It’s time to admit that Tom and I have a problem. An addiction. . . . an inability to quit! We just can’t stop. What is more – we don’t want to stop! Here we are camping again – In January! In Ohio! Just nine days since we got back from Florida!
We are not totally to blame – most addicts have an enabler. Our enabler is Alan. He keeps one eye on the 10 day weather forecast and then starts working all angles for an upcoming weekend. That is how we ended up here at the KOA in Lebanon, Ohio – just north and west of Cincinnati. . . on January 25th!
Wednesday night the low was 28 degrees and the driveway was icy as we left Thursday morning. Our plan was to leave at 9:00 – and we were off by 8:55! As predicted, the temperature climbed quickly, the sky turned blue, and the sun shined. Eventually we reached 48 degrees.
We stopped for lunch at a Chipotle and arrived at the KOA at noon. There is an assortment of trailers set up for the winter with skirtings, and a sprinkling of trailers without any wind/cold protection. There were few vehicles attached to any of them so it is hard to know if people are living here, camping here for the weekend, or just storing their trailer on a site.
We set up, walked Charlie, and headed out for a shopping trip to Jungle Jim’s and IKEA. We were successful to the tune of $100 at the Jungle, but walked out of IKEA empty handed. A text from Alan updated his arrival time to 3:30, and we barely made it back to the KOA before he landed.
We had two hours before it got dark to sit and enjoy what was left of the sun (getting weaker by the moment) and to cook supper – pie iron pizzas on the grill. I have some new little no-stick pie irons with short handles and it easier to use them on the grill than to use the long-handle cast-iron ones over an open fire. Pretty good pizza, but the waning sun made it more sensible to eat inside!
Alan presented us with a trailer-warming gift from him and Carie. He used his cad skills to craft an exact replica of our new Airstream, framed in our true silver & salsa colors. (I couldn't get a picture without a glare . . . so drop by my trailer and ask to see it in person!
Friday morning I peeked out the window at 8:00 to see Alan with a nice-sized fire burning brightly, and that was all the enticement I needed to get out of bed (along with Charlie Button pawing at me that she needed to go out.) Within minutes Tom was up and out and in another 10 minutes we were in chairs by the fire with hot coffee.
It is great the way left-over dinner pizza toppings do double-duty for breakfast egg omelets: ham, mushrooms, cheese, onion, green peppers . . . . served sandwich-style. Tom worked griddle duty, and again we all ate inside to avoid the chill.
Mostly we wanted to enjoy the campsite today (predictions for 58 degrees and sun), but I did have one little morning trip in mind – a shopping outing to Field and Stream. We never get tired of looking at camping and outdoor equipment, and this trip had the added bonus of meeting a store manager who was . . . interested in buying an Airstream! We spent at least 30 minutes with Rich, and more time posing for pictures with the impressive wildlife exhibition. There was a lot of shopping/looking, and Tom and I even made a purchase.
We have been interested in getting a French coffee press for those times that we are boon docking. We have looked at a lot, but couldn't find one that would work for us. BINGO!
Lunch hour required a quick stop at a new-to-us restaurant: Mike’s Nashville Hot. Great fast food, and my chicken wings were the size of turkey wings – and wonderfully breaded!
Back at the KOA it was warm enough to sit outside and close my eyes and listen to an hour of my current audio book; the sun felt ever so good. As it cooled down, I moved inside, the boys ran an errand, and we made a call to the Golden Lamb for dinner reservations!
Maybe this is a good time to WARN YOU: I am growing my hair out to it's natural color. For this camping trip it is a sort of reverse frost/tip job with silver roots and brown tips!
The Golden Lamb is a historic spot in downtown Lebanon, and while we have toured it several times, we have never stopped for dinner. The upstairs is a hotel with three private dining rooms, the main floor is a bar, several dining areas and cozy period lobby, and the basement is a gift shop.
Friday night Tom and Alan sat out late around a campfire, knowing it might be the last for this camping trip . . . rain was predicted for Saturday.
Saturday morning the rain started, and continued most of the day. We crashed Alan’s trailer for breakfast and he snapped this picture of us on his U-shaped mega-lounger.
We settled on a short trip to Cabela’s for a morning diversion and were back at the trailers by noon with hamburgers in hand. An all-day drizzle confined us to the trailers for the afternoon – My ideas of a perfectly lovely, lazy time!
There was a diversion in the works for Saturday night. Carie (who had been working long weekend hours at H&R Block during tax season) joined Alan, and Micah met us at the Envision Bar & Grill in Blue Ash. It doesn’t get much better than a movie theater with reclining seats. Yes it does . . . they deliver adult drinks and grill food to your seat! Oh, and we enjoyed the movie, too . . . Jumangi, Welcome to the Jungle.
That pretty much wrapped up the weekend. We were off Sunday morning by 9:00, stopped for breakfast at The Waffle House, home by noon and unpacked and cleaned up by 1:30. Now we find ourselves looking at the long-range weather forecast to determine when and where we can go next . . . .
There is not much more to the story of our first Flordication. We did, indeed, winterize the trailer in Forsyth, Georgia, on Friday just as a blast of cold air again gripped the south. Saturday we drove to Knoxville to stay a night at Yarberry RV Park – where this whole odyssey began. We linked up with brother Richard and his friend Paula and met them at a new restaurant/brewery – “The Elkmont Exchange.”
Back at the campground at 7:00 – it was 10 degrees! During the night I came down with the same cold Tom had, and I slept most of the way home on Sunday!
Here are some stats from the trip:
“0” issues with the new Airstream! Everything worked!
3,787 total miles on the trip.
3,024 miles on the new Airstream.
5 great visits with family and friends
18 days gone
North again today for about 200 miles with a destination of Manatee Springs State Park – the largest fresh-water Spring in Florida! We were slow, and finally arrived about 3:00. Immediately in our campsite, before we were unhitched, large hickory nuts were falling out of the tree and hitting the Silvermine with a resounding THUNK! Not acceptable. We drove back to the campground entrance and asked for a site without falling hickory nuts! The guy seemed to have had this complaint before and moved us to another site – NO NUTS!
This is a beautiful state park and we are scheduled here for three nights. Our welcoming committee was a herd of 10 deer slowly grazing their way through the campsites. Across the street they headed right for the picnic table where a couple had some food ready to toss out to them! Next-door to that, one of the deer ran right up under the man’s extended arm for a head-scratch. So much for “keep your distance” and “do not feed” the wildlife! Charlie saw the deer, but I put her on the picnic table with a raw meaty-bone, and she could have cared less!
The sad news is that Tom is coming down with a full-blown cold and it is zapping his energy. We’ll see haw far it goes!
We slept a bit late Wednesday morning – 9:30. I was up reading late in the night, and Tom needed the extra sleep with his cold. On a trip into town to the drugs store Tom came back with medicine feeling exhausted, and hit the bed. I cleaned the trailer and settled down for more of that good book! Throughout the day I walked Charlie around the campground.
Tom slept until mid afternoon, and then we went down to check out the Manatee Springs. It is a lovely springs, and has a food concession that has canoe rentals, and roped off swimming area in the spring. There is a boardwalk trail that goes out to the Suwannee River, and there we saw a single manatee. We saw a lot of turtle heads popping out of the water, but just the one manatee, and the pictures of him are difficult to see. The swamp and the springs make a beautiful boardwalk stroll, but it quickly sapped Tom’s depleted energy.
For supper I fixed Tom (and me) an egg on toast with some fresh peaches and blueberries. We called it an early night and hope Tom would be over the worst of it by tomorrow!
Tom was better Thursday morning – but still lacking energy. We drove into town to check emails and eat breakfast at the Huddle House. This drained Tom for the morning and we headed back to the Silvermine to laze around and enjoy the campsite.
The temperature hovered around 70 degrees, the humidity was high, and showers kept passing through the area; we were glad to have the excuse to use the air conditioner for two days to make sure it was working! We walked the boardwalk again in the afternoon, from the location where the spring came out of the ground, to the Suwannee River and back. One alligator basked on the river surface watching canoes float past. One Kyak was so low in the water, the gator could have easily boarded!
On the return walk down the boardwalk, Tom stopped to collect a water sample for his collection.
With that we called Manatee Springs completed, and turned our thoughts towards heading north Friday morning. Looking ahead to weather forecasts, there is another cold front that will be reaching far down south by Saturday. The plan is to winterize the trailer on Friday, and then drive for Knoxville on Saturday, and probably home on Sunday.
Leaving the Everglades and heading north it was a short drive to Fort Myers -- but we drew it out by stopping to do laundry! We were set up at the Seminole RV Park by 2:00, and off to the Bruce and Melinda’s new North Trail dealership. Right across the street was the China Nail Salon, and I popped in to find that they could take me right away. My “pink & whites” had grown out a lot since I last had them done, and I was keeping an eye out for a convenient nail redo.
It turned out that today, Monday, June 7th, was Bruce and Melinda’s first day at work at their new dealership – North Trail RV. It is a monster of a dealership, specializing in coaches – the largest Newmar dealership in the world! Yeah, if you have a million bucks to spare . . . .! I don’t know how many units they have for sale, but there are 110 service bays and that pretty much tells the story. The Airstream-side of the dealership has a good inventory of travel trailers and a lot of Airstream coaches on top of that -- it is going through a changeover for new offices. To see all of this Bruce put us in a golf cart for the tour – the place is just too big to do a walk-thru! Tom and I went back to the RV park, Bruce ands Melinda arrived by 6:15, and we headed to HogBody’s Bar & Grill for supper– great wings and ribs and wonderful conversations!
We were so glad for the opportunity to: 1) buy a trailer through Bruce and Melinda at their Ohio Dealership, 2) Take it south for our first Flordication, and 3) visit Bruce and Melinda in their new southern headquarters. We will be seeing them again in June at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains! I can’t begin to think how lucky North Trails RV is to have them on board!
Tom says today, Saturday, might be the day! Remember that this trip is all about testing everything on the new Silvermine. We haven’t opened the windows yet! Today with the temperatures in the high 60’s we might open every window inside – just to see if they work!
Good morning Everglades!
Just a few miles from the entrance to the National Park is an Alligator Farm! This time we bit . . . but, I am not sure it was worth the $40 price we paid. It was not at all busy, and we got there just in time for the 10:00 “show.” It was not the alligator show. It was the other show! You know, the one where the man has a bunch of cloth bags laying around and chooses some dumb blonde to reach into the bag and pull out a . . . . SNAKE! The show goes on from there to bring out bigger and bigger snakes, and forcing some poor young girl-thing down front to hold a large boa. While she is just getting over freaking out – he pulls out his big Burmese python behind here back and drapes it around her shoulders. You have been warned – never go to an outdoor show at a reptile farm where a man has cloth bags laying around!
As for the Alligator show – it was 2 hours away, and we weren’t that impressed by the snake-show to hang around that long. We did a walk-thru of the entire “farm” – seeing the various ponds of gators -- in various sizes – and other various reptiles. All were completely motionless and lifeless! In my lifetime – that might be the last Alligator exhibit that I ever attend.
We came back to the Silvermine for lunch and then plotted an afternoon trip part way down the Southern Dixie Highway (#1) to enjoy some of the Keys. We did not go all the way to Key West, but enjoyed the drive and the view of the bit we did do. Then, back to the campground for a 3:00 hour-long nap in the sun at 68 degrees! We took a long walk around the campground and along a nature trail and returned hungry for ribs, corn-on-the-cob, and fresh fruit (purchased at a fruit market in the Keys!).
After supper we headed out to do the 7:30 night-walk at the visitor’s center. First we picked up Bob and Chuck (two men full-timing in a Winnebago) and offered them a ride – so they wouldn’t have to move their home! It was fully dark and the person-in-charge arrived to begin our orientation – turning off all lights while our eyes adjusted. While waiting, she played night-sounds from the swamp – crickets, bird-calls, pig-frogs, and alligators. With that, we stepped off down the trail (smooth/even/wide!), following our leader’s flashlight, which she kept aimed in the water. We were looking for the tell-tale red pinpricks that signaled an alligator’s eyes glowing in the water. Right off the bat we saw one, and he was slowly moving in his little pool of clear water. We stepped onto a boardwalk and followed that for .8 miles, with our leader stopping to point out objects. At one point we stopped, she turned her light off, and we LISTENED for a few minutes. It was a nice stroll in the dark, but we decided we would come back tomorrow morning to SEE it all.
By the way – the windows all work!
We went back to the visitor’s center first thing Sunday and did the Anhinga Trail boardwalk again -- able to take pictures of the swamp this time. Then we did the Gumbo Lingo trail that went into the “jungle” that had drastically been reshaped by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Now, 16 years later it was still a mixture of torn-up underbrush and destroyed jungle canopy – all of which changed the ecology considerably. More recently it is hard to tell if Hurricane Irma had much did the effect on this part of the Everglades.
Walking on the boardwalk we met a ranger with a nametag Jon-Paul Haydocy. When asked, he said he was from Columbus – yes, Keven Haydocy of Haydocy Airstream was his father! We told him we were on our first trip with a new AS purchased from Haydocy. True Story!
We picked up Charlie Button and headed to the furthermost tip of the Everglades. Flamingo had been hit hard by the Hurricane and now, 4 months later, there was no gas or food available and lots of signs of re-construction. We packed a lunch and drove the 30 miles, stopping at some of the interest points and boardwalk trails along the way – many that did not allow dogs.
The Flamingo Point Visitor Center was open on a very limited basis – no restrooms and no exhibits. We found a picnic table in the sun (72 degrees!) and enjoyed our lunch. Afterwards, we drove through the campground which – SURPRISE—had electricity. It was very scrubby and was hit hard by the Hurricane, but was open for business. I can’t imagine camping in it in the summer!
The big thrill of the day was seeing our first crocodile (not alligator!) in the wilds. Tom pulled over to a boat launch ramp at Florida to get a water sample, and I looked out of my window and saw a crock laying on another boat ramp! I was able to circle behind the crock and walk out on a pier above him to get pictures . . . while Tom got my picture! He was absolutely still the whole time.
We drove back to the Silvermine, where we had left Charlie in charge and enjoyed an hour sitting outside in the 74 degrees. We had exhausted one of our propane tanks and Tom took it off the trailer to take in for a refill. In town, we got the propane, filled up the truck, and bought some surf & turf to fix for supper. We also made the decision to head out of the park and on to Fort Myers on the west coast to visit Bruce ands Melinda – who had just relocated there in the past week – Bruce was our salesman and is responsible for this new Silverine! We will be staying in the park that they are situated at tomorrow!
Today, Friday, was a 209 mile trip south from Sebring to Everglades National Park. You would think that Southern Florida is highly populated, but the colonized parts lay along the coast, and our Highway 27 went though the middle of the State and was long stretches of . . . . nothing!
We skirted Lake Okeechobee and angled towards the east coast. Many of the names were familiar: Palm Springs, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Hialeah, but we skirted around all of them. Once we got on the Florida Turnpike we were a bit closer to the town clusters, and we stopped for lunch and gas. It turns out that this was the last chance for gas as the Everglades have NONE! Entering the Park, it was only a six mile drive to Long Pine Key campground, and we were delighted to have many sites to choose from. Again, we are wondering if the cool weather has deterred campers, as we had been warned that the campgrounds were on a first come/first serve basis and would be full!
The afternoon was our first chance on this trip to get the chairs out and find a sunny spot to sit out – 60 degrees! I assumed the “Zero-G” position, and actually whimpered for joy a few times as the heat of the sun started sinking in.
On a walk around the campground we met two gentlemen in a touring coach Winnebago that had been at our campground last night. They had sold everything, bought the coach, and are taking off full-timing across the United States. They say that one day they drove 500 miles . . . without ever leaving home!
We were pleasantly surprised to discover that this National Park has new shower facilities throughout the campground, offering private shower stalls with an outside entrance. I decided to run down and try them out before we started cooking dinner! Result: the showers (reportedly solar heated) almost reach warm . . . ALMOST!
Could this be the start of a warm-up? Thursday started at 32 degrees, but was warming by the minute with bright sunshine and blue sky. Finally -- welcome to the sunshine state! By 9:00 we were cutting west to the center of the State, our destination was Highland Hammocks State Park and a visit to Van Wert friends Steve and Cindy in their winter home in Sebring.
Steve and Cindy bought a winter home in Buttonwood Bay RV resort several years ago with a plan to spend the Ohio cold months in residence. Choosing a beautiful little yellow villa on a corner lot with an enclosed lanai, two bedrooms and kitchen/living room, they found a population of like-minded people for bridge, mahjong, shuffleboard, and all kinds of other planned and unplanned fun. They spent an hour touring us around the community in their golf cart to view their winter lifestyle, and even though it was only 50 degrees, people were out and about. The Sebring area was one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Irma, and everywhere people were working to replace and repair what was damaged. Cindy and Steve had no damage to speak of!
We returned to the Highland Hammocks State Park to walk Charlie on one of the trails – no black bears or alligators, although they are highly advertised! The park is beautiful in a Florida kind of way: palm trees, spreading live oaks, and marshy swamps. The temperature finally topped out at 56 to make being outside an enjoyable difference from the past few days of this vacation!
After enjoying the park, we retraced our route back to join Steve and Cindy and their friends Judy and Tom for pizza at the American Legion. Two hours of pizza and drinks convinced us that Steve and Cindy had selected a perfect winter retirement base with the natives at Buttonwood Bay!
As for us -- we're heading on to the Everglades tomorrow morning -- less than 200 miles. Prediction are for continued warming, and I think we can say that the cold-blast for Florida is over!
Our drive today was 3 hours down Interstate 95, into Florida, through Jacksonville, stopping at Saint Augustine’s Anastasia State Park. Saint Augustine is America’s oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement . . . dating back to 1565!
The temperature started right at 25 F, and never got above 47 for the whole day. Somehow 47 degrees in Florida seems colder than 47 degrees in Ohio! At least we are above the freezing point.
We drove out onto Anastasia Island and set up in the State Park – beautiful tree and palm growth and large, private campsites. It was just a bit windy and coolish to enjoy the views on foot, but we loaded in the truck to do a drive-around of the park – out to the sand-dunes and back.
Then we did a tour-by-truck through the old town of St. Augustine -- rather than the open-air tour trolly! We passed the Lighthouse, the Castillo De Marco, the Oldest House and Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse . . . and the Alligator Farm! Come on Tom – we at least have to see the Alligators! We didn’t! (They have a zip-line that crosses over the alligator pond!)
When we passed a hair salon, I jumped out of the truck for a quick trim; I am growing out my natural color (white, white, white) and I am almost at the point of nothing is going to make it better -- but a good trim helps!
Tom filled the truck with gas, and we headed back to the campsite to enjoy . . . the inside of our new trailer, supplemented by some quick walks with Charlie Button, and a bowl of chili.
Rain all night. Rain in the morning. Rain for two hours of driving down coastal Interstate 95 to Kennedy Space Center. And temperatures dropping by the hour – from 42 to 38! News flashes throughout Florida were warning of freezing temperatures, icy roads, closed schools and cancelled airline flights! We played along with it all, and found ourselves being very chilled!
By 1:00 we were set up at the Cape Canaveral KOA (still raining and winds of 25 mph) and headed for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s complex. Micah and cousin Emily had attended Space Camp here sometime in the 90’s, but the facility was so different we didn’t recognize very much.
Our first stop was the IMAX Theater for a very nice movie presentation on the space shuttle program – all leading up to the fact that the space shuttle Atlantis was a resident exhibit waiting for us to tour. That was very nicely done with two preview films and then a spectacular transition from the movie into the Atlantis display.
There were other displays to see, but we were in a bit of a rush as it was the end of the day and the Center would be closing soon. Note to self: If you are going to pay $45/each for entry tickets – enter early in the day!
At the KOA we fixed dinner and then everybody got a bath – including Charlie Button! Tom used the KOA bath-house and Charlie and I managed just fine in the Silvermine.
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown