To complete our exit from Florida, we spent a few nights at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park along the banks of the Suwannee River. We have stayed here before and it’s a great, mellow park with some good walking along the river. We didn’t do much here, mostly walked and did some chores. A major chore was to run over to Green Cove Springs, FL to visit our mail service and pick up some important items in person. Getting mail while living on the road needs to be planned and physically receiving it can be difficult. Most of the time we have them scan and then shred our mail, but we had received a debit card and decided to just go by and pick it up ourselves. We made a day of it and took a nice drive across NE Florida.

Otherwise we just enjoyed the beautiful weather. I took a couple of walks along the Florida Trail but didn’t get any biking in. I tried to get some photos of the Spanish Moss in the campground but the only evening I was free at the appropriate time (for that good evening light) it was very overcast. Maybe next time.

We have found that three days at a location is just not enough when you need to actually live your normal life at the same time. Groceries, banking, and all of the other “normal” activities take up time. We are currently heading to an appointment in Iowa but once we clear that we’ll be slowing down. There’s a lot of roses out there to smell and we plan on taking the time to do so.

Almost that good light. Stephen Foster SP, 4/16/19

Backwoods campsite, Stephen Foster SP, 4/16/19

It’s nice to be walking real trails again. Stephen Foster SP, 4/17/19

Spotted on the trail. It was still so cool that he didn’t move as I approached, knelt down, took the photo, and walked away. Stephen Foster SP, 4/17/19

Nora is adjusting well. That’s her seat. Stephen Foster SP, 4/17/19

 

Enjoying the Silver River, 4/13/19

We have been to Silver Springs several times over the years and have always loved it, so we made it our next stop in the Crawl Out of Florida. Easy drive, no entry line, nice weather, perfect. This park is divided into two parts: camping/recreating and the old Silver Springs attraction which is famous for its glass bottom boat tours of the springs. Campers get free admission so we have been to the springs several times and taken both the regular and extended tours. They’re both great. This trip, Patti wanted to go kayaking, so that’s what we did.

We went over on a Saturday morning which could have been bad, but wasn’t. We spoke with the girl behind the counter, money changed hands, and soon we were floating through the park. And it was great. We quickly got the hang of controlling the kayak (well, mostly) and had a lovely float down a side channel of the Silver River. Very wooded and not too hot. And, because of course there are, there were monkeys.

Back in the 1930s, a local entrepreneur (Colonel Tooey) had the bright idea of importing some monkeys to an island and then charging tourists to see them “in the wild”. What he didn’t realize was that rhesus monkeys could swim, which they quickly did. Hence, several colonies of monkeys are roaming about Central Florida (predominately here at the park). And there’s your fun fact of the day. (Bonus fun facts: they filmed portions of “Sea Hunt” and some Tarzan movies here. If you don’t know what “Sea Hunt” is, ask your parents.)

The bonus to the day was that I decided to charge the batteries of a very old waterproof camera (an Olympus 720, to be exact) that I hadn’t used in a decade or so. To my great surprise and pleasure it still works great, so see below.

Finally, we brought Nora out of Sybil in a harness and leash. She’s not quite comfortable yet, but she sure is interested. Stay tuned on that front.

Silver River, 4/13/19

 

Cheeky Monkeys, Silver River, 4/13/19

Contemplating a turtle, Silver River, 4/13/19

Walking the cat, Silver Springs SP, 4/13/19

The wait to get into Wekiwa Springs 4/7/19

We spent 3 weeks at Wickham Park in Melbourne moving out of the house, transitioning into Sybil, and saying our goodbyes. It was difficult, particularly the goodbyes, and we were very tired and more than a bit shell-shocked when we headed out to our first “official” stop. Only a bit under two hours away is Wekiwa Springs State Park, our home for five nights. It was an easy drive on a beautiful Sunday afternoon until we came around the last corner and saw a large backup waiting to get into this very popular park.

Now, understand that when we are towing the truck we are 63′ from end to end. If it wasn’t for the kindness of a stranger we’d be sitting there still. We sat there for 45 minutes waiting to get in, but it wasn’t that bad. Secure in the knowledge that we could empty our bladders whenever we wanted in our very own bathroom, the wait was stress free.

Our time at Wekiwa was as mellow as we could make it. We went over to St. Petersburg to make our farewells to my sister on one day, on another we strolled the town of Mt. Dora. Otherwise it was nice long walks on the trails in the park, naps, some normal chores, and basic decompression. It was extremely relaxing and a welcome change to the hustle and bustle leading up to our departure.

We are settling into our new reality. I’ve rearranged my clothes several time after learning what works and what doesn’t. Same for our basement storage. And the kitchen/pantry is most certainly a work in progress.

Below are a handful of photos as well as a map of our stops so far. The map only shows two stops so far. Stay tuned, that number will only grow.

The driver casually cruising. 4/7/19

Nora casually cruising. 4/7/19

Lady Sybil at Wekiwa Springs, 4/11/19

A view of Sand Lake. Note the sign next to the bench warning of alligators. How relaxing. 4/11/19

A Mt. Dora bookstore. Our kind of place. 4/10/19

 

The 1st of our many new homes, Wickham Park, Melbourne FL, 3/18/19

Yesterday we finished up packing the RV, pulled it out of storage, and set it up at our site in Wickham Park, our home for the next 3 weeks.

We are now full-time RV’ers.

Holy crap.

We’ve been considering doing this for almost 8 years, planning it for 6, and, since my retirement almost a year ago, implementing the plan. We’ve been busy scanning a lifetime of photos and documents, giving away or selling most of our belongings, and trying to figure out how we will fit the 10 lbs of our stuff (clothes, kitchen, gear) into the 5 lbs of available space on Sybil. We seem to have succeeded, but only time will truly tell. Now it’s time to execute the plan.

Waxing philosophic for a moment, this is obviously a huge change and challenge for us. It wasn’t easy disposing of a lifetime worth of stuff but the difficult decisions have been made. It was easier than we thought. Now we face the reality of living in (very) close quarters with each other pretty much 24/7. The reality of not being quite sure where we’ll be next week/month/year. The reality of needing to find a place to stay when we do decide where to go. The reality of closely monitoring the weather in case we need to run away or hunker down. The reality of dealing with significant obstacles while on the road. It will be a lot more work than simply hanging around the house. We understand all of this and believe we’re ready to embrace the new lifestyle we are throwing ourselves into. Again, time will tell.

On the other hand, we anticipate great rewards as a result of this choice. Beautiful scenery. Interesting people. Adventure. Swashbuckling.

OK, maybe not that last one.

We are pretty excited to be heading out finally. We will miss our most excellent friends and family, but it’s never been easier to stay in touch and have them share our journey. Some of them we may run into out there on the highway. Others not until we swing by wherever they may be. We’re never farther than a cell call or internet reach out away.

In the immortal words of the great scholar and author Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel: “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”.

The view from our home. Thanks to the Bradys for the gift that keeps on giving…quality rum. Wickham Park, Melbourne FL, 3/17/19

It has been sort of a tradition of ours to welcome in the New Year by camping with our great friends, the Bradys. Knowing that we will be hitting the road full time in 2019 and not 100 percent sure when we will return to the Florida area, we made reservations back in February at Alafia River State Park. Yup, 11 months early and we barely got sites. Welcome to camping in the winter in Florida.

Hiking up a hill! Alafia River State Park, 12/28/18

Alafia is a very nice place. Large and widely separated sites made for pleasant camping. Its specialty is mountain biking. In Florida. Where the highest elevation in the state is 345′. Fun fact: that’s the lowest highest elevation of the 50 states. The park is on the site of an old phosphate mine and it really did have a whole pile of biking trails, as well as many equestrian trails and a growing number of hiking ones. It’s strange to walk a ridge in Florida with steep drop-offs on each side, but there you go. I rode most of the green biking trails as well as a blue. A couple of highlights were:

  • Slamming on my brakes to avoid hitting a boulder. The boulder then got up and walked away. It was a gopher tortoise.
  • Discovering that the “water resistant” feature of my handlebar bag is only valid if it’s completely zipped closed. I rode off the side of a bridge into a stream. iPhone and $1800 camera both got wet. Fortunately, only my pride suffered any significant damage.
  • The blue trail was fun, with a bit of a pucker factor from my perspective, until I caught up with a family with small kids. Then it became a slow ride in the woods (no place to pass).

We had a great time and an enjoyable New Year’s Eve with our friends. We also accomplished some chores on board the rig, but the main task I had hoped to accomplish didn’t get done. I wanted to test our dry camping abilities by running on our batteries only in order to see how we do without electric hookups. We are almost a fully electric coach (we have a residential fridge) and I wanted to set up our generator to auto-start if the batteries run low. It was very hot, upper 80s, and we were very active so we decided to run the AC instead of testing batteries. Maybe next time.

Then we tried to leave.

When I drove the coach to the dump station, Patti followed me in the truck. She immediately pointed out to me that our rear was riding very low, with our rock guard actually dragging on the ground. It was obvious that our rear air bags were not filling. Crap. (Actually, to be honest, we used other words to describe our feelings. For the sake of any tender ears out there, I’ll stick with “crap”.) We’re still under warranty so I got on the phone with Freightliner. Let the games begin.

Rather than writing a couple of thousand words, I’ll just sum up the next 75 hours with some bullets:

  • Tuesday afternoon (New Years Day): the roadside tech showed up. He was about what you’d expect for a tech on New Years Day. He and the Freightliner tech on the phone from South Carolina gave an initial diagnosis of a bad air valve. We weren’t convinced, but whatever.
  • Waiting for help. Alafia River State Park, 1/2/19

    The park rangers set us up in a very nice, paved and secure location that I was able to limp into. And there we spent the night. Dry camping. Our batteries held up great, the auto-start function works fine, and we are confident we can go without hookups when necessary. Lesson learned. (Also, be careful what you wish for.)

  • Wednesday morning: the tow truck driver showed up. The driver of the BIG tow truck. He started looking things over and fairly quickly made the diagnosis that the valve was OK, we had two blown airbags and zero lift in our rear suspension. Can’t be towed (too low), can’t be put on a low boy (we’d be too high), needs to be fixed in place. Oh joy.
  • By this time we were out of clean clothes, out of food and had several obligations the next day at home. Freightliner was overnighting the parts to Tampa, so we made arrangements to meet them at the coach the next day and we headed for home. (Here is where I’d like to send a shout out to the rangers and staff at Alafia River State Park. They totally took care of a couple of travelers in need and couldn’t have been more helpful.)
  • Next day I drove back to Alafia. Freightliner told me the parts weren’t coming in that day. I drove home. Crap.
  • Friday they called us and said they had the parts in hand and two hours later we were there. The tech installed the new parts and, after we had it all aired up, took some measurements and discovered the root cause of our problem. The ride height was out of spec (by 600 percent!) and had stretched the bags until they separated. At least we know. He made the adjustment and away we went. We now have 2 new airbags, a noticeably more comfortable ride, and the knowledge that my headlights work (we got home after dark for the first time).

This all may sound like a huge pain in the butt, and it was, but it was also a great learning experience under the best of circumstances. The coach was in a safe place (instead of on the side of some interstate), it was all under warranty, we discovered we can easily dry camp and we had no critical appointments or obligations that were impacted. At the end of the day, it was all good.

And the margaritas after we got home were all the more enjoyable for the experience!

Watching Notre Dame lose. Sorry Mike. Alafia River State Park, 12/29/18

This guy admired himself in my truck’s chrome for several days. Alafia River State Park, 12/29/19

Enjoying our reward. Viera, FL, 1/4/19

After we left Markham Park, we went about 90 miles NW back to Ortona South. We were here last year and liked it enough to return. It was three days of mellow after the hustle and bustle of Ft. Lauderdale. We visited a bit with some friends who were also there, strolled the dam, and puttered about the RV fixing this and organizing that. Quite pleasant.

The big news, however, is that Fall finally fell. Markham had been very hot and the first couple of days at Ortona were hotter. We woke up our second morning to beautiful skies and temps that were BELOW 70! That may not seem cool to most of y’all, but it’s wonderful to folks that haven’t seen a temperature in the 60s since March. The rest of the trip we slept with the windows open. Perfect.

A big change that we recently implemented is that we are traveling with our cat, Nora. She’s an old lady and is adjusting slowly to this mobile life. But she is adjusting, which pleases us to no end. She has the run of the RV while we’re driving, which helps, but we still have to train her that under the steering column and behind the gas/brake pedals is not a place for a cat while driving. Otherwise, we have provided her with plenty of soft places to lay and/or hide, so she seems to be good.

We’re enjoying retirement more and more. Strongly recommend!

Morning coffee, Ortona South COE Campground, 10/20/2018

Entering the lock, Ortona South COE Campground, 10/20/2018

Gator guarding the lock, Ortona South COE Campground, 10/20/2018

Sybil at rest, Ortona South COE Campground, 10/20/2018

We just spent 3 nights at Markham Park, a Broward County park located on the western edge of the Fort Lauderdale area right against the Everglades. And is it ever a nice place. We were made aware of it via a respected blogger we follow (we’re looking at you Wheelingit) and are we ever glad we went. Our site was huge (most of the back half of the campground is like that) and backed up to the canal that separates the campground from the Glades. The park includes areas for mountain biking, RC Flying, RC Boating, a huge dog park (that was VERY popular) and an extensive target range. The range has facilities supporting both long and short guns, a skeet range and a “sport” skeet range that apparently involves wandering through the woods on a trail blasting away. Our site (which a park employee informed us was the “best in the campground”) was at the end near the range so we had the sound of gunfire all day, including one morning when the sound of extensive automatic weapons accompanied our morning coffee. Not our favorite sound but it didn’t last very long. Note: Wednesday morning is the day the Broward County sheriffs come out to play.

Our stay here was just fantastic. We saw our New York nephews who just happened to be in town. We also got together with some close friends who we haven’t seen in way too long. We biked along the berm that holds back the Everglades from civilization (or, more realistically, holds civilization back from the Everglades), saw a beekeeper doing his thing (just feet from our RV), dodged iguanas and even managed a wee bit of shopping at Ikea.

Oh, and it looks like there’s a wifi hotspot in each circle of 5 sites. We had 54Mbps download. Sweet.

Our greeter at Markham Park, 10/16/18, Sunrise, FL

The Everglades. Our site is directly behind this shot beyond the berm. 10/17/18, Markham Park, Sunrise, FL

Our site from the berm, 10/17/18, Markham Park, Sunrise, FL

Pointing to the Queen Bee, 10/17/18, Markham Park, Sunrise, FL

Scream! 10/17/18, Markham Park, Sunrise, FL

I see I last posted way back in March. Huh. There’s been a lot going on since then. Among other things, we have taken the RV out a half dozen times. We have been to:

  • Tampa, where we had the RV serviced, including a recall on the dashboard software;
  • Gulf Waters RV Park in Fort Myers where we stayed with some friends and toured a local rum distillery;
  • Myakka River State Park, a very large park with lots to do … when it isn’t under water from the heavy rains they had just had;
  • Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral, where we tested out our new cell booster and took Nora on her first trip in the RV. She accepted it. Barely.
  • Fort Wilderness at Disney World, where we did a lot of nothing while it rained for 3 days, and
  • Wekiwa Springs State Park, which was awesome! Beautiful, cool springs which were exactly what we needed on the (very) hot September days we were having.

Oh, yeah, and I retired. Best decision I ever made.

We’re spending our time getting rid of stuff in preparation to hit the road full time, exercising and relaxing, all three of which seem to make the days fly by. Here are a couple of photos from the last little while.

(BTW: I sit here on October 2nd and our air conditioning has crapped out. It’s supposed to hit 90 degrees and the humidity is over 85%. I can’t wait to hit the road and get out of here.)

Sunset at the Outer Banks, Hatteras NC, 5/11/18

Hatteras Lighthouse, Hatteras NC, 4/5/18

Wicked Dolphin Distillery, Fort Myers FL, 6/2/18

View from our window, Wekiwa Springs State Park FL, 9/18/18

Wekiwa Springs State Park FL, 9/20/18

FMCA @ Perry, GA, 3/14/18

We’re still trying to figure out this RV’ing thing. There are a lot of balls to keep in the air when you’re tooling around in a 40 foot house on wheels. Plumbing systems, electrical systems, propane, AC, furnaces, etc…. Not to mention the care & feeding of an 8.9 litre, 380 HP diesel engine, 6 speed Allison transmission, air brakes, air bags and on and on. This learning curve we’re facing is one of the reasons we were looking forward to the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) Convention that just wrapped up in Perry, Georgia. We spent 8 days taking classes, attending seminars, cruising vendor booths and meeting lots and lots of nice people.

We pulled away this morning much smarter then when we arrived. Who knew, for instance, that under normal wear and tear the brakes on our Class A coach will last its lifetime? I learned how to change the air filter on the coach. We found a bunch of items that we’ll end up getting (I’m looking at you, WiFiRanger) and were able to research a bunch of others. I got the representative from my tire pressure monitor system to come out and troubleshoot my problem (thanks, TST, for getting me working). And we had a great time with new friends (hi Tim & Beth, we’ll see you soon).

Probably the most important thing that I’m taking away from this trip is the confirmation of just how much I’m enjoying the whole RV process. I like driving it and setting it up as much as I like seeing the sights and meeting new people. This 2 week trip will be tough to come back from. We’re already looking forward to next time.

Watching the coaches arrive, 3/11/18

Partying hard in Perry, 3/16/16

Patti & the Major General, 3/19/18

Coaches parked backed to back, Perry, GA, 3/19/18

Good times with new friends, Perry, GA, 3/19/18

At work the other day I was offered an opportunity to get launch passes for the upcoming SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch. This was a big deal, since it was the first launch of this new vehicle. It’s also probably the last chance for Patti to come onto the base and get up close & personal with a launch viewing, since I’m now within a 12 month window to retirement. So we went for it.

We saw the launch today. It was pretty cool. We were among the closest civilians to the pad. Needless to say we were blown away. Also needless to say, I got some good shots. Enjoy.

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Lots of photographers were there. KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Launch. KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Liftoff, KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Ascent, KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Ascent, KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Two of the three boosters descending. KSC, FL. 2/6/18