(Most of) December in Sanibel

Our first week on Sanibel Island this Winter reminded us why we not only keep coming back, but also why we increase out stay time each year: we just love the place and all it provides.  Beautiful beaches, outstanding shelling, fun shops, excellent restaurants, miles of bike trails, vast nature preserves, easy access to The Big City (Fort Myers) and a great social atmosphere at Periwinkle Park.  With just over three weeks remaining in our month long stay, we tried to hit all the things we remembered loving and add a few new events and places to our experience.

 

We are now in the habit of timing our Winter visit such that it overlaps “Luminary,” an Island-wide annual event on the first Friday in December.  After stumbling across it two years ago, we ensure this fantastic evening is part of our early Winter.  Miles of bike paths are lined with paper, sand, and candle lanterns, many of the businesses along the route put out sample trays of their food, or provide wine, cheese, and other hors d’oeuvres, and a few locations provide live music.

 

We are much more prepared than our first year: our bikes have full lighting, we know the route, add a bit of flair to our clothes, and peddle hard to our furthest point and then making it a leisurely return with multiple stops before finishing the evening at Huxters, just outside Periwinkle Park, for the live band.  If you find yourself in SW Florida in early December, consider giving this event a run. 

We used our library membership to check out passes to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW.  They give a fun and informative talk about all they do, which by the name you can probably figure out involves taking injured animals, nursing them back to health, and if possible returning them to the wild.  They also do a lot of research and data collection for use by a wide range of organizations tracking wildlife populations and the like. 

Though we had big plans to hit several of the excellent restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva, our budget busting repairs from late October encouraged us to reel in our dining this month, particularly since we are already paying one of our steepest daily camping rates.  Thus we did not get to return to Island Cow or The Pecking Order, or try out Timbers or The Clam Shack.  We did hit our preferred pizza joint from past years, but something has gone amiss in their “by the slice” system, and we were very disappointed.  Ah well, we made up for this culinary austerity program with some wonderful stuff from the three farmers and artisans markets we did in Naples.

Speaking of which: we did three farmers and artisans markets in Naples.  One of the things we have always said about our market participation in various venues across the country is that even when we don’t make a lot of money, we still get to enjoy the locally produced goods, interact with locals and tourists alike, and get the skinny on things we should and should not do in these unfamiliar towns and cities.  I’m gonna come right out and admit that this positive attitude towards low performing markets has gotten harder to retain in light of our increasing expectations following some of our recent extraordinary successes. 

One of the more interesting sights from our Naples market.  Yes, hair dye, not clothing.

So yes, we were pretty disappointed with that first Naples event last month, but the second one was better, and then the third was, again, disappointing, but we closed out with a moderate bang on our fourth.  If, for whatever reason, we find ourselves staying in the Naples area, we will consider doing their Pine Ridge market again, but when in Sanibel next year, we will seek closer venues in Fort Myers.

Kind of rare for us to enjoy a sunrise, so at least we got that out of the market.

That said, we bought some wonderful stuff, and by stuff I mean food.  We would start off our day with a big glass of fresh juiced passion fruit.  My God, this stuff is amazing, like an explosion of flavor in your mouth.  Then it was, perhaps, a chocolate croissant for a late breakfast.   We took home blue cheese stuffed olives, pepper jelly, free range eggs, smoked fish dip (mullet is so much better than almost any other options) and specialty cheeses. 

Red shouldered hawk that let us get pretty close during a trip to Fort Myers.

In previous visits to Sanibel, about the only things that got us off the island were the Naples markets.  It just seemed inefficient to pay a $6 toll to go to wherever, when we were already paying that price on market days.  This year we worried less about that and enjoyed multiple day trips to various mainland spots.  It wasn’t all fun and games, one of the first non-market day Fort Myers trips was for me to get a Basal Cell Carcinoma nodule removed via “electrodessication.”

I’m fine, its one of the least dangerous skin things you can get, I am paying the wages of a misspent Florida youth along with some genetic predisposition (thanks Granddad!) and after consultation I elected the electrical burning of it off my arm rather than surgical excision.  The scar is probably a bit worse than the “cut it out” option, but it impacted my activity far less. 

The Basal Cell nodule I had removed.  Haha, no, its an octopus we rescued from a sea gull and returned to the ocean. 

Anyway, whenever I was off island I incorporated Geocaching into the day.  Before my dermatology procedure, I did 25 or so caches in southern Fort Myers.  On another quite day I did another score or so on Cape Coral.  Rosemarie and I did a few during a windy visit to Fort Myers Beach, where we also visited yet another Moose Lodge, our 24th, for a few drinks.  We hit a handful of local thrift shops during our ventures, scoring low cost items for ourselves and gifts for others. 

One of many osprey’s on Sanibel.

One of the things we will need to seriously consider before our next Sanibel visit is the possible purchase of a LeeWay transponder.  Like most toll transponders, it provides the convenience of not having to actually stop at toll booths along with automatic payment via a registered account.  Apparently LeeWay is connected to SunPass (Florida-wide toll system,) E-Pass (Central Florida Expressway system,) Peach Pass (Georgia) and Quick Pass (North Carolina.) 

Typical Sanibel shell mound.

The advantage LeeWay offers over Sunpass is a major discount for the Sanibel Causeway: for a flat $50 fee the $6 toll is reduced to $2 for a six month period (either Nov 1 to Apr 30, or May 1 to Oct 31.)  You can get a full year of this discount for $67, but we really don’t see ourselves in the region outside that late Fall, Winter, early Spring period, so the math is thus: will we cross the causeway 13 times or more during this window?  During our one month stay this year we crossed 10 times, and will probably visit again in late March.  That is right on the edge, but I think we will do it next season just so we don’t feel constrained.

Finally, let’s talk about the shelling, after all, this is one of the primary things Sanibel is known for.  Every day is different, every beach is variable, and we accept and adjust for these changes.  Some days we would hit Bowman’s beach and walk north, away from the crowds, until we hit the major shell piles a mile from the popular areas.  Others we would start at Blind Pass, the cut between Sanibel and Captiva islands, and head south. Several evenings we rode our bikes to Lighthouse Point on the eastern tip of Sanibel to watch the sunset, observe the near shore dolphin hunting, and enjoy the surprisingly good shelling following some heavy weather. 

Part of Rosemarie’s Sanibel shell haul.

We found a lot of beautiful shells: Florida Fighting Conchs of course, Lightning Whelks, Banded Tulips, True Tulips, Apple Murex, Lace Muriex, Shark Eyes, Alphabet Cones, various Scallops, Angel Wings, Florida Cones, Olives, Kings Crowns, Jingles, Worm Shells, Pearl Whelks, etc, etc.  Truly a wonderful shell haul.  But Rosemarie kept reading about the shelling excursions on the Ten Thousand Islands near Marcos Island.  This would be a boating trip to some of the uninhabited islands off the southwest coast with some experienced shelling guides.

We sprung for a shelling tour for Rosemarie with Treasure Seekers Shell Tours.  For $100 she would get a 45 minute boat ride from a Goodland, FL marina, to one of those islands,  three or so hours of professionally guided shelling, light snacks, and the ride back.  A few days before Rosemarie’s trip the weather turned sour, and with a phone call we rescheduled to the day after the bad weather, which would be our last full day in the area.

Shelling on the Ten Thousand Islands is quite different than walking the pristine beaches of Sanibel.  This amazing mound exists partly due to the storms, and partly due to so few people making it out here to pick through it.

Oh what luck.  The stormy days had kicked up an unusually large bounty of shells, and Rosemarie came back with a stunning array, including a very rare variant of the already rare Junonia, a “Chocolate” Junonia, so named because of the much darker and wider spots on this version.   Another woman in her group found a standard Junonia, the sort we now look down our noses at.  In all seriousness, the storm kicked up so many Junonias that we were getting reports of a handful more found by members of the shell tour over the next couple of days.  Someone joked that the Gulf Coast was going to have to come up with another Holy Grail of Shells since Junonias were getting too common. 

Chocolate Junonia (center)

That was a heck of a way to close out our Sanibel stay.  We will be back for sure, hopefully this Spring before we begin our travels out of Florida. 

This beautiful hermit crab gets to keep his shell.  

Up next: Family, family, family as we do pre-Christmas with the cousins, a Christmas day run back to Central Florida and down to Coral Springs.

A collection of the best finds from the group of six on this tour.

 

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47 Months Fulltiming: November 2018 Report

The Distance:  581 miles as we bounced around from Florida’s Gulf Coast to Central Florida and down to Coral Springs.  This brings out 2018 total up to 9,722.  With our December plans we should easily crack 10K.

The Places:  We departed Venice on the first of the month, and then went back and forth between Lake Monroe Park (weekends) and Wekiwa Springs State Park (weekdays) for 22 days before heading south to Coral Springs for five days around Thanksgiving.  Then it was over to Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island to start a one month stay.  We had full hook ups for 17 days, partial (electric and water) for 7, and stayed with family for 6.

The Budget:  16% underbudget, which is good, but not what we had hoped for this month considering our limited mileage, four markets, six days staying free with family and another week in the low cost county park on Lake Monroe.  This means it will be near impossible for us to get under budget for the year in December since we will be spending three weeks at an expensive place, doing Christmas, and prepping for Key West.  Our overage will be a very small percent of the annual budget, so we will get back on track in January.

PKM helping Rosemarie with a crafting project.

The Drama and the Improvements:   Nothing significant in this arena.  After our roof and other repairs/upgrades at the end of October, we are taking a break from anything costly until we get back on budget.

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

October Monthly Report

First week of a month long stay in Sanibel

We have been coming to Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island since our first year with our “training” RV, The Barracuda, a 1978 GM Motorhome, and we have returned a couple of times a year ever since.  As we have likely mentioned before, Periwinkle Park is your only RV option on Sanibel or Captiva unless you know someone with a house with room for you to park, or you snag one of the coveted work-camping jobs at Ding Darling National Preserve (for which there is a waiting list.) 

So with Periwinkle being the only game in town, they can charge steep prices: $58 a night, all in.  OK, so you are willing to bite the bullet and pay that price, but can you even get a reservation?  The park offers “right of first refusal” for the upcoming year to their regular Fall and Winter seasonal customers (The Forty-Niners, so named because originally there were 49 RV sites,) all of whom have been coming for more than a decade. 

It’s not just shells in Sanibel: there is some fantastic driftwood as well.

This means that if you want to stay for any significant length of time in the high season, you need to have been coming for years, slowly building up your stay length as the park management begins to remember you from previous visits and as one of the regulars stops coming.  And Forty-Niners are dedicated: we have met several that, once they became uncomfortable driving their rig all the way down from the north, they started storing their  in Fort Myers and paying someone to deliver it to Sanibel, timed to their arrival.  After six years of repeat visits, we were able to lock in a full month this year, our longest stay, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Medium sized gator swimming away in that pic.

Oh, and the big monthly rate discount you often see at RV parks?  Here it is roughly a 16% decrease from the daily rate, and nothing more than that for an entire season.   This is not the most expensive place we have ever stayed, but it is certainly the priciest RV campground that we regularly visit.  Such an expenditure requires an offset, which is why we have stuck with the Naples Pine Ridge Farmers Market despite the inconvenience of driving their each Sunday and our variable success we have had. 

So the day after our afternoon arrival in Sanibel, we were up at dawn to take the heavily loaded Loki off island for our first of four reserved markets there.   It turned out OK, but not great.  This is sort of what we saw last year with the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving: mediocre sales as, I’m guessing, people were burnt from Black Friday and we aren’t close enough to Christmas.  Ah well.

Honestly, we are victims of our own inertia, having defaulted and financially committed to the Naples event (you have to pay the vendor fee for four weekends in advance) due to our previous participation before we did the research for closer options.  We have done that research now, and found market options in the greater Fort Myers area for nearly every day of the week, which will involve a noticeably shorter drive the next time we come to Sanibel. 

Good God look at the size of that kitty!

Enough griping.  We are on Sanibel, and it is fantastic.  The severe red tide they experienced for much of the Summer and early Fall has mostly dissipated, i.e., we could not detect it at all from the campground, and only noticed it on two visits to the beach, and the shelling has been solid.  Our familiarity with the island means we know which beaches to hit, and, for the most part, which establishments to patronize. 

Typical Sanibel Shell Mound

That includes the Sanibel Public Library, a really excellent example of what a local library can be with sufficient support.  In addition to the books and DVDs, the wifi is free and reasonably fast, the staff knowledgeable, and you can check out passes to three local things that normally charge an entry fee.  Thus in our first week we returned to the National Shell Museum, a place worth visiting even if if you have to pay the regular entry fee. 

Finally, having been coming for six years, though for admittedly brief stays, the regulars are starting to recognize us, particularly those that attend the evening social hour at the covered seating area near the pond.  Though attendance was light that first week; many of the Forty-Niners have not yet arrived for the winter.   So far, we are generally loving our stay and have no regrets about securing a full month here.

Coral Springs Thanksgiving

After our final market day in Central Florida we headed south to Coral Springs, a bit north of Fort Lauderdale, to stay with Xavier and Joy for a few days.  We couldn’t afford for this stop to be pure leisure: we needed to get some things done in preparation for our upcoming month long stop in Sanibel and the markets in the region.  This meant hitting the craft stores to refill supplies, stocking up on groceries since things are noticeably more expensive on the island, and an afternoon at our storage facility to retrieve some things, put away some things, and reorganize it a bit. 

While in Corals Springs Joy helped me turn this batch of Jackson’s peppers from this…

For most of the last 15 years we have hosted or co-hosted Thanksgiving dinner with Xavier and Joy.  I do the turkey (brined and spatchcocked) with the rest of the immediate family providing other courses and side dishes.  We have hosted up to 17 people, but in recent years it was just the four of us and felt a lot less special.  So this year we changed things up and skipped making the meal all together in favor of a dining out at a great restaurant.

…into this

Yes, most places are closed for the day, but if you are in a reasonably large metropolitan area you can find plenty of options; establishments that stay open to cater to just the sort of folks like us that are not up for the hassle of making a big sit down meal.   We did some online research, but it really takes phone calls to sort things out as most of the restaurant websites did not explicitly address their holiday hours.   We narrowed it down to a few ethnic options before selecting La Vie Lebanese in nearby Pompano.

PKM being taunted by this guy.  He’s real tough when there is glass in between them.

What a great choice, everything was fantastic!  The decor, service, and especially the food exceeded our high expectations.  We started with an appetizer sampler platter of hot mezza dishes to share, and followed up with most of us selecting one of the lamb offerings.  The portions were large enough that we ended up taking a good amount home, and it was still delicious warmed up for lunch the next day.  I think we may have a new Thanksgiving tradition on our hands. 

The food was too delicious for us to even remember to get a picture of it once it came.

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.

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!