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Florida sunset!

Florida sunset! (Photo credit: Odalaigh)

It’s hard to believe that 6 weeks has come and almost gone drawing our south-east bus trip to a close.  It’s felt long and momentary in its own paradoxical way.  Funny how hindsight has that affect on you.  On the one hand I feel like we’ve been gone forever, putting a hold on the scheduled routine of my life and its openings for spontaneity.  Yet now as I reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve done, it feels like just yesterday that we took off.  What an odd phenomenon.

It’s been a while since my last post though it’s not for lack of trying.  Twice I wrote pieces regarding my impressions about the snow birds who flock to Florida and the Disney utopian town of Celebration, and twice Word Press deleted the copy as I was trying to add pictures, moments later automatically saving the blank page as my draft.  It irritated me enough to bite my nose to spite my face, say f*** it and go on with my evening without an entry.  Now I’m “saving” along the way until they get that glitch (I assume it was “they”) resolved.  I’m not a terribly patient person by nature.  Can you tell?

Key West

Key West (Photo credit: GarySlinger)

We spent the bulk of our time in Florida – down the East coast and back up the Gulf side so I’ve had my fill of ocean and beach for now.  I admit to enjoying the Gulf side more because of its greater feeling of space and residential sensibility.  Plus there seems to be more than just palm trees to look at.  I did love exploring the Everglades which wasn’t a surprise since National Parks rank high on my list of must sees.

The Keys were also fun – it’s a great past-time to bike the streets all over Key West – and frankly, all of Florida due to the flat terrain, though it’s the hills and forests that I love so much about the northern southeast of the country (is that an oxymoron?  Northern Southeast?)  Anyway – I’m referring to Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

My greatest impression of Florida is that it’s loaded with seniors, especially snow birds this time of year.  License plates from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states flood the campgrounds where these older citizens live out the winter months.  One of the “RV resorts” in Venice was mostly a mobile home park which doubled as winter camp for its part-time residents.  And their calendars get filled with activities like bingo, shuffle board, pot luck suppers and dance, coffee and pastry get togethers while they toodle around the place on adult tricycles and golf carts.  It’s a sight for the un-itiated like me.  Our campground in the Everglades was the setting for a wedding between two snowbirds celebrating their second anniversary wintering there together.  The whole place was invited so I went too; it was a charming diversion while waiting for my laundry to finish drying!  Here’s a taste of the wedding.

the groom waiting for his bride to arrive by golf cart

here she is!

The Orlando area was a surprise, very much like Pigeon Forge in my neck of the woods with its bumper to bumper traffic and kitschy stores trumpeting all sorts of cheap trinkets for tourists.  The highlight for us was touring Celebration, Disney’s vision of a utopian residential village built around a town center.  When I read about its development years ago I pictured row after row of colorful pseudo cheerful houses with picket fences, each looking exactly like its neighbor.  Shame on me for not assuming they’d commission famed architects Michael Graves, Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern among others to design key elements of this town.  It was charming and I can appreciate its appeal.

town center

residential street in Celebration

Lighthouse in Tybee Island, Georgia, USA.

Image via Wikipedia

But my favorite place wasn’t in Florida at all.  It was Tybee Island in Georgia, just 16 miles east of Savannah on a wild piece of land resplendent with the natural growth of the region.  I love its earthiness and understated homes and especially its zoning law of a maximum three-story structure.

Sea Oats on Tybee Island Beach.

Image via Wikipedia

That substantially limits hotels and keeps tourists at a minimum offering a lifestyle the residents can really enjoy.  I’ll definitely be going back, may even check real estate prices.

Right now we sit in our wooded campsite at Stone Mountain Campground, about three hours from home.  These two days will cap our winter adventure for the season.  Tomorrow I’ll hike and bike and we’ll celebrate our last bus dinner with hot dogs and baked beans!

I‘m looking forward to going home just as I look forward to going away.  I need  both in my life.  Both feed my soul.

See you at home.

How is your winter going?

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Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park, Florida (Photo credit: ajsadeh)

My favorite road visits are through National Parks, millions of acres of pristine wilderness stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see.  No honking horns, high-rise buildings or fast food franchises to jar you alert to human “progress.”  Just by standing still and breathing softly you can become tuned to the world of nature where tiny creatures scurry the ground usually invisible to our awareness.

The terrain at the different parks is as vast as the parks are large and I love being ensconced in the uniqueness of each one. Everglades National Park isn’t what I expected, but then my expectation was based on some fictional combination of alligators and swamps.  Yes, they’re both there but not in my Hollywood-esque

imaginative screenplay.  At least not the part I saw.  Had I taken a canoe ride through back country I might have experienced a different world.  But the one I saw on land bordering sloughs and sink holes and various grasslands and woods was rich with all sorts of species, including alligators.

Just along the Anhinga Trail in Royal Palm I counted 8 species of birds, including some rough-looking vultures, co-habitating in the slough with turtles, schools of fish and alligators of all sizes.  They were intermingled throughout a pond dotted with mangroves, willow reeds and something called Air Trees.  And the thriving ecosystem was abundant with babies of all kinds.  It amazed me that so many animals, some of whom were predators, could live in such harmony together.

there are baby egrets in this mangrove who were just fed by mom

There had to be dozens of visitors ambling along the boardwalk trail elevated a few feet above the slough’s water surface and yet everyone was whispering, allowing nature to do all the talking.  We all weaved our way through weeds, trees and grasses, as though this boardwalk grew here with everything else.  It was a glorious interaction with a thriving world just doing its own thing.

Another unworldly elevated boardwalk trail is the Pa-hay-okee Overlook across the “River of Grass” so aptly named for its paradoxical sensibility.  What looked like a meadow with tall reeds was

actually water with grass growing in it.  Had we stepped into it we would have sunk.  Here the dormant Cyprus Trees tower over its’ grassy neighbors creating a moody environment that inspires visitors to stop in our

tracks and just stare at the elements comprising such a picture.  There is some ground on which darts all kinds of creatures foresting for their food in this unique world.

There are a variety of trails inviting spectators to experience the 9 different ecosystems unique to the Everglades, which like other ecosystems around the world are starting to diminish.  Urban and suburban sprawl contribute to a change in water flow, endangering many species in this glorious spot on earth stretching 1.5 million acres of southern Florida.

It’s vital we continue to protect these earthly treasures.  They’re our precious heritage.

Which National Parks speak to you?

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Woods hold a secret

and whisper heartfelt whimsy

while I walk her path.

Trees line her walkway

while fallen needles cushion

steps that leave no trace.

 As winds blow  her leaves

 light teases through canopy

 creating shadows.

 There’s something about

 the smell of greens in nature

that beckons spirit.

It’s fresh yet musty

a paradox in action

the very nature of life.

It’s the woods alone

that breathe life into my soul

it’s my heart, my need.

Breathe deep, sit silent

as the secret whistles through

the sounds are revealed.


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I walk along the beach where the vast Atlantic ocean slaps the shoreline with cresting waves whose spent power trickles under my feet and tickles my toes with each step.  Ocean sovereignty untamed by humans ends at this boundary.  Perhaps that’s the magnetism that draws the land species to the edge of two worlds both vibrant with life, neither can subsist in the other.

I hear the ocean yell with roars louder than my thoughts.  Its domination drowns any quiet solitude simmering within.

It demands to be noticed,

to be admired,

to be respected,

to be awed.

And we land people yield to that force.

Why do you come? it booms in my ears, penetrating every cell in my body. You land people flock to my shores.  Stare at my waves for hours on end.  Walk along my borders where children dig into my sand and dogs romp through my swells.  Some of you try to ride me but never succeed in conquering me.  Some of you hunt my people to eat and become the occasional hunted for our sustenance. You explore my depths but can’t penetrate my soul.  You can’t live here but continually need to explore here.  You need me. You need us. You are me.  You are us.

We land people go to the ocean to be swept up beyond ourselves where thoughts don’t reside.  The roar is too loud for problems.  Too mighty for anything but complete submission.  Quietude comes later.

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Exploring the places no one visits is what I like best about RV life.  Campgrounds tend to be tucked away in rural settings where there’s room for acreage at reasonable prices.  It’s unusual to find a site inside a populated city so, for example, in Jacksonville, FL we’re staying in Yulee, FL.  Huh?  you say?  Exactly.  We actually could have gotten closer in to city limits but Yulee happens to also be where there’s a Yamaha dealership to get new tires for the motor scooter, so Yulee is where we dropped our power line.  And Yulee is where I went exploring on my bike.

We’re not in a fancy campground, to put it mildly.  This place has just 60 sites, the majority of which are occupied full-time by people who the ad calls “retired.”  My guess is they’re unemployed – either on disability or for some other reason.  And this particular campground is a cheap place to call home.  I wave to them on my jaunts with Pogo and stopped by for a visit with Gail whose small bus is parked across from ours.

Knuckles, a McCaw from Brazil

Knuckles and Hanna were the draw for my visit.  They were climbing all over Gail’s doorway enjoying the cool breezy morning.  Neither would let me pet a back or head, which is a real

Knuckles let me get closer

Hanna, the grey cheek parrot hanging upside down in the door jam

now she's closer and right side up

disappointment when you’re a pet lover who has to pet.  Gail, herself, is a weathered looking woman whom I guess to be 5 – 10 years older than me.  She doesn’t work either although she looks quite able-bodied to me.  She was cautiously friendly, at least enough to tell me about her beautiful McCaw and grey cheek parrot.  She’s lived here 18 years but just bought her very used bus a few months ago.  Before that she says she’d stayed with someone.  I left it at that.  Since our visit we wave as we both go about our independent business.  That seems to be the way of this campground.  It’s a neighborhood, of sorts, where everybody just minds their own business.  As I walk around I imagine the individual lives that take place inside their small fiberglass or tin confines and I realize that everybody has a story.  (I think that’s a good subject for a book or a documentary).

The nearby neighborhood also has a lot of character populated with folks who wear their lives on their homes.  Take a look and see what I mean.

This guy's yard was crammed with treasures

more treasures

This fellow had a chicken coop in the back, ducks running around the yard, vegetable gardens surrounding and bird houses everywhere! Seems to me he's self-sustaining.

miniature dogs everywhere, some of whom loved my loving!

This house was right across the street from...

this house! Go figure...

And THIS house had a GIANT ocean toy on its side yard

These houses are not destination sites for the typical tourist, but for me they offer much fodder for imaginings.  What do these people do?  How do they spend their lives?  Do they socialize with their neighbors?  Why the overwhelming trend for miniature dogs? How often, if ever, do they make it into the city since we’re 16 miles from Jacksonville’s northern city limits?  Endlessly fascinating questions for me.  Rick calls them my talk show questions.

Everywhere we go there’s an opportunity to visit sights on nobody’s destination list offering a taste of how some locals live and usually not the wealthy ones.  The areas farther away we visit in the car – like this community near a large State Park and the Amelia Island beaches.

gorgeous live oaks border the street with homes tucked away in the back

trees with moss dripping from branches

And of course no ocean side community is complete without a walk on the beach and long connections with the ocean.

say hello to Rick

and me

wish I'd seen said turtles

ocean front lot for $275k right on Amelia Island beach! Any takers?

The whole package offers a rich experience that journeying in an RV can provide.  We pack up, hit the road and drive for 3, 4, 5 hours with no destination in mind except a general direction and a plan to stop when Rick’s tired of driving.  And wherever we land, people live there.

What sparks your imaginings?

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Things go wrong in a bus, that’s what my husband’s always telling me.  They break.  And he’s right.  Something is always happening in our 36′ long traveling house.

Sunrise at Tybee Island, GA

Yesterday we pulled into our campground space in Jacksonville, FL and while unhitching the car discovered that the pull bar attached to the car had broken.  The knob was missing and now it wasn’t locking into place anymore; we’d been towing the car with just one locked pull bar.  Had to have happened somewhere between Tybee Island, GA and here – just a couple hours south.  So here we sit until the guy at the shop ascertains whether it can be fixed for under $200 or discarded for a new one that will cost a whole lot more.  I vote for the first option.

That’s the latest mishap and might even have been caused when Rick backed up the rig for a couple feet with car attached – a BIG no no.  Now we know why.  Make no mistake, this RV stuff is NOT a cheap past-time.

So for fun, and because the shop guy was nearby, we decided to visit an RV show that just happened to be in town this weekend.  It’s always fun to see lots of buses and compare their interiors.  Plus there are many Class C’s (with the overhead sleeping cab) and 5th Wheels (the kinds you tow with a pick-up truck).  They all have a variety of lay-outs that can truly overwhelm the senses. And, of course, that’s what happened.  After a while they all blend together, making it impossible to remember whether the wood floor interior was in the same rig that had the huge walk-closet.

But one really caught our eye.  It was the mother-lode of Class A’s, (the bus looking rigs – like the one we have) 42 feet long with marble floors, Corian counters, gorgeous cherry wood cabinetry, leather-ish furniture and a cove ceiling rimmed with the same wood.  He was a real beauty; more kitchen counter work space than any other we’d seen.  Full size frig/freezer, dishwasher and washer/dryer — both of which we’d have taken out, opting for the extra storage space instead.  Just loved this Winnebago Tour coach.  It’s interesting to see how the interior designs improve each new year, addressing consumers’ wishes and complaints.

New rigs now have 3-4 slides, walls that slide out from the sides of the vehicle adding more width to the living space once you’re parked and settled in.  Our current bus has 1 slide.  This one has 4!  If he’d been 36′ rather than 42′ we might have succumbed to an impulse.  But he is just too long.  Once you add a car on the back you’ve got about 54′ feet rolling along highways.  Too long and too heavy for some older campgrounds and National Parks.  Not necessary.

So we’re now back home in our 16 year old Mr. Bus, cozy and comfy.  I still love him; he’s got everything we need.  Except a working tow hitch.  Grrrr…

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It wasn’t the best start for an extended trip, but then every adventure in the bus includes some kind of mishap.  My husband’s always telling me that we’re driving a house down the road and things are bound to go wrong.  Luckily he can fix most anything, or get the right people who can.  So I may be inconvenienced a bit, but never have to fix the problem.

Today we discovered (I say “we” but really mean “he” since I never drive) that the battery for Mr Bus was “low.”  That translated into meaning the steps into the coach wouldn’t lower and the stabilizers wouldn’t level.  But both were over-ridden when we turned on the generator to power up everything.  Ok.  No problem.

Then in the middle of a busy I75 heading south the side view mirror flew off.  Oops – now you can see the cars in the right lane, now you can’t.  Meanwhile, we’re a 36′ long bus, close to 30,000 pounds, towing a car;  it’s kind of important to see who might be in the right lane before moving over.  Luckily the top half of the mirror was still intact, so hubby “just” needed to lean far over the steering wheel to see, best he could, who might be in his blind spot.  OK then, no biggy, for me that is.  Now that we’re in for the night he’s off in search of an RV supplies store to buy a battery and a side view mirror.  This is day one of our multi-week trip.

All that said I love our Mr. Bus.  He’s not fancy by today’s standards and he’s a 12-year-old diesel pusher.  But he’s roomy and comfy and loaded up with the works:  frig/freezer, microwave, convection oven, coffee maker, toaster oven, 2 TVs and full bathroom.  Usually, everything works just fine.  And we get to travel around and taste slices of life from spots we decide to call home for however long we feel like staying.  It’s the best.

Tonight we’re south of Atlanta.  Tomorrow we’re headed to Savannah.  Why not?  It’s a very cool city and I hear the ocean calling my name.  After that?  Don’t know yet.  Visit and find out!

So for the next 6 weeks my blog will be about our travels.  Can’t wait.  Hope you stay with me and enjoy!

What are your thoughts about RV travel?

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