Another December in Sanibel

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.

2020, our Sixth Year of Full Time RVing, in Review

What a strange, frustrating, terrifying, and unusual year. Looking back at the beginning, when so much of our country and the world thought 2020 was looking to be a terrible year because… something about Australia being on fire. Which is, admittedly, not good, but oh how innocent we were! So here is to a hopefully much better year in 2021. It is less than an hour before New Years Day here on the East Coast, and we have spent much of the last week remembering our year, good and bad.

Though we spent so much of the year “hunkered down” and self isolating to various degrees, we did manage to see a surprising number of family and friends along our limited travels, socially distanced and “bubbled” as much as we could, though not as much as we should. Before we knew how bad COVID would get, we visited the Nieves family on our way out of Key West. That week in mid March is when we finally realized the novel coronavirus was going to wreak havoc on the world.

With a few false starts, we did a three month aggressive “hunker down” in Sanibel, before things seemed opened up enough for a bit of RV travel, especially as in the process we would actually be leaving one of the most hard hit pandemic states in the country at the time. We worked our way out of The Sunshine State, seeing Jackson and Andrea in Central Florida and Robb, Colleen, and the twins in High Springs.

In July we had a flurry of sequential visits, starting with a brief and careful visit with Marissa and Rey outside of Atlanta. From there was up into South Carolina to meet up with Dad and Marcia, and then later including brother Jason and now wife Emmie in North Carolina. At this time we had gotten through the full COVID spring with a plan but were pretty much in limbo about where the summer and fall would take us.

Starting with a run to the East Coast to visit Mom and Tim in Wilmington, our summer plans started to coalesce, beginning with a month exploring Western Carolina (Asheville, Waynesville) and East Tennessee (Cumberland Mountain and Fall Creek Falls.) During this window we stumbled across, and then solidified, our work camping gig at Lake Powhatan National Recreation Area and Campground.

Said job took us through mid November, after which we began to work our way back south to Florida. Along the way we had another short visit with Ray and Marissa, Robb and family, and Jackson and Andrea in their respective towns, still trying to have most of our socializing outside. For Thanksgiving we spent six days in South Bay on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, which facilitated short visits with Rose’s Dad Xavier and Joy.

Finally, at the end of November, we ended up back in Sanibel, intent on working through the bulk of the winter here. We had a short day visit at a beachside restaurant back in Vnice with Rosemarie’s mom Gloria and Jerry. We endured, as best able, that brisk Florida winter weather.

Rosemarie’s sister Dolores, along with Josh and niece Tamiry, arrived in Florida for in early December, and we were able to see them during a short trip across the Everglades to Coral Springs, and again when Xavier, Joy, Dolores, and Tamiry came for a day visit to the Sanibel Beaches.

A couple of weeks later, for the Christmas holidays we spent a few days back in Coral Springs. While we had some excellent holiday memories, family time, and gift exchanges, we also had some additional drama to make the last days of 2020 that much more special: I blew the engine on the Geo Tracker during one of the several back and forth runs across the state between Sanibel and Coral Springs.

This means that we end the year with our little car in the shop getting a rebuilt engine put in, while we make do with our bikes and an occasional rental car in Sanibel. There are far worse places to be, but we sure look forward to a better year in 2021.

Back to Sanibel to Close Out 2020

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but that has been kind of a weird year.

In March, before we understood the full gravity of the COVID pandemic, we left Key West intent on travelling west as far as the Pacific Coast and then up into Canada. Then reality intruded and we instead spent the entire spring hunkered down in Sanbel, FL. We finally got in a bit of 2020 travel, though limited ourselves to the US Southeast, most of it in North Carolina. With winter approaching, we headed back to the Sunshine State, and after a couple of weeks find ourselves right back in Sanibel, intent on finishing out the year here and part of 2021 as well.

This is almost normal for us: over our years of both part and full time RVing we have gradually increased our time spent at Periwinkle Park in Sanibel from a weekend here and there up to a full month in late fall and week or two in late winter or early spring. That growth in our annual stay time has been facilitated by the staff here knowing us a little bit better each year and rewarding our customer loyalty with their flexibility and effort in finding us longer stays at this high demand location.

We can sort of look at our Sanibel RV pattern during this COVID-altered year has an expansion on our usual schedule; instead of a few weeks in the spring, we did a few months, and instead of one month in the late fall and winter we are doing two. Said expansion, however, would not have been possible without the limitations other RVers are experiencing. Simply put, some of the snowbird population and nearly all of the Canadians are just not here this winter, opening up spots in these popular resort RV parks.

In any case: we arrived a couple of days after Thanksgiving, and intend on staying until almost the end of January. This will give us two full months, which, with the modest monthly discount, reduces our nightly cost from $62 to a little over $53. That is still on one of the most expensive rates we pay, anywhere, and once we leave the island we will be doing some serious belt tightening in terms of campground fees, which will hopefully include some free boondocking as we move west later in 2021.

As for markets and craft fairs: though an ever increasing number of them are back in business (with varying levels of COVID control) we won’t be participating until we have the safety of a vaccination and hopefully the additional protection afforded by herd immunity once a high percentage of the general population has also received their shots. We accept this, but it is so hard to decline an invitation to an event that has, in past years, been so profitable for us, such as the Cape Coral German American Society Christmas Fair or the Key West Gardenfest.

Ah well, we are making the best of it! We have the Sanibel beaches, fantastic Florida winter weather, shelling, and the comfort of one of our favorite RV parks. More on our Sanibel and South Florida winter next post.

71 Months Full Time RVing: November 2020 Report

The Distance:  After two months with zero mileage, we got back on the road, covering 1,055 miles as we made our way from Asheville back to South Florida. The map for this run shows about as efficient of a straight southern route as we could make until we moved close to the Atlantic Coast of Florida for our Blue Spring and South Bay stops. November’s mileage represents nearly one third of our 3,536 total for 2020, which will be our final number for the year as we don’t expect to move the big rig from our current location in Sanibel until 2021.

The Places:  After our last eight days in the Asheville area we visited family outside of Atlanta and Gainesville, with short stops affordable and convenient Passport America parks along the way. Once back in the Sunshine State we spent a week between two Florida state parks, Rainbow and Blue Spring, followed by six days at South Bay RV Campground on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. We finished the month back at Periwinkle Park in Sanibel, kind of our “go to” COVID spot this year once they closed the military campground at Key West.

The month included 20 days at public campgrounds (7 national, 7 state, 6 county,) 7 days at private parks, and 3 in the family driveways. We had full hook ups for 20 days and partial for the remaining 10. Incidentally, I include running a regular extension cord to friends and family’s standard 20 amp exterior sockets as “partial” services; it makes a big difference in keeping our house batteries charged up and ready for the road.

The Budget:  2.5% under budget. Our financial gravy train from our work camping gig at Lake Powhatan has come to an end, though that last 1 1/2 paychecks made a huge difference in keeping us on track this month, especially since we put in a lot of miles (with the associated gas costs.) Our free nights with family and the very cheap Passport America rates at our two short stops in South Carolina and Georgia played a significant role in keep us just under budget this month, particularly since we obviously had a lot more campground costs to absorb than the last couple of free months.

The director is uncertain this project should have ever been green lit.

The Drama and Improvements:  Our automatic entry stairs have been a headache for years, though I have gained enough knowledge to make them work whenever they get stubborn. Until we get around to replacing the controller, though, we will continue with this minor annoyance. Usually they work fine until the house batteries get a bit low, like after a full day of travel, but sometimes they just decide not to work even with a full charge.

Such was the case as we were preparing to leave Blue Spring State Park. Though we are pretty good about including a visual check for their retraction when we prepare to get underway, we forgot that time, they didn’t retract, and I damaged them driving forward over an exposed root. The bottom stair plate partially detached from the frame, and it took me several minutes to get them to retract sufficient to make our trip to South Bay. Once there my trusty Ridgid cordless drill and a stainless steal bolt made quick repairs of the bottom step, so all in all this was pretty minor drama, but drama nonetheless.

A New (to Us) Place in South Florida: South Bay RV Campground

Like many full time and seasonal RVers, this time of year presents a challenge: how to find Florida campgrounds that meet our – quite flexible, we like to think – criteria. COVID has both aggravated and simplified that effort: an industry wide RV boom and the continued closure of our preferred winter location (Sigsbee Campground at Key West Naval Air Station) have complicated our search, while the Canada-US border restrictions have severely limited the presence of, and thus the competition from, our northerly neighbors.

Even under normal, non-COVID times, an RV campground search in Florida is more than a bit analogous to the Project Triangle, i.e., “you can have it fast, cheap, or good: pick any two.” The RV version is something like “available, affordable, or local: pick any two.” If you’re very flexible about the location and amenities, you can certainly find places. If money is no object, you can get almost anything you want, anywhere you want. And if you are on a budget and specific, but willing to plan and commit way ahead, you can usually find places as well.

For the Shell On Wheels family, who are budget conscious, location specific, and insistently flexible (i.e., late planners) this campground search can seem Herculean. Fortunately for us military RV parks exist outside of the normal economy, which is a euphemistic way of saying they are heavily (financially) subsidized by the general, tax-paying public. As such, we depend on these military campgrounds during peak season and in high demand regions, because there is no way we could stay the bulk of the winter in places like, e.g., the Florida Keys without access to Key West Naval Air Station.

A selection of heavy equipment associated once part of the water management system near the big lake. Somewhere among them is a geocache…

COVID, however, has altered the equation. Key West Naval Air Station campgrounds remain closed, despite most of the other Florida military campgrounds being open. As a result this last spring and now in the late fall, we elected to head back to our rather expensive campground on Sanibel Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. In non-COVID years even this might have been impossible, but with the ongoing Canada-US border restrictions most of our northern neighbors are not coming to The Sunshine State, leaving a few otherwise inaccessible RV sites available in high demand parks.

… Ah, there it is.

With six open days between our last Central Florida state park reservation and the start of our two months in Sanibel, we were casting about with ever increasing urgency for something nice, affordable, and available. In past years we would have headed straight to Coral Springs to stay in Xavier and Joy’s driveway for at least part of this Thanksgiving period, but during our last such stay city code enforcement paid a visit, informed us that RV’s were strictly forbidden in residential driveways, and thus ended that particular “free parking while visiting family” situation we had enjoyed for years.

Our geocaching map for the South Bay region. Yellow dots we found, all others we will hopefully hunt on a future visit.

So that’s five paragraphs of navel gazing as a segue into the actual subject of this post: a new to us campground in South Florida. We still wanted something reasonably close to Coral Springs, and as we expanded our search, both by region and park characteristics, I stumbled across South Bay RV Campground, a Palm Beach County facility on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It was perfectly situated one hour from Coral Springs and a little over two from Sanibel.

Hard to se without zooming, but there is a small gator, maybe 3 to 4 feet long, just off shore here in one of the campground ponds.

South Bar is not exactly in a prime tourist destination, but Florida’s Big Lake does have more than a little appeal, and the price was right at less than $30 a day for a full hook up, good sized lot. I was a bit surprised they had plenty of availability for a short notice reservation in mid November. I wonder how much COVID has effected the regular patrons, particularly since they do offer modest discounts for weekly, monthly, and seasonal campers. Perhaps we will find out next year when we attempt to make South Bay our replacement park for Xavier and Joy’s now unavailable driveway.

Given the circumstances, I can’t say enough about this park. While it was a bit short on trees, we had a full sized site in a tranquil location with friendly neighbors all about, and for less than we pay at most Florida state parks, much less private resorts. The town of South Bay and nearby Belle Glade are big enough to have regular grocery chains, gas stations, restaurants and the like, and if you truly need a Walmart one is just 20 minutes west in Clewiston. Tripadvisor pointed us to a fantastic little taqueria in town, Martin Tacos, which we enjoyed so much we went twice during our short stay.

What a fantastic place! The standard tacos and burritos were excellent, and they even had some specialty items like tongue meat.

The big reason driving our south Florida park selection this period was Thanksgiving, and our planned four person celebration with Xavier and Joy. We like to think we have been pretty COVID responsible in our mask wearing, distancing, and limited contact outings, and have also tried to be selective in who we, in turn, interact with in closer settings. Xavier and Joy have been have been very restrictive, with the grocery store for supplies being about their only regular exposure. We left the cat, whom Xavier is violently allergic to, at home with a robust amount of food and water and made the short drive to stay with them for two days.

Joy had already purchased a turkey, finding an elusive 10 pounder, ideal for our small gathering. I did the usual brine it overnight and herb butter under the skin method, but with such a small bird Joy and I decided to forego the spatchcocking and use an oven bag instead this year. It came out great! We enjoyed a wonderful meal with plenty of fixings, and despite the modest size of the turkey itself, we had a lot of leftovers, easily sufficient for a week’s worth of turkey sandwiches.

Back in South Bay we made preps for the two hour drive west to Sanibel and our impending two month stay at Periwinkle Park. Next up: Our November Full Time RVing report.

A Week in Central Florida: Rainbow and Blue Spring State Parks

From late October to mid November I spent an unfortunate amount of time online trying to lock in reservations at any of our preferred Central Florida spots, while also fitting in at least one new place during our limited time in the area. Our “check online and often for late cancellations” method did not serve us quite as well as usual; though we had a thirteen day window in between our stay at cousin Robb’s and our planned arrival at Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island, we only had five days covered with Central Florida reservations. We started those five days with two at Rainbow Springs State Park, a very popular camping destination.

Thus, after Robb and Colleen prepared a hearty breakfast, we left their driveway late Sunday morning, gassed up Serenity for the second time this month (something we are not used to given our last three months nearly stationary in North Carolina) and headed south to the newest state park on our RV list. At just over an hour drive time, this is the sort of repositioning move we love; even with a leisurely late departure we can arrive enough to enjoy the first day at a new spot.

Rainbow Springs reminds me quite a lot of Silver Springs State Park, a place Rose and I camped at but once, though I recall visiting the place place a couple of times in my youth. Both parks have a massive, first order magnitude springs with large crystal clear ponds surrounding the main spring boils, which feed rivers that remains clear for quite some distance downstream. Both parks limit swimming to designated areas, and both campgrounds are miles from the actual spring.

Having said that, we thoroughly enjoyed our two days at Rainbow Springs, and would have preferred at least one more, even with our tight schedule for the rest of the month. The campground, or at least our assigned loop, had only limited vegetation, mostly of the low scrub forest variety rather than the canopy forest we generally prefer. This meant not much shade, but fortunately our site position and size were such that we had plenty of privacy from neighbors.

With only two days there we splurged on our second day and rented a canoe to paddle the river for a couple of miles. With snacks and drinks we had a lovely afternoon on the river admiring the nature and houses lining much of both sides, though one of the for sale signs made it clear this particular water front area is well outside of our limited means ($950,000 asking price for one large lot, house not included!)

The canoe trip reinforced our desire to own some kind of boat, even if it is as simple as a tandem kayak. The real challenge for us is how to transport it: a tandem is to tall to mount vertically on our rear ladder, and the Geo Tracker is not exactly set up for something on top of the rag top roof. Ah well, with enough padding and rope I am sure it can be done, so somehow, someday.

Tuesday morning we headed out around noon bound for Blue Spring State Park, which, along with Wekiva Springs and Trimble Park is one of our preferred CFL locations. Blue Springs and Wekiva both have excellent swimming in crystal clear waters, though this time of year the manatees are arriving, so swimming in Blue Springs is restricted. Ah well, this park never fails to deliver in terms of nature and wildlife.

During the first of our three planned three days at Blue Spring we managed to secure two additional days, giving us five total at the park, though we would had to move sites between the two reservations, which is unfortunate not just because of the move, but also because each reservation entails a separate reservation fee, jacking up the daily rate a bit. Irritating!

Son Jackson and Andrea were able to swing by one night, bringing take out pizza from our local recommended spot, Blue Springs Pizza, located just outside of the park, and highly recommended what with the apparent shift back to the original owners this last year. We don’t have any group pictures because we seriously attempted social distancing this visit, eating outside and forgoing contact, etc. It’s strange to read our blog posts from half a year ago and find the exact same comments, i.e., visiting with Jackson and maintaining social distancing. Man, let the vaccine flow smoothly such that this pandemic ends soon!

Incidentally, some of you may remember my unnecessarily detailed explanation of the “Wekiwa” vs “Wekiva” (note the “wa” vs the “va” in the last syllable) many moons ago. In a similar vein, I want to point out that the official name of the current park in question is “Blue Spring State Park,” in which “spring” is singular. Contrast this with Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, with plural “springs.” This is more than a subtle way of differentiating each park’s respective name; it also reflects reality in that Blue Spring has one main spring boil, whereas Gilchrist Blue Springs has multiple spring heads spread out across several acres of the property.

Nearly every day we made made the short hike down to the spring, and though we did not have the raccoon or armadillo activity we have enjoyed during past stays, the manatees were out and easily spotted along the entire half mile spring run. I mentioned earlier that Rainbow Springs reminds me of Silver Springs in part because of how long the water remains crystal clear downstream from the main heads. I contrast this with out current location, Blue Spring, which runs into the murky St Johns River in less than a mile, and Gilchrist Blue Springs, which runs into the equally dark Sante Fe River even sooner.

While in the region we had plenty of time to do a bit of geocaching. While we have stayed at Blue Springs many times, we have not done much caching in the area, something we remedied this visit. During the course of which we found bike paths, hiking trails, and local parks about which I was completely ignorant until we went out caching. Such is the nature of the hobby, always pushing you into new and unexpected areas.

I drew an imaginary triangle with sides defined as the St Johns River, Lake Monroe, and I-4, and then set about finding all the caches within it. Future visits are clearly called for.

So there it is, a full week in Central Florida split between an old favorite and a new park. This left us with nearly a full week until our reservation start at Sanibel Island, during which we explored a completely new campground and region. In other words, next up: South Bay RV Park on Lake Okeechobee.

Back To Florida, Via Atlanta and Gainesville, for the Winter

After nearly three months in the Asheville area we filled up Serenity’s big tank for the first time since early August and headed south. We were bound for Florida, as we do every winter, though with our actual itinerary still in COVID-induced flux. We made a couple of stops to see cousins along the way, with our first destination the outskirts of Atlanta, though we split the trip there from Black Mountain into two legs with a one night stopover in South Carolina. We had not driven the RV since mid August, so it was to take things slow with two easy drives (roughly two hours each) rather than one long push.

In a similar vein, with this being our first night on the road in a long while, we wanted a full service RV park rather than a dry camping parking lot at Walmart or Cracker Barrel. As there were no military campgrounds on our route, we turned to Passport America for an affordable option, found Lake Hartwell Camping & Cabins a little beyond the halfway point to Atlanta and less than five miles from the interstate, and locked it in for our one night stop.

At $19 all in we enjoyed a lakefront site with 30 amp power and water. While the dirt and gravel road down to our site was pretty rough, once there the spot was spacious with a great view of the lake. The encroaching cold weather had already knocked down most of the leaves, and the combination of an open view with remnants of fall colors made this campground a great one night value. Once again, Passport America (wink wink: referring membership type “R” and member number 0261872) comes through for us.

We made the short drive to cousins Marissa and Ray’s the next morning. Since our last visit they have moved, having sold and then bought a larger place for their growing family in a nearby neighborhood. The driveway at the new house is not particularly long, but apparently the HOA has no problem with short term curbside parking of RVs, so we were able to make ourselves quite at home, even putting out the two protected left slides and connecting to our hosts standard 20 amp house circuit.

The adorable Annalise has competition for attention, as her sister Sarah, now 2, is highly mobile, talkative, and insistent on being included in everything. At 5 Annalise is old enough to remember us now, and has her sister just as intrigued by our “car house” as she is. Day or night, if one of us needed to make a trip to the RV, the girls insisted on “helping.”

Marissa joined me on my annual Veteran’s Day tour of restaurants. Though this year was far more subdued than past events, we were still able to have breakfast and pick up enough food for the entire family for lunch and part of dinner. Betsy, Gami, and Daniella were able to swing by for one evening of partially distanced visiting as well.

After two days we continued our low speed cruise to Florida with yet another Passport America stop, this time for two nights in Southern Georgia. Earlier in the week when we selected Lake Hartwell for a short stopover there was only one Passport America choice near our desired stopping point, and thus we felt fortunate to have scored such a nice value. In this case we had three such properties to choose from. One of them did not have availability, another was significantly more expensive, and so we ended up at Paradise Lake RV Park in the very small town of Enigma, less than ten miles off I-75.

It was a bit bare bones to look at, with no actual lake or even pond on the property, but for $15 a night we had full hook ups (i.e., sewage included with the power and water) and a surprisingly tranquil environment. While there was not much of a view, all of the spaces in this small park were on grass, decently large, and most had a couple of trees. The neighbors mostly kept to themselves and were polite when we met a few, and onsite management was very laid back and accommodating, even waiving their “no Passport America rate on Friday” rule for our second night stay.

We spent part of our second day there exploring the area and geocaching. I had recently learned that a geocache affiliated website had a function allowing you to visualize not only the states and countries you have cached in, but also broke it down by county. I was surprised to see how few counties we had cached in along our extensive travel routes, and wondered how full the map might be if I actually found a cache in every county in which we had stayed a night. Since discovering this tool I have added around nine to the map.

We finally crossed into Florida shortly after departing Paradise Lake, and made a mid afternoon arrival at cousins Rob and Colleen’s and their girls Nola and Maeve. Unable to score weekend reservations at the nearby and very popular Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, they put us up in their driveway for the night.

We had a great visit, getting to know their dogs, picking up their go to take out pizza, and telling stories over a few beers and the like. With holiday breaks coming up, we hope to get back together on the beaches in Sanibel this winter.

Next up: our week in Central Florida, and a new state park.

Our Last Week in Asheville Before Heading South

In mid October we got word that the campground would be closing the glamping tents November 2nd, a full week earlier than we expected. Even after the last guest departed there would be enough legitimate work to keep us busy, and thus justify our compensation, into the next weekend, but after that we would either need to leave, start paying for our campsite, or pick up duties consistent with the other camp hosts. While unexpected, this actually worked out quite well for our plans, giving us early an extra week to work our way back into Florida before beginning our scheduled two months in Sanibel in late November.

With the cold and rain in late October, our colorful leaf canopy has mostly disappeared.

So we spent part of that last week closing down the tents: stripping laundry, storing all linens in the designated shed, and moving the tent accoutrements (lamps, fans, coffee pots, brooms, pillows, etc) into winter storage. All of which was in preparation for the contractors that would soon remove the furniture, mattresses, and actual tent canvas, while leaving up the elevated wood platforms and frames until next spring.

A whole lot of laundry awaiting our organizational efforts.

We also had to get ourselves and our equipment ready for travel after nearly three months of idling. This meant checking tire pressure, batteries, tow equipment and the like, but also getting things stowed away and secured for rocking and rolling down the road. After three months of spreading ourselves out, that last item involved more than a little effort.

A crucial step in the getting ready for the road process. PKM loves this part.

Of course, we took some time to continue our “Goodbye to Asheville Regional Tour” as well. After months of cross scheduling, we finally were able to meet up with our RV friends Jen and Deas of Nealys on Wheels, bloggers we followed long before we finally started meeting up, first in The Florida Keys and later on the California Coast. They have since shifted from full time RVers into a sticks and bricks home after renting and then buying a place in Asheville. Fellow fans of craft beer and breweries, they recommended the excellent Zillicoah Beer Company, another great Riverside Arts District establishment that also had a fantastic on site food truck provided by Taqueria Muñoz.

The onsite managers, Jim and Dianne, hosted a farewell dinner up near the lakeside group gathering area for all of the hosts and employees. Catered by Luella’s, a local BBQ place, it was one of the few times during our stay that the entire crew was able to gather at leisure. We feel quite fortunate with only our second work camping experience; aside from the wonderful location, reasonable work requirements and fair compensation, we had great management and welcoming coworkers to boot.

In addition to Zillicoah, we made one last visit to Archetype Brewing, the every weekend perpetual yard sale ear the campground, and the wonderful Western North Carolina Farmers Market a couple of miles up the road. We also continued casual mushroom hunting, but the seasons have clearly changed and we weren’t yet adapt at finding late fall and winter fungus. We did, however, stumble across this falconer training his bird in our now nearly empty camping loop.

Finally, we pulled in our hydraulic levels, slide outs, outdoor decor and utility connections and headed out. We did not go far at all that first day, just half an hour up the road to Black Mountain to spend one night in brother Jason and Emmie’s (and Chalupa’s) driveway.

This being our third visit, we were becoming near experts at managing the low phone wire, steep entry way, and lengthy back down from his street. We celebrated our last day in North Carolina with a take out brunch from Louise’s Kitchen, the wonderful comfort food restaurant they had introduced us to during our last visit.

Backing down Jason and Emmie’s entry road because driveway and road grade makes it practically impossible to turn around until we reach the main street.

So that is it for North Carolina. Next up: back to Florida, with a few stops along the way.

70 Months Full Time RVing: October 2020 Report

The Distance: Just like in September, zero miles while we remained at Lake Powhatan. Total for the year is still 2,481 miles. November will see us back on the road.

This is a closeup of the underside of a Blue Indigo mushroom Rosemarie found.

The Places:  We spent all of October at Lake Powhatan outside Asheville, so 31 days in a public (national) park, and all of it with full hook ups.

The Budget: Even better than last month’s 50% under: for October we were 59% below budget! The same factors applied as well: free campsite, a paycheck, and no RV gas. November will be a lot tighter since we will be back on the road, paying for RV parks, and no longer getting that extra work camping paycheck.

The Drama and Improvements:  As mentioned in our September addendum post, we got Rosemarie’s Ukulele back from Mom and Tim’s neighbor Thomas, repaired and ready to play. I restrung a couple of our accordion style pull up mini-blinds as well, but nothing significant.

Next up: Our last week in Asheville. (Yes, I know I said this was next up at the end of the last post, but I forgot about the monthly report, and I usually like to keep these things in order.)

October Asheville Part 2: Going Out, Trying to do so Safely

I would not dare attempt to discern the merely popular establishments from those embraced by the resident population as truly local, but I will say that being recognized by the waitstaff as a frequent return customer makes one feel much more connected to a bar or restaurant. And this is what we began to experience as we closed in on three full months in the area.

The hosts and barkeeps at Archetype knew us even with full face masks, and waived us towards our preferred seating area as if we had been coming for years. The staff at Pizza Mind knew we would most likely have a Roasted Beet and Cauliflower pizza, and always with the sesame seed crust option.

And the ladies at Asheville Sushi and Hibachi recognized us on only our second visit, and treated us like regulars on that and several subsequent meals. This little strip mall sushi joint is just fantastic, and we will definitely miss the fresh fish, healthy portions, and Thai chai. Located well south of downtown proper it’s barely even in Asheville, so it is hardly a tourist destination, and yet I am not sure how well known it is by the locals either. It gets our strong recommendation, regardless.

White Duck Taco Shop is far too big and popular for such an experience, particularly the River Arts District location on the banks of the French Broad, but this iconic Asheville establishment pulled us back for multiple visits. We dined on delicious and imaginative gourmet tacos at a very fair price, and did so at an excellent dining environment.

In the same general vicinity we visited Wedge Brewing Company, another brewery thankfully not located in the excessively crowded down town beer mecca (a set of blocks we found to be woefully inadequate in their COVID mitigation efforts.) Wedge was fine, and located in an interesting set of buildings filled with art studios and the like, but the lack of wifi or accessible (and affordable) nearby food options left it well below our preferred Archetype Brewing.

Oh yes, the River Arts District is where it is at as far as trendy and artsy Asheville goes. And though Rose and I may, in general, prefer the atmosphere and vibe of the less well known West Asheville hamlet area, we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon and early evening trips to River Arts. We had one meal at Smokey Park Supper Club and another 12 Bones BBQ. Rose is much more of a BBQ aficionado than I am, and she found the former’s brisket sandwich excellent (complimented as it was by a lovely dining environment either elevated on the deck or in picnic tables along the river banks.)

As for 12 Bones, it seemed a bit dry, but perhaps a second visit will be necessary before declaring our preferred local BBQ joint (an endorsement almost certainly in desperate demand by all of the local establishments!) We hope to return to Asheville in the coming year or two, so along with our “regular” places, we look forward to adding some new ones.

Wherever we go, in every state or region, we seek out thrift shops for our basic needs and the occasional unnecessary yet low cost “splurge.” While Goodwill and Salvation Army stores predominate, we really enjoy finding local establishments, perhaps privately owned, perhaps affiliated with a local charity. In Asheville we stumbled upon two treasures. The first, Regeneration Station, is a large warehouse divided into hundreds of individual booths for collectors and artist to display their wares. Lots of retro art and furniture, tons of kitsch from (or styled after) the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and some surprisingly reasonable prices. Rose found a cute retro reed and leather purse for $12!

The other was an ongoing (every Saturday and Sunday, 8am-4pm) yard sale near the base of our campground entry road. Having passed it up multiple times during our first month and a half in Asheville, we finally made the impulse decision to check it out during one weekend outing. The deals offered by the set of families running the event turned us into regulars, and the surprising inventory turnover kept us coming back until our last week in the area.

To close out the month, we took a two day trip back east to Wilmington to celebrate an early Thanksgiving with Mom and Tim. We had a great short visit, and several excellent meals. In keeping with the food and beverage them of this post, enjoy this mouth watering shot of lamb and asparagus, prepared on Tim’s Big Green Egg.

Next up: Our last week in North Carolina.