January 2015 – Daytona Beach, Florida

Saturday morning was sunny and cool when we pulled out of Reed Bingham State Park and reconnected with our journey down the east coast of Florida.  Our first stop was four hours to Daytona Beach along Interstates 75, 10, and 95.  Driving time was just under 4 hours, but it took us over 5 hours with multiple stops at rest areas for bathroom breaks and lunch.  I was nervous about the RV park we were heading for, concerned they may not have our reservation at International RV Park.  When I made the reservations in Florida a month ago I had trouble finding any place in the Jacksonville to Daytona Beach area that had room in January.  I was too late in making the reservations.  International RV Park was not my first choice, but when I called they did not immediately say they did not have room.  In fact, all they took down was my name and dates for the reservation.  They did not even ask for a phone number.  When I called back a few days later to check on our reservation, they had to look but did find our name.  We obviously never got a confirmation since they did not have our email or phone number.  I doubt we would be able to find room in any other park if they lost our reservation.  On top of that, Kal looked at their webpage which indicated prices from $40-$80 a night and a separate charge for electricity.  This is certainly more than I wanted to spend for a week, but we really had no choice.  As they name implies, International RV Park is within a couple of miles of the Daytona International Speedway and we did not know the racing schedule and if we were staying during a big race we would likely be paying a premium price.  When we pulled into the RV Park on Saturday afternoon, I really got nervous since it is a large RV park, with over 350 sites, and it looked full.  However, they did have our reservation and took us around to see the sites that had available.  Although over half of the park are pull through sites, nearly all of these are doubled up with RVs parked in both directions at this time of year.  There was only about 6 sites open that would hold our 35 foot RV and since we did not care about cable, we were able to select a site with a road directly in front, which meant there was a good chance that I could back the RV into it!!  We got assistance from the manager and a neighbor across the street and I was able to park the RV after only four attempts.  We got set up and I went to the office to find out what it was going to cost.  After double checking that our length of stay was for 9 nights he proceeded to work up the ticket.  When I mentioned that we were Good Sam members, he gave me a funny look like whether I was serious and they showed me the receipt.  It was for only $150 for the 9 nights including electricity.  This works out to $17 a night which is less than any other commercial park we had paid so far!  I gladly accepted the rate.  I suspect that the price is a combination of a couple of factors.  First, it is not a premium site since it does not have cable, picnic table, or concrete patio as some of the other sites.  Second, we are actually sharing a site with another RV.  As we suspected the RV park is nearly full to capacity with snow birds, many from Canada and the midwest that are staying here for the winter and now that we are back into temperatures in the low 70s, I can see why.  The RV Park is better than a parking lot, with a little bit of room between sites, but for this price I couldn’t complain.  It turns out that my reception over the phone is due to the extreme lay-backed attitude of everyone in the park.  It is a real friendly atmosphere, almost a community, and they have numerous activities every day.  In fact, they gave me two tickets for a Luau party that were having that night in the clubhouse.  Beginning at 5:00 we had some great snacks and free drinks.  While we had trouble finding a table since it was so packed, we did finally get chairs brought in and seated at a table with three other couples from Ontario and Iowa.  They were a lot of fun although most of the discussion was about NASCAR and their trips to all the racing venues over the years.  I guess you should expect this staying at a park only a few miles from the racetrack.  You could easily hear the loudspeaker and cars racing that evening.  Dinner was a BBQ pig complete with an orange in its mouth, beans, potato salad, and a wide range of deserts.  They also had entertainment that was a combination of hula dancing by some of the residents (just imagine 70-80 year old women hula dancing – it was a riot) and line dancing for anyone wanting to join in.  The dance floor was not large and they managed to more than fill it up with the line dancing.  They certainly had a lot of fun and we enjoyed the free meal and entertainment a lot.  We certainly felt we had made the right choice for a place to stay!

Campsite HulaGirls LuauParty

Since Sunday was Jenny’s only day off until the next weekend, we took off for Orlando to see her new apartment and deliver her Christmas presents.  Jenny is now living alone (NO MORE ROOMMATES with financial challenges) in a small efficiency apartment, which means it is two rooms.  A bathroom and kitchen/living room/bedroom.  With not much more room that our RV, she finally has a place all her own.  She can now keep it clean and make her own meals for her and Keely, her cat.  Jenny got around $300 in gift cards for Target for Christmas and so we had lunch with her friend Kori and proceeded to Target to get her stuff for the apartment.  Her biggest needs were for storage and additional chairs to go along with her love seat couch, which besides her bed is the only place to sit.  So we bought two barstools to put at the bar between the kitchen and living room, three storage units to go under the bar, and a bookcase for the living room.  She was able to combine her grocery shopping with the purchase and still leave her some funds.  We spent an enjoyable afternoon in her apartment putting all the pieces together and we left her that evening with a smile on her face as she finally got all the things off of her counters.  On our way back to the RV Park we stopped by Kal’s cousins, Clint and Sandy in Winter Park and spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking with them and sharing some cheese cake.  All in all, it was a very enjoyable day and we had plans to meet up with Clint and Sandy on Tuesday and Jenny to join us next weekend.

BarstoolConstruction CabinetConstruction FinishedCabinetsClint  Sandy

By Monday morning it was time to do the laundry, so Kal grabbed out dirty clothes and headed to the laundry facilities at the park.  Normally this would mean that I would spend the morning cleaning the RV, however, we had a problem.  We had no hot water in the RV.  Our hot water heater can run on either electricity or propane and the propane heater worked fine.  It was a good idea to try out the propane water heater, since we had not needed it until now, however, we needed to figure out the problem with the electric heater.  I checked all the fuses and found no problems, so I went up to the office to see if they knew anyone that could give me a hand, as I had no idea how to proceed.  There was another camper in the office at the time that knew someone with a tester that was staying just across the street from us.  He was certainly glad to give me a hand and the three of us proceeded to figure it out.  The objective was to find out if the heating element was getting electricity.  If not, then there was an electrical problem.  If it was getting electricity then the element was bad.  Simple enough, except we could not find the element!  On the outside of the RV you easily find the propane system and drain for the hot water tank, but no electric element.  We removed a panel under the RV and found a lot of insulation with no obvious access to the hot water tank.  Before making a real mess by pulling out the insulation, we went to look inside the RV.  Come to find out the hot water tank sits next to the refrigerator with access to the back from the cabinet.  It was actually easy to get to and there was the element!! In a matter of minutes (after spending over an hour wasting our time looking for it) he quickly determined it was getting power, so the element was gone.  Especially since we can heat the water using propane, this is not an emergency situation that has to be fixed immediately.  The RV is under warranty, so we decided to limp along on propane until we are in the Ocala area fairly close to the Florida location of Tri-Am.  I will just add this to the list along with the gasket on the bedroom slide and electrical outlets that are not working.  We spent the rest of the day enjoying our first warm day in over 6 weeks in sunny Florida!!  This is the life!

Tuesday started off cloudy and cool, so we pushed back our plans with Clint and Sandy until lunch time.  Our plans was to join them in one of their favorite pass times, paddle boarding.  On a paddle board you stand up or kneel on a board while you use a paddle to gently move you around.  I was a bit nervous about this especially since the temperature was only in the low 70s and without the sun, it would be very cold when I fell off the board.  I was thinking that a kayak would be a better choice for me.  Kal, however, was interested in trying out the paddle board, even if she did get dunked.  Clint and Sandy picked us up and after taking a tour of the RV, we proceeded off to lunch at JB’s Fish Camp in New Smyna Beach.  It was an excellent lunch, but the weather continued to be cloudy and cool.  We mutually decided that it was not a good day to paddle board so we opted for a long walk on the beach.  We then came back to the RV after an enjoyable afternoon and what started out as a quick goodbye became an long discussion of everything from insurance and investments to family history and genealogy.  At 8:00 I realized that we had missed the Saturn V launch, which was suppose to go up at 7:40.  However, a neighbor informed us that it had been delayed and sure enough in about 10 minutes we saw a fireball ascending over the horizon to the south.  Cape Canaveral is over 40 miles away, so all we could see was the fireball, but it was still our first launch and pretty awesome.

Lunch

The main reason we wanted to stay along the northeast coast of Florida was to visit the National Park Service sites and since the weather was sunny and in the upper 70s on Wednesday, we drove to St. Augustine to visit the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.  St. Augustine is the oldest European city in the US largely because of this fortification.  In 1513, Spain claimed Florida through the expedition of Ponce de Leon, however, it was the French who gained the first foothold with Fort Caroline on the St. John’s River.  In order to protect the shipping lanes from the rich Caribbean and Central America that used the Gulf Stream to sail back to Europe every year, Spain needed to fortify their claim.  King Phillip II sent an expedition under Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles to eliminate the French threat and establish settlements in Florida.  Thus he established St. Augustine and after eliminating the French presence to the north he built the first of the wooden fortifications.  The masonry fort that now stands guard at St. Augustine was begun in 1672 following nine successive wooden forts built at different locations along the inlet.  The Castillo was built using local materials meaning cutting blocks of coquina, a limestone material made of up compressed sea shells, from a nearby island.  Originally covered with bright whitewash and painted and modified over the past 300 years to accommodate larger and more accurate cannons, it was an active fort through the Civil War.  Initially, the fort was constructed as a storage facility to protect supplies arriving by ships and to house the citizens of St. Augustine during sieges.  Soldiers did not live in the fort, but rather had other occupations in towns and surrounding farms much like our National Guard today.  They were from all nationalities including freed slaves from Africa.  The Castillo de San Marcos has been under siege in 1702 and again in 1740 by British forces from Georgia and South Carolina, but was never captured.  It changed hands multiple times through treatise but never by force.  In 1763 it became Fort St Mark under the British, back to Spain in 1783, and finally ceded to the United States in 1821 when it was named Fort Marion. Today, the fort is in amazing condition and shows the many improvement and changes through the years.  They had ranger talks every hour through the day that gave the history of the fort in combination with the many interpretive signs throughout the fort.  After spending a couple of hours in the fort we ate lunch along the inlet and took a couple of hours to stroll around historic St. Augustine.  Scattered through the many small shops and restaurants in the historic district there are a number of historic buildings dating from the earliest days of the city after it was rebuilt in 1565.  Notable were the luxury hotels dating from the 1880s, the Spanish Constitution Obelisk dating from the brief period (only two years) of constitutional government when all colonies were required to construct an obelisk in commemoration of the event in 1812, and the city gate and reconstructed Cubo Line that made St. Augustine a walled city following the siege in 1702.

OutsideCastilloGregCrawlingFlaglerUnivOldStAugustine ConstitunObelisk

Thursday was to be the warmest day of the week with temperatures reaching 80, so it was a good day to visit Canaveral National Seashore.   Not knowing any better we selected the National Seashore in our GPS, which led us to downtown Titusville which seemed strange at the time.  This location turned out to be the Offices for the National Seashore, which were even locked up even though the posted times indicated they should be open.  Knowing the National Seashore was to the east, we proceeded over the bridge onto Merritt Island where we were immediately in the National Wildlife Refuge.  Signs for the Visitor Center of the National Wildlife Refuge led us to a very nice Visitor Center where we found out that the Canaveral National Seashore is split between the northern and southern section that are not connected by road.  The southern section consists of only a couple of beaches and most of the attractions are in the northern section, including their Visitor Center about 40 miles back to the north in New Smyrna Beach.  In other words, back to less than a mile south of where we had lunch with Clint and Sandy on Tuesday!  A quick decision put off a visit to the National Seashore until Friday and we would take advantage of the trails in the Wildlife Refuge.  Before lunch we took about a mile hike through a unique habitat in Florida – the scrub community of dry sandy ridges and low shrubs that are maintained through periodic fires.  It is the home of the endangered Scrub Jay, which we were fortunate to see and get some pictures of.  For lunch we traveled north to the Haulover Canal that is part of the Intercoastal Waterway connecting Mosquito Lagoon with Indian River Lagoon.  This location has a long history as a location where even the Indians were portage their canoes between the lagoons before a canal was dug.  On the north side of the canal the Refuge has constructed a viewing platform for Manatees which are known to frequent this location.  However, the water temperature has to be 70 degrees and it was only about 65 degrees according to their water thermometer.  Therefore, we did not expect to see any manatees, but to our surprise there was one just off the viewing platform.  After getting some pictures we went to the other side of the canal where we could set up our chairs for a quiet lunch along the canal.  We did see a manatee surface a couple of times out in the canal and debated whether it was the same one we had seen near the other bank.  After lunch we took another two mile hike to and around a palm hammock, which is rare since most of the hammocks are dominated by hardwoods.  This hammock was all palm trees which created a unique habitat on the ground, although some of this was also created by the many rooting feral hogs in the refuge.  We caught a glimpse of what we believed to be a hog moving away through the underbrush but we did not wait around to verify.  Once again the hiking paths in a National Wildlife Refuge lived up to our expectation and the beautiful weather combined for an enjoyable afternoon.

KalInScrubForest KalOnBench PalmHammock

On Friday, we were ready to try and find the Canaveral National Seashore and it was less than a mile from where we had lunch a couple of days before.  The Visitor Center is very small consisting of little more than a very limited gift shop, but we got everything we needed including my pin and park brochures.  There are a number of stops along the six mile road along the beach that were of interest.  The most impressive of these is near the entrance to the seashore at Turtle Mound.  Turtle Mound is a 35 foot tall midden heap made by the Indians over hundreds of years depositing their oyster shells.  We had seen other midden heaps further north along the coast, but his was by far the largest and most impressive.  The National Park Service has constructed a wooden boardwalk that takes you up to the top of the midden heap which gives some spectacular views of the ocean and Mosquito Lagoon.  There is a one way loop drive that takes visitors to the only remaining structure of Eldora.  Eldora began as an agriculture community in 1877 with a steamboat stop and post office.  In the early 1900s it transitioned into a location for winter seasonal homes for wealthy northerners and decline following the Great Depression in 1938.  Today the Friends of Canaveral have restored the Eldora State House that is open to the public.  Unfortunately, the house is only opened in the afternoons in January so we were not able to tour the interior.  Following lunch at a small picnic table overlooking the ocean, we took another walk to Castle Windy which is another midden heap of oyster shells.  The half mile walk from the ocean to the lagoon provides an excellent cross section of the habitats as it shifts from scrub palmetto and live oak to a live oak forest.  The trail brochures point out a number of interesting plants along the trail including nakedwood which is a small barkless tree and wild coffee that are at the northern end of their tropical zones.  I also learned that the twisted shape of live oak trees is not due to the wind but the effects of the salt air that randomly kills the terminal buds of the branches.  Once the terminal bud is killed growth is continued in a new direction from side branches, thus causing the tree to twist and turn over time.  Friday was a shortened day, as the weather was deteriorating with a cold front moving through.  We did see rain and wind Friday night and Saturday morning with decidedly cooler temperatures (lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s).

KalAtCastleWindy KalOnTurtleMound

Saturday was spent working on this blog, going to the store, and waiting for Jenny to join us for the remainder of the weekend.  Following the rain over night the temperatures cooled throughout the day with a strong westerly wind.  I suppose it is about time we headed further south in the search of warmer climates :).  We had a relaxing evening with Jenny talking and watching TV.

We had waited until Sunday to finish the National Park System sites in the area so Jenny could come with us.  We waited until about 10 for the weather to warm up a bit and then headed back towards St. Augustine to visit the southern extension of Castillo de San Marcos.  When we arrived at the fort we found to our surprise that the fort is situated on an island requiring a ferry ride that leaves every half hour.  We were just in time to miss the 11:30 tour, so we spent the next hour watching their short film about the fort (which was a good reminder of what we had learned earlier in the week at the Castillo), hiked the short nature trail over the dunes to the ocean, and ate lunch.  We were still in plenty of time to catch the 12:30 ferry over to the fort.  The Castillo protects the harbor of St. Augustine which is on the Matanzas River on the north side of town to primarily protected the northern entrance into the Matanzas River from the Ocean preventing any attacks from the north.  However, the “backdoor” in the south through the Matanzas Inlet allowed ships to threaten the city from the south.  Ogelthorpe took advantage of this when he laid siege to the fort and blockaded the harbor in 1740.  Following this long siege that was defeated only when Ogelthorpe retreated at the start of hurricane season, the Spanish constructed Fort Matanzas on Rattlesnake Island to close access to the Matanzas River.  They completed the fort in 1742 once again using blocks of coquina.  The fort is very small in comparison to the Castillo consisting of only a single gun platform for 6 cannon aimed at the mouth of Matanzas Inlet.  Besides the gun platform, the fort has a single room to house the 6 soldiers on duty and a separate upstairs room for the officer and supplies.  From the officer quarters you can also ascend to the watch station on top of the fort via a wooden ladder through a small hole in the roof.  Since the only way to visit the fort is by ferry from the Visitor Center, the Park Ranger gives a short presentation about the fort and its construction and you then have about 20 minutes to look in the two rooms, which is plenty of time.  At the time, the fort would have looked a lot different since it would have been covered with a brilliant white wash instead of the gray pockmarked coquina stone.  While talking with the Park Ranger I found out that Rattlesnake Island is perfectly placed to defend the Inlet, however, it was only 4 acres in size at the time and high tide would often come up to the bottom of the fort.  Today the island is over 200 acres and they have filled in sand around the fort to keep it out of the water at normal high tides.

JennyAndGreg JennyAndKalFortLandside

 

January 2015 – Valdosta, Georgia

As a stopover point we pulled the RV to Reed Bingham State Park just off of I-95 north of Valdosta, Georgia.  We were already familiar with this State Park as we stayed there for a few days on our way back from Jenny’s last winter, so we were confident that we would be able to find a pull-through site that would hold the RV.  Thursday was another chilly, rainy day and it was still lightly raining when we arrived.  As expected we found a nice pull through site that was next to the site we stayed in last year with our pop-up camper.  While some of the sites have sewer hook-ups this loop of the campground does not, which was not going to be a problem as we were only staying two nights.

Campsite2015

The weather on Friday was much better with bright sunshine, although the temperature was not going to get out of the 40s.  During the afternoon we did take a hike along the river that runs through the park, a lot of which is on a wooden boardwalk.  We didn’t realize it before we started, but we had taken the same hike a year ago at about the same time of the year.  It is still a nice walk through a bottomland hardwood/swamp along the river and we enjoyed it again.  Not much else happened that day as we took it easy in the campgrounds.

River2015  Bottomland2015KalOnDeck2015

January 2015 – Fort Gaines, Georgia

On Thursday, we began the trip to Florida with a stop on Lake Eufala for a week.  Cotton Hill Campground is a Corps of Engineering site on the lake and it is beautiful.  It is on the Georgia side of Lake Eufala, being closer to Fort Gaines than Eufala.  The campgrounds are beautiful, even in January.  I am certain it is a busy campground during the summer for fishing and boating on the lake, but in January it is a quiet campground with only a few campers in their RV.  We were able to find a pull through site for our RV on a small hill overlooking the lake.  If the weather will just warm up, this would be a great place to camp in the winter.  After setting up, we had to travel into Eufala to find propane, as we had already been on the second tank for a couple of nights while in Auburn.  This would not have been a problem, except for the road construction on US highway 431 in Eufala.  The historic district of Eufala is a beautiful tree covered road with old historic homes on either side.  The median splitting the highway also has a number of large live oak trees that add to the beauty.  There is currently a controversy between the residents along the road and the city/state that want to widen the highway through the historic district to four lanes to help with the traffic.  They were busy cutting tree branches back, some of the trees in the median, and about 3 feet out of each side of the median.  Along with a lot of signs protesting the work, the traffic jam it created since they had only one side of the median open for one way traffic, it made it difficult to get through.  We had already driven through coming south with the RV and now we had to go back through to the north to get to the propane store.  Once we got our propane, we had to go back through again to get back to the campsite.  This added over an hour to the trip!

Campsite DuskOnLake

Friday was cloudy and cold enough that we were not that interested in being outside, so I fired up my Playstation using our new sound system (sounds a lot better!!) and Kal grabbed the laundry.  While the bathroom in our part of the campground is very nice, clean, and heated, the laundry sits in its own little building with an electric heater that does not work.  In addition, there is only a single small washer and dryer, so Kal took nearly four hours to do the laundry in the cold weather.  She spent a good bit of the time in the truck keeping warm, but it was still not comfortable.  After three hours, I hiked over and finished the job so she could get warm.  Once again the weather dropped to below freezing although it was not the low 20s of Thursday night.  All afternoon there was also light rain that thankfully did not change over to sleet like it was to the west in Alabama.

Saturday was sunny and promised to be warmer, although any breeze still made it uncomfortable to be outside.  However, we were both ready to do something besides hiding in the RV, so we headed northeast to President Jimmy Carter National Historic Sits in Plains, Georgia.  We are certainly familiar with small rural Georgia towns, having lived in this area for over 20 years and Plains is typical.  What is not typical is the high security fence surrounding the Carter’s home, the signs commemorating Plains as the Home of the 39th President around the small downtown district and train depot.  The Visitor Center is actually in the reconstructed Plains High School.  The National Historic Site includes the High School, the Train Depot and President Carter’s childhood home/farm.   We no sooner walked into the Visitor Center at the High School, that we found out there was going to be a walking tour of his childhood home at 11:30, in a half hour.  So we immediately headed out to the farm just out of town to take advantage of the tour.  Kal and I were the only visitors on Saturday so we had a private tour, which was great.  We found out that the crowds are usually larger on Sundays, especially on those Sundays that President Carter still teaches Bible School at the Maranatha Baptist Church, as he was this Sunday.  In any case, our National Park Service guide gave a complete tour of the property and we learned a number of things you would not have known without the guide.  For instance, the house was bought by President Carter’s father. Earl Carter in 1928 when Jimmy Carter was 4 years old.  The home was actually a mail order home from Sears, which sold literally everything!!  The home consists of a screened in back and front porch, kitchen, a small breakfast room, a larger and more formal dining room/parlor, 3 bedrooms and a single bathroom.  For the 1930s it was one of the nicer homes in the area.  This farm consisted of 360 acres of the over 2000 acres owned and operated by Earl Carter using tenant farmers.  At this farm they grew cash crops of cotton, peanuts, corn, and pecan to sell and vegetables for personal consumption.  Our guide told us of how Ms. Lillian, Jimmy Carter’s mother and a nurse, would assist anyone in need including hobos along the railroad just across the highway to Plains at the time with food and medicine including free sweet potatoes stored within a pile of dirt out by the barn.  They had no running water until 1935 when the windmill was installed and no electricity until 1938.  Once there was running water in the house, Mr. Earl created a bathroom in the house with a toilet and cold shower using a bucket hung from the ceiling with holes in the bottom.  The Carter family also operated a country store or commissary next to the home for the local farmers and workers to purchase goods and materials on credit, which was often not available in town.  Although their was no train station, there was a stop for the railroad at the Carter farm and you could buy a ticket to Archery, Georgia.  The most surprising feature was a clay tennis court just outside the house where Mr. Earl would play on the weekends.  We really enjoyed walking the property with our NPS guide, especially when we found out that this was her very first tour of the home.  She did a good job and knew a lot about the home, although she sometimes struggled with a few dates and figures that we got cleared up after the tour.  This Saturday was also a demonstration of boiled peanuts, a “delicacy” of the south.  Whereas I have had boiled peanuts before and did not care for the slimy texture, we did appreciate the fire as the temperature outside was still cold and breezy.  We enjoyed ourselves and I found out that boiled peanuts that are not overcooked and still crunchy and hot from the pot are really very good, especially on a cold day.  We went to lunch at a local diner, Mimmie’s, where we had a nice southern lunch of chicken and vegetables.  We then went back to the High School that has a number of exhibits about the high school, education and its importance to President Carter’s, along with highlights of his political life and philanthropic activities in the years since.  We had already learned about much of this when we visited his Presidential Library in Atlanta last year, we did not spend much time.  There were two notable exhibits.  One was the actual Nobel Peace Prize medal President Carter was awarded for his success on the Camp David Accord between President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel.  The other was the history of the reconstruction of the High School which was a joint effort between the federal government through the National Park Service and the town of Plains.  The agreement limited the federal government to no more than 60% of the cost, the rest to be raised by the citizens of Plains.  This small town had to raise over 2 million dollars!!  Through contributions of past graduates and efforts by the Carter Center, they were successful. Once again, we visited a National Park site that on the surface did not look all that interesting and were very pleasantly surprised.  I would definitely recommend a visit.

Backyard BoiledPeanuts TourGuide

The weather on Sunday was still overcast and cool with a good chance of rain.  Believing the weather would improve on Monday, we decided to stay in the campgrounds instead of traveling.  Before lunch we went on a hike through the mixed hardwood/pine forest in between the campgrounds and the COE road.  The hike was an easy walk around a small pond, about a mile in length.  During the afternoon we had a relaxing day in the campground.

KalOnTrail GregOnTrail

The weather on Monday was not much of an improvement, since it began with heavy fog.  However, it was supposed to clear and climb into the 60s so we took off for Andersonville, Georgia since it would likely be our best day.  It was a drive of almost two hours to Andersonville and we got there just before noon and the weather was still foggy and cold with temperatures only in the 40s.  The weather did not improve throughout the day, staying in the mid-40s and foggy.  It did set the correct mood for visiting the horrors of Andersonville although our photographs of the prison stockade and cemetery suffered.  The Civil War prison at Andersonville was known as Camp Sumter during the Civil War when approximately 45,000 Union prisoners of war were interned there.  Due to a shortage of food, medicine, clean water, and housing, and the overcrowding since it was designed for only 6,000 prisoners, the mortality rate was over 25% with nearly 13,000 Union soldiers dying over the 14 months leading to the end of the war.  The movie provides an excellent sense of the conditions and factors that contributed to the horrendous conditions the prisoners had to suffer.  The Visitor Center is dedicated to the National Prisoner of War Museum covering the history of American POWs through present day.  There are multiple exhibits providing the change in the definitions and treatments of POWs, the strategies POW would use to stay alive and sane, and their efforts to escape their confinement.  I would also recommend checking out the CD (it is free) to provide descriptions and background of each of the stops around the prison site and cemetery.  They have reconstructed parts of the wooden palisade surrounding the prisoners including the heavy north gate that they entered the prison through and the northeast corner including some examples of the very simple structures they lived in.  They have also built a memorial around Providence Spring that erupted in August of 1863 following a thunderstorm and provided some much needed fresh (at least fresher) water to the prisoners since their water supply was a meager stream that had already been polluted by the Confederate camp and bakeries upstream of the prison.  There are a number of monuments placed in the north end of the prison by the Union states with prisoners in the camp.  Along with them are a huge number of small concrete markers showing the location of wells or escape tunnels dug out by the prisoners using plates, spoons, and canteens in the hope of finding fresh water.  The death toll became very apparent when you arrive at the cemetery with headstones of the 13,000 deaths pushed together since they had to be buried in shallow trenches lined up side to side.  At times in August there were over 300 deaths a day!!  The cemetery is still an active National Military Cemetery and we saw headstones of service men that had died just last year.  While not my most favorite National Park, Andersonville National Historic Site is an important part of the history and cost of the Civil War.  I stick by my opinion that a cold and foggy day is the best time to visit.  It must be since the last time we visited Andersonville years ago we both remember the weather was cold and rainy, even worst conditions than today.

FoggyPrison ViewFromStarFortKalInCemetery

Tuesday and Wednesday we stayed in the campground cleaning the RV, playing games, working on the blog, and going to the store for groceries and propane.  When we pulled into Cotton Hill it was less than 10% full.  By Wednesday, a number of people had left and now except for one other RV, we would appear to have the campground to ourselves.  I would certainly return here and stay again during the winter months.  I suspect during the summer it could be very busy with fishermen, boaters, and families enjoying camping out on the lake.

January 2015 – Auburn, Alabama

Happy New Year! It is now the beginning of a new year and we have come full circle.  Over the past year our journey began with week long trips with our Flagstaff pop-up with one extended journey to visit William in Maryland.  While we enjoyed these excursions our main focus was to put the house back on the market and live the full time RV life style.  In July we successfully sold the house for just enough money to make our dream come true.  The same day we closed on the house we bought our huge F350 King Ranch and headed to my sister’s in Tennessee to buy the RV.  We were very lucky that they were looking to sell a 2014 Winslow that was exactly the unit we were hoping for with some great extras we probably would not have added ourselves.  Since the unit was their floor model that they needed to sell for the 2015 model, we got the RV at an incredible price.  By mid-August we had our dream set-up and we were on the road.  Beginning with a few weeks in Tennessee to learn about our RV, we were ready to travel.  Initially we headed to the North Carolina coast at Kill Devil Hills and proceeded down the coast.  Over the next three months we saw some incredible seashores, marshes, and a lot of Coastal Forts from throughout our history from Colonial Days through World War II.  We broke off our trip down the coast to head across the peninsula of Florida to an Escapees community in Foley, Alabama for Thanksgiving.  After three weeks communing with other full-time RVers, we headed to Birmingham for the holidays, with a week layover in Auburn to see old friends.  Two weeks in Birmingham visiting family and we are now ready to continue our journey.  Our goals for this winter are to continue down the eastern coast of Florida to the Florida Keys and then back north up the west coast over the next two months.  Beginning in March we will push as fast as the weather will permit with the objective of Maine this summer.  I don’t know if one summer will be sufficient to see all of the northeast, but we are going to find out!  So the 2015 Long Haul, began where we began in 2014 at Auburn, Alabama.

We decided to stay for a couple of more nights at Eagles Landing RV Park in Auburn, Alabama as it was on the way to Daytona Beach, our first stop in Florida.  So on Tuesday, January 6, 2015, we traveled from Cherokee Campground near Birmingham to Auburn.  The only comment I have about the trip is it was COLD!!  One of the advantages of living full time in an RV is that you can avoid extreme temperatures for the most part.  We knew staying in Birmingham in December was taking a risk and except for the rains two days our of three while we were there, it was warm.  We obviously stayed too long, because our last night in Birmingham was in the 20s and only warmed up to just above freezing.  Unfortunately, Auburn was not going to be much better with temperatures in the teens both nights we were there.  In addition, the starlings that we had enjoyed every evening at dusk so much earlier in the month, had now left for warmer climates.

CampsiteTheSecondTime

On Wednesday we dropped by the Golden’s home to see our favorite dog, Katie who we had watched for years since she was a pup.  Katie is now over 16 years old and having problems breathing and moving around, but she was still the friendly dog we loved and enjoyed over the years.  We had a nice visit again with Mike and Bets and watched a doe just outside the window looking for some corn that Mike had put out earlier in the day.  In the afternoon, Laura Zutter, our next door neighbor for the past 25 years dropped by to see the RV.  For those of you that do not know the Zutters our friendship goes back long before being next door neighbors since Bruce and I attended graduate school together at Virginia Tech in the 70s where we both majored in Forest Biometrics.  After graduate school we went separate ways with Bruce coming to Auburn and I worked for International Paper in Georgia for 5 years.  I accepted a position on the faculty at Auburn in 1986 and two years later moved in next door to Bruce and Laura.   They have been great neighbors with children the same age as our own.  They joined us for dinner at Cancuns where we got to chat with our favorite server, Mateo one last time.

Thursday morning was COLD with a wind chill factor near zero degrees, but we managed to close up the RV and get on the road by 11:00.  We are off on our search for warmer weather!!

December 2014 – Birmingham, Alabama

Christmas is a time for family and that is just what we did.  For those of you interested in our travels and the places we have visited, you might want to skip this post, since it will be all about family.  Monday was spent on traveling to Birmingham or actually Helena, Alabama which is just south of Birmingham.  This is the location of Cherokee Campground which was going to be our home for the next couple of weeks.  The weather did not cooperate since it rained on us in Montgomery and again as we pulled into the campgrounds.  The trip was nothing special since we have made this trip at least twice a year over the past 25 years, but it is the first time we had a trailer and one of the only times we have stayed over night, although not at the grand parents.  Cherokee campground is an older campground with lots of trees and well worn sites.  In this way, it is a lot like a state park.  The sites are roomy and semi-private and the bathroom is a bit of a hike down the hill.  We set up the RV and immediately left for the grand parents house.

Campsite

For those of you that are not family, Phil, Shannon, Sam, and Shea have now moved into the house as well, so it was a busy place.  Kal quickly got all our presents wrapped and we journeyed out to find the UPS store to mail the packages to William and Nikki and then to finish our Christmas shopping.  We just had a couple of gifts to buy and the Summit in Birmingham is the perfect place to find those hard to decide presents.  We had a nice dinner with the family and retired to the RV which is about 30 minutes away.  The weather on Tuesday was again rainy and dreary so we stayed at the RV through the day and went to visit the family that afternoon and evening. By Wednesday, the weather had only gotten worse raining off and on all day.  Kal spent much of the day cooking her dad a banana cake for his birthday from scratch.  This is his favorite cake and since he hinted at to Kal, she wanted to surprise him so she made it at the RV.  Understand we do have a “full” kitchen in the RV, however, it is still small.  The propane oven is not large enough to bake all three layers of the cake at one time and she had yet to figure out how to use it properly since the cakes did not brown on the top.  However, once she got the topping on you won’t be able to tell it.  She also discovered we do not have all the ingredients on hand, so there were three trips to the grocery store on Christmas Eve.  She did get it finished before Kal went to Christ Church United Methodist for their Christmas Eve service where Sam played her saxophone in a quartet and Phil handled the sound system. Christmas morning was not as early as we had with our children, but they had to wait until Grandma was out of bed.  We left the RV early and arrived about 7:30 and Grandma joined us at around 8:00.  Phil had already started the traditional coffee cake for breakfast and we proceeded to enjoy Christmas with Sam and Shea.  It was great to see the excitement of young children opening their presents.  Sam wore her new roller skates all over the house all morning and Shea quickly disappeared to play her new video game upstairs.  We had some fun with Phil as well.  His present from his girls was a new Xbox game, but Sam had wrapped it up with a good size rock and used selected pieces of the junk mail they had been collecting for us over the past 4 months.  Phil has a great sense of humor and was excited about each “present” that was in the box which included junk mail for cruises, time shares, credit cards, and even an update for Quicken that we no longer use.  It was a lot of fun and made a great Christmas.  We are not done yet with Christmas, as most of our presents will wait for Saturday when more family will be joining us.  After lunch, Kal and I retired to the RV so I could try out my new video game for the Playstation that Kal gave me.  It is a Leggo game about Harry Potter that kept me occupied all afternoon.  Friday, following Christmas, was a quiet day at the campground playing video games and watching the weather, which was raining again.

GrandparentsHomeChristmasTree GrandmaPajamas  ChristmasMorning ShannonWithGiftDenny PhilWithGift GregAndShea CacyWithDot

On Saturday we all met again at Grandma and Grandpa house to continue Christmas with Jared and Joy, Michelle and James. After visiting for a couple of hours, Phil and Shannon made a great steak dinner with all the trimmings.  Following dinner was the time reserved for the giving of gifts.  Although Phil had always handled passing out the gifts from under the Christmas tree wearing his Santa hat with Goofy ears, he turned the responsibility over to his two girls, Sam and Shea.  They had such fun doing this, that I forgot all about opening my gifts which traditionally are opened as they are passed out.  Following the exchange of gifts we proceeded to the last Christmas tradition of the Lindsay household.  All the discarded Christmas wrapping becomes projectiles to pummel each other.  Since there were a number of family members absent from this tradition, we decided to contact them through facetime to include them as well.  Mark and Pam were contacted through facetime using the camera on Michelle’s phone and immediately pummeled with Christmas wrappings.  The laughter from the phone added immensely to the joy.  We then contacted Nikki with our iPad and repeated the performance.  Her expression was priceless.  I am still not sure where she was when we called, but she was not taken completely by surprise.  William does not currently have an internet connection so we had to skip him and contacted Jenny.  Once again we repeated the performance to her obvious enjoyment.  It brought all our missing family members into the experience.

MichelleAndJamesJaredAndJoy KalOnFacetime

From Sunday through New Years on Thursday, we went over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to watch at least one college football game, although we missed some of the best games since they were played in the evening.  On Tuesday, we started with a game of disc golf at Inverness Park.  Sam, Shea, Michelle, and James joined Kal and I for a morning in the park.  While it was only in the 40s, which is almost cold, and cloudy, it was going to be our best chance to get out since it rained over the weekend and was suppose to rain again on Wednesday and Thursday.  The disc golf course at Inverness is very challenging with steep hills and a lot of trees.  The first hole starts up a steep hill, taking a sharp right turn and the pin hidden behind a slight rise and trees.  Once you take the left turn, the fairway is along a woods road with a steep dropoff to the right.  Even though they tried hard to keep the discs from rolling down the hill, we still had to climb down the hill twice to retrieve discs.  Nobody got discouraged and the course did improve some.  The next three holes were from one ridge top to the next ridge top with a steep ravine in between.  While I was able to throw the disc across the ravine, everyone else had to chase their discs down and then up the other side.  There were a couple of holes that were semi-level, but most of them were not.  If there was a creek running along the fairway, someone would manage to find the water through the underbrush.  We finally lost a disc in a deep hole in the stream, however, we immediately found another disc that was a good replacement.  Kal was not playing with us, instead she was taking pictures and assisting in figuring out the course.  By the time we had completed the tenth hole it was getting close to 2:00 (we had been playing for over 3 hours!!) and everyone was getting hungry for lunch!  The pin for hole 10 was close to the parking lot and it was not clear where the tee for hole 11 was located.  It was an easy decision to call the game and head to Subway for lunch.  The rest of the afternoon was spent watching football.

SheaOnTeeSamConcentratingSisters SamRecoveringDisc  MichelleAtBasket JamesOnFairway GregAndNieces

We watched a lot of football and the only ones I will comment on were on New Year’s Day.  It started early with Auburn playing Minnesota at 11:00.  It was a great game, although Auburn was outplayed by Minnesota and stayed in the game by intercepting the football to stop a couple of Minnesota drive.  The outcome was close and ended with a tie at the end of regulation.  Auburn held Minnesota to a field goal, however, missed their field goal to extend the overtime and lost the game.  While a disappointment, Auburn played very well and Minnesota’s running game was much better than I expected.  We did watch some of the following games and played a game with Shea and Phil waiting for the first playoff games.  The Oregon and Florida State game went as I expected with Florida State finally playing a team that did not allow them to come back in the second half and lost convincingly.  The Alabama vs Ohio State game was also going as I expected with a 21 to 6 advantage in the first half.  Everything started to go wrong with 5 minutes left in the first half and Ohio State scored a quick 14 points to draw to within 1 point.  Ohio State started the second half the same way and Alabama was never able to quite recover although they made a great game of it.  This game was especially fun since it is one of the few times we were able to watch an Alabama game with Shannon, who is a big fan, and not be on opposite sides.  Grandma and Grandpa had also gone to bed by then and we could really enjoy the game.  It was just too bad that both of our teams lost.  The Oregon vs Ohio State game for the National Championship should be a great game, although I don’t know if we will be able to watch it as we will be staying in a Corps of Engineering campground by then.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we spent in the campground dealing with bad weather again (!!).  Phil did come to visit the RV on Friday evening to look at our sound system and make some recommendations.  Based on his advice we decided to get an inexpensive Receiver to connect the TV and Playstation 3 to the surround sound system in the RV.  On Saturday we went to Best Buy and bought a standard Pioneer Receiver and a new set of wireless headphones.  I pulled it all out of the box, but I am still not clear how to deal with both the sound and video so decided to wait for Phil to help out following church on Sunday.  Thankfully, Phil brought his family Sunday afternoon to see the RV and install the tuner.  After showing off the RV and letting the girls climb up the ladder, we got started on the sound system by first taking out the sub-woofer since it will require an amplifier or we will need to find a new self amplified woofer that will fit in the cabinet.  It did not take him very long to set it up, although we still need another HDMI cable to connect the DVD player.  It all works fine, except I still need to run its self balancing.

Monday morning we spent in the RV getting it ready to leave on Tuesday and that afternoon we went to spend our last evening with Kal’s parents and Phil’s family.  We picked up the HDMI cable we would need on our way home and Kal