Second Leg of our Unplanned Camping Segment

After spending a couple days back at my parents house in Cumming, GA for some doctor visits we headed back out on the road on Monday January 15th. We left real early and thought we were going to get our transmission looked at that had been giving us some problems. Once we got to the shop in Atlanta we found out that they could not work on our model. After a couple of hours my wonderful parents sent us north to another shop up I-75. Once there my parents were kind enough to pick us up and bring us and all the kids to the Tellus Science Museum. We even got a lunch with their cousins before we headed out that afternoon with a repaired RV. If you even need great service and are in the area check out Open Roads RV. That evening with such a late start we only got a couple hours south and stayed at High Falls State Park.

On the 16th we got a good start and headed south to Florida. Eva drove most of the way as I had a great time home schooling the kids. Trying to teach hand writing at 65mph is not for the faint of heart. We have been doing about 3-4 hours of schooling each day. Some days are great, on others I want to tear my hair out. That afternoon we pulled into Osceola National Forest and stayed at the Ocean Pond Campground. We had a good time riding bikes, hiking and getting some schooling done. The first couple of days were cold but by the time we left it was finally warm and over 65 degrees.

After three nights in Osceola our gray tank was full so it was time to leave (there were not full hook-ups there). We headed further south for warmer weather and some clear water we ended up at Salt Springs in Ocala National Forest was great with full hookups but it did lack the full-on camping look. Since it allows long-term stays (up to 180 days) many people were set up to stay. We seem to prefer campgrounds with a more rustic look and a little less parking lot look. The kids did get to experience a couple great things while there. First we went fishing on Lake George. It is interesting because the Salt Springs have some salinity to them. The fish included both freshwater species like Largemounth Bass and Bluegill and saltwater fish like Mullet. All of the kids caught tons of Bluegill and Marco caught a bass. Even Eva joined in the fun and caught a fish. I spent pretty much all my time baiting hooks and releasing fish. The last day in Salt Springs was the most memorable. We bought some cheap goggles and hopped into the Springs. Unfortunately we forgot the GoPro so we got zero underwater pictures. It was still great though. The water was 72 degrees and crystal clear. We saw lots of fish and blue crabs. The crabs were pretty large and the Mullet were huge. We only spent about 30 minutes in the water as everyone got pretty cold. The outside temp was about 75 so we warmed up quick and rode our bikes back to the campsite for the nightly campfire.

Our next destination was Alexander Springs but since it was still in Ocala National Forest the kids were excited to hear that our drive was only 35 minutes. This is always the big question when we are headed to a new destination. If we say anything over three hours they moan pretty bad. Alexander Springs is exactly what we like. Large open campsites, big trees and no crowds. Out of about 50 sites there were 5-8 other campers in the campground. We had a great time on a hike through the jungle and saw a couple of small gators but the highlight was the Springs. We all hopped into the Springs and saw some amazing fish. They have over 100 million gallons of 73 degree water coming out of them each day. The fish were great and the visibility was well over 100 feet. There was one other person in the water so we had the place almost all to ourselves. We almost went back again the last day but the air temps dropped to about 65 so swimming without a wetsuit was not so appealing.

We knew we had to get back for Makai’s surgery on January 29 so we started to head north some. The last site we stopped at was Suwannee River State Park. We spent three nights there including Mei’s 7th birthday. The sites were heavily wooded and for $24 a night night and full hook ups it was a great deal. The best part had to be the mountain biking on the river. Makai and Eva both completed the easier one mile trail while Marco, Mei and myself did the four mile loop. I was so proud of Makai and Mei for both doing their first ever trails. Everyone had a great time and Mei was ecstatic to make her own birthday cake and get some much-needed Legoes. We ended up spending three nights here and even got our laundry done in some down time we had. After a few nights at my parents we will be back on the road again for another segment

Chief Long Trailer and a New Start

We left Florida and headed North for two reasons. One we wanted to get Makai’s feet checked out again after surgery. Two, our beloved camper and home for the past three months was having a few problems. One of them was that the electric hot water heater was burned up. Two, the awning was starting to crack  in various places. Three, the cruise control went out when the ABS brake system went out.

At Gee Gee’s faving fun with forts: IMG_3960

Once we arrived back at our home base in Cumming, GA we got Makai checked out and decided that a new home would be needed. After about 15 minutes of looking (we knew we had very little time) it was decided to trade in the Winnebago Vista and go for a regular style travel trailer. Luckily, my wonderful parents said we could borrow my Dad’s new Ram Truck to pull the camper for a few weeks until our boat was
finally ready. Here is the new trailer.

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We picked up the Forest River 29BH on Tuesday April 2nd . After 48 hours of moving items from one camper to another we spent the first night in my parent’s driveway. It all seemed to work out so we got back into the road on Friday the 7th . Since it was a new camper and I was not used to driving a 36 foot trailer we made the short trip up to Hiawassee, Ga. We ended up spending an entire week at Bald Mountain Campground there.

On Saturday my sister’s family, the Wolfe pack, joined us. (Their last name is Wolfe, hence the nickname). Since she has three kids, Nolan, Heidi and Cora about the same age as our three they had a great weekend playing. Nothing too exciting just good old fashioned family fun; putt-putt, handmade boat races on the creek and fishing were all on the menu.

On Sunday our other friends, the Deraney’s arrived and the Wolfe pack had to go home. Tammy and Joseph Deraney lived in our cul-de- sac when we owned a house in Gainesville. We all hiked Brasstown Bald and had a great time until they left on
Tuesday. It was bittersweet knowing we would not see family or friends for a while.

The next few days we did lots of school and squeezed in a great hike at Shoal Creek Falls. The kids thought the best past was the drive there when we had to cross a small river. We left Hiawassee on Friday and headed north to Asheville.


We did not have a reservation but ended up getting lucky with one of the only walk in full hookup sites at Powhaten Lake Campground in Pisgah National Forest. Day one consisted of some great mountain biking. The trails were pretty technical but the kids did great. They also had a great time playing on the river that ran through the park.

On day two we drove out to Chimney Rocks State park. Since the elevator was broken we all got to hike the 500 or so stairs to the top. We made it and were treated to
some great views. Since Makai finally got to use his new camera on the hike we even got a few extra pictures. He did a great job for a six year old with his first camera.

After the hike we saw a few signs for a local farm and thought it may be interesting to stop. As we pulled in we saw about 200 cars in the lot which was surprising. Hickory Nut Family Farm ended up being a great stop as it was a tour stop for a new indie movie about local farmers across the country. The couple speaking had driven to all fifty states in their converted bus RV and interviewed family owned farm owners. In addition we got some great local eggs and some of the best bread we have eaten outside of
Europe. They even had a small course for kids to ride tricycles and some culvert slides built into the hill.

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The next day brought a 24 hour rain storm so we caught up with school and watched ET for the first time as a family.

On Monday the 16 th we did a tour of the Biltmore Estate. We all had a great time and the kids seemed to really absorb much of it. Makai took tons of pictures with his new camera. The flowers below are one of the few in focus:)

The next day we were able to meet up with an old kayaking buddy of mine Nick Litsas. HIs wife and three kids joined us for the day. We visited the Carl Sandberg house, a great playground and had dinner. The kids had a great time. Thanks Nick and Heather!

 

We then left the Asheville area and headed north into Virginia. We made it as far at Ft. Chiswell. It was a very basic campground but it did have a sorely needed laundry room.  While there we dropped into the local county rec center and had a great time at the pool and the climbing wall. Everyone liked the climbing, even Eva.

We are headed further North to the DC and Philadelphia area. Give us a shout out if anyone is in the area.

Swamps, Keys, Family and Friends

 

On March 10 we headed back south to Florida but we were not alone this time. My parents joined us in their camper. The first night was spent in Valdosta, GA at Lake Park Campground. The evening would have been perfect except my parents did not have hot water. Pops got so ticked off since it was a new camper he wanted to return it, his boat, his house and just about anything else he could think of. We tried everything but they resigned to just take showers in the bathhouse. Well Mom saved the day again when she noticed the handles in the camper were plumbed backwards from normal. Turn on the cold water and the hot water just kept coming. Disaster averted once again and everyone had hot showers.

The next day we drove further south to Long Pointe Park in Melbourne, Florida. The weather was perfect and the kids had a great time in the large field behind the camper. That evening we had a great hike to a Scout Island that was connected by a foot bridge to the campsite. Some great little trails and the views were great.

The next day we stopped at MacArthur State Park near West Palm Beach. This was a neat little park with beautiful beaches. They even picked you up in a golf cart to bring you from the visitor center to the beach area. A couple hours later we were back at Markham Park in Ft Lauderdale. We ate at a local Italian Eatery that started great but they only had one waiter and the cook was out sick. We finally got our food about an hour later. Well, everyone except for Eva. They forgot her all together. After some apologies they said they would rush her food. Twenty minutes later they brought out her food. She grabbed her fork, moved the cheese around and started to eat when she asked “where is the grouper?”   The meal given to her was for the lady at the table next to us. The waiter had messed up again. Funny thing was the waiter still gave the plate to the lady next to us that Eva has stuck her fork into. At least we ate cheap!

The reason for my parents joining us in Florida was to see our new to be floating home. We visited our boat the following day and were not happy when we found out that no work had been done again. I had to look on the positive side and still be happy that our boat was floating while others hit by Irma were sitting at the bottom of the ocean. We headed back to Markham Park and had a great evening bike ride around the park. My son, Marco, complained that he wanted to ride the mountain bike trails. I could not take everyone on them so I made a promise to get up early and ride.

Early the next morning Marco, Mei, Eva and I headed out while Makai went to my parents camper to watch Looney Tunes. We had a great ride and Marco and Mei amazed me with their trail skills.

Our next stop was Everglades National Park. After a stop at the visitor center for maps and guides we headed into the swamp. The first stop was a great boardwalk hike where we saw some beautiful bromeliads. We then drove further into the swamp to our campground at Flamingo. If you look on a map you will see how Flamingo is really in the absolute middle of nowhere. Everglades Park Map

The sunrises were amazing so it was worth a morning run to the beach to see one.

At the park you could take a short bike ride from the campground to the rest of the park. We saw some nesting Ospreys and a number of Crocodiles when we went canoeing there. There is a huge croc in the picture below but they were so well camouflaged it is tough to see.

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My parents headed home on the 16th and we headed up to John Prince Park north of Vero Beach. The park was huge and we had a nice site right on the water. There were multiple lakes, tons of playgrounds and a five mile paved bike trail. We took the trail all of the way to a splashpad the last day we were there so the kids could play.

Next up were the keys. We were all excited beacuse our friends, the Haramija’s, were joining us. We spent the first four nights at the Key Largo Kampground and Marina. It as all “old Florida” and real kitchy. There was a pool that the kids loved and a small beach to watch the sunrise. The best part was it was Spring Break so NO HOME SCHOOL! We swam, drank a few beers, and just hung out. It was great to see April, Darren and Dylan.

We did take a day trip out to Grecian Reef off of Key Largo to go snorkeling. With winds in the 20-25 mph range and some swells I was worried about the kids. When we got out there we all jumped in and saw some beautiful fish; Barracuda, Parrotfish, Spotted Grouper and much more. After about 30 minutes the kids got cold so I brought them back. Eva and I each jumped in for a few more minutes and got our money’s worth. I was so proud of the kids. The waves made snorkeling tough and we had kids that were 6, 7 and 9 in the water. The next youngest person was probably 18 or so.

On Friday the 23rd we headed to Boyd’s Key West Camprground. We spent all day Saturday in Key West. Duval Street, the southernmost point in the continental U.S., Sloppy Joe’s, Mallory Square; we did all of the touristy stuff. Everyone was exhausted when we caught an Uber ride back to the campsite. We said “bye” to our friends on Sunday and drove back to Markham Park again. Two days and three mountain bike rides later we headed back to Georgia. We had another appointment for Makai’s feet. Crossing our fingers this will be the last one for a while.

 

 

 

Leg 4 of our Unplanned Camper Journey

The week of February 18 we had out longest stay at a single camping area. We had eight nights at Savannahs Recreation Area near Ft. Pierce, Florida. This was Marco’s favorite place to camp and since his birthday was coming up and the price was right we were happy to hang out in one place and not drive from site to site. We checked in and were only three spots away from our site a few weeks earlier. Most of the seasonal campers from the far north remembered our three crazy kids. The entire week we did school and took some extra time to get some housekeeping items completed. Bikes got washed, several small items on the camper got fixed and we had time to take a bunch of family walks. On Feb 23rd Marco had his 9th birthday. After a breakfast of sugary cereal loaded with marshmallows (typically never allowed) we started off with a father/son bike ride to Winn Dixie for some grocery items. It is about a 2.5 mile ride from the site to the store with a good bit of traffic. After that, Marco really wanted to have a game of family tag football. We picked teams and played in the south Florida heat. Marco and Mei ended up beating the parents while Makai kept score since he was still in his casts.

Later in the day we had another family canoe trip. No gators but lots of birds and some large fish were spotted. After Marco’s choice of fish tacos for dinner we watched him play X-box in the evening. This was his birthday wish along with Key Lime Pie for dinner.

After leaving Savannahs we headed to Ft Lauderdale and stayed at Markham Park. This is another county owned park that we stayed at to be closer to our boat. We had a four night stay and worked on our boat two of those days.

We were pretty bummed when we got there and nothing had been done yet. After some unhappy words and discussions with the marina we made the best of things and got our dinghy fixed. Since the hurricane back in September there was water in the tubes. We had to disassemble the valves and then we vacuumed up the water. After that it was a family effort to pump it up. Luckily the engine started after half a dozen pulls! We then headed off for a short trip. The second day on the boat was even better. We got most of the kitchen cleaned up (not quite yet to Eva’s standards yet) and took the dinghy out for lunch.

We knew that we had to get started back to Georgia since Makai was getting his casts off the next week so our next stop was back up to Salt Springs. We had more time for fishing, snorkeling and some school.

Makai casts could be smelled from about fifteen feet away so we were all ready for them to come off but he has been such am amazing champ the entire time he has had them on. Although there have been plenty of complaints he has managed to do almost everything. He has a great time using his scooter and is able to run fairly well with them on. Showers are always a great time for him and we get to chat since I still have to sponge bathe him. He just yaps and laughs the entire time.

The last stop before Georgia was Manatee Springs State Park. We only had two nights here but we packed a lot in. We had a great walk on a boardwalk trail where we saw lots of deer and we even managed to glimpse a mother manatee and her calf. We enjoyed snorkeling in this clear spring.

The most memorable part of the stay at Manatee was the last evening. Marco and Mei had been bugging me to take them mountain biking but I really did not want to leave Makai behind. The solution was to let Mei, Marco and mommy ride while I pushed Makai in the jogging stroller. I felt great after about two miles so I decided it was wise to take the longer loop trail. It got a little rougher and sandier. When we were about three miles from our camper the sky started to darken. I ran about as fast as I could but we were not fast enough. With about two miles to go the sky opened up. We all finished the six miles a little wetter but the bikes and stroller were covered in wet sand. The best part was getting back to camp and have to pack back all of the wet sandy gear into the camper since we were driving back to Georgia at 5am the next morning. By 9am the next day we were back in Georgia.

We got back into Georgia and had four doctor appointments the first day and three the second day. On Friday Makai got his casts off! The picture is from a cell phone and was out of focus but I had to include it since he was so happy they were coming off. We really hope this fixes his foot problems forever. After a 60 hour stay at my parents we headed back on the road again. This time my parents were going to join us for six days in Florida.

February 12-19 Florida Keys and the Locks

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Eva has constantly been scouring websites for any decently priced campsites. We can always find a place to stay if we spend $80/night but we try to never do that. Plus a lot of the times they have not as much grenery and room for our kids to run around. The best priced sites are typically Federal owned, followed by State owned and then county owned. The Federal Parks are usually $30 or less a night. State are in the $30-$40 range while county are a few bucks more. The hardest sites to get this time of year are in the Florida Keys. There are only a couple of state parks there and they fill up to the day seven or so months out.  With Eva’s constant checking we were able to get two nights at John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo. We all had a great time there. Less than 1/2 mile from the campsite is the swimming beach, complete with a mock Spanish Shipwreck. Although the underwater plants and coral are trampled by tens of thousands of feet a year we still saw some life. We did see a stingray, a puffer fish and a number of large tarpon. There were even a few tropical colorful fish. Visibility was not great you get to see foggy pictures.

Since Makai still had his casts he was restricted to the beach but at least he could make sand castles.

They also had a neat aquarium there and we made sure to be there at 11am to see the feedings. The lobsters were the coolest to watch. they ran out of their caves to grab their lunch.

The next two campgrounds were both located near Lake Okeechobee. This is the largest lake in Florida and it is connected to both coasts of Florida with a canal. Since the lake is a god bit above sea level there is a lock system run by the Army Corps of Engineers. We stayed at Ortona locks on the West side of the locks for a couple of nights. We then spent a single night at St. Lucia South on the eastern side of the locks. The kids enjoyed seeing how the locks worked and since it was a nice weekend there were boats going through constantly.

20180216_13062620180216_13092220180216_12594120180217_18165820180217_10524720180217_17565920180217_180719This Sunset was very cool. I wish we could stay at St. Lucie South bit longer, but we were able to get only that one night. Now off to Savannas Recreational Area for next 8 days. This will be the longest time we stayed in one place since we left, but that was not our choice

 

Leg three of our Camping Excursion

 

Makai, our youngest son, had surgery in Atlanta on January 29th while we stayed at my parents house. We cannot thank them enough for the hospitality. Since we no longer own a house going to GeeGee’s and Grandaddy’s home is what the kids count as home. I assume this will change once we move onto our boat in April but Georgia will probably always be referred to as home. Makai did amazingly well during his surgery and now has casts on both of his lower legs. We borrowed a stroller from my sister (thanks Josie) so we can move him around but it will be an interesting six weeks with a six year old that cannot walk for a while. We are very proud of him for being so brave. As always he was ready to eat even after a surgery.

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We headed out on the road again on February 2nd. We only made it a few hours south since we knew we wanted to stop in Macon at Divers Supply. All of the kids got some shorty wet suits and some snorkel gear. Eva got a new snorkel while I got a bahama sling spear gun. We are now set to hit the water once we get closer to the ocean. The shop has great prices and it is far better than buying online when you can try things on. That night we spent at Lake Obesofkee near Macon. It was a beautiful sunrise on the lake the next morning. and we quickly headed south again. We drove for about an hour and stopped in Tifton, Ga and spent the better part of the day at the Georgia Agricultural Museum. It is a great stop for all ages if you on the way to Florida. On Saturdays you get into the park via a one mile train ride. There is an entire town filled with buildings and actors from around the 1880’s. It is a living history museum so the people tell you all about what life was like back then. The kids had a great time and Eva and I even learned a few things. Marco got to try out lassoing a pvc calf and we all met the largest mule I have ever seen names Junebug.

 

 

On the 3rd we made it down to Stephen Foster Folk and Education Center near Lake City Florida. It is a great State Park with nice live oak trees all over the place. The next morning was a great home school experience as the kids had to write about the dioramas in the museum. They are all based on the songs of Stephen Foster. You may have heard of a few: “Camptown Races” or “Way Down south on the Suwannee River” among 280 others. The dioramas took tens of thousands of man hours to create by hand.

DANG IT. there should be some great pictures here but we keep forgettting our cameras. We gotta do better next time!!!

The next day we headed further south. We finally hit warm weather near Ft Pierce Florida. We found two nights at Savannah Recreation Area. We nabbed a spot on a small creek near the marsh. The kids really liked it here. Out our back we saw an alligator, turtles and tons of birds including the Common Moorhen, the Great Egret and the Little Blue Heron. We even took a canoe trip through the marsh. Everyone paddled and saw some great birds. We ended up on a skinny canoe trail that led to a larger lake. The Savannah’s Recreation Area was one of our favorite campsites. We had to leave after a couple of days to get down to Ft Lauderdale but we will be back there soon.

 

Feb 6-9 we spent at TY Park near downtown Ft Laudedale. This was a big reason for us coming south. Our soon to be new home is being repaired there. Hopefully in April we will be moving aboard our sailboat. During the trip the kids got to see our sailboat and they even helped give it a good washing. They really got into the cleaning and seemed to be more excited about moving onto the boat. All three kids picked out their bedrooms too. Their favorite part was having a day without homeschool!

The below picture is our boat before the hurricane hit it last year. We hope when we start sailing it will look even better than this.

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Our boat has yet to be repaired but we did hear back from our insurance company that our quote was approved so hopefully repairs will get underway soon. We even had a chance to drop off our liferaft to get recertified. The campground at TY Park was nice since it was near the boat and it had a great walking trail but we had a busy train track less than 50 feet from our door. There was a commuter train about every 30 minutes that would blow by. At night when those became less common we got to hear the freight trains. I believe I got woke up at least fifteen times each night.

We were happy to leave the traffic of Ft Lauderdale but were not sure where to head next. Since this trip was planned at the last minute we had no reservations. Many of the good state parks fill up six months ahead of time. We took a chance and headed West into the swamp where there are a few campgrounds. It is weird when you head west out of Miami. There are strip malls and parking lots everyone and all of a sudden there is nothing but water, sawgrass and swamp. There is only one road that stretches across Big Cypress Swamp from the Miami area on the East Coast to Fort Myers on the West Coast of Florida. We saw a hundred or so gators even driving at 60 mph! A couple of hours later we pulled into Midway Campground and were lucky enough to get a site for a single night. It was the very last site left! We even had a view of the small lake with gators in it. Later on we walked around the campground and ended up near the small canal that parallels the highway. We were amazed at the clarity of the water. There were tons of fish including some large gars.  We slept great that night as it was finally quiet. Here is a picture of our present home. All 33 feet of it.

On the 10th we had to head further West since Midway Campground was full. Driving along the highway there were gators everywhere. We stopped at the Big Cypress Visitors Center and there must have been fifty gators right out front. We stayed for a Ranger led gator talk and the kids started another set of Junior Ranger books. Later that day we did two hikes. The first was at Gator Hook Stand. We made it about 1/2 mile before we turned around. The trail was total mud and started to turn deeper and deeper the farther we got. Marco seemed to love the mud. Mei not so much. Makai ended up being the only one with clean feet since he was on my back the entire hike. The last hike of the day was a boardwalk hike so it ws dry. We saw plenty of Bromeliads, Anhinga and one large gator. The day ended as we pulled into Monument Lake Campground for a two night stay. Yes, Eva carries Makai on the second hike.

 

We are still having a great time but it is not all fun and games. Trying to keep things clean with five people in 33 feet is tough. So is the home school and living in such close quarters to each other. Even so I am happy that we are doing this trip. It is great to be able to interact with my kids all day long. Next up the Florida Keys and some snorkeling!