It seems that our transition from people who own an RV, but only play about with it and don’t live in it, to full timers on the road with no home but their RV, happened all very quickly.
One moment there I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the carpets clean, washing the bus and waxing the roof, and the next thing I know we are fully loaded and shipping out. It’s kind of how I imagine giving birth might be (and please understand that I know absolutely nothing about having or rearing children). For what feels like a life time you are in this preparation stage, getting ready for this massive event with all of the pain, sweat and tears that go along with it; and then seemingly out of nowhere, all in a flash, it’s over and done with and you’re suddenly presented with this completely changed lifestyle.
And that’s how I found myself on Wednesday morning, in a slight state of astonishment, as we loaded our final belongings, gave a blast of our musical horn and a wave to Loops’ parents and pulled out of the storage unit destined not to return.
We do have a purpose in mind for our first week of traveling. I have a very dear friend of mine, Kezza G, who will be jetting her way to Nashville from the UK to spend some time be-bopping along to some very fine country music. We plan to rendezvous with her for a day, for tea and banter. There is something quite indescribable about meeting up with people from home while in a foreign country, when you are both there for completely different reasons. On one hand it feels all very normal, a commonplace occurrence, like bumping into them in Tesco’s for a quick chat, but with the twist that you’re doing it 4,000 miles away from your usual shopping route. It’s charming, magical and dreamlike all in one go.Anyway, that is our current purpose, to make it to Nashville in 5 days.
As I am discovering very quickly, traveling fast and furious is probably not for me in the long run. We are only 3 days into our mad dash and I’m already feeling rather worn out by it. We are averaging anywhere between 150 – 250 miles per day, which might not sound a huge amount in itself, but when you take into account the speed of our behemoth vehicle i.e. rather slow, it does actually add up to a fair few hours on the road each day. Added to that, a new campsite every night – setting up our water, electricity and sewage – then the normal life chores of cooking, a spot of cleaning, washing clothes etc. and finally trying to wedge in a bit of ‘fun’ time like riding out bikes or swimming in the lake; well, this fulltime lifestyle is all a bit busier than I thought!
Instead of me rambling on, let’s have an actual look at the trip we’ve taken so far, shall we?
As I said, we pulled out Wednesday morning with a short day in mind to start with, as we had chosen to meander just a couple hours north to stay at Three Flags campground once again and visit my grandparents who live in The Villages. As my grandfather, a previous motor homer himself, has rather taken a fancy to Belle, we decided to deliver her straight to his door. This meant a fair bit of skill on Loops’ part, navigating through the slightly narrower roads, roundabouts and of course, dodging the golf carts that everyone drives around and pretends they have no clue about any rules of the road. Having arrived and with no squashed residents in sight, my grandparents kindly treated us to lunch and a nice long natter at Olive Garden restaurant. They must have worn me out somewhat, because by the time we got back to the campground at 5pm, I promptly flopped down onto the sofa, fell soundly asleep and didn’t wake up until 8pm (just in time for a dinner snack of bologna and cheese – how healthy of me!).
The next day we had made reservations to stay at Three Rivers State Park just north of Tallahassee, which in case you didn’t know, is the state capital of Florida. No really, it’s not Orlando I promise you.
This is our first foray into a state park and therefore we had no idea what to expect, but what a great time we had camping there. For a start, this was the view through the window when I was sitting inside…
Not bad, right?
We had a view over the water, thick woodland around us, a nice little pier to walk along and more bird, dragonflies and alligators than you could shake a stick at (actually I didn’t spot any gators, but the signs around the water assured me that I really didn’t want to pop my toes in the drink). We also managed to take a leisurely bike ride around the site and I am super psyched with my new blue mean machine which I just bought. Check her out …..
However, camping at night is just part of the adventure so far, especially as the vast majority of time is spent on the road right now. So let me tell you a little about road tripping in the US that I’ve discovered so far.
First and foremost– if you plan to travel along any part of the interstate (motorway) system here, be prepared for sensory overload. The second day of our travels found us on a slice of the ‘super slab’ for about an hour and in that time I felt compelled to read every single road sign as they flew by. You really can’t help but be distracted by them. Every mile or so there will be a collection of 5-10 billboards, gargantuan in size and advertising every possible business you can think of, each with catchier slogans than the last. Being in Florida with must have passed at least a dozen promoting oranges and live baby gators (why these two things go hand in hand I have no idea) and if you’re not keen on the live ones, you can buy baby gator heads (presumably when they start to get past that ‘cute’ stage they just chop their heads off and sell them, I guess?). If reptiles aren’t your thing, you can keep yourself entertained with regular religious quotes from the bible and a healthy dose of ‘Jesus is the only way’ 50 foot lectures courtesy of the billboards. Finally, just because Roe v. Wade appears to just be too much for some people, there are also numerous guilt tripping ads telling you why your baby wants to be born and why you’ll go to hell if you have an abortion. It’s all rather much and absolutely nothing you would ever see in England. I find it fascinating and completely obtuse in equal measure.
Luckily for us though, if the going gets too tough on the motorway, we can always simply turn off on to the smaller county roads and wind our way north with more pleasurable countryside to keep us entertained; which in this case, and most cases in the future I imagine, is exactly what we chose to do.
The road we chose to travel was actually US19. I tell you this because it was a really interesting and agreeable route, should you ever find yourself pootling up the west coast of Florida someday. From what I can figure as we drove, US 19 was probably the once the main thoroughfare used by travellers before the I-75 interstate came into being.
It’s basically a dual carriageway, the majority of which is bordered by some type of greenery whether that be fields or farms or forest. In fact we drove one stretch for a good 30 miles without seeing anything other than horse farms on either side of us. Easily spotted with their classic white or black post and rail fencing, large fields of grass dotted with huge old oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss with names such as Paradise Farm, Hidden Lark Farm or Chasin a Dream Farm. So fascinated was I with the plethora of equine establishments, I did a quick bit of research to discover that Ocala/Marion County, which we were passing through, is apparently one of only four major thoroughbred centres in the world and that there are over 600 thoroughbred farms which have produced numerous champion horses and Kentucky Derby winners. Well, who knew?
As you travel US 19 it become fairly easy to spot when you are approaching a town of some sort in the next couple of miles. You begin to notice one or two businesses cropping up suddenly, usually a car sales place followed by a petrol station, followed by the appearance of a railway line and before you know it you are smack bang in the middle of a little town. Most of the towns we trundled through had long ago seen their heyday and were now a shadow of their former selves, but a few others were still thriving somewhat and keen to advertise their historic significance of some sort.
What was most noticeable about US19, and pointed to its former glory as a long haul route, was the sheer abundance of motor lodges we saw and their subsequent obvious abandonment. Crumbling neon signs, peeling paint, doors hanging from their hinges and windows missing their panes; town after town we saw more and more derelict lodges. They must have been very popular in the 50’s and 60’s I imagine, and now today they are just remnants of a past long forgotten.
Onwards we continued, passing trucks and horseboxes, other RV’s and people towing boats. We sailed past mailboxes on the side of the road, tracks leading across a culvert and into the woods to a property buried in the trees, invisible from the road. I watched the soil change from growing thick green grass and mighty oaks to sand and scrub pines and back again. I counted churches, often two or three sitting next to each in a row, for each town we passed. We spotted one mystifying, bright yellow single storey building with a simple sign outside that proclaimed ‘Friends of Bill meet here’. Who is Bill? And why are his friends meeting there? And as we drove further away from each town and into the countryside all I kept thinking was, what on earth do people do for a living, way out here? Miles and miles away from any type of civilisation, no chance for popping out for a weekly grocery shop or a night at the cinema, so what on earth would they do for a job out here in the back of beyond? I just don’t know.
As our journey came to a close and the state park came into view, another surprise was in store for us as we passed a small green sign on the side of the road proclaiming that we had just changed time zones.
Button: ‘Did you see that sign back there?’
Loops: ‘No, why, was it something important?’
Button: ‘It said something about changing time zones. Why would we be changing time zones? We’re still in Florida, we haven’t gone anywhere yet.’
Loops: ‘I guess we crossed over the central time line. So, what time is it now?’
Button: ‘How the heck should I know?! I didn’t even know there was a time line to cross, let alone what time it is now!’
And so proceeded the rest of the afternoon with us having no idea how far forward or back we had moved in time, which might not have made much of a difference to us really, except we then couldn’t work out when checkout time was the next morning so we didn’t get charged for another day’s stay.
Anyway, onwards to the north we travel….but I’ll tell you a little more about it next time.