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It has been uneventful day of towing but good things are happening nonetheless. We broke camp this morning in the strongest wind we've had at Myrtle Beach yet. It felt like a steady 20+ MPH. I had to hold things down to keep them from blowing away.
Goodbye, Myrtle Beach!
While towing west, I talked on the phone with a few friends (fellow Airstreamers). Brett is making plans to join us at the International Rally in Oregon this summer. Rich C is going to try to hook up with us in New Mexico and caravan with us for a month or so. Adam and Susan are going to meet us at International and caravan with us to Montana. And in Montana, we'll meet up with Bert and Janie for a week or so!
Meanwhile, Eleanor was on the laptop from the passenger seat, researching flights for our visit home (Vermont). It's great to be able to make productive use of the road time with the Internet and a cell phone. Emma was in the back chatting on the phone, coloring, playing with her Leap Pad, and playing with her stuffed animals, so we all managed to make the 7+ hours of driving not as horrible as it could have been. And now, here we are ... at Cracker Barrel.
Tomorrow will be a shorter day of towing. We are going to try to intersperse the long days with short days, as we head 1200 miles west to our next major stop in Weatherford TX. As I mentioned, we are going to have a bunch of cool upgrades done to our rolling home at Roger Williams Airstream in Weatherford, so if you live nearby let me know if you can meet us there! We're getting disc brakes, solar panels, and some Vista Views too. Should be very interesting to watch!
One of my favorite events at a rally is the Vintage Open House. All the owners of trailers 25 years or older throw open the doors to socialize and show off their very cool rigs.
Photographically, it's a great event to attend, but I recommend strong sunglasses on a shiny day. The polished trailers can be hard on the eyes!
Bob Clark and his 1972 Airstream
We often see familiar people at these events. We haven't seen the folks below, Janea and Ed Whitacre, since last summer at the International Rally in Springfield MO. I've been lusting after their 1972 Globetrotter for years, but I can't convince them to sell it!
Janea and Ed Whiteacre
I went over to Fred Bothwell's new toyhauler project. He thinks his cut-down Globetrotter is smaller than the smallest Airstream ever made. No interior yet. It will be perfect to haul his golf cart.
Emma's evening was spent with the other girls at a pizza party. She says she doesn't want to leave Myrtle Beach, which is her way of saying she's had a good week. But tonight we are planning our departure. Tomorrow, we begin heading west ...
What a beautiful day! We lucked out. It's upper 70s and absolutely gorgous and dry. Perfect for our Open House today. A crowd showed up at 1 pm and hung around until 2:30 (when the official Beach Party was scheduled to begin).
A few people checked out our unusual trailer, and others snacked under the awning and asked questions about how we do what we do. A lot of people wanted to know when I worked, and I told them "Whenever I can." Today, for example, I managed to get two articles edited and uploaded for layout, and started work on a third. Half an hour here, half an hour there, and eventually it gets done.
I also got a chance to briefly interview some other folks who had great little innovations in their Airstreams. Those will appear in the Summer magazine. And, best of all, I have been told that the Spring magazine is finally off the press and will be put in the mail this weekend.
Then it was off to the Beach Party, which was terrific. Water balloon tossing contests, kite-flying, digging in the sand for treasure, etc. In the photo above, Emma is competing against a bunch of other "girls".
Brett and I got chosen to play each other in the balloon toss. We set a record for longest tosses, but ultimately I got splashed (and lost!)
Fred catches another one
Now we've got a few minutes before the barbecue dinner at the clubhouse. I'm already beat from all the action today, and tomorrow looks to be even busier. Other people relax at rallies. I always need a vacation after one!
The rain has gone, leaving behind a blustery sky and a few sandy puddles on the roads. People emerged from their cocoons today to get on with rally business, even though we are on the cold side of the front and the air was a cool 61 degrees most of the day.
Brett and I presented our seminar on Mobile Internet and Internet Security. It was a big hit. Over fifty people attended, and we got a lot of compliments. We brought a projector for our Powerpoint presentations, and demonstrated mobile Internet in the room using my Internet In Motion system connected to a wireless router. Everyone who brought a laptop was able to get online while we talked.
Eleanor and Emma tried the jewelry-making seminar next, while I caught up on work and interviewed some people for future issues of the magazine. Emma came back with a little bracelet of beads. They also went out to buy some new dishes for the trailer, since we are tired of the plastic plates we have been using. I'll show you a picture of those in a future post.
We spent some time discussing ideas for the next six months. We have a pretty solid plan through July, but then things get murky. With rising fuel prices, it makes sense to try to limit the amount of criss-crossing the country we will do, so instead of driving east we may choose to fly east for a family visit and come back to the trailer in a few weeks. As always, flexibility is key, and so right now we haven't made a decision on exactly what we will do.
Tonight may be one of the coldest we've seen since we left San Antonio in February. No sleeping with the windows open tonight -- it's already down to 52 outside. Tomorrow we were planning to serve frozen lemonade for the Open House, but with the change in temperature it may be hot chocolate instead!
Everyone here at the rally has been watching the weather carefully over the past few days. We've known since Sunday that rain and cooler air were coming on Wednesday. That's why we went straight for the beach and the warm-weather fun these past two days. It will be only in the low 70s through this weekend.
The weather forecasts have become more and more dire with each day, finally culminating in threats of severe thunderstorms and possibly even tornados as the storm front approached today. This morning was sunny, warm and humid, and as we sat under the awning having lunch with Renee, Fred, Brett, and a few other Airstreamers, it was hard to believe what was coming.
But when you live in an aluminum house, you take thunderstorms seriously. Everyone knows about the hailstorm that damaged hundreds of Airstreams at a big rally in the 1980s. Everyone knows that if the Weather Channel starts talking about "tornadic activity" in the vicinity, it's time to exit the trailer and head for the cinder block buildings.
Sure enough, the weather turned from benign and balmy breezes to a strong cold wind this afternoon, and now it is pouring rain as line after line of thunderstorms march in from the west. The streets are partially flooded in our little community and the sky is flashing with lightning. We had the weather radar on constantly this afternoon, but eventually it got dull and we switched to "Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit."
Unlike when we lived in a conventional house, we aren't concerned with a power outage, of course. Being self-contained, we have battery power and water to last for several days at least. And while a lightning strike wouldn't be much fun, the aluminum shell will protect us quite well. Our precautions have been limited to taking down the awning, and securing a few loose items outside.
Dozens of trailers have arrived today for the first official day of the rally. About 150 are expected in total. Ocean Lakes Family Campground is now dominated by silver trailers. It's a rally at last, and we're looking forward to the activities of the next few days. Tomorrow Brett and I will present our Mobile Internet seminar and Eleanor will go to a jewelry-making class. On Friday we are expecting more than a dozen people to drop by for our Open House (that's how folks many signed up today), and on Saturday we'll be busy with the Flea Market and checking out the Vintage Open House. Bert Kalet is here, and he will be talking about the proposed Capetown-to-Cairo caravan in 2009.
I'm looking forward to meeting Fred Bothman too. He made the cute "Globehauler" toy hauling trailer that you see in the picture above. I interviewed him for the upcoming Spring issue of Airstream Life, along with a couple of other guys who have made personal toy haulers out of old Airstreams. Fred will be here conducting a polishing seminar. As you can see from the picture, he knows something about it.
Last night we once again were able to sleep with the windows open. It has been balmy and breezy, with sounds of the ocean at night. Emma slept to nearly 11 this morning, so she's either in a growth spurt again or she's really getting worn out with all the activity. I love camping near the sea.
I can tell people are getting in the rally spirit, even though the offical start is tomorrow. The awnings and grills are out everywhere. People are having happy hours at 4 pm all over the campground. Sociability is just breaking out all over the place. From here on in, I expect to be overfed all the time. Brett kicked things off with some chocolate fudge cookies after lunch, and chocolate ice cream bars after dinner. ("But they are non-fat!")
Today, Brett and I geeked out. We bought a Linksys wireless range extender (model WRE54G) and experimented with using it to connect to the campground wifi at long distance. See, usually when we get to a campground with "wifi at every site" I can't actually access it inside the aluminum shield of the Airstream. With the range extender, I hope to amplify the signal so I can access it inside the trailer.
So we made a minor spectacle of ourselves as we marched around the campground, plugging the range extender into various power outlets to test the range of the device. At one point we even had it mounted on a flag pole. Our tests were not conclusive but so far things look good, so I'm going to keep it for further testing at another campground.
Eleanor and Emma spent half the day at the beach again, and this time Eleanor came back with a marvelous swimsuit-patterned sunburn on her back. That'll be a souvenir she won't soon forget.
This evening before we headed out for a round of mini-golf, we had a visit from blog readers David & Denese Lee. They are parked just down the way from us. We are hoping to be able to courtesy park at their place in North Carolina someday.
It's been another beautiful day in Myrtle Beach. And now, at 10 pm, I'm paying for it with a couple of hours of work at the computer. It's a good trade.
We're spread out now. Bikes are off the roof, the big red numbers are hanging off the front of the trailer, the awning is out, tablecloth is on the picnic table, and the beach toys are sitting by the entrance. We've got sand on the floor, and cold drinks in the fridge. Beach time!
Sadly, even though the weather has been just fabulous, I've spent most of the day working. But I did manage a few breaks in between projects, and some visitors have dropped in, too. People are arriving for the rally every day, even though the official start isn't until Wednesday.
Eleanor and Emma hit the beach in the afternoon and found that while the sand is warm, the water is cold. Making sand castles, kite-flying, and straying knee-deep in the water are probably the optimum uses of this beach.
I haven't been able to locate a flag pole holder kit here yet, but I do have three flag poles and two flags. We set up the new Airstream Life flag as a test just to see how it looks. What do you think?
We don't intend to do much this week ... by our standards, anyway. It's just too comfortable and lazy here in the warm breeze. Cycling around the campground, walking the sand, playing games, and grilling outside are the priorities of the week. I have some work to do but I'll try to do it when the sun is down. There are small pleasures in just puttering, whether that's with a sand bucket and plastic shovel, or a recipe in the kitchen.
One of our alert blog readers, Rob Baker, noticed that our route from Charleston to Myrtle Beach would take us up Rt 17 in Mt Pleasant. So he put a comment on yesterday's post to tip us off to the Jack's Cosmic Hot Dogs and we made a point of stopping there for lunch. There's plenty of parking in the back for an Airstream.
Rob was right, the Cosmic Hot Dog (blue cheese cole slaw and sweet potato brown mustard) was awesome. Emma opted for the Earth Dog (plain, with mustard). Jack's fries are pretty darned good too, thin and extra salty, and just right with a frosted mug of root beer.
Suitably refreshed, we charged up Rt 17 a couple of hours to Myrtle Beach and pulled into the second-largest campground we have ever encountered. (The largest was Fort Wilderness, at Disney World.) It's a giant complex, with hundreds of sites for RVs, permanent residences, rental cabanas, etc.
Site I-46, oceanside
Our site is right smack-dab on the front row closest to the ocean. The boardwalk between the sand dunes is about 30 feet from our front door and the sound of the crashing surf emanates from perhaps 200 feet away. You couldn't be any closer to the beach than this. It's terrific.
The view from our front door
Yesterday Fred gave us a microfiber towel to use when washing the Airstream. The weather was spectacular when we got here (breezy, sunny, 80 degrees) and we were in settling-in mode, so I decided to try out the towel instead of hunting up a truck wash at $40 a pop.
It worked great. We used a small bowl of water with a big sponge and two drops of soap, to get the dirt loose. Then we followed up quickly with the microfiber towel. We changed the water eight or nine times and rinsed the towel two or three times.
The result was a pretty clean trailer with very little mess using just a few bowls of water. This means we can "stealth wash" the trailer at campgrounds that normally frown on it. Good tip, Fred!
Even though the rally doesn't start until Wednesday, there are already 30-40 Airstreams here. People who have met us at other rallies are stopping by to say Hi, and those who don't know us are cruising slowly by in their rented golf carts and wondering about all the stickers on our trailer. Eleanor and Emma have gone out for a few groceries (which is why Brett now calls our trip the "Tour of America's Grocery Stores") and we'll have pizza tonight while planning some fun for the rest of the week.
We met up with our friends Renee and Fred this morning, fellow Airstreamers who happen to live in Charleston, and they gave us a quick tour of the historic district this morning. Charleston has a vibrant and large historic residential area, filled with glamorous homes and quiet tree-lined streets and tourists in horse-drawn carriages. It's something like a cross between historic Savannah and New Orleans' Garden District.
Renee and Fred in the pink
There are a tremendous number of things to do in Charleston. If it wasn't just a stop on our trek to Myrtle Beach, we'd spend a week exploring all the good stuff. Across the new Cooper River Bridge in Patriot Park is a riverside floating exhibit of an aircraft carrier, a submarine, and a destroyer. In town, dozens of fine eateries, including the one we went to for a local specialty called "Shrimp and grits". (Worth trying even if it sounds awful to you. We loved it.)
Then there are the tours, the parks, the marketplace, Fort Sumter, tons of Civil War history, beaches, and plenty of other things. Renee is going to write up an article for the magazine about it, sometime. Charleston is much more interesting than I expected.
At the market
We hit the marketplace, and managed to come out with only a little bag of local cookies called "Bennes". They're pretty good -- sort of a thin sesame seed sugar wafer about the size of a quarter. I could eat the whole bag in a few minutes if I was left alone with it.
We browsed downtown Charleston until the thunderstorms arrived. Renee and Fred headed home to pack their Airstream motorhome for the rally, and we went to Marble Slab Creamery for birthday ice cream. Today is Emma's official birthday, after all.
Playing in the rain
And it's been a while since I gave you a Sign of the Week. Here's one from today's walk ... a warning against public hula-hooping?
Not wanting to leave the Little Talbot Island area too quickly, we went to visit the nearby Kingsley Plantation. It's a National Park site, so we scored another stamp in our parks passport. It's a beautiful spot on the river, with some fascinating history related to slavery, but unfortunately the two main buildings were closed for renovation (termite damage).
Still, we spotted a bit of wildlife along the trails, including some venomous-looking spiders (probably not in reality), and this salamander. He was about eight inches long. Anyone know what species this guy is?
The ride up I-95 was uneventful, except for the alligator on the highway somewhere in South Carolina. I hadn't realized they lived that far north. It's a shame we weren't quicker with the camera, but it was all I could do to swerve out of his path without hitting someone else on the highway. I-95 was crowded enough without six-foot gators wandering around on it. I was glad the Hensley hitch was on the rig ... the abrupt swerve was a non-event.
I got one of those lucky wifi breaks that happen when you're on the road. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant off I-95, but I wasn't hungry, so I went into the trailer and found the Days Inn next door had a wide-open wifi network. That's always good news for getting work done quickly.
But overall, it was just another day. 250 miles covered, and here we are in Charleston at a commercial campground. (The park has Tengo wireless Internet "at every site" but of course the signal doesn't penetrate the Airstream's skin, so I'm still using the Internet In Motion system built into the trailer.) Tomorrow we will tour Charleston and whatever else seems interesting in the area.
Now, this is a nice state park. Coming from Jacksonville, you head west past the St John River and the little ferry that crosses it, over some salt marsh, and suddenly you are on Little Talbot Island, a tiny barrier of gorgeous sand and shells on the Atlantic Ocean.
The park is across the road from the oceanside, bordering a creek. It's a maze of tiny lanes which we had to navigate very carefully with our 30-foot trailer. Most of the sites are like ours: shady with overhanging live oaks draped heavily with Spanish moss. It's just beautiful here.
Our site is small enough that we had to unhitch to get the truck out of the road, but it seems worth it. I wish we could stay a second night -- there's a lot to do here: beachcombing, bicycling trails, a nearby plantation home, a few seafood restaurants, the scenic little ferry, etc. But the park is booked up for the weekend, so we did what we could today.
First stop was the beach. It is wide and flat, miles long, hard packed enough to drive on (but you can't here), and littered with shells at low tide. It was also virtually deserted today. Signs warn of rip tides but the water was warm and people were coming out of the water when we arrived. There's enough space on this beach that the park service felt obliged to post signs warning that nude bathing is not allowed.
Dipping our feet in the Atlantic Ocean means we have finally crossed the country. Our last few swims have been in the Gulf of Mexico, and before that we last touched salt water in the Pacific Ocean at Carpinteria State Beach near Santa Barbara CA. Now we can go only a bit further eastward before we point the rig back to the blue Pacific.
After the beach we took a ranger's recommendation and hopped the 3-minute ferry across the St John River to Mayport. You can ride over as a passenger for $1.00 or take the car for $3.25, each way. It's pretty expensive for such a short ride.
But it's worth it. A hundred feet from the dock on the Mayport side is Singleton's Seafood Shack, a family-run institution that has a richly deserved reputation for serving great food. We left absolutely stuffed full of crab, fish, scallops, shrimp, clam strips, collard greens, coleslaw, rice & beans, and hush puppies. This place is highly recommended! The big collection of hand-made wooden boat models in the back room is a free bonus.
We have decided that our Open House/Happy Hour/Meet'n'Greet/Free Snacks events for blog readers and other friends will be next Friday from 1 pm to 2:30 pm, and Saturday 1 pm to 2 pm. We'll be in site I-46 at Ocean Lakes Family Campground. If I can find a flagpole kit for the Airstream, we'll be flying the Airstream Life flag. Come on over if you can.
The fates took retribution on me for taking the day off yesterday. Yesterday one of the back-office systems we use for the magazine started outputting errors, and I only found out about it this morning. Apparently the software went haywire somewhere around the time I was watching Cleo the sea lion.
Then I discovered a bug in one of the database queries, which would have resulted in even more errors if I hadn't fixed it today. So the whole day was spent glaring at my laptop computer, mumbling to myself, and occasionally pounding out emails to our programmer. No wonder the keys on my computer are wearing off.
Meanwhile, the Florida sun continued to shine, the heat again rose to nearly 90, and the humidity became so thick that you could iron shirts without plugging in the iron. Florida would still be a largely uninhabited place if air conditioning had not been invented. Between the programming problems and the intense air outside, it was a day to spend at the dinette working.
I also invested about an hour in pre-planning. I don't want to give away too much about what's going to happen next, but from our Schedule page you can tell we're going to be doing a lot of traveling in the next month. We've got a lot of things we want to accomplish, so every day I can, I'm spending time researching places to go and calling people to make various arrangements. I only mention this because when things start happening quickly, you'll know what went into making it happen.
But it wasn't all work today. I finally cured the last computer problem by 6 pm, and Emma and I headed off to the pool. It's a great stress reliever to play with Emma in the water and watch her progress as a swimmer. Now she swims 25 feet or so unassisted, either under water or above water. And she dives for things on the bottom like a much older kid.
In keeping with our plan to celebrate Emma's birthday all week since we might be in the car on the actual day, Eleanor and Emma made a cake together. The frosting was Eleanor's own marscapone cream frosting, which is really superb stuff. The middle layer of the cake contained a chocolate ganache, by Emma's request. You should have been here for a taste ... it's a great cake. There won't be any left over in a day or two.
By the way, we are going to hold a Happy Hour or some sort of get-together at the Region 3 Rally in Myrtle Beach, next week. It's for any blog reader or any subscriber to Airstream Life. Anyone who is planning to go to the rally, check this blog in the next few days or the bulletin boards at the rally for information on when and where. We're still trying to work out the plans right now.
We just dragged ourselves in from SeaWorld. We're wiped out from nine hours of walking around the park in 80 degrees ... four live shows, two fast rides, six large cups of sugary drink, and more sea mammals than you can catch in a drift net (just a bad joke, pay no attention). In short, total sensory overload.
Emma and Dad waiting for a stingray to swim by ... so we can pet it!
We're done with the theme park experiences for a while. It was a good day but my brain is becoming numbed. I think we all need some "real" experiences over the next couple of weeks, involving natural places and people who are genuine (or genuinely bizarre). Shouldn't be hard to work that up.
But first, a good night's rest. The air conditioner is humming and the air inside is comfortably dry & cool, unlike outside. We'll sleep well, and dream of dolphins.
Hey, I just noticed we were featured in the Full Time RV'er newsletter this month. About 100 new people have started reading the blog as a result, so I wanted to say "Welcome!" and give you some pointers to information in this blog that may be helpful to you.
First off, if you are searching for something specific, try the "Search" box in the left column. We've talked about a lot of topics related to full-timing over the past seven months, so you'll probably find the answers you want there. As of today, we have posted over 190 times.
Second, you should definitely read through all the Tips and Ideas entries.
Third, feel free to use the "Comments" link below every post to ask questions, or add your thoughts to anything we have said. Your comments are really helpful, not only to us, but to other readers of the blog. Let us know what you'd like us to talk about.
You might also want to browse the photo albums we've posted online. We have hundreds of photos for your enjoyment. They are organized by location, so if there's a particular place you are interested in (especially western parks), check the Pictures link.
Finally, if you'd like to meet up and talk in person, check our Schedule page for the details. We plan to cover the entire USA coast-to-coast at least two more times this year, so eventually we'll be somewhere near you!
As scheduled, the Tour is back on the road ... but not far. This morning, we rolled up the awning, hitched the trailer, cleaned, and prepped to head to Kissimmee, 80 miles east on I-4.
Amazingly, my eBay seller finally came through, so our first stop with trailer in tow was Pak Mail, where I picked up the missing bike mount. We tossed it in the trailer with the second bike and kept on going. I installed it 40 miles down the road when we stopped for lunch. Now our bike rack is complete, and no longer a worry.
There's a Roadtrek (B-van) rally going on at this "RV resort". There must be at least 40 Roadtreks parked around us. Our 30 foot trailer looks like gigantic compared to the little B-vans. I took a tour of two of them this afternoon. They are cute but it would be hard for 2 of us to have more than a long weekend in them. With all 3 of us, I can't even imagine it. And at $65-85k, I'm not rushing out to buy one.
Since we lived for a chunk of two winters not far from here, being in Kissimmee feels like going home. We know where things are, and have a list of things we want to re-visit. We talk about local restaurants and shops like we've lived here all our lives. This actually feels strange, because normally we have no idea where anything is. For a few days, we'll embrace this sensation and try to hit at least a couple of our favorite spots.
Meeting the train in Winter Haven FL, March 2005
One of my favorite spots was Winter Haven, a town with a wonderful center. What I love about Winter Haven is that Amtrak still comes right through the middle of town and stops to disembark passengers on the town green. It's the kind of place you want to get off the train after a long voyage from some snowy spot up north. I took the picture above in March 2005 when we were in Winter Haven for their annual art show.
Tomorrow is slated for Sea World. We have decided to call this Emma's birthday present, since she will be turning SIX on Saturday. It looks like we might be on the road on Saturday, depending on how things work out with campgrounds in South Carolina. So, we are planning to have birthday presents and cake earlier in the week, starting with our Sea World day. Emma is happy with this arrangement, since it effectively means she gets a birthday week instead of just a day!
The Easter Bunny was here last night! We left him some celery and carrots, and he left us a nice basket of candies. (The basket strongly resembles one we were given by a couple we met in Mystic Springs. I wonder if they supply the Easter Bunny too.)
Emma & Eleanor's eggs
Emma and Eleanor spent the morning boiling up eggs and coloring them, while I wrestled with our trip plans for the next few months. We're leaving Tampa tomorrow. After several hours with a road atlas and browsing dozens of websites, we have a plan ... sort of. It's as much of a plan as we ever have.
Our intermediate goal is Myrtle Beach for the Region 3 Rally. But we don't need to be there until the 25th, so our intention is to break it up into several short drives of about 150-200 miles each. So we are going to try to make a few scenic and fun stops along the way.
First stop will be Kissimmee. We promised Emma she'd see Sea World back in San Diego and we forgot to go. We used to spend winters nearby in Haines City, so we have a few other old haunts we plan to visit as well.
Next stop would have been St Augustine but unfortunately with the weekend we couldn't get a reservation. Instead, we booked one weeknight at Little Talbot Island State Park near Jacksonville, and we'll see if we can convince the rangers to let us stay longer even though the reservation system says the park will be full.
After that, we'll wing it. I see a nice county park in South Carolina we might want to head to, and I've researched some other possibilities as well. There's not much to do along I-95 in Georgia or South Carolina, so if we want to have some fun we'll need to bail out to Rt 17. (Blog reader Brad Arrowood suggested that, and he's right.)
Even still, I had to pull out all the stops to find a few ideas. There was nothing along our route in our "Watch It Made In the USA" book of factory tours. Nothing in "Howstuffworks.com". No festivals along our route during that period. Nothing going on in the state parks, except for the interesting state parks (Hunting Island, Edisto Beach, etc.) along the coast, and of course they were booked solid.
Commercial campgrounds were unhelpful as well. They were either outrageously expensive or incredibly dull. I spent an hour today reading online reviews only to conclude there wasn't any place I'd be happy to pay for, in a place we could use. I finally concluded I'm happier NOT planning sometimes ... and instead just picking up what appears interesting along the way.
No, the kitchen isn't in danger. That's the rum burning off!
Tonight, Barry dropped by for dinner and dessert. Eleanor decided to make her famous Bananas Foster dessert, which is a favorite of mine. A nice sweet ending to our three weeks in Tampa!
The bike rack is on and it works great. Still waiting for the other mount to show up, but at least we know we have a good solution. To test it, I loaded up my bike and we went for a drive along US Alt-19 southward. The plan was to drop in on some beaches by Clearwater, but being a sunny gorgeous Saturday with temperatures in the mid-80s, a few other people had the same idea.
So we doubled back and drove a bit further south, eventually ending up on Treasure Island. It was the usual Florida barrier island scene, gorgeous white sands, pastel-colored hotels and condos everywhere, a mish-mash of body shapes hanging out of their swimwear, and overcrowded touristy streets. But as always we loved the beach, and we made our signature sand castle.
We also dropped in on Ted Peters' Famous Smoked Fish. It's an al fresco restaurant that also sells smoked fish to go. I could not resist the prospect of smoked fish for some reason, and so we walked out with a pound of mahi mahi and a pound of mackerel. They sell it right out of the smoker drawers, which you can see in the background of this photo.
We tried all the fish tonight. Emma preferred some pan-fried tilapia, but Eleanor and I ate the mahi-mahi and mackerel. The mahi mahi was moister than you'd expect, and very good. The mackerel was a bit dry and had some slim little bones. With a tomato & fresh mozzarella salad, and rice, it was a great dinner.
For a Saturday night movie we watched "Capetown to Cairo," the original 1960s documentary of the famous Wally Byam Caravan. That's a great flick for the Airstream fan, and fun for many other people, despite the obvious advertising pitches embedded in the narrative. Even Emma found it watchable, thanks to the appearance of a few lions and bears. It's nearly fifty years old, but still a great adventure.
Refitting continues amidst some fun. We mixed it up again today, with errands and homeshooling, then a big break at the pool in the afternoon.
The Nissan is almost ready for our 3000 mile trek to Myrtle Beach and then Las Vegas. I've had the oil changed, the brakes serviced, replaced the wiper blades and cabin air filter, and tomorrow I'll check the tires, get the car washed, and put the new roof rack on.
The cabin air filter might seem like a minor thing, but with the recent spate of pollen-related allergy problems Eleanor had, I felt very motivated to do it. We checked the owner's manual and found the cabin microfilter was supposed to be replaced every 15,000 miles. Well, we've done 17,000 miles through some heavy dust (in the desert) and through some heavy pollen (here). Take a look at the new and old filters and tell me if you think they needed changing.
Click for larger if you like to look at grime.
I bought an extra set so we can change those filters again at the end of the summer.
Over the last two weeks I've been selling the Yakima bike rack parts on eBay, and buying replacement parts for a Thule system. Blog reader Dave Morrison sent me a picture of his Thule setup on his Nissan Armada. Thule has a set of rack "feet" that integrate into the Nissan factory tracks, with rigid crossbars. This is far superior to the Yakima system that attached to the flexible factory crossbars.
That's a picture of Dave's system. With the bikes mounted backwards, we can still open the rear hatch fully. With the fork mount on a rigid crossbar, the bikes will be rock-solid instead of wobbling all over the place as they have been.
Only problem is that one eBay seller flaked out on me and hasn't sent one of the bike mounts. Unless it shows up tomorrow, we'll have to depart town with one bike on the roof and the other in the trailer. Brett has promised to receive the second mount and bring it up to us at the Region 3 Rally later this month.
I think we're in vacation mode now. Things are slowing down. I've been cleaning up little leftover tasks on my "to do" list and getting down to the final items. We are almost ready to hit the road again.
Emma was back at the pool again, enjoying the excellent Florida weather. It has been about 80 degrees every day, with lots of sunshine and relatively dry air. Perfect pool weather. As usual, she met up with some other little girls and they promptly organized a game of diving for sticks.
This evening, Barry and Susan came by to take us out to Safety Harbor, a quaint little village on the bay not far from here. There's a nice view to Tampa from the pier, and a diner in town where we had a great and inexpensive dinner. (All-you-can-eat grouper, $7.50 with salad -- I couldn't resist it.)
Tomorrow I will tackle the bike rack solution if my final parts have arrived. With that, we should be ready to hit the road on Monday.
If you haven't guessed by now, our stop in Tampa has been as much about refitting our ship as it has been about sightseeing. We've made numerous upgrades both large and small, and are trying to take care of as much "housekeeping" as possible before we drive again across the country. I call it "refitting the ship" in homage to Capt. Joshua Slocum, who wrote the book "Sailing Alone Around The World in 1899. Like Captain Slocum's Spray, our craft needs periodic refitting to remain seaworthy.
In addition to the things I have already mentioned in the blog, we have been going through clothing and other stored items to cull out excess stuff. Our rule is simple: if we haven't used it or worn it in the past six months, and we don't need it right now, OUT IT GOES. Yesterday I shipped a bunch of clothes back to Vermont, and Eleanor has another pile of outgrown kids' clothes to donate to the nearest charity.
One little thing that made a lot of difference was to remove all the DVD movies from their original cases and put them in a zippered disc case. The empty cases got shipped back to Vermont, freeing up nearly an entire overhead locker for other things.
This morning I took the Nissan over to the local dealer for brake service. We had developed a "brake judder" (a well documented problem for some Titans and Armadas). There was a Service Bulletin issued by Nissan on this problem, so it wasn't a big deal. The dealer fixed it by replacing the front rotors and pads with a special new set, and replacing the rear pads as well. Now the Armada stops like new -- smooth and sure.
Doug Dukane, fellow Airstream full-timer
This afternoon we were pleased to receive fellow Airstream full-timer Doug Dukane, who we haven't seen in two years. Doug, his wife, and his two-year-old daughter live in an Airstream Classic 30, criss-crossing the country while he works on photographic assignments. Doug also contributes to Airstream Life magazine, and you'll see some of his photos in the upcoming Spring issue.
We compared notes on the full-timing experience. It was absolutely amazing how similar our experiences had been. Like us, Doug feels no sensation of time passing while he is traveling and he is sorry that their trip is winding down. They're building a home in Golden CO to use as a "lock & leave" base starting later this year. After that, they'll only travel in the Airstream a few months each year.
We still have a few more refitting tasks to do before we leave on Monday, so I may blow them off in favor of some touristy stuff tomorrow. The weather continues to be gorgeous in Tampa and there's so much more to see!
Given this big chunk of time we are parked in Tampa, we are taking the opportunity to make many improvements for our next voyage. I've already documented a few of those in the earlier "Tweaking" posts. Yesterday, we moved from the mechanical improvements to cosmetic ones, with the purchase of new bedding.
It might seem like a minor thing, but in the small space of a trailer on an extended trip, you want everything in the space to be functional, compact, and if possible, attractive. Our previous comforter was an orange-and-pink nightmare (visible in an earlier post). Eleanor bought it for Emma's bed months ago, and somehow we ended up with it. We've since replaced it with something we like: warm, "poofy", and even more functional. It can be layered for cold nights and stripped down to a light blanket for warm nights, and still look good.
Emma, being a kid, wanted lots of bright colors. She got a mixed set of practically fluorescent sheets, blankets, and pillow cases (plus the aforementioned hideous comforter), and she loves it. It is so bright back there it practically glows.
The point is simply that you need to go with what works for you. Make the space your own whether you are in there for a weekend or a year. An Airstream is like a blank canvas in some ways. There are no rules about how you should decorate it, and that means we all get to enjoy a lot of artistic license, doing things we might not risk in the primary residence.
A few other preparatory items for our next adventures: I got a short haircut which Eleanor says she likes (that's a miracle), the Nissan is going in for some minor service tomorrow to correct a shuddering when braking, and I've almost completed buying components for our new bike rack. We expect to meet up with another Airstreamer tomorrow too, our friend Doug Dukane. He's another full-timer with small child, so I'm looking forward to comparing notes.
Hoping to repeat our dinner feast back in Austin TX, when we visited Whole Foods Market, we dropped in on a place here in Tampa called Wild Oats.
It was not nearly as large or fun as Whole Foods Market, but we still found a lot of great goodies for dinner, and laid them out here for you to see.
Our smorgasbord tonight. Click for larger view.
OK, from top center going clockwise: Emma's pepperoni pizza slice, a combination tray of sushi (with tuna and salmon) for Rich, croissants, a slice of fig almond cake, miso soup, dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice), sushi for Eleanor (eel roll), calamari salad, salmon pate, Australian blue cheese. In the center of the table, cornichons (little pickles), olives, onions, and more dolmas.
We never even got to the cheese, pate, or fig cake, and there were leftovers of most other things, so we'll have an interesting lunch tomorrow. Between tonight's shopping and other things we've had in restaurants lately, the 8-cubic foot refrigerator of our Airstream is stuffed full. I think I'll be eating leftovers for a few days, but I like that, so no problem!
Well, maybe a small problem... Last night I had leftover gyros from Tarpon Springs. I had to eat them because every time we opened the refrigerator, the entire trailer would smell like garlic. I may have to prioritize what gets eaten based on what smells the most.
Financial note: this three week stay in Tampa has been by far the most expensive part of our trip. Camping here is expensive: $39 per day at this campground, and other places near Bradenton and Sarasota cost up to $55 per day. We are paying a weekly rate of $220, so we've spent as much to stay here for three weeks as we spent in the first two months of our trip.
This would have really trashed the budget but the offset has been that we aren't spending money on fuel. Our propane bill has been $0 since we got here and our gas expense has been minimal. I'm glad we came and spent time with our friends in the area, but I wish we knew someone with courtesy parking. I'll be glad to get back to our cheapskate ways soon.
We're at it again -- modifying the Airstream for more convenience. Brett and I started off the day with a ride on the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, which is another converted rail trail not far from here. Tampa has some excellent bicycling! Even though this one is short, we got in a good ride, about 11 miles round trip.
This put us in the mood to drill holes in the Airstream. (Don't ask me why.) We met up with Eleanor and Emma at the local Steak'n'Shake and then proceeded to buy some hardware for the jobs we had in mind.
The first job was to install a level on the front of the trailer. For the past six months I've been levelling the trailer by eyeballing it, and it has worked well. But it seemed time to have the real thing. This is an easy item to install, so I didn't bother taking photos of the process. Basically, just level the trailer, drill holes, and screw the level on.
The second job was to put in a secret hiding place. Brett and I spotted the perfect place in the trailer last week, and today I rigged it up. I wish I could show it to you, but then it wouldn't be a secret would it? I'll just say that it is very hard to find, opens in a non-intuitive way, and big enough to hold our Passports and some cash. I feel good about having this available, just in case we ever have a break-in.
The third job was to install a bed lift. I got the idea from David Tidmore at Roger Williams Airstream, who has installed them for his customers. The Airstream bed sits on a plywood platform, which is screwed to a storage base. To access storage below the bed, you normally reach in through openings in the side of the storage base. But it would be much nicer to be able to just lift the bed up and access everything from the top.
To install the bed lift, we removed the screws attaching the plywood, added a long piano hinge, and then attached two automotive-type gas struts beneath. Now the bed can be lifted up off its base by anyone, with just one hand, and it stays up as long as you are accessing the storage area. Even Emma can do it!
We had a houseguest last night. My mother escorted Emma down from Vermont yesterday, and spent the night with us in the Airstream. She's only the second guest we've had overnight -- the first was back in Tucson when Andy visited. As before, it was no problem having a guest, but we've found that it takes a while for people to get used to the small space. We've learned how to move around without bumping into each other, and we've gained a sort of awareness of what other people are about to do before they do it. This allows us to move efficiently, but when a new person is added to the mix it gets a bit tricky, even humorous, as people crash into each other and say "Oh, excuse me!" a lot.
Today we needed something kid-friendly to do, so after dropping off my mother at the airport for her return flight home, we took in the Museum of Science and Industry. This one is great for little kids since it has an entire building filled with an exhibit called "Kids in Charge". It easily kept Emma (and us) occupied for a few hours. And once again, we got in free with our ASTC Travel Passport. Today's admission would have been about $56 for the three of us.
I hate to admit it, but we've been parked within a hundred feet of a heated pool in the beautiful Florida sunshine for nearly two weeks and we haven't gotten in the water yet. So tonight we all jumped in for a while before sunset. They keep the pool well at about 80 degrees, which is fine this time of year. In the photo above, you can just see an Airstream at the top. That's us.
A pool is one of our favorite modes of exercise. Emma always makes friends with the other kids too, and there are several here who are her age. I expect the pool will be a daily visit from here on in.
We are debating where to go from here. Right now the leading contenders are Hillsborough River State Park (not far off), and then Kissimmee for a visit to Sea World. We promised Emma she would see Sea World in San Diego and then we forgot ... so this would be a chance to make good on that promise. I'd also like to drop in on Blue Spring State Park, and perhaps some place in the Cape area on the east coast. Eventually I think we will work east to St Augustine and then up I-95 to the Region 3 Rally in Myrtle Beach.
For six months we have been taking photos of our travels, and posting many of them online in our photo album. (You can see them using the link in the left column that says "Pictures".) But until this week, we've never printed a single picture.
This week we selected 29 favorite photos and burned them to a CD. We dropped by Walgreens and printed six of them as a test, then framed them in some fun frames Eleanor picked up at various local stores. All of the prints are either 4x6 or 5x7, which are good sizes for mounting on the walls of an Airstream travel trailer.
The outside walls of our Airstream are lined with a white fuzzy material that velcro sticks to. Hanging pictures on those walls is easy: just use adhesive velcro strips on the pack of the frame. The interior walls are a woodgrain laminate. We use double-sided tape to stick frames to those walls.
The photos make a huge difference to the interior of the trailer. Now it's much more personalized. It feels homier. Emma walked in the door today -- back from Vermont -- and noticed all the photos immediately. These are the best souvenirs that we can have. Every day we'll be reminded of the great travels we've enjoyed. I expect we'll be printing more of the 29 photos I selected, in the next few weeks. There's plenty of wall space left!
Tonight is our last night before Emma returns. We decided to spend it exploring the "sponge docks" area of Tarpon Springs. In the early part of the 20th century this harbor was a thriving center of sponge diving activity, but in the 1940 and 50s a blight wiped out most of the sponges. Today, the sponge docks area survives as a tourist district.
Normally tourist districts are not our first choice, but this one has a special element which attracted us. The Greek families who were the mainstay of the sponge diving industry are still here, running restaurants and bakeries. We came for a walk, and some serious noshing.
Somewhere behind that hair is Eleanor ... (Click for larger image)
Sponges are everywhere here, even though I suspect many of them come from far far away now. You can't walk 50 feet without passing a display of sponges, a shop selling fancy local soaps, and then a few more sponges. One of the sponge shops hosts a free museum where you can learn much more about sponges and sponge diving than you ever wanted to know. Occasionally you'll see someone hand-rolling cigars, too.
But we didn't need any sponges, so we headed right into one of the restaurants for a Greek feast. Stuffed grape leaves, calamari, and gyros ... and the gyros were so big we had to get a take-away box for the leftovers. We also got a few fresh pita breads so we can make gyros sandwiches with the leftovers tomorrow.
She's still hiding behind that hair...
Then it was off to the bakery to get even more stuffed. Take your pick, there are several in town and all of them are good. Let's see, we got dark chocolate cake, baklava, and Eleanor got a special baklava with an apricot top and a tiny cup of Greek coffee. By this time, nobody wanted to move too quickly, so we hung out and watched a crowd of regulars -- nearly all of Greek descent -- show up around 9 pm for dessert and chat.
Tarpon Springs seems to come to life at night. Not so much on the street, but inside the restaurants and bakeries. It migrates from being a little tourist trap of sidewalk shops to a sociable late-night community of good food and good friends. It's a nice vibe and that made it a fun place to be.
Here's your sign of the week:
It has been a working day so we can't claim any grand adventures, but it has been a beautiful day anyway. The big thing has been that the new Airstream Life store is up and running! I'd appreciate it if you took a look at our early efforts. We'll be adding a lot more cool stuff to our virtual "shelves" over the next few weeks.
The store has been consuming a lot of my time over the past few months, so it is good to have it finally launched. While I've been here working out bugs with our programmer, Eleanor was out shopping for groceries, so I'm expecting a very nice dinner tonight. She said something about spicy chicken coconut curry. (She was watching the Food Network all the way back from Vermont on those seatback TVs Jet Blue has. Thank you Jet Blue!)
But dinner won't be ready for a couple of hours, so I'm going to head out with Brett and check out digital cameras at the local Best Buy. He dropped in this afternoon and brought his laptop & cell phone, so the two of us have been working from the dinette, both using the high-speed Internet from our campground. (I think he is realizing that he can work from his motorhome several days a week if he wants to. More and more people are able to do it.)
Both of us at work at 5:30 pm on a sunny Tampa afternoon
It has been a very pleasant day, working with the Airstream's door open and the Fantastic Vents humming. It has been sunny, around 80 degrees, bug-free, with a light breeze all day. I feel so productive when things are quiet and beautiful like this. Offices depress me, so this is the way I want to work for as long as I can.
Now, with the working day done, we're ready to go browse gadgets and then come back to Eleanor's Indian food. Not bad!
Another beautiful day in Tampa! Eleanor and I had needed to catch up on some work today, but by afternoon we were able to relax a bit and enjoy the nice weather. At 6:30, we met up with Barry and Susan for a special night out at a local sushi restaurant.
Susan and Barry in Barry's Miata. Click for larger version
First of course, we had to give Susan a quick tour of the Airstream. Like nearly everyone, she was a bit curious about how we live. But a tour of an Airstream takes only a few minutes if you don't get into rivethead talk, and besides, we were hungry.
Now, the special thing about tonight was that Susan speaks Japanese and knows what the heck everything on the menu is. She goes out to this place every week or two. We sat back and let her order. And of course, since she did it in Japanese, we had no idea what was coming.
Only half of the feast! Click for larger.
But we weren't worried. We like to try new things and it was all great. Salad, miso soup, squid, sushi, tempura, yellowtail "shoulder", two types of tofu, rice ... yum .... It was a great dinner.
We tried to get some dessert at the Panera Bread nearby but they closed at 9. We actually ended up at Border's bookstore, huddled in the corner among some books slurping coffees and iced chai. I regaled Barry and Susan with tales of towing through the desert, the redwoods, and a couple of tight car washes. They tolerated me for quite a while before we all called it a night. It was what I hope will be the first of a lot of lovely warm evenings in Tampa.
Now, before I launch into this diatribe about what tools I carry, I will tell you what I know you all want to hear: Eleanor arrived this afternoon, feeling fine. So 2/3 of our Tour family is back together. Emma will follow on Friday.
What I really want to talk about is tools. People often ask us what we carry with us to deal with those little household repairs and roadside situations that can crop up. I composed a list of what I carry in the trailer for your general info. While I can't promise that this tool kit will deal with every emergency that could happen, it does suffice for 90% of what we encounter -- and the rest I leave to professionals.
In a small blue fabric bag from Sears, I have the following items:
-- small hammer
-- screwdriver set
-- drill bits and screwdriver bits for cordless drill
-- tape: electrical, duct, & masking
-- Gorilla glue
-- (2) medium sized adjustable wrenches
-- Reese hitch lube
-- 3M silicone lube and graphite lube
-- set of allen wrenches
-- retractable safety knife ("carpet knife")
-- small wire cutter/stripper tool
-- plenty of misc screws, washers, and grommets
-- one small bungee cord
-- rivet tool
-- small tube of Parbond, aluminum color
-- small tube of GE Silicone II sealant, white, for kitchen and bath area
-- assortment of "bullet hole" stickers
-- a small plastic "tackle box" or similar with internal compartments, with:
spare 1156 bulbs, glass fuses of varying amperage, several large cotter pins, single-sided razor blades, misc screws, several hose washers, 3/16" POP rivets, Olympic rivets, mini 10w Halogen bulbs for the reading lamps, extra 303 Protectant samples for the Fantastic Vents (keeps 'em from sticking), automotive blade-style fuses (various sizes, open your Magnatek to see which ones you need).
I have used almost everything on the above list in the past year. No kidding! Things loosen, jiggle free, crack, and pop in thousands of miles of travel. With this kit you can fix almost any small problem without assistance. Without a kit like this, you could spend a lot of time visiting repair shops for little things, when you'd rather be having fun. And even if nothing goes wrong, the kit is useful for those little upgrades and personalizations you'll want to do.
Also strongly recommended:
-- cheap 12v air compressor with a looooong cord
-- lug wrench (and be sure you have a spare tire and know how to change it, or you'll end up waiting hours for roadside assistance someday!)
-- cordless drill -- very handy for setting stabilizers with appropriate socket and adapter
There are many other pieces of equipment you'll want to have, but I'm only including the tools and parts here. Obviously you need extension cords, chocks, etc., but I'm assuming if you own an RV already you've figured that stuff out.
Today was my last full day of bachelorhood. Eleanor comes back Monday afternoon. (Emma will stay in Vermont a few more days with her grandparents.) And while I'm looking forward to see Eleanor, it was a great last day for me.
Florida is warming up into the 80s every day now, with endless sunshine and palm trees waving in the breeze. I took care of some business online and via phone in the morning, and then decided it was just the right sort of day for a bike ride.
Our campsite. Click for a larger image!
So I called up Brett and we headed out to the Pinellas Trail, a rails-to-trails bikeway that runs north-south along the coast. I've taken the old bike rack off the Armada because I got sick of it and sold it on eBay (that's another story that I'll explain later, but in short we do have a solution to the bike problem). But without anyone else in the car it was a simple matter to toss the bikes in the back and head over to Tarpon Springs, just a few miles away.
I recommend the bike path. You'll see some older "historic" downtowns, and there are plenty of opportunities to cut over a couple of blocks to the waterfront. The trail itself is mostly scenic and very easy to ride. We took it about 11 miles south before turning back. And we stopped for ice cream TWICE, so you know it was a nice day.
I've spotted enough things to do in this area that I think we will stay here two more weeks. There are 2-3 parks to check out, some nature trails, the Clearwater beaches, several interesting restaurants, and a couple more old downtown districts. Plus, Brett has promised to teach me how to swing a golf club some evening soon.
Tomorrow I've got to finish getting this trailer cleaned up for Eleanor's return. I am trying to make her homecoming as pleasant as possible. This is the first time we will have been without a child since we launched our trip last October. It should be a fun week!
After a long week at work, Brett, Barry, and I decided to relax with a visit to Ybor City today.
"Ybor?", you say. "That looks like a typo."
No, Ybor City is a historic district of Tampa, where the cigars were (and continue to be) rolled by hand. Today Ybor City is a tourist district, but plenty of the original town still exists in the form of old tobacco workers' homes, cigar factories, and museums. At night, the main street turns into a facsimile of New Orleans' Bourbon Street, with bars and nightlife.
My two bachelor friends showed up at the trailer this morning, ready to cruise. (That's Barry on the left, and Brett on the right. Brett is not sneering, he's squinting because of the bright sun.) Now, technically I'm not a bachelor but I'm solo this week and that's close enough. So we piled into Brett's convertible and hit the open road ...
... with a stop along the way. The battery was useless. We had to jump start it, so our first destination was an auto parts store for a fresh battery, which Brett installed in the parking lot in about three minutes.
Ybor City is accessible by trolley car from downtown Tampa, but most people just drive right to Ybor and park there. Still, the trolley is a fun ride and worth the short roundtrip if you enjoy historic streetcars like I do.
Cigars are still made by hand all over Ybor. If you want to see how it is done, just walk into any one of the shops and ask. Most will do a demonstration while you watch, for free. If you want to take a lot of pictures like I did, a tip is appreciated.
Lily made about six cigars while I watched, about one every minute. Her hands were so fast and skilled that I had trouble seeing some of the things she did. Even at 1/100th of a second, her hands were blurred in some of my photos.
After a few visits, we dropped in on the Cuban restaurant, the Colombia. Although this restaurant now has six locations all over Florida, this is the original one, and the best. It now spans the entire city block, and it was very busy even at 2 pm. The waiters wear formal black and white, the menu includes filet mignon for lunch, but you can still pick up a Cuban sandwich for $6.95 if you want.
I can also recommend the local historical museum (small but interesting) and just browsing the architecture and historical markers around town. Ybor City has a reputation of being a spot for nightlife, but for those who value the past, it's a fascinating place to visit any time of day.
I've uploaded a few more photos from Ybor City to the Flickr album. Click our "Pictures" link to see them.