After our Labor Day-induced scheduling delay, we're finally on our way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. From Wilson, it's a relatively short 3 1/2 hour or so drive to our campground in Avon, roughly about 3/4ths of the way down the length of the Outer Banks. But to get there, you first have to cross a series of bridges. Our first bridge over the Alligator River was fairly low over the water, so they incorporated a drawbridge to get boat traffic from one side to the other. We've seen many drawbridges from New England down to Florida, but this was our first rotating drawbridge! Instead of being raised and lowered, this roadway was rotated 90 degrees, allowing boats to funnel their way through 2 side-by-side channels, then it's rotated back and locked into place. Kinda neat.
Our next bridge brought us from the mainland over to the Outer Banks proper, and it was an eyeopener! It's the Washington Baum Bridge, and whoever designed this bridge should be shot. We just call it the Porpoise Bridge now, because that's what your RV or car does for approximately a mile or more. Each short section of the bridge is badly mated to the next, which causes this porpoising effect. It's disturbing to say the least. Watch the video below. It was even worse experiencing it in person.
Safely ashore, we get our first views of the Outer Banks as we take a hour-long drive down Rt-12, the Outer Banks Scenic Highway. With the added height of our motorhome, we get a slightly better view of the sand dunes to the east, and Pamlico Sound to the west. The Sound is relatively quiet, but the surf is up on the Atlantic Ocean side due to Hurricane Larry far offshore churning up huge waves that come crashing ashore.
Our destination is Sands of Time RV campground in Avon. Before the British came, the town was known as Kinnakeet. I kinda prefer the original name, don't you? It's a small campground with level, grassy sites, but they are relatively short in length. I'm not sure that a 45-foot diesel could back in all the way, but it would be close if it could. This campground doesn't have the easier access to the water on either side, but it's $20 less per night than those that do, and it's just a short drive down Rt-12 to get to beach access. We nestle Enterprise into site 19, a corner lot with a bit more privacy than some of the others, and it's time to go exploring.
The drive down the rest of the Outer Banks in the Mini (with the top down, of course) is highlighted by our first glimpse of the famed Cape Hatteras lighthouse, a place we will visit later in the week, and a number of quaint towns and villages until we make it to the southern end where the ferry to the mainland resides. The ferry is not on our itinerary this trip, but will be next time we hit the Outer Banks. One appeal of the Outer Banks (for us) is the almost complete lack of chain stores and restaurants along it's entire length. We prefer the small Mom and Pop eateries when we travel, and there are no shortage of them on the Outer Banks. Our first destination for a meal is the Cockeyed Clam, and it didn't disappoint. Great seafood, decent portions, and reasonable prices. The waitstaff is very friendly and everybody checks in on you to see if you're doing OK.
The disappointment early on is the impact of COVID on these small Mom and Pop establishments. Many restaurants are take-out only due to the limited size of their dining rooms, and too many are closed mid-week because they cannot hire enough people to keep them open on slower days. There is a definite lack of vibrancy in these smaller towns due to the pandemic flaring up again.
Our next day was a beach day, which excited Grover to no end. We still don't know if he's a “swimming” dog or not, but he does seem to love to get his feet into the surf. After a quick dip into the water up to our knees (Hurricane Larry's surf is way too strong to dive in) we settle into our beach chairs on shore for some relaxation time.
For about 5 minutes.
One thing we didn't plan on was the constant swarm of small, biting horseflies which make their home on the beach. Nasty little creatures designed to ruin any day, and they seemed to revel in ruining ours. Beating a hasty retreat while being bitten all the way back to the Mini, we head back to the confines of the motorhome for the rest of the day.
Our next visit (after some minor repairs that I needed to do on our 36LA and tow dolly) was to Cape Hatteras lighthouse. While the climb up the steps was closed (ongoing restoration) - which probably saved one or both of us from a heart attack - the visit was interesting and educational. There is a great history to the Outer Banks of shipwrecks and rescues (and a few war stories) that make this tour very entertaining. Also of note was the story of the movement of the fully-intact lighthouse half a mile from an eroding part of the shoreline in 1999 to it's present location. This feat of engineering was so impressive that sensors on the lighthouse which were designed to alert the engineers if the structure tipped as little as one half of one degree never uttered a sound!
We had intended to take our two-person (and one beagle) inflatable kayak out into Pamlico Sound the next day (as the waters are much quieter there), but winds whipped up into small watercraft advisory levels that morning. And we are DEFINITELY a small watercraft. Maybe next visit.
Still, another great feature due to the narrow nature of the Outer Banks is the ability to see both sunrises and sunsets over the water without any land in the distance. While our day for a sunrise was blocked by some low clouds, the sunset was spectacular. Grover enjoyed it, we met some nice people through him (he's a babe and kid magnet), and the day ended on a beautiful note.
Our last day was the primary reason why I wanted to visit the Outer Banks, because I'm such an aviation buff. Kitty Hawk is at the northern end of the Outer Banks, and it's where Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first powered airplane in history. Our admission to the National Park was free due to our Golden Age Access Pass, and we have free range to wander the site where mankind began flying. The monuments memorializing the first flights on December 17, 1903, are nicely done, with stone markers showing each successive length and duration of all four flights, and who flew them. We walked the entire length of the last flight of 852 feet. Took us a bit longer than the 59 seconds the Wright flyer was in the air, but we made the effort!
Our last stop in the park was the Wright Brothers Memorial on top of Kill Devil Hill, the location where the brothers conducted most of their glider experiments to determine how to best control an aircraft. Having climbed the pathway up to the memorial, one can only imagine the back-breaking work needed to haul large gliders capable of carrying a man up the sandy dune many times each day in windy conditions. Better them than me! All-in-all, it was a fitting end to our Outer banks adventure.
Time to start heading back to Georgia in order to watch our grandson, Jace, while he has his first Fall break from kindergarten, but on the way we stop back in Asheville at Rutledge Lake RV Campground for another visit with Debbie and Chuck Martin and Lynn Wells, another former Xeroid I used to support many years ago. Ate at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which has an interesting menu if you're adventurous in what you eat, or they make a pretty good ½ pound burger if you're not. Four of us had the burger, and one of us had the pizza. Make your own conclusions.
A week with the Mook is next up, and a stay at a local Corps of Engineers park which will be new for us. Stay tuned!
Checking off NC in Style!
I love writing these blog entries. I don't do it for the click-bait, or the number of likes or comments I get after people read them (but I do love the comments!). I write because I'm having fun each and every time we move on to another destination and see something we've never experienced in almost 37 years of marriage and more than 60 years of living on this Earth. And if you get to live vicariously through our travels, well, that's an added bonus.
Some RVers dread “Moving Day”, and I get it. Some people aren't wired to drive - even some full-time RVers. For them, the destination is the goal. But for me personally, I love both the destination AND the time spent behind the wheel getting there – especially if the roads are in good condition. And for THIS full-time RVer, there's nothing better than seeing a sign saying “Welcome to (Fill-In-The-Blank)” through that big windshield, especially when we've never been to (Fill-In-The-Blank).
Case in point; the subject of this blog – North Carolina. For years, we've always PASSED THROUGH North Carolina, driving the 170 miles or so from the South Carolina border to the Virginia border on our twice-a-year pilgrimages to Massachusetts; many times without a stop for gas, food or a nap at a rest area. For the 32 years Barbara and I have lived “down South”, North Carolina was either a place I went to for work during my Xerox days, or it was just kinda in the way.
Now we FINALLY get to experience some of North Carolina, and it didn't disappoint.
Of course, when your first destination in North Carolina is the fabulous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, you're pretty much assured that there will be no disappointment. The grounds and buildings are simply breathtaking. George Vanderbilt outdid himself in creating a masterpiece of late 19th – early 20th century style and opulence that only the fabulously wealthy could imagine. The attention to detail. The “spare no expense” mentality, even to the agriculturally and scientifically-designed grounds (the first in America) that surround the actual estate. The immense scale of everything! You can easily imagine formal dinners being attended by the rich and famous; the men in their white ties and tails, the women in the formal finery of the era. One never left one's room without being perfectly attired for the event at hand.
For about $85 per person, you get access to a self-guided tour using a hand-held “guide” which tells you some of the history behind the building and the people who lived there. You can take a shuttle to and from some of the parking areas, but believe me, if you can walk it, it's worth the effort. Obligatory gift shops are (tastefully, of course) off to one side, and a decent cafe provides reasonably-priced food and drink. We could have taken a lot of pictures inside, but they wouldn't do justice to the one's already on Biltmore's own website. You'd be doing yourself a favor if you went to that site if you can't make the trip.
Unlike the Vanderbilt's, our own accommodations were a bit more pedestrian. Keeping with our usual desire to save money by not frequenting expensive RV resorts much closer to Asheville, we stayed at a small park just outside of Lake Lure, about an hour south from the Biltmore. Our spot in River Creek campground in Rutherfordton, NC, was barely long enough to back into with the Mini parked off to the side, but we did have a nice river running right behind us. A friendly couple own the place, and they are very helpful if you need anything. A nice perk about staying so far away was the drive in the Mini over and back down the mountains to get to Asheville. Lots of switchbacks and hairpin turns, and a couple of really cute touristy-trap towns to drive through.
After Asheville, it's a quick hop down to the Charlotte area to visit a former co-worker of mine from our Xerox days. Debbie (my former Xeroid) and Chuck Martin have retired to the Concord, NC area, so we found us a campground right next door to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mercifully, no races were scheduled for our weekend there. My understanding is that it can get quite loud on race day. Yates Family Campground is a really small RV park, but they put us in a nice, long back-in site next to a small field that a wild turkey would run through pretty much every day. Grover definitely wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving early!
The Outer Banks was our next destination of note, but first we must baby-step our way across North Carolina. Needing to stop near Kernersville to visit a long-time friend of Barbara's from her high school days, we found an absolute gem of a park in Clemmons, NC. Tanglewood is a large county park that has all the usual county park recreational things to do, but this one also has a great (and reasonable at $38 per night) RV campground on site. It's not large, with only 44 available sites (all back-in) to choose from, but each site is paved and have full hook ups. Most sites have tree canopy above for shade, with just a few on one row that may let some extra light in. The camp hosts are absolutely wonderful (one current host couple has a 2018 Tiffin 36LA), and work hard to keep the park in immaculate condition.
With so few sites, however, reservations can be tough to come by, and us big rig users are further hampered by the excess slope and limited lengths on half the available campsites. When making reservations online, once you put in type of RV (Class A motorhome, 5th wheel, etc) and length, only spaces that will take your RV will come up as possible choices. Since half the sites are excess slope, they are literally unavailable to motorhome owners since we have more restrictions on how to level our coaches than travel trailers and 5th wheels. This gives people like us only 22 sites to try to snag, and the locals scoop them up early. We were fortunate to get 4 nights just before Labor Day weekend.
Oh, and don't try to fool the reservation system by putting in a different length or type of RV just to get a spot. The camp hosts are (rightly) unsympathetic to your complaints that you can't fit or can't level, and bring out your reservation form to show you what you requested. “Says here that 45-foot motothome you're trying to back in there is supposed to be a 32-foot travel trailer. Mind explaining that?” “Oh, and we STILL don't have a spot that will fit you. Sorry . . . “
Anyway, Tanglewood RV campground is a great place to stay, and it's about a 5-minute drive from I-40, so easy access to get back on the road. Had a great dinner with Dave Woods and his wife, Blanca; they got to see what motorhome living is all about, and as usual, Grover made some new friends.
But Labor Day was looming large, and there were no spaces to be had anywhere on the Outer Banks. As I continued to call campgrounds further and further west of the Outer Banks in hopes of finding anything, Barbara was anticipating moving from Walmart to Walmart over the long weekend. At the last minute, I was able to find a campground in Wilson, NC that had a spot we could have for the next 4 days.
Now, Wilson, NC isn't on anyone's radar scope as a destination location; it's a bit off the beaten path in rural country. But it does have a really nice lake if fishing is your thing, and they have a really interesting display of whirlygigs downtown. What's a whirlygig, you ask? Well, it's one of those wind-driven mechanical things stuck atop poles that turn and move things as the wind blows. And Wilson has about the biggest display of some pretty impressive whirlygigs on the planet.
Our campground was Kampers Lodge, a relatively small, older campground, that was extremely well laid out. It has the usual full-time residents arrayed around the perimeter in back in sites, but the center of the campground was designed with pull-through sites where you entered one site one way, while the RVer next to you entered in the other direction so that your patio sides faced away from each other. This also created “buddy sites” where people traveling together could face their patio sides towards each other, making it easy to visit with each other. The campground is very level and all sites are small gravel with stacked-stone fire pits on grassy space separating each site.
Kampers Lodge also features a small pond with plenty of ducks to feed, and they have 4 donkeys in a large pen in back who will cheerfully eat anything you might wish to bring them. Grover was fascinated with them.
Our Labor Day weekend complete, it's just a short 20-minute drive south to a local Flying J for some inexpensive gas so that we'll have a full tank to get out and back from the Outer Banks, and it's time to hit the road for a truly unique experience.
But that's for our next installment . . .
Freed from yet another Jace-imposed traveling pause, it was time to visit Tennessee once again. Our previous adventures in Tennessee were centered around the Pigeon Forge area; once to visit a friend and former manager of mine, Jack Simmons, who I used to work with at Jockey back in Dawsonville, GA, and once to spend a few days with our two grandsons, Noah and Jace for Noah's birthday.
This time, it was to enjoy some fellow Tiffin owner time with one of our favorite Tiffin gasser owners, Scott McKoin. The added bonus was that we were finally going to meet Scott's wife, Sandi, who had managed to avoid Red Bay, AL the last time we were together with Scott. Grover was also looking forward to another visit with Scott, as they bonded when last we met.
We had decided to break up out travel to the Volunteer State by heading from the I-85 north side of Atlanta to the I-75 north side, knowing the trip was going to take us into Friday traffic in and around that very congested city. So we headed to our other favorite campground in North Georgia, Cedar Break (formerly known as Calhoun A-OK) in Calhoun, GA. Got a pull-thru site for 3 days, but only water and electric (no sewer). This allowed us to experience something we had never done in almost 2 years of full-time RVing – the dreaded Dump Station. Two years, and never had to use one on the way into, or out of, a campground. We did enjoy some comfortable temperatures under tall trees and the salt-water pool on site – perfect to soothing aches and pains.
Our first stop in Tennessee was at a Harvest Host site – Silver Springs Winery in Riceville, TN. The interesting thing about this winery is two-fold; they don't have a vineyard producing grapes just yet (they expect to be harvesting their own early next year), so they make their wines from other people's grapes, and that have a really nice Greek restaurant on site. Since we were there on a Sunday, we paid back our host for their free site by partaking of their Sunday brunch, which was really very good.
From an RVing perspective, the stay was nice, but the accommodations could have been better. Sure, we got to stay for free in their parking lot (which is the whole idea of Harvest Hosts), but the area they used was a large gravel overflow lot which hadn't been mowed in a while – always something to be concerned about when running your generator for hours at a time. The other thing was tight access into and out of their lot.. If it weren't for a opening between the overflow lot we stayed in, and the car lot next door, we might not have been able to turn around without unhooking our tow vehicle and associated dolly; not something to look forward to. Not saying we couldn't have made the U-turn, but it was going to be very, very close. A longer motorhome could not have done it.
Then, it was on to a Scott McKoin-recommended Corps of Engineers park; Obey River campground on Dale Hollow Lake in Monroe, TN. At the entrance gate, we met Jeff Harper, a camp host who really knows the park very well, but refuses to admit he knows Scott McKoin at all. When we told him which site we had, he got on his trusty computer and found a half-dozen sites he thought were better suited for us that were available in our time frame, and suggested we unhook the Mini in a nearby pull-off to drive around and view them. One site was infinitely better than the one we had, so he quickly changed our reservations and sent us on our merry way. Jeff is the epitome of a great camp host.
Our site 73 was a pull-in site which had a tremendous view of the lake outside our big front window; level, wide and on the end of a row so people could border us on just one side. As it turned out, we had no one on the other side of us, so we had a very quiet campsite for the entire time we spent there. It was also right next to the boat ramp, so we had easy access to launch our kayak. As with many COE campgrounds, we had water and electric, but no sewer hookups, which meant we used a dump station for the second time in a week when we left!
Grover enjoyed his long walks, had a chance to meet Jeff who had raised beagles earlier in his life but had never seen a lemon beagle, and Grover even got to experience his first-ever ride in the kayak! He started out a little nervous, but settled back into full lay down mode by the end of the half-hour trip. And of course, he was wearing his officially-approved canine flotation device the whole time. It made it easy for me to lift him into and out of the kayak by the attached handle, because while he's cute, he's not very coordinated around watercraft.
All in all, our time at Obey River was meant to rest, relax, and recharge, and we did just that. Our last day there, some other Tiffin friends of ours, Byron and Lynn Hill, were heading east on I-40 through nearby Cookeville, TN, and we were able to meet them, along with Scott, at a Cheddar's right off the highway for an early lunch. Byron and Lynn have a Tiffin 34PA gasser painted like ours (featured in one of our Red Bay reports last year), and we had met up with them twice during our Florida trip earlier this year. Always nice when Tiffin gasser owners get together.
Our time at Obey River at an end, we then got to experience something else we hadn't done in 2 years of full-time RVing – moochdocking. We've talked about boondocking, which is where you stay on land for free (usually government land), and Wallydocking, where you stay in a Walmart parking lot overnight, but moochdocking is different. That's where you stay at a family or friend's house (many times in their driveway) for free. In our case, Scott and Sandi McKoin had offered their place to us. Most moochdocking sites have minimal power, and occasionally water. Since Scott stores his Tiffin 32SA gasser in a pole barn behind his house, he has full 50A service and water for us to use. Plus he's got a big backyard, so plenty of room for Grover, with lots of wildlife (deer and turkeys) to view.
We also get to (finally!) meet Scott's wife Sandi, who, as Scott will admit to you, is the epitome of his better half. Great nights sitting out by the RV sipping adult beverages and getting to know nice people, including Sandi's mom who lives right behind them. Seeing sights is one reason to do the RV thing; meeting up with great people is the other.
Our last full day there we took a hike at Burgess Falls State Park. Absolutely beautiful hike with narrow trails that can go from easy to difficult depending on your physical condition. Worth every minute. Grover enjoyed his extra workout, although some of the “steps” we needed to navigate were bigger than he was. Brought plenty of water to keep both him and us hydrated. Glad I brought my collapsible hiking stick!
Our third trip to Tennessee is over, and it's now time to venture into a state we had never visited in the motorhome before, and a place we've waited 32 years to see in North Carolina. Next up in Parental Parolees . . . !
My how time flies. Two years ago we embarked on a completely new journey in life, and not only because we became RV-ers, but full-time RV-ers.
So given this anniversary, we thought it was time to cover some of the things we've learned, and some of the highlights and (fortunately few) low-lights of the past two years.
Fortunately, due to the 3 ½ years of research undertaken before we even ordered our Tiffin Open Road 36LA, this list is blessedly short. As far as equipment or supplies we didn't start out with, we've added a bunch of 2'x10” boards in order to combat excessive slopes at certain sites, or to shore up wet, sloppy ground before extending our leveling jacks. I had intended to have them at the beginning, but just plain forgot. Also added a NOCO battery charger/jump starter to take care of the occasional jump starts needed when the unexpected happens. It's small, lightweight and can actually jump start something as big as our RV if needed.
Another thing we've learned: do as much homework on potential campgrounds as possible. No one app or website has all the answers, nor all the potential campgrounds listed in the area. RVParky is our usual go-to app for checking out campgrounds, but if someone hasn't put a review into that app, you can miss a bunch of other campgrounds in the area. Additionally, we found that checking out a website called Campgroundphotos.com will give us pretty good pictures of many individual sites within a given campground, and has kept us from booking some sites that would ultimately have not met our needs.
We've also learned that each state generally has an online camping guide that pretty much covers all their campgrounds, so hopefully some missed opportunities will happen less often. Some are very cumbersome, while others are very basic, but easy to navigate.
We've paid as little as $0 per night while boondocking on BLM land outside of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico (10 days free was very nice!), to as much as $80 per night at Compass RV in St. Augustine, FL (fortunately only 3 nights). Otherwise, our ranges have been from $11.50 a night for an overnight stay at a Passport America campground passing through Mississippi, to no more than $60 per night depending on where we've stayed. We try to keep things in the $25-$40 range whenever we can. It doesn't get us into the swankiest resorts around the country, but for what we want (water, electric and sewer), it's been fine.
The best value so far? Corps of Engineer (COE) parks. Our National Parks Senior Pass gets us 50% off the daily camping rate in Federal parks anywhere across the country, and since COE parks are developed around the lakes and rivers the Corps has managed, we're always near water. Sometimes they only come with water and electric hookups, but we can always make due with a dump station on site if we have to. Our usual rate for COE parks is about $13 per night.
This is a gas-powered motorhome, not a diesel motorhome. During our travels, we've paid as little as $1.39 per gallon at a small station (Mr. Fuel) off of I-20 in Mississippi, to as much as $3.06 just outside of Hershey, PA at a Flying J off of I-81. Average prices in the first year were in the high $1's (only paid more than $2.00 once in the first year), but they have grown significantly higher to the $2.85 range since 2021 began. It's well within our travel budget, but it doesn't make us very happy.
RED BAY HAS BECOME OUR SECOND HOME
Our Tiffin was manufactured in Red Bay, AL. As such, we have made a few post-sale pilgrimages back to the mothership. The good news: Only two were for warranty work that needed to be done (detailed in earlier posts you can read about from Nov 2020 or Aug 2021). One additional visit was for body work caused by both me and a campground that doesn't know how to handle Class A motorhomes. Another one was for strictly voluntary cosmetic purposes. And one was for a place to stay over the July 4th weekend because our plans changed suddenly and we couldn't find an open campsite anywhere.
Tiffin, and their many third-party providers in and around Red Bay, have always taken great care of us
GETTING TO KNOW OUR GRANDSON
If you've read our blog before, you've seen lots of pictures of our now 5 year-old grandson, Jace. The first ever trip we took in September of 2019, we had him on board, and have had him with us for more that 10 months of our 24 months on the road. He's grown from having to be escorted to the half-bath while we're driving down the road (with Barbara doing the escorting), to becoming a veteran RV-er in his own right. Helps his Mimi around the inside, and helps me dump tanks on the outside, and he's seen sights that will hopefully stay with him for a lifetime.
SOME PET PEEVES
There's a few things that have surprised us (and disappointed us) in our two years on the road.
The pandemic has hit this country pretty hard, and it affected the RV world in a couple of ways. First, was the hit campgrounds took in the early months of 2020, when travel became restricted in many states. This kept many RVers from going out on vacations, or even weekend trips, and it hit campgrounds big-time in their pocketbooks. For us, we had to stay in place (fortunately we were already in Georgia in our go-to campground, Leisure Acres), which meant we had to stay in one site for 4 months. While we were able to help the campground out with some guaranteed money for an extended period of time, there were far fewer of us, and we all got much lower monthly rates instead of bringing in shorter term daily or weekly rates. For example, that site of ours brought in $20 per night instead of the usual $45 per night to the campground for 4 months. Do the math; not a good business model.
The other issue has been a what looks to be a temporary boom to campgrounds, and it's what Barbara has termed “COVID-Campers”. Lot's of people thought it would be a nice time to go out and buy travel trailers and 5th-wheels to help isolate themselves from potentially infected people, plus enjoy the great outdoors like the rest of us full-timers. Not to put too fine a point on it, most of these people have no business camping. Very few of them did any research before they bought, and it's apparent every time one of them comes into a campsite to hook up. They, nor their kids, have any respect for another camper's site, running through or playing in what is some cases a relatively small piece of acreage. They unload countless toys, chairs and stuff; more than could ever be used in a typical weekend. They put carpet down on grassy sites which kills the grass. And they don't know (or care) about or respect quiet time (usually 10 pm in most campgrounds).
And they bring fireworks.
The worst thing (for them in the long term) is that they don't know a thing about their campers. They don't use pressure regulators on their water hookups, which can blow the internal hoses inside their campers if water pressure is too high (and many times is). They don't use surge protectors or power management systems to protect their campers, and worse yet, they don't shut off the breakers to the power poles before plugging in or disconnecting their power, which can cause arcing and melt the connectors, and damage the power pole for future users.
And finally, for those of us who make this our living, they are taking up valuable spaces in campgrounds, making it difficult to find open sites on the move as we used to do. We now have to plan our trips much more in advance, and it takes away from the casual lifestyle we used to enjoy (and ties up money we could be using today). If there is a bright side to any of this, it's that it appears that the shine is wearing off with COVID Campers, and many are now trying to sell their rigs because it wasn't all the fun and games they thought it was going to be. Hopefully, the pendulum swings back to the middle in the next year.
I realize that you have to have some decent power in order to pull one of those big 5th wheels around, so I understand the need for size and power.
But do the exhaust systems have to be so damned loud? This is really a factor of “boys with their toys”, and while they sound great to motorheads, they are very disturbing either at night or in the early morning when people are trying to sleep. Especially with people who drive from job to job in their campers, and who have to leave at 4AM or 5AM to get to their job site, and they fire up that big rig with the modified exhaust system next to your bedroom window.
Many full-timers (like us, and countless others) bring dogs with them for companionship. They are family. And most animals do NOT LIKE fireworks. Fireworks are usually prohibited in most parks, but more than a few do not enforce their rules unless you complain. And sometimes they don't have an after hours number for you to complain to.
But in the end, despite all the problems that can come with RVing, it all comes down to this:
THE MAJESTY OF OUR COUNTRY IS BOUNDLESS
Whether it's the Atlantic shore, or the limitless vistas across the Great Plains states, this country has a LOT to offer. Many people have flown out west; but it is nothing as compared to DRIVING out west. Peaks that reach majestically into the sky that you can see for hours before you can get there. Endless plains of grass, corn, wheat and other crops that are responsible for feeding much of an entire planet. Livestock roaming the rolling hills. From the White Sands of New Mexico to the awesome sights of Mt. Rushmore and the rest of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The museums and monuments that honor our heroes and their sacrifices.
And yes, the quirky stops along the way like the World's Largest Popcorn Ball, or the World's Largest Pistachio, or Carhenge.
And we've only scratched the surface. Our map has about 18 state stickers on it as I write this, with plans to do a dozen or more in the next year. Canada awaits, as does the great state of Alaska in 2022 or 2023.
We've also met some really great people along the way; fellow Tiffin owners, folks traveling in 5th wheels and travel trailers, and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet at attractions, local stores and restaurants across this great land. It's the people who help make this journey fun; and we hope to meet many more great folks in the years to come.
I can't wait to see what the next two years bring.
. . . but wasn't.
Back on the road again after a five week stay in northern Georgia at Leisure Acres Campground in Cleveland, GA. Primarily here to take care of our 5 year-old grandson, Jace, two days a week when he isn't in pre-K / daycare. Our intentions were to see a whole bunch of our Georgia friends over those five weeks and catch up with their lives, do some kayaking, scout out potential alternate sites to stay, and generally kick back and do the whole RV lifestyle thing.
Yeah, well, plans change, don't they?
Good news: Jace is experiencing life with other kids (at least more than one or two at a time), and experiencing a group structure he never had while traveling with us for all those months earlier in the year.
Bad news: I think my grandson licks furniture while in day care.
Being relatively isolated in his first few years with few friends where he lived, and our lifestyle being as isolated as it can be, Jace never seemed to build up a natural immunity to the many germs and crud out there in the more open world. So when he began a three-day-a-week stint in pre-school, naturally he ended up getting sick more often. Unfortunately, it took him all of the end of our first week of taking care of him to expose US to whatever his classmates brought to school with them.
So the second Thursday of our five-week stay at Leisure Acres, Barbara and I began coughing. Two weeks later, Barbara was on the mend, and I had a borderline case of pneumonia. After seeing a doctor and getting a precautionary COVID test (negative), I was on antibiotics and 4 other prescriptions to handle all my symptoms. By the end of out 5th week here, I was finally back to energy levels needed to travel again, and sleeping through more than the occasional night.
Ahhh, the joys of grandparenthood. It's a good thing Jace is so stinkin' cute and fun to be around.
The good news is that Jace is now in kindergarten full-time, and doesn't need to be watched two days a week by us, and we're ready to go back on the road until late September.
The bad news is that our five-week plans to see everybody got trashed early, and another opportunity to socialize has gone by the wayside. Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia await (unless a COVID outbreak changes our plans). We'll update you as we travel to new adventures.
I mentioned this park in our last post, but we enjoyed the place so much I wanted to add a bit more to the bullet points I provided the last time.
Finishing up our trip to New England, our usual favorite park in Cleveland, GA was all booked solid. This was due to a 4th of July celebration they put on each year that not only attracts RVers, but locals as well. Not a space to be found, and that was actually a good thing given how scared Grover gets around fireworks. The celebration is held the weekend BEFORE the 4th, which is why the park was already booked solid.
After going through 5 other options who were already booked, we started looking on the other side of Georgia along the I-75 corridor. We were able to find a place for a week so that we could give our daughter a hand in taking care of Jace on days he didn't have pre-school, even though it was a slightly longer drive to pick him up and drop him off.
The park we stayed at used to be called A-OK Calhoun, but the new owners have renamed it Cedar Break Campground. It's a bit dated, but they have been updating the park in different ways, beginning with clearing out the rather undesirable clientele who used to reside permanently in the park. Some not very nice people and activities were apparently in place before, but there was no evidence of that in the current long-term residents, so don't believe any reviews you might read from a couple of years ago!
Also on the plus side: newer sites in the back with 50A pull-thrus for the larger rigs. Not nestled in the treed-in area of the older part of the park, but better able to handle newer, larger rigs.
Their pool is of a decent size and condition, and it's a salt-water pool instead of traditional chlorine. The chairs and tables are new. They also have a snack bar on-site that will deliver your order to your campsite. Not a big menu, but pizza is pizza.
They've been updating almost all of their internal cable infrastructure, and only have one more aisle to go to have it completed. That's the good news. The bad news is that their contract for cable TV is for an older signal that doesn't make it through newer motor homes like ours with all our internal switches and routers, and the contract is in place for another 4 years.
Sites are all pretty level and well cared for. Some sites at the end of streets have brick patios and furniture. Not all sites have fire rings, however. Roads are typically narrow for an older park, and there are not enough 50A sites to accommodate motor homes, but if it's not too hot you can make do with a single AC unit on 30A if need be.
Cedar Break also features a series of small cabins for rent, interspersed around the park. The staff is very helpful. They also have a very special resident: Peanut the Peacock. You'll hear him as it's getting dark, doing his peacock thing, but he's quiet after the sun goes down. If you walk up to him, he'll turn his back to you, extend his feathers out fully, then turn around to face you as if to say, “See how beautiful I am?” The park is located close enough to the Tennessee border to make some day trips there, as well as to spots in the northwest corner of Georgia. Price was very reasonable, as they give a discount to those who served in the military. All-in-all, a very pleasant surprise, and a place we'd go back to again.
Still, we needed to punt for the July 4th holiday. Part of the reason why we hadn't planned ahead for staying anywhere was that we hadn't planned on Jace needing some attention a couple of days a week, and we were supposed to head up to the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho and Washington state this summer. Needing to be back in Georgia immediately after the 4th , and until Jace enters kindergarten in mid-August, required us to punt and find some space relatively nearby. So we went with our favorite COE park in Gunter Hill just outside of Montgomery, Alabama. They had a spot available for us for a week before the 4th of July weekend, but no openings after that.
Further punting, since we will be near Red Bay, Alabama, where our Tiffin was made, and Tiffin is going to be closed for the holiday, we'll make a speed run up of a couple of hours drive up there and camp out in one of the many gravel parks with full hookups they have in town for a paltry $25 per night. Should be plenty of spaces available. It's what you do to make lemonade out of lemons when you don't get a lot of notice.
After that, it's back to Leisure Acres in Cleveland for 5 weeks until the early fall travel season begins! Please keep Grover, and all other animals, in your thoughts as the July 4th holiday arrives.
A nice two-week trip to the southern New Hampshire / seacoast of Massachusetts in early June is just the thing to renew old (or maybe I should use the term “long-time”) acquaintances and family. The weather is nice and temperate (although a bit warmer than usual but that is fine with Barbara), and campgrounds are just opening up for their short season. Familiar places and familiar roads to travel without using GPS to find our way.
And of course familiar New England comfort food designed to expand our waistlines.
Every area of the country has food that they are known for. Wars can be started on which state has the best barbecue, for instance, and I'm not even going to try going there.
Massachusetts is known for a few great foods. First, the absolute best seafood on the planet – fresh caught and in the cold Atlantic waters. Also roast beef sandwiches – thin, almost shaved pink and tender roast beef piled high on a hamburger roll. Greek-style pizza – which in some circles is far better than New York-style because, well, New York. And Chinese food. Not sure why the Chinese food is better up there (I'm personally not a big fan of Chinese food), but Barbara hasn't found any better anywhere else, and she knows and loves Chinese food.
And while this trip was different in some ways, most of our interaction with friends and family revolved around going out to eat.
And my waistline paid for it.
We stayed at our usual haunt – Mill Brook RV Campground in Kingston, NH, just over the border of Massachusetts. It's a nice park with very few transient spaces, and caters to the no-kid crowd, so it was good that this was our first trip there where we didn't have grandson Jace. It's also nicely spaced between the Massachusetts seacoast, my Dad's place in Chelmsford, and our friends in Nashua, NH.
First meal after arriving was a trip down the road to Costello's Famous Roast Beef and Seafood. With a name like that, how can you go wrong, right? Their Junior Roast Beef sandwich is bigger than most other places regular roast beef, and their seafood comes from just about a 30-minute drive away from the shore. I indulged in both the junior roast beef (white American cheese and no barbecue sauce) and a small fried clam and scallop order. Ate it all. Barbara had the junior roast beef with the cheese and sauce, and didn't finish hers. Some people are just lightweights when it comes to the eating department . . .
Had an appointment with my Dad to do his taxes again this year. He's in a pretty nice senior living center with his own studio apartment that he takes care of. In past years (pre-COVID) the local senior center did his taxes for free, but hasn't resumed that practice as of yet. Since I do ours every year on TaxCut, it's a simple process to add in the Massachusetts state option and handle his. For a guy pushing 92 years-old this July, he's doing pretty good.
Our next stop for eating was to an old friend, Essex Seafood in Essex, MA. They were our go-to place for seafood for many years, but had suffered a devastating fire the previous year. Newly rebuilt, they had just opened a few weeks before we arrived up north. Barbara ordered the small steamers (clams) and a small clam chowder. Thinking she'd be helping me with my order, I did the large fried clams and fried scallop boxes (no fries, because they just take up unwanted space in my stomach that can be used for seafood). Little did we know that Barbara's small order of steamers were more like someone else's large order, so I got no help whatsoever with my clams, while she nabbed a single scallop off of my plate.
This necessitated my violating a firm and fast rule for eating seafood – getting a to-go box – even if it was just for about a dozen fried clams or so.
We had intended on hitting our old beach place – Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, MA, but we found out since they reopened post-COVID, they were charging $30 for parking. $30 bucks! We also wanted to take our inflatable kayak out on the water there, but also found out they didn't allow for that. Probably due to no lifeguards on duty and not wanting any liability for accidents. Disappointing.
We had to take Dad down to his local healthcare provider for tests the following day, but after arriving there it was determined his tests needed to be done first thing in the morning, so we took him out to lunch at another local favorite - Stelio's in nearby Billerica, MA. Dad and Barbara got the local Fish and Chips, while I went out on a limb and ordered their beef stroganoff. Both Barbara and Dad brought home leftovers. I did not – a recurring theme.
Met Bob Dwyer, an old co-worker and golf buddy from my days at Xerox for lunch the next day at a local 99 restaurant, where no leftovers were taken home. Again.
Another roast beef stop at Simard's in Wilmington, MA after some business was taken care of, where it was determined that the roast beef wasn't as good as it used to be, and much smaller than at Costello's, but the fried mushrooms Barbara has always liked were still great.
We had a chance to see three of Barbara's cousins one Saturday. It had been planned to have a get-together at her cousin Joy's house in the afternoon, but the previous day Barbara's aunt (their mother) had taken sick. Given that all of them were going to be in nearby Manchester, NH to visit her in the hospital, we moved the get-together to a restaurant near by. Margarita's is a nice Mexican restaurant which serves a really great ½ lb burger and mixed drinks that go right to the very top of their glasses. Not a problem, unless your table is a bit unsteady and rocks back and forth with the slightest pressure. At that point, drinks spill. Might be set up that way to get you to drink faster, but I'm not sure. Their glass of wine is also about a half a bottle's worth. Not often that I don't finish a glass of wine (and some of Barbara's – but that's a story for another time), but in this case since I was driving I left a bit in the glass. A very sad end to the meal, wasting good wine like that . . .
Another afternoon saw my cousin Charlene on my Dad's side visit us up in our campground. I hadn't seen her for over 50 years. We had connected via Facebook about 6 months earlier, and she visited with Dad one afternoon, which was really nice for him. Great visit for us to talk about long-lost family. No food was associated with her visit, however.
My final visit with Dad for this trip was to get him to those tests that needed to be done in the morning. While Barbara stayed in Enterprise with Grover, I took Dad to his tests and to breakfast after that at the Big Belly Buster restaurant down the road in Billerica, MA. The Country Breakfast features 3 eggs any style and three different types of grilled smoked meat products, but I opted for all bacon. Dad took home some scrambled egg and and a few home fries. I took home nothing.
While the food at our next stop wasn't inspiring (it was tasty, however), the occasion was fun. A group of graduates of Wakefield High got together for a pre-reunion reunion. On June 13, 1971, Barbara and the rest of her graduating class walked down the aisle to receive their diplomas. To celebrate that august occasion, some classmates decided to get together on that same date 50 years later. The actual reunion will be celebrated later this year, but it was past time for a few long-time friends to meet and swap stories about their town and catch up with each other. We met at the Dockside restaurant in the Greenwood section of Wakefield, and even the few husbands who attended had fun.
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. Especially in my world. After a short drive-by of Barbara's old house, I suggested we take Rt 1 northward to see if the old Putnam Pantry was still in business. The location was always known for it's Ice Cream Smorgasbord, where you pick you flavor of ice cream and then run down a line of various toppings to complete the fattening experience.
Barbara, always willing to go along with my crazy schemes, played the role of navigator, and lo and behold, found Putnam Pantry on the first try! Still open, still had the smorgasbord, even if the number of toppings to choose from was more limited than we both remembered.
So we had dessert . . .
Our next meal was with our best friends, Rick and Marielle Penney. We had stayed with them recently during our trip to Myrtle Beach and had parked next to their Grand Design Reflection 5th wheel in the resort, but they were now back home in Nashua, NH. Nice pizza place nearby that makes a great bacon and pepperoni pizza for the guys, and a garbage pizza with the works for the ladies. Fresh strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream followed for dessert.
Our last meal up north was a final trip to Costello's Famous Roast Beef and Seafood. We ordered the large fried clams and scallop boxes to eat there, and ordered a junior roast beef for me and a very tasty cheese steak for Barbara to take on the road the next day. I know hers was tasty because I had some of it for lunch at a rest stop in New York state.
Three stops later – one night in Hegins, PA at Camp-A-While campground, one night in Max Meadows, VA at Pioneer Village RV, and our final stop at a new to us campground in Calhoun, GA called Cedar Break and we're back in Georgia for a week. We barely found this place with an open 30A spot before we have to vacate for the July 4th weekend coming up. It's actually a very nice small park that has been, and is still being, updated and expanded by the new owners. About 5 minutes off of I-75, and very quiet at night. They even have a resident peacock wandering around the campground.
Next up – making do in a pinch when family and holidays clash in a post-COVID RV world.
Just some musings and observations, most of which we've discovered since the beginning of the year.
When your 4 ½ year old grandson is with you full-time for 5 months, it's understandable that the focus would be on his activities. So even though I've tried to keep everyone abreast of the RV parks and campgrounds and the things that might interest and entertain fellow RVers, I know I've missed a few things we've learned on the road.
American drivers stink. I mean really stink. I personally think that Florida drivers in particular truly believe that speed limits on their roads and interstates are merely suggestions. Mind you, they're not aggressive like some other drivers I will be mentioning later on; they just drive faster than normal.
And I get it. There's a lot of real estate between one Florida town and another, so taking your time is a waste of time for many people in the Sunshine State, but we're not talking about another 5 MPH or so; we're talking about 15-20 MPH or more on state highways. And don't get me started about I-95 drivers. Don't think I ever saw a state police car on I-95 once in all the miles we put on that road in the Mini. Maybe they feel there's no reason to even try catching these scofflaws. Maybe they just don't care. Bottom-line, if you're traveling on I-95 in Florida and you can't maintain at least 5 MPH over the posted speed limit, get yourself over to the far right-hand lane.
Georgia drivers, on the other hand, are just downright dangerous. Speeding is the least of your worries when driving your motor home on Georgia interstates. No car or truck driver in Georgia wants to be behind an RV, and they'll do virtually anything to get in front of you. We've had multiple – and I mean more than a half-dozen - drivers come up an on-ramp and continue onto the breakdown lane at speeds exceeding 70 MPH (we always go no more than 63 MPH set on cruise control) just to get in front of us. And they all cut in front of our nearly 15-ton motor home with less than a car-length to spare. If you've never tried to suddenly stop one of these gas models, we don't have air brakes like the bigger diesel rigs have, so there's a LOT of inertia to overcome! They're also not shy about cutting over two lanes to get to an exit your motor home was blocking from their view.
And they can't say they didn't see us. We're a 38-foot long, 9-foot wide, 13-foot tall rolling billboard in bright blue and white.
Finally, Massachusetts drivers. Having grown up here in New England, we're very familiar with how bad drivers are in this area, but they seem to have gotten worse since we left the area. On a positive note, they tend to leave the RVers alone. But you take your life into your hands in the Mini. Maybe they just don't notice something so small. Maybe they just hate us Mini drivers because we're not driving Subarus. Maybe it's our South Dakota plates. Either way, in less than a week we've been cut-off nearly a dozen times.
Moving on to a gem of a campground we discovered . . .
We needed a spot to spend a few days in the Hershey / Gettysburg area after dropping off Jace and before our reservations took effect up in New Hampshire. One of our Tiffin friends had posted about having stayed at Dogwood Acres in Newville, PA. It's equidistant between the aforementioned towns, with about a 45-50 minute drive to each. It's also situated about 10-15 minutes off of I-81 in the middle of nowhere, so it's incredibly quiet at night. The owners have a Tiffin Phaeton they live and travel in. Super nice people. Nice lake and pool on site. The park has a McDonalds kind of theme going on, with their playground decked out with many brand characters and locations. There's also a life-sized Ronald McDonald sitting on a bench to greet you as you enter the park. Grover was NOT a fan of Ronald. Walking back from the very nice dog park, he wasn't looking straight ahead as we were coming up to Ronald. All of a sudden he looked up and found a red-haired clown waving at him. He did a 180 flip in the air and started barking and growling at the interloper. Gave Ronald the stink-eye and a growl every time we passed him after that. Didn't know clowns creeped out dogs like they do us humans.
Moving on, it's refreshing to see things getting back to pre-COVID normal. Mask mandates being dropped if you've been vaccinated. Store shelves getting restocked and products that have been missing are slowly returning.
Gas prices are becoming very disappointing. After never spending more than $2.30 per gallon since we started this journey (and much less than that usually), prices have rapidly increased to $3.00 or more. When you've got to fill the tank with 60-70 gallons of gas, that charge on your card looks pretty steep. haven't spent $200 on a fill-up yet, but if someone in Washington doesn't get their act together soon, it's going to happen.
Finally, after sleeping on our Tiffin-supplied foam mattress for more than 18 months, Barbara and I decided to return to a Sleep Number mattress, which we had used for more than 20 years previously. We ordered a new RV Queen from the Myrtle Beach store, and await it's delivery in about 2 months time. The Tiffin mattress isn't bad, but we just felt we could sleep better on air like we used to.
More travel awaits, with a report on our latest trip to New England coming up, and a huge trip planned for the entire summer up in the Great Plains states and the Northwest. Stay tuned!
In the immortal words of former President Gerald Ford, “Our long national nightmare is over”.
After 5 long, fun, but exhausting months, grandson Jace is back with his mother; and Barbara, Grover and I can now sleep past 7 AM if we choose to. If you've read the last few blog entries, you know we've spent lots of time and effort trying to keep an almost five year-old entertained since the beginning of January, and while it can be tiring to normal parent-aged people, it's downright exhausting for grandparents as old as we are. Let's face it; some people become grandparents in their mid-forties, and might have a five year-old grandson by 50. We're well into our sixties, which just confirms Barbara's belief that there is a reason God invented menopause!
Our last two months of April and May took up 5 weeks at our favorite North Georgia campground in Cleveland, GA – Leisure Acres – where we were able to have an occasional restful Friday night, Saturday or Sunday afternoon while Jace was reacquainted with his mother and father. And while we had hoped for a hand-off in early May, we still managed to finish the month with some more memories with Jace.
One of them was introducing Jace to the mothership, Red Bay, Alabama. Every kid with grandparents who own a Tiffin needs to see where all the Tiffins go to get fixed or modified, and Jace was no exception. No warranty work this time, so we were once again ensconced in Convenient Campground behind the Tiffin Service Center, but this time all our work was being done by third-party providers in town, so we had appointments made with each.
We had heard good things about Belmont Diesel just over the line in Mississippi, so since it was time for our semi-annual chassis maintenance on the Ford gasser, we decided to check them out ourselves. Very glad we did! They did our oil and filter change, and lubed the chassis for about half the cost of Bay Diesel over in Red Bay. The only knock against them (and we heard it only from some diesel owners) is that they don't have the big hydraulic lifts used by Bay Diesel to allow the owner to check things out under the chassis with the technician. Not a big deal for us. I know nothing about the underside of the Ford F-53 chassis, and have no desire to see it firsthand. As long as the technician tells me he rolled underneath and checked everything out and it looked good to him, I'm a satisfied customer.
Our next stop was back at Red Bay Body Shop, just outside the entrance to the Tiffin manufacturing plant. These were the guys who did such a great job of repairing the damage to our rear basement doors and tow dolly last year. No damage to repair this time (thank Heaven!), but a bit of an upgrade to Enterprise's exterior. On all new Tiffin high-end Buses, and optionally on their Phaeton line, the solid colored slide ends are painted to match and join up with the pattern of the rest of the coach, and it's really a great look. So I figured, “Why can't my gasser look just like those high-end diesels?”
So now it does.
Jeff and Jeff did a fantastic job on the front end of our main slide, and the rear end of our bedroom slide. These guys are perfectionists. It was their first time doing this upgrade, and even though they underestimated the time and effort to do the job, they stuck to their original estimate like the professionals that they are. A final night to let the new silicone sealant set properly, and it's back on the road to Jace's final vacation spot: Myrtle Beach, SC.
We had planned 6 months previously (pre-Jace) to meet up with long-time and best friends Rick and Marielle Penney in their new-to-them Grand Design Reflection during their first long distance excursion in the new fifth wheel. They had spent a weekend with us last year at our campground in New Hampshire, but that was only about 45 minutes away from where they lived. This was their first real long distance drive with the new rig, and a first for both of us at a true beach resort.
Our destination was Pirateland RV Campground, an older location that had a lot of amenities for kids and adults (Rick and Marielle were also traveling with her brother and sister-in-law Michael and Marie, who had their son and two grandkids with them in an Open Range travel trailer), so entertaining kids was pretty important. The campground was built in the late 1960's, and there became the first problem we encountered. Thank God our friends had the foresight to book the relatively few pull-through sites in the park, because I'm not sure we could have backed into some of the smaller sites we saw. Others did, but it all depended on whether the people across from you were not parked in the narrow streets and hadn't taken a walk to the beach so they couldn't move their car or truck.
The streets in Pirateland are narrow. Like just wider than your motorhome narrow. As we were turning onto the one-way street to find our spot, I had to negotiate a drop-off into water on my left side to swing wide enough so that I could thread a needle between a truck parked too far into the street on my passenger side, and the awning of a fifth wheel parked too close to the back of their site on my driver's side. No exaggeration: I had 6” of clearance from scraping the truck, and 4” from taking out someone's awning. And due to our tow dolly configuration, I can't back up to better reposition my approach, so it's get it right the first time, or else.
I stuck the landing.
The good news was that our three sites are all in a row next to each other, so visiting with friends was easy, and because they were at the front of the row it was just a short 3-minute walk to the beach. The wind kept things comfortable on hot days, but the awning stayed in all the time. The mini-golf on site, the splash pad for kids and the lazy river for adults are adequate, but the on-site support is spotty. The previous residents on our site must have had a budding engineer with them, as someone had dug a fairly deep hole right off of our concrete pad, which almost resulted in a serious injury to Barbara. A call to the office got someone out right away to fill it, but a similar hole at the end of our site remained unfilled before we left, even with two requests to fill it. Bottom-line is that no one at Pirateland checks the sites out when people leave to see if there is anything that needs some attention.
The other issue is golf carts. For some reason people feel the need to rent them and drive them constantly around the campground. Too many of them are driven by young people who don't follow the speed limit and play music too loud. One of our travel companions actually stopped a cart going too fast and pointed out the 4 and 5 year-olds playing around the campsite to remind them to slow it down.
Still, we had our fun with friends and with Jace. We alternated days on the beach with days at the pool. Jace made new friends with everybody he met. He also collected shells. Lots of shells. We had to buy a container for all the shells he collected, and that went home to mom along with Jace at the end of our trip. Myrtle Beach was a fitting end to Jace's long stay with us.
A day or so before being handed over to mom, Jace announced that he wanted to bring Grover with him to his new house, because he loved Grover. Grover, however, wanted nothing to do with that deal. Grover likes Jace just fine, but he also likes alone time, which never happens with Jace around.
As we transferred Jace and the rest of his belongings to his mother's car, Jace promised that he would do video calls – to Grover, not to us – and he promised to be good for mommy.
And we got back to blessed peace and quiet, even though we'll miss the little stinker.
Next stop: New England and the return of an old friend . . .
Sorry for the delay in posting updates. Having our 4 ½ year old grandson full-time while we travel severely restricts my PC time; both because we need to keep him busy and because I need to keep him away from my keyboard! I also do much of my writing at night, and he sleeps in the pull-out bed just 5 feet away from the table where I'm set up for PC work.
Our original intent for 1Q 2021 was to do Florida in January, Texas in February, and March in Arizona. That was pre-Jace. But since we wanted to stay about a 5-6 hour drive from his mother in case she wanted to visit with him, we decided to stick to north central Florida for the duration. In retrospect, given the severe freezing weather in Texas, it turned out to be a good decision.
February began with a quick 2-day mini-rally with a couple of fellow Open Road gas owners who liked our paint design so much they copied much of it. We stayed 2 nights at Compass RV resort in St. Augustine, FL, and had a nice time with Scott and Barbara Platt and Byron and Lynn Hill. St. Augustine was definitely on our radar screen for February, so our next destination is about an hour away in Keystone Heights.
Keystone Heights RV resort was a wonderful find that only came about because there were no openings for a month in the area at another campground we had looked at. They suggested we take a look at this brand-new resort about 15 minutes away, and it really impressed us! First was the monthly rate - $600 due to a pre-opening deal going on since many of their amenities were not yet open. Second was the sites themselves; level concrete pads extra wide, with plenty of room to back in the largest 45-footer with room to spare and lots of landscaped space between each site. No packing everybody in like a bunch of sardines like many Florida resorts do. Bottom-line, once the amenities are finished, it's going to be a really nice RV resort with a small restaurant and nicely done mini-golf course just offsite.
Keystone Heights is just a bit over an hour away from St. Augustine, Florida. An easy drive on a pretty direct route depending on which side of town you're going to. It gave us a chance to take Jace to the Pirate Museum, where Pirate William gifted Jace with a doubloon, and Jace got decked out in an official pirate hat and spyglass. Another day had us exploring Castillo de San Marcos, a fort which protected St. Augustine from the fabled pirates of legend. Unfortunately due to COVID, the famous firing of the big cannon had been halted due to crowd concerns. I really wanted to see and hear that. Some very interesting history regarding that fort, and it was an entertaining time – even for our 4 year-old.
Also spent a day exploring the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine. Watched alligators get fed rats, lots of birds, a nice collection of lizards and turtles and one huge crocodile. Jace got the attention of a Komodo Dragon, who kept following him around his glass enclosure as if Jace were his next meal.
A somewhat longer day trip found us at Kennedy Space Center. If you're even remotely interested in America's space program, this is the place to visit. The actual Space Shuttle Atlantis is housed inside one of the buildings, close enough for many people to actually touch it. Atlantis flew on more than 30 missions before being retired. There are some really nice exhibits on the history of space flight, a shuttle launch simulator, and a great space-themed indoor play area for the kids. If you're claustrophobic, don't try to squeeze yourself into one of the capsule mockups or the ISS tunnel system. They prove just how much space is a premium when heading out of the atmosphere.
Anastasia Island was another beach trip (all on foot), however, the beach is not very comfortable to walk on with bare feet. No soft sand until you get to the water's edge. The sand is more like some really small pebbles that make the walk from the parking lot to the beach a pain in the foot. Didn't notice it much on the way in because we were wearing sandals, but on the way out we hadn't bothered to put them back on. There's a nice inland kayak launch in the park that we'll be sure to try another time when we don't have a 4 year-old with us. Two's company in a tandem kayak; three's impossible.
One final day trip was to Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation just outside of Gainesville. The animals here were rescued from zoos and homes where they had no business being. Jace got to feed a rhino, and we got to see some really big cats and small lemurs.
February done, it's time to move on to our next destination; Chiefland, Florida. We had planned to spend March in Arizona this year, but we needed to keep close enough to Georgia for our daughter to visit Jace on a weekend if need be, so we found a very inexpensive park called Strawberry Fields for RVers further west and a bit further south of Keystone Heights about 45 minutes away from Gainesville, Florida. Now Chiefland itself doesn't have much going for it, but it's a short trip from there to the Gulf coast side of Florida, which got us close to more beaches and more opportunities to see manatees before their migration period ended. Manatee State Park is just about 6 or so miles from the campground, and Homosassa is just 50 minutes away.
The campground itself is very basic; typically flat as most Florida parks are, with paved lots that are all pull-throughs. A newer section was opening up that would be all back-in sites on grass. Not a lot of amenities, and they really don't cater to RVers with kids (they specifically ask that you don't bring kids into their clubhouse because their full-time residents don't like the noise they make), but they have an interesting rate system that stays the same all year round. No seasonal increases for the winter months like most Florida parks. Our monthly rate was $415 plus metered electric. At the end of the month we paid about $85, so for just over $500 bucks it was a great deal. I will say that is was incredibly windy (which is typical for Florida given their lack of elevation), but I think we had our awning out maybe 3 days during the entire month.
Right down the road is Ralph's Burger House, a drive through place that serves better meals than McDonalds, and for about 2/3rds the price. The place is a local institution, with almost always a line going out of the parking lot at all hours of the day.
We took Jace to Fort Island State Beach a couple of times. Soft, sandy beach, bt a bit small in size. Since we were there on weekdays it wasn't too crowded, but I can imagine it being packed on weekends. Typical Gulf beach where the drop off is gradual, so you can head out quite a bit before it gets too deep, and the wave action is pretty tame. The water is also a bit warmer than Atlantic beaches due to the shallow nature of the Gulf, so you could spend some time without seeing your toes turn blue.
Took a day trip down to Cedar Keys, about a 45-minute drive from Chiefland. Some interesting restaurants and tourist shops, but it didn't really impress us much. We were there on an early Friday afternoon, and based on afternoon traffic it appeared to be a biker destination on weekends. Not that we have a problem with that, but two retirees and a 4 year-old grandson just wouldn't have fit in had we stayed there a bit longer.
We also spent a great day at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Great venue for kids and adults, with lots of wildlife to see. One of the more interesting features of the park was the buzzards which inhabit the interior. They pretty much have free reign, landing and flying away whenever it pleases them, and scaring the bejezzus out of you when you least expect it! But they've managed to rescue a great deal of wildlife and given them a safe habitat in which to live.
Had a chance to catch up with Barbara's brother, Rick, sister-in-law Celia, and our niece Beth. They in turn got a chance to meet Jace again, given he was just 6 months old the last time they saw him.
Florida complete, we head back up to Georgia in hopes of finally being able to drop off our grandson Jace to his mother on a full-time basis. We also have plans to visit Red Bay, Alabama the beginning of May, but that is a surprise for another post. Stay tuned!
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.