Greetings from Pawnee State Recreation Area just west of Lincoln, Nebraska. We're here for three days and then we'll be parked in our friend Kristen Blankley and Michael Douglas' driveway for a few days so Melanie can attend a conference at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
We've been traveling every few days since we left Sisters, Oregon on the 21st, a pace we don't generally like to keep, but necessary to comfortably make Lincoln by the 10th of August.
We say we chase weather, that is, we chase favorable temps which for us is highs in the 70's and low's in the 50's or 60's at night.
We've learned a valuable lesson going forward. If at all possible, avoid traveling through parts of Washington, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska in summer. Avoiding the heat is not an option otherwise.
We experienced our all time high temperature while traveling in South Dakota last weekend. Driving from Rapid City, South Dakota to Valentine, Nebraska the thermometer on Miranda's dashboard read 109 degrees F in the middle of the afternoon.
For those who read this and are traveling in a Leisure Travel Van, we had the Mercedes air conditioner on as well as the van (house) air conditioner. We were still quite warm in the front of the van with the sun beating in through the windshield. It didn't help we were traveling east and south so the sun was hitting us in the cab most of the time.
Our next few days in Valentine were great with highs reaching the 70's in the afternoon. And temps have been agreeable for the last few days here at Pawnee.
I suppose this is what amounts to a hardship for we nomads. A very first-world hardship at that. 😜😎
We've learned, when it comes to extremes in temperature, lower temps are easier to deal with. Layering clothing in colder temps works well, but there's only so many clothes one may remove when the temps soar and even then you're still hot. Hot saps energy too and we're both worn out after a day traveling in high temps.
Our van air conditioner works well, but extreme heat is still not ideal. The only consolation has been, generally speaking, the humidity. Since the humidity has been on the low end most days, temperatures cool substantially and relatively quickly at night and we don't have to run the air conditioner while we sleep. The air conditioner is really too loud and cycling on and off wakes me every time.
We'll be camped inside for a few days after tonight while it warms up here in Lincoln. On Sunday we head east into Iowa to Des Moines for four days. Temps will be a bit cooler there.
I'm sitting in a parking area adjacent to a truck stop and next to a storage unit that is used by Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF) in New Freedom, PA. Melanie and Shannon, who until recently was also employed with EPF are sorting through years of accumulated paperwork, swag, etc. trying to close out the storage unit.
We're currently camped in an Army Corp of Engineers (COE) campground, Seven Points, about 30 miles away from here for a couple of nights whilst things with the storage unit are sorted out.
Then we travel to Ithaca, NY for the celebration of one of EPF's valuable members, Linda Gaither, over the coming weekend.
We'll leave there headed in the general direction of Burlington, Vermont where Melanie will meet up with friends, Connie and Diana, at Diana's new place a few miles outside of Burlington. I'm left to my own devices for a few days. Of course, it could be worse than having to spend time alone around Burlington for a few days. 😎
I'll be parked in front of the barn at our friends, John and Cec's, in Essex Junction, VT while Melanie's away.
We've decided to spend most of our our remaining time and the first of Fall in Vermont this year. Fall and cooler weather can't arrive too soon for us. The past week has seen temperatures moderating and we're beginning to get glimpses of Fall color in the higher elevations.
Since complaining back in August about the summer heat, which, as you may have noticed, is all the rage as the planet continues to heat up, we've traveled to Polk City, Iowa just north of Des Moines for a few nice days at another COE campground, Prairie Flower, the Iowa State Fair and one of our favorite restaurants, Harbinger.
We passed through Potosi, Wisconsin camping at Grant River Campground (COE). I'd recommend it to you, but for the near constant freight trains that pass by the campground. If you like loud train horns, Grant River may be for you. It is located on the Mississippi River which is quite lovely.
We visited our friends, Rick and Ellen, in Barrington, Illinois for a few days. Barrington is always a nice stop for us and Rick and Ellen are practically family now. We didn't make the train trip into Chicago this time.
When we left Barrington, we drove Miranda to the Mercedes dealer in Hoffman Estates where she received a new set of brakes. While I'd never owned a Sprinter Van before Miranda, 85k miles seemed like an acceptable length of time for brakes. Like every other Mercedes service we've gotten all over the country now, the folks at Hoffman Estates were great and got us in and out in good time. They even washed Miranda for us.
From Hoffman Estates we traveled the South Haven, Michigan to a place we've camped several times before. Nothing special about the campground except it's in South Haven, a very cool small town along the Eastern Coast of Lake Michigan and it's located near the western junction of the Kal-Haven Trailhead. We've ridden a portion of the trail three times now and it's one of our favorites.
Just an aside, we met new friends, Gayle and Mike, after having lunch one afternoon in South Haven, something we are privileged to do as we make our way around the country. As often happens, we strike up a conversation with someone we happen on and an hour later we're exchanging information and discussing possibly camping at their home outside South Haven next year as we make our way east. We look forward to seeing them again next year.
Moving inland a bit, we spent a few days near Grand Rapids at Steamboat Park Campground in Jenison, Michigan. The campground is located on the Grand River and is connected to the Kent Trails which we bicycled a couple days.
Ludington State Park campground was next for us. It was a bit rainy while we were there, but we managed to get a few walks in, one to the lighthouse located about a mile and a half from the campground. It's a great Michigan State Park.
We headed farther north to Lake Leelanau, Michigan and back to Wild Cherry Resort, a campground where Miranda's leveling system gave us trouble a few years back. I'd originally chosen Wild Cherry back then so we could ride the rail trail between Suttons Bay and Traverse City. Since the leveler problem (and a rainy weekend) prevented that, I was looking forward to the ride this time around.
We drove over to the trailhead in Suttons Bay, a nice town located on Suttons Bay (Lake Michigan) and rode the Leelanau Trail to Traverse City, had a nice lunch on West Arm Grand Traverse Bay and rode back. Great weather, great day.
The next day I did some riding on my own while Melanie checked out Suttons Bay, we had lunch and made our way back to the campground.
We traveled to Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City for a few days over the Labor Day weekend staying at a Boondockers Welcome location on a farm there. Luke, our host, was great providing good information for a bike ride up the east coast of the peninsula to the Mission Point Lighthouse on Saturday. When getting a reservation in a campground becomes tough, Boondockers is almost always a great way to solve the problem. We were grateful to Luke and family for accommodating us on a holiday weekend.
Holidays can prove to be difficult as we don't plan too far out to give us maximum flexibility as we travel. It's nice to have good second, third... choices.
We've just arrived outside Ithaca, NY and will camp in Taughannock Falls State Park for a few days before moving to Richford, New York to driveway surf at our friends Linda and Mikes' home. We'll be celebrating Linda who received the EPF John Nevin Sayre award recently.
Digressing to finish September thus far, we spent the remainder of the Labor Day holiday at Sun Outdoors Petoskey/Bay Harbor. Sun Outdoors has numerous properties that are, generally speaking, higher end campgrounds with good amenities such as a pool and hot tube and, in this instance, tiny home cottages and a putting green. The hot tub was nice. We stay with them in San Antonio, Texas at their property along the river.
I booked us here because the Little Traverse Wheelway is located just across Highway 31 from Sun Outdoors Petoskey/Bay Harbor and extends south into Charlevoix.
On Monday, we rode our bikes into Charlevoix and had lunch, rode around town a bit and then rode back to our camp.
Deciding we'd not had enough bike riding, we decided to check out Bay Harbor an upscale community for people who have boats on Lake Michigan. We found a wine bar open and sat outside enjoying the pleasant late summer weather.
Heading farther north still on Tuesday the 6th, we camped for two days in Wilderness State Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. I booked us here mainly because it's near The Headlands International Dark Sky Park.
Our friend, Keith, texted us at some point and mentioned we should check it out. As luck would have it, there was a near full moon while we were in residence at Wilderness State Park so dark skies, not so much.
We did ride into Mackinaw City for lunch one day and ducked into The Headlands on our way there. Sunsets at Wilderness Park were great and we'll definitely be back to try and catch the dark skies.
We spent three days at a Boondockers Welcome spot in Alpena, Michigan on Lake Huron. We'd not checked out eastern Michigan and so we drove down the Lake Huron coast after we left Wilderness State Park. Our host at the Boondockers spot was most gracious, our spot, just off a major highway was noisy until late into the evening. I knew it would be noisy before we arrived but, for our purposes, it was a great spot.
I rode the Northeastern State Trail while we were in Alpena.
We drove into town on Saturday and parked on Thunder Bay to watch Alabama play Texas. Afterwards we walked into town and had a late early dinner at The Black Sheep Pub.
From Alpena we traveled farther down the coast to Bay City where we spent a few days in Bay City State Park yet another stellar Michigan State Park. We drove into Bay City and had lunch during our time there, but rain prevented us from enjoying the Bay County Riverwalk/Railtrail System that runs from just north of Tobico March near the state park into town.
We spent a couple of days at Walnut Grove Campground in Belleville, Michigan where we rode the Wayne County Metropark's Trail a few days. The trail follows the Huron River through 3 metro parks and is stellar.
East Harbor State Park Campground, Lakeside Marblehead, Ohio, was our next camp spot for a night. It's a nice Ohio state park located on East Bay Lake Erie.
We then drove into Cleveland for what has become an annual visit to Trinity Cathedral in downtown. The Diocese of Ohio has an EPF Peace Partner Chapter located at the Cathedral.
The location is also great for us because Cleveland is a very bike friendly place. We rode our bikes to near Case Western Reserve on Saturday morning to meet members of the Chapter for coffee. It's always nice to meet new friends and catch up with friends we met there before.
We were able to check out the Cleveland Botanical Gardens after coffee.
The last few days found us at an Army Corp of Engineers Campground. Seven Points is located on Raystown Lake and we lucked into a really nice spot right on the lake.
On our way to Taughnanock Falls today we drove into State College for a brief time to check it out and let Melanie, our corresponding secretary, acquire posts cards.
It's warmer than we want it to be right now, but overnight temperature will fall and tomorrow, the first day of the Fall season, will be seasonable with a predicted high of 63 degrees, low tomorrow night will be 44. Yes!! Happy first day of Fall, y'all
Good morning from the home of Christy Close Erskine and Jack Erskine in Sisters, Oregon where Melanie and I have been in residence for the past three plus weeks. We arrived here on June 27th and will take our leave in a few days on July 21st when the Erskines return home from their mission trip to Kenya.
Our stay here marks the second longest time we've been in one place since we began traveling. We were in Sisters for a longer period of time just after the pandemic shutdown of 2020 when we stayed with the Erskines for just over a month and a half in April and May of that year.
As I've mentioned before when recounting our pandemic quarantine with the Erskines, I could not have dreamed of a better or more ideal place to spend lockdown than with the Erskines in Sisters. The Erskines, both retired Episcopal priests, offered up their wonderful home as refuge from a plague we all were struggling to figure out. They are kind and generous without measure and we developed a strong bond during what could have been a time of much more uncertainty for we vagabonds.
When discussing the possibility of coming though Sisters this Spring, they mentioned their upcoming trip to Africa in July. So after spending much of April, May and June in Washington State, we coordinated with them to travel here to house sit while they were away.
Our stay has, once again, been idyllic and we are most grateful to the Erskines for the time we've had here to regroup, explore some of the surrounding area and relax before getting back out there on the road (which we are both now champing at the bit to do).
Bike Ride to McKenzie Pass and Dee Wright Observatory
When we were quarantined in Sisters in 2020, I made numerous bike rides to McKenzie Pass and Dee Wright Observatory. Starting just after we arrived in early April, I continued to ride from Christy and Jack's into the pass which is a 36 mile round trip and a 2,200 foot climb. The ride up to the pass is work, the ride back is a thrill.
This time I've only ridden it once and it's the first time I've seen the vast lava fields around the Observatory without any snow cover. Snow fall this year was 24% above average. The McKenzie Highway is partially closed from November through June. This year the road opened June 20th, a bit later than usual.
Sisters Quilt Show
The Sisters Quilt Show is always the second Saturday in July. Melanie and I rode our bikes into Sisters on the 9th of July and spent some of the morning and early afternoon walking around Sisters taking in the amazing work from all over the world. The quilts are truly pieces of art.
Sisters' Residents of Note
Melanie and I met Sisters' residents, Jenny and Matt Behnke, while having a pizza lunch in town last weekend. Really nice folks who are also talented musicians. Skybound Blue
See Also: More Joy
Matt plays the 4 string cigar box guitar on the video. Buy their music, go see them if possible.
July 20, 2022
We leave Sisters in the morning headed north and somewhat east to Walla Walla, Washington. As I mentioned yesterday, we really love it here, but these two vagabonds are ready to move again.
On July 6th we marked 3 and a half years since leaving Birmingham, Alabama to start our life of full-time travel. Another milestone of sorts, but increasingly, meh. Anyone who has been following along knows we consider this life over-the-top great.
When we are moving there's now an easy rhythm we've developed. Things like set up at a campsite are now routine and differ only slightly depending on the venue, how long we anticipate staying in a particular location, weather, to name a few factors.
We know what's to be done, we know who will, generally speaking, perform a particular task. There is much solace in the routines that make our life while traveling easier for us. Good, honest communication is key.
We continue to pare down items we have in the van. Last weekend, for example, we made a trip to Bend, Oregon to Goodwill and left them several large bags of clothing, a few pairs of shoes and a blanket. This freed up a storage container located in our pass-through storage and made more room in the storage area under our bed. After shuffling some things around accessing what's in these storage locations will be easier.
We both miss our friends in Birmingham from time to time, but modern communication is a marvelous thing and we are able to catch up via FaceTime or Zoom or text or an old-fashioned phone call. Sometimes hearing the voice of a long-time friend is what's required.
Melanie often reaches out with a postcard and is always in search of postcards reflecting where we've been most recently. She is, indeed, our official corresponding secretary.
Without belaboring the obvious, many items we buy are now much more expensive than when we started. Fuel, eating out, groceries, all cost more. We've made necessary changes to our behaviors and are grateful life hasn't changed radically. If anything, we've slowed down our already slow pace and, since we are rarely in a hurry to get anywhere, it's a net positive. Drive that same slower speed and stay in places a bit longer.
We continue to enjoy living the nomadic existence.
Another benefit of being in one place for these few weeks is getting some needed repairs done to the van.
I was able to wash and wax the outside of the van. And do some cleaning inside too.
When we arrived in Sisters on June 27th, our hydraulic leveling system was leaking fluid from an unknown location near the pump motor. Since discovering the leak weeks before, I had used the system maybe only two other times to level the van hoping it would not fail.
Luckily we had camp spots that were largely level and so I could use the system Leisure Travel Vans installed (incorrectly) at the factory to stabilize the van (keep it from rocking side to side) and that was a great help when parked.
Due to a problem with a change in our van order (adding the four-point leveling system that became available with the change in model years, supposedly deleting the two-point system) we ended up with both systems. I had the option of removing the two-point system, but weight was negligible and I chose to leave them installed.
I asked, Jack, if he knew anyone locally who might be able to look at the problem, he called a friend of his who gave him Jim Sizemore's contact information at RV Outfitters in Bend, Oregon.
Since the pandemic in 2020, you may know the nomadic life has become aspirational for many who were stuck quarantined at home. Many can now work from anywhere they can be connected to the internet which covers a very large area in the U.S.
Because of this, getting repairs on the road can be a challenge. Most shops can see you weeks or months from the time you contact them which generally does us no good. RV mobile repairs are generally much quicker and more expensive, but when time is of the essence and when your repair is essential for the enjoyment of the vehicle, you pay it. Gladly.
I say all this because I was expecting Jim might tell me he could see me weeks from when I called, if at all. Instead he asked if I could be in Bend the next morning. 😳😳
Subsequently, Jim and his able assistant, whose name I've now have unfortunately forgotten, repaired the leak in the hydraulic system and stopped our lights from flickering on the two different occasions I took the van into him. I highly recommend these guys.
Christy and Jack have contacted us and I will be fetching them from the Redmond, Oregon airport sometime this evening around 5:00 p.m.
We've almost finished moving all the items we've been using in the house back into the van and will sleep in their driveway tonight and leave Sisters relatively early tomorrow.
Melanie has a work obligation in Lincoln, Nebraska towards the middle of August. Neither of us is looking forward to being in Lincoln in August, but we'll slowly make our way north and east tomorrow and try against the odds, it appears, to stay cool.
We've become spoiled waking up to temperatures in the 40's many mornings. In July. Hopefully we'll find some of those temps as we move into Montana. We'll miss Sisters, but it's nice to know we'll be able to pay a return visit maybe next Spring, after all we have family here now.
A good afternoon from Goodell Creek Campground within the North Cascades National Park.
Tomorrow marks two months since we traveled into Washington State from near Astoria on the coast of Oregon. It's been two months of typical/atypical Washington weather.
I expected arriving in April and hanging out in Western Washington we'd have cool temperatures and rain. We've had more of both than is usual, more rain and cooler temps than normal. For example though we had a glorious afternoon on Goodell Creek/Skagit River yesterday afternoon, it's dripping rain as I type.
And that's the way it's been since we arrived. Our good friend, Nancy, in La Conner gave us the philosophy of resident Pacific Northwesterners. When the sun's out, you need to be outside.
Since my last post on April 20th, we've stayed in 17 different places around the state and have traveled to central and southern portions including spots along the Columbia River and the Eastern most portion of the state on the Olympic Peninsula.
We're currently headed west again through the Cascades and then northwest to places in the state neither of us has been before. We'll be near the headwaters of the Columbia River before heading south again to house sit for our dear friends in Sisters, Oregon while they travel to Africa for a mission trip. We'll be in Sisters for three weeks.
Summer, they say, starts July 5th. 😎
Greetings from the rainy coast of Washington on Puget Sound at Fort Casey State Park. We'll be in residence here for a few days before moving farther south on Whidbey Island. Melanie has been invited to preach this coming Sunday in Freeland, Washington at St. Augustine-in-the-Woods.
We've just finished spending a week in La Conner, Washington where our friends, Nancy and Mike, live. We were in residence at the La Conner Marine Resort within walking distance of their home and the village center of La Conner.
The week was filled with lots of fun trips around the area and lots of tulips. It was a privilege to spend colorful mornings and evenings walking around various tulip fields (including Roozengaard) making photographs with Nancy. We're grateful for their wonderful hospitality, friendship and for including us in celebrating Mike at his birthday party this Saturday past.
We made new acquaintances, ate great local cusine and look forward to more time in La Conner over the next few months we'll be in the PNW.
April 27 marks 3.5 years of living that van life. Life on the road continues to be a truly great adventure for us.
We spent most of the winter months this year traveling in California. I know Florida seems to be a preferred destination for those like us who travel full time, but meh. While we are domiciled in Florida and vote there, the state has begun to remind us of Alabama politically. The Christianists seem to be running the guv'ment there too.
California has an incredible diversity of climate and terrain and Southern California in winter is like perpetual spring. I'm thinking, despite the higher costs there, California will be one of our default destinations for winters to come. Southern New Mexico and Arizona need to get a consolation mention though as both provide great places to spend time and we are certain to spend some of future winters in those states too. We love the desert in winter.
Diesel prices slowed us up a bit recently, meaning we stayed in place a bit longer than we might ordinarily. When a day trip costs $75.00 in fuel, you consider if maybe you could include the destination on your way to the next spot you're traveling. We paid a high price of $6.50 a gallon in the mountains of Northern California and most recently $4.89 a gallon in Mount Vernon, Washington. Fuel tax is high in California, but the roads are, generally speaking, well maintained. Gas Buddy is your and the RVer's friend.
Inflation has made one of our favorite on-the-road treats, feasting on the local cuisine, noticeably more expensive. Groceries, of course, are up in price too. And yet, not a day goes by that one of us doesn't express how great this traveling life is for us and how fortunate we are to be able to do it, especially during the pandemic.
There are no sage revelations to convey at this juncture. Everyone who lives full time on the road will have different experiences depending on their finances and tolerance for risk. You learn quickly how malleable you are, being able to pivot quickly is a plus. Anticipating what you may need or want is also a plus though, you know, even the best laid plans at times require revision.
Having backpacked all my adult life has proven to be a plus. It put me in the mindset of thinking about necessities and then, if there's room, considering the lagniappe. It is surprising how little one needs to be happy.
Checklists are essential. If my backpacking brothers read this, they are sure to get a chuckle. I was notorious for carrying too much stuff and, sometimes, suffering the consequences. I swear I've repented. Mostly. We still have too much stuff in the van.
Most of our everyday life has now become routine.
After a few days off grid (without hookups), I can pretty much tell you how much fresh water we have without checking. I know how long we can be off grid, based on what we've done, before we need to empty grey and black tanks.
Set up and take down are generally seamless operations. Most times I make sure when we're finished using something, it's stowed away, especially on the night before our next departure. That way we're underway in very little time and I can enjoy my morning coffee and breakfast without having to think much about breaking camp. It's a preference.
From time to time people send us articles about people out here living the life. We really like hearing from people back home and new friends we've made. A few days ago we got this piece out of the New York Times. It reminded me of Bill Bryson's book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. While Caity's piece in the Times is humorous and well written and worth a read, believe me, like her, there are people out here who are doing it with little thought of what the experience may actually be like. #vanlife #indeed
I'm not inclined to bore you with the minutia of our version of #vanlife. If I did, I think most people would say, no, no thanks, there's no way I'm routinely doing "x" in order to see or do "y." We understand. It's a big, beautiful, interesting world out here. We live like this so you may seriously consider not doing it. #joking #maybe
Greetings from Porterville, California in the San Joaquin Valley. We're currently located on Lake Success at an Army Corp of Engineers campground called Tule Recreation Area.
The past month found us doing what we do, especially this time of year, chasing agreeable weather. We encountered a small amount of rain along our way and the temperatures have been generally moderate. We've not experienced any of the extremes of last year, temp wise, unless you count the 80 degree temps we experienced in San Diego and Pasadena.
We stayed in 10 different places during February, only 4 of them new to us. This is our third winter season to be in SoCal. We'd considered meeting a friend we met in Vermont in Mexico this year, but COVID and, since our passports were due to expire on the 6th of February and we had to send them in for renewal, Mexico will have to wait until, hopefully, next year.
Friends from Birmingham, Tom and John, vacationing in Arizona paid us a visit to what has become one of our favorite spots to camp Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We took a hike through the desert on the Lost Cabin Trail to an old silver mine and back.
Our intention is to keep drifting slowly north in March moving into Oregon before April. There are a few National Parks in California we'd like to visit, but a visit will be weather dependent.
Good afternoon from Desert Hot Springs where we'e been in residence for a few days at a 55+ resort, Caliente Springs. We are currently trending south and west. We will be in San Diego at the San Diego Metro KOA for a week at the end of this week.
While we rarely plan too far in advance, the month of February has been booked. We'll travel east again after San Diego and into Arizona before traveling back to a favorite campground in Orange, California at the end of the month.
We moved more in January 2022 than we generally would trying to make our way to the Pacific Time Zone as quickly as possible. We camped in 15 different places over the month traveling from Georgia on the 5th of January and ending the month in Kingman, Arizona. In January of 2021 we camped in 9 different places.
As a result, we spent more than we generally spend eating out, on campgrounds and on fuel.
I began making a note of how much per gallon we spent on diesel fuel in New Orleans as we headed west. Diesel there was $3.12 a gallon on January 9th. On January 10th we payed $2.95 a gallon in Conroe, Texas and on the 15th we payed $2.89 a gallon in San Antonio. We paid $3.67 in Chino City, Arizona and most recently we paid $3.69 in Las Vegas. Fuel in California is always more expensive. The lowest price nearby our current location, according to Gas Buddy, is $4.63 a gallon.
A general observation about fuel costs. We, you and I, are being royally screwed if we fill our tanks along interstates and major highways. The prices are $.40-$.60 higher per gallon.
We're pleased to be back in SoCal where the temperatures in February are mild during the day and well above freezing at night. I believe I saw where San Diego will have temps in the low 90's next week while we're in residence there. I've purchased a new pair of shorts in anticipation of all the balminess. 😎
We had LED lights in our water closet and bedroom area replaced in Las Vegas last week. On the way in to Vegas we stopped and checked out the Hoover Dam. There's a great vantage point on the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge which is about a 1,000 feet above the dam.
We lucked out and spotted Big Horn Sheep on the cliffs above where we parked Miranda. That was a real treat. The dam itself is worth the stop. We didn't take a tour though tours are offered.
Just an aside. The last time water flowed through the spillway you'll see in the photos below was 1983. As you can see, the water level is down considerably.
Once our repairs were done is Las Vegas, we made our way to Mojave National Preserve. We camped at Kelso Dunes Mine for a few days. The preserve is worth a drive through and the campsite is about 5 miles off the main road and abuts the Kelso Dunes. Sunsets were wonderful, as were the night skies, and the dunes are spectacular.
A few facts and figures from 2021.
Miles traveled: 20,564.8
Number of unique places we parked: 139 or an average of just over 11 different places per month
Number of States in which we traveled: 29
Cost of Campgrounds: $832.00 monthly (includes periodic stays at Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome and the places of friends and family)
RV Diesel Costs: $4,350.66 or $362.56 monthly average
RV Propane Costs: $221.73 or $18.48 monthly average
Sprinter Mileage per gallon average: 16.4 (never drive more than 60 mph)
Dining out represented 28.5% of our flexible costs budget. Groceries 19.2% of flexible costs.
Health Care was 34.5% of our fixed costs budget. Connectivity (phone and hotspot) represents 17.2% of fixed costs. RV Insurance 7.3% of fixed costs. 15.3 % of our fixed costs are from Subscriptions (Hulu, HBO, New York Times, Washington Post, ITunes, Costco, Netlix, etc.)
We spent $1,480.00 for Periodic Maintenance on the Sprinter which included transmission service.
Our windshield was cracked and we had it replaced at no cost to us because insurance paid.
We replaced our lead acid batteries with lithium batteries. We replaced our step motor and our side door locking mechanism (for the second time). We had our black and grey tanks cleaned so our gauges would read accurately (beware the hard waters of the west). The black tank is still squirrelly on occasion.
A good afternoon and Happy New Year to all from our spot for a few days in Huntsville State Park in Waverly, Texas. The park is north of Houston, Texas and a place Melanie and I camped in December of 2019.
I'd planned on posting a kind of retrospective of our travels and began curating photos from our three years as nomads back in December 2021. When I opened our Travel Journal this afternoon, I saw I'd only progressed through a few months beginning when we began living in Miranda on October 27, 2018 and then began traveling full time on January 6, 2019.
Today posting highlights from three years of traveling the country strikes me as too time consuming and isn't something I want to spend time doing. At least not at this juncture in our travels.
Instead, as we move into our 4th year of full time travel, I give you links to our Instagram and Missingpersonsrv websites. Peruse if you've time, skim at will.
While we are both vaccinated and boosted and the new variant of the COVID virus has us taking all precautions we feel are necessary to avoid becoming infected, we continue to enjoy traveling the country. At the moment we have no plans to find permanent bricks and mortar housing. We love this life.
Our New Year's plans were changed when our dear friends from Birmingham who were to meet us at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park texted bad news that one of them tested positive with COVID.
We missed catching up and spending time with them, but found ourselves battling ants we'd picked up at a campsite along the Alabama River just prior to our arrival at Topsail where we'd met and camped with friends from Florence, Alabama. While I found a few more in a storage bay recently, we think the ants are well under control now.
The past years have found us heading west after being at Topsail during New Year's, but this year we traveled to Atlanta for the funeral service of one of our extended family's father who passed away during December 2021. While we were saddened by his loss, the service enabled us to see family again before we are hopefully able to see them once again in the Fall.
After Topsail, we stayed in Pine Mountain Valley, Georgia a couple of nights before the funeral camping at F. D. Roosevelt State Park. We made a trip into Warm Springs and visited Roosevelt's Little White House one day.
I grew up in Columbus, Georgia and made many trips to Callaway Gardens nearby. I'm also sure we visited the Little White House, but I had no recollection of the museum or the buildings there. The museum is worth a visit as are the grounds.
Our intention then was to travel back through Birmingham, Alabama, after the funeral, stay a few days, see a few more people we know and love, and then make our way towards the southwest.
We received news the day of funeral from Birmingham more extended family members had tested positive for COVID and we quickly made the decision to pick up mail forwarded there and move along. I would say after almost two years this feels almost normal, but while it may indeed be the new normal, it still doesn't feel good to miss spending time with people we now so rarely get to see.
Moving through Birmingham, we stayed in a travel park in Tuscaloosa, Alabama overnight, moved relatively early the next morning and got Miranda washed at a nearby truck wash before traveling south to Spanish Fort, Alabama just outside Mobile, Alabama.
In Spanish Fort, we stayed in Meaher State Park. Meaher is the nicest Alabama State Park at which we've stayed. It offers concrete pads and full hook ups for RV'ers. Meaher also has several nice piers and walking paths. It's very convenient to I-10 and Mobile.
One of the highlights of staying at Meaher was spotting a newly rehabilitated and released Bald Eagle that kept flying around the area.
We missed out on dining at Southern National. We received a voice mail from Chef Reginald Washington giving us the bad news. While the message didn't elaborate, we surmised their closing and cancellation was most likely COVID related.
Next up was our annual pass through New Orleans, Louisiana. The past few years we've come from the beach at Topsail to NOLA, staying one night in the Basin Street Visitor Center parking lot.
The French Quarter is about a half block from where we park and a police precinct is just across the street from the parking area. The parking this year cost us $20.35 for a 24 hour period.
The past few years we've made a reservation in NOLA to eat dinner at Bayona, but because we weren't sure when we'd be traveling through NOLA, we had to wait and could not get a reservation this time.
We arrived in NOLA mid-morning, made a stop for groceries at Whole Foods Market, traveled to our parking spot and began an afternoon trek into the Quarter. We quickly decided to find lunch first. Melanie spotted Antoine's a restaurant I'd not visited in many years.
Lunch was quite good. Melanie had gumbo that was honestly the best I've tasted in recent memory. I chose their 3 course winter lunch consisting of Soup du jour, Soft Shell Crab and Bread Pudding. Very nice.
Afterwards, we walked around the Quarter and took in the scene for a time before walking back to Miranda for an afternoon nap.
I found a dinner reservation at La Petite Grocery. Chef Justin Devillier was the James Beard Best Chef South in 2016. Dinner there did not disappoint. Recommended.
We were up early the next morning and after coffee was made and a few cups consumed, we headed west to Sulfur, Louisiana. Sulfur is just beyond Lake Charles, Louisiana where a number of refineries are located.
We stayed a night at A+ Motel and RV Park in Sulfur. A heavy rain was falling as we arrived, but was soon gone and we parked temporarily near their laundry facilities. I did our laundry while Melanie worked.
Not too far off of I-10, A+ is one of the nicer parks we've stayed in recently. I'm not sure what one does in Sulfur, but the park made for a nice evening's rest.
We got a pretty early start yesterday, traveling first to Costco in Conroe, Texas for a few items we needed and then on to our current location in Huntsville State Park. We'll be here another day before traveling on the San Antonio, Texas, another of our favorite spots.
Good morning from our friends' home in Mountain Brook, Alabama where we'll be (off and on) until the end of the December.
I've not posted since the middle of last month when we were also located here.
Shortly after posting last month we traveled to Faunsdale, Alabama, where Melanie grew up and where her father still resides. We spent a couple of very pleasant and mild days there for the Thanksgiving holiday.
In past few years when in Faunsdale we've been able to park Miranda in a local church parking lot (thanks, George McKee) located behind the church sanctuary off the main highway and where we also had access to electricity. This year, thanks to overhanging limbs removed by the power company, we were able to drive Miranda down her father's driveway and park beside the home in which Melanie grew up.
Melanie pre-ordered the Thanksgiving meal to be picked up in Birmingham at Whole Foods. We got Dreamland BBQ to be eaten the day before and a few subsequent days afterwards.
After the holiday we left Faunsdale on Friday afternoon headed East towards the city where I grew up, Columbus, Georgia.
Friday night was spent about halfway to Columbus in one of our favorite campgrounds near Montgomery, Gunter Hill Campground. It was chilly, but we got a nice walk in after our arrival. The campground is located on the backwaters of the Alabama River and, as with most all Corp of Engineers campgrounds, the spots are nicely spaced and well maintained. Gunter Hill even offers full hooks ups.
I ordered lithium replacement batteries for our van from Costco just before thanksgiving and was able to place our remote thermometer in the battery bay to check the temp inside the bay when the ambient temps outside dip below freezing. The temp inside the battery bay was 45 degrees the next morning at around 6:00 a.m. That works for lithium battery performance and I was then even more excited about replacing Miranda's batteries.
We arrived in Columbus, Georgia on Saturday (11/27) morning. We'd made arrangements to stay in the parking lot of St. Thomas Episcopal Church for the weekend, but after I reminded our friends, the Tomlinsons, we'd be in Columbus for the weekend, they offered to allow us to park Miranda in front of their home and stay with them.
I was in touch with our friend Allison Kennedy Owen on Friday evening about the possibility of a bike ride on Saturday. She'd said she was available and so once we were parked at the Tomlinsons, I texted her, she was close by and within a few minutes we were cycling off headed towards Columbus' fine Chattahoochee River Walk Trail.
Saturday started out below freezing, but by the time we got to the river walk it had warmed to the 50's. We rode out to the a Dog Park along the trail and then back to the Tomlinson's house. Round trip 20 miles. Very nice ride along the river with Allison.
On Sunday morning, Melanie was at St. Thomas for Adult Formation telling those in attendance about peace and peace-making and giving folks an overview of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
After the morning services, St. Thomas' Rector, Reverend Grace Burton Edwards, Parish Theologian Denny Clark, his wife, Toni, took Melanie and me to lunch in downtown Columbus at The Animal Farm. It was great to break bread, make new friends and find out more about St. Thomas while eating some very tasty lunch. We recommend The Animal Farm.
During the evening hours, we were in St. Thomas' fellowship hall for a soup supper where Melanie discussed gun violence prevention. The fellowship and supper were outstanding and the discussion was very interesting.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Rick and Marquette McRae McKnight for introducing us to the folks at St. Thomas. Rick and Marquette make things happen in Columbus. We hope to catch up with them again over the New Year.
We left Columbus early afternoon on Monday and headed south to Eufaula, Alabama. It had been years since I'd been to or through Eufaula. We found a very nice Corp of Engineers Campground, White Oak Creek.
Most of White Oak Creek is closed during the off-season, but we were able to get a great afternoon walk in and enjoyed our Lake Eufaula campsite for adult beverages.
We'd booked two nights there but decided another day at the beach would be better so we headed out the next morning for Top Sail Hill Preserve State Park, one of our very favorite campgrounds along the Gulf of Mexico.
We got to Topsail relatively early and before official check in time so we made our way to Destin and the Whole Foods market for a few items we needed.
Making our way back to Topsail and after we set up in our campsite, Melanie took a walk to the beach and I got our bikes out. I rode to the Timpoochee Trail which begins directly across from Topsail and made my way towards Seaside, Florida. Due to bridge construction ongoing as I type, the trail and road are blocked off about 7 miles along. A 14 mile round trip was fine for my first time out.
Day two found us walking down to the beach in the morning hours. In the afternoon, Melanie worked while I took my bike out once again on the Timpoochee Trail intending to make my way to Seaside via the detour around bridge construction.
I made my way away from the trail along 30A on Old Blue Mountain Road and out to Highway 98, along 98 to County Road 283 South and into Grayton Beach. There's a nice bike trail along County Road 283 South that connects with the Timpoochee Trail at Highway 30A in Grayton.
From there I rode into Watercolor stopping at Happy Beach Cafe for an IPA before making my way back to Topsail. Round trip just over 30 miles.
We drove to one of our favorite local restaurants for dinner during the early evening. Dinner, while fine, wasn't what we were used to experiencing gauged by our past dining experiences there. The pandemic has closed many restaurants, those that remain open sometimes struggle to achieve their former greatness.
Thursday found Melanie and me riding into Seaside along the same route. We stopped in at Bud and Alley's for an afternoon glass of rose' and made a purchase of wine at the Modica Market there.
Friday was a travel day as we made our way back to Mountain Brook, Alabama to our friends' home.
Saturday, the 4th, was Melanie's birthday and she spent some of the day celebrating at the home of a long-time friend who invited other friends of theirs for a nice bit of celebrating.
We watched the SEC Championship game during mid-afternoon.
Our lithium batteries arrived while we were away at the beach and my friend Wade and I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to install them.
Without going into too much detail about the install, my takeaway from the idea that the lithium batteries which replaced our deep-cell lead acid batteries are "drop in" is somewhat misleading.
But the important point for me is I should pay attention when I've asked for advice in an online forum about the install and then promptly forgotten the advice given.
I'm fortunate more damage wasn't done to the electrical system and components when we initially set the batteries up in parallel instead of in series like our old batteries. As of now, the only items I know of that were damaged are LED lights and our WIFI booster.
Now that installation is complete and up and running a few days, I can report the effort was worth the trouble. From all appearances we'll have much more capacity with the two new lithium batteries and I won't have to check water in the batteries periodically and the batteries should outlast our use of the van.
Saturday we'll drive Miranda to the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Hoover, Alabama to have our wheel sensors replaced. Our van is part of a recall for the sensors.
Thursday (hopefully) we'll get our cracked windshield replaced at Safelite in Homewood, Alabama.
We'll be traveling again Tuesday next headed east for a few days towards Savannah, Georgia before returning to Birmingham for another stay leading up to Christmas.
Happy Holidays, y'all.
November 18, 2021
Good afternoon from Mountain Brook, Alabama where we've been in residence for the past few days. Since we arrived, we've celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary (16th) and my 68th birthday (17th). The weather has been stellar and we've gotten to catch up with old friends and eaten in a few of our favorite restaurants.
It's been nearly a month since my last posting while we were in Columbus, Georgia for my 50th high school reunion.
There's not much to report about the reunion. Those responsible for organizing and making it happen during these pandemic times deserve much praise and thanks for making the gathering of classmates happen. The venues and weather could not have been nicer or more appropriate for the times.
I was very pleased with all the in person contacts made with old friends and acquaintances which, while fewer than I may have wanted, were nice nevertheless. I had no real expectations of what would happen and had a nice time catching up with folks.
Because of the pandemic we'd been unable to visit with our longtime friends, part of our extended family, Trip and Teresa Tomlinson and John Woodward. We're very grateful for the Tomlinsons hosting us in the mountains of North Georgia and their home in Columbus during the reunion festivities.
John is currently living in North Georgia so we were able to spend some extended time with him too.
Trip, John and I have a long and rich history and it was more than great having some extended time to be with them again. It always feels like being home to me when I'm in the mountains of North Georgia at Trip and Teresa's home.
As we moved south out of Vermont in September, I admit to doing some spoiled-camper-traveler pouting about missing Fall in New England where we'd spent our summer, but getting to see Fall happen in the mountains of North Georgia more than made up for what ever lingering entitlement I was experiencing.
One of the many benefits of this life on the road is the extended seasonal changes we often experience as we move about. Moving from the southwest, for example, where we spend winters to more northern climes, we get what seems like a never ending Spring. Likewise, moving from northern climes where we spend summers south we get an extended Fall or leaf peeping on steroids.
Leaving the Tomlinson's home, we traveled towards Nashville to spend some time with one of our sons, Tate, and his girlfriend, Zoe. Melanie also had a work obligation in Baltimore so she flew from Nashville and spent a few days working with fellow EPF'ers.
Another benefit of full-time travel is being able to spend extended time with friends and family without being in their space for too long.
We spent some time in a campground not too far away from Tate and Zoe and even spent a few nights sleeping in Miranda on the street outside their apartment in Hillsboro Village. We were able to house sit for Tate and Zoe this time through and get some great time with our/their beloved Gus (and Poppy). We'll pivot back to Nashville for a continuation of my birthday season tomorrow.
We are fortunate to have a most wonderful place to park Miranda while visiting Birmingham. Another part of our extended family, Jennifer and Wade Anderson (Drury and Martha), have the perfect driveway space in Mountain Brook and they are gracious and generous in allowing us to spend time with them while we're in and about Birmingham.
We'll leave Nashville this coming Monday and travel back here for a few days before spending some time with Melanie's father for Thanksgiving.
We have work in Columbus, Georgia and are looking forward to again connecting with some of my high school classmates and their wives and, as most always happens, making new friends at St. Thomas Episcopal Church there. Thanks to Rick McKnight for making that happen for us.
Steven and Melanie