Coloring the Void

living nomadically

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A quick stop in the Everglades

We needed to spend a couple of days around Marco Island Florida to visit family, so we headed southwest to Midway Campground, the only place close we could find space. RV Parks in the area are notoriously claustrophobic so they weren’t an option. Collier-Seminole State Park campground, our spot of choice, has been closed for a year and still isn’t taking reservations. Oscar Scherer State Park campground was full. To guarantee a space, we were left with Midway or Monument Lake. While Monument Lake is marginally closer to where we wanted to be, it does not have electric hook ups which, since we planned on being away from the RV all day, were important to us. Having a dog and having to worry about how hot the RV gets inside leads us to often err on the side of caution and book an electric site.

Midway Campground is a pretty nice park, in spite of its distance to anywhere. The sites, while not private in any sense, are paved and very level. They will hold any size RV (though they are all back in), and have 30 amp electric hook ups. The campground has a dump station and potable water also. The only negative is the marginal cell service, even using our booster. While there, we did check out Monument Lake Campground which has excellent cell service but no electric hook ups.  Next time in the area, we will probably choose Monument if it isn’t hot as we like the site arrangement better and prefer to have cell signal over electric.

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While there, we spent much more time exploring away from the campground than we did in it. We visited family in Marco Island and had a wonderful ride on a boat exploring the water side of town. We did some back road driving around Big Cypress National Preserve and the Florida Panther National Refuge. While we didn’t see any panthers, we did see hundreds of alligators.

Another reason for our stop in the area was a return to check out Goodland, Florida, a tiny town on the water. We also wanted to check out Everglades City and Chokoloskee. Chokoloskee is about as far off the beaten path you can get in Florida. If you make it down there, stop by the Smallwood General Store.  Though we didn’t have the time, we could have spent weeks exploring 10,000 islands and the Everglades by kayak. Everglades City is a little bigger with a little more traffic, but good river/glade access. We stopped in the Camilla Street Grill for lunch. It opens at noon but people start taking their seats at about 11:45. By 12:15, the place is packed, with people waiting in line for seats. It has a beautiful location right on the water and a funky vibe that keeps your attention while you wait (a while) for food. The food itself is hit or miss and the prices are pretty high for the location. But it was enjoyable as we were lucky to have a seat on the dock and a beautiful spring day. Our experience at the restaurant, though, told us we didn’t want to live in Everglades City some day, or Chokoloskee either: every five minutes, an airboat went by. In the hour and a half we were there, there wasn’t a three minute time span where we didn’t hear the drone of at least one engine but typically it was three or four. Some times, it was so loud one couldn’t hear conversation across the table, even when shouting. And it was such a beautiful place otherwise…

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Goodland, Florida has all the benefits of Everglades City without the remoteness and noise. It is a ten minute drive to Marcos Island where one can buy anything under the sun but it doesn’t have Marcos Island traffic, noise, or frantic-ness. We liked Goodland  the first time we visited but we definitely fell in ‘deep like’ with it for our second visit. It doesn’t hurt that one of our favorite restaurant finds is here: Little Bar Restaurant. They prepare local fresh fish (among other things) and will prepare it practically any way you like it (my preference is blackened). They have live music at night and a busy bar scene with plenty of microbrew choices. It has a wonderfully laid back vibe and, if you are lucky enough to get a seat outside, great views over the water. The town of Goodland itself is small, walkable, and mostly uncrowded. It is unpretentious and gives off a vibe much like one would find in the Keys. We will return here again, someday…

Because of the rain and the lack of cell signal, we decided to pack up a day early and head North towards our next stop. We saw that the town of Immokalee, about a third of the distance of our planned jump,  had a casino and the casino had a parking lot that allowed overnight RV parking. So we went to check it out. We got lucky! Not only does the Seminole Casino Hotel allow RV parking, it provides about a dozen 30 amp electrical hook ups to those that stop. There was a spot open so we pulled in and hooked up. Registration requires signing up for their rewards card, so we did and each got $10 in free play. They were practically paying us to stay there. We ate a meal, played some slots and slept well. Including the meal, the stop cost us around $50; not bad for four hours of entertainment, an electric site, constant security, and dinner. While the town of Immokalee isn’t very notable, if one is passing through the area, the Casino is a great place to overnight.

 

2016 – Here we come!

In 2015, we bounced around like crazy – more than 30,000 miles crazy – as we raced from the east coast south, then west, then north to Alaska, then back south, then east. Honestly, it’s tiring just thinking about it. By August, we were pretty burned out (as you can tell from the blog, though I will be adding the missing spaces soon). We started thinking about 2016 and how we didn’t want to do it. 2015 we handled with a wing and a prayer. It worked out really well, but we needed a break from the stress of last-minute-itis and being in a hurry. We didn’t make one advanced reservation or plan in 2015 which meant we took what we could get when we could get it. It worked pretty well in Alaska, but not so well in Montana.

So, for 2016, we have a plan. Both of us have “New England in the Fall” bucket list items and, since we completely missed fall in 2015, we decided this is what we would do. The great thing about it is the east coast is so much smaller than the west coast! We will probably do less than 1/2 the driving we did in 2015. And we will get to see the leaves change, one of the best reasons to travel the east coast.

Since the east coast is so much smaller, we will also get to spend a lot more time in each place. Not including Phoenix and DC (where we stopped for three weeks each visiting family), our average stay at any one place in 2015 was four days. Considering one of those days is a move day and one is a down day (grocery, laundry, breathing), we didn’t get much time for savoring where we were. In 2016, most of our stays will be a week or more. That gives us three extra days to chill, to hike, to kayak, to off-road… The possibilities are endless!

I hate to admit it, but I am a campsite snob. I love booking sites in the perfect location with the best view – who doesn’t want to spend a week at the beach on the beach? And while we managed to do that in Alaska (the sites were first come first serve), doing that on the east coast is nearly impossible without advanced planning. So, back in August, when we knew we were going to Florida in January, I started booking sites. We were out of luck in the Keys but we did manage to snag great campsites at other beach campgrounds further up the coast. Thank you to all the people who cancelled their vacations! I’m sorry for your loss, just ignore my great big smile!

In October, 2015, when we learned that the Escapees were planning the 56th Escapade in Vermont during the summer, going seemed like a no-brainer; we would already be in the area. So, we booked our spot and started looking for what to do and where to go before and after. Our schedule just sort of flowed from that, our bucket list, and our list of people to see along the way. I started booking more sites, either hoping for cancellations from sad ex-vacationers or, in the case of later in the summer, booking sites when they become open. It takes some work and some persistence but it often pays off. For South Carolina and Florida, I have had to check the reservations every day since October looking for cancellations. This netted beach campgrounds in Fort Clinch, Gamble Rogers, Fort DeSoto, and Hunting Island. And, though we still don’t have a reservation for Memorial Weekend (I hate trying to get that week), we do have great campgrounds in Massachusetts in June.

January will see us heading south to Florida, with stops in Myrtle Beach and Hunting Island along the way. After some time in Fernandina Beach and St. Augustine, we drop down to Seffner for week for the 2016 Fleetwood Regional Rally. We didn’t even know this Rally existed but we are looking forward to attending. While there, as they offer the opportunity to have two repairs done by Fleetwood factory techs, we are finally getting the microwave support bracket fixed. It snapped in a construction zone in Alaska and we have had a stick holding up one side ever since. We  kind of mostly forgot about it, except when traveling on REALLY bumpy roads when the stick falls out. We could probably fix it ourselves but the thought of pulling out the microwave and getting it back in place correctly is a little daunting for me. That sucker is pretty heavy and I was really surprised at the tiny metal tabs holding it up. After the Rally, we head back to the east coast of Florida for some beachfront camping at Gamble Rogers.

February we plan to kayak in Ocala, visit in Orlando (maybe even finally go to Disneyland), hit the Miami Boat Show (we are still thinking/looking for a boat), then head southwest to meet up with family in the Marco Island area. Unfortunately, Collier Seminole State Park still isn’t open for camping. It is a great location for the west side of the everglades and the towns down in that corner of Florida. We will make due but I keep checking the reservations site daily anyway.

March is Spring Training Baseball! We can’t be in Florida without hitting a few games. We lucked into a site at Fort DeSoto and another at Myakka River but the pickings are rather slim. Next to the Keys, this is the most difficult area to get reservations in during the winter. Must be all the sunshine. Two years ago we tried private parks in the area but they are so tight and squishy it seemed more parking lot surfing that camping. So we will head back north, to the Gainesville area, then Georgia and Alabama at lake front COE parks.

April will see us moving quite a bit as we cover Georgia, including a return to Savannah, a city we fell in love with a few years ago. I am a huge fan of low country cooking and shrimp and grits is one of Mike’s favorite meals. Then we turn north for a brief stop in Charleston (more shrimp and grits!) before heading to a lakeside spot in North Carolina.

We need to be in Maryland in May for a dental appointment so we will make a run up there, then hang out for a few weeks in Virginia and Maryland, visiting family and friends. We will end the month in New York, visiting my long lost son and chilling on the Hudson River.

The entire month of June will be in Massachusetts, mostly near Cape Cod, which neither of us have ever traveled to, with day trips into Boston for baseball games and historic wandering (I hear there is beer there).

July will see us in Vermont and New Hampshire, with a quick trip (okay, a week) in Cooperstown, New York. Yeah, we like baseball and it is on our bucket list…. At the end of month is the Escapade, where we hope to meet up with other full timers and Xscapers. We had a lot of fun at the last get together and are looking forward to meeting up again.

In August we will head further north, into Maine and Nova Scotia. I have always wanted to see the tides at the Bay of Fundy and will now get my chance! Yes, a bucket list item, but my bucket list is really, really long. Luckily, we have the time and the ability right now to do so much of it. While there are days we wake up not knowing where the hell we are or how we got there (without alcohol being involved, even) most days we are just grateful we get to do this now, while we can.

September and October we head west, but only a little bit. Friends told us we have to visit the 10,000 Islands area of New York so we will. We always take the advice of locals and those who have been there – most of the time they are the best source for can’t miss once in a lifetime places. Not including restaurants, we have never been let down. We will hit the finger lakes, the Adirondacks, and Niagara Falls, soaking in the water views and the fall colors for which the area is famous.

November takes us to Ohio, across West Virginia, and back to Maryland, where we will spend Thanksgiving, while December is completely dependent on the weather. Cold winds will carry us south but how far south depends on how cold it gets. I hate cold. I am told if you put on more clothes you aren’t as cold but I know I can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. So, 30 degrees is my limit, which is great for the bus, too.

Right now, we have campsites booked into August. My experience with east coast campgrounds on weekends during the summer tells me this is a necessity. We prefer to stay at state and federal parks and, with the east coast so crowded, we feel we have to. If we change our plans, we can easily change our reservations; it is difficult to book a campsite at the last minute already reserved by someone else. We may lose some money if we do, but having the right campsite in a great location outweighs some lost money. Also, our bus is large. Not as large as most, but big enough that it limits the number of campsites available to us. One park I recently checked had five sites available for >40′ rigs but 120 sites for <35′ rigs. Quite a few parks we like have a 35′ max and at 34′ we have to kind of squish in there. Knowing we have reservations in advance for a site that will fit us gives us a much more relaxed experience. Having struggled last year finding spots in California state parks, we decided to try how it worked with advanced plans. Maybe we will hate it after a few months, but we can always change our plans. That is the great thing about this lifestyle – you can do it any way you want.

 

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

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Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

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Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

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Mission in San Antonio Texas

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The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

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Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Lost in Arizona

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The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

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The US border in Organ Pipe.

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Creek in the Superstition Mountains

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Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

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Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

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In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

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Newport Marina Sunset

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The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

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We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

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If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

Somewhere in Montana?

I was all set to write up the couple of days we had in Livingston, Montana. To check where and when we were, I looked back at my budget in August. Yikes! I had completely forgotten the four days we spent between Virginia City and Livingston. No, I mean completely. Looking back at my budget, where I note the campgrounds we stay at, I saw Missouri Headwaters State Park. Ah, I remember that! But I thought it was much earlier in the trip. And two days in Bozeman. Where in Bozeman? After checking Facebook posts and photograph files and being unsuccesful, Mike suggested checking the DeLorme page. It was there – Sunrise Campground. Huh. It seems that Bozeman was completely unmemorable. Well, I do remember the pretty decent hamburger we had at that one place – but no clue which place it was. And now, thinking on it, I remember the campground was next to some train tracks. And there was some grass between tightly packed RVs. But, the rest of it is gone.  I’d like to think it was due to the lack of oxygen from two days at Missouri Headwaters State Park. At least, that is the story I’m telling.

Missouri Headwaters State Park is only about 70 miles from Virginia City. It is a wonderful drive between the two, particularly since you pass through Ennis, which I loved when we were there years ago. The campground isn’t the greatest, with most sites just being wide spots in the campground road, but we wanted to see where the Missouri River began, where Lewis and Clark camped, and I was starving again for water views. But, as we drove up the road toward the park, we saw smoke. We didn’t think much of it as we had spent the summer ducking smoke in Alaska. We got a site and settled in. There were no electric hook ups and no water for $23/night (without the MT state parks camping pass). The outside temp was in the 90s so we opened all our windows and turned on our fans. That lasted a good two hours before both the heat and the smoke overwhelmed us.

(It turns out that a fire started about an hour before we got there. Later named the Eustis Fire, it grew to 9500 acres while we were in Missouri Headwaters and was only four miles away on the other side of the river. We happened to be camped southeast of the fire; winds were coming from the northwest.)

For those who don’t know, even the best insulated RV is still a tin can in bright overhead sunlight. Whatever the temp is outside add 10-20 degrees due to the baking factor (have you seen what happens to food after sitting under a heat lamp for hours?). On hot days, it is always cooler to sit outside under the awning with the hope of a breeze blowing by. Only we couldn’t sit outside without doing some lung damage. Belle even refused to; she just stood at the door looking pitiful and then ran back to the couch.

We tried going for a drive to check out the town of Three Forks but there really wasn’t much to check out. The tour was over less than fifteen minutes later; we returned to the short bus and threw in the towel – we turned on the generator and the a/c. I have a problem with mechanical white noise. It drives me to distraction. I don’t know why, it’s just the way it is. But I was really thankful for that generator, noise or not. It was 98 degrees in the bus when we turned it on.

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Early morning sunrise in Three Forks, MT. This was the view from our campsite. Though it couldn’t have been too early with the sun that high…

We suffered through one more day (at least according to my notes we did) and then gave up. After two nights, we headed east with hopes the smoke didn’t extend that far.

We made our way to Sunrise Campground, just outside Bozeman, MT. For $30/night, we got full hookups, a little patch of grass, and quite a bit less smoke. Honestly, I don’t remember this campground at all, or much about our stay there. I know we ate hamburgers at a restaurant, we went grocery shopping, and we bought Mike some jeans at a store. I think we were both still in a daze. Looking online at the campground pictures, it seems a perfectly nice place. It has good reviews and the owners are well thought of. It just must have been the heat and the smoke….

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