The shakedown camping trip

In a slightly unexpected turn of events last week, the day after my moaning blog about not going anywhere, Loops miraculously announced that Belle was ready to go on our final shakedown camping trip – 5 days out and about on the road to test how she would hold up full time. Cue *party dance*

Fuelled by my excitement I blithely offered to go to the supermarket to stock up on food, something I regretted after an hour and a half of wandering the aisles. However, the good news is my first grocery trip took over two hours, so I’m obviously getting better at the shopping…slightly annoying news, I’ve discovered I’m not quite sure where to store the potatoes in the RV.

The basis for our road trip was not only to test out our living quarters, but also to make two important stops – one to see Bunny and Phil (for those of you who remember them from our AT adventures – if not, go refresh your memory – http://www.postholer.com/button) and the second to see Martha and Dan, two of my dad’s best friends who I like to visit with from time to time. Both of these stops were especially important for me because right now, the majority of my time is either spent with Loops or his family, and while they are lovely in their own way, I really miss having my own friends around me.

Our departure was planned for Wednesday 9am, allowing for three hours of travel and pulling in to our first campground just before lunch.
At 10am we are still loading the bus.
For not only do we need to add the items to the refrigerator and freezer, but also store our clothes, bedding, bathroom toiletries and other items, such as Loops’ computer and about 56 other electrical/computer type gadgets he’s brought along that I don’t understand. After this there is the checking of the bays, the generator and general mechanics before finally, at 10.30am, we pull out of the storage unit and are on our way…

So what can I tell you about the drive?

Well, for a start, three hours in a motorhome is nothing like three hours in a car.
I have space. Tons of space.
I have a very squashy comfortable chair, with arm rests, that reclines and a foot rest that pops out from the base. Every time we go over a bump in the road I feel like I’m on a soft bouncy fairground ride.
If I get hungry, I can get up and walk (very carefully) into my kitchen and make myself a sandwich or get a snack. If I need the bathroom, I can use that too, with the additional excitement of watching the world fly by through the window while I use it!
The TV is also able to be used on the move, so I could decide not to even bother with the motorway view outside but opt for watching an episode of Game of Thrones instead.
I guess if I really wanted to I could even go and lay in bed and sleep (although it gets pretty hot back there on the road and the engine might keep me awake).
All in all, it’s a pretty darn comfortable way to travel.

If you pick the right roads to drive down i.e. get off the motorway, then the trip doubles in enjoyment simply by watching the world go by. We drove through quaint dusty little towns, past horse and cattle farms and orange groves. At one point we drove along one section of road (interstate 44) and for about 5 miles saw nothing but plant nurseries, one after another after another. That road must have the best soil around because I can’t think of any other reason those companies would want to all be lined up next to each other for competition in the same type of business.

As for wildlife along the way, we saw….wait for it….I was super excited by this….caracaras!
For those of you with no idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a photo taken by a very nice person at the WildFlorida.com website.

Caracara463

That’s right, despite me thinking you only found them in South America, nope, there is a small relict population of northern crested caracaras in a couple counties in Florida – one of which we happened to be driving through. There I was just gazing out of the window when all of a sudden out of nowhere two of them appeared on the right hand side of the road, squabbling with each other.
Of course we flew past at speed (well, as fast as you can in a massive bus anyway), so I only caught a glimpse but immediately knew what they were, and then was instantly confused as to how I would have seen what I thought I saw. With the internet to my rescue, Wikipedia kindly confirmed that I wasn’t going slightly mad, but instead saw what is considered a threatened species here in Florida with only about 500 birds left. How awesome is that? Well, not awesome they are threatened of course but, you know what I mean.
It is at this point that I will concede the one good thing I like about Florida. There I said it. Yes, there is one thing I really do love about the state, and that is the bird life. According to the Florida Birding Trail people, there are approximately 330 different species of bird resident in the state. That’s a huge number.
On any given day here, even just in the neighbourhood where we are staying, I can see black and turkey vultures, ibis, roseate spoonbills, multiple species of egret and heron as well as lots of small song birds I have no clue what they are (I’m ashamed about this). If I venture just a bit, maybe a half hour or so, I can easily clock pelicans, osprey, cormorants, swallow tailed kites, bald eagles and even once on the beach could swear that I saw frigate birds flying overhead.
So for someone like me who loves the diversity of bird life, Florida is an amazing pace to be (for everything else, for me, it sucks, sorry).

Anyway, back to the road trip.
After our bird encounter things were pretty quiet for a while until we hit the stretch of road where the orange groves lie. For this is where we found the butterflies.
On either side of the road, as far as the eye can see, are rows of orange trees. In a fit of what I can only assume is pollination madness, on a stretch of maybe a couple miles, small white butterflies make a mad dash back and forth across the road to the groves on either side. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, driving down the road you look ahead and all you can see are flittering wings. It’s the perfect setting for a wildlife documentary.
That is until you add a 12ft high and 8½ft wide motorhome chugging down the road at 50mph.
Then it sadly turns into a massacre.

At slow speeds of maybe 10-20mph the bus manages to create a buffeting slip stream where approaching insects are able to bounce gently away from the windscreen and carry on their merry way, I’ve seen it happen a number of times with butterflies and dragonflies.
Unfortunately, once we pass about 30mph, we seem to turn into a wall of death.
At this time of year, 90% of our casualties appear to be what Loops terms as ‘love bugs’. I am unsure of their evolutionary and ecological function, but I can tell you there are millions of the blighters and so the few that are smushed on our windscreen aren’t going to give me any sleepless nights.
And after the documentary I watched last night on dragonflies, who are appear to be winged assassins of the skies (and secretly I’m now slightly afraid of them), again the odd one here or there won’t break my heart too much. However, pretty butterflies are a little too much for my sensitive system to take and each time one hits the windshield, it causes me to flinch.
As a result, by the time we finished the ‘butterfly bash’, I had developed somewhat of a nervous tic.
I keep trying to tell myself there were thousands of them out there and when Loops cleaned the bus later that day, there was actually only one butterfly stuck to it and the rest was covered in love bugs and looked like this…

20160511_191354

Three hours, two threated birds and a butterfly annihilation later, we arrive at the St Lucie South Recreation Area.
This campground is run by the Corps of Engineers, who have 2,500 sites around the US which are available for the public to camp at. This is the first time we have been to one, and what a treat it was.
For a start, the recreation area is based on a canal which has a lock for boats to pass through. This means you are in a pretty waterside location with the free entertainment of watching the boats, of all shapes and sizes, sail by.
Second, you are allowed to walk across the lock (when the gates are closed) and into a lovely little nature park on the other bank which has two short trails where you can spot birds and reptiles as you wander (as well as poison ivy, which was kindly pointed out to me by Bunny and Phil).
Third, you can sit by the lock itself and watch the gates open in a rush of water, while the lock either fills or drains and the boats bob around in the middle waiting to be released. If you’re really lucky, you might even see some manatees waiting in the lock with the boats as they travel up and down the intercoastal waterway.
Finally, we have a lovely little card that gives us a discount for staying at the Corps of Engineers sites, so that just tops the whole thing off nicely.

What really made our day though was to not only arrive and see such a wonderful little site, but to discover by some fluke of luck (our first ever), that we were given the prime spot on the site, right on the waterfront with the best view and only one neighbour.

camp20160511_191416

Even more amazing, we had water and a 50amp hook-up (to put this in perspective for other people like me who have no clue about electrics, it simply means that I can run a number of appliances without blowing the fuses – so rather than having to turn off the air conditioning if I want to hoover or run the microwave, I can do all those things at once. Although admittedly even with all of this power at our disposal, I still managed to blow the fuse when I cooked).

It wasn’t long after we’d settled in with everything hooked up, the awnings and chairs put out, that Bunny and Phil arrived. To put it mildly, I was absolutely freakin’ thrilled to see them. I’m pretty sure I might have broken a rib or two on Bunny from hugging her so hard.


As usual it didn’t take long before we had chosen to go for a walk and much of our talk was about the AT and what we remembered and how our lives are right now compared to then. One of the things I like best about hanging out with Bunny is that around her, I find it so easy to recall the trail and how amazing it felt to be hiking and having the experiences we did. And sitting here right now typing, I’ve just had an image pop into my head of us night hiking out of Harpers Ferry together, seeing a massive snake in the road (and being somewhat surprised that snakes came out at night), and then ending up bushwhacking up a massive hill to get to a hostel camp for the night. Just being around Bunny makes these things crystal clear again and reminds me what an easy friendship it was to fall into and why we have managed to maintain it over the four years we have, despite living in different countries and seeing each other once in a blue moon.

We spent the next day and a half hanging out, eating Mexican, walking trails, eating ice cream and watching boats on the lock.
We spotted some neat wildlife on the short trail near camp – two tortoises in their underground burrows (why does it surprise me to see a tortoise underground, again, isn’t this something I should have known already?), two pileated woodpeckers (woody woodpecker to the rest of us), a red/orange cornsnake and a wild pig.
We also visited Seabranch Preserve and took a 3-4 mile stroll through the sand in the blazing heat. Sadly we didn’t see much wildlife besides some lizards, a cardinal or two and two tortoises just as we were leaving. However, we did stumble across a really interesting wetland part of the preserve which we began to walk into before it turned into a bog and Bunny lost her whole foot into wet mud. At this point we figured it wasn’t accessible and went back to the blazing sand.
But here’s a little bit of what we saw on our walks in native Florida scrub habitat….

On the way back to the campsite, Phil spotted two sand cranes from the car which once again I was ecstatic to watch, not ever having seen them before.
Too soon Bunny and Phil departed, but we shall be visiting them again later this year when we head south to the Keys and pop in to see their new house, which I’m very excited about!

The next stop on our trip was DeLand, to say hello to Martha and Dan over dinner. My dad, who will have passed away three years ago this September, used to work with them both at his old school and both were very good friends to him during his years in Florida. They both are a comfort to me, to know that he had such nice people to spend time with and who cared about him. I know they both still miss him deeply and so I like to see them when I am able, to check in on how things are going with them.
Martha is one of the kindest and cheerful souls you could ever meet, caring about everything you have to say. Dan is quieter in his demeanour, but has an incredibly sharp witted sense of humour, which is easy to see why he and my dad where friends.

Loops and I were generously treated to dinner at Mac on Main in DeLand by Martha, where I promptly filled myself with coconut shrimp and cinnamon rolls. Dan was even kind enough to further my sugar addiction by letting me take home his cinnamon roll for dessert (honestly, he really did insist!).
After dinner they gave us a walking tour of the little town, providing us with bits of history here and there, of shops come and gone and just for good measure, topped it off with tales of the local drive by shootings.
We popped into Persimmon Hollow, a new local micro-brewery, where Loops and Dan tested the Daytona Dirty Blonde while Martha and I went off to check out the bathroom made entirely of doors (at Dan’s recommendation). Weird bathrooms are always of interest to me, so I enjoyed the stalls made of doors laid sideways and the fact the stall doors themselves had door knockers, which seems very polite to me. You also got to wash your hands over a beer keg being used as the sink. According to Loops, the guys’ bathroom was even more exciting where you actually peed into a beer barrel!
*sigh* There are just so many interesting things to see in the world these days.
Martha and Dan dropped us off at the local Elks club, which is where we had pitched up our home for the night, and we said our goodbyes.
I am happy to report there was no drive by shootings near us that night. 

So after that, it was just a case of pootling back to the storage shed the next morning, another two hour drive through slightly countrified Florida (give or take the 25 minutes we accidently spent on the motorway after Loops got into a fight with his sat nav which insisted on not following the directions he programmed in, but felt she knew better in that we would obviously want to drive down the much faster, but incredibly boring I-4).

And there we have it. Some lovely scenery, good company, playing around testing the new home and only one water leak (oh yes, there was another mad dash outside again as once more the water bay flooded – needs fixing again!).

Our ‘To-Do’ list is getting shorter….we’ll be full timing before you know it (we hope!)

10 thoughts on “The shakedown camping trip

  1. Chris

    Another great post as always 😉

    I had a strange feeling when watching the beginning of the video, as the camera panned towards Belle there was great sense of anticipation waiting for her to finally pull out….and oh my….she is enormous, in a good way!

    It’s interesting to watch the video, my sister lives in Florida (Ponte Vedra) and it all looks very familiar. One of the things my sister constantly complains about is how totally flat it is. Whenever she comes back to visit the UK she harps on about just how wonderfully hilly everything is…the little things I guess.

    The photos are now great by the way, nice and big. I meant to leave a comment on your previous post (The Countdown) but somehow work got in the way! However this time whilst sitting, at what is my new desk at Microsoft for the year, I explained to the guys that I must leave a comment and it will need to take priority over the other stuff they class as being more important!

    Looking forward to more posts soon 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have anew desk – congratulations! 🙂

      Belle is rather enormous, I keep pestering Loops for my driving lessons, though secretly the idea of navigating her down any road, no matter how wide, is nerve wracking. He makes it look so easy :-/
      I’m hoping at some point to get some footage of her on the move from the outside so everyone can hear her engine going!

      Glad the photos are working out better too.

      As for Florida – the only hills here according to Loops are ‘Mount Garbage’ – any large green hilltops seems to be landfill sites covered over by grass – something you’d only spot really if a native told you.
      It is flat as a pancake – fabulous for bicycles! 🙂

      Have a great day at work!

      Like

  2. Bunny

    I can not tell you how elated we were to see you both! It really made my week for sure. Leave it to you to show us a new thing we’ve never seen and teach us about our own state, even though I’d say we’re pretty well versed on Florida’s bird life… Thank for spending time with us. You make things so fun!! Can’t wait til you venture back down…ok I still need to watch the video so to be continued…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Again our paths cross, only separated by time. We just got home from Florida, and in particular, DeLand. We spent three nights there. While the main purpose was attending a memorial service (on of the things that spurred Gary into making the big leap of buying the bird now) we had some nice time visiting the ocean and areas around DeLand?

    Like

    1. We haven’t explored the area well, just that we have a couple of my dad’s friends there. It seems a nice place to be though, quite farmy in places which I like to see in Florida.

      Like

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