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Archive for April, 2006

Kissimmee, FL

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.

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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!

Easter Day & Trip Planning

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.)

Tampa eggs.jpg
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 “”. 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.

Tampa bananas foster.jpg
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!

Ted Peters Smoked Fish

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.

Clearwater traffic.jpg

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.

Tampa Teds ext.jpg

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.

Tampa Teds Smoked.jpg

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.

Prepping the Nissan

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.

Tampa microfilter.jpg
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.

Safety Harbor

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.

Tampa pool diving.jpg

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.

Tampa Safety Harbor.jpg

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.

Refitting the Ship

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.

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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.

Tampa MBR.jpg

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.

Tampa Emmas BR.jpg

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.

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