June 16: Springing into Action

June 16resized
Our tow route to Blue Springs State Park. Avoid driving I-4 through Orlando while pulling at all costs!
IMG_4015resized
Driving in Florida, in the summer.

Our five-month trip begins here. Our 250-mile towing route from Chokoloskee Island to Blue Spring State Park began and ended without drama. Well, maybe a little drama as we drove I-4 through Orlando which seems to be entirely under construction. Miles of concrete barriers provided barely enough width to drive through and made me a bit guilty that Vivian did all the driving that day. And right on cue, those Florida summer storms popped up at random with a vengeance. As navigator for the day, I kept one eye on the radar and the other on the map. Fortunate for us, we skirted the storms safely and once we arrived at Blue Spring, we had only a steady sprinkle from the remains of a storm that had blown through earlier.

IMG_4046resized
Blue Spring offers refuge to manatee during the winter months. In the summer, they head north and are nowhere to be seen here.

Depending on what you read, it’s either Blue Springs or Blue Spring that is one of Florida’s most popular state parks. Do NOT confuse it with Blue Springs State Park in southern Alabama. Alabama’s park is a couple of cement ponds that are fed natural spring water at a rate of 3600 gallons per minute. That’s probably adequate to flush out a child’s wee; but call it what it is, a swimming pool.

IMG_4053resized
Blue Spring is popular with scuba divers who can dive in and explore the underwater cave.

Florida’s Blue Spring on the other hand is a first magnitude spring, one of 33 found in Florida. It flushes over 70,000 gallons of water into the St Johns River each minute. Blue Spring is one of 700 springs in Florida where more are still being discovered. When it comes to natural springs, Florida is king. Not only that, Florida’s Blue Spring has manatees and lots of them. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them because like us, manatees prefer warm water and migrate north in the summer.

IMG_4051resized
One of the access points to the springs. The spring is a very short distance from the campground.

We parked two nights in Blue Spring State Park. The state park experience was as expected; crowded, narrow tree-lined roads and cramped campsites. When we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, there was a nice big sign at the entrance that read “No entry, park full” and a roadblock in front of three cars lined up in front of us. I walked to the ranger’s station to let them know we had reservations. He said, “Oh, just move the roadblock and come in and be sure to close it after you get through it”. No problem – got it boss. Except he overlooked the inevitable which was that every vehicle behind our RV would follow us in, lock step. Which left me standing next to the roadblock watching cars go by and wondering if I was going to be fired on my first day of the job. Finally, I took advantage of a car with its driver’s side window down and shouted “Tag, you’re it”. Back at the ranger’s station, another kindly ranger laughed as he told me I should have just closed that roadblock immediately after clearing it. I guess my junior ranger days are numbered.

IMG_4026resized
The 1/3-mile boardwalk follows along the spring and winds through a lush oak and palm forests.

After backing in and setting up in a gentle rain, we walked to the springs where a hoard of children played while their parents grasped the final few hours of a precious weekend before heading home. This is a popular location for locals to enjoy cool water. The park offers a couple access points to the water and some short distance boardwalks through lush forests. It also provides scuba divers access to the underwater caves. If all you do is look at the springs from land, it’s worth being there because it is one of Florida’s gems.

IMG_4029resized
An osprey finds a perfect nesting location in downtown Sanford.

During our short stay, we were glad to have seen the springs, but we mostly looked forward to sightseeing at a couple little towns in the area, DeLand and Sanford. We wanted to visit Sanford because a friend had lived there when he was a yacht broker. He said good things about the river town he once called home, so we took that as a sign to visit Sanford because he rarely says anything good about any place in Florida.

IMG_4032resized
The founder of DeLand, Henry DeLand wanted to make the town the “Athens of Florida”. So what did he do? He hired an architect to build an Italian Renaissance theatre. Built in 1921, DeLand’s Athens theatre has survived deterioration, closure and eventual revival. It continues to be a working theatre.

We visited Sanford in the morning and saved DeLand for the afternoon. I honestly don’t remember much about Sanford. I must admit, it was Monday and everything of interest to us was closed, including most of the downtown shops. But we wanted to see the town, so we stepped into the visitor center hoping to get some local intel. Unfortunately, the only person working there was a young man who behaved as if someone had just woke him from a deep sleep, snatched him from his bed and then dropped him in a visitor center without giving him any instructions or information that would provide him the means to do the job expected of the individual sitting behind a “Welcome to Sanford” sign. In short, we got nothing. After leaving the visitor center bewildered, we wandered aimlessly about town. After walking past a closed sign along main street for the umpteenth time, we decided to move on to Deland.

IMG_4033resized
This is a portion of a very large mural in downtown DeLand. The artist used the faces of actual (past and present) persons to paint onto the bodies. Sense of scale was not keen!
IMG_4035resized
My favorite mural on the walk included bears and other animals.
IMG_4040resized
While walking DeLand’s mainstreet, know that you are being watched.

We were so delighted with the charm of DeLand and its many small (and open!) businesses displaying pride flags that we dug into our pockets and had lunch at Dick & Janes. We enjoy exploring locations and bringing our own lunch and water bottles to refill at a drinking fountain, but we had to splurge in charming DeLand! It wasn’t too horribly hot, so we took a nice walk around the city hunting for murals on the historic mural walk. We found most of them, but the city does make you work to find them! The crowning jewel of our visit was the county court house where a collection of art by Jackson Walker could be viewed at will. What a treat that was for us because it was old Florida and its rich history displayed in one oil painting after another.

IMG_4042resized

IMG_4043resized
One of Jackson Walker’s oil paintings and my favorite within the gallery is of William Bartram, titled “The Flower Hunter”. Bertram was a botanist and Florida explorer. He began his explorations in 1773 and explored much of Florida, including Blue Spring.

That was our entire time at Blue Springs State Park, a nice and easy way to begin our 5-mon trip. With 5 months of traveling and so many different experiences and places ahead of us, I wanted to take in Blue Spring and the surrounding area, but I was itching to move on.

RV and travel issues and concerns

I decided to add a section to each blog that would address issues we were confronted with during our stay at a campground or during the drive there.

41FE13D4-3266-45F5-B972-073AB225097Eresized
The water pump was easily removed and opened. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most difficult of RV maintenance and repairs, this was a 3 (I’d rate it 2 if it wasn’t for the hard to reach screw hole to get it back in place).

Issue 1: We knew going into this that maintenance and repairs were part of the deal and we could only hope that all or at least most of them could be successfully performed by us. On our way to Blue Springs, we took a break and pulled off at a gas station. Our standard routine is to set the plumbing to Dry Camping and then simply turn on the water pump when we go into the RV to use the toilet. This time, the pump did not come on. First time for everything. All connections and settings checked out, so we called the company (Shurflo) that makes the water pump. It’s a water pump, not a deuterium fusion reactor so we figured it could be an easy fix. When we told them what was happening, they suggested it was likely clogged and required a simple cleaning, but if that did not work, they would send a NEW pump. So we took it out, took it apart and cleaned the filter. It worked! Problem solved. Vivian and Connie 1 – RV imps – 0.

July 29, 2018: Putting Our Home in Motion

Be thankful for everything that happens in your life; it’s all an experience.” Roy T. Bennett

Good Sign
A good sign on the morning of our departure.

On a steamy summer morning in south Florida two months deep into hurricane season, we connected the RV to the brand new Demco Recon hitch installed in the bed of the brand new Ford F350 diesel truck for only the second time. Never having engaged with large machinery ever in my 58 years of life, I was conflicted between the feelings of numbing intimidation and blinding trust when connecting a 12,000 lb RV (our home) to a 8000-lb tow vehicle with a 200-lb hitch. My gosh, we are pulling our home with a truck! Horror stories of RV’s falling on the bed of a truck or worse ran through my head as I performed the “tug test”. We did it right, the heavy machinery worked and nothing broke! Or so we thought.

The New Hitch
Vivian with her friend Jimmy and the newly installed hitch.
Our Home on wheels
Let’s go!

Minutes later, with reserved confidence we pulled our home out of Outdoor Resorts of Chokoloskee. I became shocked within a few feet past the entrance when the message “trailer brake error” appeared on the display in front of the steering wheel. This was new. Ever since purchasing it a month ago, I’ve been so intimated by the diesel truck that I did the opposite of sensible, I displayed avoidance behavior and spent as little time as possible reading the manual. So, I checked a few things, pushed a few buttons and then shut off the engine. Vivian was just as perplexed as she inspected the hitch, which looked fine. I turned the engine back on and hit the tow haul button. The error message was gone. Problem solved, right?

Leaving ORA
Pulling out of ORA, seconds later we had a problem.

Wrong. Having only done this one time prior, how would I know that the rig was pulling a bit harder than usual? Fortunately for us, Everglades City’s main road has a passing lane, allowing a very nice local man to pull up to our RV and tell us that smoke was coming out behind our trailer’s wheels.

In horror, we stopped and got out of the truck, and immediately choked on the smell of burning rubber and metal. We both began frantically making phone calls; Vivian to her good friend Jimmy who knows heavy machinery like any self-respecting blue collar worker should, and me on the phone with roadside assistance. Could this really be happening, all that planning and preparation cut short within five miles from the start? All kinds of crazy thoughts went through our heads as our travel confidence quickly dropped.

But then, Vivian did the smartest thing anyone could do in this situation – she posted the following on the Grand Design RV Facebook forum (with no time for the details of punctuation), “On side of road trailer wiring fault brakes smoking. Who to call?” Within seconds, an RV forum angel responded, “Check your breakaway switch. Is it unplugged/come loose?

Break-away Pin
A plastic pin inserts into the small black box located near the king pin of the fifth wheel. The other end of the cable attaches somewhere in the truck bed when hitched. We have since secured the pin box with the tie down.

KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. We drove the first five miles of the trip with our trailer brakes fully engaged because, yes indeed, the breakaway cable came out of its box. This little plastic thing, when pulled out tells the trailer’s brakes to engage full force because it thinks the RV is no longer connected to the tow vehicle. This is simply to avoid a 12,000-lb rogue RV from sliding down the road. How it came undone is a mystery to us; but it seems easy enough to do since it’s just a plastic pin that attaches to a hole encased in a plastic box. Pin back in box, we slowly pulled away, now wondering if the brakes were damaged. We gained momentum and cruised down the road, successfully stopping where we needed to stop; brakes seemed OK. But then, what do we know? More on that later, much later (like 1500 miles later).

A toast
So happy to end the day this way.

After several hours of white-knuckle driving, we thankfully arrived at the campground minutes after the storms we drove through passed over. Just in time for happy hour, a beautiful and steamy evening on Lake Rousseau awaited us. There we were, 300 miles from Chokoloskee. Everything we owned was with us. The contentment of familiarity mixed with the excitement of unfamiliarity would now be our way of life for the next few months. We toasted to arriving safely and being alive in a beautiful place, while recognizing our good fortune as never to be taken for granted from this day out.