Saturday, May 13, 2017

Perfection

Sitting on the shore of Lake Lanier in northern Georgia, watching sailboats heel against the brisk warm, fifteen mile an hour winds as they tack across the largest man-made lake east of the Mississippi, I have a feeling that I’ve forgotten to unplug the coffee pot even though I know I double-checked it. 


We are shielded from the warm May sun by a strand of cedars as we comfortably lean back in our anti-gravity chairs, right at the waters edge. Our campsite is but a few mere feet from the seawall that is unfortunately even further from the edge of the lake than last year. 


There are sailboats of all shapes and sizes in front of us as the popular Lake Lanier Sailing Club is located on the peninsula directly beside our Old Federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground. High-speed catamarans zip quickly and quietly across the lake, while bigger, white-hulled cruisers with their mainsails and jibs in full bloom, heel heavily as they slowly but comfortably enjoy a beautiful spring afternoon. 

My wife does not feel the imperceptible imbalance in my harmonics, she’s absolutely content with our surroundings. To her, a yoga advocate and practitioner, this is Nirvana. All of her chakras are in perfect alignment. The weather couldn’t be better with a cloudless, blue sky. A great blue heron even lands a few feet from us at the water’s edge as if to say, “All’s well in paradise, relax and enjoy!”



It slowly dawns on me as I quietly watch the great blue heron; the wading bird is in absolutely no danger here. This is like Disney World, a man-made utopia for the masses with computer-controlled, carefully manipulated emotional stimuli. A perfect, almost idealistic, well controlled environment that has none of the concerns I have when I’m on the water at home. The only danger here is what boaters create for themselves, either through negligence or ignorance. 



We also have great blue herons at home on the Myakka River on Florida’s southwest coast. We also have wood storks and anhingas, porpoises and manatees, but we don’t have the pristine, blue water. We have brown, tannin-stained water that aids another stealthy local resident, an adversary that keeps my wife from swimming off the back of our pontoon boat. I’m not keen on getting into the opaque, root-beer colored water either, but when the occasion to push our boat out of an unexpected mud bank or sand bar arises and believe me it has, I have no choice. When I’m standing thigh deep in the murky river pushing the boat back into deeper water, one of my passengers will invariably ask if I’m afraid of alligators. They never volunteer to push the boat for me.


There is no threat here on Lake Lanier, no anxiety or apprehension. Nothing here that says to me to keep one eye open. So why do I find that unnatural? Beats me, but it does. I am absolutely positive I unplugged the coffee pot.





George

Friday, May 12, 2017

Comfort Camping

Comfort Camping



Comfort camping doesn’t necessarily mean “Glamping,” or Glamour Camping. It means total, almost meditative relaxation, where there are no worries or concerns, just the moment at hand. Whether you are in a tent with a sleeping bag, or in a hermetically sealed Class A motorcoach, it doesn’t matter. This is what RVing, or our version of camping is all about. A spot where you want to come back, just to enjoy the experience, and that is why we are once again at Old Federal Campground on Lake Lanier, Georgia.



Right now, we are at the height of comfort camping. It is 4:45 in the afternoon, less than an hour since we checked in. The temperature is 75 degrees, and the breeze off of Lake Lanier is a solid twelve to fifteen knots. There are no clouds to be seen in the flawless blue sky, and Bonnie Raitt is playing a duet with BB King on our camper stereo behind us.

There are no other campers sitting outside, just us in our inappropriately named anti-gravity chairs, drinking out of our opaque, blue plastic glasses. Alcohol is prohibited here in this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground. Campers even have to initial their parking pass to show they understand the alcohol restriction which is printed right on the front of the pass, the one you hang on your rearview mirror. I really don’t mind, even though I had my other hand behind my back with my fingers crossed when I initialed the pass. There are no drunken sailors here, so to speak, which is a blessing if you have ever spent any time at campgrounds more lenient about alcohol. Large family get-togethers on Saturday night or a bunch of young locals getting rowdy around the campfire after spending a day on the water can spoil your evening in a hurry.


Two of the campers here do seem to be very mellow, sitting in the beautiful afternoon sunshine sipping their drinks, probably a form of grape juice, watching the afternoon sun turn the whole lake into a shimmering, silver sheet that can’t be captured by camera. That would be us. Even Taz, our male golden retriever is content, laying on the pad as relaxed as he has been this whole trip.


Here’s the icing on an already delicious cake: With my priceless Golden Age Passport, the cost for me at this Federally run campground is twelve dollars a night, half of the regular price. One of the real last benefits available to the general public before Congress and the current administration figures out what it’s worth and turns the whole Federal program into a pleasure reserved for only the wealthy and the elite. Just like health care. 

The Federal life-time America the Beautiful Senior Pass for those over 62 years of age, which allows free entrance to National Parks and Monuments, just went from $10 to $80.

Time for more grape juice.


George



Sunday, May 7, 2017

More Suwannee River State Park



The blare of diesel train horns interrupt me as I write this. I haven’t even had breakfast yet. This is the sixth train to rumble past the campground since we’ve been here and I have to compare it to Blue Springs State Park near Deland. This one wins for noise, unfortunately, even though the Blue Springs campground is adjacent to the busy Amtrak AutoTrain route. We only had three trains during the night while there. I’m not trying to belittle either park, both of which we think are outstanding day parks, but as I write in the header to this blog: “If you are expecting sugar-coated, sponsored reviews, or cut-and-paste Chamber of Commerce pamphlets, you are on the wrong page!” It is what it is and I don't like the interruption of the trains. If they don't bother you, then you will really enjoy either campground. 

We take a quiet stroll around the park early Friday morning in the cool, damp 47 degree temperature. None of the campers seem to be active, only a few dog-walkers out who trade pleasantries as we meet. The RVers and campers here do not seem to be in a hurry to check out, so this is not just a quick stop on nearby I-75 or I-10 for most of them. Kayaks and canoes at most campsites seem to be the order of the day, fitting for the great ramp and easy access to the Suwannee River. The weather is chilly, but the sun comes out and the rain has long faded away. It promises to be a good day.

  
We leisurely disconnect the water and electrical power and empty our waste water at the site sewer. We only have another 270 miles or so to Athens, Georgia, and we don’t have to hurry, so we take our time getting ready. We are on our way by 9:00 am and immediately have a problem with our GPS directions. Our very first turn off of US Highway 90 – dictated by our friendly, but quite often wrong female voice from somewhere inside of Garmin’s magic box - is supposed to be onto Hamilton County Road 141, but as I turn onto the road which bends sharply to our right, I notice there is no County Road marker, just a worn local name sign. Just around the bend is a big wooden, weather worn barricade off to the side which warns: “Road Closed Ahead.” This is not the first time we’ve been led astray by modern technology, and we know experience is the best teacher. Go with what you can see and do and don’t make assumptions about what the GPS has programmed. we've sweated through those assumptions in the past and won't repeat them again.


We decide to stop right there and back out into the main highway rather than take a chance of getting stuck on a two-lane road towing our trailer with no way to turn around. Ilse takes one of our handy Motorola handheld radios and guides me back out onto Highway 90 during a lull in traffic, and we soon are back on Highway 90 headed for the next possible turn north.

It is a pleasant ride through the north Florida woods and farms and we soon head back toward Jasper, Florida, and find we aren’t really that far off our planned route. We pick up US 129 and drive north through peanut country and pecan orchards as if we owned the place. Traffic is so light we wonder if it is a holiday of some sort. The state and county roads here are great and well-maintained, both in Florida and Georgia. A really nice change from the hectic pace on the Interstate. Perfect for a trip through the real state of Georgia, something most motorists busy reading the garish highway signs on I-75 don’t know exists.


-Next - Comfort Camping at Old Federal
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2017/05/comfort-camping.html

George

Friday, May 5, 2017

Kick-Off 2017

Our first night camping of the 2017 season is our 459th night in a camper. Rank amateurs compared to some RVers we know, but since we’ve been at this for a little over seven years, we feel like we’ve earned our merit badge, so to speak. 

We pulled into the Suwannee River State Park in northern Florida in a driving rainstorm, wishing we could have some of this back home in Port Charlotte on Florida’s southwest coast. Wild-fires are currently rampant across the whole southern half of the state because of a severe drought. We don’t mind the rain, even as it pours through the car window as the Florida Ranger at the gate quickly passes us our tags and maps. We did not have to get out of the car to register, even though I had to pass the ranger my driver’s license to prove my age for the senior citizens discount. No problem. A  few minutes after pulling up to the window, we are on our way into the park.


This is our first time at this Florida State Heritage Site park, located near Live Oak, some 25 miles west or so of our usual first night campground at Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park at White Springs. Both are easy access to the I-10/I-75 intersection, but once again, our not-so trusty Garmin GPS, even with the most recent map updates, led us to a county road marked by a huge “Road Closed” sign, apparently in place since 2009. But, more on that later. 




We easily found our site on the only loop, and backed in to the unpaved site to wait out the rain. No reason to get wet doing do all the routine stuff like leveling the trailer and hooking up the power and water. 

It didn’t take long to set up as soon as it dried out, and we had a nice ravioli dish – thanks, Trader Joe’s – and soon walked Taz around the small but very pretty park for his evening walk. With only 30 RV sites – all with sewer hook up – and only five rental cabins, this is not a huge park. The facilities were fairly new and spotless, and the park offers great access to the Suwannee River itself. The hiking trails available range from short, ¾ mile trails to one over 12 miles in length. We make a note to revisit the park when we aren’t in transit and have time to explore.



Driving on I-75 towing the travel trailer is always taxing, between the constant semi-trucks and the unconscious multitudes holding cellphones on their steering wheels, so I hit the bed early and by ten o’clock I’m sound asleep. By 11:00 pm I’m wide awake. And again at 12:15 am, and again sometime after 2:00 am and again about 4:00 am, thanks to the CSX railroad, which runs its main east/west rail-line out of Jacksonville to Mobile between US Highway 90 and the border of the park. I had this naive belief about railroad horns and quiet times at night, but those rules obviously don’t apply here. A great day park, but night time sleeping requires closed doors and air-conditioning. Or a love for freights trains that give the land of the trembling earth a different meaning.


That old bridge? I'm sure it hasn't seen a train in years...  Wrong!!!


More Suwannee River State Park at

 http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2017/05/more-suwannee-river-state-park.html  

 George

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Glamping

We were introduced to the word “glamping” by Dieter and Siegried, a German couple we met at Bolding Mill Campground, near Gainesville, Georgia. We stopped by their campsite one evening to ask about their rental Class “C” camper. The RV they were setting up was splashed with the bold advertising for RV America, and we were curious as to their impressions of the experience. They were from Köln, Germany, not too far from Ilse’s hometown of Bitburg, and had rented their RV in South Carolina. They had toured the southern part of Georgia, and were eventually heading to Nashville. They were playing their vacation by ear, not making any reservations, simply looking at a map and deciding where to go next. They were staying at Bolding Mill only overnight.

We discussed many things about the differences between camping in Germany and here, and as we were chatting in the fading evening light, a huge fifth wheel trailer at least 38 foot long pulled noisily into the camping loop. I asked if there were any fifth wheel type campers in Germany, with fire places and retractable televisions. Dieter smiled and said, “No, nothing like that big camper. For us, that is “glamping.”

“Glamping?”

“Yes, you know, glamor camping.”

OK, now we know. A new definition for the big fifth wheels and the incredible Class “A” motor homes we’ve seen. Glampers.

Our friends Richard and Arlene, who introduced us to RVing, have a theory about the size of camping trailers and motor coaches: the older the camper, the bigger the unit. Richard may have a point. It seems younger, less affluent campers are tent campers or small pop-up trailer campers. As they age and acquire wealth, they move up to bigger units, until they finally retire and can afford the biggest units available. By then they need room for the grand-kids, but they are also too old, or spoiled, to crank jack handles or awning cranks. They love the power slide outs and automatic levelers, retractable TVs and fireplaces that flicker on an LCD screen. From campers to glampers, the progression seems to be natural.

The Europeans have their own version of glamping, but the massive RVs and the inversely proportional size of their dogs appears to be an American phenomenon.


Camping and Glamping























NEXT - Another season! Kick 2017 at
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2017/05/kick-off-2017.html 


George



Monday, January 23, 2017

Where Do You Go From Here?


If you’re planning on staying at any of the popular state or Federal campgrounds up north this summer – meaning not in Florida – make your reservations now. Yes, I know it’s January. Most campgrounds north of Georgia – and many in Georgia – are closed during the winter while most Florida campsites are packed to the absolute limits, at least until the Easter holiday. Many campers head north after Easter, vacating the Sunshine State and filling every available north-bound slot you wanted to stay at north of the I-10 corridor. Now is the time to get serious about your summer plans up north.

Seriously, if you have your eye on a specific campground our campsite for August, make your reservations now! Many campsites have reservation “windows,” which means you can only make reservation within a given amount of time prior to your planned stay, such as 90 or 120 days in advance, or conversely, past a certain cut-off date. Remember, at most if not all Federal or state campgrounds, two weeks is the most you can stay in any given four week period. Having your wife reserve the next window may not work as the rules stipulate “per family.”

Believe me, if you are trying to pick one of the desirable sites, such as those at Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania, or one of the popular campgrounds on Lake Lanier in Georgia, be prepared for fierce competition. If you get in to Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida keys, there’s a good chance you made reservations as soon as the window opened. You will, of course, find gaps of availability for many of the available sites, depending on the popularity of the campsites, but I can guarantee you every  weekend is booked solid. The popular sites will be snatched up as soon as the reservation window opens and I assure you they will all be booked for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day before I finish writing this blog.


Several things we’ve found and base our plans on:

  • Weekend dates are all taken by locals, sometimes as early as Thursday when they park their RV units in their desired sites ahead of time. They check out as late as possible on Sunday.
  • Three day holidays are also taken by locals who tend to to arrive in large tribes. They usually reserve contiguous or adjacent sites in blocks to facilitate parking/walking/eating/drinking.
Most Mondays through Thursday seem to be available at most sites, but some campgrounds are already booked solid until after Labor Day.  Try and get into Old Federal Campground and let me know how that works out. We have friends who stay up until midnight on the first days reservations open on the sites they want just to insure they are first in line. Even then, they occasionally aren’t fast enough. Let me ‘esplain why.

Our travel trailer is five years old, yet it was among the oldest trailers we saw the entire two months we traveled this past summer. We were the “old-timers” everywhere we went, and not just because of our age. The explosion of recreational vehicles is far greater than anything we could have possibly predicted. The current popularity in RVing is astounding, and as a result, there simply aren’t enough campsites to fit everyone in all at once.

For Federally run campgrounds, such as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), go to https://www.recreation.gov/, to research locations and make reservations. First, create an account – there’s no charge – and bookmark the page. Trust me, you will use it often. You can research locations, and specific camp pads or sites within a campground.
Click on the page, then:
  1. Click Find Places & Activities from tabs at top of screen
  2. Click Sign In or Sign Up to log in to your account or create a new one
  3. Use search box to find perfect campground, facility, park, forest or tour by searching by city, state, zip code or name of facility
  4. Use filters on left to refine search, such as by category or by availability
  5. Click See Details when you've found the perfect site
  6. Select dates of stay by using the Availability view
  7. Click Book these Dates
For state parks or state run campgrounds, click on https://www.reserveamerica.com/. The websites may look similar – they are designed and run by the same company – but they do not interact with each other and they do not share information. The rules and procedures, however, are the same.

There are many RV and camping associations with reservation and booking assistance, one of the most popular is http://www.goodsamclub.com/. Their camp-guide book looks like a New York telephone book.

Grab your calendar and your road maps and start drawing in your trip. Now is the time to get started.

George


NEXT - Extremes in camping - Camping or Glamping?

http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2017/05/glamping.html




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Travelers or Campers?

Being a curious person who occasionally finds answers to questions I didn’t know I was asking, I came across the odd fact we’ve towed our twenty-one foot travel trailer over 21,357 miles in just a little over five years. Add that to the 5300 miles we towed our first trailer, a thirteen foot Cikira, and you find that nobody cares but me, and perhaps a few polite friends who suddenly remember they left the kettle on.

Our first camper: Sleeps Two,  a 13 foot Cikira
So, how do I write a blog that tells the truth about towing an RV trailer and not bore the reader who really, really wants to take the leap into RVing but still has trepidation about taking the financial and, yes, social burden of being unhinged, er, uh, unanchored. Maybe unfettered. No, on second thought, RVers are still fettered, just to a different anchor. Well, let’s say a different attitude. One that is hard to explain to anyone who thinks towing a trailer around the country is folly. Now, there’s a really appropriate, underused word. And, yes, it is a leap. A rather large leap for most people. For example, where do you park or store your expensive alternative universe when it’s not in use? We are fortunate to live in a county that allows us to park one RV/trailer adjacent to our domicile if certain requirements are met, and most people who visit us have no idea we have our trailer tucked away a few feet from the house. Most people must pay for storage of their RV when it’s not on the road.

Having a trailer instead of a self-contained motor home means I don’t have to insure it or register it as a motor vehicle, only as a trailer. But, let’s back up. Why are you towing a trailer or driving a motor home in the first place? Are you a traveler or a camper? Yes, there is a difference. Travelers rarely stay in any campground more than a day or two, usually as a respite from their journey from one place to another. Campers, on the other hand, travel to get to the location they want to spend time at, and once they’re there, their stay is usually as long as possible. 

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of being campers who travel or travelers who camp. There are those extremists so enamored with the thought of real estate freedom that they actually forsake a permanent residence altogether just to be “free.” Selling a house, which normally is an appreciating asset, for an RV, which is a depreciating asset, is a financial decision that takes far more than just a belief you’ll one day win the lottery or a rich relative will someday send you a check to make up for your financial loss. Those who sell everything to shed the shackles of noblesse oblige may be placing themselves at the mercy of trailer assemblers somewhere in Indiana who really don’t care who buys their efficiently assembled masterpieces. 

Worse yet are the self-contained RVs such as the Class A and popular Class C’s sitting in repair shops with blown transmissions, overheated engines, or dented front ends. So much for your pop-up fire place if you can’t get to it. Don’t forget to add hotel rooms to your emergency expenditures budget.

Do you like having your mail picked up by a neighbor? Do you care if they forget to tell you there is a jury duty summons that came three months ago? Then traveling from campground to campground may be for you, hooking and unhooking water hoses and power cords, raising and lowering jacks and pads, emptying black and gray water holding tanks, and trying to remember if the reservation for your next campsite starts on Sunday or Monday.

When, you ask, does the good part start? It starts even before you pick up your first trailer. The anticipation of what is ahead of you will cause wild dreams and childish glee. Your first night in the Smoky Mountains with a campfire with only you and yours is something you won’t forget, and probably very close to what you envisioned. Kayaking in the streams and lakes of Georgia with no one else in sight ranks right up there. As the reality of those dreams come true, the joys of traveling in an RV come to fruition. There is no other way to vacation or travel that comes close. It is also the only way to take your pets with you, and most RVers we've met have either have their dogs or cats with them. Ours go with us every trip.

Privacy to us is paramount, and we shy away from commercial campgrounds that find space utilization is more important than solitude. Sardines in a can have more space between them than given to most commercial campsites. We have slept only three nights in commercial, private campgrounds of the 448 nights we’ve camped, and then only because we had no close-by alternatives. All the other locations were lakeside at U.S. Army Corps of Engineer campsites, or at state parks from Florida to New York, or U.S. Forestry campgrounds in the Appalachian mountains. Or in our daughter’s driveway, although we now have a perfect designated camp site adjacent to the house. 

We certainly have our favorite campgrounds and there are several we’ve visited many times. There are several we won’t return to as well, but the adventure of going in the first place has always been worth the trip. We have grown to our trailer size limit. People have told us every camper you buy will be bigger and better than the one you owned before, but we maxed out on our second unit. The thirteen footer we started with was just big enough to get us hooked on camping, but having to convert our dining area to a bed every night convinced us to go bigger. Twenty-one feet has proven to be our size. We have looked at longer units, and those with slide outs that increase width instead of length, but none offer benefits to offset the cost of replacing our current unit.

We upgraded from our first tow vehicle, a V-6 GMC Jimmy with a tow package, to a V-8 Toyota Sequoia, also with a factory tow package, so we could handle the extra weight of the bigger unit. Gas mileage remains the same, with an average of about 9 miles to a gallon. We get from 10 to 11 miles a gallon under good conditions, and around 7 miles a gallon in Florida on flat roads, always doing less than the 65 mile per hour speed limit. I’m convinced the ethanol added to Florida gas kills my mileage as it always increases as soon as I get to Georgia and North Carolina. It is a paradox my mileage goes up when I get to the mountains.


We don’t want a bigger trailer because we don’t need a bigger trailer. Many state parks have size limits, usually 24 or 26 feet, something we don’t have to worry about, and it is far easier to tow a small trailer through a crowded gas station. We’ve learned the limits of using our gray and black water tanks, and have learned how to extend our setup to over two weeks without unhooking and heading for a dump station. Those secrets will not be shared here. Let’s say utilization of available facilities becomes paramount.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the experience here, and if you’re interested, I’ll post the next installment of the narrative for the benefit of all. Well, for the benefit of those interested in watching a black bear drop out of a nearby pear tree, or having to coast in a kayak while a twelve foot alligator swims lazily across your bow. How about waking up to a fog covered Florida prairie being watched by a Black Crested Caraca? 

It isn’t for everybody, but it is for us.

George


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Old Federal Campground

We had a teasing first view of Old Federal Campground in April when we saw RVs camped on a peninsula jutting into Lake Lanier while ...