One Month of Fulltiming, January 2015 report

The distance: 1299 miles since leaving Key West, and we haven’t even gotten out of the Florida!  Based on one full tank calculation, we seem to be getting 8.8mpg, but I will have the opportunity to recheck that within the next week since we are getting down close to a quarter tank of diesel.

The places: 14 stops throughout Florida, gradually working our way North, visiting friends and family in nearly every location.  The frequent moves from park to park have allowed us to narrow down the list of places we will use when we return to Florida next winter for what we think will be a three-month stay.

The budget: We are under budget!  Well, sort of.  In December of 2013 we took a stab at a monthly budget, establishing some baseline numbers for things like RV park fees, diesel, entertainment, etc. As predicted, we are way over the planned for $450 per month RV Park line item, having spent $996, an average of over $32 per night.  This includes the four different change reservation fees and one national park entrance fee.  Of course, we did a lot less dry-camping/boondocking than we plan to do in later months, and Florida parks in the winter are quite pricey, so hopefully this line item will come back into budget as we move West.   We kept our other items sufficiently conservative to make up for busting the park fees: diesel prices having dropped so much that we are well under the planned $450 per month there, we kept our entertainment expenses way down, and have not yet established a satellite TV subscription.  We are fudging the budget a bit in that we don’t count any preplanned bus renovations or repairs (all fo which were supposed to have been completed before we started!) for which we set aside money last year, such as the new set of tires.

The drama:  Our six new Michelin tires are fantastic, but we could have done without the post install problems involving the nearly missing hub cap and deflated tires.  We have completely emptied and reorganized the underside storage areas at least three times, fought with light plumbing leaks, learned a few hard lessons about drycamping, and most recently discovered, after hours of trouble shooting and time spent on the phone with the manufacturer, that our satellite TV antenna will probably require a “newish” receiver (newer than the unsupported model currently installed, but old enough to still be compatible with the 14-year-old antenna) in order to get it working at all.  All in all those are pretty small problems, so we hope that our drama level remains that low for the rest of the year.

Oh Hell we found the cold. Venice, Geneva, Wekiwa Springs, Ocala National Forest and Homosassa.

After decades of living in south Florida we have both lost any semblance of cold tolerance, and thus we are suffering a bit in what most would consider the very mild, even temperate weather of north central Florida.  The cold and windy snap fo the last week has forced yet another round of digging through and reorganizing the storage compartments in order to retrieve our fall and winter clothing.  The up side is that we found a few more items to donate or sell, opening up a bit of maneuvering space in the storage areas.

Ramblers Rest Resort, Venice, FL:  As we have mentioned, this is one of our favorite private parks.  A mixed community of mobile homes, park models, and RVs with a very active community and daily activities.  It is also conveniently located near Rose’s mom, Gloria and her husband, Bill.  Initially assigned a premium spot away from the water in the RV section, we requested something down close the river in the midst of the mobile homes.  They accommodated us, though we had to accept a spot with only 30 Amp hookups vice 50, and no sewage set up either.  Unlike some of the very large rigs, we have never had a problem living off only 30 amps, we just have to remember to not turn on both ACs. altough given the weather shift, that was hardly a problem. We enjoyed a great three day stay, meeting Bill’s son and daughter and their significant others, attending niece Laura’s talent show, and an evening listening to oldies performed by a casual gathering of Ramblers Rest musicians that get together every Saturday night to perform for whomever wants to show up.

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Uncle Bob and Aunt Terri’s, Geneva, FL:  Not only did they provide us with a free spot including electrical hook up, but they let us borrow a car and abuse their laundry machines to our hearts content.  As always, it was a great visit, and we got to see my son and daughter in law as well as the Pineras, childhood friends of Rosie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWekiwa Springs State Park: As a child and young man I visited this park dozens of times, but this was the first time in an RV.  It must have been the only time I have ever been while school was in session, because for one brief period I had the entire spring to myself.  We did a bit of biking and geocaching, during which we were passed on the road by eight wild turkeys.   Aunt Judy and cousin Justin visited us one evening for stories and a glass of wine.  This is the first park were the cold started to impact us a bit, but our AC heating strip and hot water heater kept us cozy.

The spring all to myself

The spring all to myself

Fearless wild turkeys

Fearless wild turkeys

Alexander Springs, Ocala National Forest:  What a fantastically beautiful park, the spring is even more beautiful than Wekiwa, and with the RV park conveniently located much closer to the actual spring than it was in Wekiwa.  Again I had the entire spring to myself for a dip. The downside is we paid $24/night, basically for dry camping: no electrical, water, or sewage hook ups at all, whereas at Wekiwa we paid $3 more per night and got electricity and power.  That may determine where we visit next year, but it was great practice for our planned boondocking out west.  The wind was pretty stiff, but we still enjoyed some geocaching, biking, and swimming.  The Torres clan, Anthony, Angel and Bella, along with a schoolmate, visited us and braved the gusts to take Rosie out canoeing.


Natures Resort, Homosassa, FL:  First, I want to point out that despite the coincidentally similar name, this is not a nudist resort.  It is a fantastically located RV park very close to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs, a major manatee gathering spot.  Unfortunately the weather was extremely windy, with 30 mph gusts most our stay.  We used the time to instead visit with Aunt Chris and Cousin Carlyle and her family, Alex, Allie and Hailey. They took us out to dinner the first night, and we gathered at their nearby home for dinner the next, with Alex graciously providing not only high-end tequila, but also several of his salmon steaks from his recent fishing trip to Alaska.  Natures Resort is, as I said, in an excellent location, but the roads are very narrow and the RV spots pretty tightly packed. If you have a small boat, a number of the sites like ours on the canal and river side have personal docks for each spot.  We wish the weather had been better so we could take advantage of it.


Kahuna Got a New Sextet of Shoes

We were long overdue to replace the rubber that came with the Big Kahuna: they were eight years old with noticable sidewall cracking in at least three.  Motorhome tires are different from regular car or truck tires in that you rarely have to worry about wearing down the tread, the problem is age and exposure.   As I learned attending rallies with the GMC Sunshine Statesmen, even if they appear to have good tread left, a six or seven year old tire should be replaced due to the steady weakening of the rubber and side walls, particularly since the consequences of a blowout are rather more severe in a large vehicle.

Accordingly, we finally got around to putting on six new tires, four on the back axle and two up front.  A friend of mine, Nate, worked for Michelin years ago, and will happily regale you with stories of that particular French-owned company retaining a Mad Men like culture into this century, but will also tell you that the product exceeds the hype, and that he will put nothing but Michelins on his vehicles to this day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As an added incentive to put these top end tires on the bus, the Family Motor Coach Association has a negotiated relationship with Michelin, allowing us to find a no-hassle low-end price on the desired tires.  At $50 per year some might balk at membership in an organization that does not provide regular discounts on RV related things, and is more like an umbrella organization for various other local motorhome chapters (such as the previously mentioned Sunshine Statesmen), but the FMCA Michelin Advantage Program tire purchase plan definitely made this year’s membership price worth it.  Bus tires are ridiculously expensive, way more than your family car and significantly more than modern smaller diameter motorhome tires (ours are 41.5 inches in diameter!), but it had to be done, and FMCA save us money and trouble.


Unfortunately, because the tires had not been changed in so long the threaded pipes that attach the shiny caps to the wheels needed a lot of force and heat to get them loose. Apparently in the process some of them were damaged, or perhaps simply not put back on correctly.  I did not notice it at first since we pulled into the campground well after dark, but this is what greeted me the next morning:


A bit closer:


Three of the five threaded extender pipes were not even attached!  After expressing my displeasure to the tire service company, I bent to the task of putting it on right, discovering that one of the pipes was stripped beyond repair, but the other four, seem solid.  The troubles didn’t end there, as the next morning I awaken to the same tire deflated to almost flat!  The tire company had the decency to dispatch a truck immediately.  The arriving mechanic found that the cat’s eye system that shares air between the two tires on this end of the rear axle had a very slow leak due to a damaged O-ring on one of the connection points.  His shop does not carry this type of system, so he disconnected the cat’s eye completely, refilled the tires, and wished me luck.  I suspect it will hold just fine and all i need to do is find a full service truck shop to replace part of my system.

Paying the Piper: 104 Gallons of Diesel

I last filled up the Big Kahuna in the summer, at what was probably peak gas prices.  Since then we have travelled nearly 900 miles, including the weekend trips during the fall and the last two weeks of our full time journey.  As all RVers must, this week we finally had to cringe at the pump and fill up the enormous tank.  Thank goodness for the plummeting gas prices, because of which we were able to pay less than $3 per gallon, further offset by a our 5% cash back Chase Freedom card and another 1 cent per gallon credit with our Flying J/Pilot rewards program.  I anticipate we will be filling the 125 gallon tank a bit more than once per month this year, making diesel one of our primary expenses. The good news is that we appear to be getting about 8.8 miles per gallon; not bad for a 20,000 pound behemoth.

Pilots, Flying Js, Love’s, and other trucker oriented stations are incredibly convenient for those of us driving big rigs in other than commercial capacities.  They have reasonable prices, large pull through filling stations, and amenities geared toward the long distance driver.  After filling up I took advantage of the $10 haircut barber shop before getting back in the bus to finish our trip to Venice.  Hard to beat that value.

Working our way North, Albeit Slowly: Jolly Roger, Long Key, Everglades, Sanibel Island

As of yet we are not moving a significant amount between each stay, but given how short many of our stops are we still manage to cover a lot of ground.  Since our last significant post from Bahia Honda we have moved five times; sliding 20 miles up the coast to Jolly Roger Travel Park in Marathon, just a few miles beyond that to Long Key State Park, a significant haul to the Everglades National Park, a one night stay in Coral Springs in Xavier and Joy’s driveway, and finally across to the Gulf Coast and a wonderful two night stay at Periwinkle Park and Campground on Sanibel Island.

Part of our plan is to maintain a rapid, short stay pace as long as we are in South Florida so that we can explore and compare RV sites for next winter when we intend to stay longer in each location.  Our research and past weekend trips really helped us avoid pitfalls and bad experiences.  So far we have enjoyed nearly all of the campgrounds.  Only the Everglades was a disappointment, largely because we were not prepared for this type of stay.

Jolly Roger: This was our second stay at this wonderful private park, having been introduced to it during a rally put on by the Sunshine Statesmen in May of last year.  It did not disappoints, and after “roughing” in Bahia Honda with no internet or TV, it was nice to hook up the cable for a few shows and access the parks internet, which by RV park standards was reasonably fast and reliable. Our Passport America discount really made this place worth it, and we will definitely be back for a stay next year.  The PA discount is only good for a maximum of five days in any six month period, so we will maximize that next winter.

Long Key State Park:  What a pleasure! Though we only had two nights, and had to move each day, this is a wonderful place with all of the sites right on the ocean’s edge. Like Bahia Honda it is one of the more expensive Florida State Parks ($43 per night after taxes and fees), but given the location and view onto the water from our front window, it is tough to beat such a place.  Reservations are tough here, we only managed to get in on a cancellation, but we will try to lock in a five or six day stay next winter.

Everglades National Park, Flamingo Campground:  OK, this park is huge, it was a 40 mile drive to the campground after we had already entered the park!  Unlike the FL State Parks, the entrance fee ($10) is not included in the nightly campground fee, so that increased the cost per night a bit, and if this is the way all the national parks work I will have to invest in an annual pass.  The downside is that this park is almost like drycamping with power: no water hook ups, the shower facilities are poorly lit, dank, and without hot water.  The mosquitos were relentless, and many of the great things to see were just a bit to far to walk.  Bottom line: we were not prepared.  Staying here requires a screened in enclosure to enjoy the outside, and a tow vehicle to get to the many many wonderful spots.  Perhaps next year we will give it another go if we feel up to it, but for now we will simply remember the wonderful day trips we have taken to the Everglades before moving into the motorhome. We cut short our planned three night stay and headed over to Xavier and Joy’s to take care of a few pending things before heading to the Gulf Coast.

Xavier and Joy’s driveway, Coral Springs:  One of our favorite spots!  The hosts are so accommodating and the facilities immaculate!  Availability is very limited, so we could only manage a one night stay, heh.

Periwinkle Park and Campground on Sanibel Island: So far this is our favorite private park. A wonderful sense of community, beautiful facilities, fantastic location, a short bike ride to a shell covered beach, wonderful sunsets, what more could you want?  It is, however, very difficult to get reservations.  We managed to get in for two nights using our standard “check every day for cancellations” method, but we had hoped to be able to reserve a week or two next year when we return to Florida. Unfortunately, this place is so popular, and the regulars so committed, that you really have to work yourself into a stay.  The owners told us outright that they re-book all the regulars automatically, and that our only option for a winter visit is to start calling or emailing starting in October for January or February cancellations.  Just like Bahia Honda, this will be a tough place to secure reservations, but we will be persistent.

Where We Are (New Tab)

Yesterday I added a new tab to the black bar just below the header picture of the Big Kahuna.  So in addition to the “Home” tab with our main blog posts, the “About” tab with a paragraph about each and both of us, and the “Geocaching” tab which was intended to keep track of our geocaches but so far remains empty, there is now a “Where We Are” tab.  Though I might fall behind on main page posts, I will make every effort to keep the Where We Are tab up to date, with the first line indicating our present location, below that a history of where we have been this year, and below that an embedded map with all the locations from this year as well.

Bahia Honda

Once again we return to our favorite state park, Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys. Witnessing our arduous 40 mile journey from Key West, one might suppose that our pace, intended as it is to circle the entire country in one year, might be a bit shy of that necessary for, er, success. But! But! We have a plan, and our initially slow pace will pick up as we leave Florida, but it is Winter and one should be a bit hesitant to leave The Keys this time of year.  Besides, we made this particular trip to BH State Park a bit more exciting by driving down the relatively narrow roads in Key West in order to get a photo of the Big Kahuna in front of the big fake buoy designating mile marker 0 and the southernmost point of the U.S.

Manuevering the Big Kahuna for a photo in front of the Southermost point.

Manuevering the Big Kahuna for a photo in front of the Southermost point.

Because we did not make our reservations 11 months in advance, as is advisable to lock in a multiple day stay on the water during the peak winter months, we had to rely on our standard “check on line every day for cancellations” technique in the months leading up to our intended arrival. It paid off, although we did have to move three times in the four days we stayed.  Next year we will be far more prepared as we plan to lock in our reservation at the maximum 11 months out window.
Our three site passess for the four day stay.

Our three site passess for the four day stay.

No worries, we got our reservations and enjoyed a four day stay, with the Nieves clan joining us again for the first two days.  I will say that our commitment to Bahia Honda might appear strange to some visitors, largely because your experience at the park will depend significantly on the weather induced water clarity.  This stay, for instance, was not particularly great, with cloudy and rough water the first two days and only mediocre snorkeling and wading conditions the last two days.  If this were some one’s only visit, and snorkeling or related activities were a primary part of their enjoyment, then they might be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.  I can attest that aside from the wonderful cove beach, the great little family friendly nature trails, and the spacious full hook up RV sites, when the weather is right the water is fantastic.  The cove offers a nice protected almost “no skill required” area to snorkel with a very reasonable chance of seeing sting rays and sea turtles.  The lengthy beach on the opposite side under certain conditions offers a fantastic wading experience through knee deep clear water that is as close as you can come, short of a glass bottom boat, to snorkeling with your face out of the water.
The view from our best spot of the three.

The view from our best spot of the three.

And besides, on this visit alone, even under questionable conditions, we saw a manatee up close and personnel, a small nurse shark in very shallow water, gorgious iguanos and bird life, and the pleasure of watching an ininga hunt underwater right below us on the dock.  In all my years in Florida I have never actually been able to watch with such clarity one of these odd diving birds swim and search for prey.  Fantastic.
Antonella and Evangeline near the Manatee.  And no, they can't touch it.  Or take it home with them.

Antonella and Evangeline near the Manatee. And no, they can’t touch it. Or take it home with them.

Seen from the marina dock.

Seen from the marina dock.

Our last evening we hosted a small sunset get together with our nearest neighbors, even moving indoors for a few more glasses of wine demonstrating that the Big Kahuna can entertain eight adults without too much crowding.
Jack teaching the girls the inherent safety of walking on sharp coral rock outcroppings while wearing flip flops.

Jack teaching the girls the inherent safety of walking on sharp coral rock outcroppings while wearing flip flops.

It’s A Life, Not A Permanent Vacation

One of the lessons rather frequently repeated by full time RVers, even those not trying to earn a living on the road, is that you are not on permanent vacation, you have merely switched all the responsibilities associated with maintaining a home with those associated with maintaining a moving home, and that arguabley the latter are far more demanding. Too wit: In our first week of full timing we had the following “chores” to occupy our time:
Day 1: Last two hours of packing, 7 hour drive to Key West, two hour set up and generator fight.
Day 2: Move to dry camping spot, 2 hour set up and (successful) generator fight round 2.
Day 3: Swap refrigerator doors to the correct opening side, complete removal of everything from the main storage compartment, reorganize and restow.
Day 4: I’m sure there was something. Several somethings.
Day 5: Disconnect and ready for road travel, dump waste tanks, move to new campground at Bahia Honda, set up site, along with another session of “restow the storage compartments” in order to fit the new bathroom counter top underneath rather than in the bus. It is awaiting further attention once we have the cabinet to mount it on. Prepare for the storm of the Nieves clan arrival.
Day 6: Move sites again (take down and reset up in new site), hunt down leak under sink and try to fix.
Day 7: Move sites again (take down and reset up), another round of find the leak under the sink, and restore the combing around the microwave that I disturbed during the refrigerator door fiasco.

Since then we have moved campgrounds once again, even playing the “restow the under-bus storage compartments” game one more time. Until we have more experience and manage to purge a few more items, that may be an unfortunately frequent item on our “to do” list.

And We Begin…

I am more than a bit behind with blogging our transition to full time RVing, so I will strive to push out several posts in the next two days while I have internet access, limited though it is.

After four months at our RV renovators, we finally picked up the Big Kahuna from South Miami on December 23rd, and experienced a mix of happy satisfaction and undisguised disappointment.  Though more than pleased to have the rig back in our possession, we were almost shocked at how little had been accomplished on our work list.  It had become increasingly evident over the past few weeks that our man was way behind, but still, about the only thing he accomplished since the last check in was to install the new refrigerator, which he did with the doors obviously on the wrong side, and replace the toilet.  No new shower pan, no conversion of lights to 12V DC, and certainly no forward movement on the bathroom and kitchen remodel.  Ah well, its back in our hands and too late to change much now.  We spent a week in the driveway of my incredibly accomidating inlaw’s, Xavier and Joy, packing the interior and bus storage compartments, moving our last items to the rented storage unit, selling off everything we could, making donation runs to the local thrift stores, and generally getting ourselves ready for departure.

Which we officially did on December 30, enduring a 7 hour ride to Key West, about twice what google suggested it would take due to extraordinary traffic at nearly every major island.  Since we arrived at the Naval Air Station after dark we were not allowed to check in, even to a dry camping spot.  We spent the night in the parking lot, and I took the time to try and get our brand new little Honda EU2000i portable generator working. Thank goodness for friendly neighbors in the same parking lot, one of whom had the same generator and helped me figure out the minor problem preventing start.  Unfortunately our plan to power up lights and the refrigerator that night fell astray of an overdraw of power on the little Honda: something in the RV was demanding way more than the 13 amps it could produce.  A cadre of retired military guys, several from electrical backgrounds, gave me a series of things to try once daylight broke, but for the night we were stuck in the dark.  Thankfully, temperatures were quite tolerable.

The next morning we learned that the the RV grounds were nearly at full capacity, and only dry camping was available.  This was not a big deal for us since we had planned a couple of days of that in Key West anyway, but we were surprised at how few spots were left available even for primitive camping.  We selected one of the few remaining on Trumbo Point, which is much closer to Mallory Square than the other available area on Sigsbee Annex.  We spent the morning setting up and pursuing the possible generator fixes suggested by the crusty former sailors and soldiers, and sure enough I found that my inverter/converter demands 22 amps to charge the house batteries.  I found the breaker to isolate the inverter, and voila, problem solved, refrigerator running, with the only down side that we were not charging the deep cycle house batteries. No problem, they withstood the four days without a hitch, providing solid power to the lights, water pump, and roof top vent fans, while the generator took care of the fridge, coffee makers, hot plate, and random things we plugged it’s outlet.

We took advantage of the location, spending every evening in downtown Key West, particularly along the old marina and Mallory Square.  Fantastic food, including a surprisingly good deal (for the Keys) on raw oysters, and excellent street performances every evening.  We even ran into an old friend from US Southern Command, Chuck Dallas, who was maximizing his enjoyment of the Keys last we left him at a tiki bar overlooking the ocean.
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