June 26, 2020 – The Grand Design

The day we drove our new home of the dealer’s lot.

It was June 26, 35 days after leaving Chokoloskee when we finally pulled our home on wheels off Grand Design’s service center lot. The RV was in much better shape than the day we drove it there on June 5. How did we get here? Let me pause and back up – I mean REALLY back up to December 2, 2017.

After carefully researching and negotiating a price, we arrived at Palm Beach RV Center to perform what every excited and anxious RV buyer does before signing the papers, the pre-delivery inspection (PDI). It was Vivian’s 59th birthday and on this day, we purchased our 2018 Grand Design Reflection 303rls fifth wheel. And we did it with the intention of it becoming our fulltime home.

PDIs are routine and some people call it a “walk-through”. And for many people, it is just that – a walk through and then out they go. Not so with Vivian and me. Our PDI was more akin to a squatter’s claim to real estate. We arrived promptly at 8 am (the earliest the service center would allow) with a tool kit, flashlight, lunch box and thermos of coffee in hand. As we were led to our future home, our first question was “When do you close?” And with that, we began our 7-hr long inspection. Sounds over the top – but keep reading.

How did we spend our time? We contorted ourselves to inspect under the rig, on the roof and every nook and cranny we could find. We ran the AC full blast, we ran the propane heater full blast, we used the microwave and fired up the gas oven and each of the stove burners. We tested the auto leveling system. We ran the slideouts and the awnings. We tightened every visible screw. We removed the side panel inside the cargo space so that we could inspect the water hoses and all the connections that are part of the self-contained plumbing and electrical systems. In short, we drove the service people crazy. When we at last hitched up and pulled our home off the lot with confidence, I swear I saw a large banner with “Good Riddance”. We have never been back.

If you look hard enough, you’ll see it, small tears in the vinyl from the slideout rolling against the floor. This does not appear to be nothing more than a cosmetic problem. To the contrary, it was a symptom of a very serious problem. Par for the course in RV living.

Here is the reality – despite our OCD PDI, we can’t catch everything that could possibly go wrong with an RV. We learned that fact the hard way during last year’s travels when the kitchen slideout began to tear the vinyl floor as it was rolled in and out. We mitigated the damage by placing a thin sheet of plexiglass on the floor when bringing in the slide. That protected the vinyl, but it didn’t fix the problem. The kitchen slideout contains all the heavy appliances (electric fireplace, TV, microwave, gas stove & oven, and refrigerator). And not to mention a large pantry full of food. Hence, a lot of weight. And it was quite likely that the weight on the slideout floor had become our RV albatross.

Consequently, Vivian commenced to do what she does best, research and inquire. Turns out, the gouging to the floor was indeed, a minor symptom of a serious problem. If not for Vivian’s persistent research and dogged inquiries, things could have gone from bad to worse in a short period of time. Turns out, Grand Design recognized the issue and corrected it for their 2019 line of RVs. Too late for our 2018 model.

In late September 2019, only days after Vivian broke her ankle, we attended a Grand Design rally in Little Rock, Arkansas. While sitting in her wheelchair, Vivian had a little discussion with the attending factory representative about our slideout issue. Because of her incessant research, she was able to confront him with knowledge and place him between a rock and hard place. The result – he admitted the issue and set an appointment for us to come to Grand Design’s service center in Middlebury, Indiana to correct the mistake and make things all better. Scheduled to happen on June 8, 2020, the appointment with Grand Design marked the beginning of our travel itinerary for the year.

Before leaving our rig with Grand Design, we spent a week at one of our favorite campgrounds, White River County Park north of Indianapolis. Having family there, we stay in this park at least once each year.

I will say that among all the trailer and fifth wheel manufacturer’s, Grand Design is reputed to have one of the best, if not THE best customer service. And I am one of the many who will defend that reputation because over the long haul, Grand Design has been good to us. But had it not been for Vivian’s tenacity, nothing would have happened, until IT happened. Here is another reality check – there are many pitfalls in RV manufacturing regardless of the brand. Problems with an RV are a given – it is a matter of when, not if. Therefore, service reputation was the most valued criteria guiding us in our decision to purchase our Grand Design fifth wheel.

At Grand Design’s service center’s campground where they put us up a few nights before and a couple nights after the 3-week repair job.
The Grand Design campground is located outside of the fenced-in service area. Over the weekend, it is quiet. By 5 am Monday morning, quiet is replaced by the loud sounds of RV manufacturing.
One of our fine view’s from the campground.

And with that, our 2020 travels to the Great Plains would not begin until we drove our repaired home off Grand Design’s service center. And that we did on June 26. But let me digress one last time. If you have been following, you would have read about our suspension debacle back in November, at the end of our 2019 travels. The seriousness of that issue led us to begin our 2020 travels by carefully driving 1600 miles to Goshen, Indiana to deliver the RV and its questionable suspension repair job to the manufacturer of the suspension – Lippert Components, Inc. We avoided sharp back ups and rough roads to arrive safely at their service center at 7:00 am on Friday, June 5. Six hours later, we drove off with an upgraded suspension and properly welded hanger brackets. Not only was the suspension repaired, but it was improved beyond expectations. Following that repair, we drove a short distance to Grand Design’s service center where we spent the weekend before leaving the rig with them on Monday.

Needing to be at Lippert Components by 7 am, we spent the night boondocking at the RV Museum and Hall of Fame parking lot.
Our home pulled into Lippert Components, Inc promptly at 7 am.
Among many repairs, the equalizer and shackle bolts were removed and replaced…
…with an upgraded and more durable version.
Each hanger bracket was rewelded (blue X). The yellow arrow points to the V bracket that was welded into the hanger bracket for added support. A cross beam was added above each axle (green line and arrow).

As it were, three weeks passed from the day we arrived at Lippert to the day we drove away from Grand Design. The slideout issue was worse than Grand Design expected; however, the massive repairs resulted in a better slideout floor, improved frame support and all new vinyl flooring, among a few smaller and unrelated repairs. All told, our Grand Design home with Lippert suspension was better than ever on June 26, 2020.

While waiting for the repairs, our time was spent visiting family, including my mom. COVID kept us from entering her assisted living home, but we did get some window visits.
Most evenings were spend in my sister’s beautiful backyard.
And we got to visit some of Indiana’s parks, including Turkey Run. That’s my sis, Cindy.

To that end, our travels to the Great Plains officially began as we drove away from Indiana. The feeling of security and relief was stark as we drove on an unforgiving I-80 past Chicago. Not far from the city, the road finally led us into wide open space, Illinois’s farmland and eventually Iowa’s. To infinity and beyond.

Go west!

The next day, we backed into our lakeside campsite at the Lewis and Clark State Park near Onawa, Iowa. We had left Chokoloskee approximately 36 days earlier. That evening, we sat outside enjoying an uninterrupted view of a lake. It was a pleasant and peaceful evening left over from a hot day. We were free of crowds, free of noise, and free of concrete and fences. We were home. We turned to each other and offered a toast to officially kick off our 2020 travels through the Great Plains.

A side note about our RV repair

Grand Design’s repair included replacing the 3/4” thick slideout floor with a 1” thick floor that is more suitable to support the weight of the kitchen and living room appliances. In addition, outriggers were welded to the frame supporting both slideouts. Two interior rollers were added to the repaired slideout, bringing the total to five. Along the way during the repair after having removed both slideouts, kitchen island and furniture, it was discovered that the floor below the slideout had crowned. The main floor was removed, at which point it was realized that the aluminum tubings attached to the chassis were not welded correctly. Consequently, all of them were rewelded and 24 cross-members were added to the aluminum frame. Additionally, the seal tubing in both slideouts were replaced as was the entire vinyl flooring. All that and a few other unrelated minor repairs. What did it cost us? Only three weeks of time (which we spent staying with my sister and friends). Thank you Grand Design for making it right.

The chassis supports the aluminum frame. The aluminum tubing that run across the chassis needed rewelding and additional cross bars and outriggers were added during the repair.

Oct 6, 2019 – Limping Back to Florida

The Vicksburg Military National Park’s cemetery.

By the time we got to Mississippi, we were road weary. And Mississippi didn’t help that either, it just seemed as weary as we were. It was a sad place in many ways with remnants of tragic history made mostly during the Civil War. We came to Vicksburg to continue our casual studies in American history and this year, most of our lessons were on the Civil War. They began in Florida, continued to Fort Sumter, then Gettysburg, and now Vicksburg.

A monument to the black soldiers that fought in the war.

Although by this time we came here with a respectable level of Civil War knowledge, Vicksburg opened our eyes wider. Our visit to Vicksburg National Military Park was a sharp reminder that the Civil War was not a war of soldiers that fought on battlefields isolated from the American way of life. Rather, it was a war fought (mostly on southern soil) where American towns and cities existed, where American women and children lived, where American farmers grew crops and raised livestock, and where human beings were bought and sold by Americans.

What stick’s in my mind is the book written “by a lady” , (Mary Ann Loughborough) that lived in Vicksburg during the Civil War. At the siege of Vicksburg, she and many other citizens of the town hid in caves for several weeks, making a life of it as best as possible. Her book is an account of that horrible experience. It can be read in full here.

It wasn’t as much the National Park that reminded of this fact; instead it was Vicksburg’s Old Court House Museum that sits atop a high hill. It was well worth the struggle to push Vivian’s wheelchair up the very long and steep handicap ramp leading to the entrance. The museum is cluttered with artifacts of antebellum life, including a confederate flag that was never surrendered and the tie worn by Jefferson Davis at his inauguration as Confederate President. This is also where a first edition copy of the 1864 book titled “My Cave Life” written “by a lady”.

Vicksburg Old Court House on a calm day when the flags were not flying.
We also visited the Windsor Ruins. The mansion was built in 1861 on a 2600-acre cotton plantation. Though it survived the Civil War, it burned to the ground in 1890 when a guest dropped cigarette ashes on construction debris left by carpenters who were making repairs.

After a few days in Vicksburg, our morose spirits needed lifting and I thought I knew exactly how to do that. As it were, the most anticipated part of our itinerary was yet to come; and besides, we were not about to limp back home feeling defeated. Let me put this into context. We live in the far southern region of Florida’s gulf coast and before retirement we lived in Miami, equally as far south. We love south Florida’s Everglades, Biscayne Bay and Big Cypress and spend as much time as we can in the wilderness. But there are areas north of us that are equally as appealing to us. We dream of spending quality time up there because there are some drop-dead gorgeous rivers, salt marshes, pine forests and pristine beaches including the Emerald Coast. That’s a problem for us because it takes an entire day to drive to the panhandle and northern regions of this long state. Consequently, northern Florida has eluded us. But not anymore! Now that we are retired and full time RV’ers, we finally have the wherewithal to get to these places. And I had every intention of doing that as a finale to our 2019 travels.

Florida’s Emerald Coast is among the most beautiful. This view on the Gulf Islands National Seashore was a very short walk from our campsite in Fort Pickens.

If you understood how insanely difficult it is to reserve a campsite in Florida, you will understand why an ankle break was not going to stop us from reaping the benefits of our hard-earned campground acquisitions. Like how a marathon runner gets a second burst of energy at mile 25, the final three weeks of our 4-month travels were planned ambitiously to include five Florida campgrounds in these hard-to-get places. Several months prior, in an act that can only be described as a coup, I fought my way through ReserveAmerica.com and Recreaction.gov to secure reservations at Fort Pickens campground and four Florida State Parks (including the highly coveted St George Island).

My dream to photograph this coastline finally came true but it came with a price.

Fort Pickens campground is on the Gulf Shore Islands National Seashore. From a photography perspective, it is one of Florida’s prized beachy waterscape locations. And naturally, it is fishing paradise for Vivian, so much so that her longtime fishing buddy Jimmy planned to drive all the way from south Florida to stay with us a few days so that the two could do some serious fishing together. This highly anticipated event was the icing on our travel cake.

Ahhh, we’re back in Florida!

But it was NOT going to be easy. There was after all, this nagging inconvenience of a broken ankle. Vivian’s friend Jimmy would help overcome this. Our super idea was that he would help Vivian access the water and the two could fish together while I ran off into photographic bliss knowing Vivian was well taken care of. But alas, Florida had other things in store for us.

Vivian’s view of the beach as she sat in a wheelchair with her booted ankle while I wandered around looking for photographs.

To begin, getting into our campsite at Fort Pickens was nothing short of a comedy of errors and quite possibly the turning point of our travels. I was not expecting a narrowly paved campsite with significant drop offs along its entire edge, but that is what we got. The severe lack of space for maneuvering the 21-ft truck with a 33-ft fifth wheel attached and the fact that Vivian (the driver) could not get out to assess the situation made it all too easy for me to relinquish to strangers’ willingness to offer help, which ultimately made things worse. A series of unfortunate events resulted in me waking our neighbor to ask him to move his truck which was unavoidably in the way. All that and a growing line of cars waiting to get past and the increasing number of neighbors coming out of their campers to share their unsolicited 2 cents made 30 minutes seem like an eternity.

At one point, Vivian had no choice but to back the RV over the pavement drop off and into the sand to allow cars with honking horns and impatient drivers to go by. I cringed as I heard the tell-tale noises emanating from the suspension that was straining under the weight of 12,000 lb while the driver-side wheels rolled off the pavement. It was not pretty. That compromising move was the price paid to get the truck and RV lined up suitably to pull forward and successfully back-in with about 1-inch of pavement to spare on either side of the wheels. Later, we learned it probably cost us much more than that.

I wished I had a photo of our campsite, but I think I was so traumatized by the events that I blocked it out. Instead, I would like to remember the time I had photographing on the Emerald Coast.

The backing-in debacle ended just in time for a hefty afternoon storm to pour down on me as I connected the electric and water. By then, the dark mood had already set in, so I didn’t care anymore. There was some bad juju going on and it did not help that I was feeling guilt for wanting to be here so badly while Vivian would not enjoy this place as much as I would.

There was another dark cloud coming for us and it was tropical storm Nestor. We anticipated Nestor before we arrived, and shortly thereafter we were almost certain it would necessitate our leaving this hard-earned campsite earlier than planned. That ball was already set in motion as Vivian’s friend Jimmy cancelled his plans to visit because of the impending storm. On our second day, we fully expected the park to evacuate its campers before the weekend and we did not want to be there when that time came. We planned our exit strategy.

I was loving the storm clouds over the Gulf Shores, knowing our time here would be cut short.

After only two days and three nights at Fort Pickens, we cancelled our remaining three nights and pulled away from the crowded campground. Everyone seemed oblivious to what was brewing in the gulf and I could only imagine the scene on evacuation day when reality finally hit. And they did evacuate because Nestor came right toward Pensacola. Meanwhile, we headed for safer ground inland, which eventually led us to the Suwannee River.

Along the Suwannee River, a short walk from our river campground. Water levels were very low, so those cypress knees were in full view.

Nestor resulted in nowhere near the level of destruction that this coast suffered from Hurricane Michael last year, not even close. But still, it was strong enough that our moves were justified, and we took bittersweet comfort in knowing we did the right thing. The coastal campgrounds would soon be back to normal, but our plans were already altered and there was no going back at this point. Instead, we found ourselves betting on pigeon races and playing chicken poo bingo at the Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Park, a charming out-of-the-way river park.

The owner of Suwanne Rendezvous raises homing pigeons and every Saturday, a pigeon race is held. An hour or so before, you put some money down on a pigeon of your choice. This was my choice.
The pigeons are shuttled off to the “starting line”, which if I remember correctly was about 5 miles away. We then waited for them to come back, surprisingly within a few minutes or so. Mine took a bit longer than the winner.
After the pigeon races, it was time for bingo! If you have to ask, here’s how it goes down. You first bet on a number, like those on a bingo card. A large wagon with a cover containing a floor with the numbers painted on it is prepared. A chicken is placed in the wagon and everyone stands around watching and waiting. It didn’t take long. Within a minute, the person that bet on the number targeted by the chicken was declared the winner!

After the Suwannee River, Paynes Prairie Preserve and Colt Creek were our final Florida State Park destinations and luckily, the weather did not force us to cancel them. Vivian missed out on long hikes through Florida’s savannah and a climb up to the lookout tower to view the wild bison and horses that make Paynes Prairie a unique Florida park. But not all was lost, we both enjoyed the Florida Museum of Natural History in nearby Gainesville.

Florida once had giant sloths roaming its land! As seen at the Natural History Museum in Gainesville.
No photos of wild horses or bison, but I can show you one of Florida’s favorite birds, the Anhinga. This is in Paynes Prairie State Park.
And here is another Florida favorite, a limpkin, also in Paynes Prairie.

Our final three days were spent at the remote Colt Creek State Park, Florida’s newest. It is so new that the washing machine and dryer are still in good working condition! Doing laundry while traveling in an RV is no picnic but when the primary laundress in the group has a broken ankle, this task becomes insurmountable. So thank you Colt Creek State Park for making that task a bearable one.

Things not looking good under the RV. That’s one of the equalizers, not in its usual form.

Did I mention something was wrong in paradise? Did I also mention that the Fort Pickens back-in spectacle was a turning point in this story? Well, here is how it ends. After our first night at Colt Creek, I noticed something terribly out of place as I walked around the RV. As part of the suspension, the equalizers hang between the front and back wheels and are normally shaped like a ‘W’. This time, the driver’s side equalizers resembled a ‘J’. This could not be good. We were both perplexed because the RV was perfectly level. The Fort Pickens nightmare suddenly came back to haunt us.

Notice the hanger bracket where it is barely hanging and unattached from the leaf springs. Notice the hanger bracket in the background, that’s what it is suppose to look like.

The first call to Lippert Components (manufacturer of the suspension and frame) was short and not so sweet. “Check the hanger bracket” was the technician’s immediate advice. We did, and in horror discovered the culprit that caused the equalizer to lose its form. The hanger bracket, which attaches to a leaf spring which attaches to the equalizer had sheered off at the weld. And God only knows how many miles were driven in that condition.

Let me pause the story for a second and mention once again how inconvenienced Vivian has been since breaking her ankle and how critical it is that both partners at least understand each other’s respective RV duties. On Vivian’s OCD routine checklist are inspections of the suspension at every stop as we move down the road. Among other things, she looks for loose bolts and cracks. Would she have noticed a crack in the hanger bracket before it broke off? Perhaps, but we’ll never know because in her state of disrepair, she was unable to perform her routine inspection. I could have stepped up and done her work, but too late for that now.

After many starts and stops, the welder gets to work.

Long story short, by the grace of God or pure damn luck the worst-case scenario did not happen. We found a hanger bracket at an RV parts store and bought two. The next day a mobile welder was on site by 9 am to remove the broken one and weld on the new one. We had a spare leaf spring and had him put that on as well. A flat tire on the weld truck and a welding machine that decided to die before the weld began delayed the repair to well past 9 pm. Welding in the dark is not ideal. We had only one thought and that was to cross our fingers during the 220-mile drive back home.

The new hanger bracket welded in place.

We did make it home safely on November 3 after leaving Colt Creek. Once set up on our lot in Chokoloskee, the RV would not move for 6-7 months. Nevertheless, plans to resolve the hanger bracket issue began. Not only that, we had another RV issue that needed to be addressed. Both would lead us back to the RV capital of the world in Indiana where our Grand Design home and Lippert suspension were born – the room where it happened. We had some serious repairs and a few upgrades to be made and with that, our 2020 travels began to form as we settled in for a winter in the Everglades.

Our final evening on the road, enjoyed from Colt Creek State Park.

RV Tips and Issues. We pull a 12,000 lb fifth wheel. That fifth wheel contains most of our possessions. Supporting all that weight are the tires, frame and suspension. Things can go bad when any one of those is compromised. Therefore, frequent inspection is essential. Occasional bolt-torquing and moving parts – lubing, as well as annual bearing maintenance are essential. And don’t wait to do your inspections after you’ve driven down the road, start at the RV center where you are purchasing your new rig. Inspect, inspect, inspect. Don’t know what to look for? Educate yourself. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can about that rig, especially if it’s going to be your home. If you don’t take the time to learn, then you have two choices – don’t live in one or plan to spend a lot of money and a lot of wasted time dealing with repairs and hoping the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen. Always remember, the road is unforgiving.

Jun 16, 2019 – Springing into Action

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Our tow route to Blue Springs State Park. Avoid driving I-4 through Orlando while pulling at all costs!
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!
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My favorite mural on the walk included bears and other animals.
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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.

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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.

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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.

Aug 27, 2018 – The Rally

I meet people and they become chapters in my stories.” Avitjeet Das

Vivian and I are not the type of people to join a crowd or follow a trend; in fact, we typically avoid both. Nevertheless, by purchasing a fifth wheel and going full time, we automatically became members of several RV-related groups. Not only that, shortly after purchasing a Grand Design fifth wheel we signed on for a Grand Design rally.

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Where the Grand Design Indiana rally took place.

According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, the noun ‘rally’ can be defined as a mass meeting intended to arouse group enthusiasm. Therefore, by definition, a rally is something we would feel utterly uncomfortable attending because of a group mentality that is fixated on one thing. It is true that we believe Grand Design RVs to be of quality, primarily because of their excellent service record. Thus, attending a rally would seem like a natural way to show our enthusiasm for the manufacturer of our home while locking arms with other owners and singing “Proud to be an American” (an actual rally activity).

Grand Design Poobah
During the opening ceremonies, 800+ rally attendees were cued to hold the cut out face of Grand Design’s VP of service operations, Jerry McCarthy as part of a joke.

The fact is, we attended the rally with ulterior motives, and those were to get as much service done on our RV as necessary, attend several workshops to acquire valuable knowledge, take advantage of the vendor deals, and bug the hell out of the technicians from all the manufacturers with a kazillion questions. We wanted to take advantage of having the experts literally within arm’s reach and be able to meet other Grand Design owners who might willingly share their lessons learned. Yep, that’s right, we were in it for ourselves. Being part of an aroused group of enthusiasts never crossed our minds. We were going because we own an RV that we call home, and well, things break often in an RV. And if you have ever attended a manufacturer’s rally, you can relate.

RV weight
We were eager to get our rig and tow vehicle weighed. Feel free to examine the numbers.

At the rally, we parked our little 303rls Reflection along side several others in the middle of a field on the Elkhart County fairgrounds for five nights. Ours was a Reflection fifth wheel in a sea of Reflection fifth wheels. Solitudes tended to have their own place, as did the Momentums and Imagines. But we were all there as Grand Designers. And we even have the t-shirts to prove it. I’m not one to wear a t-shirt that advertises, especially when it displays a hackneyed phrase such as “It’s a Grand Design thing, you wouldn’t understand”. But, being retired on a fixed income, I looked beyond the advertising and saw only a free article of clothing.

Rally
The rally’s opening ceremony.

Our view was a corn field on one side and the back of another Reflection on the other. Water and electricity were provided, and I ensured our full comfort by signing up for two mobile dump services. We considered our selves lucky not having to join several dozen RVs that were relegated to the middle of the horse track. Races were not deterred because 400 plus RVs were strewn about the fairgrounds. The races prevailed and rally attendees were aptly warned to cross the track carefully at certain times of the day. And then there were the trains. Not one, but two train tracks ran very close to the fairgrounds and this is no exaggeration, a train passed by at least every 2 minutes, 24 hours a day. Amazing to me how collectively, hundreds of people train themselves (no pun intended) to ignore the loud sounds of a train. Within the first day, it became nothing more than background noise.

Fairground Row
Reflection row, ours in the foreground to the right of the silver Ford.
Race track
A rare moment when horses were not running on the track.

But I digress. We didn’t come for the ambiance, we came to get things fixed and to learn how to fix things. We especially wanted our brakes serviced, so we made an appointment for a mobile tech to come to our campsite. He did, he removed the wheels and immediately said, “You don’t have any brakes, you need to contact Lippert.” Please go back to our first blog for explanation, but in short, we burned out our brakes during the first five miles of our maiden voyage because the break-away switch had broken away, unbeknownst to us. So, Lippert came to us ready to replace the brakes, no questions asked. However, they also offered an exceptional deal on their disc brakes, so guess what? Not capable of passing up a great deal, we upgraded.

Brakes
The “brakes”, or what was left of them.

Although we accomplished our rally mission (fix it and learn how to fix it), we unexpectedly acquired something much more valuable than new disk brakes. While camped near Indianapolis days before the rally, we watched several Grand Design RVs come and go, and we reckoned some of them were heading to the rally only 100 miles away. One of those RVs going to the rally belonged to Lorraine and Spencer, full time travelers in their 337 Reflection fifth wheel. It wasn’t until we struck up a conversation with the two fellow Grand Design owners that we realized having an RV manufacturer in common with someone can lead to more than just a knowing glance and a friendly wave, or an occasional high five. In this case, common ownership became the impetus for a meaningful and lasting friendship. And that is the best reason to attend a rally. But then again, if you have ever attended a rally, you already knew that. Oh, and please check out Spencer’s funny and well written travel blog, “Friends along the Way“.

Friends
The best thing that came out of the rally, our friends Lorraine and Spencer.