First of two stop on Tennessee: Cumberland Mountain State Park

From our stop in Waynesville we made the short drive across the North Carolina-Tennessee border and then a few hours further west to get to Cumberland Mountains State Park.  This is one of the places in the Smokey Mountains that Dad and Marcia recommended, and it did not disappoint, which is good since we had booked a twelve day stay, a rather unusual decision for us, but with RVing experiencing some sort of COVID-19 related boom, we were anxious to secure some spots during the summer.  img_2140

While we had enjoyed our one week stay in Creekwood Farms RV Resort back in Waynesville, we were quite happy to discover the sites at Cumberland Mountain were exactly our type: spacious, spread out, and under a forest canopy.   It was not exactly cheap, we paid $37 a night after taxes and reservation fees for our power and water only site, but we would later learn how to work the Tennessee State Park system to create some savings.  img_2188

Dad and Marcia had warned of Loop 1 of the five loop options in the park due to quite unlevel sites in that loop, but even though we followed there advice, we still ended up with a comically unlevel site.  Our hydraulic level system was woefully inadequate to compensate for the grade, but with extra blocks and the judicious use of carefully selected wedge shaped fire wood, we made things reasonable.  img_20200729_133816

With a couple of caveats, we enjoyed the park and the general area quite a lot.  One of our more enjoyable outings was to Ozone Falls just a few miles from the park.  This 110′ fall has easy parking but requires a bit of scurrying to get down to the base, but was easily done with a bit of hand assist and careful footing  Water level and volume is low this time of year, but we enjoyed the environment, our shower in the falling water, and a brief swim in the small pond created by the millennia of cascading flow.  img_2174

We explored the nearby Crossville, finding an excellent and vary affordable pizza joint in Pit Stop Pizza, which was one of the rare places we visited in town that appeared to be taking proper coronavirus precautions.  Mask wearing, even indoors and in close contact, was nearly non-existent in this area.    img_2148

We were in the area during the annual 127 yard sale, a multi-state event which takes place along and in the vicinity of US Route 127.  it extends through six states, from Michigan to Alabama, along a nearly 700 mile trek.  Thousands of vendors converge along the axis for the four day mega-sales event.  We stopped at a handful of the dozens of options, many of them with scores if not hundreds of vendors, much like pop-up flea markets situated at every open field and empty parking lot along the way, on the outskirts of Crossville, though our purchases were quite modest.  (Again, almost no mask wearing anywhere, which most definitely affected our willingness to stop and shop.)  img_2240

While here we also received confirmation that we had been accepted as camp hosts for at least two months back at Lake Powhatan National Campground and Recreations area, located just southwest of Asheville, North Carolina.  We stayed their a couple of years back, and again in July while visiting brother Jason and Emmie.  This gig solves two problems for us: income padding in that we get a free site, particularly important in the wake of all of our market, craft fair, and festival cancellations that ended our fantastic streak of sales of Rose’s jewelry, and locks us into a secure location for a few months so we won’t be searching desperately for openings at popular weekend destinations.  Yay, us!

img_2177

We also did some say hiking, which we incorporated with some geocaching,  One of our favorites was an easy two mile hike along the river to find the container cache below a swinging bridge.  This cache also happened to have last been found by Dad and Marcia during their stay here a couple of weeks before our arrival.  Geocaching truly makes a difference in our level of activity, getting us out and about both in town and the woods.

img_2230

Next up: July full time RVing Report, and then another Tennessee state park, this time with extra waterfalls.  img_2146

 

 

 

 

Deeper into the Mountains: One week in Waynesville, NC

Continuing or “seek relief from the summer heat in the mountains” plan, we left Black Mountain headed west towards Tennessee with a one week stay at at private resort in Wayesville, NC.  Rosemarie found this town while googling fun places to see in Western North Carolina, and then I narrowed down our RV park options.  Honestly, there were three well rated options with comparable fees, and we settled on Creekwood Farms RV Resort based upon the photos.

1-creek-small

Creekwood Farms is a great little private park with full amenities located on a swift running stream with a couple of small tributaries running through the park.  Management rules with an iron fist, thus you might run into “flexibility” issues, but you won’t run into misbehaved guests or run down facilities either.  We thoroughly enjoyed both the park and the nearby town of Waynesville for our one week stay.  2-mountains

By our standards the place is not cheap (apparently this is a tourist area, though I can’t determine if that is because of the quaintness and desirability of Waynesville or the proximity to Asheville.)  The discount on the weekly rate came out to $48 a night.  We thought there might be an additional military veteran’s discount, but no, only one discount applies, and the weekly rate is that discount.  3-pkm-bw

The sites were not large or filled with greenery like we enjoy, but they were full hook up, cute, and included cable TV.  The park itself has multiple points of swimming, tubing, and fishing access to the stream running along the back side of the property, and during non-COVID pandemic times offers nice clubhouse and social amenities as well.  4-site

The stream running behind the park made for fun wading and relief from the heat, and we enjoyed watching the gaggles of kids tubing, swimming and generally enjoying the water.  While not exactly a crystal clear mountain creek, it had its charms, and we took advantage on the handful of rain-free days we had in the park.  5-creek-rose

Waynesville is a very nice mountain town chock full of artsy little shops, cafe’s and restaurants.  Obviously the current coronavirus situation has put a damper on lots of these, but we were still able to enjoy several afternoon’s strolling the hilly main streets.   while enjoying several boutique stores, one brewery, and one restaurant (both with outdoor seating and strong mask compliance for the staff.)  We can confidently recommend Frog Level Brewery for the ales and ambiance.  6-brewery-2

We look advantage of our time in Waynesville to do a bi of geogaching, concentrating on hitting some supposedly high difficulty caches.  One tiny magnetic cache mounted to a large art sculpture in town gave us a bit of an interesting hunt before we finally located it.  7-geocaching

Next up: Tennessee!

8-creek

 

 

 

 

Black Mountain and Asheville Part 2

We left Wilmington and made the nearly six hour drive back to the RV repair shop to pick up our rig.  I forgot to mention in the last post that while we were in Wilmington, Appalachian RV confirmed that the forward A/C compressor was completely shot and the unit had some other burnt out parts, and thus we needed complete A/C replacement.  It turned out cheaper than I expected (about $1,200) but that is a pretty big unplanned budget hit.

1-cat-car

Due to a failure on our part to take a reasonably diverse set of pictures during the three days this post covers, this will be a cat-centric set of photos.

We were fortunate that they had a replacement unit readily available: COVID-19 has resulted in weird boom in the RV industry (it seems people are seeking alternatives to air travel and crowded tourist locations,) people are out using their rigs more than ever, and the summer heat has resulted in a lot of broken air conditioners.

2-cat-jack

Whenever anyone else is around, PKM tends to be tolerant but a bit aloof.  When it is just the three of us, however, she is extremely affectionate and prefers to spend a good portion of the day cuddling.

Anyway, we pulled in to their lot, maneuvered Serenity out, hooked up Loki, and made our way to Jason and Emmie’s in Black Mountain for a night.   This time we were better prepared for the low phone line!   There was but one minor inconvenience: in the course of repairs the repair shop had used our 50 to 30 amp adapter, and upon completion of the work left it in the vicinity of their electric connection pedestal rather than put it back in our storage area.  We didn’t realize this until I was trying to connect up power to Jason and Emmie’s house.  Fortunately it was but a short drive back to Marion, and I found our adapter in short order.

 

3-cat-drive-from-moms

Finding comfort where she can during our trip back from Wilmington.

As I alluded to in our last post, we are just not happy with long car rides anymore, especially when the cat is with us.  It would likely be quite different if we had even an entry level new model car, but Loki is a 23 year old miniature jeep with a rag top, a lot of wind noise, and few comfort features.  While it is perfect as a tow behind and “get around town” vehicle, it is generally not a comfortable ride for long distances.   Accordingly, we will have to look extra hard at future side trip planning.   4

4-backing-out-ffrom-jasons

This is us backing down Jason and Emmie’s street  for about a quarter of a mile.

We only imposed on Jason and Emmie for one night in their driveway before heading to Lake Powhatan, a national forest recreation and campground area southwest of Asheville.  It is quite the popular spot for both day use and campers, especially on the weekend, so we felt lucky to secure a two day reservation.  To give you an idea how popular it is, upon check in for our the camp host noted we had one of the electric and water sites (most in the campground are dry camping only) and asked if we had made our reservation six months in advance.  We had not, of course, but did get lucky on a late cancellation.

5-lake-powhatan-site

Our site at Lake Powhatan.  “Powhatan” is both the name of the Algonquin confederacy of tribes living in the tidewater region of Virginia when English settlers established Jamestown, and the informal name of their chief, Wahunsenacawh, who was the father of Matoaka, popularly known as Pocahontas.  

The campground is, in most regards, exactly what we prefer: spacious sites under a forest canopy with plenty of green space between you and the neighbors, and located within easy driving distance to basic amenities.  The proximity of Asheville, a very interesting city, is also a bonus.  If there is one drawback, it is the near total lack of cell service in the park: visitors are advised to plan ahead, particularly if you want to be on top of the news or have TV and movie’s to watch.  We had a lovely couple of days there, and even got to meet several members of the volunteer camp hosting staff.  img_20200720_173850

This is a short post for a short couple of stops,  Next up: Waynesville, NC and another pricey private RV resort.

6-cat-money

Totally not staged, I swear.  PKM decided to sleep-guard my money clip.  You can see by the top bill we are both high rollers.

 

A side trip to Wilmington, NC

Last we spoke we had backed Serenity down the narrow road from my brother’s house and hooked up Loki in preparation for our trip to the mechanics and follow on drive to Wilmington.  Appalachian RV Repair is located in Marion, a few miles east of Black Mountain, and therefor perfectly positioned for our plans.  We dropped of the rig and the repair shop owners agreed to our timeline, work request, and approval criteria: they would check the front A/C, let us know the requirements before proceeding with work, and service the rear A/C, all in time for us to pick it up later that week.  Good to go.

1-pkm-bed

Not a lot of relevant pictures from this week, so here is Kitty Meow Meow under the covers in Mom and Tim’s upstairs guest room.  Consider this foreshadowing.

We then completed the six hour trip in our trusty Geo Tracker to Mom and Tim’s in Wilmington.  My tolerance for long drives has dropped quite a lot since we retired, and I frequently blame it on the added stress of driving an RV vs a car.  This trip showed me that even in a car I no longer enjoy long drives, and neither does Pad Kee Meow, who addressed her displeasure frequently during the trip.

2-cat-unhappy

Not a happy cat.

But we made it, and settled into the guest bedroom for our four day stay.  Normally our trips to Wilmington are filled with dining out, farmers markets, thrift shops, and breweries, but with the current pandemic we had to adjust.  That meant sliders on Tim’s beloved Green Egg grill, fancy brunches, and home cooked meals for most of our stay, though we did one big take out meal from the wonderful local Greek franchise, Peno’s. (Highly recommended.)  3-drinks

We spent our days and evenings watching movies, teaching each other new card games, and experimenting with a few new drinks as well.  They taught us Five Crowns, we taught them Rummy 500, and I made Moscow Mules for the first time (they came out great!)  4-moscow-mules-1

We were also pleased to meet the newest addition to the Ford household, Callie, a sweet adult girl they recently adopted.  She is quite the calm dog, and we had no problems with her and PKM, though the cat still preferred to remain in the expansive up stairs section of the household, an area to which Callie never ventures.  5-callie

While there we took Rosemarie’s broken ukulele to Mom and Tim’s neighbor, Thomas, who has extensive experience repairing stringed instruments, mainly guitars.  Oh, did we not mention the broken uke?  While we were setting up camp in Croft State Park outside of Spartanburg, it got partially crushed by the rear slide out.  This was a bit heart breaking since it is Rose’ first uke, and she had been making such excellent progress on it using online tutorials these past few months.  While in Black Mountain we took it to a luthier who quoted us $400 minimum for repairs (it cost about $220 new.)  The sound is still fine, and Thomas was confident he could get it fixed up and respectable looking, so we gratefully left it in his care.

6-uke

Though this is the worst looking damage, the actual bad part is the partially crushed side.

Lastly, while in Wilmington we managed to lock down our schedule through mid August with a series of reservations.  As has been our plan for the summer since before we left Florida, we are seeking respite from the heat, and think the mountains a good place to do so.  There for, we are headed back to Black Mountain and Asheville for three days, then on to Waynesville (still in NC) for a week, and then we will hit two Tennessee state parks for nearly three weeks.  So next up: Black Mountain and Asheville, Part 2.

7-pkm-bad

All of that stuff on the floor was neatly stored until PKM managed to get into the closet.  Paying us back for a long car ride, I guess.

 

 

Black Mountain and Asheville, Part 1

While in Spartanburg we finalized plans to visit the Asheville area and see my brother and new sister-in-law in nearby Black Mountain.  Asheville is much more of a tourist destination than Spartanburg, and so we had some difficulty securing reservations, particularly since we were timing our arrival for the weekend to best accommodate Jason and Emily’s work schedules.

1-odo

When we purchased Serenity 4 1/2 years ago, he had 12,800 miles on him after nine years under previous owners.  Since that time we have added a wee bit more.

In a previous year we stayed at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area and Campground located on national forest land, but they were full up and further away from Black Mountain than ideal.  We were lucky to secure two days at the small but popular Mama Gertie’s Hideaway Campground in Swannanoa, which placed us perfectly between Asheville and Black Mountain.

2-mama-gerties-site

Our outdoor sitting area at Mama Gertie’s.

Mama Gerties is a tightly run ship on a multi-level property in low mountains, and requires a bit of a climb up narrow roads to access it.  Our site, however, was spacious, level, and well equipped, even for being one of the mid-level priced options available.  Pricing is relative; we paid $54 a night and that’s with the 10% military discount!  Does that sound steep?  It does to us as well, but that is simply what the Asheville area market demands.  Consider that their mountain top sites with private decks and panoramic views go for $100 a night, and while we were there they were full up!

 

3-mama-gerties-view

One of the mountain top premier sites with a full deck.

While there we did a bit of minor exploration in the town of Black Mountain with Jason and Emmie, which is very nice; filled with quaint shops, restaurants, and a brewery or two without being overly touristy like Asheville proper.  We had a solid meal at The Trail Head Restaurant and Bar: the burger was excellent (and I was prepared for disappointment now that my expectations have been raised so high by Cribbs back in Spartanburg) though the staff could have been a lot more cognizant of our social distancing request.

4-trail-head-burger

We were only able to stay at Mama Gertie’s for two days since they were full up, at least for a rig our our size, the next few days.  So we packed up and drove down to Jason and Emmie’s place, which has two large driveways.  Jason had previously sent me video of both approaches, and it was clear that one was way too steep, but the other looked good to go.  We easily fit in the drive, with plenty of extra width and length.

5-the-driveway

Plenty of room!

The only excitement came from the various cables and lines running from the nearby pole to the house: while the power and data lines were high enough such that we cleared them by a foot, the (defunct) phone line was significantly lower, and had we been a couple of inches taller we might have torn it loose.  As it was we had to use a broom to make sure it cleared our front air conditioning unit.

5.5-broom

Only the phone line was at actual risk.

Speaking of which: while at Mama Gertie’s we noticed that the front A/C was not working (it made noise but produced no cold air) and emitted a difficult to describe aroma.  My research suggested it might just be the capacitor that assists the main compressor motor in starting, but we would have to take it to the shop to know for sure.  Ah well, one more thing.

6-jason-emmie

Jason & Emmie.

Dad and Marcia rolled in that same day for their two day stay at Mama G’s, probably securing a day we could not because their rig is smaller and fit in some of the more affordable sites.  Jason and Emmie picked up take out dinner from a vegan restaurant and we met up at Dad and Marcia’s site for dinner and wine in a lovely outdoor setting until significant rain forced us all inside.  image

On our last day in the area I made arrangements to drop the RV off at a nearby repair shop, with Rose and I planning to drive to Wilmington in the tracker to visit mom and stepdad Tim while it was getting work done.  This meant that the morning of our departure had a bit of drama; some expected, some not.  First there was the lifting of the phone line via broom stick to clear our A/C and an antenna as we backed out of the driveway.  It was also obvious that there was no way I could back out of the drive and make the more than 90 degree cut to point us nose forward; instead we would be forced to back down the steep and narrow road until we got to the next cross street where I could execute a three point turn.  8-beer-flight

Wrong again, Jack.  Despite a couple of attempts at said cross street, our wheel base was too short and we ended up bottoming out the receiver hitch in the back onto the road.  This meant we would need to back down all the way to the main cross street, a good quarter of a mile.  Fortunately Rose and I have been in this situation before, and she’s good at giving me hand signals that I can easily interpret via our rear mounted camera, and so in short order we were beside the main road and hooking up Loki for our journey to the repair shop and then onward to Wilmington.

9-mama-gerties-view-again

The view from the premier sites at Mama Gertie’s.

Next up: you guessed it, Wilmington.

On to Spartanburg, SC

While in Georgia our plans started to tighten up a bit: Dad and Marcia locked in most of their July schedule, which included an immediate stop at Croft State Park outside of Spartanburg to meet up with their RV friends, Lori and Rob.  Since Spartanburg is sort of on the way to Asheville, we went ahead and secured a four day reservation there as well.  1-lake

We showed up knowing almost nothing about the park or the area, and with no expectations either.  Thus we were pleasantly surprised at how lovely both the campground and downtown Spartanburg were.  Like most state parks the sites were large, well spread out, and under a moderate tree canopy in the forest.  We much prefer this set up to the closely packed and often treeless sites found in many private parks, even those claiming “resort” status.  2-downtown-mural

The place is situated on a decent sized lake, has plenty of hiking, biking, and horse trails, and a couple of creeks running through the property.  We had a pleasant hour or two swimming and floating in one of them, just a short hike from our camping loop.  At $37 a night all in, it was a bit more expensive than most state parks, but if you have reason to RV near Spartanburg, we grant our highly coveted approval to Croft State Park.  3-creek-2

Since we had not been the best about social distancing during the last week, we tried to be extra careful while there, particularly with Dad and Marcia’s possibly immuno-compromised friends.  We were able to have evening cocktails, a dinner, and one outing into Spartanburg together.

4-dad-marcia

Of course we are social distancing!  Look how far away they posed for this picture!

Speaking of the town: part of the downtown area on Main Street is quite nice.  Parks, breweries, shops, a small walking mall area, and restaurants with outdoor seating were prevalent.  During our first outing we had Pimento Cheese (the “caviar of The South”) Fritters with Tomato Jam at Cribbs, a fantastic appetizer befitting the southern tradition.  We explored the area a bit, including a flight at Ciclops one of the three our four breweries in town.  5-pimento-cheese-fritters

The next day Dad and Marcia joined us for a visit to Growler Haus, a fantastic little place with plenty of room for social distancing and an excellent array of craft beer from the region.  I enjoyed the Jalapeno IPA so much I filled the liter growler we have been carrying around since leaving Nova Scotia last year.

6-growler-haus

Part of Growler Haus’ 24 beer selection menu in the background, color coded by type, e.g., Pale Ales & IPAs, Porters & Stouts, etc.

For dinner it was back to Cribbs for what was the best burger I have had in living memory.  A big shout out to this restaurant and their award winning Barnyard Burger, one of the best burgers I have ever had.  Description: a lamb, beef & bacon blended patty with jalapeño, horseradish cream, fried egg, goat cheese, shaved cabbage, and tomato.  I want to go back to Spartanburg just to have this meal again.  7-cribbs-burger

When we left Florida our general plans were to visit some family and then find places to spend the rest of the summer and at least part of the fall.  Since we have enjoyed Croft State Park and Spartanburg, are they contenders for additional time?  No, no they are not.  Quite simply, it is still too low of an elevation and thus too hot.  We need mountains, and will seek them out shortly.

8-shrooms

Rose downloaded a mushroom ID app; just point the camera at the shroom and gives you an id.  Pretty sure it is using location data to aid in that process.  Apparently these are Red Chantrelles.

Next up: Black Mountain and Asheville, North Carolina.

9-sculpture

Spartaburg has a School for the Blind and Deaf, and it is reflected in the art and surroundings, such as this I Love You sculpture in American Sign Language.

 

 

 

 

Atlanta

During our last nine days in Florida we solidified our July and onward plans this much: Spend the July 4th weekend with Marissa, Ray, and their extended family outside Atlanta.  Then work our way to Asheville to see my brother and his wife Emmie, hopefully hooking up with my dad and stepmom Marcia, also full time RVers, before or after Asheville.  While in Asheville we would make a car trip to visit mom and stepdad Tim in Wilmington. That’s it.  No reservations, and all but the most immediate stop still rather ill defined in terms of timing.

1-jack-girls-bread

Analise and Sarah helping me make bread.

So we went with that, and left Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park bound for Snellville, west of Atlanta.  We split the drive into two easy legs with a stop at Southern Trails RV Park, a perfectly serviceable Passport America place for a one night stop over minutes off of I-75.  Being this close to the interstate, it’s is not a destination visit, but it was ideal for our circumstances, and looks to also be a great spot for those horse owners using the next door corral and riding areas.  2-analise

We continued on the next day To Marissa and Rey’s while trying to limit the back road time to preserve our cat’s delicate stomach, but alas, it’s difficult to drive to Snellville from the south without many miles of twisty turny.  She almost made it without incident. Almost.  3-cat-front-yard

We parked in our host’s front yard, parallel to the street.  For most visits to friends’ and families’ houses that can accommodate our rig, we would look to stay in the driveway or along side it.  Rey and Marissa’s, however, is much to steep; the one visit we tried it left us comically un-level and having to throw together a crude set of steps to even get in the rig.  Right along the road in their front yard has worked out much better for us since then.  We can even put out the slides since I went out of my way to park with the right side of the RV, i.e., the one with the shallower slide out, towards the street.  4-sarah

We had a great Fourth of July weekend with the family.  Ray and Marissa’s daughter Annalise looks almost exactly the same despite being nearly three years older, but Sarah has turned from a round little infant into an energetic and loving toddler.  Rose’s aunt (Marissa’s grandmother,) Titi Clarivel lives with them, while cousin Betsy and her two younger kids, Daniella and Gabbi came for a visit our first day.

5-analise-basketball

Annalise beating me at Horse.

We brought the girls a wooden train set found in the donation area way back at Sigsbee Campground in Key West, and they loved it.  It was the primary toy that we all played with during our visit.  The kids really enjoyed putting it together, making different track layouts, and pushing the little magnetically connected wooden train cars around.  6-girls-and-trains

We enjoyed fireworks both nights we were there.  On the fourth, naturally, but also again the next night because Annalise felt that Rey had been tricked that first night into buying the bad fireworks that barely shot up in the air at all.  So Ray purchased a rather more elaborate set for the fifth, and Annalise hated it since it was much louder and more aggressive than the previous evenings entertainment.  Sometimes you just can’t win.  7-fireworks

Next up: South Carolina.  8-girls-glow-sticks

 

 

66 Months Fulltime RVing: June 2020 Report

The Distance: 332 miles once we left Sanibel and worked our way north through Central Florida into the northern part of the state.  2020 total mileage is up to 786.  1-june-route

The Places:  We spent 23 more days at Perwinkle Park in Sanibel before finally heading out.  We had three days at Wekiwa Springs State Park, then one night at Trimble Park near Mount Dora, and ended the month at Gilchrist Blue Spring State Park.  That’s 23 days in a private park and 7 in public parks (6 state, 1 county.)  We had full hook ups for 26 days and partial (power and water) for 4.  2-sanibel-palms

The Budget: Like last month, we were significantly over budget again: 17% this period.  Which is a bit frustrating because our daily camping fee was significantly lower than the previous two months since Perwinkle Park started charging out of season rates on June 1, bringing their average daily fee on a monthly rate down to $33.50 from nearly $48.  Wekiwa, Trimble, and Gilchrist were even lower ($29, $23,and $21, respectively.)  Also, we did not have to spend a dime on gas for the big rig since we had filled up shortly before arriving in Sanibel.

3-rose-55

Rose on her B-Day: Pretty fantastic for 55…

The problem was a failure on our part to keep things well reigned in (we have gotten a bit looser with our spending after three months in COVID semi-isolation,) a complete lack of market and/or vending opportunities to pad the budget, plus two or three significant and only semi-expected major expenditures.  We finally had to replace Rosemarie’s iPad after nursing it along for years with a wonky screen, a full brake pad and rotor job for Loki, plus a new battery for the tracker as well.  Take away the either the iPad or the Loki improvements and we would be slightly under budget.  Ah well, there will always be things like this that need doing.

4-cat-bed

…meanwhile, here’s PKM and me.

The Drama and Improvements:  We continued our electronics upgrade plan with a new iPad for Rose, a no-cost scrubbing of her Macbook’s files to open up a lot of space and extend its life, and the aforementioned brakes and battery for the Tracker.    5-gator

Final Florida Stop on Our Way to the Mountains

Our last Florida stop: Gilchrist Blue Springs west of Gainesville, Florida’s newest state park, and one of our favorites.  It is a popular place for campers, but especially for day users, for whom the park limits vehicle access to a certain number, then closes the gates for a few hours, reopening sporadically to allow in new cars if space permits.  I want to reiterate that this is not like Wekiwa Springs State Park’s policy of closing once the parking lot is full, and then reopening for five new vehicles as soon as five exit; at Gilchrist it can quite literally take hours to get in if you were not in the first group.  Thus, on weekends and during the summer months, day users are well advised to arrive quite early, i.e., before opening time, and wait in the likely already formed line.

1-sign

For us campers, the hard part is getting reservations.  The campground only has 18 hook up sites, which means that availability is limited, particularly on weekends.  We felt lucky to secure a five day run, Sunday through Thursday, on relatively short notice, particularly since schools are closed and the locals are filling the parks with their travel trailers.  One of the volunteer rangers seemed to believe that the park was well into planning major improvements that would see the entire RV section moved up the hill to the more spacious area closer to the entry road.  We will monitor that process during our twice a year visits.  2-rose-boardwalk

I screwed up a bit on day one of our stay: while making the reservation I got it in my head that our spot, #11, was the same one at which we stayed last visit; the site with the moderate oak tree nearly centered on the entrance, which complicated the back in process.  Upon arrival and check in my assumptions appeared confirmed by the ranger’s remarks, something about the challenge of getting into out reserved site.  So we headed on down, unhooked the tracker, and after a bit of maneuvering got backed in and fully set up.

3-site

Centered is “not our site,” but we stayed there anyway.  On the left, note the oak tree at the entrance.

An hour or two later another camper arrived, couldn’t find their spot, consulted the ranger, who knocked on our door.  That’s right, I had parked in the completely wrong spot, #5, due to following my assumptions rather than looking at the actual map and signs.  I apologized to both the ranger and the arriving camper profusely, during which I learned that the new arrivals had the exact same days reserved as us.  4-nature

I offered them the choice of using our actually reserved site, or waiting the half hour it would take for us to disconnect, pull in slides, levels, and awning, and then vacate.  No pressure, we would be happy to do either, but they elected to just take our site.  I did feel bad, because it took them a long time to get their trailer backed in properly, though the oak tree in “our” site would likely have made it just as problematic had we switched back.  Lesson learned #1 from this post: check your damn site number!  6-dappled-water

Anyway, cousin Robb and the twins, Nola and Maeve, joined us that first day, though they could not stay the night due to previous commitments.  They had been at the park for hours before we arrived, having utilized the previously mentioned “arrive early and wait in line” strategy to secure entry.  The girls actually spotted us drive the rig by while they were all on a lunch break back in town.  They helped us complete our set up and then it was spring time! 6-maeve-spring

Having purchased the park from private owners a couple of years back, the state has made some limited “improvements,” by which I mean they have removed things they found unsafe, or rather, liability issues.  The boardwalk, which previously extended the full 1/4 mile out to the Sante Fe river, now only goes a couple of hundred feet, well short of the old jumping off point for rowdy teenagers.  The jumping platform, previously positioned directly over the main spring boil, has likewise been removed; which means no more fun of jumping and flipping off the roughly 10′ high structure, but also the spring itself is now safe to free dive.

7-robb-diving

Robb down about 20′, where the main spring comes out of the base rock.

The latest change, a real heart breaker for me, is the closure of the secondary spring head to swimmers.  Located a couple of hundred yards from the main spring, the secondary spring was barely known to the majority of the day use crowd, and provided a near private natural swimming pool to those of us in the know.  I suspect they closed it for more liability concerns as it had no easy ramp entry point, but nature preservation is apparently the stated reason.  Ah well, it was good while it lasted.

8-secondary-spring

The secondary spring, now closed to swimming.

Here’s another bit of drama (fortunately not ours) with an obvious lesson that occurred during our stay.  While hanging out with the cousins that first afternoon, we noted a huge dust cloud trailing a pickup truck and travel trailer combo screaming along the main entry road.  This is a road that, even once beyond the lengthy washboard section, I still drive at perhaps 15 mph or less in our rig.  This truck was easily doing 40.  An hour later as we were all walking towards the spring, this same rig maneuvered aggressively around the campground loop, apparently to better position for her site, doing at least 20, probably more like 25 mph.  Keep in mind this is a narrow loop with tight turns and numerous trees that most parks would have long ago pared back.  10 mph would be a safe maximum speed.  She rounds a left hand bend behind us and comes to a sudden, crunching stop when the trailer’s extended wheel and fender creamed into an oak tree.  She failed to take into account two things: the trailer is wider than her truck, and the trailer does not follow in the tracks of your truck, but rather cuts the corner as you turn. Thus: tree. 9-nola-spring

At first it looked like minor cosmetic damage to the fender, but as another camper and I worked to maneuver her out without causing further damage, we noticed that the front left wheel of the two axle trailer was way out of alignment, i.e., pigeon toed inward 10-15 degrees, indicating to our amateur eyes a broken axle.  We got her out from the tree, convinced her to stay at least one night (she was, as most would be, very upset and thinking about just leaving immediately,) and advised her to call her manufacturer and discuss options for perhaps removing the front wheels to make a slow and steady single axle drive to her home 60 miles away.  She did stay a couple of nights, but as I understand it, blew off our recommendations about making calls, and elected to just pray that she could make it home in “as is” condition, broken axle and all.  Lesson learned #2 from this post: drive slow in campgrounds people, for many reasons! 10-jack-spring

Pre-COVID we would have done what we usually do in small but quaint towns: hit the local shops, thrift stores, breweries, Moose Lodge, and a couple of restaurants.  We skipped nearly all of that, though we did make a return to High Springs Brewery for a fantastic couple of beers, served in their spacious outdoor sitting area with almost no contact with the staff, much less any other customers.  Even their indoor seating is basically open air, with masks and distancing we felt pretty safe.

11-nola-pkm

PKM does not love this, but she tolerates almost anything.  Good kitty.

On our last full day the cousins returned, this time for an overnight tenting experience.  Like most kids, the twins love a campfire and smores, and Robb delivered with a rousing fire.  The evenings are quite warm as you can imagine July in Florida always is, but one of our fans hooked up to our outdoor socket helped make their large tent a bit more comfortable.  What a great visit, we always enjoy our time with cousin Robb and family, and hope that our next visit Colleen can join us as well.

12-campfire

One of the great things about camping with cousin Robb is that he always takes charge of the campfire, it never fails to light, and it is always big. 

As mentioned in the last couple of posts, we are on our way out of Florida, but we have not mentioned any particular plans for the rest of the summer and fall (or winter and spring, for that matter.)  Lacking a coherent itinerary like our pre-COVID intention of making a counter-clockwise tour of the Western US and Canada, plans now long abandoned, we do have three motivations driving us: get out of the raging COVID hot spot formerly known as Florida, get out of the heat-ravaged-and-it’s-only-going-to-get-worse oven (also known as Florida,) and satisfy as best we can our wanderlust with some travel.  For now that means heading generally towards the Carolina mountains.  Over the course of the next three weeks, things firm up considerably.

13-jack-pkm

Swimming plus family and kids: exhausting for all.

Next up: June report, then more cousins, this time outside Atlanta. 14-the-twins

 

 

Working Our Way Out of Florida: Wekiwa Springs & Trimble Park

On June 24th we departed Sanibel headed for Wekiwa Springs State Park.  Forgive this digression, but a matter of local historical and linguistic importance rests on whether you use the spelling and associated pronunciation “Wekiwa” (ending in “wa”) or Wekiva” (ending in “va.”)  I believe I addressed this issue briefly in a previous post (which I can not yet locate,) but have since delved into it a bit more.  While this seems like a small matter, consider:

  • The state park and the springs are officially called Wekiwa Springs State Park.
  • The river fed by the springs is officially the Wekiva River.
  • Most, though not all, of the surrounding residential neighborhoods and businesses, if they incorporate the name at all, utilize the “Wekiva” form.
  • The road passing along the state park is officially Wekiva Springs Road…
  • … until it leaves Seminole County and enters Orange County, whereupon it becomes Wekiwa Springs Road.
1-leaving-sanibl-pkm

PKM checking out the sights from the Sanibel to Fort Myers causeway.

This is insanity.  Petty, minor, and for most people irrelevant insanity, but insanity none the less.  So what’s the cause of this confusion?  I have run across two explanations: first, that the Native American Creek name for spring is “Wekiwa” but the Creek name for a river fed from a spring is Wekiva, and early white explorers attempted to meet proper spellings, but no one told the road and neighborhood naming committees of the nuanced difference.  One part of this is true: the Creek name for spring is, apparently, Wekiwa, but the rest is pure fiction, having been linguistically (there is no “v” sound in Creek) and historically debunked.

2-wekiva-entrance

Even the entrance from a main street into Wekiwa Springs State Park is beautiful.  If only the would make a second lane so that arriving campers don’t get stuck behind a line of day use people that often have to wait for people to leave from the frequently full spring parking area.

Apparently the real story is one of bad translation due to a soft pronunciation of the second “w” in Wekiwa, leading to a century of dueling spelling preferences that eventually divided at the county line.  You can read more about it in this fun and informative Orlando Sentinel article.  Many thanks to Jim Toner and staff for sorting this out 21 years ago.  I will attempt to use the officially designated spelling for the spring, river, businesses, neighborhoods, etc, but I grew up in Seminole County, so I may occasionally default to “Wekiva” when “Wekiwa” is the proper spelling.  Mea culpa.

3-wekiva-papayas

Fresh papaya from Rose’ dad’s trees.  

Anyway, we headed towards Central Florida, with a slowly increasing sense of urgency to get out of Florida.  The states multi-phased reopening plan had commenced in early May (phase 1) and expanded in early June (phase 2.)  If you care to examine the COVID data for Florida, especially daily new cases, you will see a statistically significant move upward in the first week of June, which accelerated by the second week.  Since the virus has a lag time for exposure, symptoms, and next generation exposure, this is exactly what epidemiologists feared would happen.  If your morbid curiosity induces you to look even deeper, the daily new death stats paint an even clearer picture: lagging, as you would expect, about a month behind actual new cases, they began a distinct upward trend in early July.  What fun.

4-wekiwa-site-2

Our site at Wekiwa.

Exhausted from all the COVID talk?  I get you, but it has rather dominated everything these days, and that obviously includes our RV plans.  Accordingly, when I read these 2020 blog entries years from now, I want to know the driving factors behind the decisions we made, and COVID is a big part of that.  Anyway, moving on.

5-wekiva-loki-problems

A bit of drama: at first we thought the old battery was no longer holding a charge, but it turned out to be a corroded connection point along the positive battery terminal.   

We did not do a lot of fun camping and spring related activities this Wekiwa visit, just a few short strolls down the marked paths and what not.  Son Jackson was able to make an evening visit with us, which we were all comfortable with given our isolation in Sanibel and his careful distancing in preparation for beginning his Physician Assistant program this month.

6-wekiva-evening-hike

An evening stroll along the well marked paths.

We had three days at Wekiwa Springs, with a one day gap before our next stay near Gainesville at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park.  Unfortunately, the day we needed was a Saturday, the hardest to secure at our popular preferences, especially on short notice.  While casting about for an overnight spot at various state and even a couple of private resorts along our route, we found a last minute cancellation at one of our favorite spots: Trimble County Park near Mount Dora.

7-trimble-site-2

The fire pit behind our site at Trimble Park.

Not only is it at one of our faves, but the individual site, #13, is our favorite in the small park, being lake side and with no neighbor on the right (living) side of the spot.  We made the best of our one day and night there, particularly the reliable wild life sightings we always see.  This time herons and the small gator that frequents this end of Lake Beauchamp made appearances.

8-trimble-site-1

A different view.

And that’s all for Central Florida. Next up, a return to Gilchrist Blue Springs and a visit with cousins during our final days in Florida, at least until we return… someday.

9-trimble-heron-1

One of the big heron’s that frequent the lake.