Thursday, November 26, 2020

An Eventful Thanksgiving

 First of all, Sparky and Eldo want to say, we are so thankful for our family and friends who understand we have a little vagabond dust in us, who DIDN'T say, "Are you CRAZY? Going back out on the road full time at your age?", who love us and support us by being happy for us because we love being out on the road and we can do it. We are thankful that our family is healthy for the most part, that we have decent health, and can still travel and see this beautiful country of ours. We hope you were able to see family in a meaningful safe way today....whether it was in the same room, on Zoom, or just on the phone, hearing the voices of loved ones. We both talked to some of our family members, used Face Time to connect, and sent texts. It's both harder and easier with technology these days to stay close to your family. We love it that we can also move around more easily and cheaply to visit our family and see them more than when we had our sticks and bricks house in Florida.

We were delighted to discover that Larry, the guy who guided us into a VERY tight spot in a heavily wooded park back in Indiana back when we first started out traveling and learning how to back in a fifth wheel, arrived yesterday with his wife, Connie, to Peace River, and promptly invited us over to safely distance outdoors and have dinner with them and their son.

We spent the entire morning getting rid of old papers and Sparky tried getting rid of some major craft supplies that are just not going to fit in the rig, NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES she moved things around.  Well, phooey! Anyway, after awhile, the paper pile got so big, Sparky had the brilliant idea to burn it in the fire pit. But she didn't pay close attention to: 1. The fire pit was less than 3 feet to the rig, 2. the awnings were out, and 3. which way the wind was blowing. Before you can say, UH-OH! Not to worry, Sparky did not burn any holes in the awning, BUT--all of a sudden, there was a really loud alarm going off, INSIDE THE RIG. Eldo says, "What the heck is THAT? Is that coming from our rig?" The paper debris/smoke from the fire set off the smoke detector INSIDE, with closed windows. Guess the front door was open and the smoke got in. Oopsie! Sparky went rushing in waving paper in front of the alarm trying to get it to turn off. Finally, it did.

Later, we headed over to the picnic area to meet up with our friends. All of a sudden, the alarm was going off on Eldo's watch. It thought he had fallen, he hadn't. He didn't figure out it was his watch right away, so the watch dialed 911. Eldo gets a call from the Wachula emergency department making sure he was ok! Like that Apple watch, but sometimes it's a little too sensitive!

We had a great time with our friends...Sparky played corn hole for the first time...A Hoosier from Indiana, and she had never played! It was so nice to run into nice people once again. You think as RVers that yes, you will meet people, enjoy their company, and then not see them again, but you do! We had no idea they were coming to Peace River. Two different couples from up in Indiana...Welcome Larry and Connie, and welcome Connie and Richard!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Settled in Peace River Thousand Trails Park

Wachula, FL.      High: 77.   Low: 60.      Site: R08, H-2

Sparky had to laugh....she had a conversation with her daughter in Houston. "So, where are you today?" Kerry asks. "We are in Wildwood, but tomorrow we are going to be in Wachula." "How long?" asks Kerry. "Oh, three weeks", says Sparky. "Well, that's like a year in RV time," says Kerry. Sparky had to laugh...we HAVE been moving a lot, dealing with certain timelines to get to get the awnings repaired, having visited South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. And now, here we are in Florida. We did the hop, skip, and a jump thing to shorten our daily drives and make it easier on the main driver, Eldo. We stayed at Thousand Trails in Wildwood, a VERY nice Thousand Trails park. We will tell you WHY it's such a nice park.
First of all, at many Thousand Trails parks, there are seasonal campers, and they get the best spots by bringing their rigs and plopping them in the prime spots and then they aren't there much of the time! It's frustrating not to get a chance to have one of the nicer spots in a park.

When we were at Hidden Cove in Arley, AL, another Thousand Trails park, the entire row of riverside/lake campsites seemed to be taken up by seasonal or long term campers. The second week of November, we get it, that things are winding down for the season, but at least use your site on the weekend, maybe! Sparky didn't see a single unit being used along the riverfront sites the entire week we were there. BUT--at Thousand Trails Three Flags Campground in Wildwood, management cares. They have an "abandonment" rule, which says you can't leave your rig unattended for more than a certain amount of time, or you'll be fined 32.00 a day--UNLESS you have made special arrangements with the office--they understand family and medical emergencies. So thank goodness, this park in the TT system gets it that there are MANY people not using their rigs and taking up prime real estate in the park!!!!

Now we are at Peace River, a Thousand Trails Park, in Wachula, FL and again, the three weeks is FREE! (but if you figure in the type of membership we have, it's really amounts to about 5.00 a day.) This photo is of part of the campground with sites right at the river's edge.

Peace River is a nice park. But it's a little tricky in spots to maneuver a 41 foot fifth wheel in and around the park. For most Thousand Trails parks, you book ahead to reserve a space, but it's not assigned, so then you drive in and drive around pulling your rig behind you until you find a site that looks good. A motorhome makes it a little easier to do that but tight turning corners going around the park sometimes are still a problem. The only problem is, if you don't know the park, you are driving in blind, really, unsure of how many trees there are, how low they hang, how tight the turns are, whose parked car is going to make it difficult to get around the corner, etc. Our first site we picked had a concrete pad where you have your picnic bench and a couple of chairs, but the space between the pad and the hookups was extremely narrow. No neighbors on one side of us, so that helped us get in.
It took us a long time to get situated, and then because the angle was weird, we decided to move down a couple of sites, because another one had some shade. When you are backing in a fifth wheel, (ALL the sites in Peace River are back ins), you have to worry about people parking their cars sideways, or right in front of you in a site in front of your site, and it's really tough to be able to maneuver around them and get situated in your site. But we did it! In this park, driving around parked cars and turning tight corners makes you decide to pick a site faster than you would like some times. Our first site was in a row designed for big rigs, but everybody's rear end backs up against a busy highway with noisy trucks, FL highway 17. After about 45 minutes of maneuvering in and out, back and forth, we finally got situated. (Sometimes there has to be a lot of back and forth movement to get a fifth wheel angled in properly.) Once we were in and settled, Sparky just knew that the traffic noise was going to be a problem, and after the first night with ear plugs, it was still a problem, so we hopped on our bikes and rode around the park to see what better sites we might have missed.

We found another one we like better, right near the river, and a little bit further away from the major highway road noise with a higher ground berm to help with that. It's a corner site, and LOTS of room, width wise, no concrete pad to work around. So, the next morning, we pulled in our slides, repacked our belongings and chairs and moved over to site H-2. MUCH better!

Peace River is currently offering open spaces with full hookups, if you can find one you like. It's mid November, and snow birds are starting to arrive. Once the crush starts, this park goes on a lottery system to get a site with full hookups with the sewer connection. They have plenty of water and electric sites, but many in a lower section of the park do not have a sewer connection because part of the campground is in a floodplain. 

You start with one of those sites, once the park gets crowded. Then you can get into a "lottery" system and when your number comes up, you are offered a site--take it, or leave it and wait for the next go round till you get one you like. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, in the field area, you can get honey wagon (sewer service) FREE once a week. That's a really nice service, most places charge $15.00 or more to dump your tank for you. Opinions are varied when the sewer lottery goes into effect, but many people say early to mid December for the lottery to be likely in place.

There are limited activities here because of Covid, of course. Two very nice pickle ball courts, 

a really nice laundry room with VERY reasonable laundry charges, the entire park is paved which is so nice for walks and bike rides, and they have a nice pool and hot tub. 

PLUS-- there is a nature trail along the Peace River, complete with alligator and snake signs, haha. 
Sparky is going to take her camera and go for lots of walks. (I warned her, cautions Eldo, but she doesn't listen very well.) That's a disclaimer, in case Sparky gets attacked by an alligator, haha.

We are back to the Florida flora and fauna. Lots of Spanish moss which is not really moss at all but a bromeliad, but everybody calls it moss anyway. It's so gray sometimes, but the grayish green hanging all over the trees and down of the big live oak trees is just Florida. Sparky likes the change in birds as soon as we got down here from the Midwest. Saw a crested caracara the other day...this is an internet photo, but the one Sparky saw driving down the road flew in and landed on the fence. It's a pretty good sized bird. It looked exactly like the photo. 

With a lot of rain these past two days, we've been making trips to Bradenton to unload the storage shed, sold Eldy's bike, and tried to find a decent restaurant to have breakfast. Here, Eldo is checking out the river after heavy rainfall. He's worried it might come up close to our site. Nah, we're good, he reports.
There isn't any good restaurant in Wauchula if you like to eat out. (Eldo is pointing at Sparky. He's happy with peanut butter sandwiches, an easy to please guy, for sure!) Sparky loves to experience local food. The one restaurant down the street from the park, the Pioneer Restaurant, does not have their staff wear face masks, so that's a no-no for us. (We call first and ask about their Covoid policies before venturing out to try a local restaurant). Because Wauchula is a very small town, and the park is in the middle of farm land, there is very little dining available in the area other than a McDonald's and Burger King. We'll save some money! (Yay! says Eldo.) 

Well, since we're saving money, Sparky decided to buy a screen tent for a little shady crafting space. It's a four sided Hike brand, 72" X 72" floor space.The description says,

FIVE PEOPLE???? Uh, nope, no way, not gonna happen...It's ok...Sparky likes it, but it gets hot very quickly, and unless there is a breeze, it's kind of like the old camping tent, complete with the tent smell and mosquitoes being attracted to the light color. And the description does not match the one on the box. "Waterproof" is NOT the same as "water repellant". We shall see, waiting for the rain to dissipate, and a breeze to kick up to use it. But hey, it's cute and packs up nicely in a carrying bag. There are separate wind panels that velcro onto the outside of the tent. Sparky bought 3 to protect against adverse weather. The whole thing was very easy to put up, too.We have noticed that lots of people are now adding pop up screen tents and pop up shelters right beside their rigs and over the picnic tables.

And that's the latest from Sparky and Eldo.....See you again soon!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Things to do in Arley, AL...

 Some of the Thousand Trails parks are near good sized towns, often times they are not. Arley, AL was one of THE smallest towns we have ever stayed in, where the Hidden Cove RV resort was. This is the observation deck that overlooks Smith Lake, where the park is located.

The population is 340. So if you are looking for shopping nearby, even for the basics, you are going to have to drive a bit...25-35 miles to get to something more than a mom and pop grocery store. We didn't mind, we like small towns. This northwest corner little burg has suffered through some hard times, and the county is very rural. We saw a lot of impoverished homes and it's a little sad to see these small towns struggle so much to keep going.

When you check in to Hidden Cove RV resort, they give you a list of nearby activities, so we decided to check a couple of them out. There's the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL, 32 miles from Hidden Cove. It's a four acre park that provides a natural setting for  125 miniature reproductions of some historic and famous buildings in the world, all constructed by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk who came from Bavaria to America to become a monk of St. Bernard Abbey. What started as a hobby, took him his entire lifetime to construct some of the most famous religious buildings in the world. 
He used bits and pieces of recycled materials, shells from Florida beaches, whatever he could of the buildings has Pond's Cold Cream jars in the towers! He reconstructed most of these buildings from photos, drawings and notes, as he was not able to visit these edifices in person. From Montesurrat to St. Peter's Basilica, he labored all his life to leave this marvelous legacy behind for future generations.
We were a little saddened to see the many buildings overrun with weeds, leaves and dirt. Maybe it was visiting this site in late fall that made the exhibits seem tired, dreary and dirty, but it also seemed as though the grounds were neglected. The admission fee was 6.00 a person. For the uniqueness of this monk's handiwork and the beautiful big gift shop with many religious items and beautiful music playing, we do recommend going to see it.

Our second choice of a road trip was to see the Natural Bridge Park, in Natural Bridge, AL., a 36 mile drive from the Hidden Cove RV park. Sparky loves geological formations and this one was really cool! If you look carefully, you can see Eldy making his way down the stone steps inside a cave with the bridge above his head.

The park is VERY dated...Coming into it, you pass through an old security gate where one can imagine lots of people coming to see this ancient geological wonder years ago. There's a little gift shop where you pay to see the bridge. Admission was 3.50 per person. They are selling local pottery and coonskin caps, too! (Ohhhh, Sparky, you are SO OLD! says Eldo.) But he remembers those, too. haha

Now, other highways take the people elsewhere, and we think this little park is not as well known or visited as much as it must have been years ago. 

"WOW!"  "This is SO COOL!" "This is REALLY cool!" "Look at this!" (That's Sparky getting really excited about the 148 foot sandstone bridge above her head, explains Eldo.) That little bit of red is Sparky looking up at this amazing wonderful piece of Mother Nature's construction.

There are two ways to get to the bridge...One is a little trail that winds around, the other is a more direct but little bit rocky path to the bridge. If you have bad knees, it's a little tougher going up and down the steps in the cavern with the bridge overhead. It is NOT handicapped accessible in any way that we could see. Worth the drive? Oh, YES!
Oh, yes...One more thing. The park advertises an Indian rock face..Can you see it? They say it looks like an Indian head nickel. Uh, OK...maybe....yes.

A couple more recommendations for this area, if you come to Arley, AL to stay at Hidden Cove Thousand Trails RV park...Jasper is the closest biggest town where you can find lots of chains and good shopping if you need to get stuff. Jimmy's Egg in Jasper has REALLY good breakfasts and lunches. Sparky LOVES their breakfast tacos, even if they set her mouth on fire with the chipotle crema sauce. Another great restaurant in Jasper is Jim 'n Nick's BBQ..cheddar biscuits better than Red Lobster's? YES and YUM!

The Bankhead National Forest in Double Springs, AL, is 22 miles away from the RV park. Lots of hiking, limestone bluffs and hiking (for next time, Sparky says)....Dismals Canyon, 57miles away..with unique insects that emit a bright blue-green light at night to attract food and mates. Also home to two waterfalls and SIX natural bridges....(dang, missed that one, too! NEXT TIME, ok, Eldo?) He's nodding, sure!....he's such a good guy. The US Space and Rocket Center is in Huntsville, AL, 77 miles away. Might as well make that a day trip away from the campground! And, the Barber Motor Speedway Museum, the largest motorcycle museum in the world. It has over 1,450 vintage and modern motorcycles and racing cars. 

And....The Crooked Creek Civil War Museum..Vinemont, 22 miles away...WITH the Clarkson Covered Bridge also in Vinemont...a 250 foot bridge with lattice truss construction over 4 spans. COVERED BRIDGE???? Sparky missed a covered bridge????? Maybe Eldo was still tuckered out from the 13 covered bridges we hit in Ohio when we drove all over the county to find them. Next time, OK, Eldo? (He's nodding his head wearily.) Did Sparky say he was such a good guy? He sure is, he will drive Sparky just about anywhere, all over kingdom come for the right photo and the right hiking or biking trail with nary a complaint.

And with all that, we are headed to another Alabama park this weekend, the one where the tree limb fell on our---SPARKY!!! SHHHHHH....(Eldo is superstitious.) But it still is one of our favorite parks to land, a COE park a little further south. We will be there for two days, then FLORIDA here we come for three weeks. See you later!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A Hop, Skip, and a Jump


Arley, AL.       High: 72        Low: 68.         Site: C-28

And we went from Middlebury, IN to the Indy KOA, to the Louisville South KOA to Texas T Campground in Tennessee to Hidden Cove Thousand Trails RV Resort in Arley, AL.

We are here for six's free with our Thousand Trails membership. What a nice park! It is on Smith Lake, which seems be a very big lake. They have river sites as well as wooded and shady sites. They have an A, B and C section, many pull throughs which we like, the "C" section is the newest. It's all gravel. Before you say, "UGH! Not for us!" on the gravel parking lot option, there ARE some pros along with the usual "it's just like a parking lot" con. We came from a grassy, partly gravel/field site at a Thousand Trails Park in Ohio, that as soon as the rains came, it turned into one big muddy, messy field that you had to worry about possibly getting stuck if it continued to rain, which is did, for four straight days. (We didn't get stuck.) Gravel sites parking lot style are usually pretty level. These are in some sites, and others are not. (It's a very hilly area in Alabama).

So here's more about Hidden Cove....The sites are HUGE in the "C" section...Really wide and really long...plenty of room for a BIG rig and the tow vehicle. On one side of us is the packed dirt strip, on the other side is rose bushes, (the landscaping is new). No trees on sites in the new section, the older sections have pretty shaded areas and trees. The pool looks new, but is closed due to Covid. They are setting up a disc golf course! Nine holes, we have our discs on board, but the course is not finished yet.

The laundry facilities are new in the "C" section, two washers, two dryers. VERY inexpensive for a campground--1.25 to wash, 1.00 to dry. The bathrooms are new and pretty. There is a beautiful observation deck overlooking the lake and there are stone cliffs to the sides of that deck that make the scenery interesting.

There's a HUGE boat ramp, and a floating dock for docking pontoon boats or fishing boats if you have one.

The cons? Arley is a town of about 500 people. You have to drive quite a ways for well known stores and shopping, and it was a little tricky coming through county back roads to get to the park. Arley has a small town grocery, a Dollar General and not much else. If you love small towns and very little traffic, this is the place for you! The nearest bigger town is Jasper, AL to find a Walmart, Harbor Freight, HOBBY LOBBY (private joke, haha) and other chain stores and restaurants. Jasper is about 25miles away. Eldo says, Sparky has gone four days and hasn't asked to go to the Hobby Lobby yet. That's a record.) Haha.

Another con, which is a common problem at Thousand Trails parks, is the best sites are taken by seasonal people. When you come into a Thousand Trails park, you usually pick out your own site by driving around and finding your own. Not always easy to do when towing a 41 foot rig behind your truck. We wished we could have had one of these sites on the lake side, but they were all taken by seasonal rentals.

BUT---the management here at this park is super friendly and caring, and continually striving to add amenities and features to the park. It's a hidden gem that's for sure, in the Thousand Trails system. We love it and plan to come back again.  See you soon, a little further south in Alabama, back to the park (Gunther Hill COE park) where our original awnings met their doom! But we're not worried....are we, Eldo?

Thanks for reading.....

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Awesome Awnings and Service

Indianapolis, IN        High: 68.     Low: 41.  Site: 36

FINALLY! The call came in. Our awnings came in! We were in Ohio, just a few hours away, hoping that they would call before we headed south and it worked out that they did!

We'd like to give a shout out to RV Connections in Middlebury, IN, and to two technicians, Randy and Brian, who worked for HOURS on our coach. What should have been a two hour job, ended up being an all day job, because the technician we hired in Alabama to take our ripped and torn awnings off after a heavy tree limb took them both out, had to cut the wires due to damage. He zip tied them and did his best to make everything usable for the repairs to come after we had moved on and were waiting for them to come in, but unfortunately, then the awnings had to be rewired and Jayco consulted because the wires were difficult to reconstruct with the new awnings. 

We'd like to give Jayco a shout out as well, because instead of talking to the techs over the phone, the newer versions of the awnings presented some additional problems, so Jayco sent THEIR techs over to RVConnections. One of the Jayco techs was Amish, and since they don't drive, two guys showed up from Jayco, (one had to be the driver for the Amish guy!) When we arrived towards the end of the day, we talked a little bit to RV Connection techs, and one guy told Sparky the breaker to the rig shut off sometime during the night. Uh-oh! (When you have a residential fridge in an RV, that's hard on the batteries, it could drain them if the rig is not plugged in and has electric.)

We had tested the connection before leaving the rig the night before, with our surge protector. We didn't want to leave the the big surge protector (about a 400.00 value) unattended at the RV repair place outside the gate where it was to be parked for the night. We were going to stay the night in it, but it was next to a factory and we had second thoughts about getting enough sleep. (She REALLY wanted to stay in a motel so she could have a BATH, explains E.) Busted! By the way, Sparky was SO-O-O disappointed that the water was not very hot at the motel, so there went the hot bath at the Farmstead Inn in Shipshewanna. Oddly enough, the hot water was SUPER hot at the faucet in the bathroom sink. Guess they don't want anybody to scald themselves in the tub. Sparky briefly entertained the idea of using the coffee pot to heat some water and throw that in the tub, but it was a one cup coffemaker. (Eldo is rolling on the floor laughing).

So-o-o-o...back to the RV. We tested the electric current at the source, it checked out ok, we took out the surge protector and then plugged the electrical cord back in. The power went off sometime during the night. Everything checked out ok in the morning. Things were still cold, so we figured it hadn't been off for very long. We were grateful that the tech let us know. He could have chosen not to say anything.

The other great thing that impressed us, was we got a call the next morning from RV Connections saying that the technician had forgotten to plug two holes with caulk, so they wanted to send him out TO OUR CAMPSITE, at least 40 minutes away from the shop, to finish that detail! Again, they could have just not said anything, but that attention to detail and desire to make things right was really terrific, in our opinion. We highly recommend RV Connections if you need repair work done in Elkhart/Middlebury, IN area......and stay at the Elkhart Campground. It's wonderful, and our favorite place to stay when we are in Elkhart.

Off we went for a short drive today to stay at the Indianapolis KOA campground. KOA's are on the expensive side, but there are many positive things about them. Usually, they have easy pull thru sites, some being very spacious. 

They have a variety of price points and sites for the discriminating traveler. The cheapest rate is usually around 55.00 and that's what we got. The KOA's are usually close to the interstates, fuel, and stores, plus they deliver pizza and ice cream to your site, at least at this one! 

In the Indy location, Mt. Comfort RV is within walking distance for RV supplies and repairs, a big truck stop is nearby, and it's easy to get in and out of this KOA and many of them. We are here for one night, then off to Louisville, KY.   Goodnite, all....thanks for reading!