What a big mouth you have Mr. Alligator!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Troubles (Challenges)

Not every day of full time RVing is fun and free of challenges. In fact challenges are more common than I would like. 

On Friday we had a few, but we landed safely. Whenever we move from one place to another it is always a bit stressful, and I don't really relax until we are in our new spot. I think of it as "landing"!

We left Midway Campground before ten in the morning, in a slight drizzle of rain. Our next reservation was only 83 miles away.

I wondered if I should call for an early arrival. 

Silly me.

Suddenly, as we were entering the Miami area on a freeway, we heard a loud scraping, rumbling noise. Craig thought he had run over something and it was dragging under the coach. No, when we looked over our shoulders, out the side window, we discovered our large awning had deployed and was being ravaged by the wind.

Craig pulled over onto a narrow shoulder. He tried to retract it using the motorized system, but it wouldn't move. We were next to a guardrail, so he went out and stood on it, and we tried to fold the awning back up manually.  It wouldn't roll up.

So we slowly drove forward on the shoulder until we could exit the interstate.  This was working, until one of the roadside signs was sticking out a bit further than the other obstacles we were avoiding, and we hit it with the awning support.  Fortunately there was not much overlap, because it did not rip the awning off. It bent the support arm a bit, however.

We got off the interstate safely, but still had to drive a mile or so with the awning extended until we reached a place where we could safely park. 

O.K. now what? I was very glad I had renewed our COACHNET roadside service a few weeks ago. We called them and they arranged to have someone come help.  

It took a couple of hours, but eventually two nice guys from 1st Choice RV Service showed up. After a bit of discussion and attempts to get it to roll back up, they decided the only thing they could do was remove the awning.  Not easy, but the task was accomplished. Now, what to do with the parts? The support arms fit into the basement bay, but the 18 foot rolled up awning did not. 

Solution: put it inside the coach.  How to do that? Put the slide out, open the front-facing window and pass it in that way. The only problem with that is we now had an 18 foot wet awning rolled up on the coach floor. We can live with the awning on the floor for a while, but we had to figure out how to dry it out, so it doesn't start to smell moldy!

By the time we got back on the road it was apparent that we would arrive after the RV park office closed, so I called ahead. No problem, they would leave our paperwork and space assignment in the late arrival box on the office door. We have been late before and it always worked out fine. 

The park we were going to, was an older private park in an urban setting. Being that it was late in the day, traffic was heavy on the highway, and when we turned off it was even heavier on the city streets. By now it was getting dark and the rain had resumed. We carefully obeyed the Rand McNally Navigator's instructions.
I had entered the address that morning.  

Oh my! We found ourselves in a downtown area, in the dark, at rush hour on Friday evening. Lots of fast drivers eager to get home and tired after a long week. 

When we arrived at the entered address there was no RV park entrance in evidence. Craig pulled over and parked in what we hoped was a safe place, while we figured out what to do next. He got out and walked the street looking at addresses. I called the mail help number for the Encore Parks system and they verified the address I had in hand. 

Just then I started to hear some horn beeping that sounded somewhat aggressive. An SUV type vehicle came tearing over the grass divider next to us and a man was yelling at me.  I got out and just kept saying I was sorry, we had had trouble, and please forgive us for blocking traffic. Just about the time Craig showed up, the man had cooled off enough to say he was sorry for yelling at me and drove around us!

That could have been a bad scene if road rage had peaked or if he had been packing a gun. If Craig had been there it might have been worse because male against male sometimes makes sparks. As it was the dude felt guilty for yelling at a contrite old lady.

We got back into the rig and turned down a rather narrow dark street.  I kept staring at my paperwork and the Navigator when suddenly I saw the problem. I had entered Oakland Blvd, when it should have been W Oakland Blvd. I made the correction, and as it turned out the narrow road was the right place to have turned for a successful turn around.

I must say Craig was wonderful about my error. He could have yelled at me for being so dumb, but instead he just acknowledged the error and followed the new directions.

Was that enough challenge for one day? No, it continued.

I won't go into how when we arrived at the park, we didn't have the gate code and had to go car to car asking if someone could help us. We got in.

I won't go into how we pissed off a guy in a big pickup by parking in the wrong place to unhook the Jeep. I did my "please forgive us routine" and he grumbled and backed up to get around us.

The final challenge of the night was when we arrived at our assigned spot. This park is very full, and some sardines have more room than the rigs parked here. Our spot was supposed to be a pull-thru. However there was a big pickup parked in half of our spot. The office was closed so there was no help there. We managed to drive around to the other side of the spot and back into the space, leaving our front end hanging out into the access lane. 

I walked around to the adjoining spaces, but no one was home. There was a couple sitting out a few spaces down, that said they knew the owner of the truck and he would probably be home about eight.

We didn't want to hook up or put the slides out until the Alfa was in the right place, so we waited. And waited and waited. Finally Craig leveled, put the slides out, and plugged in. We were ready for bed. I left a note on our neighbor's door asking him to move the truck and went to bed.

Sometime later, about eleven, we heard a diesel engine and we went out. He told us the office had given him permission to park there, telling him the space would be unoccupied for the next week. We had made reservations many last January.

It had all worked out, and now 24 hours later all of this, except for the broken awning, is fading.

The Florida weather is still a bit gloomy and rain is in the air, but we are glad we are not in Buffalo!

Do you have bad days from time to time?  How do you get over them?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Looking for Alligators

We had been in Florida for almost a month, much of it in a state park, and I had not yet seen an alligator.

On Tuesday, when we arrived at Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve, it was too rainy to go exploring. Our camp host told us there were alligators in the pond just outside of our door, but with the gloom they didn't show themselves.

Wednesday was also a stay-inside day. Watching the Weather Channel, we were reminded that we were lucky we were not in New York.

The weather Thursday was glorious. Mid-seventies, with a sunny sky and a mild breeze. Our first stop was at the Oasis Visitor Center for park information. I asked the Ranger on duty if we would see any alligators.  She smiled and replied "definitely".

When we walked out the door and headed for the Jeep we noticed several people standing along the channel in front of the Visitor Center. These are what they were looking at:

These were just a few of the alligators that were displaying themselves for the tourists. (Actually, they were there for the sun.)  They were all quite large. One lady said there used to be many more there.

Our next stop was at the Monroe game check station where we got a Verizon signal strong enough for good internet connection. The signal was very weak at the campground, but we were able to check our email here every day.

Then, it was on to the Thousand Islands area of the Everglades National Park, where we took a boat ride out among the islands.

Part way out, a pod of wild dolphins came near the boat. The captain slowed the boat and we watched as the dolphins swam back and forth under us. The ranger took the opportunity to tell us all about them. He explained that they had very good eyesight and could see us quite clearly, and were playing "make the tourists run from side to side of the boat". Then they rewarded us with a little jumping display.

This gal (the ranger said they were all females) made a pretty high jump.  After a few more jumps they swam off, and we continued out toward the Gulf. 

There was a large congregation of birds on a sand bar. They big white ones are giant white pelicans. They have a wing span of up to nine feet, and were described as the "real snow birds", since they show up here and do nothing more than sit on the warm beach and go fishing every day all winter.

Two heads are better than one

Speaking of odd birds, these two were seen just enjoying the day. 

Friday morning we set out for our next stop, but had some trouble on the way.  I'll fill you in next time...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Moving On, but not Far

On Saturday, our last day at Little Manatee State Park, we drove back up to St. Petersburg to the Farmer's Market we saw the week before.

We took all of our knives along for sharpening and stocked up on wonderful produce.  

It's going to be a healthy week!

Last week, Jeannie told us about a sand sculpture contest at Siesta Beach in Sarasota, that coincided with the  drum circle that I wanted to see, so Sunday morning I was lucky enough to find a one night spot in a nearby Passport America park. 

I had read that parking was a problem at Siesta Beach and we found that was true. The traffic for several miles from the beach was bumper to bumper, moving at a snail's pace. When we got to the beach area we saw several large parking lots that were full. Oh My!

We drove on, through a commercial area with no beach parking and turned back to take another pass. We saw two parking lots that were charging $20 for parking, that were a mile or more away from where we wanted to go. There was no way I would pay $20 and walk that far! 

I was ready to just go on back to the RV and call it a day.

Sometimes plans do not work out.  But sometimes they do. As we crawled along  in the opposite direction, not expecting to find parking,  I spotted a lady standing next to the driver's door of her car smoking a cigarette. I told Craig to stop, and yelled out: "Are you leaving?" She smiled and nodded yes, and we scored an in-close, free, no time limit, street parking spot. 

The weather was perfect, the sun was shining, and the beach was incredible. I have never seen so much beautiful white sand.

The sand sculpture event was not as large as I expected, but the work was everything I hoped it would be. These are some of our favorites:

Siesta Selfie


The other side was her dragon!

Toes in the Gulf of Mexico
After looking at the sculptures for a while, we checked out the craft booths, and then took a walk along the edge of the surf. 

Hearing the drum circle would form about an hour before sunset, we wandered back to the Jeep and got our folding chairs. 

We found "the place" and watched as the drummers began arriving. This is not an organized event. No one is "in charge" and we were told the participants changed from week to week.
A large circle was drawn in the sand, and as the shadows grew longer, more drummers arrived and more people gathered around it.

Several young people did some extraordinary things with hoops, and then a pile of hoops was set out for anyone who wanted to play. Many of the children gave it a try. Some were quite good.

There were several dancers in costumes, as well as many who just joined in as they felt the beat.

Children of all sizes were welcome in the circle. This girl in bright pink was dancing, and the baby just crawled into the heart of the action.

It was fun to people- and kid-watch! Craig shot the following 2 minute video by holding the camera above his head, so the aiming isn't good, but it should give you the flavor of the event. Turn your sound up all the way. We don't understand the girl in the blue-green top with the magic yellow wand. It can't really be magic, right?

We had been sitting with our back to the water, when I noticed the light had changed dramatically. The long shadows were gone, replaced by a soft glow of twilight.

I turned and experienced one of the most remarkable sunsets I have ever seen. These pictures don't do it justice.

I felt I was not just seeing a sunset. I was inside a sunset. The air glowed from horizon to horizon. There were not many clouds to catch the rays of color, but color was everywhere.

We quietly walked back to the Jeep in this mystical air. 

It was a good day. One that was worthy of my blog title, Merikay's Dream.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dud Day, Fun Pictures

Several people told us we should go to see Fort Desoto. The drive over and back was fantastic. The Skyway Bridge is beautiful, and the day was sunny in the high 60s.

We started our visit with a nice two mile walk on the beach. The sand was very firm which made for a good walk, and we enjoyed looking for a few great shells among many broken pieces.

It's always fun to watch the water birds who make a living in the surf.

I was fascinated by the way these plants that sent out runners on the sand. It reminded me of stitching on a quilt, or a baseball.

It was a windy day and in addition to the rough water out on the bay, there was some good wave action against the rocks.  Craig shoots pictures involving splashing water at 1/2000th of a second.

After our walk on the beach, we had a small picnic lunch and then explored parts of the old fort.  This was underground storage for artillery ammunition.

This gun may be one of the largest mortars ever made.  By firing up over the wall behind it, this gun and its many siblings could cover the entire entrance to Tampa Bay, during the Spanish American War.  Fortunately, the Spanish knew they were overmatched, and never tried invading.

This big gun was made in England and was called rapid-fire, though we never saw a figure for firing rate.  Here Merikay prepares to vault into the firing nest :-)

Then we took a walk out onto a pier were a few people were fishing.

This young man seemed to be embracing the sky.  Such joy!

So, why do I say this day was a dud? The fort would be a great place for a Spanish-American War enthusiast, but we found it a bit of a bore. I guess we're getting spoiled! Sunshine and a fresh ocean breeze is not enough for us.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Meeting Old/New Friends after a great tourist day

After a beautiful day (mid 70s) touring the Ringling Museum and mansion, we met former full-time RVers Jeannie and Eldo for a fish fry at Anna Maria Oyster Bar. I felt like a real snowbird, arriving at 4:30 so we could catch the Early Bird Special. But the timing was just right, since I was pooped out from walking all day and very hungry, having skipped lunch.

It is always fun to meet a fellow blogger because after reading their posts for several years you feel you know them already. Jeannie and Eldo are people who I would like to spend much more time with. Our conversation was easy, and they give us some good insights into full-time RV life and "hanging up the keys." Although they have sold their rig and bought a home in Florida, they still like to travel, so who knows, we might meet again down the road.

Our day at the Ringling started with viewing a miniature circus built by Howard Tibbal. I cannot put my admiration of the detail and craftsmanship into words. For anyone who has ever taken pride in making something, or who loves the circus, this is a must-see!

The picture to the right was taken from a viewpoint on the second floor. It shows only a small part of the expansive layout. He has created thousands of little figures, each unique, each with a feeling of action and purpose, each with facial features.

Even his animals showed animation in their posture.

On the second floor there was a long window display of an incredible parade. We recognized some of the original wagons and characters we saw at the Baraboo Circus Museum last July.

The mirror doubled the number of pieces and gave us a great view of the other side.

Elephants dressed as clowns
Sea Serpent costumes on elephants

We also toured the Circus Museum building and enjoyed seeing some of the original costumes worn by the stars. 

image from web

Then it was on to a tour of the mansion, also called Ca'd'Zan, or House of John.

We walked through the first floor on our own as part of the regular admission to the Ringling grounds. Then we bought additional tickets for the guided second floor tour (a whopping $5 each) and went through both floors, with a guide explaining what we were seeing and giving us a bit of historic perspective. Best upgrade we've had in years! 

Here are a few highlights:

Many of the windows and the large skylight in the living room was made with colored French glass. This softens the bright Florida sunshine.

The house was being decorated for Christmas. This tree in the living room was Craig's favorite. The furniture was all original.

The decor and detail was, to me, way over the top! If we hadn't toured another mansion of the time, the Biltmore, I might have thought it was garish and suitable for the home of Circus Mogul. But it was indeed in keeping with the high society style of the day.

These beds seem like they could be part of a Circus wagon!

All in all it was fascinating. 

My favorite part of the estate was the marble patio that overlooks the water of Sarasota Bay.

Next we walked across the parklike grounds to the Museum of Art. Knowing we wouldn't have time or energy to see all of the galleries, we choose to walk through the halls that contained some of the classic art owned and donated by the Ringlings.

Before calling it a day, we found time to take a short walk in the sculpture garden. 

I doubt we will ever get to Florence, Italy, to see the original David, but we appreciated this bronze version in the garden.

It was a tiring day. My back was screaming and I was happy to find a tram to take us back to the entrance, but I enjoyed it all! I have to start carrying some pain reliever in my purse. I really could have used some in the afternoon. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Looking For Manatees

When I booked our current site, I knew that there were no manatees in the Little Manatee River because of a dam or something. But I knew that in our travels north next January, we would have several chances to see them at the springs we will be visiting. However, I was delighted to see a sign not far from us that said: "Manatee Viewing Center" along one of the highways we were driving down

I checked it out and found out the manatees like to gather near the warm water from the cooling outlet of the Tampa electric power plant, whenever the bay temperature drops below 68*. The power plant is where the Manatee Viewing Center is located.

On Tuesday I consulted Google to check the water temperatures. Although the web page listed Tampa Bay at 71*, we decided to drive over to the Center anyway.

We headed towards the chimneys puffing out steam.

We arrived just at the right time to catch a guide giving a short talk about manatees.

Then we went on to the viewing walkway. The guide had said there were a dozen or so manatees to be seen out in the water.

They were there, but all we could see was their huge bodies suspended just below the surface. Occasionally one would put his nose up for a breath, or dive down showing his fluke.

We looked over the side into a much shallower area, and could see one big shadow on the bottom. We waited and a large old beastie  came up for a breath of air from time to time. It may have been sleeping.

Then we saw two other shadows coming into the shallow area. One was much smaller than the other and as we watched the pair surfaced.

Both the mother and her calf were covered with barnacles. In the presentation we had listened to, we had learned that the barnacles were quite irritating, but would die and fall off when the manatee went into fresh water.

Craig said manatees are not very exciting to watch, but I think he enjoyed the beautiful day. I am looking forward to seeing them at the springs. Maybe we will get closer.

Some people like to collect T-shirts from the places they visit.  

I like socks!

What do you like to look for as a souvenir?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Where we will be November - Feburary

Several of my friends and family have asked where we will be in Florida over the next few months. We know some of the other RV bloggers will also be  here and if we happen to cross paths we would love to meet you. So, this is our route and list of dates.

Most of our reservations are in State parks. Where I have indicated no reservations, we will probably just hope to find an open spot in a commercial park along our way.

A. Nov. 2 - Nov 16: Little Manatee State Park, Just South of Tampa
    Nov16 - Nov 20, No reservations made, just making our way south and east and stopping where we want.                         
B: Nov 21 - Nov 29, Ft Lauderdale in a Commercial Park
C: Nov 29 - Dec. 13, Long Key State Park (Florida Keys!)
D: Dec 13 - Dec. 28, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo 
    Dec 28 - Dec 29, No Reservations possibly go up to Everglades
E: Dec 30 - Jan 6, Jonathan Dickinson State Park
F: Jan. 6 - Jan 16,  Kissimmee Pairie Preserve State Park
G: Jan 16 - Jan 28, Wekiwa Springs State Park
H: Jan 28 - Feb 2, Visit our Friend Linda, or ?
I: Feb 2 - Feb 6, Manatee Springs State Park
Feb. 6 - Feb 10, No reservations, Traveling Out of Florida
J: Feb 10 - 14, Fontainebleau State Park Louisiana

Not on this map:
Feb 14 - Feb 16 Dick Albrittons for reroute of tail pipe

I am also going to put this on my sidebar as a page and update it as we go along.