Back in Key West for a week before beginning our trek northward.

In an ideal world, we would have timed our stays at our three favorite FL Keys state parks (Bahia Honda, Curry Hammock, and Long Key) such that we had a week at each of them either on the front or back end of our stay at the Naval Air Station in Key West.  For reasons already addressed, that just wasn’t possible, and we had to satisfy ourselves with grabbing a few days here and there.  After leaving Long Key, this left us with a one week gap before we needed to be up in Coral Springs (less than an hour north of Miami) for a social event, followed by a reservation at a popular campground on the Gulf Coast.  So we made the best of it and headed back to NAS Key West, ’cause that’s the sort of sacrifice we are willing to make.


PKM helping me navigate back to Key West.

We arrived a day before the monthly arts, crafts, and garage sale event put on by the base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation volunteers, allowing us to set up a table and sell more of Rosemarie’s jewelry.  In addition to her usual options, this time we had an assortment of bracelets and necklaces made from paper beads, something we learned how to do a couple of weeks earlier.  IMG_7881

They are almost cathartic to make, and we created them mainly from local magazines, maps, and brochures.  They sold fairly well; I think a lot of the buyers were RVers in their last week in the keys, and so there was a certain pressure to buy gifts for their friends and relatives back home.  We ended up making over 60 bucks in less than three hours, and we got to say goodbye to a lot of our new RV friends while doing so.  IMG_7908

I’m glad we had this last week in Key West; it helped us gauge the timing for our planned stay next year.  From our arrival check in at the end of January, we learned that we should probably arrive a bit earlier in that month to be assured of a spot.  This week we got to see the rapid drop off in the campground population as the seasonal residents really started to head out.  It wasn’t down to the 100 RVs you might find during the true summer low season, but roughly half of the drycamping spots were empty by the time we finally departed in that fourth week of March.


Key West is famous for three unusual animal species: Hemingway’s polydactyl cats, an extraordinary number of colorful but annoyingly loud wild roosters and chickens, and invasive iguanas. This pic is the latter of those three.  

While there, our friends Roseann and Anthony came down to stay the weekend with us, something we hope more of our non-RVing friends will be able to do as we continue our travels.  We had a great time hanging out with them, aided and abetted by copious amounts of alcohol.


Anthony & Roseann

We had one last meal at the on base Sunset Lounge, one of the few restaurants we patronized during our entire time in Key West.  Really, during seven weeks here we went to five restaurants, and all of them of the affordable variety.  Other than Sunset, we ate at Bo’s Fishwagon ( a disappointment considering how much we liked it last year), Taco Express (a great little semi-permanent food truck), Quik Chik (a fried chicken joint attached to Dion’s Quik Mart gas station, kinda a local thing), and lastly we had some of the best wings we can remember courtesy of Wing Masters.  Seriously, we have been pacing out the extra buffalo sauce we got from them.  The only thing to keep in mind when ordering is that if you don’t want any sauce on them but prefer it on the side, you have to actually tell them you want them “naked.”  It’s not enough to simply say “sauce on the side”; you do that and they will put their usual extravagant amount or sauce on them plus bring you some extra containers “on the side.”


Again, not a polydactyl cat, nor a rooster.

So that’s it, we had a week between obligations, and spent the bulk of it drycamping at NAS Key West until Jennifer and Deas from Nealys on Wheels helped us get an unexpected spot two day stay at Bahia Honda.  We finally left Key West, having spent 48 days here between our two visits.  Next winter we plan on spending even longer, arriving a bit earlier in January.


Another Key West sunset, without those people most of you don’t know in the way.

Lastly, here’s a little lesson I learned that should have been obvious:  Even when Pad Kee Meow is on her leash attached to our awning pull cord (as a sort of make shift lead) we can’t park the Geo Tracker so close to the RV.  Because if we do, trouble will ensue.


A couple of days at Long Key State Park before heading back to Key West

Since well before arriving in Key West, we had been trying to break up our time there with stays at the three state parks in the FL Keys that we either love or wanted to try out.  It was, due to the hackers making a profit off of booking sites, very difficult to get anything at all. We had been quite lucky in snagging six days at Curry Hammock (though it was split between to reservations and thus required a move) followed immediately by a two day stay in Long Key.

Unhooked, Rosie followin me in

Since we only drove 12 miles up the road from Curry Hammock, there was no point in hooking up Loki.  Rosemarie just followed me into the park.

Our time at Curry had threatened to knock Long Key down from second to third on our favorite Florida state park list, but a couple of days back here at Long Key reminded us how fantastic a place it is.  Since it is only 12 miles up the road from Curry and on the same side (Atlantic) the beach and water are pretty similar: mostly sand, lots of washed up sea grass, a very shallow grade allowing one to wade out fairly far especially at low tide.  The campground is bigger, and is arranged completely different.  Whereas Curry Hammock has a single loop with no sites actually fronting the ocean, Long Key is set up as one long road with all the sites on the east/Atlantic side, and all sites are ocean front with views of the water.

Most of the spots are power and water, no sewage, but the water connection is very difficult to reach at some of the sites.  Like at Oscar Scherer State Park, we had nowhere near enough hose to reach our connection point, located as it was through the wide green space practically in our neighbors spot.  We had plenty of water in the tank for a two day stay, so it was not a big deal, but worth keeping in mind for when we come back; we need an extra length of hose, maybe even 50′ more, to be ready for some of the awkwardly positioned water connections we are bound to encounter during our travels.


The site has Pad Kee Meow’s approval.

We happened to be in Long Key on St Paddy’s Day, and after calling around we found that the Islamorada Moose Lodge, the only one of the five lodges in the FL Keys we had yet to visit, would be doing the traditional corned beef and cabbage meal.  So we drove the 12 miles up the road to celebrate a bit with the other Irish-for-a-day members.St Paddy's at the Moose

Considering that they are all part of the same organization,  Moose lodges come in a surprisingly wide range of condition and ambiance.  Some of them, like the Key West and Key Largo locations remind us of a dive bar: old buildings, a bit ramshackle, with a somewhat smoky bar area.  We’re not knocking it, sometimes that is what we are in the mood for, just like we enjoy Alabama Jacks in Key Largo and Mac’s Club Duece in Miami Beach.  Others, like our home chapter in Venice, are new or fully renovated buildings with a more modern look and feel, including a completely separate smoking area.  Islamorada’s lodge definitely leans toward the latter end of the spectrum.  What they usually have in common is very affordable drinks and food, so we were a bit surprised at the practically full priced drinks and meal there.  I suspect they bumped up the prices quite a bit to pay for the recent major renovation.  Regardless, its a nice place and we enjoyed the food, drinks, and friendly staff and patrons.Sunset

We had pretty good weather during out stay, allowing us to enjoy the crystal clear water during our afternoon swims and a nice sunset dropping behind the trees.  We originally had three days reserved, but we decided to cut it to two in order to get back to Key West the day before the next on base craft show were we hoped to sell some more of Rosemarie’s jewelry.  So we pulled chocks late Friday morning, dumped tanks and topped off water before heading the 70 miles back south for our last week or so in the FL Keys.

One last comment about the sites and reservations system at Long Key.  Pretty much any campground other than boondocking areas will have maximum RV lengths measured out for their sites.  These usually have a bit of a fudge factor, such that you can push it a couple of feet if needed.  Long Key’s fudge factor is ridiculous; the site measurements seem to have no correlation to the actual space available.   If I were to follow the max lengths listed on the Reserve America website, we could only fit in a handful of the 42 RV designated spots.  In reality, I am pretty sure we could have fit in almost all of them, even the ones listed as only 20′.   I saw several big rigs in spots supposedly that small.  Next year I will keep that in mind when attempting to secure reservations.  Us selfie

Reserve America and the Florida State Park system is being hacked by people profiting from their automatic reservation system.

Our goal this year was to slow the pace of each move such that we aim for fie to seven day stays everywhere we go rather than the less than three day average we pushed ourselves with in 2015.  Unfortunately, the extremely popular state park campgrounds in the Florida Keys do not lend themselves to easily obtained long stays.  Even during the low summer season you have to be extremely flexible about the dates, reserve very early, or hope for cancellations. During the peak winter season about the only legit way to get a stay is to frequently check for cancellations during a flexible window.  It is almost impossible to get a reservation any other way; they are fully booked within seconds of the maximum eleven month in advance reservation window.

Last year we spent a week waking up earlier than our usual leisurely hour, logging into the Reserve America site with three different laptops and tablets, opening multiple windows for the various individual sites scheduled to come available that morning, and feverishly hitting “refresh” in an attempt to secure a site at Bahia Honda within the first few seconds it became available.  We had no success.  At the time I became suspicious that someone or some organization was hacking the system, i.e., using a script/program to automatically reserve sites and somehow profiting from the process.

During our recent short stay in Long Key we had a knock on the door from someone advertising a “booking service” with 95% success for the hard to get parks.  He handed us a cheap, hand written brochure, explained that he was drumming up business, and that they focused on the hard to reserve parks in the Reserve American system, specifically mentioning Bahia Honda as one of their primary targets.  They charge $60 for a successful reservation.

This confirms my suspicion, and it pisses me off.  I may be a touch hypocritical about this in that I have used a script to check on the cancellations at the popular Reserve America parks, but it was free, didn’t automatically reserve a site, and no one profited.  The state parks are not for-profit private resorts operating in the free market system.  They are tax payer subsidized places that allow all citizens to enjoy the public areas at a reasonable cost.  Now these jokers come along and turn the system on its head,  basically making them almost primarily available for those that can afford to pay more.

Anyway, just thought I would rant.   The group or individual in question is likely within the law since they are not technically selling sites, they are merely providing a booking service.  I strongly suspect they are in violation of the Terms of Service for the Reserve America site and the Florida State Park system, but don’t have the knowledge level to explain it beyond that.  Any thoughts or recommendations?

We finally get to Curry Hammock State Park

We frequently mention that Bahia Honda State Park in the lower Florida keys is one of our favorite RV places, but we enjoy state parks in general, especially the nine in Florida at which we have stayed.  Among those nine we had camped in three of the four options in the Florida Keys (John Pennekamp, Long Key, and Bahia Honda.)  The one that had eluded us was Curry Hammock in Marathon, about half way down the overseas highway to Key West. After working the Reserve America system for weeks trying to snag a late cancellation, we finally managed to secure two reservations covering six consecutive days earlier this month.


Wow, so glad we didn’t give up on this one!  While Bahia Honda is still our number one FL Keys State Park, Curry Hammock may be our new number two ahead of Long Key.  It is very small, only 25 RV/Tent spots total, with two of those taken up by the camp hosts.  The sites are some of the best maintained you will find, perfectly level gravel spots with well positioned power and water connections.  All sites are on a single wide, paved loop, and are a very short stroll from the Atlantic side ocean.

The beach is quite nice for the FL Keys.  Some people have a misperception about the keys, thinking it is filled with nice long sandy beaches.  Not so; your thinking of the rest of Florida.  The Keys is mostly rocky beaches with a few exceptions, such as in Bahia Honda. Curry Hammock has a mostly sandy beach with almost no wave action, and an extremely shallow grade allowing ankle deep wading out to more than a hundred yards during low tide.   Some will not appreciate the heavy presence of sea grass beds and very mucky bottom, but the overall result is a profusion of flora and fauna easily discovered with a short walk out from the shore.

In addition to the millions of snails and hermit crabs, we found lots of upside down jelly fish (non-stinging), and during low tide I actually caught a tiny cow fish and a small blow fish with my bare hands in the tidal flats.  The bird life is extensive, with pelicans and herons all over the place.

About the only downside to the beach and water was the significant presence of Portuguese man-o-wars blown up during recent high winds.  There were a lot on the beach, but we didn’t see any in the water.


Our timing was excellent for the visit, as we were able to attend the annual Marathon Seafood Festival.  Free parking, free transportation from the parking to the event, a reasonable admission fee ($5 per adult,) lots of vendors, live music, and good local seafood: hard to beat.

At least two groups within the park were musicians, and they put on an impromptu concert at the western end of the park.  Three young, what I assume to be sisters, opened with a handful of songs before a couple of the men with guitars took over for an hour set or so of mostly old time rock and folk classics.


We also finally got to visit the Marathon Moose Lodge.  Something for a separate post, but all RVers should consider joining some sort of association like the Moose or Elks.  Aside from civic contributions, they are all over the country and offer social interaction, constant events, and very affordable booze.  Some of them even have RV sites, usually dry camping, but still.

We also finally managed to meet up with Jennifer and Deas from Nealys on Wheels, a full time RVing couple that we have followed for more than a year, and whom we narrowly missed while in the panhandle last winter.  We had a very short overlap with them when they pulled into Curry Hammock, but long enough to enjoy an evening out, and Pad Kee Meow got to hang with their three dogs the next afternoon.  The Nealy's and us

It wasn’t a perfect stay; we discovered a flat tire the morning of our departure, which took six hours to get replaced, but that’s a story for a different post.


A bit more than just a flat tire

We continued up the road to Long Key State Park, and used the time there to sort out the rest of our March plans.  We have everything sorted out in detail through March 15, but are still deciding where to stay after we leave central Florida.  Any recommendations for the Gainesville area, as well as back up options for the north east coast of FL should Gamble Rogers not open up for us?


14 Months Fulltiming, February 2016 Report

I’m not gonna delude myself; the first year was probably way more thrilling just because of the novelty and more recent life change, but I feel like we are enjoying our second year even more. We are reveling in our lifestyle, recently improved by the modern conveniences of our new RV and increasingly enhanced by our growing experience as full time RVers.

The Distance: 20 miles!  And that’s only because we had to leave the Key West naval base and drive ten minutes up the road to refill or large, hard-mounted propane tank.  The system is incredibly efficient for running the fridge, but since we also use it for our water heater and cooking, we had burned down to a third of a tank.  Next time we will remember to top it off before we start drycamping!  So this 20 miles, which some RVers wouldn’t even count since it involved no campground change, brings our annual total to 462 miles.  A slow pace now, but that will pick up big time come April.

The Places:  One place!  Or two if you count moving within the same campground: We spent the entire month of February at the Sigsbee Campground on Naval Air Station, Key West.  We spent the first 28 days in drycamping, before the firmly implemented rotation system allowed us to move to one of the 93 sites with power and water near the end of February.  We lucked out for both the dryacmping and hook up sites: for the former we were assigned one of the few truly waterfront spots, and for the latter we ended up in the spacious “Hollywood” section rather than on the cramped “Rock Pile” or the Key West rooster infested “Sigsbee Circle.”

The Budget:   Yet another month under budget!  Having the entire month spent at the heavily subsidized Navy campground helped offset over $500 in medical bills that caught up with us from our whirlwind tour of doctors and dentists in the Fall of 2015.  So despite that plus more than $100 for an unexpected awning parts purchase, we ended up 5% under budget.  Also relevant: we would not have managed that feat if it weren’t for a couple of hundred bucks in sales from some ebay items, Rosemarie’s Etsy shop, and another craft and art show selling Rose’s jewelry.

The Drama:  Almost nothing significant to add!  We continued to have some awning problems, including an afternoon that saw me trapped by my right arm stuck between the awning strut and the side of the motorhome, but other than that everything has been peaceful.  It helps when you barely move the RV all month.

In Big Kahuna news, Pioneer Transmission Service reports that they have sourced all the needed parts, and expect to have things done “within weeks.”  Fingers crossed, so we can finally move forward with selling the old bus and paying off the bulk of our new motorhome loan.

The Improvements:  Aside from the above mentioned progress on getting The Big Kahuna back on the road, there’s just not that much to report.  We have gone through another iteration of how we pack and store all our stuff in the various inside and under-floor compartments, but other than minor decoration changes, we haven’t made any real improvements this month.  That’s one of the advantage s of a modern RV as opposed to something vintage; there’s just not that much you have to do to bring it up to speed.

All of our monthly reports, as well as our first full year report, 2015 in Review, are linked below.

13 Months Report, January 2016

2015 in Review

The Great Awning Fiasco of ’16

You know how on trees and bushes the branches get smaller and more flexible the farther from the trunk they are, such that those on the very edge of the tree are thin, weak, and highly bendable?  Yeah, that’s what I thought too.  Turns out manicured trees don’t adhere to that principle, and the one I brushed up against in Key Largo while foolishly attempting to make an unplanned stop was essentially a two by four camouflaged with a fuzzy covering of fresh leaves.  Bottom line, I bent the living crap out of our rear awning strut. Three of the four major struts in the arm are bent beyond repair, and both connection brackets are cracked as well.


Bent inner and outer strut arms

You know how RV awnings are spring tensioned, so that they will roll themselves back up once you flip the mechanical direction lever, safely controlling the retraction from the center of the awning, well clear of the farm combine-like danger of the rapidly closing arms?  I knew that too!  But I also managed to get my awning out of its track during the roll up process while trying to assess and mitigate the damage from the event in the first paragraph.  So I went over to that bent rear awning arm, now stuck a couple of feet from full retraction, and shook it firmly to get it unstuck.  That’s how I came to be trapped, right arm pinned between the arm and the RV side, by my own stupid interference with the retraction process.  I wasn’t hurt, just stuck, but I did have flashes of 127 Hours in my head.  I  assessed I could pull my arm free at the cost of significant skin abrasion , but chose to swallow my pride and bang on the RV until Rose came out, who once satisfied I was unhurt, desperately wanted to take pictures before going to for help.  To her grave she will regret it, but I convinced her to just get the damn neighbors, who I walked through the process of extending my awning whilst I twisted awkwardly on the side of our motorhome.


Bent outer rafter

You know how you should only extend your awning during light to moderate winds, because they are constructed of materials that are less robust than the plastic and balsa wood models you constructed as a child?  I knew that as well!  But I also got caught by unexpected, rapidly increasing winds during the night in Key West, resulting in my front awning top bracket nearly ripping out from the RV entirely, and both components that attach the floating rafter to the strut being bent and damaged.  I was able to rescrew the upper bracket part way in, and repair the front rafter-awning slide with a hammer and pliers, and will work the rear one another day.


Rear rafter to strut arm slide out of track and cracked.  Repaired the front one already.

Seriously, some of the parts on this awning are so weak and incredibly cheap!  Fortunately, once I finally get around to replacing the entire rear awning assembly, that will leave me with enough extra components to fully repair the front bracket and pieces as well.


Front top bracket connecting the upper strut to the RV: Screws stripped part way out of the holes.


Seven weeks in Key West, easily our longest RV stay

Tomorrow we depart Key West after 43 days at the Naval Air Station’s campground.  I think our longest RV stay before this was 15 days while we volunteered as lighthouse guides at Washington’s Cape Disappointment State Park.  The verdict?  We loved it!  The price was ridiculously good for an in season site in The Keys, we were right on or within sight of the water for our entire stay, and Key West offers plenty of activities to keep away the boredom, while still allowing a laid back lifestyle.  In short, we needed this slow down from our normal hectic RV pace, and plan on coming back next winter, perhaps for an even longer stay.


We loved our first year of RVing, the hectic pace allowing us to visit 88 places, but we understand that is not a speed we can keep up this year.  Staying in one spot this long not only reduces the exhaustion of frequent travel, but also allowed us to partake in a wide variety of activities that were just not realistic with our “move every three days or less” schedule from 2015.  So what did we do while here?


Ocean kayaking, and we don’t even own kayaks!  Our neighbor from our first spot David, let me join him on a kayak jaunt in our first couple of days here, and then when they took a week off to fly back home they allowed us full use of their two lightweight open kayaks. We connected with Bob, a former kayak river guide, who arranged an evening event with a score of us putting in the boats at the base marina and paddling out to watch the famous Key West sunset from the water.  We then turned around and watched the full moon rise as we headed back to shore.


We also had the opportunity to sail on another neighbor’s “Texas kayak.”  His Hobiecat Mirage Tandem Island is a two person open kayak with a mirage drive pedal system, outriggers, and a sail.  The owner, Jim, took us out for several hours one morning, during which we visited the chain of mangrove islands that act as a bird sanctuary a few miles off shore.  During our outing we also collected up seven lobster trap buoys that had broken loose over the years, having become entangled in the mangrove roots.  This is “found art” decoration that you see a lot of in Key West.


Arts & Crafts.  Rosemarie attended a handful of gatherings in the base community center, learning the basics of Kumihimo, a braiding and beading jewelry making method.  She also made coconut fish, a wind chime, and gathered supplies and knowledge for a few future projects. The community center schedule encourages all kinds of hobbies, with enthusiasts gathering to knit, wood carve, paint, crochet, and a few other things.

These other crafts did not distract Rose from her main art of traditional jewelry making, and we ended up selling her stuff at three craft shows on base.  The first one resulted in limited sales, but allowed us determine what price point and styles were more popular here.  This lead to a vastly better performance in the second and third show, the last one I had to do alone since Rose flew up to Virginia to spend time with her mom, aunts, and other relatives.


Social events.  Short stays in RV parks do not lend themselves to meeting people and developing friendships, so it was a nice change to spend time in one spot long enough to do so.  We gathered together for evening drinks, a chile night, unofficial craft gatherings when the community center was closed, a margarita party, and a Superbowl night hosted by the local American Legion outpost.  We really look forward to seeing Judith & Mike, Michelle & Bob, Darlene& Steve, Sheryl & Kevin, Edie & Tina (and anyone I am forgetting) again next year.


Visit from friends:  Racing around the country allowed us to visit a lot of family and friends last year, but no one was able to plan around our continuous moves and visit us.  Stayin seven weeks in Key West was a lot more conducive to that, and the Nieves clan stayed a weekend with us about half way through our time here.  We wish a few more of our South Florida based peeps could have joined us, but it is looking like a couple more might be swinging by while we are in the middle keys.


Sunsets, swimming, and snorkeling.  Since we were parked right on the water, and crystal clear water at that, for most of our stay, it was pretty much impossible for me to resist frequent immersion.  Watershoes for the rocky shore and goggles or a snorkel were all that was required to enjoy the near shore sea life, though it was pretty chilly; even in Key West its winter.  We frequently joined the procession headed to the western shore, you know, the one right in front of our rig, for the traditional Key West sunset viewing, usually with cocktails in hand.


So that’s it, we are headed out tomorrow to begin our meandering journey through Florida and up the East Coast to Maine.  Our first stop will be a four day stay at Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon Key.  We do not yet have, however, reservations anywhere following that stay and before we plan on being in the Coral Spring area at the end of this month, so it is highly possible that we will simply return to Key West for another ten days should an opening in Bahia Honda State Park not open up.  If so, we will try to work in a day trip to Dray Tortugas National Park, something we have not done despite o National Park fetish, due to the cost, and find another dozen or so Key West geocaches if we can find the time in our incredibly hectic retired lifestyle.  We shall see.


One way or another we will be in the Florida Keys until March 25th or so, and we are open to meeting up with any other RVers in the area, or taking recommendations on things to do in middle or lower keys.