Getting back on budget via markets and low cost camping at Lake Monroe County Park

With less than three weeks left in Central Florida we wanted to centrally position ourselves to see friends and family, attend markets, and rein in costs as much as feasible.  In support of that we shifted from the fantastic Wekiwa Springs State Park to Lake Monroe County Park about a dozen miles further north.  At less than $17 a night all in, it is significantly cheaper than the area state parks, particularly when you add in the Reserve America fees.

I forgot to take pics of Lake Monroe, so in lieu of that, enjoy these fall colors from Rosemarie’s trip to Virginia this week.

While Lake Monroe doesn’t have the crystal clear spring or immediate lake front camping of our favorite area spots, it has large power and water sites in the woods near a lake.  The county undertook a significant renovation of the electrical and water connections at the park during the last year, which has significantly improved things for most sites, i.e., previously about half of them had one or both connections on the “wrong” side for most RVs, necessitating either extra long hoses and/or cables, or pulling in front first.  Since the reno, most of the sites have full 50 amp and water on the correct side, and the remaining sites are designated for tent camping only with just a 20 amp traditional plug in available.

Linda Rose, Linda’s newest grandchild.

The park has a boat ramp and dock, private toilet/shower rooms, group camping areas, pavilions, and direct access to a nice bike path running up to Gemini Springs and beyond.

We had a week long stay there, during which we fit in five markets!  That’s almost like having a job, but we are taking advantage of being in an area where we have lots of vending options, knowing that come January we might not.  We started with our favorite event in the area, Deland’s Friday night Artisan Alley Farmers Market.  Aside from being pretty good for us the one time we attended last year and last week, we enjoy the ambiance, cooler evening environment, and energetic groups of liquored up people wandering through.  This week did not disappoint.

The last of the ten mermaid crowns

If there is one down side to this event it is the odd method of assigning spots to those that have not yet “earned” a permanent site.  Though the market does not technically start until 6 PM, if you want a spot you need to arrive and sign in with the manager before 5 (ideally 4:30 if you want to be assured of a good spot) and then wait until she starts handing them out at 5:15 by order of sign up, taking a few minutes to discuss with each person their requirements and then walk them to their appointed place.  As this is going on, the permanent vendors are either already there making sales or leisurely showing up to set up once the street is closed off.

The seated woman and the man are vendors who were doing some light drumming, the woman in yellow wandered by and joined in, making an impromptu drum circle, or drum triangle, either way they all knew what they were doing and it was a fun addition.

Once you have managed to luck into being assigned the same spot three times in a row, you “inherit” it and become a permanent vendor.  This can, we are told, take months, and we don’t anticipate ever getting there.  The net result for us is that what would be a three hour event with maybe half an hour on each end for set up and take down turns into a 5 hour affair, though we make the best of things with a beer at Persimmon Hollow while we wait for assignment time.

It was the week leading up to Veteran’s Day, so PKM and I made a run to Chipotle for a Buy One, Get One Free for vets.

I mentioned in our Wekiwa Springs post that we were not happy with our Saturday Sanford market; though we sell OK, it is too long, has too many other overlapping vendors, and doesn’t have a nice “vibe.”  After the October 28 event, we committed to doing the Lake Mary event instead.  This involved a bit of risk and hassle: It is run directly by Seminole County’s Parks & Rec Department, and they have fairly rigid licensing requirements, non-refundable application fees, and up to two weeks to gain approval.

Meanwhile Rosemarie feasted on Chris’ Chicken Pot Pie.  All of Linda’s sons are quite good in the kitchen.

Encouraged by some of the vendors at our Sunday Sweetwater-Wekiva market, we took the chance, paid for the $25 county business receipt, paid the $25 application fee, and were fortunate enough to get approved within days for the first Saturday in November.  The vendor fee is $25 per event for us non-regulars, so our total commitment before even setting up was $75.  We need not have worried: we had a great day easily exceeding our investment.  The manager restricts excessive duplication of vendor types, so we won’t have the option of attending every week, but that day we locked in three more Saturdays between then and Christmas, working around our planned three weeks in SE and SW Florida.

Sunday morning we headed back to Sweetwater-Wekiva for the market, and though foot traffic was quite light (several of the other vendors reported it as one of their worst sales day, with one irate seller suggesting she would not be back without some sort of market improvement) we had our best day of the handful of times we have attended this event.  Go figure.

Monday evening we tried a new one: Audubon Park Community Market in Winter Park.  Our friend Chris from the Wekiva event turned us on to it, suggesting it had an environment that would probably work for our stuff.  We got last minute approval from the market manager and headed down to set up.  One of the aspects of this event that makes it particularly convenient is that if you can get by with 10′ of table space instead of an entire tent area, they supply the tent and lighting.  For us this is fantastic, because our brand new tent from Caravan Canopy is a monster that barely fits in our trusty tracker once all the other items are stowed.  The vendor fee is dirt cheap, and was even waived for our first attendance.

Audubon Park Community Market

The market itself has a very progressive, neo-hippy sort of vibe, with damn near every food or produce item claiming organic, cage-free, fair trade, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO status, with price points to match such rigorous production.  E.g., “raw” milk for $10 a gallon.  Fortunately, the Empanada man adhered to no such requiremens, and his product was quite tasty and affordable.  We did pretty well at the market; not great but enough to justify coming.  We are not sure when we will be able to return since they have a glut of crafters and artisans such that those types of sellers are spread out, slotted for one day in every four, and our travel schedule might preclude even that.

I might poke a bit of fun at the aggressive organic local yada yada yada marketing, but this is the best juice I have ever had.

The next day Rosemarie headed back to Virginia for another visit with Linda and the extended family, including an overnight trip to Shenandoah National Park.  I stayed with the cat and the rig, hung out with Dad and Marcia a couple of evenings, and spent one with son Jackson and his friends for game night (Dungeons and Dragons, dontcha know, something I haven’t played in 30 years) and prepped to fly solo on a Thursday morning market.

I give you Shimona Hedgeworg, Goblin Monk.

Thursday’s event, “The Springs Market” is run by our Sweetwater-Wekiva manager, Shayna, and is located about two miles down the road from that market.  Like the Sunday one, it does not get a lot of foot traffic, relying on word of mouth, drive by pull ins, and the employee shoppers from the nearby strip mall and business parks.  We did tolerably well, again enough to justify coming, plus I got familiar with our new monster canopy’s set up process.  It may be nearly twice as heavy as our old cheap thing, but it sets up easier and is far sturdier.

So we are off to a great start in November, on track to be well under budget despite a few significant purchases, and having enjoyed a few final days at Wekiwa Springs and a beautiful week at Lake Monroe.  Next up: with limited state and county park weekend availability, we try out a new private RV Resort in the region.

IHOP’s free Red White & Blue pancakes for Veterans Day

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34 Months Fulltiming: October 2017 Report

The Distance:  1,670 miles as we made a fairly direct sprint from the U.P. back to Central Florida.  This puts our annual distance up to 9,701.  November should be a low mileage month since we will spend the majority of it at a few parks north of Orlando before heading down to Coral Springs for Thanksgiving.

Aside from some early back and forth in the UP for our repairs, this is about as straight a shot back to Florida we one can manage.

The Places:   We spent the first week in Munising City Tourist Park before bouncing between Hilltop RV Super Center and the Ojibwa Casino as our repairs got a bit more complicated.  Once all that was taken care of, we spent one final night in Michigan in a Shopko parking lot, then headed south.  We had one night stops at Oneida Casino in Greenbay and Great Lakes Naval Training Center campground in Illinois, then I dropped Rosemarie off at Chicago O’Hare for her trip to Virginia to see Linda and family.

Last few days on Lake Superior’s shore.

While she was away I continued south via Camp Carlson Army Recreation Area and Arnold Air Force Base Family Camp.  I parked the rig at Dobbins AFB Family Camp outside Atlanta, where I picked up Rosemarie.  The next day we continued south to Wanee Lake Golf & RV Resort for a few days of golf and relaxation, then crossed into Florida for a couple of nights at Grand Lake Golf & RV Resort.  Finally, we moved Wekiwa Springs State Park for the last ten days of October.

A series of one night stops as we headed south, this one at Oneida Casino’s RV Park.

We stayed 10 nights at private campgrounds (including four at casinos and 1 stealth camping at Shopko) 16 at public sites (6 city, 10 state,) and 5 at military campgrounds.  We had full hook ups for 11 days, partial for 18 (13 with power and water, 5 with electrical only) and drycamped for 2.

PKM enjoyed a lot more bed space while Rosemarie was in Virginia.

The Budget:  Unsurprisingly, we finished the month 16% over budget.  Despite a handful of modestly successful markets we couldn’t overcome the effects of hundreds of dollars for Serenity’s repairs (our warranty deductible plus all shipping costs and the door lock kit,) three full tank fill ups for the big rig during our run south, and annual license registration for both vehicles.  Considering all that, we were not overly disappointed with the month’s monetary situation, and November will be much better with our limited movement along with a slew of markets lined up.

Rosemarie is putting her large shell collection to good use: Mermaid Crowns for our markets.

The Drama and the Improvements:  After waiting five weeks for our new refrigerator, during the installation we encountered additional mechanical problems related to a leaking propane regulator valve that forced us to stay four more days awaiting a part.  We finally escaped Michigan, a bit poorer, but with a new fridge, microwave, awning brackets, and the aforementioned valve.  Then, when I was ready to pick up Rosemarie in Atlanta, the RV door would not open, forcing me to climb out and back in the window with tools.  I eventually had to drill through the lock mechanism just to get it open, and then replace the entire assembly.  If you have a house on wheels that you bounce down the road 10,000 miles a year, you’re gonna encounter these problems.

2017 monthly reports to date:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

Beginning our one month Central Florida stay (and CFL market season) at Wekiwa Springs State Park

The last two Fall seasons we spent time in the Central Florida region bouncing around between half a dozen of our favorite area parks.  This year, two of them are closed (Trimble and Kelly County Parks) and one other is closed to swimming (Blue Springs State Park) all of this related to Hurricane Irma damage.  This cuts every RVers options down, but particularly those of us that prefer the state and county options to the private parks and resorts in the region.  It’s early enough in the season that weekdays are still quite easy to get at our remaining preferred places, but the weekends are booked pretty solidly way out.

Our first site at Wekiva Springs State Park.  Big and green, partial hook ups.

So as we entered the fourth week of October we locked in a five day window (Sunday through Thursday) at Wekiwa Springs State Park, and a few days later we managed to snag the weekend on a cancellation and then extend another five days into November.  This is one of the keys to getting popular state parks: keep checking for cancellations; they often occur in that last 48 hours.  Wekiwa also seems to have a handful of sites that are not on the reservation system but that the ranger office can assign based upon in person “walk up” campers.

Wild turkeys wandering through our site

By the way, if you are googling around for Wekiwa you will find two spelling variations, Wekiwa and Wekiva, with the park, river, streets, and neighborhoods variously adhering to one or the other.  I have heard two explanations for this:

  1. The right spelling and pronunciation is Wekiwa, deriving from a Creek-Seminole word for “spring” but transcription errors way back led to the river itself getting the Wekiva spelling, which stuck, and thus some other things in the area use that version as well.
  2. Wekiwa is the Indian word for “spring” and Wekiva is the word for “river” or perhaps “spring fed river” so they are both right.  I suspect the first option is closer to the truth.

Our second site at Wekiva: a bit less green but full hook ups

After a few days into our stay Dad and Stepmom Marcia arrived in the region and joined us at Wekiwa Springs for a week.  The last time we were able to RV with them was when we accidentally ran into each other in Texas’ Balmorhea State Park.  Since they will be wintering in various parts of Florida this year we will likely spend a lot more time in or near the same RV park.

Grillin on dad’s nearly pristine Weber.  Ours gets near daily use, and looks like it has been through a war.

Wekiwa Springs is  fantastic place to RV, or just visit for the day.  The spring itself is huge, crystal clear, and largely free of any shoreline vegetation in the generous swim area.   This allows swimmers and snorkelers to enjoy the constant 72 degree water in ideal conditions without any real worry about snakes or gators (a fear that is largely overblown anyway.)  The place gets pretty crowded on weekends, which makes RVing there on the weekdays even better, especially during the school year: you get the spring almost to yourself.

Wide shot of the spring

The spacious RV sites are a mile or so from the spring in a nicely wooded area, and sometime in the last couple of years were all upgraded from dry camping to a mix of full hook up and power/water only sites.  The price is right at only $24 plus tax a night, though you still have to pay the egregious Reserve America fee for each and every reservation, which hurts when you have to string together several of them to make a decent stay.

Speaking of money, we began our Florida farmers and artisans market season in earnest this month.  As I look back through our calendar I see a pattern of market dearth and surfeit, of scarcity and plenty.  When we are travelling with any sort of speed we don’t have the time for them, often do to the approval process timeline; we have been approved for several markets only after we have left an area.  Additionally some states, counties, or cities have strict rules (and fees) for licenses and the like, which often makes it not worth the time, effort, and money.

When we settle down in an area, however, we can usually leverage that time into getting the necessary research, approval, and paperwork done for several local events.  Thus our time in Tucson, Whidbey Island, and the U.P. lead to months with 5 to 8 markets.  Central and Southwest Florida are two additional market rich regions for us, and we expect to do as many as 25 of them before Christmas.  We started things off right with that community wide yard sale at Grand Lake, and really kicked things into high gear during the last weeks of October.

A noisy squirrel wouldn’t shut up right beside our rig.  I attempted to threaten it with PKM.  It didn’t work.

Finally having a bit of a firm schedule, we had gotten ourselves approved for events in Sanford, Deland, and Sweetwater-Wekiva, which covers every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with Sanford also offering the option for a Thursday evening vend at a local craft brewhouse.   With our dance card as full as we could want, we closed out October with five markets.  Sweetwater-Wekiva gave us one very solid and one poor result, but we will stay with it regardless because we enjoy the atmosphere, its quite close to the state park, and we have gained a lot good information from the other vendors and Shayna, the market manager.

Rosemarie’s mermaid crowns are selling briskly.

The Sanford Thursday event was a total bust with almost no foot traffic and apparently not much local awareness.  Sanford’s Saturday market was better, but not enough to justify the unnecessarily long hours and almost palpable sense of desperation emanating from some of the other vendors (including seven other jewelers.)  We started looking hard at alternatives for Saturday, and lucked into a very solid market, more on that in a later post.

Lastly, we did Deland’s Artisan Alley night market, which was so great for us last year and did not disappoint this time around.  It’s short, has lots of foot traffic, much of it coming out of local bars so the money flows a little freer, and just has a great vibe to the whole thing.  The only down side is, as a non regular, we have to show up nearly an hour and a half before the official start time to register and get a decent spot.  This is less of a pain that it sounds because we can kill that time having a beer at popular Persimmon Hollow brewery, and the official start time means nothing to the people wandering buy and ready to make purchases as soon as anyone is set up.

We closed out October with a couple of hours geocaching with Dad and Marcia, along the excellent Seminole Wekiva bike trail.   There are several that are either missing or have become much harder to find as a result of Hurricane Irma, but we still managed to snag four during a nice afternoon of bicycling along this unique stretch of trail.  Local artists have put a great amount of time and effort into painting hundreds of yards of dilapidated panel fencing along the route with every manner of pop culture oriented works.  It’s definitely worth your time to see if you are in the area.

Through Georgia Into Florida: Wanee Lake and Grand Lake Golf Resorts

Had there been any openings at Dobbins other than the dry overflow spots we probably would have lingered a day or two, but lacking a real site we continued south, stopping at one of the best value RV spots we have found in nearly three years on the road:  Wanee Lake Golf & RV Resort in Ashburn, GA.  They honor Passport America’s 50% off rate for up to three nights, and still offer 25% off beyond that.  So for $16 a night we had full 50 amp hook ups, somewhat usable free wifi, and unlimited walking golf on their 9 hole course (there website says its $18.75, so not sure why they only charged us $16.)

I managed to fit in 27 holes during our stay, along with a good amount of time on the chipping and putting green trying to regain some semblance of a short game.  Rosemarie joined me for the walk on day two, and helped me find a strikingly large number of lost balls near one of the water holes.

I even participated in the Thursday evening scramble with about 20 other players, a best ball format with picked teams and five buck entry from all, with the winning team splitting the pot.  Fortunately I was put on a team that in no way takes the event seriously, and I was able to contribute particularly in the short iron and putting department.

The evenings were chilly enough to justify a fire, and one afternoon a casual conversation with other women in the laundry led Rosemarie to mention her jewelry making, which resulted in two of them coming down that evening to make some purchases.  While not quite as odd as the near accidental sale I made in a commissary parking lot months ago, we certainly welcomed the opportunity to make a few more bucks during an expense heavy month.

Though all sites are full hook up and pull through, the RV park is fairly basic in terms of decor: a grass field near the first tee box.  And though the pool and hot tub were closed for repairs while we were there, I nonetheless consider Wanee Lake to be one of the very best value parks we have visited, but only for those that enjoy golf.  I look forward to incorporating it into our exit route from Florida in the late winter or early spring of 2018.

After Wanee I-75 took us into Florida where we pushed as far south as Citra, a bit beyond Gainesville, to Grand Lake RV & Golf Resort.  Last year we stayed there for a couple of nights out of convenience, and stumbled into a community wide yard sale that allowed us to set up our tables and vend right in front of the RV.  We maintained contact with the resort and slightly adjusted out return to Florida date in order to take advantage of this year’s event, which was even more successful for us than the previous one.

PKM scored a practically brand new scratching post, harness and leash for $1.50 at the yard sale.

Though this is a golf resort, I didn’t fit in a round: we had other things going on during our two day stay and they did not have any sort of deal like Wanee Lake offered in terms of free or steeply discounted rounds.  Maybe next time.

So there it is: we have made it back to Florida, and will spend a month or so in the central part of the state before heading down to the SW and SE coasts for several weeks.  We are still formulating our plan for the bulk of the winter after Christmas since the campground at Key West Naval Air Station is closed with no solid opening date.  We shall see!

To Atlanta, Dobbins Air Force Base, and getting locked inside the RV.

Having completed about two thirds of our trip from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Central Florida while Rosemarie spent family time in Norfolk, I departed Arnold AFB and headed to Atlanta to pick her up.  Though decent RV parks in the area are rather pricey, the Dobbins Air Force Base has a small campground just north of the big city in Marietta.  The place is mildly notorious for having extremely long term residents, which means availability for everyone else is quite limited.  Such was the case when I called for an opening.  No worries, they have overflow drycamping, and a space might open up on a cancellation.

Of course, Dobbins is one of those bases where large vehicles have to use a commercial gate, and google maps has no idea where those are.  My less than three hour drive turned into a four hour saga involving two very tight maneuvering situations as I struggled to find the proper entry point.  Eventually I prevailed.  Meanwhile, the first leg of Rosemarie’s flight developed mechanical problems after they pushed back from the gate, eventually forcing her to rebook a later flight with a different connection and a downgrade in class.  Horrors!

Ah well, we would soldier through.  Then Serenity’s phantom entry stair failure reappeared, meaning sometimes they stay out when they needed to come in, and sometimes they stay in when I needed them out.  Arghh, what else could go wrong?!  And then I got locked inside the RV.  That’s right, inside the RV.  No matter of fiddling or hard shoving would get the thing to budge; something was clearly jamming one of the bolts in place.  After disassembling the lock from the inside (which involved climbing out and then back in the passenger window to retrieve the necessary tools) I discovered a broken piece of metal that looked like it was part of the door bolt, but even after pulling it out I could not get the damn thing to open. I beat on it, kicked it, removed every screw I could get to, and yet the door remained resolutely shut.

I eventually had to give up and drive to the Atlanta airport to pick up Rosemarie, which involved it’s own drama due to the incredibly crowded arriving flights zone.  We sorted it out and got on our way back to the base, where I boosted my fortunately petite wife through the window before following through myself and pulling the step ladder up behind me.

That’s supposed to be one piece, not two.

The next morning, clear headed and with renewed vigor, I tackled the door lock, this time assisted by my trusty power drill and a set of carbide bits.  Having tried everything else, I could see no other recourse but to drill through the plate that was covering whatever had the door jammed.  Once I got the 1/2″ bit involved, the door sprung wide.  Turns out that the standard latch bolt had sheared, and the piece closest to the striker plate had wedged in place.  My drill bit had dislodged it, and once open I was able to fully disassemble the lock and remove it.

When in doubt, hammer, if you can’t hammer, drill.

A bit of experimentation revealed that the dead bolt would still lock, so we had a partially working door latch, and I ordered a replacement for the entire assembly from ebay at half the price that TriMark wanted.  Hopefully I can get that installed with minimal additional drama.

Next post: on two Florida with return visits to two great RV resorts.

Divergence: Rosemarie in Norfolk, Jack sprinting south with the rig: Through IL, IN, KY, TN, and into GA.

Having dropped off Rosemarie at Chicago O’Hare for her flight to Norfolk, I continued south through Indiana into Kentucky.  My route planning suggested two stopping points, both at military bases.  One was just south of Indianapolis, the other just across the Indiana-Kentucky border.  After fighting my way through traffic in Chicago, I made good speed through Indiana, and decided to push on.  Unfortunately my late start, road work, and heavy traffic areas resulted in me pulling into the Army Recreation Area at Camp Carlson after sunset, and I had to set up after dark.

I don’t have much to say about this park since I was there for only 13 hours, most of that in the dark.  I debated between a no frills, power only back in site versus a full hook up pull through, but after working with the camp host, I had to settle on neither of those: a full hook up back in.  I needed to dump anyway, so the couple of extra dollars was worth not having to deal with the dump and water fill station.

While Rosemarie was in Norfolk, I worked my way through the rest of the Chicago style pizza we bought in Great Lakes, IL.  Assisted, of course, by our new actually working microwave.

Meanwhile Rose found a true New York style joint in Norfolk with the traditional NYC oversized individual thin crust slices.  Which would you prefer?

It had been a hard day, but I reaped the benefit with my far shorter drive to Arnold AFB in Tullahoma, TN the next.  This was the second in a string of four AFB Family Camps we hit during our 2016 sprint from Iowa to Florida, and was one of our favorites.  A truly peaceful wooded campground six miles deep into the AFB owned forested land, this lakeside spot is one of the best values we experienced last year.  I had planned an aggressive push to Atlanta in order pick up Rosemarie after he brief visit to Norfolk, but arranged it such that I could get at least two days here, even if it meant one night stays everywhere else along the route.  At $15 a night, this is one of the best RV campground deals we have experienced, and if in the area I would gladly return.

A pause in Tennessee allowed me to do something better than left overs: A small piece of sirloin steak covered in farmers market roasted garlic, shallots, and wild mushrooms with heirloom tomatoes in olive oil on the side.  Unidentified liquid in the upper right.

Rosemarie had three solid days in Norfolk to visit Titi Linda and the family (Jayson, Titi Mari, cousins Nathaniel, June June, and Christopher, and their wives and eight children.)  As a result of Linda’s ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) she has been handing out items she can no longer use.  This resulted in a three women fashion show with Linda insisting that the ladies “Say yes to the dress” as Rose and daughter-in-laws Amy and Kaytarra went through the closet.

Throwback picture with several of the sisters, nieces and nephews, including Clari, Mari, Junior, Yvette, and Rosemarie 

Rose, Meri, Linda & Jayson enjoyed a day trip to the new waterfront, finishing off the day with an as close as authentic New York style slice as you can get from Benny’s, and a nice sunset across the bay.

And with some last minute drama, we make our escape before the real cold hits

So our plans to head south had been delayed due to Serenity’s additional critical repairs.  I got hold of American Airlines to cancel or change Rosemarie’s flight, and they offered me the choice of either paying $150 to get the points back or getting a voucher to fly the same route sometime within the next year.  The latter was the obvious choice for us since we still planned to execute our “Rose goes to Norfolk while Jack moves the rig south” plan.  After that we headed to our fancy Ojibwa Casino spot and settled in for three days, continuing to take advantage of the casino’s exclusive promo for RVers (free drink, $5 slot free play, and $10 blackjack matching coupons for each of us every day!)

And of course, we can’t have just one thing go wrong at a time, right?  While making a grocery run following heavy rains, Loki decided not to start in the parking lot.  Thinking it was the battery I got a jump from a kind stranger, and once back at the casino pulled out my battery charger to make sure things were topped off, the nearly two year old battery was a very cheap Walmart special and might have failed.  A simple problem if so, but no, the charger told me the battery was just fine.

Having visited Hilltop RV several times this month, kitty feels right at home in their customer waiting area.

Based on the specific symptoms (full charged battery, lights and wipers all work, heavy clicking when the key is turned but not even the slightest bit of engine turn over attempt) and the timing (occurring as it did right after driving in wet roads) the internet informed me that the likely culprit was the starter.  Fortunately the local Napa could get a refurbished one by early Tuesday morning, allowing us to pick it up on the way to Hilltop RV for repairs.

Once at Hilltop Elizabeth got the mechanic started on our propane furnace valve and refrigerator installation, and even hooked us up with one of the other techs that agreed to install the new starter after hours that same day.  I had taken a look to see if I could do it myself, but the position of the bolts would necessitate more knowledge and tools than I could provide.  Besides, he offered to do it for $50, which was a great deal, particularly since it took him a bit over an hour to do it since the bolts fought back so hard.  Once it was installed… it still didn’t start.  After a bit more exploration he cleaned off a section of the cable connection points that I had not spotted, and she fired right up.

Now, I think the starter was in fact bad, but it is possible I wasted $116 for a new one and it was only the connection point corrosion that was the real problem.  Who knows?  Bottom line, we were all fixed and ready for the road by 6PM that day.  It was too late for us to make our next planned stopping point, so we parked at the far end of the nearby Shopko, and went undisturbed through the night.  The next morning I called American and rescheduled Rosemarie’s flights, and then we were off, pointed south into Wisconsin.

The view from out stealth camping site at Shopko

After crossing the border, we made one unexpected stop, lured off the interstate by a big cheese shop billboard.  No way we were going through Wisconsin without stocking up, and we left with a hoard of block cheese, mozzarella, and curds from Kugel’s Cheese Mart before finishing the day’s driving leg.

I had found yet another casino resort that had an actual RV park with electrical hookups for $15 a night, or free drycamping in the parking lot.  Normally I would balk at paying that much just for electricity at a casino, but their small wooded RV park was far nicer than the busy parking lot, and made for a much better environment.  We did our usual; signing up for their players club and text alerts, giving us each $15 in free slot money, but the casino gods might be tiring of our game because we only managed to turn that into $14 in real cash between us.  Ah well, it provided a fun half our diversion along with free coffee.

Onieda Casino’s small RV campground.

After our one night stay we pushed on to the outskirts of Chicago, staying at the Great Lakes Navy Training Center.   The park was surprisingly full given the lateness in the season, the rainy weather and our weekday arrival, but they had an electric only site for $19 a day.  In better weather this would be a nice little RV park, situated directly on the shore of Lake Michigan, though I could do without the complicated route once inside the base along narrow roads with tight turns and a lot of one ways.

We didn’t have time to explore The Windy City, but we at least took advantage of the stop to pick up a great Chicago style pizza from a local joint.  Which actually took two tries since the first place we stopped, based on a local’s recommendation, did not even have true Chicago style, just a glorified deep dish.  No thanks, we want the authentic version!

Our stay in the U.P. had gotten us out of the habit of checking for toll fees when doing our route planning, and we had been surprised by a couple of cash only ones as we drove through Illinois, which can be particularly troublesome for out of town RVers if you hit one of the coin only, unattended gates and have to pay nearly $5 in change.  We were fortunate to have what we needed that day, but for the rest of our trip we found toll free routes on major roads that only added a few minutes and a couple of miles to the trip.

We broke camp from Great Lakes by mid morning, and I parked Serenity at a Walmart 10 minutes from Chicago O’Hare, and we took Loki the rest of the way to drop Rosemarie off for her flight to Norfolk.  I got hooked pushed hard towards Atlanta.  That trip next post!

Our Last Week in the UP?

Everything was falling into place for our final week in the UP.  While we waited the last few days for our new refrigerator to arrive, we shifted west from Grand Marais to Munising’s municipal RV park.  After four days there on the lookout, we spotted the perfect lake front site open up, so we pulled up stakes and shifted to the shoreline, adding $3 to our daily cost, but well worth it.  Daily walks along the beach resulted in a surprising amount of beach glass and other interesting stones, including quite a lot of green and purple “slag glass” from a former iron plant nearby (silica being one of the main impurities smelted off during processing.)

On Tuesday evening we participated in Munising’s farmers and artisans market, a first for us, but one we hope to do again during a future trip to the region.  We could tell that had we been there during the height of the season, especially when the tour boats were in full swing, things would have been fantastic.  But even with this late in the season event, we still sold enough to make us happy.

Best of all we got word from Hilltop RV that our refrigerator had finally arrived, and they juggled their technicians’ schedule to get us in for installation on Saturday, Oct 7.  Which, by the way, involved something I never considered: they had to take into account their tech’s pet allergies when assigning them work on RV’s, that, like ours, have a full time resident cat!  Who knew?

Regardless, all good news for us, and having finally secured an installation date we were able to develop a complicated “combination driving route to Florida slash flight plan for Rosemarie” to visit Titi Linda and the various cousins and other relatives in Norfolk, VA: She would fly out of American Airline’s major hub in Chicago, which was directly along our route back to FL, and I would continue south, picking her up in Atlanta, also along our route.  Perfect!

We finished off our last days in Munising and the UP with gusto.  Though Cap’n Ron continued to be out of his smoked white fish dip, we reluctantly made do with a nearby competitor.  During an outing to visit thrift ships and the like, we made a side trip to visit some of the many beautiful waterfalls in the region.

We also took a whole day to drive down to the southern region of the UP in order to pick up a new headlight for Loki.  Nearly a year ago I rearranged our rear, ladder-mounted bicycle rack to minimize protrusion of the wheels or handle bars, eventually one of my bungee cords broke, allowing the handle bars to drop down such that a sharp right turn resulted in a bike handle jamming into the Tracker’s passenger headlight, breaking all three bracket mounts and cracking the turn indicator as well.

I found Jake’s Boneyard in Gladstone that had a tracker, and after negotiation they sold me a new headlight and turn signal assembly for $50.  It only took me an hour to figure out how to remove the old one, made so much easier once I disassembled the front grill.  Things were really coming together for our last week in the UP!

Unless, of course, things went south.  Oct 7th, Saturday morning, we broke camp early and headed to Hilltop RV.  Having waited five weeks to get our new refrigerator, we were excited to not only be on our way, but also to cease living out of a cheap, decades old cooler.  The only thing that could prevent our fabulous departure plan from Michigan was if the techs discovered another major problem during the fridge, microwave, or awning repair process.  Which, of course, they did.

And let me be very clear, Hilltop RV has been nothing short of amazing for us, flexing their schedules, rushing what needed rushing, and generally working with us in every conceivable way.  Especially our service manager, Elizabeth.  But sometimes things happen, and this was one of those times: as they were removing our old refrigerator they found a significant propane leak from our furnace valve.

This is a significant hazard, and needed to be addressed, post haste.  Elizabeth managed two things in the wake of this discovery: she got EasyCare to include it on the warranty under the existing work order (meaning we would not have to pay an additional deductible,) and got the valve part ordered for delivery Tuesday morning.

So, yeah, this would be a major pain in the ass, involve us rejiggering those previously mentioned flight plans, and having to return to our luxury casino “hotel” for a few days, but it’s kinda hard to complain about getting a significant safety issue discovered and repaired for no additional cost, right?  Right!  We would sort out the ticket changes with American Airlines later, and a few more days in the UP wouldn’t hurt us, especially since we had confidence that Hilltop RV would, in the end, get us on the road.

33 Months Fulltiming: September 2017 Report

Look at us, so on top of the blog that the monthly report comes out within a week!

The Distance:  239 miles, as predicted in our August Report, a big slow down after our sprint east.  The entire month consisted of crossing from one end of the UP and back, with our schedule defined by Serenity’s ongoing repairs.  Our annual total is up to 8,031.   October will be a big mileage month as we work our way all the way to Central Florida.

The Places:   We spent the entire month on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We had only planned to be her for maybe 25 days, but the wait for our new refrigerator has pushed us up to five weeks.  Fortunately the weather has been mild, sometimes downright blazing.  We started the month in Ishpiming at the RV park behind Hilltop RV Superstore before moving to the Ojibwa Casino (another lucky casino for us) near Marquette.  After a sprint back to Ishpiming for repair related reasons, we continued west to our favorite U.P. spot, Woodland Park in Grand MaraisAfter nearly three weeks there we decided to try another U.P. town, and moved back east to Munising’s City Tourist RV Park.

We stayed eight nights at private campgrounds (including three at the casino) with the remaining 22 at public sites (all at municipal campgrounds.)  No drycamping at all this month; we had at least electrical power for all 30 days (27 with power and water, 3 with 20 amp electric only at the casino.)

The Budget:  We killed it this month!  The lucrative RVers promotion at Ojibwa Casino contributed, but our great success at the Grand Marais and (especially) Marquette markets really did the trick.  We ended up under budget by 33%, which puts us within striking distance of being on budget for the year.  This really validates our last minute plan to head to the U.P.; sure it contributed to us being way over budget last month, but the fridge was already bad by then, that tire was gonna blow one way or another this year, and the extra gas to get here will, by the time we get back to Florida, only account for perhaps an additional $350.

The first half of October will be tough since we have to pay the rest of our EasyCare Warranty deductible and freight costs for the new refrigerator, but when we get back to Florida late in the month we have a series of markets lined up to buff up the funding picture.

The Drama and the Improvements:  We have been living out of a cooler for five weeks now as we wait for our new refrigerator, but the end is in sight; it should be installed by this weekend.  This involved some unfortunate delays since our extended warranty company insisted on sending an inspector to confirm the required repairs, but most of the delay was just waiting for a new fridge from the factory.  I finally got around to addressing the heavily oxidized and bug embedded paint on Serenity’s front end, going at it with rubbing compound, polish, and wax.  Huge improvement.  Lastly, we have heard from two different readers that our ongoing picture problem following the Photobucket fiasco seems to have solved itself.  No idea what happened, but that’s good news.  I am working to get the pics and associated links from 2016 and 2015 posts uploaded and repaired this month.

2017 monthly reports to date:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

A new spot in the UP: Munising

A shorter than usual post just to close out the month of September.

Having spent nearly three weeks in Grand Marais, we decided to check out another part of the UP for what we hoped would be our final week in the region.  Not that we don’t love the place, but we are pushing our luck with seasonal weather and would like to get south before the first freeze.  Having driven through Munising several times, it looked like a nice town, right on the lake shore, bigger than Grand Marais, smaller than Marquette, and having several nice features to make it perfect for our needs.

Another great U.P. location on the shore of Lake Superior

Like Grand Marais, it has an affordable “first come, first serve,” municipal RV campground right on Lake Superior.  Munising City Tourist Park has a rate structure that runs from $25 a night all the way up to $39 for the premium, full hook spots closest to the beach.  We selected a $31 site with 50 amp and water one row back from the lake.  Though we arrived in rainy and windy weather, since then we have had beautiful days.

Our spacious site at Munising City Tourist Park.  The electrical and water connections can be a bit confusing and tough to reach, but a great park.  First Come First Serve after September.

Munising also has a Moose Lodge, which we had stopped into for a drink last week on our way back from Marquette.  Now just a few miles from it, we were able to participate in the Friday evening fish fry.  We chose to split the mixed basket, which included white fish, perch, and walleye, of which the latter was the clear winner by our votes.

One of the other great things about this place is that puts us only 45 minutes from the Marquette market that has been so successful for us.  This removed the need for a hotel stay in town, and a good thing too because we were running a bit low on points for that program.  So on Saturday morning we woke up early and headed back to Marquette for another market; our participation there has really pushed our budget back on track this month.

In lieu of yet another picture of the Marquette market, here is a cat. Which we almost never post.

We had another fantastic day with excellent, if chilly, weather.  This time I got to the mushroom guy while he still had shiitake and wine caps in addition to the oysters.  As we have enjoyed ever increasing success at this event, we have become more willing to spend some of the profit with our fellow vendors.  This time we treated ourselves to some warm bread pretzels, a ham and swiss pinwheel, an entire quart of the shrooms, and did so despite having sold almost nothing the first hour or so.  Because, as mentioned last post, our sales come with the lunch crowd, and sure enough we enjoyed a bonanza, again breaking our sales record for a single event.  As advertised, we donated 10% of our sales to help some people in Puerto Rico deal with their recovery.

I’m thinking about tossing this on top of the RV and bringing it back to Florida.  It would look great as the centerpiece in a big aquarium.

So we closed out September on a great note, our six market having allowed us to live a bit richer than our normal routine and still finish the month well under budget.  Since then we have finally gotten definitive word on our replacement refrigerator, and foresee the first full week of October as our last week in U.P.  All of that after our September Fulltiming Report.

Sunset from the shore.