No Sleep till Brooklyn (and an update on the composting toilet)!

Hello from Bryan’s parent’s front yard in New Hampshire and happy June! We just arrived a week ago and will be spending a good chunk of the month here. As for our plans: there has already been a family camping trip, some day trips on the agenda, Merlin and Smarty projects to be done, and simply happy to have some down time and visit with family and friends. May was one busy and crazy month for us and included driving Merlin on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, staying in Shenandoah National Park, visiting Gettysburg, and driving to and camping in Brooklyn, NY! In addition, we got to visit more family (Bob, Mikey, Kelly, Kevin, Conner, and Dez), meet up with old friends (John, Erin, Kate, Gregg), and make new friends (including: Gil, Adam, Paul, Erin, Sabine, Peter, Sweet D, Sara, Lemhi, Hobbs, and Mike).

May in Merlin

Blue Ridge Parkway / staying at Peaks of Otter:

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Skyline Drive / Shenandoah NP / staying at Loft Mountain:

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This is what our campground looked like for 2.5 days – ugh.
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Blurry pic, but this was the laundry room at the camp store in Shenandoah. Met several AT hikers here. The cold, rainy, cloudy, days were perfect for catching up on laundry and we were able to drink beers too.
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Beautiful sunset when the fog moved on.

Areas in and around Chambersburg and Gettysburg, PA / stayed at Cracker Barrel, Adams County Winery, Hauser Winery, & Walmart 

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Just happened across this snake on our way back to the Gettysburg Visitor Center – he had to be 5 feet long – eeeek!

Hershey, PA / stayed at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey:

Pottstown, PA / stayed with Boondocking Welcome hosts:

Clinton, NJ / stayed at Spruce Run Recreation Area / visited family and friends in Philadelphia and New Hope

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Merlin chilling in Jersey.

New York City, NY / stayed at Floyd Bennett Field NP / visited friends, did a ferry ride, Coney Island, Financial District, WTC memorial, Battery Park, Central Park, West Village, Upper East Side, and Times Square (for a total of 2 minutes and it was 2 minutes too many)

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Driving on a bridge into NYC at 3:30am in the rain!
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1st stop – chili dogs!
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None of us were big fans of Times Square – yuckville. Just a big, crowded commercial – bleck!

Danbury, Connecticut / stayed with Boondocking Welcome hosts / visited a friend, went to a Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game

As some of you might recall, we installed a composting toilet in Merlin back in January. For a better understanding of a composting toilet, check this out: http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/composting-toilet We bought our unit back last summer and fully intended on having it installed before we started this crazy adventure. However, because we had SO many projects to get done, we simply ran out of time, energy, patience, you name it and never got to it prior to departure.

We have now been living with and using this compositing toilet for exactly 5 months and thought we’d share our experience. We really like it! And NO it doesn’t smell. It really doesn’t, I promise. Most people would assume that dealing with the solids (#2) would be the worst part, but it’s actually the liquids (#1) that are the most unpleasant aspect of it all. There’s never really any odor coming from the toilet when in use, but when it comes time to dump the pee/liquids containers – that’s when you have to smell the funk. We have two liquid containers. It takes 1-2 days to fill one of these, depending on how often we’re using our toilet in Merlin. You obviously NEVER want the liquids container to overflow, so we have to keep an eye on things and swap them out once it’s close to becoming full. Typically we’re staying at a campground that at the very least has a porta-potty, so we’re almost always able to dump our liquids containers where we camp. Sometimes, though, we’re off-grid or staying at a non-traditional camping spot (e.g., a parking lot, a host’s house, a winery) and we have to get creative on where we can dump our pee. So far, we’ve used bathrooms at gas stations and public parks – it hasn’t been an issue.

Now onto the solids! Every 3-4 weeks we fill the toilet with fresh composting medium. There are a few options, but we use coco coir (https://www.amazon.com/Natures-Footprint-Coir-Block-5kg/dp/B004W8D4N6). We bought a big dried block of the stuff in January and will use the last of it the next time we put in fresh – so one block has lasted close to 6 months. It’s $23 for the whole block and has worked out to about $4 a month for the medium. This comes dried, so to prepare it for the toilet I mix it with water to get it to a slightly moist, soil like consistency. When it comes time to dump the used medium (every 3-4 weeks), we move the entire toilet outside (just requires two nuts), take off the top portion that contains the toilet seat, and dump the contents into a plastic storage bin. Again, this is when you’d expect it to be gross and smelly, but that has not been the case. While we do wipe down the exterior of the toilet and clean the toilet seat portion, we don’t clean the inside where the medium and solids hang out as you don’t want to disrupt the natural flora, etc. that is facilitating the breaking down of the waste. We then put in the fresh medium, reassemble the toilet, return the whole unit to the bathroom, and proceed as usual. I have timed this process and it takes roughly 30 minutes from start to finish.

Most folks take the used medium/solids and throw it away immediately. We didn’t want to do it this way because depending on the last time you used the toilet, this could mean that you would be dumping pretty fresh solids and that just didn’t seem right to us. So we have 2 plastic storage containers. We dump our used medium in one of these and allow it to stay in there for at least a month to complete the composting/breaking down. Once it’s reached a month or so, we dump it in a composting bag and then toss it in the trash. In theory, we could dump this soil around a tree in the woods somewhere because by this time it’s pretty much dirt. But there are various laws and restrictions depending on where you are, so we have not done this as of yet.

Yes, having a composting toilet puts you more up close and personal with your “dirty” business. And I admit, this may not be for everyone. But having used a regular RV toilet and dealing with the black tank and associated dumping for over 5 months, I definitely prefer the compositing toilet. Plus, the freedom that we get by having the compositing toilet is essential for the style of camping we’re doing. We do not need to waste one single drop of our fresh water for our toilet or waste. Our black tank now serves as a back-up grey tank – essentially doubling our grey water capacity. We now can use every bit of our fresh water (for cooking, cleaning, and showers) and have a place for it all to go. So far we have been able to go about 2 weeks off grid and this has been without too much effort. I know if we were more careful with usage, we could go longer. Having this toilet has saved us time and money! We don’t have to pay for dumps as often as before, we can boondock as often as we’d like, we can avoid more expensive campgrounds/campsites, we only need to dump every 2 weeks, etc. Plus environmentally, this is a bit better. When we dump a single liquids container, that’s 1-2 days of pee for two people. If we’re dumping this in a toilet, it’s just one flush opposed to the 20+ flushes it would have been with a regular toilet and so much wasted water. Unfortunately, because we’re on the road – we are not able to fully see through the composting part of our solids. But I do like that when we dispose of our composting medium, the solids have fully broken down, are in a composting bag, and are essentially dirt.

If anyone is interested in videos, more information, or whatever else about our composting toilet experience – just let us know.

And as always, let’s check in with Gemma and Schnabbies (we are celebrating these gals’ Foundiversary June 14th – 4 years!!!):

NC & TN along with some thoughts from the road

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FOMO, forget about it! FOMO (fear of missing out) is a common feeling for most of us and has been a regular concern on this trip. Every day we’re passing by so many cool, interesting, pretty, historic, etc. places and/or things to do – but if we tried to see and do it all, we’d still be in California right now! Over these months we’ve had to teach ourselves to get over our FOMO. We try to choose quality over quantity (to a degree) and pick a few things from the many many options to visit or experience. What has been the best is when we camp in one place for 3-4 days, do a few day trips in Smarty and then hang at camp one day. It doesn’t always work out this way – but this is normally our goal. Budget, our schedule, weather, etc. also need to be taken into account and these all can screw with that ideal plan.
Before setting out on this journey, we had talked about staying at places for 1-2 weeks at a time. While this would have been great for a number of the places we’ve been, it’s just not possible with the loose route through the US that we have laid out for this one year. I know this probably sounds stupid, but the US is a lot bigger than we thought! We try to keep our drive days at or around 150 miles and we rarely do drive days back to back. I’m sure 150 miles doesn’t seem like much, but when you factor in the time it takes in breaking down camp, getting Merlin road ready, hooking up Smarty, and then actually driving at a speed that is both safe and comfortable – that 150 miles can take most of the day. Plus we avoid driving at night and since the cats hideout during the drive, driving for anything over 6-8 hours would royally suck for them.

While planning this trip over the past few years, Bryan and I both developed so many expectations – both conscious and subconscious. Now 9+ months into our adventure, the reality of this trip has exceeded our expectations in most areas, fallen terribly short in others, and has sometimes left us scratching our heads. We had really expected that this trip would allow us an unbelievable amount of free time to read books, exercise, go for long walks, and do a lot of nothing. And before you all start screaming at the screen, YES – I know that this entire trip is essentially ALL “free time” – we’re not working for an entire year. This is definitely true, but while we do have a bit more of those chill, relax, do nothing days than we did before – this lifestyle and a trip like this takes so much more work, planning, and research than we could have ever imagined. As I was explaining to a friend recently in an email, just about every single move we make on this trip requires a ton of planning! So far, we’ve driven almost 10,000 miles – so that’s a lot of moves and SO MUCH PLANNING. Even something as simple as getting gas takes planning. Not all gas stations can accommodate our rig with Smarty in tow – they may not have the height clearance or the area of the gas station is too tight to get in and out. You don’t realize how comfortable you get in your hometown where driving to the market or to dinner doesn’t take any thought – you get in the car and POOF you’re there. We no longer have that familiarity and anything that we need or want to do takes a lot of effort. I’m in no way complaining about our current position – believe me, but this just wasn’t something that we had fully understood before taking off. Even the fun stuff – figuring out what excursion to do, where to go, what to see, etc. – just the planning of this alone could take up all the time we have in that particular place. If there aren’t obvious places to see (e.g., Yellowstone National Park), we will do some brief Googling to find a few popular and not so popular destinations, try to get suggestions along the way from locals or other travelers, and then head out and see where the wind takes us. Even the cities and stops we pick to stay in are normally established just a few days in advance and sometimes just minutes before we start Merlin’s engine (no joke, we just decided between two different states with a coin toss before we hit the road, ha ha!).

For me personally, one of my biggest expectations that I wasn’t even aware I had made was that I would experience less of some of the most undesirable sides to myself (stress, anxiety, melancholy, moodiness). I think I have wrongly assumed for a long time that these were all due to my environment (hectic city life, work demands and pressure, etc.). But very soon into this trip these continued to crop up and it was a hard reality check to realize that even on this trip of a lifetime with all this time to spend with Bryan, my kitties, nature – these still show themselves more often than I’d like.

One big motive for taking this trip was to finally get to spend more time together. For those of you that know us, you know that for Bryan’s 10 years in Los Angeles and for the duration of our relationship Bryan’s work schedule has been hard with regular long days, late nights, and weekend work. We’ve been together for 9 years and have a pretty solid relationship. We laugh way more than we argue and are a really fantastic team. Going into this we hoped that this would all stay true and even get better with all this new time together. I am happy to report that we’re doing really good after being together non-stop, 24/7 for 9 months! Yes, the stresses of this trip can give us moments of some harsh words or frustration with each other, but overall we’re happy. We still spend most of our time cracking each other up, working hard together to keep things going, and truly enjoying this adventure.

Stops/Stays/Visits

Dunn, NC: Stayed at a Walmart. This town was all about god and we got to watch a carnival being set up right next to us in the Walmart parking lot – fun!

Raleigh, NC: We stayed at the NC state fairgrounds near the horse complex. Pretty decent campground with full-hookups for $30 a night. Here we visited several local parks (NC has the BEST state parks we’ve been to so far!) including: Umstead park, Lake Johnson, Old Mill. Got to watch a few events of a horse show, visit with our friend Jeanny (from LA who just moved to NC in the summer), explore downtown Raleigh a bit, and check out the local modern art museum (Jeanny works there).

Lake Norman State Park, NC: Great hikes, pretty lake, we walked out to an island and saw a mama goose on her nest, visited a few cute towns: Davidson, Cornelius, met cool folks: Case, Laurie, and Dasha, and had beers at Ass Clown Brewery.

Curtis Creek Campground, NC: Stayed at an amazing National Forest campground for $5 a day – yes, five dollars a day! From here did a hike from hell that took us up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) (ended up being over 12 miles and almost 8 hours, eek!), did a drive on the BRP, and spent an afternoon in Asheville.

Buffalo Wild Wings, Asheville, NC: Spent the afternoon/evening and stayed the night in the parking lot. We got to watch the Bruins play the Senators and lose – falling out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fun time, cool people, good beer and food, but sad game.

Cable Cove, NC: Another National Forest campground – but this one was $10 a day. Drove 318 curves over 11 miles on the Tail of the Dragon, visited 2 different sides of the Great Smoky Mountains, drove the Foothills Parkway,  and had a beer in Bryson city, at Mountain Layers brewery.

Knoxville, TN: Stayed at a “campground” in a parking lot on the UT campus near the soccer stadium and softball fields ($30 a day), visited Bryan’s cousins: Ashley and Geoffrey, had wonderful spirits and cocktails at Knox Whiskey Works (thanks Ashley!!), visited our 3rd stop on the Manhattan Project tour in Oakridge, TN, explored downtown Knoxville, and did some hiking at Ijams Nature Center.

Kingsport, TN: Stayed at a Cracker Barrel overnight after a Harvest Host stay fell through (big bummer!).

Stone Mountain State Park, NC: Our favorite state park! Beautiful campground, plenty of sun for our solar panels, lots of hiking right from the campground. The park’s claim is Stone Mountain – a huge granite dome popping out of the forest with views for days. We stayed in the no hook-up loop and it was $15 a night during the week and $17 a night on the weekends (not including the state park fee of $3 a day, whack!). On the coldest, rainiest day we did another drive on the BRP – we cannot get enough of that road!

And, of course, the kitties:

Some really cool creatures and flowers we’ve encountered recently:

Snakes, Savannah, & a Parking Garage

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After having spent well over a month in Florida, it felt so strange to finally leave! It had been so hot that last week, that we were desperate to go north looking for a little taste of the winter/spring weather that we had been avoiding. We found though, that it was still pretty damn hot in Georgia. Our first stop here was in Georgia’s southeast and found an incredible camping spot out in the absolute sticks! I decided to do a video so you guys can get a better sense of what some of these boondocking sites look like.

These areas are typically designated for hunting activities and as I mentioned in the video – there were a couple of hunts going on while we were camping there. Because of this, we rarely feel comfortable doing much exploring, hiking, or biking in these areas. So while we get to camp in these beautiful forests – we don’t normally get to see more than our camp area and the drive in 😦 We regularly hear gun shots off in the distance and this makes a casual hike off-limits.

On our first day trip, we headed into the town of Brunswick. It had a cute little downtown area – but it was completely shuttered (so it goes on a Sunday in the south). This city is right on the water, so we headed down to the marina area to see what we could find. We came across this huge, beautiful, boat. They had a sign outfront welcoming folks in and offering up freshly baked items for sale. It seemed odd, but with really nothing else to do – we climbed aboard. Turns out this boat (and bakery) is owned and operated by what some internet sources say is a cult. LOL! They were nice enough and the cinnamon roll we bought was delicious. Plus they made no attempt to bring us into their cult, so all was well. With a Boston Bruins game ready to start, we found a bar & grill outside of the downtown area where we could grab some grub and watch the game! On top of watching the game (we won!), we also met a ton of locals who were so awesome (James, Karen, Carol, Ben, Lacey, Tora, Heather, etc.). This turned into a great Sunday-Funday!!

For the remainder of our days here, we visited Jekyll Island, did laundry, explored another campground on the river nearby, worked on a Merlin project, had a visit with a snake in the bathroom (SCARY!!!), and rode out an insane night of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings (up all night – glued to the radio, with bags packed, kitty carrier out, ready to run to the cinderblock bathhouse across the camp at the 1st sign of a tornando).

What a difference a day makes! We woke up out in the boonies camping miles away from any form of civilization and wrapped up that same day sitting on a rooftop bar in Savannah drinking cocktails! This trip is so crazy – in case it wasn’t already obvious. We could have “camped” in Savannah’s visitor center parking lot – but we had heard that it could get really tight and crowded and since we had another option through Harvest Host – we went for that instead. However, after checking out that parking lot – we would definitely stay there if we were here again. We LOVED Savannah and getting to stay in the heart of the city would have been ideal! We camped at a flea market about 12 miles outside of town. It was an interesting place and had hook-up options for a low price, so it worked out overall. Savannah is awesome! It’s really small, so we were able to see a good chunk of it with several hours of walking around over two days. You can take your drinks to go and walk around with cocktail in hand – this was also fantastic! The city is full of beautiful green space squares, history, and gorgeous architecture. It was definitely a busy tourist time, but if you walked just one block from a popular area you could escape the hordes and be on a beautiful, peaceful street. Down on the waterfront was the worst though – crowds and crowds of tourists and the crappy shops that cater to those folks. We escaped from this area pretty quickly and found a nice little Scottish pub to rest our feet and have lunch. Savannah is definitely a place we’d like to visit again and could be a fun and interesting place to live for a short while.

 

Next stop was Charleston, South Carolina. This time we jumped at the chance to urban “camp” by parking/staying in the parking garage adjacent to the Charleston visitor center. This was an experience! First off, parking garages and RVs don’t usually go well together. So the thought of first having to navigate Merlin with Smarty in tow through the narrow and cramped little streets of Charleston and then pulling our beast into a parking garage was nothing short of terrifying! But all my fretting was for nothing – the whole event went off without a hitch! We were pulled in, setup, and living the parking garage dream in no time!

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After a quick lunch, we were off to explore the city right outside Merlin’s door! We walked through the city, down to the waterfront, and back up to our home, the parking garage. Similar to Savannah, Charleston is rich in history and beautiful architecture. That evening we decided to head over to a Riverdogs baseball game (Charleston’s minor-leauge team). The stadium was right on the water and made for a super fun night out! Plus it was “bring your dog night” so the place was overun with the cutest doggies and it was $1 beer and $1 hot dog night too – wooo hoooo! To top it off, we met some new friends (several from Redondo Beach, CA) and even got a ride home (saving us from having to leave the game early to catch the last free bus).

We spent our next day in Charleston taking full advantage of the city’s free bus system! We visited the Fort Sumter interpretive center (location of the first Civil War battle) and learned a lot about Charleston’s history. While we were taking a snack break at a park nearby we met an AWESOME gal Stef who is taking a 3 month bike ride up the east coast with her dog Murf. These two were so fun to talk to and we wish them the BEST on their journey. You can follow them here: http://www.4pawsandabicycle.com. It was so great having Merlin/home so close – we were able to stop in a few times a day to grab lunch, a snack, freshen up, or just take a break. This afternoon, we walked around our friend Becca’s alma mater, College of Charleston. This was a amazingly beautiful campus! At happy hour that evening, we made more new friends: Andrea and Ray. They are from PA but work as tour guides and spend a lot of time in this area with their tour groups. They were so kind and secretly paid for our happy hour snacks! If you guys are reading this, thank you so much!! We wrapped up our night at a local dive bar (thanks for the recommendation Becca) and hung out with a Charleston local, John. We were not lacking for friends in Charleston and this made our time here a lot more fun!

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Florida Pt. 3: A lot more gators, crystal blue springs, & even a rocket!

We are so terribly behind in the blog!!! Lets’s finally wrap up Florida.

I think we’ll be keeping things more brief moving forward and just include pics with captions and shorter write-ups. If anyone has questions on places we’ve been, what we’ve done, how something works, etc. – just let us know!! We’ll gladly provide more details when requested 🙂

If you recall, we left off in the Everglades with an unexpected passenger, a frog. You’ll all be relieved to know that we found him a lovely new home on the river bank at our next campground in the lower central part of Florida.

Fisheating Creek Outpost, Palmdale, FL

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Little Froggy on his way to his new waterside digs.

Fort Pierce, FL

We haven’t done too many museums on this trip, but I’m SO glad we did the Navy Seal Museum. It was truly incredible! Everything in this place has been used by SEALs in action or training – so that was pretty cool.

Did you know that SEAL stands for: Sea, Air, & Land? This museum also had an outstanding obstacle course that we couldn’t resist giving a try. Bryan went a little crazy on it and ripped some skin off his ankle – lol! We were a bit sore the next day, have to admit – but it was SO much fun.

After working up an appetite on the O-course, we headed over to Little Jim Bait & Tackle. This was honestly a bait shop that also serves up decent chow, cheap beer, and boiled peanuts. Plus – it’s right on the water!! A total bargain for a waterside meal.

Another Harvest Host win was getting to stay at Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery! We had planned on leaving this area, but when we learned we could stay there for a few days and catch a concert at their awesome music venue – we were sold! We met some really fun new friends (Cheryl, Bud, Scott, & Danielle) and had the most amazing spot on their pond right off the vineyard. Their wine slushies were off the charts GOOD (although, not so good for our budget)!

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Tastes even better than it looks!

Before we left Fort Pierce we spent the afternoon at the beach and enjoyed a day of sun and swimming! This particular beach has a designated parking lot just for RVs. You can park there all day but have to leave at night. This place was overrun with Canadians. Evidently they spend their entire day at the beach and then park at Walmart at night and do that cycle over and over for the whole winter! They didn’t mind us and Merlin taking a spot for a few hours.

Florida’s Space Coast: Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral 

Do not ever depend on rocket launch schedules! We learned this lesson the hard way. We had wanted to catch a SpaceX launch when we were over on this side of Florida. While in Fort Pierce, Bryan just happened to see one in the sky from quite a distance – but we were hoping for something closer. For this purpose, we booked a ridiculously expensive campsite at Cape Canaveral right across from the launch spot for the next scheduled launch. We learned a few days later that the launch date had been pushed and that our reservations couldn’t be changed or canceled – whack! But we made the most of it with another couple visits to the beach (swimming, swimming, & more swimming!) and a parade of cruise ships at night. Turned out to not be so bad and SPOILER ALERT – we did get to see the launch from a distance a few weeks later.

St. Augustine 

We were fortunate to find a Boondocker’s Welcome host just 4 miles from St. Augustine. If you don’t like throngs of kids and tourists – do not come to Florida in March!! We have learned this lesson countless times and unfortunately this probably contributed to our negative opinion of St. Augustine. Yes, this place is historic and its setting on multiple waterways was beautiful – but the whole place just felt like a tourist trap and was terribly crowded. We tried to walk around and eventually gave up and ate an an Irish pub (50 cent hot wings & pretzel sticks!) that was tucked away from the masses. If we’re ever this way again, we might give it another try since we have heard such good things – but we just didn’t see any of those good things in the short time we were there.

The next day we took a long drive south of St. Augustine driving along the coast and intracoastal waterway (ICW) and visited what we could at Fort Matanzas. The ICW is amazing and so different – we would love to come back and spend more time exploring these waters with a kayak/canoe.

Inland from Daytona Beach, FL

We decided to do a little back tracking, once I realized that we were still somewhat close to several of Florida’s legendary natural springs! We got a small taste of these when we were at Weeki Wachee and I knew I wanted more. This meant we had to go back down into Florida for a few days. Thankfully for us there was a beautiful FREE camping area in Tiger Bay State Forest that was about 20-40 minutes from a handful of different springs. In our time there, we got to visit two springs: Alexander and De Leon and also fit in another visit with my cousin Natosha and some of her family – yay!! At De Leon Springs they have this old-timey restaurant that serves up DIY all-you-can-eat pancakes with griddles at every table – we ate ourselves silly here!

Jacksonville, FL

This was to be our last stop before leaving Florida. We ended up staying a little bit outside of the city at Cary State Forest at one of the best paid campgrounds! The rates were reasonable, sites were huge, we had water, a brand-new bathhouse, and really great camp hosts! The forest was absolutely beautiful.

Because you can see the rocket launches pretty far up and down Florida’s eastern coast, we decided to drive out to Neptune Beach to try to catch the rescheduled SpaceX launch. Since it was an early evening launch, it was still light out and made it even more difficult to see – but we did faintly see it shoot up into the sky. Yippee!

As we left Florida, I served myself up a big slice of humble pie! I was so resistant to visiting this state and again (how many I have said this?!) I couldn’t have been more wrong. I LOVED it here – I really did. Yes, some of the stereotypes are pretty accurate – but Florida is so so so much more than that. I’m so happy we came and know for sure I’ll be back!

Florida Pt 2: Mermaids, Gators, & Panthers, OH MY!

Cypress Creek

This was another great free spot.  We were going to bike around the park but Bryan’s bike tube exploded leaving the Slime that we had used to “fix” our previous flat tires everywhere.   Luckily that was the worst of it (THANKFULLY, no injuries), and we just went for a walk instead.

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Weeki Wachee

This is one of the many beautiful springs in Florida and I think the deepest in the United States.  This one, however, is known for the Mermaid shows that have been going on since 1947! The show takes place underwater in the spring – which was pretty fun to watch. The mermaids are performing as fish and a very intrusive turtle swim and float alongside.

Punta Gorda

We were super fortunate to find a great spot through Boondocker’s Welcome to stay here (THANKS so much Pauline & Virginia!) for several days. We did some exploring – but also continued to work on our taxes – bleck, yack, yuck! Punta Gorda has a cute downtown area and is right on the water (The Peace River to be more specific). An added bonus was that our hosts took us out for a beautiful boat ride down the river and into Charlotte Harbor.

Big Cypress National Preserve / Everglades

This was the farthest south we ended up going in Florida.

FL South

We decided to skip the Keys, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale for budgetary and timeline purposes. I am SO glad though that we got to experience the Everglades – even if it was just for 24+ hours. I would LOVE to go come back and explore for a lot longer. This area is absolutely incredible. The bounty of trees, plants, and wildlife was amazing! There were honest to god, “Panther Crossing” signs all over the place!

It’s really bizarre that all over Florida there are touristy places you can pay to go see gators, but they’re not that hard to find just doing their thing. This is especially the case down in the Everglades – all of these pics below are of gators we spotted off a nature trail or on the side of the road. No need to pay to see them – just look out your window as your drive by!

On this trip, we have had our share of hop-ons. Previously, these have all been bugs that got into Merlin and we transported them to new locations. But in the Everglades we had a a frog hop-on, a Florida Leopard Frog. He was really determined to catch a lift. I tried to move him from under Merlin and he wouldn’t have it. He jumped up between one of our storage bins and hung on for over 100 miles!

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Florida pt1: Panhandle on down

Gulf Coast MS and AL

Mississippi and Alabama are pretty narrow along the coast so we didn’t end up spending much time there.  The Biloxi casinos were calling but we, and the budget, decided against it.  Jaimi thoroughly enjoyed driving under Mobile, Alabama in this tunnel on the 10 freeway!

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We stayed a night at the prettiest Walmart yet in Daphne, Alabama, while stocking up on supplies.

Florida Panhandle

Arriving in Florida we were scared that EVERYWHERE would be booked and expensive but our first stop was a free stay at Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area.  There were no hookups here but it was another beautiful spot right on the water.

We realized while staying here that Bryan’s cousin lived not too far away so we went off to see Angela and Wally!  It was great catching up and seeing their new home.  Thanks to Angela for our delicious bbq dinner.

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There were a couple of hiking trails in the area just outside our campground.

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Hiking around in here is pretty cool.  Not sure if you’ll see a bear or a dinosaur.

Also nearby was Ft. Pickens, a fort used only during the civil war, but an architectural beauty.

The day we left this campground we decided we had to stop at the beach before moving on.  The Gulf Islands National Seashore was just waiting for us to go for a swim.

We had another refill stop at Walmart in Panama City Beach. There happened to be a Mardi Gras celebration going on at the park behind it and we got to eat dinner in the parking lot and enjoy fireworks.  We also really enjoyed the airbrush shop inside Walmart! I’m pretty sure this is a Florida only department.

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Cedar Key

We were lucky enough to find an artist to stay with in Cedar Key through the Harvest Host program.  Mary Ellen was super welcoming and we had a blast exploring Cedar Key and hanging out with her and her friends around the fire.  Thanks Mary Ellen!

There was an awesome tiki bar just down the street with great sunset views, fun stools, and cool glass bottle walls.

During our kayak trip we saw swimming rays, jumping mullet, dolphins, and many horseshoe crabs.

We also had some great food at 83 west. The key lime cake was sooooooo good! Sorry, we ate the rest of the food before we could share the magic in a photo.

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Leesburg, FL = Family time!

Leaving Cedar Key we were excited to be on our way to Bryan’s Uncle Joe and Aunt Deb’s house.  Merlin was greeted with the most amazing poolside spot you could ask for, and we were greeted with friendly faces.  We had the best time rocking out with our own private karaoke in their game room.  Their property looked so beautiful with all the old oak trees and spanish moss.

As it turned out Jaimi had cousins not far away in Mt. Dora who she had not seen in a really long time.  We had an awesome barbecue to hang out and catch up. Thanks to Uncle Joe and Aunt Deb for hosting the reunion!

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Jaimi and her cousin Natosha making up for lost time (20+ years!)

We also finally got to a solar project involving relocating the charge controller inside.  The main problem was that with the controller on the panels they could not stay in the rain.  This is now a much nicer solution.  We also began the install of a volt and ammeter which will give us a better idea of how much current we are drawing at any given time.   The multi-tool cutter that my dad got me worked great for cutting out the precise holes for the displays.

 CATS

As usual the kitties are being awesome and even trying to help with taxes.  They also let us know what is going on outside the door.  It is a rough life being an RV cat.

And even more Louisiana – so much to love!

Before I continue with our time and adventures in Louisiana I wanted to touch on something that we have mistakenly left out of our recent posts. While we were travelling throughout the western side of the US, we occasionally met new folks (Tony & Richard – hi again!) – but for the most part we were alone and kept to ourselves. I think this was partly because we were still just getting the hang of all this and weren’t going out of our way to be social – but also there just weren’t many opportunities. Since we started out again at the start of 2017 we have been meeting SO many awesome people and making friends! I know I’ll forget some of the names (or didn’t catch them to begin with) – but wanted to give a shout-out and big thanks to the great folks we’ve met along the way and hope our paths cross again: Roch & Monique, Matt & Kimber, Nate & Laurel, Chris & Barb, Bryan & Caitlin, Mark & Harriet, Kim & Theresa, Wayne & his dancing wifey, Harold, Arcade, Wild-Man, Dennis & Gail, Lynn & Max, Earl & Ann, Joshuah, Sandy & Gary, Yvette, Barb & Chad, Nathan, and many many many others. Also, thanks to Sid (one of Bryan’s old co-workers and friends) for coming a long way to visit us for lunch when we were camping near Galveston. We had a fantastic time! Being away from all of our friends and family has been rough – but meeting and making new friends on the road has been wonderful!

BATON ROUGE

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The Mississippi River across from our campground in Baton Rouge at sunset

Baton Rouge was next on our Louisiana tour. We were super fortunate to find a $10 a night campground that was just a few miles from the city and right on a levee bike trail. We took full advantage of this trail when we headed into the city to explore. The area near the old and new capitol had some beautiful architecture (these buildings were the primary examples) – but for the most part it was filled with what I found to be boring and nondescript office buildings. I should say that we only spent one afternoon here – so we could have easily missed some of the more interesting parts. What was cool about Baton Rouge, though, is that it’s ON the Mississippi River — this part of the river is super wide and bustling with huge ships coming and going.

It turns out that Baton Rouge is celebrating its 200th year and in the old capitol they had a bunch of activities to help celebrate. These were really intended for kids, but they were free and fun – so us old farts took part coloring pictures, etc. Good times!

Living on the road isn’t always bike rides and sightseeing – chores, errands, etc. still need to be done in each new city – the only difference is that we have to seek out new places all the time (e.g., new laundromat, pet food store, hair salon). Bryan was due for a haircut, so one of the days in Baton Rouge he found The Hair Factory. This was like no other hair salon we’ve ever seen!! On Fridays you get a daiquiri with your haircut. I repeat – you get a frozen alcoholic beverage while you’re waiting to get your hair cut. And the haircut was only $10 bucks – a true deal if you ask me! It was a Friday and we were in a college town, so the place was packed. While Bryan waited in line, I went to the dive-bar next door where I had to pay for my daiquiris 😦 Bryan later shared that a girl was passed out in the hair salon – apparently one too many daiquiris. LOL! This place was beyond interesting and yet Bryan still got a great haircut.

On one of the days, we did a long drive south of Baton Rouge. The road is known for its number of plantation museums/attractions; however, we were more interested in the ABUNDANCE of gas, petrochemical, and grain operations. The scale of some of these were immense. Because of the natural presence of oil in this area and the proximity to the Mississippi River (and thus the entire world)- this area is dominated by this stuff. It seems that everyone in this area has something to do with either gas/petrochemical or fishing.

NEW ORLEANS AND SURROUNDING AREAS

After some recommendations from other full-timers, we decided to stay at a state park in Mandeville, LA. This is a beautiful town just north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain. This area is called the Northshore and it was awesome!!! Weaving through the Northshore is a fantastic rails to trails bike path called the Tammany Trace. We took this twice to the town of Abita Springs (over 60-miles biked total!): once to visit the Abita Brewery (Hi Dennis!) and next to attend their Mardi Gras parade (our first). Everyone was concerned that our first Mardi Gras parade was going to be so low-key and a bit dull. We didn’t mind in the least and had a great time. Neither of us thought we’d be able to tolerate the crowds and chaos of a parade in New Orleans – although we heard that the quality of the floats, costumes, and performances are second to none. Maybe someday…