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

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

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

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

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

Then we tried to leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatteras Lighthouse, Hatteras NC, 4/5/18

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

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

Wekiwa Springs State Park FL, 9/20/18

FMCA @ Perry, GA, 3/14/18

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

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

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

Watching the coaches arrive, 3/11/18

Partying hard in Perry, 3/16/16

Patti & the Major General, 3/19/18

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

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

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

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

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

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Launch. KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Liftoff, KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Ascent, KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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Ascent, KSC, FL. 2/6/18

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Lady Sybil at Ortona South, 11/10/17

 

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

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

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Dinner, Ortona South, 11/10/17

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

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

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

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

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Missed it by that much!

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

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

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

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Watching the Orlando City SC on a warm Saturday evening.

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There goes a Disney Cruise ship out to sea.

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Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes, Duchess of Ankh and Campgrounds

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

Well, it’s certainly been too long between posts, but that will probably be changing. A lot has happened in a short amount of time and we have big news, but first some backstory. Warning: this will be a long post.

For several years now, Patti and I have been generating and researching our plans for retirement. The overall plan is to travel, travel, travel. The implementation we decided upon was to buy an RV, get rid of most of our possessions, sell the house, and hit the road full time. We’d like to travel here in the U.S. for 9 months or so each year and then store the RV and head overseas for a few months. Rinse, repeat. In order to get ready for this, we have been doing a lot of research into both the lifestyle and the various RVs out there to determine what will fit our requirements. After lots of online research and many trips to dealers and RV shows, we decided on some basic requirements, desires, and nice-to-haves:

  • Diesel rather than gas. This is more expensive but more comfortable, capable of larger cargo and towing capacities, and safer going up and, most importantly, down steep grades. We plan on spending lots of time west of the Mississippi.
  • 37-41 feet long. Any smaller and we felt we’d be tripping over each other. Any larger is just too much.
  • King bed. We’ve grown accustomed to our sleeping space.
  • Light and airy inside. We looked at many large coaches that seemed claustrophobic due to layout and lack of windows. We need light for sanity purposes.

A couple of years ago, we found a floorplan that checked all of our boxes and more, the Winnebago Journey 38P. Its biggest feature for us — huge windows. We couldn’t afford a new one, but when the time came to actually pull the trigger and buy one (between Labor Day 2017 and Memorial Day 2018) we hoped we could find a used one in our range. Unfortunately, Winnebago only made that model for a few months before halting production. Apparently this floorplan wasn’t selling.

Fast forward to late May of this year. Patti started having doubts about the RV plan. We talked it out and agreed to consider alternatives, specifically just bouncing around the world from Airbnb to Airbnb. Looked like it would be lots of fun, but very different from our long standing plan. Still, we considered it.

And then the Universe stepped in and played its hand. Patti found a (very) used coach that was a good deal, met many of our needs, and was affordable. Downside: it was in Michigan. Upside: one just like it was on a lot in Tampa. We scheduled an appointment for the following Saturday to take a look.

Then, a day or two later, I get an email from Patti with the Subject “OMG!” A dealer up I-95 had a new 38P that had obviously been sitting on the lot for quite awhile and they wanted to move it. It was just under 40 percent off MSRP. We scheduled an appointment for Sunday. It was going to be a long weekend of driving to look at coaches.

The used coach made for an easy data point: we didn’t want to buy an old one and fix it up. Too much hassle to install the technology gains of the last decade on top of all of the upgrades needed after 12 years of ownership. Sunday we went and looked at the 38P and fell in love. We came back and I asked Patti one question: was she comfortable with the RV plan? She said she was. We decided, given that fact, that we would be fools to pass on our “perfect” RV. We looked at the numbers, decided we could afford it and bought the sucker.

_JP17923It needed some repairs and prep work, so we took the time to sell our travel trailer. While showing it to one gentleman, he asked why we were selling it. I told him of our plan and casually asked him if he wanted to buy a house. He did.

We now have in our possession a new 40′ RV and a signed contract on our house. Holy crap, things got surreal pretty quick. We are 4 to 10 months ahead of schedule on the RV and 18 to 20 months on the house!

But we’re executing “The Plan.” Stay tuned for our break-in stories. We’ve already had some misadventures, but that’s for next time.

 

(BTW: we’re brainstorming names for our new ride. Feel free to provide us with suggestions.)

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North Captiva Island, 12/27/16

North Captiva Island, 12/27/16

Last year we decided to get together this winter with the family and celebrate my birthday (60) and my brother-in-law’s birthday (70). We wanted to rendezvous someplace nice, so we tossed the task of searching for a place over to my sister-in-law. Her track record of finding sweet locations to stay is pretty damn good so we had high hopes. As usual, those hopes were met.

We spent the Christmas holiday on North Captiva Island, just off the southwest coast of Florida. Who knew that a four-hour drive (and a half-hour ferry ride) can take us from our daily life to authentic island time? No cars, golf carts only. We never removed the keys from the carts. For that matter, we never took the key out of the front door of our house. We were directly on the gulf, so close that we were told that often the gulf is actually under the house. Our activities consisted mainly of strolling the beach, reading, boating, fishing, taking photos, enjoying sunsets, catching up with the family, eating and drinking. It was hard.

Being located on an island necessitated leaving our truck on the mainland. It also required us to buy enough food to feed 10 to 12 people for eight days, including drinking water. (While the island has all of the normal amenities like electricity, internet, etc., the tap water is highly sulfuric. It stinks. Badly.) This was a logistical issue but the ferries are used to it and getting the food and all our stuff to the house went smoothly.

While we already live in sunny Florida and were able to drive over to the ferry, our family came in from colder climes (Ogden, Utah, Bozeman, Montana, and New York City). They had a perfect week for it. Weather was warmer than normal with zero rain. We couldn’t have asked for better. Now we’re all back to our normal temps, sub-freezing for the westerners and only 72 for us. (I couldn’t resist.)

I wonder where we’ll meet up next time?

Christmas Sunset, North Captiva Island, FL

Christmas Sunset, North Captiva Island, FL

Our house on the beach, 12/24/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Our house on the beach, 12/24/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Working men on Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

Working men on Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

We were directly next to a grass airstrip and saw this all week. Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

We were directly next to a grass airstrip and saw this all week. Christmas Day, North Captiva Island, FL

From our living room. 12/29/16, North Captiva Island, FL

From our living room. 12/29/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Until next time! 12/27/16, North Captiva Island, FL

Until next time! 12/27/16, North Captiva Island, FL