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…

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