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.
Over the course of six years full time RVing we have observed a few trends in our annual travel plans. Though not entirely consistent, we have aimed for an alternating tour of the East US one year, then West the next, with Canada added to the mix in 2018. Key West became our primary winter home, with our seasonal stays there expanding from two weeks to nearly three months. Similarly, our time in Sanibel has grown from a week or two in the fall to a full month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with another short stay in the spring.
This was our first year as volunteers for the annual bird count on Sanibel Island. Rose and I went out with two much more experienced birders to count assigned sectors.
Due to COVID most of that went out the window in 2020. For the second year in a row we abandoned plans for westward travel, and only made it as far as the Carolinas during a limited summer itinerary. We have not returned to Key West since leaving in March, and don’t intend to until possibly December of 2021. And though we have not done a work camping job since our two weeks as light house tour guides at Cape Disappointment in 2015, this year we signed on for a nearly three month gig outside of Asheville.
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.