Category Archives: Florida

Reflections in the Rear View Mirror

If there is one constant in a fulltime RVer’s life, it has to be the D on the transmission indicator on our dashboards as we head out in the morning. The only time we put it in R to back up seems to be when we are parking our rigs at the end of the day. A scene from the movie Gumball Rally pops into my head where an Italian race car driver named Franco looks at the guy in the passenger seat and says “First rule of Italian driving…” as he reaches up and snaps off the rear view mirror and tosses it out of the car “…what’s behind you isn’t important”.  

And while Diana and I like to examine the history of the locations we visit, there is still that forward movement of wondering what’s over the next hill or around the next bend. Shift to D, turn on the radio and step on the gas. It’s right about that time when life taps you on the shoulder and reminds you that Franco’s statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Part of our preparations to leave Florida and head west have been to take care of authenticating our mortality, so to speak.  In other words, preparing wills and similar paperwork.  Our home base is the Sunshine State, so this is the place to take care of that business.  Traipsing our caravan across the country in two separate vehicles places a greater need for such documentation, especially when one of us has 14,000 pounds following in close proximity.  Snapping that rear view mirror off would be ill-advised!  So we plowed through the perpetual paperwork (pardon the pun), moving forward with our feet on the gas…just wanting to get it completed.  On St. Patrick’s Day, we had a noon appointment to sign our wills and have them witnessed and notarized, so we went about our morning routine in preparation for the meeting.  That’s when I sat down in my recliner and checked my phone.  There was a text from my former coworker Barb that read, quite simply “Hey. Just wanted to make sure you heard about Richie.”  Well, considering Richie was one of the two people I kept in somewhat regular touch with from work (Kenny being the other) and it wasn’t him telling me what happened to himself, I knew this wasn’t going to be good. So I casually replied “No, what’s up?”, hoping to hear he won the lottery or something.  It was not to be.  A flurry of texts came in from Jeff, Stephen and Barb to tell me he had passed. From what has been told to me since, he had kissed his beloved wife Connie goodnight, took a few steps towards the bedroom and collapsed from a massive heart attack.  62 years old, planning on retiring and looking forward to having more time for golf.  Now don’t get me wrong…Dickey-boy had a lot of fun in his life.  In addition to golf, he loved NFL football and his Detroit Lions, along with classic rock music.  He knew several people in the music industry, played a little guitar, and was close friends with the members of Foghat.

Our VP, Joel, took this tongue-in-cheek photo of us, poking a little fun of the long-standing brothership we shared.  I proudly own that, as we worked side by side for 30 years and had each other’s backs.  He thought the world of Diana, and we indeed are both going to miss him.  The irony of finding out as we were about to sign our wills wasn’t lost on us, nor was the fact that the beach bar we toasted him at was playing classic rock instead of the usual trop-rock.

It dawned on me later that one of the songs playing was The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  Nice song selection, Richie…looks like you just picked up a DJ gig upstairs. 😉

Suddenly, I noticed I had eased off the gas and had slipped the shifter to N.   Instead of thinking about our upcoming trip, I found myself pondering the past.  We were fortunate enough to meet up for dinner with Bob and Pat from Michigan Traveler, and Bonnie and Fred from HappiLEE RVing this last weekend.  Bob and I both grew up in Allen Park, Michigan, and we spent a week together at Wild Cherry, so we have a lot of past in common.  Fred and Bonnie and us met at the RV-Dreams Rally and we’ve seen each a couple times other since, so we have a fair amount of history. Bob and Fred are both retired military, and the couples spend a fair amount of time at the US military FamCamps, so we thought it would be fun for them to meet.

It was good to pause and reflect a bit and catch up on everybody’s lives.  🙂

Just after that, we had some business we needed to take care of up in Green Cove Springs.  We saw that Linda and Steven, our friends we met at Amazon, were very close by.  We contacted them, and they invited us to join in on a lunch date in Jacksonville they had with Howard and Linda, founders of RV-Dreams.  It was those two who’s seminars at a Grand Rapids RV show in January of 2014 provided the final nudge to get us on the road.  With no firm plans to leave our jobs at that point, their presentations caused us to go home and crunch some numbers.  By March 21 of that year, I was retired, and Diana was done at work by July 1.

Our lunch turned into a wonderful two hour conversation on what this journey we are on means to all of us.  Not only was the future discussed, but the past was reflected upon.  I detected a few misty eyes on a couple of heartfelt points that were made.  We were so engrossed in what everyone was saying, we didn’t notice that the servers had turned up all the chairs at the surrounding tables and the restaurant had closed over a half hour earlier.  Yeah, it was that good.  What finally caught our attention was the silence during a pause in the dialogue. The music had stopped playing.  Oops…time to head down the road!

We spent the night in St Augustine and toured there with Steven and Linda the next day.  

They had not been there before, and they wanted to see Castillo de San Marcos, among other things.  

It was fun to experience St Augustine with them and look forward to all the plans we have for the future!

I called Kenny last night.  We reminisced and had some laughs, along with sharing what we are currently doing in our lives.  It was really good to hear his voice again. So while everyone I’ve interacted with over the past week are ready to shift into D to see what’s around the next bend in their lives, life itself provided us with a bit of a lesson that we ought not forget the images in the rear view mirror. 

Even though there is sadness mixed into the joy in our memories, we need to listen to the music of our youth and laugh at the silly pictures in our minds. As George Harrison sang “I look at the world and I notice it’s turning. Still my guitar gently weeps…”

Rock on, Richie…Rock on.

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Exploring in Florida 

One thing we’ve discovered about being in the town of Melbourne Beach for the winter is the fact it is somewhat isolated from the rest of the state.  That is a good thing, in the sense that it doesn’t experience the crowds that other areas of Florida see.  The downside is State Route A1A is the only way in and out, so we don’t see a lot of new scenery.  That is just fine for many folks, but when your identity is exploRVistas a little break is called for every once in a while.  And when we are able to look for adventure with other explorers, it’s even more fun!

At the end of our last post, we left you with our just having a new suspension installed on our rig.  Taking a tour of Florida would allow us to test out our modifications before we headed west in April. My sister Judy and her husband Dale had recently arrived at Lovers Key near Ft Myers Beach, so we made plans to head that way to see them.  Diana had also contacted her cousin Tom, as we wanted to see him and his wife Lisa.  They live just southwest of Orlando.  Tom suggested that we meet at Disney, as he works for them and could get us all passes for the day. We jumped on this opportunity!

We decided on Epcot, as it is one of our favorite parks.  Diana’s dad actually worked on the construction of one of the Communicore buildings near Spaceship Earth back in the early 1980’s, when Michigan’s economy was in the doldrums.

We sure had a great time with Tom and Lisa!

Disney sure knows how to provide a pleasant atmosphere at their facilities.  If you choose the right day when the crowds are down, they are very enjoyable places to be!

Next up, we visited with Judy and Dale.  We were able to grab four days at Marco Naples RV Resort. It was less than OK, but served its purpose.  The four of us checked out some of the area’s dining establishments, the pool at Lovers Key, and Barefoot Beach.

It’s always fun hanging out with my big sis and her hubby!

From Naples, we decided to take Alligator Alley across to the east coast and head north from there.  That was the first time we had been on that stretch of road since we were kids, so it was interesting to see.  We were impressed with the rest areas that came complete with boat launches. There was one family that had just put in a pontoon boat, and another gentleman was fishing off the dock.  Peering into the water, we could see it was teeming with fish.

And that’s not all it was teeming with.  I guess that’s why it’s called Alligator Alley!

One thing I mentioned earlier was our suspension.  We are happy to report that everything is working tremendously well!  On the way to Orlando, we had our rig weighed by Bob and Sherry Frizzell of RVSEF.  They weighed each individual wheel of the entire rig when it was hitched together, and of just the truck disconnected from the trailer.  Armed with this information, I transferred some weight from the truck to the trailer to balance everything out.  We also now know the proper inflation level for our tires, given the weight of our rig when loaded. Throughout the trip, I monitored the tire temperatures using our infrared thermometer.  Everything checked out great!

This is the second time we have went through this weighing process with RVSEF. The first time was before we hit the road in 2014. It is very important for our safety and the safety of those we share the road with. Just because there is room in a cabinet or drawer, doesn’t mean you are allowed to fill it and haul it down the road. We are constantly aware of our cargo carrying capacity, pin weight, tire pressures, etc. Most fulltime RVers practice the rule that if you bring something new in, something of equal weight has to go. The last thing we want is to blow out a tire at highway speed.

Back in Melbourne, we met up with our friends Fred and Bonnie for dinner.

We had met them at the RV-Dreams rally in 2014, and we caught up with them in Fruitland Park, Florida in 2015. They are in Melbourne for the month of March, so we will be spending more time with them while they are here. It sure is great to see them!

While we were at Disney, Lisa mentioned that she had recently retired from Universal Studios Orlando.  Diana said that we wanted to go there sometime, as she really wanted to see the Harry Potter areas of the park. These books came out while she was teaching and made it cool to read big thick books. Diana read the J.K. Rowling series as a way to stay current with what the kids were excited about, and fell in love with them too. Lisa said she still had tickets available to her, and she offered two of them to us. That was extremely generous, Lisa…thank you!  We ended up going this past Friday and had a fabulous time!

The attention to detail in Hogsmeade was amazing!

Here we are outside Hogwarts Castle.  We must admit, we didn’t do so well on the ride through the castle, as it was an all-out assault on our senses…but we survived!

We rode the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, which was also very much like the Harry Potter movies.

Diagon Alley itself was also well done, complete with the shops that were featured in the books and movies.

It was fun to watch the children (and several adults) in their capes wave their interactive wands to set the displays in motion.  

In other parts of Universal, we met up with other famous people.

There was Jimmy Fallon…

Popeye and Olive Oyl…

 

…and Diego and Dora the Explorer!  Hey…let’s explore that vista!  We had a tremendous day at Universal.  😃. Thanks again, Lisa and Tom!

In less than a month, we will be headed west. Be sure to stay tuned to see what our next adventure might be!

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February and future plans

As you may recall from our last post, we had decided to upgrade our trailer axles, instead of just replacing the brakes.  Of course, projects such as these have a way of one thing leading to another. Upgrading from 5200 pound to 7000 axles also meant getting new wheels and tires, as the current axles have 6 lug nuts and the new axles have 8.  When discussing this with our friend Bill (bkamericanodyssey), he mentioned that he and Kelly were going to be upgrading their wheels and tires this summer in New Jersey. Since their current set was what I was upgrading to, they decided to do it now in Florida and sell the old ones to us. They were already planning on coming to our area for a visit. 

They delivered them on Wednesday, February 1, when the came over for dinner. The tires were nearing the end of their lifespan…maybe a year left…but the wheels were perfect. Bill pointed out that we were going to need our spare tire swapped out, as it was also a 6 lug.  Dang…forgot about that one.  That meant buying a tire and wheel.  Not wanting to invest in a new spare tire that hopefully would never be used, we opted to buy four new road tires to mount on our newly purchased wheels and use one of the used tires we bought from them as a spare.  With all the miles we are planning on putting on in the near future, that will most likely end up being the smarter choice.  Take note that this started out as a brake job.  😳  Bottom line is: we are much safer than before the project began.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday was spent on the beach with Kelly and Bill. We then walked to the west side of the park and watched the sun set over the Indian River Lagoon.

On Friday, February 3, I ordered our tires from Walmart.com.  They had a really good sale on Goodyear G614 tires, coupled with free two-day shipping to our door, made for an easy transaction.  Later that afternoon, we headed over to Kelly and Bill’s place.

They were staying at the Melbourne Elks lodge.  They made us a delicious meal of ribs, broccoli, and cole slaw.  😃  We talked so much, we forgot to get photos!

On Saturday, Diana and I drove 2 hours south to Palm Beach Gardens to visit her uncle and cousin.  

Uncle Gus had recently took a tumble and broke his arm, so Jon was down from Michigan to help him out for awhile.

On Monday, Kelly and Bill came over to our place again.  We went for a bike ride around Melbourne Beach, then spent the afternoon on the beach.  Afterwards, we headed up to Bizzarro Pizza for dinner.  Remember the Seinfeld episode about the soup nazi?  Well this dining establishment is affectionately known by the locals as the ‘pizza nazi’, as you need to have your order ready at the counter when they ask, or no pizza for you!  We chuckled when Bill asked what beers they had on draft and the guy taking the order pulled out a decade old draft beer list on a board from behind the parmesan cheese and quickly put it in front of him.  He’s lucky he got a beer.  😉   After dinner, we wished each other safe travels and headed off in different directions. We look forward to seeing them again, down the road.

Tuesday was spent waiting for FedEx to show up with our new tires.  As soon as they came in, I headed into Melbourne to have them mounted on our new-to-us wheels.  The axles arrived on Wednesday and we made an appointment to have them installed on Saturday.  That left us some free time for the week.

Ok, so it’s off to the beach…

…and a corn hole tournament with the neighbors.  😃

I also installed a row of hooks to organize my shoes.  That’s six pairs of size 13’s on there!

Saturday came and we headed off to Ferguson’s Automotive and Marine in Melbourne.

There are our old 5200 pound axles…

And here are our new 7000 pound axles and our new tires!  After they were done, we hooked up and headed one hour south to Fort Pierce.  As you may recall from our last post, we had been given tickets to a John Ford Coley and Terry Sylvester concert at Summer Crush Winery. They are part of Harvest Hosts, so we were able to park our rig right on the property.  That sure cut down on the traffic after the concert, as the only other rig staying there belonged to the musicians!

John led us through the hits from his England Dan/John Ford Coley days and Terry sang several of his songs from when he was the lead singer of The Hollies.  Everyone had a great time…

….including us!

So I mentioned ‘future plans’ in the title.  We’ve been busy planning a summer journey to the west coast!  Our plan is to leave Melbourne Beach on April 1. We are excited to be visiting family and friends in Texas. Next we will do some exploring in the southwest, including some areas of the country we have yet to see. One of the main reasons for going west this summer is to visit Diana’s uncle, aunts, and cousins in southern California. She hasn’t seen an aunt and several of these cousins since she was in the fifth grade! We also have several close friends we have contacted and are planning on seeing in the LA area. We will be exploring several sites in Northern California, including Napa Valley with Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David. We had a ton of fun with them  last spring at Big Bend National Park, so we are looking forward to having them join us for this portion of our trip. Then we will be settling in Oregon for the summer. We have two work camping jobs as interpretive hosts with the Oregon State Parks. One begins Memorial Weekend and goes through the end of June. The second one begins July 1 and ends after Labor Day weekend. These are considered volunteer positions where we work about 24 hours a week and are compensated with a free campsite. We will miss our friends at Wild Cherry Resort, but are excited for this new adventure. We will reveal more of the details as we go.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Is it January?

One thing about being Midwest natives spending the winter in Florida is that the weather messes with our minds.  Seeing Valentine’s Day candy in the store still strikes us as odd when it feels like summer.  Shouldn’t we be seeing Back to School sales?  Nope…and before you know it, there will be Cadbury Creme Eggs on the shelves at Publix!

And seeing I love Cadbury Creme Eggs, that’s a good problem to have!  😉

Since our last post we’ve had a change of thought on our trailer brake maintenance.  After pulling one of the hubs on the trailer for inspection, I saw that the electromagnet was wearing unevenly.  Likewise, the inside of the hub that it was riding against was also worn in a similar pattern.  Checking the prices on new hubs and brake parts led me to find that none of those items were very expensive.  As a matter of fact, entire axles were relatively cheap.  When we were weighed at the RV-Dreams rally, we were just under our maximum allowed weight for the fifth wheel.  If we replaced just the brake parts and hubs, we would still have 5200 pound axles under the rig.  After a little more research, we found we could upgrade both axle and spring assemblies to 7000 pounds Dexter axles for not much more money.  We have a local axle shop here in Melbourne taking care of that for us. We also will be upgrading to heavier duty 16″ wheels and G-rated tires.  That will all take place in Mid-February.

Our friends Rod and Mary had us over to their house for shrimp and rice stir fry one evening.  We had a nice evening by their pool with wine, food and frisbee tossing to their dog Gracie.  😃   It’s always fun being with them!

Last Wednesday, we headed over to the Tampa RV Show.  We knew Bill and Kelly were going to be there, and seeing our friendship developed through our blogs, Facebook and Messenger, we felt it was time to meet these two in person.  Their adventures can be seen at bkamericanodyssey

Here we are with Kelly and Bill in the center, and fellow RV-Dreamers Cindy and James on the right.  We hung out on and off throughout the day and ended up grabbing dinner together afterwards.  What a great time!  We ended up talking so long that we decided to get a room in Lakeland on the way home, as it was three hours back to Melbourne Beach.

One thing we were going to be giving up by going to the RV show was an evening launch at Cape Canaveral.  Well it turns out that someone failed to warn a pilot that he/she was flying into the rocket’s path, so the launch ended up being delayed a day.  Bad luck for NASA, but good luck for us!  Half of our park seemed to flock across A1A to the beach to watch the launch.

The Atlas V did not disappoint!  Even though the Cape is 30 or so miles north of us, we could see the ship rise off the pad quite clearly.  It took several minutes for it to pass by us to the south and east, and we were able to see the first stage burn out and the second stage ignite.  We even saw a couple of shooting stars!  Once the ship was just about out of sight, the low rumble of the launch finally reached our location.  It’s amazing the difference between the speed of light and sound!

 Last Sunday, we made it back down to Summer Crush Winery, as we were meeting friends who were staying in Ft Pierce.

Phyllis and Bernie are renting a condo on the inlet, and they are really enjoying being here!  Phyllis was the secretary at the school Diana taught at for many years.  It’s always a good time when we get together with these two!

If you remember from past posts, Summer Crush is a Harvest Hosts location.  We first discovered it when we stayed there last year on our way to the Keys.  Diana noticed an Airstream parked out back and was trying to figure out who it belonged to by scanning the crowd.  At each of these events, the suggested donation to get in is $2 per person for a local charity, which can also be covered by a $5 raffle ticket.  When Gary the owner announced that the winner was staying with them through Harvest Hosts, Diana scooted over to their table to introduce herself, as it’s always nice to meet other RVers.

Meet the Franchi family!  Their blog, Paperdoll Pioneers, chronicles their adventures.  It turns out that the prize they ended up winning was two tickets to see John Ford Coley and Terry Sylvester (former lead from The Hollies) at a Summer Crush show in mid February.  Since they were traveling and wouldn’t be here, they gave us the tickets!  Thanks guys…we will pay forward your generosity down the road.  ❤️

Yesterday, friends of ours from Amazon stopped by to say hi!  Cassie and Joe worked in packing with us and were also at the same campground we were at near Campbellsville. They are currently staying south of us in Sebastian. We showed them around the park and caught up on what’s been happening with them.  We forgot to get a photo, but we will be sure to when we get together over the next few months. That’s about it for now.  We have been busy with spring and summer trip planning.  At least I think spring and summer are next.  We are still finalizing those plans, so be sure to stay tuned!

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Busy Winter in Florida!

When we first got to Florida in December, after several months of working hard at Amazon, we initially thought we would just kick back and relax a bit.  In a sense, we’ve done that…but we have also used the time to get several much needed projects completed.  Diana has been taking care of paperwork, and preparing some very delicious meals.  I’ve been tackling many of the maintenance projects we’ve needed to get done, which I’m about halfway through.  We have made it a point to head to the beach as often as possible, so as to not miss any good beach weather.  So far, the weather has been extremely kind to us!

On New Years Day, we headed one hour south to Summer Crush Winery (formerly Endless Summer Winery) in Fort Pierce for their New Years Day celebration.  We visited them last year as part of the Harvest Hosts. They have made a few improvements and are bringing in some big name acts, so we plan on making a few more trips down there.

This is our 4th of the last 5th New Years that we’ve been in Florida, and it still seems surreal to us seeing people in summer clothes in January.

The Uproot Hootenanny Band provided the lively entertainment for the day. 😎. The base fiddle player reminded me of our friend Greg Young.  I kept looking to see if his wife Cori was in the audience.

We also made a separate trip to Fort Pierce to pick up Honeybell tangelos from our favorite fruit stand, Ace High.

Their harvest was a bit smaller this year, due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew, but what was left was delicious!

We also visited the National Navy SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce. SEAL stands for sea, air, and land. This is a very well done collection on the property of the original training grounds for the Navy’s elite frogmen.  Outside there is watercraft, some of which you can go inside. There is also an obstacle course that children are able to explore under their parent’s supervision. Inside there is a very educational movie on the history of the SEALs, and several exhibits of weapons and gear that they have used through the years. Be warned that the movie at the beginning is about two hours long. We didn’t plan for this, so we were rushed to see the actual displays as a result. When we got back to the car we discussed how military museums leave us with mixed feelings. We certainly honor this elite military team and all of our nation’s service men and women, and we appreciate their defense of our country’s freedom.  We also feel uncomfortable when war is glorified or presented in an action/adventure sort of way, as we found in a few instances here and at a few other facilities. If you find military museums to your liking, this one is worth your time.  Our admission was $10 per person.  They are open Tuesday through Saturday 10-4 and Sunday 12-4, and are closed on Mondays.

One of the maintenance items we’ve taken care of thus far are front brakes on both vehicles.  The Escape was just a matter of taking the front wheels off, removing the calipers and replacing the pads.  The truck was a bit more involved, as the left front caliper that my friend Rod and  I replaced last January was defective and not working properly.  It consistently read 20 degrees hotter than the other side, and there was more wear on the inside brake pad. Luckily it was still under warranty, so I changed that out as well.

I also washed and waxed the fifth wheel.  Waxing is a bigger job than it sounds on a 2007 rig, as the Fiberglas sides had oxidized a fair amount.  The system I used included an oxidation remover, which required a lot of elbow grease!  It’s done and it looks fabulous.  If you don’t believe it, just ask me. 😉 (My mom would have said, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.” 😀Diana)

In addition, our auto-slider Pullrite SuperGlide hitch needed some maintenance.

The biggest issue was that the old tracking roller (the one to the left with the smaller nut) had come loose.  Had it fallen out, we could have lost control of the trailer.  The new roller (to the right) has a castle nut and cotter pin to prevent that from happening.  Other than that, it needed a few minor adjustments to tighten up some of the play in the hitch travel.

Oh, and then our refrigerator decided to quit on us.  A few quick readings with a multimeter showed that it wasn’t getting any 12-volt power.  Luckily it turned out to be a blown fuse.  😀.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a fried circuit board, as this run over $100, and there are two of them.

The only maintenance projects left are to replace the rear brake shoes on the Escape and all of the brake shoes on the trailer.  That should be finished up in the next week or two, which leaves us the rest of the winter to play!

Stay tuned to see what we are up to next!  😎😎

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Christmas Eve – Cocoa Beach Style!

Dawn broke at the North Pole on Christmas Eve and the place was in an uproar.  Santa had issued a red alert, as it seems his Santas at malls all over Florida had deserted their posts, leaving children across the Sunshine State standing in line with their last minute lists.  We decided to join in the hunt for the wayward St. Nick stand-ins!  We drove north through the towns of Melbourne Beach, Indialantic, Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach.  We even checked with the tower at Patrick Air Force Base, to see if they saw any reindeer on their radar.  Nothing.  Where could they be?

We continued on to Cocoa Beach when what to our wondering eyes did appear…

…but a bike, a surfboard and Santa in all his gear!

That was our first clue that we might have this in the bag.  We followed him until he turned onto the main drag.  As our toes hit the sand, we found those jolly men.  Every Santa in Florida was here hangin’ ten!

For the past several years, Cocoa Beach has held the Surfing Santas event on Christmas Eve to benefit two local organizations, a local cancer charity called Grind For Life and also the Florida Surf Museum.  This year’s event played host to somewhere in the vicinity of 800 surfing Santas, along with thousands of spectators!

There were even a few elves!


It looks like that one Santa just got out of bed!

Above the roar of the surf was the song Mele Kalikimaka being sung by this singer with a ukulele.  The gentleman with the red shirt between the two turquoise surfboards was the minister who delivered the invocation.

Diana spotted this good looking guy in a Ron Jon shirt trying to take photos of the festivities…

…and then she got a selfie with him.  😉

These young ladies were sporting this year’s Surfing Santas shirts.

“It’s the white button at the bottom, sweetie!”

In order to be able to drink all day, you must start in the morning…

…and bring along a few friends! 

When Santa got word up at the North Pole that we had found the Florida Santas, it didn’t take him long to decide what to do.  As we headed towards the car, we spotted him under a beach umbrella.

I guess if you can’t beat ’em…join ’em!

Merry Christmas to y’all, and to y’all a good night!

Love and peace,

Diana and Jim


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Recharging in Florida

After leaving Nashville, we headed south to Melbourne Beach, Florida to spend the next few months.  We knew that once we were done working at Amazon, we would need to recharge, relax and get warm.  On all three counts, we were correct!  In hindsight, we were glad that we left Kentucky when we did, as the weather turned much colder after we left (it is 15 degrees in Campbellsville as I write this, as compared to 72 degrees here in Melbourne Beach).  We’ve toughed out a winter in Michigan and know what it takes to do it. Even if it was just until Christmas, we really didn’t  want to do that again.  On top of that, Diana’s back is better, so we are both very happy about that.

On the way down, we logged our very first ‘Wallydocking’ experience in Cullman, Alabama. 

For those of you unfamiliar with this term, here is what it is all about:  If you’ve ever driven by a Walmart, you’ve probably seen RV’s and trucks parked out at the far end of the lot.  Where local ordinance allows, Walmart allows people to park overnight.  It’s best to check with the store manager, and it is only proper to buy your groceries from them in return.  We popped out our bedroom slide room (it only extends 21 inches) and slept just fine.  The best part for us is that we didn’t have to pay a campground fee that night, since we were just traveling through.  We had plenty of water for our showers, our furnace kept us warm, and Diana was even able to bake blueberry muffins in the oven!  Although we had overnighted off-grid at several Harvest Hosts locations in the past, this one stop really hooked us on the idea of boondocking more in the future.  Many of our fulltime RVing friends spend significant amounts of time off-grid in beautiful locations in the western U.S., and we would like the capability to be able to do that.  More on that later in the post. 

Later in the trip, we returned to Golden Acres Ranch, a Harvest Hosts location in the panhandle of Florida that we have visited twice in the past.  We loaded up on their Mayhaw and blueberry jelly, as we had run out about three months ago of our purchase from the previous visit.  While we were there, a couple of their goats gave birth…one to twins!

They were adorable…standing up to nurse and falling back down, as their wobbly legs wouldn’t support them.  😃

It’s always good to see their Great Pyrenees dogs that roam the property and protect the livestock. They remind us so much of our Golden Retriever, Dakota. We are convinced he must have had some of this breed in his bloodline.

We also used our Passport America membership and saved 50% on four nights worth of camping at two locations on our way down. Those were both full hookup sites spaced between our Walmart and Harvest Hosts sites, so our battery was able to be recharged and our tanks were able to be dumped. While staying at our last location just south of Ocala, we visited with Diana’s brother and also our niece and her family.

We arrived back at Melbourne Beach Mobile Park on December 11.  Instead of fighting Orlando traffic, we tried something a little different.  

We went north 15 miles to Silver Springs, then straight east to I-95 near Ormond Beach, then south to Melbourne Beach.  Except for a little traffic near Daytona Beach, the route was a breeze.  It definitely beat going through Orlando!

Oh, it is so good to be back in Melbourne Beach! The wild and wonderful Atlantic Ocean on the east side of the park…

…and the peaceful Indian River Lagoon on the west side.

It’s a great place to catch not only sunrises and moonrises, but also sunsets and moonsets.   😃 This was the full moon rising over the Atlantic the other evening.

So I spoke earlier about doing more boondocking (camping without being connected to electricity, water, or sewer) this year.  Let me go into a bit more detail on that.  Our rig is currently set up as it came from the factory, meaning the off-grid electrical system consists of one 12 volt deep cycle battery powering most of the lights, the water pump, and the furnace blower.  All of our light bulbs are incandescent or fluorescent. When off-grid, the refrigerator can run off propane, as can the water heater.  Our fresh and waste water tanks generally last a few days without any conservation efforts.  In essence, we wouldn’t really need to do anything different if we were alternating between boondocking and full hookups.  But, as many of our fulltime RV friends have done, we want to enable ourselves to stay off-grid a bit longer.  Our first thought was that we would be limited by our tanks as to how long we could boondock, but there is nothing saying we couldn’t go service our tanks at a dump station and head right back to our same boondocking campsite.  That makes our limiting factor electrical. First and foremost are replacing those incandescent bulbs.  We bought 10 pack of T-10 LED 12 volt bulbs for $20 at Amazon.  We also replaced the bulb in our 120 volt lamp near our recliners. On top of that, we bought a Kill-o-watt 120 volt meter and a Bayite 12 volt multimeter to allow us to do an energy audit to see just what our needs are.  Our battery is the same one that came with the rig when we purchased it in 2011, so it is definitely near the end of its lifespan.  The energy audit will allow us to figure out how big of a battery bank we want to get.  After that, we want to string some days together off the grid before we decide what future upgrades we want to make.  We would like to run our computer, charge our iPhones and iPads, and maybe watch a little TV.  Not a lot more than we currently are able to do, but enough to warrant some sort of upgrade. We also purchased an Oxygenics shower head to conserve water.

We plan on doing a bit of traveling after we leave here, so we are also using this time to do some maintenance.  I definitely want to pull all the wheels off on our vehicles and check the brakes and bearings.  The fifth wheel also hasn’t been waxed in a while, so I’ve started on that.

Look at that shine!  We use Meguiar’s Marine/RV Fiberglas Restoration System.  With our rig being a little older, the oxidation remover really does the trick on the dull, chalky look.  The secret is to work in the shade, as direct sunlight tends to leave an uneven finish.

Besides…we have other things we want to be doing in the direct sunlight.  😎

So that’s a little review of our trip to Florida and a peek into what we have planned the next few months.  Diana has been busy mailing Christmas cards, and I have put up lights and other Christmas decorations. As they say, “Home is where you hang your lights!” Wishing all of you Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and an adventurous New Year! 

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Florida Fun

Since our last post at the Edison/Ford Winter Estates, we have covered a lot of ground.  We spent a couple of days at Dunedin, going to Honeymoon Island one day and to one of our favorite lunch spots…Kelly’s For Just About Anything…the next. After that, we spent a day in Lakeland, where we were able to catch our first-ever spring training game!  My beloved Detroit Tigers were taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

  

Any day that I can see Miguel Cabrera play baseball is a good day.  🙂   To add some excitement,  J.D. Martinez hit a home run over the center field wall with one of the most perfect swings I’ve ever seen.  The Tigers looked very good, ending the day with a 3-0 shutout win.  I am very hopeful that this will be a good year for the team.

Following Lakeland, we spent four days back at Recreation Plantation near The Villages.  

  

 

While there, we caught up with Diana’s brother and our niece and her family.  We also drove up to Gainesville, as we wanted to see Devil’s Millhopper State Park.  We had read about this place on several blogs, so we drove an hour and a half north to see it.  Unfortunately, we found out when we got there that it was closed on Monday and Tuesday. Hmmmm…we have never heard of a state park being closed on ANY day of the week, but we will be sure to put that on our list of things to check before heading out the door next time.  🙂  Moving to Plan B, we drove back to Payne’s Prairie near Micanopy.  This preserve is the huge wildlife area that I-75 bisects between Gainesville and Ocala.

  

 

We wanted to get some mileage in for some upcoming hiking we are planning, so this looked like a good place to start!

  

First we climbed a tower and saw the preserve’s wild horses in the distance. Then we passed through the gate and into the wildlife area.  We only saw horse manure (along with bison scat) on the perimeter road.  Our hike took us about a mile and a half until the trail narrowed and we thought better of trying to go any further. The signs warn of alligators and snakes. There were also plenty of red ant hills to avoid.

Our next stop was for one night at a favorite place of ours: Golden Acres Ranch near Monticello, Florida.

  

You may recall our Harvest Hosts post from a year ago that can be accessed here.  This stay was just as nice as the last, although the many Guineafowl weren’t quite as vocal as our previous visit.  We purchased more of their amazing Mayhaw jelly as a thank you for letting us stay.  🙂

  

They sure are funny looking birds!

  

 

The Great Pyranees dogs were happy to see us!

From there we drove to the Pensacola area.  We stayed in a little campground in Holt named Eagle’s Landing.  It was neat as a pin and it had great wifi.  I was able to use it to finish our taxes, so that made us happy campers!  We also drove out to Fort Pickens and met up with our friend Diane, who was down from Michigan visiting her daughter and grandchildren.  You may recall we had lunch with her and her husband Terry earlier this winter in Orlando. This day, she brought the boys out to the fort, as they like to explore the tunnels and passageways.

  

It’s always good to see them!

Fort Pickens sits at the entrance to Pensacola Bay.  We were drawn here by a series of recent posts by fellow blogger, Wandering Dogs.  The white sand of the surrounding Gulf Islands National Seashore looked like snow in Beth’s post, and we had to see it for ourselves.

  

It was in service from 1834 to 1947, and was occupied by Union troops throughout the U.S. Civil War. The Apache chief Geronimo was held here during the Indian Wars from October 1886 to May 1887. 21.5 million bricks were used to build the structure, and a major portion of it was destroyed by an 1899 fire that reached a magazine, resulting in a massive explosion.

  

The wind and rain are slowly taking their toll on the remaining sections of the fort.

  

Not only does the sand look like snow, it drifts like it!  

Sea level rise will most likely bring about the fort’s ultimate demise, as the barrier island it sits on already is seeing closures during high surf events. Campers have been stranded in the campground near the fort recently, and this road has been flooded several times over the past few years.

With our visit to Fort Perkins complete, we headed west out of Florida.  Thinking back to all of the places we’ve visited, we realize just how large the state is. Tallying up our miles, we covered over 1600 miles with the RV. That doesn’t include our trip to St. Augustine, our drive to Port Charlotte to see Diana’s cousin, our day at Cape Canaveral, our drive to Tampa for the RV show, or the trip to see my sister and brother-in-law in Bonita Springs…all which were done with the Escape.  That was an additional 2000 miles. To put that in perspective, we could have traveled from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Flagstaff, Arizona and back and not have covered that many miles! Even though we have visited Florida many times in the past, we discovered a multitude of places that were new to us. It has left us wanting more, and we look forward to returning soon!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping here doesn’t add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for considering shopping through exploRVistas!

Edison/Ford Winter Estates

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are two of the most influential people of the last couple of centuries.  They became close friends later in life, often deferring to each other for ideas in their respective areas of expertise.  Nowhere is their friendship more evident than at the Edison/Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.  We visited these grounds using the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocity program, which is included with our Meijer Gardens membership back in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Admission is normally $25 each, so gaining access to the estate for free was a nice bonus.  We opted for the guided tour, which was an additional $5 each.

  

Mr. Edison purchased this land along the Caloosahatchee River in 1885.  He and his wife Mina had this home, which they named Seminole Lodge, built the following year. He was 39 years old at the time.  To put things in perspective, Henry Ford was 23 years old in 1886 and 10 years away from building his first automobile.  There wasn’t much happening around Fort Myers at that point in history. The town of 349 people was simultaneously being incorporated, the road in front of the estate was a cattle path and the railroad was 12 years away from finding its way to the area. 

  

In 1916, Henry and Clara Ford purchased this Craftsman style home next door to the Edison estate.  It had been built 5 years earlier by Robert Smith.  Over time, Mina and Clara transformed the grounds of their estates into a combined horticultural oasis. The variety of species is remarkable, and everything is labeled…to our delight!  🙂

After World War I, Thomas Edison began to explore alternatives to the imported raw materials for rubber.  He was concerned about the United States’ dependency on foreign suppliers.  He built a laboratory on the grounds across the street from his estate, and he partnered with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone to come up with a solution.

  

This is a single banyan tree that Mr. Edison planted in the late 1920’s. It has since grown into this giant, covering well over an acre. Edison was hoping that the tree would be a source of rubber, a hope that didn’t pan out. He also tried a multitude of other source including goldenrod.  Eventually, synthetic, petroleum-based rubber became the choice of domestic manufacturers.

  

The interior of the lab is very well organized.  Flasks, test tubes and beakers on one side, and a machine shop on the other.  It was interesting to think back to my visits to Edison’s Menlo Park lab at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan and see the similarities.

Next door to the lab is a small museum.  A couple of interesting pieces caught my eye.

 

This was a phonograph that Edison had one of his workers build a wooden frame around.  The inventor was totally deaf in one ear and 90% deaf in the other. To ‘hear’ the record, he had to bite the frame to feel the sound through his jaw.
  

Another was this Barcalo offset box end wrench.  I own one of these in a 3/4″ – 13/16″ combination.  It was passed down to me from my paternal grandfather, and it is probably one of the most useful wrenches in my collection.  In essence, the card in the display case needs updating, as some Ford owners still do use this wrench on their Fords!

Back over at the Edison estate, we were able to look inside through the open doors and windows at some of the rooms.

  

Mr. Edison sat at the head of this table, using this chime to call everyone to dinner.  The seat has a commanding view of the Caloosahatchee.

  
A pergola seperates the main house from the sleeping quarters.  Edison seperated the two for fire reasons, as kitchens were a source of most home fires.  He also installed a fire suppression system.

  
Here is Thomas and Mina’s bedroom.

  
The main house has this beautiful wrap-around porch.

  
Next to the house is his study.  Mina had a small garden off this building, so she could be near Thomas while he worked.

  
Between the river and his study, he had this pool built.  The high dive was supposedly built after Fort Myers took ownership of the property and is not historically correct.

Over at the Ford estate, the home had more of a ‘cottage’ feel to it.

  
This fireplace commands the one end of the living room.

  
The home featured a cypress ceiling, which lent a certain coziness to it.

  
I’m sure Hank used this a few times!   🙂

  
Out back, there is a display with three Ford vehicles:  a Model T, a Model A, and a 1917 Model TT truck.

  
Near the river, this large Brown Wolly Fig shades the lawn.  The root system on it was very unique.

  
Here I am with a statue of Henry Ford.  I grew up 3 miles from Ford headquarters and the Rouge plant, so my childhood was heavily influenced by what this man had accomplished in the first half of the 20th century.  By mass-producing affordable cars and paying high wages, he essentially created the middle class.  He was far from perfect. We watched an hour long biography of him in the museum that was truly fascinating. 

We spent 7 hours at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates.  Most people wouldn’t take that long, but we were soaking it all in. After the hour long historian led tour, we wandered the grounds and explored buildings that weren’t included in the tour. We also enjoyed lunch with a view of the river at Pinchers, which we were able to walk to from the property. The estates are definitely worth the visit, if you happen to be in Fort Myers.  We thoroughly enjoyed it!
Henry Ford: A Biography is available here for your Kindle through exploRVistas and Amazon for $2.99…or free to Kindle Unlmited members.

The Florida Keys

Somewhere in the middle of the Seven Mile Bridge, he said “Bella do you want to see the rest?”

She said “I haven’t a care, Lenny, just take me there” and they drove all the way to Key West…

Jim Buffett – Conky Tonkin’


For most people, the Florida Keys embody a wonderful image of laid back island life.  There’s no doubt that they are laid back and wonderful, but there is also the reality that there is a very busy road that runs through the middle of them.  That brings in hoardes of people…including us….looking for a place to chill.  Tooling south on U.S. 1 through Key Largo on Tuesday, it quickly became clear that our chillin’ was going to take place with lots of new friends!  No worries, as we always have managed to find a way to seek out some of the less traveled spots.  We also love to jump right into the crowds and have a good time.  🙂

When we went to the Tampa RV Show earlier this year, we stopped at the Grassy Key RV Resort booth.  They were running a special of ‘buy three nights – get the fourth night free’.  Granted, it still wasn’t cheap…but we knew that any accomodations in the Keys were going to be pricey.  Looking on the web, we knew it was going to be nice.   

 

We were certainly not disappointed.  Even though space is at a premium in the Keys, we didn’t feel like we were wedged too tightly into our spot.  The resort faces the Gulf side, and sports it’s own marina. They also have a pool, which we took advantage of.

  

The first night there, we caught a nice sunset off the dock. They also had a luau potluck which we attended later in the week.  Very fun, and we met a lot of nice people there.

Wednesday morning, we headed southwest through Marathon to do a little biking on the old Seven Mile Bridge.  This structure is part of industrialist Henry Flagler’s railroad that was completed in 1912.  Why would someone go to the expense of building a railroad to Key West? Well, the tiny island was the closest deep water port at the time to the about to be completed Panama Canal. Flagler’s theory was that it could be a coal refueling stop. Technology quickly improved steamer efficiency, so that need went away. The bridges were converted to highways after a 1935 hurricane destroyed portions of the railroad that they carried.  

  

For reference, imagine those parking blocks not there and a center line where Diana’s left tire is.  That’s a narrow bridge!  This is the northeastern two miles of the structure.  These roads were used until 1982, when the parallel highway was constructed. My parents took my sister and I partway to Key West on this bridge when we were kids.  I’m fairly certain the width of the spans was part of the reason my dad turned back. 🙂
  

Still, it was pretty cool to be riding on this historic road!  Take a look at the guard rail:  it is the original rail from Mr. Flagler’s railroad.

  

Two miles southwest of Marathon, the Florida highway department has removed a section of the bridge to prevent people from going any further.  Some of the roadway is in pretty rough shape beyond here.

On Thursday, we made the 55 mile trip from Grassy Key down to Key West.  Amazingly, we found a free parking spot on a side street.  Woo-hoo!  🙂

  

Our first goal was to find the Green World Gallery, owned by Artist Koz.  Diana and Steve Koslowski hail from the same hometown of Ortonville, Michigan.  We ended up buying one of his small paintings for our rig, and a Howard Livingston from Mile Marker 24 Band “Sell your stuff-keep the dog-live on an island” sweatshirt for Diana. Very nice store!

From there, we walked a few blocks to Ernest Hemingway’s home for a tour.  

  

We will freely admit that we have yet to read his work, but we’ve been intrigued by his northern Michigan connections.  Our tour guide Chris was fantastic, painting a portrait with his words as to the interesting character Ernest Hemingway was.  And, yes…I’ve downloaded my first Hemingway novel.  🙂

  

This is his writing studio where it is estimated that 70% of his literary works were penned.  That small stool to the left of the barometer in the left side of the photo is a Spanish birthing chair.  There are several of them throughout the home, as he liked to collect them.   Some people collect baseball cards; Ernest Hemingway collected birthing chairs!

  

Here is a decendent of Hemingway’s six-toed cat, Snow White.  There are 40 to 50 very well cared for cats on the property.  Chris stated that it was never his intention to learn the cat’s names, but know them he did!

After that, we grabbed lunch at Off the Hook.

  

We both had fish tacos, which were excellent.  They are just one block off of Duval…totally worth the walk!

  

Key West is also famous for it’s free roaming chickens.  This rooster was strutting it’s stuff in front of a residence we walked past.

And no trip to Key West is complete without having your photo taken in front of the Southernmost Point marker!

  

There was a fifteen minute wait to do this, and the people who were in line behind the subjects ended up being the photographers. Everyone was having a great time. We were closer to Cuba at this spot than we were to Miami!

On the way back to Grassy Key, we took a little side trip to the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key.  This is home to the subspieces of the Whitetail deer known as the Key deer.  

  

There are only 600 to 800 of these animals left, and they can only be found in the Florida Keys.

  

Weighing between 65 to 85 pounds, they are smaller than a Great Dane.

Our time in the Keys was short, but we managed to relax and have a good time.  We definitely will be back, as there is a lot more to see that we didn’t have time for.  Our next post will be from locations north of here, as we can’t get any further south!