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Well, it’s been an interesting 10 days or so. Our next stop was another nice Corps of Engineers Park at Redman Creek, Mo. Nice sites, if a bit uneven, but if you’re not a fisherman, there’s not much to do. I’m not a fisherman, but that’s okay since it rained for much of the time there. Laundry, trips to the big city (Poplar Bluff, MO) and catching up on reading were our days. It was nice. We even extended our stay by a day in order to avoid driving through thunderstorms. Better safe than sorry.

Then it was on to the true big city, St. Louis. We stayed at an RV park in Illinois that was very close to town (15 minutes to the Arch), but was also very wet. There had been so much rain/snow in the mid-west that the Mississippi River was in flood conditions from St. Louis to way up in Iowa and you could tell at our site. Water was over my shoes whenever I tried to get into our storage or work on our electrical/water. Good times. We did, however, have a good time in St. Louis. It seems to be a great mid-sized city with lots of interesting neighborhoods and cool things to do. We were only there for four nights and barely scratched the surface. We did the main touristy thing of walking about the Arch, but we also tried unsuccessfully to get into the free St. Louis Zoo (no parking), went to the City Museum, and visited the Cahokia Mounds. While at the mounds, I spotted a couple of archeology students on a dig. I spoke with them for a few minutes. Very interesting.

We can strongly recommend the City Museum for children of all ages. It is more of an experience than a museum. I mean, they suggest that you bring knee pads and a flashlight. Lots of crawling about, slides, and goofy sculptures. There is an outdoor area to climb around on and apparently the roof area, still closed until later in the month, is pretty awesome. There were lots of people of all ages on a Monday morning having fun.

Our pads imprint in the gravel. Canton, MO 5/8/19

We left St. Louis looking forward to a drier site. It was not to be. Our original plan for this leg had been to stay at what looked to be a very nice Missouri State Park, but they had notified us that it was now under the waters of the Mississippi, so we needed to change plans. We spoke to a park in Quincy, IL, but they were also under water. Bummer. She recommended a park near Canton, MO, so we checked it out, it looked good, and we made reservations. When we got there it turned out it was a new-ish park and we would be in a site near other trailers and 5th-wheels. Didn’t see any other big rigs, but OK. The ground was very wet/muddy, but that’s to be expected. When we leveled, our jacks sunk into the newly laid gravel, but we achieved level and spent the night. Next morning our front end had sunk over an inch into the mud and all of our jack pads were sunk well below grade. It was time to get out of Dodge, if we could even raise the jacks at all. Fortunately they came up and we managed to get out of there without too much more drama, although spinning the rear wheels of a 33,000 pound vehicle was a first. It was a worrisome experience, but no harm, no foul, except for two very muddy vehicles. Our next place could take us early, so up the road we went. In the rain. At least the RV and truck got rinsed.

The Gateway Arch from across the river. St Louis, MO 5/4/19

The Gateway Arch, St Louis, MO 5/5/19

The Arch, St Louis, MO 5/5/19

Note the significant flooding. There’s a road down there. The Arch, St Louis, MO 5/5/19

The flooded Mississippi. St Louis, MO 5/5/19

Crawling around at the City Museum. St Louis, MO 5/6/19

Archaeologists doing their thing. Cahokia Mounds, IL 5/6/19

Tallest US mound in the background with a stockade wall segment in the foreground. Cahokia Mounds, IL 5/6/19

Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, 4/26/19

After leaving SE Alabama, we headed to an RV park just SE of Huntsville near the Tennessee river and Guntersville Lake. It was lovely, but we didn’t do much … took a walk in the woods, washed the truck, etc. We then moved on to the Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee. Located about midway between Nashville and Memphis, it is a really pretty park with lots of boating/fishing and what looks like a lot of good hiking. We didn’t get to do much hiking since we took in a couple of local attractions, the first of which was the home of the coal miners daughter, Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. Really.

Located on a beautiful chunk of land, it is a very pretty place. We saw horses grazing in a field full of yellow flowers, a somewhat cheesy simulation of a coal mine, the outside of a re-creation of her childhood home and the exterior of her mansion. We did not spend the bucks to take a tour of the houses or the 18,000 square foot museum. We wandered a bit, then took off. As a side note, our Garmin GPS seemed to like to route us down a gravel road on the way out. Interesting.

The next day we took a field trip to the Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park. For two thousand years or so there was an advanced Indian civilization living in the midwest. Much like the Mayans did, they left behind large earthen mounds, almost certainly for ceremonial and/or astrological reasons. An excellent example of these complexes is found at the Pinson site. We wandered the museum, climbed a mound to a viewing platform on the second highest mound in the US (72 feet, the highest is near St. Louis), and took a nice walk through the grounds. It was very cool and informative and I’m glad we went.

As a side note, this was our first stop where we had no TV signal and no streaming-capable cell service, although we were able to surf/get email as long as we were patient. Hey, we’re retired and in no hurry. We spent several pleasant evenings reading and being mellow. How old school.

Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, 4/26/19

Pinson Mounds, 4/27/19

Pinson Mounds, 4/27/19

Pinson Mounds, 4/27/19

Natchez Trace SP, 4/26.19

Nora just hanging, Natchez Trace SP, 4/26/19

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

 

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There’s an old saying that goes: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” I have a nice example of that philosophy that occurred this weekend.

We headed down to a Corps of Engineers campground called Ortona South. It is located at some locks on the Caloosahatchee River between Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers. It’s a beautiful campground with nice level sites and great views. We are continuing our familiarization with the RV, lounging and strolling the campground. We met the local otter family, watched boats passing through the locks and did some light biking. All in all, a very relaxing weekend.

This coach, as I described in my last post, has a very advanced electrical system that includes a built-in surge protector. Despite that, one of the first accessories I bought was a surge protector that sits between the power cord and the plug on the pedestal. It not only protects the RV’s electrical system from surges, it monitors the state and quality of the power being delivered and shuts down if the voltage is too high or low or if the receptacle is mis-wired. It seemed a bit redundant and I almost returned it when I realized how nice our coach was, but I decided that multiple levels of protection could only be a good thing.

I need to mention that when we have no power, we have an inverter that supplies AC power for the fridge and most, but not all, of the outlets. Last night when we went to bed, we left our phones plugged into one of the non-inverted outlets. At 4 AM, we woke up to the sound of power being applied to our phones (“ding”). That signified the return of our 50 amp service. Turns out the external surge protector had detected an over-voltage situation (>134V). It had automatically isolated the coach until the power returned to an acceptable level, potentially saving it from damage.

This took place on our second trip. As far as I’m concerned, the device already paid for itself. I think I’ll remain paranoid, at least about stuff I can control.

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Lady Sybil at Ortona South, 11/10/17

 

Boats queuing for the lock, Ortona South, 11/10/17

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The local family getting ready to dine, Ortona South 11/10/17

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Dinner, Ortona South, 11/10/17

We took the new RV out for our first run to a local campground. The goal was to start testing out the various systems and start getting smart on the many, many features available. We had big plans.

It should be pointed out that this is in Florida. In August. And it was hot. Really hot. This was not an issue for us, since the vast majority of our planned tasks would be taking place inside our coach, which has 3 air conditioners on the roof. The plan was to pull into the site, hit the auto-levelers, plug in, attach the water, and voila! We’re good to go.

Lesson #1: The auto-leveling system rocks! When we pulled in, Patti had some concerns that the site was not very level and that we would need to utilize our newly bought leveling pads to raise the front end in order to keep the tires on the ground. I thought we’d be OK and gave it a shot. We backed into the site, I hit the button, and a few minutes later we had a nice, level RV with all of the tires still on the ground. Success! This was not a sign of things to come.

Lesson #2: Pay attention when making reservations. I had been so glad to get a site here that I apparently missed an important point. When I went to plug in our 50-amp, 4-prong electrical plug into the pedestal I discovered only a 3-prong, 30-amp receptacle waiting for me. Crap. Those 3 air conditioners I mentioned earlier? They want lots of amperage. After a few choice words directed at myself, we went to the desk to see if there were any 50-amp sites available. No such luck. The lady told me, helpfully, that I’d be able to run one of my air conditioners and if I tripped a breaker they’d be happy to reset it for me. Thanks. We went back and fired up the generator to take the edge off of the 95 degree interior. I can run all three of the ACs using the generator, but it a) sucks diesel, b) is loud and c) generates fumes. Not a long term solution, but at least we could cool off a bit.

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Missed it by that much!

Lesson #3: Bring extra everything because you will eventually need it. This is why I have a 50-amp extension cord and an extra segment of sewer hose. What I didn’t yet have, but had on the list to get, was an extra water hose. I had 25 feet with us. The water spigot was 29 feet away. Crap. Again. Put that on the list to pick up. This afternoon.

OK, it’s time to “adapt and overcome,” something we need to get used to if we’re going to full-time. Crap happens, as they say, and we’d better get used to it. The water hose was an easy fix. A short road trip and the judicious use of a credit card and problem fixed. As to the shortage of electricity, I used this as a learning opportunity. This RV has a pretty sophisticated Electrical Monitoring System. I whipped out the manual (yes, this engineer actually RTFM!) and discovered that when plugged into anything less than 50 amps the RV, when using too much current, will automatically shed loads until it’s within the available power. Huh. So I turned off the generator and turned on two of the three ACs. And it worked! Until it didn’t. After 20 minutes or so I believe the fridge must have cycled and started to draw too much current. One of the ACs turned itself off, just like it was supposed to. Cool! (No pun intended.) I later determined that each AC draws about 14 amps, so running two was on the hairy edge, but it worked. Knowledge gained. And it will re-enable the shed load when enough power becomes available.

The rest of the weekend was fine. A bit warm, but careful use of the generator during the day took the edge off and one AC was fine during the night. We got a lot done, including exercising the outdoor 40″ TV by watching the Orlando soccer team lose while sitting outside talking with the neighbors and enjoying a few adult beverages. I like it!

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Watching the Orlando City SC on a warm Saturday evening.

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There goes a Disney Cruise ship out to sea.

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Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes, Duchess of Ankh and Campgrounds

PS: As you can see, we have named our RV. The christening will take place in December. We’ll explain then. Maybe.

I'll try (almost) anything once. Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/9/15

I’ll try (almost) anything once.
Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/9/15

During our week in Costa Rica we had a front row seat to some excellent surf, at least compared to what we’re used to seeing. I even dragged these bones out with my niece and nephew and took a lesson. I told the instructor that I will go out “until I hurt myself.” I was out for much longer than I expected. I was out for long enough.

The instructor told us that a big swell was heading our way on Thursday and that the spot where those in the know would be was just down the beach from our house, so I headed out there that morning and tried my hand at shooting surfers (in the photographic sense). It was fun. And, man those people had a good time too!

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

When we finally determined that the bareboat cruise around the islands of French Polynesia was actually going to happen, we started researching the logistics of the issue. Patti eventually decided to talk to a travel agent (yup, there still is such a thing!) and we hooked up with Uschi at Crossroads Travel. We had several back and forth conversations where we discussed what we were doing (sailing with family & friends) and what the best way to execute would be. At one point Uschi said, “This is a bucket list trip, right? Then you need to spend some time ashore either before or after your sailing.” We gave that the thought process it deserved (about 20 seconds) and responded “OK!” And that is how we found ourselves at the Moorea Pearl Resort for three nights and, holy crap, was it ever the right decision.

Our (very) private pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/25/14

Our (very) private pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/25/14

One thing needs to be said up front: we are not usually “high end” travelers. It’s not like we scrimp on our comforts, but usually a clean room and decent meals meet our needs. That being the case, we can honestly state that a) the Pearl rocked and b) if we ever find our way to Moorea again we will be staying there again. The staff was exceptional, the facilities beyond comfortable (our room had a private pool!) and the meals delicious. There were enough recreational activities to satisfy the most energetic of guest (which was NOT us) and plenty to do on the island itself. We didn’t begin to touch the extent of the possibilities.

So what did we do with our three days on Moorea? Well, we took a 4×4 tour of the interior (more on this in the next post) during which I took a ton of beautiful shots, had a lovely sunset dinner at the Moorea Beach Cafe (yum!), spent a lazy morning under the big shade tree next to the Pearl’s infinity pool and wandered through the nearby village of Maharepa. A true highlight, not just of our time on Moorea but of the entire trip. was our dinner with Dr. Michael Poole and his lovely wife Mareva.

Before we left Florida we mentioned to some friends that we were going to Moorea. They said, “Oh, we have a friend there.” Turns out that our friend’s college roommate became a marine biologist, moved to Moorea many years before and is now the expert in French Polynesia on humpback whales and spinner dolphins. He offers eco-tours where he takes folks out to actually see the whales and is well known as the premier guy for this type of thing, so much so that Patti had already heard of him before we discovered this “small world” link. Although, due to circumstances out of anybody’s control, we couldn’t take the tour, Michael and Mareva picked us up at the Pearl, took us to the Hilton Resort where he gave a talk, and then we went out for a great meal and excellent conversation. One of my biggest regrets from the trip is that I took zero photos of this wonderful couple. Oh well, yet another reason to return.

After three days we flew to Raiatea and hooked up with our shipmates at the Hawaiki Nui Hotel, where we received an upgrade to an overwater bungalow! It was a beautiful experience to lie in bed and watch the sun rise over the Pacific. We had an interesting dinner with the entire crew, enjoyed a cocktail or two and got ready to board the boat!

Next time: inland on Moorea.

The Pearl Resort poolside, Moorea, 9/25/14

The Pearl Resort poolside, Moorea, 9/25/14

Patti chilling by the pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

Patti chilling by the pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

An over water bungalow, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

An overwater bungalow, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

Over water bungalows, The Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Overwater bungalows, The Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

The Admiral & Captain on our deck, The Hawaiki Nui Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

The Admiral & Captain on our bungalow deck, The Hawaiki Nui Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Poolside at the Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Poolside at the Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Sunrise over Huahine, Raiatea, 9/29/14

Sunrise over Huahine (in the distance) from our bungalow, Raiatea, 9/29/14