The Distance: Having arrived in Sanibel in late November and remained for the rest of the year, we had zero miles in December. Our total for 2020 was 3,536 miles, the lowest annual total in six years living and travelling in our RVs.
If you zoom in you can see what Rosemarie is pointing at… (or you can just wait until the next pic)
The Places: Just one place, Periwinkle Park in Sanibel, which means 31 days in a private resort, with full hook ups the full time. We did several nights with Xavier and Joy in Coral Springs, but the RV was hooked up in Sanibel, so that is how I am doing the counting.
The Budget: Oh my we completely blew the budget, finishing 86% over for the month. A big portion of that was the deposit our our new engine for the Tracker and the our portion of the tow fee, but that is only part of the problem A rough month for us financially, with January looking no better. Hopefully we can get back into some markets later this year, and we have resolved that January is the last month for a while during which we spend so much on campground fees. Time to reel it in!
The Drama and Improvements: Oh boy. If you have read the last post, you already know the big, unfortunate news: I blew the engine on the tracker on Christmas Eve while driving across the Everglades on I-75. It is completely shot, and our choices are either buy a new (used) car, or install a rebuilt engine into the Tracker. After consultation and some research, we opted for the latter, and just hope it will not be too long of a process.
One full window completely removed.
We also worked on our windows, specifically the two large windows on the big slide in the living room, both of which have started leaking. After several youtube videos and other helpful walk throughs, I removed both windows completely and resealed them with butyl tape and caulk. It appears to have worked; we have not seen any further evidence of leaking.
Before cleaning, I found obvious gaps in the old butyl gasket tape.
I also took the opportunity to scrub the blinds and then restring one of them. For those that have not had the pleasure, these type of stringed blinds rely on tension created friction to hold the blind position, and the strings involved get worn over time and eventually break. The process of restringing them entails taking them down, apart, and installing new string in the exact right crisscrossing pattern. I did my first one years ago, and at the time bought the large spool of string rather than “just enough” for that job. This has paid off because to date I have restrung seven of the nine blinds in our rig.
Not too long after I first broke down, well before I realized it would be seven hours before a tow truck’s arrival.
In our zeal to post an annual report, however limited, before the final moments of 2020 ticked away, we probably gave our December shenanigans short shrift. During that month we were able to see family and friends, in a mostly COVID safe manner, while also enjoying being back in Sanibel, and ended the year with some very special automotive drama. So at the risk of excessive repetition, here is even more about our time in Sanibel.
Conversely, our time in Sanibel ramped up considerably, starting with an unprecedented three month stay this last spring as part of our pandemic isolation plan. Following our summer in Tennessee and North Carolina, we returned to Florida with most of our normal fall and winter routine in shambles: no craft fairs, Key West campground still closed, and long standing family gatherings cancelled. One thing we could maintain (and expand upon) was our month in Sanibel after Thanksgiving, and so that is where we spent the end of 2020, and that is where we remain.
Early in the month cousins Robb, Colleen, Nola, and Maeve, with whom we had spent the night in their driveway back in November, came for a weekend visit to the island. We started things off with a tour of Periwinkle Park’s parrot refuge, exotic duck ponds, and monkey cages before heading for our “go to” beach, Bowman’s. We had a full day of shelling, fishing, and swimming before packing things in heading back to our respective campground and hotel.
After a suitable clean up period, we enjoyed evening cocktails and stories under the stars, and a great dinner of sliders on the grill, with sides from Jerry’s grocery. We can highly recommend their artichoke tortellini salad.
Rosemarie’s sister Dolores and family made their traditional annual pilgrimage to Florida from California, staying with Xavier and Joy in Coral Springs for a month. Dori has been working from home and Tamiry’s school has been mostly zoom classes, so they are effectively in Xavier and Joy’s “COVID bubble.” During the first half of their stay, before Josh had to return home for work and family obligations, Rose and I made the trip across state for a short pre-Christmas visit.
A few days later Dolores, Tamiry, Xavier and Joy followed up with a day trip to Sanibel for some beach time. We have not had the best beach conditions of late: low visibility, poor to middling shelling, and sporadic red tide, but you can’t keep Dori and Tamiry from the beach when they are in Florida.
For the Christmas window Rosemarie and I drove back to Coral Springs and stayed for two nights. Rose’ youngest sister Melissa had flown in from New York City, so this is the only time in a long while all three girls have been together. I drove back home to take care of the cat (we are comfortable leaving her alone with extra food and water for two days, but beyond that, not so much.) On Christmas eve I started back to Coral Springs, and right about half way there from Sanibel on I-75, I blew the engine on the tracker. Oil spurting everywhere, a few flames from the bottom of the engine block, a sound like the car was trying to eat itself, and then I was alone on the highway in the Everglades.
Due to a poorly trained roadside assistance agent (messed up my location, which caused the initial tow company to cancel without notice,) my actual location (the middle of the Everglades,) and the timing (afternoon on Christmas Eve) it took seven hours before a “tow truck of last resort” picked up the tracker and took it to their yard in Immokalee.
Faced with the possibility of me spending Christmas Eve and Christmas alone, Dolores, Xavier and Rosemarie came and picked me up from an exit on I-75, the tow truck having just finished loading the tracker as they were passing through that section of the big swamp. We ended up having a wonderful Christmas with lots of unwrapping and way too much video chatting.
Xavier and Joy took me back to Sanibel the day after Christmas, leaving Rosemarie for a few more days in Coral Springs. While alone in Sanibel I started the process of either getting the tracker fixed or replaced. Here is the current situation:
With input from several Periwinkle Park friends I selected and spoke with an experienced mechanic (Art) in Fort Myers, who agreed to assess the vehicle once I got it to him, and swap the engine out with a remanufactured one if necessary.
The tow truck company delivered the tracker to the mechanic, charging me a previously agreed upon additional $75 for splitting up the tow. Art confirmed the engine was completely shot, it has a hole in the side probably from a piston trying to leave the engine, and is thus not even suitable to rebuild.
It took a lot of phone calls and online research, but we finally located a Suzuki Sidekick/Geo Tracker specialist in Tampa who had an engine core available and agreed to rebuild it.
Once complete, the engine will be shipped down to For Myers where my local mechanic will do the install.
As for the alternative option of just scrapping the Tracker and buying something newer: it was a close call, but given our criteria the options for a different vehicle are pretty constrained. We want it “flat towable” i.e., no tow dolly or trailer, light weight, and with automatic transmission (four wheel drive and a rag top preferred but not required.) Sure, for our estimated repair costs we could have instead bought something like a 12 year old Chevy HHR, but how much better would that be than a “zero miles” 23 year old tracker with an otherwise solid body and running gear?
So that was our December. We look forward to a fun, relxing, and yet productive January here in Sanibel.