Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lake Okeechobee

We are settled in to the Marina RV Park in Moore Haven, Florida. The campground is "parked" right next to the main lock controlling both boat entry to and from the Caloosahatchee River and water levels in the lake and river. In the years we have lived "down stream" in Cape Coral the water levels have been disastrously high creating a risk of flooding and levee damage around the lake and often "polluting" the shoreline fisheries of the gulf down near Fort Myers with an overabundance of fresh water and plant life. We had driven around the lake previously but not really seen much of it or learned anything in particular about it. As with most things, it is very different than we thought.
For starters, the idea that flooding could be and would always be a problem is gone. In fact the level of the lake is so low right now, that the fishermen I have spoken to have all said it is nearly impossible to get into the lake at all- down some six feet, leaving parts of the access waterways with only a foot or so of water. With Florida's constant risk of Hurricanes and heavy rains, you can't know how long conditions like this will last, but suffice it to say that with a lake this big, it will take an ENORMOUS amount of rain to fill it back up, so the coastal fishery should have a good period of time to recover- which it desperately needs- a fact that should make my fishing buddies, Captain Larry, Jim and Rick, all very happy. Now if Rick could just stop loosing those blessed bobbers of his...
Yesterday I stood on the banks of the canal to the lock looking down at and talking to a fisherman who said if the lake were at its normal level he would be sitting and fishing where I was standing and talking. A picture can't show the distance, but with the amount of wind blowing off the lake we had to shout to each other just to have the conversation. We wanted to put the kayaks in and paddle around, but the combination of high winds two days running and the number of gigantic alligators laying along the shore just about everywhere forced us to wait for a day with better weather. We are not so afraid of the gators sitting in the kayak, but if we get wind flipped and are IN the water with them- well, that's another story. I did fish from shore for a while ( yes, fishing team, I was skunked ). You'd figure with so much less water the fish would be concentrated, but instead only the varmints were, and one guy down at the dock killed a water moccasin that was in the way of his loading his six passengers for a boat ride around the lock. I watch where I put my feet every time I am down at the water now. The ranger who told us we really do need to be careful with the alligators (and the dog) was surely correct- thought originally that was just tourist stuff...Wrong!
So how low is the water in terms of how the system works? Okeechobee sits more or less in the middle of the state. Through the rivers and the associated canals (Panama it ain't) a boat can get from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico and spend some time in the fresh water of the lake in the process. But with water levels where they are now, there are actually some boats stranded at positions withing the system. The last two days in a row I have watched a couple of sailboats untie from the hitch posts and pass through the gates into the lock only to return a short while later having once again been unable to leave the lake side of the lock and enter the Caloosahatchee. On some openings of the lock, the water, because of the unusual water levels, has apparently actually flowed in the wrong direction! Has the locals pretty much confounded! One guy told me- "No air boat, no Lake Okeechobee."
Hopefully by weeks end there will be more from here with pics, but to be truthful it is not a spectacularly beautiful area. Oh the lake is gorgeous to the eye, the dead trees in the former flood zones are eerily interesting, and the rushes lined with gators are always fun to see, but nothing jumps up and screams to be photographed at this point. The campground itself is not particularly picturesque either, even if interesting. It looks a little like the area of the moon where our space ship landed all those many years ago...or as they say in Robin William's RV Movie, the "place where Nassau faked the moon landing." We are on a soft sand lot in the hollow between two of the layered levees of the lake. If they had named the place Craterville instead of Moore Haven, you would get a more accurate picture of the place.
The town is a bit like the former landing spot on the moon as well - much of it deserted and in poor repair and much of it still trashed from whichever of the last 8 hurricanes or so trashed it to begin with. But we did find a post office and sent out the mail we had been holding and a grocery store and even a city hall and lots of places (looked authentic anyway) to get a Cuban or a Mexican dinner. In the outlying areas, the orange crops are starting to be harvested so the Spanish influence at this time of year is even greater than normal. Surely this is a "poor" area. But unlike many poor areas, we have not seen bars on windows and signs of needless vandalism. Windows in abandoned buildings are unbroken. As we have learned by living in Honduras for five years before coming to Florida- a third world country by just about every one's definition, "poor" is not always synonymous with negatives like vandalism, crime, danger- at least not more so than the extent to which those things exist everywhere. So "poor" is often visible to the passing eye, but often nothing more.....And "poor" has little or nothing to do at all with what is in a person's heart and how that person will treat you given half a chance and a certain level of respect that we are all due.
From Okeechobee: Water level down; Spaniard level up.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Leaving Peace River, Wauchula

Our two weeks at Peace River just flew by. A couple day trips to handle some unfinished business, a couple days to finish washing and waxing the full coach, a couple days (and long nights) trying to learn new computer skills with the "Geeks on Tour", entertaining friends who drove up to see what camping is all about, lots of time meeting and chatting with new neighbors- all contributed to the almost unnoticed passing of time.
That's pretty much what happens to our lives anyway: time gets away and the only way we really ever see that is by looking back. I'm hoping to do some of that on this trip, but I hope to learn to look more at the here and now before it too becomes the past and is gone.

We try to learn from everyone we meet on the road. The couple in the Fifth Wheel parked across the gravel road from us hang a sign on their hitch that reads, "If you don't stop by and say 'HEY' we may never get to be friends." That pretty much sums up attitudes in campgrounds. Welcoming! If there are any campgrounds out here filled with leave-me-alone grumpy types we haven't stopped at any of them yet- and suspect we will not.

There are lots of activities one can pursue on the road. We hope that in the not too distant future we can do some panning for gold. Marilyn has her pan and her hat and her GPAA (Gold Prospertors of America Assn) badge ready to sew on to her jacket first chance she gets! That's still in the future. But if striking up a conversation with a new neighbor is the "panning for gold" of friendship, then Peace River was a gold mine for us. We met some new friends and spent a couple evenings sitting around the old camp fire getting to know each other. Some people you just click with...and while we will surely miss them when we pull out of here in the morning, there is no doubt that we will all hook up again a tad further down the road. As Chris said tonight, what she likes about this life style is that when people meet and start talking in a campground, they are talking about a restaurant in Phoenix, a mountain in Washington, a fishing trip to Wyoming, a great camp on the Chesapeake- the country is our neighborhood. We are not defined by cities and states or even regions- and how cool is that?

So to celebrate a new friendship and our last night together for now, Bob and Polly put on a camp feed for Marilyn and me and Jim and Chris. On the menu, Marguaritas and cerveza with chips and homemade, handmade salsa, cheesebugers in paradise, baked beans, green salad and FUDGE for dessert. Perfecto!
We laughed and partied and made loud raucus sounds late into the night until there was nothing left of the fire but the embers and the cows had all come home...actually it was a propane fire pit, we wrapped things up by 7:00 PM (hey I'm not as young as I used to be) and I was just kidding about the cows!
Earlier in the evening I had taken a last stroll by myself down the nature trail that is cut along the river. It is quiet there. You can think about the day. You can see things there that you cannot see back where everyone else is...the Peace River is really only a stream this far "up stream," and it's low and slow and, well, Peace-ful.
I saw a tortoise come out of the high grass to munch on some tender young vines.

The Spanish moss was draped in the trees that leaned out over the river and it shivered in the light breezes of the evening.Water flowed around the bends in the river determined to flow to the Gulf and become another body of water entirely.
A thousand faces seemingly tried to peer from the bark of the ancient living oaks as though they were telling the story of this place.

But after the walk through the woods and by the river the hustle and bustle of the camp was still in evidence.
There is a road that takes you to people you have not met and and places you did not know existed. We are on that road....

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Day Parade

OK. OK. Macy's Thanksgiving parade it ain't, but here at the Thousand Trails Peace River Preserve in Wauchula, FL, the tradition of Thanksgiving welcoming in the Christmas season is alive and well. Being new full time RV'ers we probably should have stayed here and done the Thanksgiving pot luck with a couple hundred other campers to see what it was all about, but we opted to spend the day with our Cape Coral new residents group and our dear, dear friends and house sitters extraordinaire from Roatan who also decided the time had come to repatriate their lives for whatever reason. We had a magnificent day with all the old friends but the time approaches when all things must be new- on the road. Not that old friends are ever forgotten- they get better with age like fine wine (red anyhow)- but the vistas of the road will not be available to those who do not choose to view them with eyes wide open. And so we begin to open our eyes to new things.

But if you thought the holiday trappings were missing from the life on the road, feast your eyes on the Santa Claus parade at TT Peace River---

Friday, November 24, 2006

Beginning at the End

So here’s the deal! This is a new blog. I am a new blogger. If you like what you read up top, you scroll down and keep reading. If not, you just don’t read any further and that’s that. Unless of course you just wish to scroll really fast and look at the pretty pictures and not read a gosh darn thing. That’s OK too. I put it out there; you do what you want with it and amen to that!
I’m a pretty up front guy, so let me start by confessing that this first entry is a compilation of the “road reports” e mails we sent out during our roughly 5 week shakedown cruise which took us from Florida to Hershey, PA and back. So the posting date of all this will be Nov 25 and not the dates that they were actually sent (although you can see that leading each entry). I did put them in descending order to get into the flow of things, dear bloggers, but had no interest in trying to go back and produce them in original post format. (Well, actually I did and gave it a try but it didn’t work out the way I thought it should have).Ok, yea I know, that’s “blog-cheating” but like I said I’m a new guy. And my computer, which is only a couple years old, still tries to correct “wi-fi” with “wife” and “blog” with “flog” so there is a learning curve at work here for all of us here in the coach.
From here on out, I shall strive to sound less “e maily” and more “bloggerish” and that’s the name of that tune.
So here, then, is Chapter One- the Shakedown Cruise for your edification. It’s our story, or at least some of the more interesting and less mundane stuff, of life and travel in “BUSTER” our 43 ft. Newmar Dutch Star Diesel Pusher Motor Coach. Why Buster? Don’t know for sure. Didn’t come up with anything better at this point and we had enough classic phrases to go with it for now: Blank Buster. _________Buster. Fill in the blank! Ball Buster. Budget Buster. “Alaska or Buster” Hopefully not a Marriage Buster. And on and on
Remember, in a blog, the beginning is now at the end. The end is now at the beginning. Soon the middle will be at the beginning, and this is beginning to get to me already….
SO LET”S BEGIN…at the end…

At trip's end, Marilyn shares her highlight of the trip...

Stop right there !
If the attached picture did not pop open when you opened this e mail please read the text regarding the county highway before enjoying the scenic photo...
This is Florida "highway" county road # 14. Listed on our coach GPS as an alternative route OK for travel in a bus from Cordel, GA en route to Econofina River in northern Florida- about a mile and a half up river from the Gulf of Mexico. Advertised as having plenty of good fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, etc.- the usual full campground fare.
It was a route designed to take us to this 3 day stop without super highways and hectic travel- a sort of wind yourself down end to our shake down cruise, some time to reflect, some time with our thoughts about our travels.
The roads were pleasant enough- tree lined with moss hanging everywhere in the living oaks, run down and gussied up plantations and farms, lots of wildlife- the way you think RVing is supposed to be. What you saw in the brochure. What you spirit longs for...
Eventually the tree lined boulevards gave way to low hanging branches that nipped at the top of the coach as we whisked along. We slowed. The GPS showed we were right on course- no need to fret. Then just north of the Florida line the road- same road- began to narrow quite a bit. But there were no other routes to consider at this point so on we went. By the Florida state line the road had narrowed to the point that when two vehicles passed each other, especially with one of them our size, one of the two had to drive off the edge of the road to let the other pass. A bit nerve racking yes, but slower still was comforting so slower still we did. And still the GPS said” You’re doing fine, kids." Within another 10 miles the paved highway turned into a loose sand road.
Oh oh! But GPS says keep going!
On a greater scale out- we could see our destination ahead of us on the 7 inch screen. There was no way to turn back. No way to turn around. Intrepid! Onward.
Through loose sand about 4 inches deep that kept pushing us off to one side and then another. Through the wet spots where the wheels settled down way too much for comfort, slipped, slided, spun a bit- but kept moving forward.
Not to fear, GPS said only 10 miles of this nonsense and the final reward will be ours.
However, after 10 miles, we came upon the "intersection" in the attached photo. Well, OK it wasn't on the map but it had two choices for forward travel, so I guess it was an intersection. Without just cause, decided to go left. Thank you lord! Now the GPS read "destination in 11 miles." And despite never expecting to make this distance without getting stuck and dying out there in the bush- we did.
Ah, you say, story over...
Well actually not quite. Arrived at the perfectly beautiful campground ,but before we could kick back we knew we had some important business- an offer on the building in Maine with a response deadline and about 18 other unanswered e mails that we expected to get to before setting up camp.
Now the signs all around the campground all said to call 911 if you have an emergency. Which is interesting in light of the fact that the office closed early. There was no cell phone service. There was no wi-fi. There was no PC access. There was NO NOTHING. Double Negative? You DO get the idea!
Turns out there are still parts of this here great country that have nothing but scenic beauty and a dirt road or two- which is OK if you know that's where you're headed and you have a tent in the back of the 4WD. It’s really not tops in a motor coach, though it is a challenge and a challenge is a good thing
So now if you haven't already done so, please enjoy the photo.
If your computer won't allow you to open the photo, don't worry- you probably already know what sand looks like.
This is sent to you from Ocala tonight where civilization has been restored to the south.
So what is the lesson of the day. Well, actually it is about fly fishing. No we didn't stop and do any fishing, but every time we crossed a rural stream or body of water we smashed about 3000 stone flies on our giant picture window style front windshield as the "hatch was on..." So Marilyn got to hear all about fly hatches and fly fishing and see just what it's all about without wetting a line.
We came out of the episode relatively unscathed except that we had to beg for some extra water rights here at this campground to wash the coach- that's usually a no no. But you couldn't even see what color the coach was anymore after kicking up all that dust. I'm pretty sure the rangers called in a forest fire as we drove past the fire tower, but you never know for sure.
Primitive camping anyone???

The 4 1/2 hour scheduled trip from North Carolina to GA took 7 hours drive time instead- a tanker truck about 8 miles in front of us on I-85 at the South Carolina/Georgia line smashed through the guard rail, down a ravine and landed pretty much destroyed wedged between some trees at the bottom. Fortunately the rescue crews managed to get one lane open so traffic eventually meandered past the scene. Thanks to our CB Radio we could listen to the truckers and knew when to be in what lane to make things a bit easier getting through. Don't know what happened to the driver but it could not have been good.
Then came Atlanta. Who knew that there are as many as 20 lanes on the highway passing Atlanta? Could have been more but I stopped counting at twenty. Being in the correct lane out of 20 in an RV that is about 60 feet with towed vehicle and navigating the cloverleaves, ramps, etc. at rush hour because we were running late (NOT because of bad planning) proved to be more than a tad stressful.
And then, we got placed in "college town Univ. Georgia" for our first camp site and the "kids" partied until after 2 in the AM. We managed to get through the night, but I was considering for a time becoming " The Machete Massacre Guy" long about 2 AM.
Things looked better next morning and this campground, although last night was party night, is the most beautiful of the places we have stayed so far. Stone Mountain is amazing and the huge lake is gorgeous as well. We can put the kayaks in right next to our campsite although there was a near frost last night as a cold front moved through and I turned the heat on and put on my fuzzy slippers this morning, so I'm waiting for some warming up before I dip anything I have in that water!
Saturday night, after a day exploring the mountain and its amenities, we made a nighttime crossing in the water taxi and took in the laser light show on the mountain. It was different than we had anticipated but we still liked it a lot; me thinks the southerners liked it better as it was geared toward loving GA, AL, MISS, TN, etc. Glad we saw it though. Think I liked the "4-D" movie at the theater better. Again, not as good as the 3d in Hershey, but neato, and we got pretty wet when the dog jumped into the swamp...oh, I guess you had to be there. Sunday a gondola ride up the mountain and a planning session for the new Atlanta aquarium on Monday.
Went to the Stone Mountain Chili cook-off and tasted about 50 different chilies and saw plenty of strange sights. The best theme chili was the "Brown Spot Chili" - had a clothes line with "soiled underpants all over it and a sign that read "We won't tear you a new one, but we will do some damage to the one you got..." Then there was the trailer trash chili group who were all wearing fake really bad teeth.
The aquarium was great! Belugas and whale sharks! But the jelly fish display was breathtaking and we had never seen anything like it. We also took in the 4-d theater with "Deepo" - our third 4 -d film of the trip. Really getting into that...
Tonight we are in Cordel, GA and will be back in Florida at Econofina River, FL for the next three days. Down time needed. We are getting tired- too much fun!

Left the cold damp Hershey headed south. Only three really nice weather days out of two weeks, but still had oodles of fun and good visits with family.
Steve, sorry not to contact you or come further north as we had intended to visit with you, but tentative situations in Florida made us decide to head back in that direction for the time being.
Next stop was Jellystone National Park Campground. Thought it was only a cartoon? Think again. Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Alleghenies in Virginia, we happened upon a most splendid camp in the valley bottom. Yes! Yogi Bear WAS there and I have a picture with him to prove it. Sounds ridiculous I know. But the sublime was the facility and the scenery and we would definitely go back there in a heartbeat. Beautiful mountains. We visited Natural Bridge which I thought ho hum about until we got there. Takes your breath away. Higher than Niagara Falls, this natural stone bridge was surveyed and "signed" by George Washington and then purchased by Thomas Jefferson. The river running through the valley and under the bridge was crystal clear gorgeous and loaded with fish- looked mostly like small mouth bass. Back at the campground I fished the James River, some near by streams and ponds for about three hours and came away with two 13 inch rainbow trout which we cooked up for dinner- very special. Left there this morning (after two days) in a thick valley fog and headed for North Carolina where we are right now at Midway Campground near Cool Springs. They have a lake to fish in as well but this is just a passing through camp so probably will not spend time on that. Tomorrow's destination is Stone Mountain Georgia where we hope to spend four days or so taking in the sights and activities.
I don't think Abby will ever settle for a house again. She has the pack up, set up routines down pat and loves the new sights, sounds and smells of changing location every day. She has become much more sociable on the road than we would have thought possible at this point, but it is good that that has worked out well and has been good for the three of us.
Sandy and Waylon, think you can handle the house real fine while we check back with you and then head right out again? Will coordinate your travel dates no problem, although maybe you shouldn't be doing that quite so soon darlings!
More from the road in the next couple days. A shower about to chase me into the coach from the picnic table!

On the move again today for the first time in two weeks. Had a relatively short day of driving ( in the rain again) and pulled into a beautiful campground just outside of Baltimore. Passed through Gettysburg on our way here and we must have gotten "lost" (not really) because when I asked, Marilyn told me she didn't know the "Address." Get it?
It was a breathtaking crossing of the Susquehanna River. I fished it a lot as a kid and thought it might seem smaller than I remembered but in fact it seemed twice as wide. What a beautiful river; I'm thinking maybe I come back here late Spring and catch me a bunch of Shad. Shad roe is still my favorite meal on the planet and this gets me thinking along those lines.
Made a stop at Bass Pro Shops to look at fly rods in anticipation of the great Alaska adventure. WOW What a store!
Tomorrow we will spend the day in the city at Inner Harbor- the National Aquarium- and a whole host of fancy shops and eateries. We have really been looking forward to this part of the trip.

We've arrived here in Lebanon (only chocolate wars here) near Hershey, PA. Marilyn has been smiling ever since we pulled in here. What do you suppose that is all about?
Will be here two weeks, visiting and touring. The Thousand Trails Campground, part of the series of "Preserves" we bought a membership in, is really beautiful and FREE. Amenities include a fishing lake with ducks and geese, tennis, hiking trails, huge clubhouse, full hookups for the camp sites, beautiful and forested rolling hills, campfires- the whole bit. It is out in the sticks a bit so the internet connection is a bit slower than normal and a bit iffy at times or so it seemed last night. So please keep e mails to the point (for now) and hold the jokes for another time please.

Nothing terribly special about this camp north of Fredericksburg, VA, unless you want to go to Potomac Beach, 12 miles away, which we do not want to do this trip, but all other campgrounds we did want were full- close to Washington DC.
Tomorrow we should reach our destination camp of Hershey, PA, and mercifully for those of you who think these reports are nothing more than SPAM, they will stop for a while at least until we are on he move again.
This camp ground is built into the side of a hill here in VA, so now we KNOW we can cross the Rockies when we go to see Derek and Karin before going on to ALASKA. Hey , I'm new at this so if I were an Alpine goat I would have been a little more comfortable about getting into my site, but, you know, it went pretty darn well and another day, another gain in confidence.
Abby has already figured out that every time we even touch her leash she is going exploring for new territory and new smells and new adventures. She has found her "perfect place" between our seats on a pillow while driving and has a couple good campsite spots for when we are in camp for the night. There is no doubt ABBY loves RVing. Last night she had an enormous bone by the lake and she, for sure, is a happy camper. As for us we are relaxed and doing well so far. Now if I can just get down off this mountain goat site we are camped on in the morning all will be well and we will hit the Marilyn Mother Load- Hershey- tomorrow with plenty of time to set up- then have a good visit with the "rents"- the main reason for heading the first trip in this direction.

We had a wonderful walk on the inter coastal and the Atlantic beach this morning. Took our time and relaxed because we had no idea that I had torn the power wire to the pilot's seat and couldn't move the seat back far enough to be able to drive! An hour and a half later I had a temporary fix that allowed us to get on road and we actually made it to the next destination- Santee, South Carolina close to when we hoped to get in. In Georgia drove through the worst rain storm I ever had to drive through- trucks, cars, RVs, you name it - pulled over by the hundreds. We just crawled along since everyone else was pulled over and more or less stuck to the schedule. Tonight we are a stone's throw from a huge lake that is really beautiful. Only other problem today was one gigantic stretch of highway that was so torn up it shook us and the coach pretty good and loosened up a few things that shouldn't been loosened up. Is that why they call it a shake down cruise? Expect to be underway on schedule tomorrow AM.

Greetings tonight from Lake Gaston, Gasburg, Virginia, just north of the border from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. A very cool place to spend the night after stopping mid day at "South of the Border" in South Carolina. The lake is huge and we walked a lot of it after setting up camp- ducks, fish, boats, campers, swimmers- a great evening to match the great day we had. For the first time no problems- in fact we resolved much of the "issues" from the last couple days this morning before getting on the road. Who knew I could fix anything electrical like the pilot's seat wiring. And NO, Captain Lucky Larry, it did not break from having sex in the chair!!!
Day by day we are getting more familiar and more comfortable with the coach. Things that were daunting before are starting to become normal routine- not that we don't have a huge learning curve still ahead.
Abby sends her regards and expresses her joy at the little things: while we deal with all the particulars, Abby gets to say that she has now taken a dump in every state between Florida and Virginia- two in some!
Sandy and Waylon, thanks for the news from the homestead. Sounds like everything is under control for the time being. Thanks to you for tonight's dinner- down home jambalaya, Waylon's special wrapped potatoes, and cheesecake slices for dessert- all heat and serve or right out of the ice box- no prep time required. Yum!
We truly hope no one takes offense at the bulk mailing. We have had an inordinate amount of e mail to deal with. The business part gets individual attention, the updates are going out in this form as there is much to do each morning and night to be on the road so much of each day without a layover. You can let me know if I should remove you from the "junk mail" list.