Wandering West

The Hanks, who we met in Topsail Hill Preserve, mentioned that they were planning on going to Grand Isle, LA. If you look at a map of Louisiana and follow the Mississippi River to its end in the Gulf then go northwest across the water, you will see a spit of land with LA 1 that is an island. Going east on that island, eventually you run out of road (and land). That is Grand Isle State Park. The town of Grand Isle has little to offer in the way of entertainment, shopping, or places of interest. There is a small supermarket which includes a hardware store. There are two major oil operations, Shell and Exxon Mobil. There is a lot of shrimping, more on that in a bit.

Given its location at the end of the road, you would think it would be hard to miss the State Park, wrong! By ignoring Germaine (the GPS) and misreading a road sign in the belief that a barely improved thread of asphalt could not possibly be the entrance to a state park, we drove on into a residential area. Fortunately, the road ended in large parking lot for the sport and commercial fishing area which enabled me to turn around and, with the help of locals, find the entrance to the park. As we had figured from the reservation web site there are plenty of open sites. Louisiana is one of the few states that provides a 50% discount for those of us carrying the Golden Age Passport. Compared to $38 plus tax in Florida the net of $9 and NO TAX becomes a real bargain. We are situated in a row of sites with our back to a dune line with the Gulf of Mexico just on the other side with a beach that stretches as far as we want to walk in both directions.

We have been asked what we do in a place like this with no access to the internet since Verizon service dropped off about 20 miles up the road. Our contact with the outside world is pretty good between satellite TV (ugh), local off the air TV (double ugh), NPR radio out of N.O. and the phone. We have many unread books, some of which will be ready to trade by the time we move on and there are people to sit and chat with. Our best entertainment is the sea and bird life. Dolphins feed just off the beach, herding redfish in toward the shore then feeding on them. This takes place 10 to 20 feet off the beach in as little as three feet of water.

The birding has also been pretty good. Here is a list of the identified species we saw yesterday, January 29th, as we walked the beach and lake trail: Willet, Least Sandpiper, American Oyster Catcher, Tree Swallow, Royal Tern, Least Tern, Brown Pelican, White Pelican, Great Blue Heron (on almost every daily birding list I can remember) Great Egret, Double Crested Cormorant and Gulls. I am sure of my identification of Herring Gull and Ring Bill Gull I am sure there were others, but I have not paid enough attention to even think of sorting them out.

We also witnessed the merciless nature of life in the wild. We came across a Cormorant and a Pelican with broken wings on the beach in the space of four hours. In both cases this was the result of the bird misjudging the waves in a dive for fish and hitting the water at a wrong angle. We have sat and watched these birds diving for fish whenever we are near the water and I cannot remember ever seeing this before, but it is more common than we realize. When it happens far out from shore there is no way to see the result. We spoke to the ranger about these injured birds and she said that unless they were banded there was nothing that could be done to help them or to put them out of their misery. Nature will be permitted to take its course.

Yesterday, when we did the birding, was glorious with temperatures in the high 60’s to low 70’s and plenty of sun. We expect that will not happen again for a while. Last night a front came through with a slashing rainstorm followed by high winds. At 5:00 AM we heard a crash as the grill, which I lash to a table, blew over with the table. The winds were so high that we were rocking so we pulled in the slides to preserve the topper awnings and reduce the surface exposed to the wind. This morning we discovered that the doormat we have used for seven years is no place to be found. It is “Gone with the Wind”. [written later] After a brisk morning walk, keeping my eyes open looking for the doormat, I found it tucked up against the street side rear wheels.

I did promise more on shrimping. There are many boats lining the bayous and rivers that are setup for shrimping. This is a major industry in these parts. Although I do not ordinarily eat shellfish, it seemed foolish to pass up the opportunity to have them as fresh as they can be. We set out after lunch, by car, to see what was available on Grand Isle. The supermarket had no seafood at all, just meat. The produce section was better than Carol expected and not outrageously expensive. We bought very little. We stopped in another small shop to ask about seafood and they pointed us to Dean and Blanchard as the only place in the area still open. We found the turn off of LA 1 that they described and realized we had already been that way, but we persisted and this time turned right on a road that seemed to be a private drive. We wended our way toward the shore where we found a large packing plant. In what looked like a breezeway were two large containers with a very large scale. There was a workman there who spoke in a language or accent that was not particularly intelligible to us. We did figure out that he did have whole fresh shrimp in the containers and they were two different prices (presumably different sizes. I bought a pound of the more expensive ($3.75 a pound) and figured I would have them for two meals. After cleaning and grilling in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and some pepper, I had a very nice portion for one meal. I enjoyed myself, but I doubt I will repeat the experience, certainly not in hurry.

Although the people we gathered for Happy Hour on Wednesday evening asked us to stay on, we decided to move on on Thursday with a deteriorating weather forecast and a desire to get to Texas someday. Thursday we were on the road by 8:45.

Onward in Florida

Can’t seem to get out of this state. Sunday night found us in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, still in Florida. Getting into the site was an exercise in patience and finesse. Whoever had deemed this site suitable for a 36 foot motorhome was a sadist. With Carol watching a low post by the right (curbside) rear wheel I got that wheel within a couple of inches of the post while missing a tree with the front left (street side) corner by a similar couple of inches. I still had to cope with a tree three feet behind me once I got clear of the front tree. I pivoted neatly into place wondering how I would ever get out when the time came. A short time later as we completed setting up we met Al Hanks, who with his wife Nancy, was on the site one away from ours. I have no idea how anything bigger than our car would negotiate the entrance to that intermediate site. We agreed to meet for Happy Hour at 5:30 and Carol and I set off by car to explore the Panhandle beach area. We drove along 30 A and were suitable impressed with the many fancy large homes that line the beach blocking almost all access to the hoi poloi that do not own the beach front property. Certainly the view is blocked. We drove through Watercolor and Seaside and it is clear that these are very nice places and very PLANNED.

On our return to the campground we made the coach neat for visitors and shortly the Hanks arrived bringing additional goodies to our small gathering. Somehow, before we knew it, three hours (and a couple bottles of wine) had passed. Al is retired from Consumers Union where, among other jobs, he built and then managed the automotive test facility. His wife, Nancy is a retired school teacher. She and Carol had a great time and Al and I had many things to talk about including improvements to our motorhomes and experiences with buying and maintaining them, his is a 2004 Allegro Bay on the same chassis with the same drive line as Gee2. Nancy was particularly taken with the many hooks we have mounted in strategic locations, like the ones on either side of the entry door where wet coats can be hung to drip into the stairwell rather run through the coach to the shower to hang them up. These never seemed like a big deal to me, although I do remember that we discussed what kind of hooks and whether we would like their appearance for several days before mounting. Such is life when the two of us have many hours and days together with limited other company.

The weather continued to be cold and wet. The second day we drove out to the west to explore and found more large beach houses and too many repeats of the same stores you can see everyplace else in this country. Also there was too much traffic. We turned back and got on our bikes to ride around the park, out of the traffic. At 6 we joined a group that Al had put together for a social hour in the clubhouse. Then we went back t their coach and finally to ours for a snack and some sleep.

When we awoke it was Thursday and we knew two things; we were leaving the very expensive (by our standards) Topsail Hill Preserve and we were going west. We had not put together a more serious plan and it seemed more sensible to depart and figure out what we would do as we rolled. We had been in touch with some organizations in Louisiana about volunteering some time, but Mardi Gras is coming and all the volunteer programs are closed down as all accommodations are booked for revelers and everyone takes part in Mardi Gras. There is no place we want to hang around for two weeks in lousy weather so we are moving on a bit aimlessly.

As we crossed out of Florida into Alabama we stopped at the Welcome Center to have lunch and maybe figure out where we would spend the night. We recently joined yet another RV organization, Escapees, and they have several facilities in the south and southwest. We had never seen one, much less stayed in one so we found there is one in the Gulf Shores area, not too far from the Joy and Shaul Antar as it happens. Escapees is an organization for full and extended part times RVers who have SKPed the grid and gone off to live on their rigs. The defining bumper sticker is “Home is where we park it”. Is this too convoluted? I have several threads running here and I am losing track. The campground is fantastic. It is an RV park designed by people who have been is a lot of RV parks. Access is easy, there is plenty of space and when they asked if I had a satellite dish for TV my affirmative answer resulted in some shuffling to be sure I would be able to see the satellite with my dish. All the people we have met here are really friendly and pleasant. Tomorrow we will do some shopping, I forgot my dress shoes among other things and there are plenty of shops and then we will meet the Antars at Temple in Mobile for Shabbat Service. Who knows what Sunday will bring.

If you are looking for pictures, I have not taken many and most of them are of the coach in a campground, boring!

Into Florida

We have done it. We are in Florida. Our first night here we took a chance and tried to get into Payne Prairie Preserve in Micanopy (see posting from January 2005 for details and pronunciation). Upon arrival we were informed that all the sites were reserved and there was no room for us. The ranger suggested that we consider Sportsmens Cove Resort, just a few miles south in McIntosh, FL. We called and then drove there to a welcoming reception. The place looked a bit like a dump at the end of F Ave right on Orange Lake, but it was pleasant enough sitting on a berm with water on three sides. We wandered down to the shore, drawn by noisy bird calls. They turned out to be many Sandhill Cranes just off the beach. They are a resident population here, unlike the migratory Sandhills we finally caught up with in Bosque Del Apache NWR several years ago. In the morning we awoke to their cries and a walk down the water’s edge yielded a Wood Stork to add to my birding list. It was a great start to our Florida visit.

We breakfasted and set out for Ft Desoto County Park campground where we had paid for four nights back in late November when we were just planing this trip. Other than starting out in a slashing thunder storm with buckets of water falling on us, the drive was uneventful. We arrived before 1 PM and began to set up camp. As I walked to bedroom, after opening the slide I noticed that a trim board had fallen off the closet. This is turning out to be the trip of minor and not so minor mishaps. So far none has been terribly serious, just annoying. With a bit of persuasion the trim board has been restored to it position and ought to stay there. For good measure I played with the window shade over the bed. The guide string has jumped the track a couple of days ago and I had not gotten around to looking at it. It too 30 seconds to put it right. What Next????

Writing a week later: We had very nice visit with Art and Natalie (Carol’s brother and sister-in-law) in St Petersburg. Their daughter Erica came in for the day on Monday and brought along Yonatan, their grandson, who was visiting them and his girl friend for the week. Our time was spent mostly visiting and just a bit shopping for some needed replacement parts for the bike rack – another casualty. Oh yes on Wednesday morning, the 16th, as I walked around the car I noticed that the wear bars on one of the tires was showing, groan, another replacement required. Although the car has only been driven 21,000 miles those tires have been dragged another 30,000 or more behind the coach. Time to find a tire store and get them replaced before something bad happens.

On Thursday we pulled out to head even further south. It is past time to see my Aunt Evelyn in Boynton Beach. The best arrangement we could make for camping was in Clewiston, FL at the Okeechobee Landings RV Park. This is 1 ¼ hours drive from my aunt each way. The campsite was nice, right on a small lake with plenty of birds, mostly White Ibis and one Anhinga. Our visit with Aunt Evelyn was very good and she took us to tour the assisted living facility she plans to move into in the coming weeks. Newport House appears to be a very nice place where she already has many friends. I hope she has an easy transition. It being Friday we had dinner and went to Temple with her. It is clear she is well known and liked there and many people were already congratulating her on her move, although she says she had told no one and the move has not even happened yet.

We left for Okeechobee Landings RV at a bit before 10 PM and arrived quite tired at 11:15. We fell into bed and left the departure mode until the morning. We rolled out about 10:15 and made 13 miles before stopping for fuel and grocery shopping. We finally started moving at noon. The only problem was where to go. I had set our destination as Alabama, but had no intent or desire to get there in one day. As we scanned the map while committing to drive up the center of the state on US 27 we realized we would be passing directly by Deer Creek which the Topfs and other people we know call their winter home. We called ahead to find that they had no plans and the site directly across the street from them was temporarily available. They made arrangements for us to stay and we made our stop at about 3 PM with the Topfs and many other CHAI members. While we were at dinner it began to pour. Once again we were in the midst of torrential rains. This time we had traveled in golf carts from the campsites to the restaurant and there was no way to get four of us under cover in the golf cart. We waited while Norm and Shelley went back and got a car to pick us up. We spent a pleasant couple of hours in their coach and them came back to Gee2 to write and rest.

No idea what we will do tomorrow, Sunday the 20th.

The Ongoing Saga Resumes

We are back on the road. This is the seventh winter we plan to cross the US from Rochester to Los Angeles and return. The plan is a bit obscure right now. We have made it to Malena and Dan’s in Covesville, VA (that’s Charlottesville for most people). The trip started a day early because there was a forecast of ten inches of snow overnight on January 1. Rather than see what would happen we left on the first at 2 PM. This was exciting as we decided to try for this at 9 AM while dawdling over breakfast. From the moment we said “let’s try” we went in to high gear and by 1:50 PM the car was ready to tow with the bikes on the roof and almost everything was packed in some fashion or other. I say almost because some things got left behind, most notably all of the dressier shoes I usually move back and forth except my sneakers and sandals. The dressiest shoes I have are docksider type shoes and I guess they will do until we get to a shoe outlet in our wanderings.

The plan for now is St Petersburg, FL from January 13 to 17 taking a stop in Raleigh, NC to visit the Cohens on Thursday the 10th. From there we roll over to I 95 down to Jacksonville, FL and across to Ft Desoto where we have reservations while we visit Carol’s bother and sister-in-law Art and Natalie. Other family concerns might force us to go deeper into Florida for a day or two but we firmly intend to be on our way west no later than the 19th. We may stop in Louisiana on our way, but we have no reservations for Marde Gras and I understand it is at the end of January into the first week in February. We will have to avoid that. We hope to begin our eastward journey well into April which should make Utah and Colorado doable on our way east. This all remains to be seen. We have family concerns that will necessitate my flying back to Rochester a couple of times and may cause other unplanned diversions.

As we prepared to depart several concerns plagued me. The biggest was getting the water system back together and dewinterized in the expected deep freeze of Rochester. Another was my four new back tires. Finally, I had dragged the hitch pretty hard on the last stop of our summer run and I was worried about that. None of these caused a problem. I did find that the 12 volt power points by the driver were not working meaning I could not run the computer without running the generator while underway. The other was the entry door would not open easily from the outside. Since I found myself going in through the driver door to open the entry door for Carol a couple of times this was nasty. Fortunately a liberal does of silicone spray (not WD-40) freed up the catch and all is working there. Next, I pulled out the chassis builder’s operational manual for the fuse layout and wonder of wonders it pointed me to the exact fuse that might be causing the problem. As it was too cold to stand outside the driver door and lean in under the dash, I pretzeled myself around the drivers seat and located the fuse. I pulled it and upon examination I could see it was blown. I had a spare which I plugged in and it is working for now. I just bought 5 replacements for the mini 20 amp fuse, just in case. I had been carrying the one I had since our first trip in Goliath 7 years ago.

I have washed off the Northeast salt and road grime and other than a large drawer that has fallen off its slide everything is ready for us to move on when the time comes.

Our visit with the kids lasted until Thursday, the 10th when, as planned, we left for Florida by way of Raleigh. Before we could leave some more repairs became necessary. A drawer that carries considerable weight in food, batteries and other sundries decided that its track had been sufficiently abused by rough roads and it dropped a bunch of ball bearings and other parts in my lap as I tried to reseat it. I got it back together, sort of, and set out to find replacement parts which are now in storage awaiting a down day with mediocre weather or a total collapse of the existing track, whichever comes first. Having satisfied myself that I could accomplish no more in that arena, I set out to put the under sink drinking water filter back into service, the very last step in dewinterizing the water system. I no sooner hooked it up and turned it on than it sprayed water in my face. Further examination determined that the plastic shaft that passes through the counter has a small hole in it. No reasonable repair is likely, need to buy new, and of couse the only way to by new is a complete kit. It awaits installation.

As we set out from Dan’s we stopped at the bottom of his road to reconnect the car for towing. As I started to walk to the door to drive off I noticed that the rock guard which extends across the rear of the coach was not hanging right. Closer examination revealed that one of the two welds that it hangs from had broken. This approaches being a show stopper. I tied it up with bungy cords and said to Carol that surely we would find someone with a welding setup along the road who could fix it easily. 120 miles later just after a driver change I spotted Tony’s Painting and Body Shop just south of Tightsqueeze, in Chatham, VA on US 29. I pulled in and went in to see if Tony could help. Boy could he help! He pulled his welder out to the coach and stationed a helper to reset the breaker every time he tripped it while redoing the weld. 15 minutes later we were headed down the road and Tony, who has his own RV refused to accepted any payment for helping another RVer with a problem.

Thus we made it the Harv and Lisa Cohen’s in Raleigh where we parked on the street in front of their house as we had four or five years back. I had forgotten how steep the street is. The back of the coach was so low that water would not flow up hill from the rear bath to the holding tank. We also tripped the GFI in the garage during the night and woke up to battery power only. Not a real issue except when it comes to grinding the coffee beans. I fired up the generator for that chore as the inverter had also gone on strike. Not a good start to the day! We did have a wonderful visit and got to see their daughter Rebecca in her goalie array at practice and dinner at Sweet Tomato.

First thing in the morning we rolled out with Florida in our sights.