Monday, October 26, 2020

Breaking camp


As we unplugged and disconnected, cranked up and packed up, cleaned and stored our dishes preparing to leave our campsite in Silver Springs, I took stock of the items I needed to fix when we got home. I had already watched the videos about replacing the ruptured propane gas line and fixing the leaking water supply to the toilet. No big issues, the parts would be ready when we got there. Just things I would rather not do here.

I had to laugh as I tried to disconnect the external television coaxial cable connector on the rear of our trailer. It simply spun in my hand instead of disconnecting from the trailer. Aah, I thought, another test! How many more tests can I stand on this trip? The threat of rain had prompted our decision to leave early and of course it rained just before I put away the awning with its brand new pull-strap, which, by-the-way, was a one-minute fix.

We hoped to hike or bicycle several really nice trails the last day, but the weather forecast caused us to cut our stay short. We decided to slowly, comfortably head for home. Besides, the refrigerator light blew out as well.

Our evenings were probably the most telling about what we missed from our previous trips, even though we decided to keep the camper for another year, or at least until after the resolution of our COVID virus pandemic. But we still aren’t sure if we want to haul it across country for another three month sojourn.

We love the freedom of simply hooking up the trailer and taking our hotel room with us, but we don’t like being disconnected from the Internet for more than a couple of days. Don’t laugh. We have spent more time in Walmart stores from Blairsville, Georgia, to Painted Post, New York, looking for a WiFi signal than we care to admit. We’ve parked in McDonald’s parking lots all across Virginia, and local libraries throughout Pennsylvania to stay connected. Through the development of America’s Internet grid, we’ve owned two separate, independent, erratic, handheld hot-spots to keep us connected. Now that the hot-spot feature is built into our cell-phones, all we have to do is decide how much we are willing to pay for access to our sanity.

We don’t rely on local television and radio stations. We heard a young, enthusiastic weather forecaster in Asheville tell us not to worry about sun protection because it was going to be cloudy and yet another station fail to warn us we were about to have severe weather. Luckily our camping neighbors had a weather app on their smartphone that told everyone to take shelter.

We don’t often stream movies or shows on the road, but we like immediate access to the ‘Net when we want to satisfy our curiosities. We download books and articles, and I can research a subject for writing for hours. And of course, we constantly monitor our new household camera security system. That turned out to be the biggest data-hog we’ve ever encountered in the years we’ve been using the Internet.

Another reason we are not spending another night is because we blew up our data plan. Verizon has us on half-speed because we went over our data limit and staring at my phone waiting for the little wheel symbol to finally stop spinning is a maddening waste of time! I can’t even check our home security cameras. We obviously are out of practice allocating our Internet resources and need to rethink our data budget. There isn’t anything in the trailer or on our Kindles we haven’t already read. Broadcast radio is a wasteland and television isn’t much better. I am not hauling a trailer around the country to watch Frazier reruns.

There are no safety issues to keep us from enjoying our camper. I really don’t want to spend time shopping for parts and repairing things while I’m on the road unless I have to. Everything can be fixed in due time, even the lack of Internet. 

We’ll fix it after we get home.

And after I fix everything else…

Friday, October 23, 2020

The State of Florida


RVs and trailers were backed up on the entrance road waiting to register as we pulled into Silver Springs State Park Campground this past Sunday afternoon. The earliest check-in time for Florida campgrounds is 3 o’clock in the afternoon, which compresses the check-in window considerably, but check-in went quickly with a mask-wearing ranger checking with drivers as we approached the gate. We were on our way to our spotlessly clean campsite in less than ten minutes.

Site 37, Silver Springs State Park 

Our campsite is wide with a picnic table, a fire pit and barbecue and plenty of privacy as the sites are spread apart with at least fifty feet of woods separating the sites. Several of the campsites have full sewer hookups, but ours has only water and electricity. I have no doubt commercial camp sites would jam three more units into the space between campsites. Another reason to love Florida State Parks! Silver Springs now competes in our book with Anastasia in St Augustine. This is our 41st time at a Florida State Park Campground, even though I admit we have several repeat stays at our favorites.

The campground facilities are spotless and modern. The campground is almost full but you would never know. It is quiet and we are stunned by the darkness of the first night. If you’ve been camping in an RV in the last several years you know there has been an explosion of gimmicky RV and trailer lighting options guaranteed to keep anyone within 200 feet or so awake all night. Most campgrounds at night now look like UFO landing zones. We think these people are obviously afraid of the dark, but thankfully they aren’t here! At least not this week. All three loops are dark by nine pm with only a few porch lights glowing in the woods. Within a few minutes, the whole campground is dark.

We spent the first day scouring the area for replacement RV parts so we really didn’t start the vacation until the second morning which broke with a high, overcast cloud covering. By 9 am we were on our way to the main park to rent kayaks as we hadn’t brought ours with us. The main spring head and the campground are a few miles apart on State Road 35 and all a camper needs is the access tag given to each camper as an entry pass to the main park.

As we pulled into the iconic Silver Springs State Park parking lot, I was unexpectedly overcome with disappointment. What happened to our showcase? The once pristine, shining beacon of Florida’s unique beauty, once the hallmark of our tourist industry, looks like an abandoned Stuckeys roadside pecan stand. While not yet completely fallen into disrepair, the entrance to the once famous Florida landmark appears only a few steps away from being trash.

The driveway into the park from Highway 40 looks like a sub-standard, pot-holed road from up north somewhere and the parking lot itself looks like a paved-over oil field. As you look around to see where to park, it appears the buildings to the entrance haven’t been cleaned or painted in years. The roofs of the entrance buildings look like an abandoned Pecan stand except they are gray. Well, grayish. I think that is the color under the mold and dirt. 

The first impression is unfortunately the one that always comes back when you reminisce about a location, and right now, this isn’t the image Florida needs. While the appearance of the park when you arrive doesn’t reflect the interior of the park, especially the garden paths and the rebuilt elevated Ross Allen Island Walk, I was still disappointed with my first impression. The recent COVID pandemic has nothing to do with what I saw pulling into the parking lot. It is a fiscal attitude prevalent in Florida for the last several years that I don’t care for.

We walked in after showing our campground pass and were saddened to see the heart of the attraction is indeed closed because of the virus. That didn’t prepare us for the lack of masks as most visitors we met acted as if everything was normal. The entire park is in dire need of not only money, but attention from more than just volunteers. Financial times not withstanding due to the 9-month COVID shut-down, Silver Spring’s problems are far older and deeper than our current pandemic. Only a few of the workers at the kayak rental wore masks.

We came back two days later to walk the garden paths and were pleased to find volunteers are indeed the heart of the park. We met several who acted as information centers and guides through the well-kept paths and interior of the park. The inside gardens and grounds are as well-kept as ever, but again, the glass bottom boats look like they were brought up second hand from the jungles of Central America.

We decided to arrive early and rent a canoe instead of kayaks to paddle the beautiful river. My wife and I filled out the forms, paid our $30 for two hours use of an old Old Town fiberglass canoe, and after surrendering my car keys as collateral, shoved off in a rental canoe that wanted to go anywhere but where we wanted it to go. I had forgotten why we switched to kayaks, but it came rushing back to me after only a few strokes. Next time, our Pungo kayaks will come with us. So will hand sanitizer as there was none to be found at the rental concession.

We glided along, watching the mullet and shad, turtles and two small alligators which were impervious to the incessant highway noise from State Road 40 just beyond the border of the park. The river is as beautiful as always, but I could not help but think David Attenborough is right about planet earth cleaning itself after we have inadvertently removed all human life from the planet. The beauty of the river rises above our callous human ignorance. The anhingas and ospreys still hunt the ever swirling, constantly flowing, crystal clear water.

Those of us who occasionally turn off the television and tepidly see if old, natural Florida still exists, are both happy and sad. I’m happy the pristine water still flows. I’m sad the State of Florida has lost interest. Oh, there are those who do care, and you can thank them for what little we have left. The interior of the park and grounds are still lovingly cared for, mainly due to the effort of volunteers and friends of the park.

I first boated on the Silver River with my mom and dad in 1956 when I was thirteen years old. We came up from the Oklawaha River, and I’ll always remember the drastic change of water color as we entered the Silver River. In those days, my family was thrilled watching for large-mouth Black Bass. We were told of the Rhesus monkeys left to roam the river banks after they were released during filming of Tarzan movies back in the 1930’s, but we we never saw the elusive monkeys.

The Silver River is still as crystal clear as ever, it is everything else that has changed. My daughter will never experience what I experienced in Silver Springs only one short lifetime ago. Our granddaughter may be so removed from my experience then she will wonder what I am talking about.

We didn’t see the monkeys this time either, although one of the Florida Rangers told us the monkeys had been spotted a few minutes before we arrived. They did, however, leave their scat along the handrail in the beautifully rebuilt Ross Allen Island Elevated Trail for all to see. We apparently missed them by only several minutes. A symbol of our environmental ignorance that have become a financially acceptable tourist attraction, at least the monkeys have enough sense to avoid tourists who aren’t wearing face masks.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Silver Springs State Park - COVID 19 - 2020

“What would my love want for her birthday?” I asked, hoping the answer was something we could afford. A trip to Germany was out of the question. We just received our refund from EuroWings for our canceled flight back in June. Besides, the German government won’t let us in right now anyway as Americans have too high an infection rate. Thank COVID-19 for a memorable 2020 and our government for our horrible reaction to the world-wide pandemic.

Ilse didn’t hesitate. “Let’s take the trailer and go camping! Someplace in Florida we haven't been before, and go for at least a week!”

Our only sojourn since Hurricane Florence way back in September of 2018 had been a meager three-day trip in April of 2019 to the nearby, semi-desolate Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, for which I have a fond affection and Ilse a strong revulsion. Just as we began planning 2020, along came COVID. RVing and camping became just as much a distant dream as international air travel. The trailer fell from grace, ignored except to be moved once as falling tree branches threatened her as she sat immobile, socially abandoned under a tall pine tree. We simply could not get enthused about hauling the trailer and setting up in a campground. Besides, daily life was getting in the way.

Even starting our search for reservations three months early, five consecutive days was as good as we could get. The only spot open over her birthday was in Silver Springs State Park near Ocala. We’ve never been there, but the park has always been high on our list of parks to be visited. Of the three sites open at Silver Springs State Park Campground, one campsite was reserved and removed from the list while we were discussing alternatives. We grabbed the better looking of the two remaining sites and began planning our first outing in over eighteen months. It was high time to dust the cobwebs off our ten-year old travel trailer. With only 29,000 miles on it, it was once again tugging at our wanderlust.

Unfortunately, our imaginations had been tempered considerably after being caught in northern Georgia during Hurricane Florence. We learned quickly an RV is not what you need against any winds even close to hurricane force in strength. Sitting in a campground bath-house designated as a storm shelter is no assurance of safety. We returned home from that trip filled with not only apprehension but also an aversion to being caught helpless once again.  

Our twenty-one foot KZ trailer received only minimal maintenance attention and only the short side trip to Kissimmee while it sat in our adjacent lot, waiting to be hauled off to the remote corners of our imaginations while Ilse and I contemplated what we really wanted to do.

But it was time. Let’s crank this up and make a decision: Keep the trailer or sell it?

The decision wasn’t going to be easy. We lost our faithful travel companion, seventeen year-old Golden Retriever, Taz, in June. Taz traveled with us since 2005, and in every RV trip but one. This would be our first extended trip without a pet. I began getting the Toyota Sequoia tow truck ready, and with four days to spare, began cleaning and preparing the trailer.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Let’s start with the tongue jack. That’s the trailer jack in the front of the trailer that raises and lowers the front of the trailer so you can back your tow truck hitch under the hitch. Everyone who uses an electric jack knows they work intermittently. And therein starts my tale.

After eighteen months of inactivity, my trailer jack was dead. I’ll forego the hours trouble shooting and fuse cleaning and explain I simply bought a new, better trailer jack. After installing the new jack, I found the new jack did not have enough clearance to open the lift-gate once the trailer was hooked to the hitch. I remounted the jack, turning it so I could get my hands inside the Sequoia. I found out an hour after bolting it in place the huge, white plastic propane tank cover no longer fit over the propane tanks because the new jack was in the way. Undeterred, I loosened the jack, slid the propane tank cover into place and remounted the jack. I went inside the trailer to bleed the air out of the propane lines and test both the refrigerator and the gas stove. Everything worked fine. I stepped outside the trailer just as Ilse came from the house.

Blang! I looked at Ilse. “Did something just fall off the trailer?”

No,” she said. “It sounded like an explosion under the tank cover, and I smell smoke!”

Hmmn, that’s propane gas.” I answered as I raised the small access panel on top of the white, plastic propane tank cover and realized I was staring at a blown-out LP gas hose. I quickly shut off the tank valve. Shall I skip ahead here or are you masochistic enough to read this? Elmore Leonard says to always skip the parts nobody reads, but I’m going to put this in here come hell or high water. Yes, I’m an idiom freak. I suffered this nonsense and if you are an RV owner, you are probably just as addicted to this nonsense as I am.

Skip ahead several odd time elements. Not days, maybe lifetimes, maybe only hours, or perhaps just an illusion even though my T-shirt is wet with sweat.

We are currently sitting in the quiet, well-spaced campground in Silver Springs State Park. It is raining. We don’t care. We are sitting under the old, weather-worn awning in our lounge chairs watching the drizzle while the humidity is, believe it or not, lower than we’ve seen since the last Ice Age. We are comfortable. Go figure.

Out of boredom, I start counting my recent receipts. Since we started this journey less than twenty-four hours ago, I have: A: - Replaced a broken plastic screen door latch which broke at home as we were loading; B: - Replaced the long, black fabric awning strap that pulled apart in my hand as I opened the awning for the first time in eighteen months; C: - Temporarily remounted the plastic door over the exhaust vent cover back into place after it fell on the ground, I latched it back in place, and D: - Figured out how to bypass the ruptured gas line.

As we ate our first breakfast the next morning in our quiet campground, basically all of yesterday’s problems either solved or harmlessly deferred, we watched in amazement as water slowly ran out from under the bathroom door, meandering aimlessly across our newly scrubbed kitchen floor.

For those who have never had a spongy floor, there is no terror in an RV’ers heart as a wet floor. It is the coup d’grace for any RV. If unchecked, a wet floor creates a terminal condition. This is the voice of experience. For those who wonder what I’m talking about, the link is at:

It took more than a few minutes to isolate the source of water, but after I realized it was coming from the water supply connection at the top of the toilet, which of course is totally inaccessible to mortal humans, I decided then and there to sell the trailer. If I had the title with me I would have sold the trailer to the nearest salvage yard. But, reality bops you upside the head sometimes before your reactions overcome your intelligence and we decided to simply take the easiest course of action and enjoy our remaining four days in the campground. We wrapped a towel around the leaking water supply line to the back of the toilet flush valve in the bathroom and turned off the water pump so there would be minimal pressure on the water supply. Of course we had to spend most of the first day driving between RV repair shops to find the correct parts for the ten year old toilet.

Shall we paddle the pristine Silver River tomorrow, or drive to the dump station, empty my black water-tank and pull off my toilet to replace the defective water valve without driving us and our neighbors to buy gas masks?

No problems with priorities here. We decided to shut off the water pump until we need it, and simply absorb the controllable leak until we get home. We ended up at Camping World down by the Villages and bought the replacement valve so I can fix it at my convenience, and two little brass adapters to fit the new size propane pigtails I bought from Amazon to fix the original gas leak problem. We are using the remaining one good gas connector tube – after a soap bubble test for leaks – and decided we can find outdoor restaurants if we need to.

I missed camping. I missed the predicaments that every other camper faced two years ago but you don’t know about because you have used up your data on your cellphone plan an hour ago. Really, I missed camping. Really… Well, OK, not so much… But, yeah, well, maybe...

The vacation starts now…

Monday, April 22, 2019

Plan B

It has been exactly a year since we last used our travel trailer, and we have a dilemma: Do we really want to keep the camper or is it time to sell it and find a different way to spend our summers? We reserved four days at Highland Hammocks State Park, near Sebring, Florida, for the Easter weekend to help us make a decision.

It has been ten years since we last camped at Highland Hammocks, only our second campground when we first started RV camping. We have fond memories of the heavily wooded sites and the friends we camped with back in the beginning of our decade-long adventure. Our first hint things have changed came when we tried to make our on-line reservations and found that even though our desired dates – Easter Weekend – were over two months away, there were only several sites left in the entire campground. The new on-line maps are no longer even close to accurate as far as layout is concerned, looking more like modern art than a real map, and we found ourselves far from satisfied with the new online information. We picked site 12, which appeared to be not far from our first site we really liked all those years before, According to the new map, it also appeared to be fairly private.

Watering hole in the dry season - Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

All we had to do was prepare the trailer for the short 90 mile trip. We decided to pack lightly as nearby Sebring now has all the amenities and stores we would need. Picking Sebring was a chance to spend time sightseeing the area, something we hadn’t done in a while, plus visit with friends who decided to drive up from Miami for a day trip. We would have several restaurants to choose from nearby as the camper gets smaller and smaller as time goes by.

After cleaning and packing, checking tires and brakes, and checking the Toyota Sequoia tow SUV as well, and spending only a day to load the trailer, we were ready to roll. After a pleasant drive through southwest Florida, we pulled into the campground a little before four in the afternoon.

Ranger Laura was friendly and efficient and we were soon on our way from the campground office to our site, which to our dismay, we could not find. We sat looking at the campground map, then looking around the campground as we sat blocking the access road. Site 10 was to our left, and beyond that the next visible marker was site 13. Site 12 had to be somewhere in between the two, but the only markers were the site numbers painted on top of several picnic tables placed close together. A paved walkway to the campground toilet ran alongside the area we assumed to be our site, but not until we tried to back in did we realize we couldn’t even put out our awning without blocking the foot path. It was such a convoluted layout we blocked sites 12, 13 and the footpath simultaneously when I backed into the space crookedly! Back to the park office!

Ranger Laura did her best to find a site available for the next four days to no avail. She called to have a ranger move the picnic table for us, but that wouldn’t have solved our problem. Not only would I not pay $55 dollars to stay there, I would have paid $55 dollars to not stay there.

In the end we did a void and I called our old standby park, still one of my favorites, at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, about forty miles on the other side of Sebring. Only die hard campers or nature lovers stay at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park more than once, but we have a strange affinity for the desolate place and after a quick phone call to the camp office there, we were on our way.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

The ranger I talked to on the phone said the park office would be closed by the time we arrived, so just park in the walk-up site – which is not on the reservation system web site – tell the campground host we’re there and just check in with them to pay in the morning.

We soon roll across US 27 and I decide not to fill-up the gas tank because of the crowds waiting for gas. Towing a trailer through a gas station can be demanding enough without impatient drivers who can’t maneuver past you. I decide there must be more, less crowded, fuel stations on US 98. Wrong assumption. The old general store gas station just outside the park is covered in iron bars and cobwebs. OK, Google, where is the next gas station?

“Continue nine miles to US 441 and turn right,” says the generic, female voice from the electronic device made up of silicone, plastic, and minimal amounts of precious minerals. No choice now, I’m showing less than a quarter tank of gas and the park is still fifteen miles away, one way in, one way out. Towing a trailer rarely gets you over nine or ten miles to the gallon, so experience counts here; go get gas. We pass mile after mile of cabbage fields, one eye on the gas tank and the other on the flatbed trucks filled with boxes of cabbage. To make us feel really at home, we are swarmed with Florida’s famed pest, the love bug, as soon as we turn onto US 441.

We pull into the Metro Fuel Center on US 441 just north of the town of Okeechobee amid pickup trucks towing trailers with air-boats and old Mercury's with no rear windows. After filling the gas tank, we decide to head into town to buy the groceries we planned on buying in Sebring. We call the campground office to get the after-hours access code which I forgot to ask for, but they had already left for the day. All we had to do as get there before the Rangers lock the front gate, which they do religiously at eight PM. If you don’t have the after-hours access code, you aren’t getting in until the park opens in the morning. With our cabinets full, we head toward the campground. We make it with an hour to spare.

As we head up the seven mile, dusty, swirling dirt road, we feel a sense of ease and familiarity. We stop at the camp-host, who politely informs us she won’t be on duty until tomorrow. No problem, we back into our site, just glad to be there. The ever present crows welcome us back. A Florida State Park golf cart driven by a campground volunteer – we know because her over-sized, black ball cap says so - slowly drives through the moss draped hammock, stopping as we wave to get her attention. MJ welcomes us and laughs as she fills out a windshield pass for our site.

"You can stay two weeks at this site and nobody can make you move,” she said as she looks through her massive metal clip-board, filling out little papers and cards.

She didn’t take my name even though I showed her my Florida driver’s license, so I wonder if I could eventually just wander off and no one would notice. I know better in other parks as they write down your license plate number just in case a camper gets “forgetful.” We look around our almost private site, bounded by massive Live Oaks, draped with Spanish moss, and think, nope, no reason to move.

We have dinner – lasagna instead of the traditional spaghetti – and as soon as it is dark, walk under the moss-draped oaks to the edge of the prairie, which we discover with a flash photograph, is filled with grazing deer. Tomorrow night is supposed to be a “Pink” full moon and we can hardly wait. I bet the campers at Highland Hammocks will have to elbow their way to a viewing spot.

Our decision whether to keep our camper or not is unexpectedly complicated by the weather. We wake up Friday morning to blustery winds, reminiscent of our first visit here when our camper was brand new exactly eight years ago. It was my first blog about the trailer, and last night was our 470th night sleeping in it. Yes, I’m either detail oriented or just plain anal, but I have all the financial details since I spent my first penny on camping. Another part of the decision making process.

Ilse meets the camp host while walking Taz, and is informed our area is under a tornado watch. The host appears quite worried. The last place you want to be during a tornado watch is a Recreational Vehicle of any type, I don’t care where you are. She tells us if the winds pick up, everyone should go to the campground toilets as they are safe. Pets are welcome as well. We walk over to the park office to find a sign on the door announcing it’s closed due to an emergency. We’ll try again tomorrow, I don’t think there will be any problems with registration or paying, perhaps just the weather.

The irony of our stay here at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is our favorite site, site 20, was devastated two years ago by a tornado. Site 20 and the adjacent site, one hosting a Class C self contained unit and the other a fifth-wheel trailer, were ravaged, tossing the campers around like toys. No one was killed, but one of the women suffered severe back injuries. The only reason we weren’t there at that time was the site was reserved before we could get it. We have wondered about our timing ever since.

The rains begin and I scramble to unhook the Toyota so we can have an escape vehicle the way we did in Georgia when Hurricane Irma tore up our campground north of Lake Lanier near Gainesville. No sooner am I done unhooking the truck from the camper than the rains temporarily subside. I finish putting away chairs, mats, and close the camper door just as the rains start again. Ilse gives our sixteen year old Golden Retriever, Taz, a natural tranquilizer and he promptly lays down to watch the show. So far, it has been quiet here, most of the storm has passed to the north of us. We’re not out of this yet, however, as the latest forecast now says the squall line will pass over us in about three hours. More fun while we wait. We slip a DVD from our local library into the player and pass the time watching a movie we realize we’ve already seen. No matter, we watch it again.

By 5 o’clock it is dark enough outside to turn on the camper lights. The wind has been gusting on and off as two campers across from us arrived and erected two huge tents! They haven’t been watching either of the Ft Myers and West Palm Beach television stations we get, if they had, I doubt they would be setting up tents. Thunder in the distance stirs Taz – no amount of tranquilizers will ever stop that – and the rain begins to slam against the trailer. The temperature drops drastically as the squall line approaches. It rains hard for less than twenty minutes and we have a close-by thunderclap

Gradually the storm passes and we’re left with puddles in the access road but no damage, not even palm fronds laying about. The thunder clap was a singular anomaly, just a reminder of how bad it could be. The winds die down and the clouds begin to break, but not enough to see tonight’s full pink moon. By nightfall, almost every campsite is full as campers arrive for the Easter weekend. There are several campfires burning and everything is quiet in the shire. Tomorrow will be beautifully sunny and quite comfortable as the last cold front of the season is upon us.

Saturday morning breaks with a cloudless sky and 60 degree temperatures. A beautiful day in a park that seems to be on the edge of the universe. Of course it isn’t all that remote – the campers next to us loaded up and drove to town for breakfast – but most of us are content to take in the experience leisurely and enjoy the crows who scold everybody for not leaving enough food on the picnic tables.

I head over to the park office – it was closed yesterday for a family emergency – to pay my fees and see what has been added to the retail offerings of T-shirts and hats. There is an intense conversation going on between the ranger on duty and a couple of visitors when I arrived at the park office. Ranger Frank is furiously thumbing through bird identification books trying to help a lady identify a bird she just saw. He looks up and says, “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“No problem,” I answer as MJ walks around the corner, her baseball cap pulled down, her short grey hair sticking out from the bottom of her cap. We catch up on yesterday’s non-event just as Ranger Frank decides he’s exhausted his incredible knowledge of ornithology without resolving the sighting mystery and decides to move on, so to speak.

After a few moments of keying and paging through computer screens, we are set for our four day stay. It turns out to be over twenty dollars cheaper than Highland Hammocks, so I have absolutely no problem! Out of idle curiosity, I ask MJ where the closest gas station is. She says “Oh, France’s place, just outside the main gate, on the road back to US 98.”

“Do you mean the place that looks like it’s abandoned?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s being rebuilt or modernized or something, but the gas pump and the diesel pump both work fine. I was just there a couple of days ago.”

“Modernized?” I asked. “The place looks just plain awful.”

“Yeah, wait’ll you see what she charges for gas! Apparently the state or the county told her to clean the place up so she’s fixing the store up best she can.”

More local knowledge to add to the blog.

Ilse and I take Taz on a morning walk through the equestrian section of the campground, chatting with campers along the way, including a couple from Ontario sitting on a picnic table in the “red light” section of the campground who have decided, although they love the solitude, they have no need to return to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Ilse and I head back to the camper. The campground is full, except for the equestrian loop, the first time we’ve ever seen this park full.

Another day and a half to go and our dilemma has not been solved.

Easter morning is just beautiful. The weather is cool and sunny, the air crisp and sweet. Campers are already rolling out as Ilse fixes waffles for breakfast. Fifty seven years ago today, Ilse and I had our first “date,” walking through Bitburg, her home town in Germany. Today we walk through a canopy of moss covered oak trees in central Florida, headed for a three mile walk across a flat, shade-less prairie. No crystal ball could have possibly foreseen the future, if it had, it would have picked the wrong campground.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Headed South, Sort of...


Headed south out of Sloppy Floyd State Park just north of Rome, Georgia, we were enjoying the beautiful sunshine and mild temperatures as we looked forward to visiting another hidden jewel in the US Army Corp of Engineers campgrounds: Bolding Mill, just outside Gainesville, Georgia. We’ve stayed at Bolding Mill before and looked forward to a return visit. Only one hundred and five miles through rolling foothills, the trip was smooth and enjoyable as we took our time and enjoyed the beautiful back-roads of Georgia.

The only site available when I made the reservations, number 45, was not among my first choices. I didn’t care much for the site until we were actually hooked up. As luck, or perhaps fate would have it, we stayed at #45 until after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the area and we moved to the Old Federal Campground on the other side of Lake Lanier which had restored power after the storm.

My wife and I are not careless with Hurricanes. Being Floridians, we are used to the Weather Channel Labor Day Hurricane Tracking Marathon everyone who lives in South Florida is accustomed to. We lived in Kendale Lakes when Hurricane Andrew went though and demolished our daughter’s house in nearby Cutler Ridge. After promising my wife we wouldn’t go through that again, we watched the TV several years later as Hurricane Charley took its terrifying right turn and came up Charlotte Harbor, taking dead aim at our new house. We weren’t sure where the powerful storm was when the wind and rain knocked our power out. Luckily for us, Charley decided to follow the Peace River and made a fortuitous right turn away from us. Never again, we said.

When Hurricane Irma, tired and feeble as she was, slowly dragged herself over northern Georgia with only 55 mph winds, the damage was dramatic. Over eighty percent of the roads in Hall County, where we were, were blocked with fallen trees and debris. Most of the county was without electrical power, which included Bolding Mill Campground.

I don’t carry our generator with us when we plan to stay at campgrounds with full hookups, so we had no choice but move from Bolding Mill after the storm. The only question was how far would we have to go? Home was one alternative as Irma had only gently kissed our area just outside North Port, Florida, but we had family plans for nearby Athens, Georgia, and wanted to keep them if possible. Fortunately, Old Federal, also a US Army Corps of Engineers campground, had restored power within a day, and our reservation was already in place.

The decision to stay at the Bolding Mill campground as the remnants of Irma approached was not made easily. We have no desire to be inside any Recreational Vehicle or mobile home during any more than a rain storm. Anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish. They simply are not safe in a storm, and offer not much more protection than a tent. PERIOD!

But, we decided Hurricane Irma would be no more than a rain storm, not even as strong as the tropical squalls that we are accustomed to. We were far enough away from trees and even below the crest of a berm adjacent to our pad to protect us from the wind if it got excessive. Or so I thought. Our daughter, who relocated to Athens, Georgia, some 60 miles away, offered us a place to stay and we could even bring our normally unwelcome dog. We mulled her offer, but decided we would be just fine.

What I failed to consider was a fifty mile an hour storm damages the woods and forest of oaks and maples far more than palmettos and scrub myrtle of Florida.

The trailer rocked and shivered many times, but never felt unsafe. I have wheel chocks that lock the wheels, and the pads under each corner were secure. The rain blasted against the thin skin, but we felt safe even after the power went out and we were on our battery powered lamps. We were concerned, but not worried, until we had one loud, startling crack not far behind us as a tree broke and crashed to the ground. We immediately ran to the Toyota Sequoia, which was unhooked from the trailer, and we moved out into the center of the campground where we spent the next several hours waiting for the storm to pass.

The camp hosts had a terrifying near miss. 

The next morning we hooked up the trailer and decided to check with the camp hosts, who also happens to be a Hall County Sheriff’s deputy, for advice on travel out of the area. A huge oak tree had fallen across their hard-pad, grazing the side of their slide out, and confirmed what my wife and I had already decided: No next time!

Anyone who tries to ride out a bad storm, much less a hurricane, in an RV may be making a very, very bad mistake.

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