weekly rate is $200 (previously $140,) and monthly is $500 ($425 in 2016.)  For that you get full hook ups (50 amp power, water, sewage) in a spacious, pull through site, and discounted golf.  Specifically, unlimited walking golf, or $13 for an 18 hole round with a cart.  If my notes from 2016 are correct, that is actually a price drop from $16 for the golf cart use.

Somehow deleted our Wanee Lake photos except the sign as we were leaving. 

So yes, prices are up a bit, mainly for those extra days beyond the Passport America three and the weekly/monthly rates, but the improvements are quite noticeable.  The course itself is in much better shape and getting better every month with ongoing projects.  The remaining facilities are moving in the right direction as well, e.g., the pool looks nearly brand new after some extensive renovation this summer.

Wanee Lake also hosts Tuesday and Thursday evening 9 hole best ball scramble events for $5 plus the $8 cart fee, which are quite fun with all skill levels welcome since they let the best players pick teams based on known handicaps.  I played 45 holes plus both scrambles while there, and my scores are dropping: I broke 50 on a couple of 9 hole rounds, something I have not done since picking the sport back up on 2016 after a 15 year hiatus.  

Any down side to the place?  Well, I seem to recall the wifi actually working the last time I was here, and it most definitely does not work now.  The owner is engaged, but is just not sure he can get their provider to improve the situation since they are so far down the data line.  Also, our blog entry from our first visit stated that they do not have any blackout dates or restrictions beyond the three day max for Passport America, whereas now they only accept it out of season (April 15 through October 15) with holidays and special event weekends excluded.  Lastly, I had an extremely unpleasant run in with one very obnoxious drunk.  Speaking with the owner and management the next day, I am confident this will turn out to be an aberration; they were convincing in explaining how hard they are working to make the place family friendly to all visitors.  Enough said, we’ll be back. 

Brown County, Virginia, and a run south

After our unexpected extended stay in Elkhart, we began a complex set of maneuvers designed to meet up with family while continuing our move south.  In retrospect, we made this harder than necessary and transitioned into the southern climate way earlier than ideal given the blazing September and October temps in Georgia and Florida, but we will chalk that up to a lesson learned and plan better next year.

We started the scheme with a run down to Nashville, Indiana (not the other one) to meet up with Dad and Marcia again.  They had social and business obligations there, it was on our route, and we generally like the Brown County area.  We secured reservations at the very large Brown County State Park, but since we did not get out of Elkhart until mid-afternoon we didn’t arrive until after dark.  We enjoyed a cocktail or two with Dad and Marcia to unwind, but had to make it a relatively early evening since I had to get Rose to the airport an hour away in Indianapolis the next morning.

Having failed to take any pictures while in Brown County, I am forced to punctuate these paragraphs with unrelated photos.  Enjoy these peppers and other vegetables.

While Rose visited family in Virginia, I stayed a couple more days in Indiana exploring Nashville with Dad and Marcia.   In addition to a couple of short outings to geocache, we hit several nice places for drinks and food.  The martini at Big Woods Distillery made me reassess my preference for the vodka over the classic gin version, and the meals at The Story Inn and The Hob Nob were both excellent.  I am not sure how the waitstaff kept track of the orders and checks for our big group of 16 diners at the latter restaurant.

This is Serenity in the shop, and yet I have not mentioned a reason for Serenity to be in the shop thus far this post.  This is called foreshadowing.  

After a couple days it was time for the long drive down to Atlanta, which I broke up with a three days stop at the Arnold Air Force Base Family Camp in Tennessee.   My five hour drive turned into a seven hour ordeal when that tire I purchased in Iowa blew out on the interstate.  My roadside assistance through Progressive found me a place truck tire place only nine miles back up the road, and since the blown tire was on one of the rear doolies, I was able to nurse the rig there, and they had me back on the road only $350 poorer.

I made it to the AFB in time to set up and even work in a quick swim before dark.  This is one of those great value military parks in a very tranquil setting with many spots, lke mine, right on the lake.  It offers power and water for $18 a night, and word must be out this place because I was only able to get a late reservation for the weekend due to someone else having just cancelled.   I seem to recall working wifi last visit, but this time I could not get it to function at all.  I managed to get a full day of geocaching in during this stay, setting a new “finds in one day” personal record of 25 caches.  Plans to continue the fun the next day fell victim to heavy rains.

While I was living it up in Indiana and Tennessee, Rose was Linda, Jayson, and the ever growing families of their three sons in Chesapeake, VA.  She was there to help celebrate Jayson’s birthday, and participate in the general chaos associate with nine grand children under ten years.  They took Linda on an outing to perennial favorite Dollar Tree, where Chris, who had never been in one before went a bit nuts because OMG EVERTHING IN HERE IS ONLY A DOLLAR!  Noob.

Linda and Linda Rose

From Tennessee it was on to Atlanta to visit more family and pick up Rose, but we will hit that next post.