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Manatee Springs State Park, Chiefland FL

We had a sense that it was a shame to leave St Andrews after only three nights. As Susan said, “I feel like I could spend two weeks here.” It really deserves its reputation as a great place. We’d just barely scratched the surface with the boating and bicycling, and a few hours on the beach, although I wonder if we’d have liked it half as much during Spring Break season.

Getting out of the park we encountered a “dump station delay,” which happens once in a while. Most of the time a stop at the dump station is a brief event, but at popular campgrounds you can get stuck in a line. This time the line was two Class A motorhomes ahead of us. They take longer at the station because of their much larger tanks, but in this case the first guy in line was one of those extremely meticulous types who takes 15-20 minutes to do the job.

After an extraordinary procedure which I won’t go into, he loaded his sewer hose into a plastic basket and proceeded to wash the outside of the hose. I’ve never seen that one before. I have to admit that the hose looked like new, but I’m not sure why that is important. Then the next Class A rolled up and a guy got out at such a slow speed that he should be careful not to get run over by a glacier. We decided we didn’t need to dump that badly, and headed out.

There are two ways to get from Panama City to Tampa. You can head north to I-10 and drive through Tallahassee, or you can take the scenic (and shorter distance) route of Rt 98 following Florida’s Big Bend. We opted for the scenic route and got rewarded by nice views, a bit of construction delay, and better fuel economy. The latter was important since fuel in that area is currently running $3.69 per gallon.

We’re going to have to think carefully about our routing going forward. Highways with high speed limits (as in the western states) are bad for our fuel economy. We do better taking the slow roads, even with the occasional stop sign and traffic light. Anything over 65 MPH dings our fuel bill pretty badly.

The only time we were in Manatee Springs State Park (29 °29’19.55″N     82 °58’34.98″W) was two years ago when Eleanor was having a massive migraine. We stopped for a few hours in the afternoon to let her sleep, but didn’t camp there. Eleanor doesn’t remember the visit, so I wanted to give us all a chance to recapture the place in a healthy moment, and for me, replace that grim memory with some nice ones.

The park features a first-magnitude freshwater spring that runs into the Suwannee River. In the colder months, manatees swim upstream to this spring and others like it in Florida to escape the cold seawater, and so you can easily spot them here. April, however, is the end of the manatee season and during this visit we didn’t see any.

Instead, the water was alive with mullet, placidly floating in the crystal-clear water and facing upstream like a football team awaiting the kickoff. The mullet jump out of the water at random and clear often clear it by a foot or two, which is fun to watch. Sturgeon are also found here, but not during our visit, and deer were as plentiful as squirrels.


This morning we dragged Emma out of bed (an hour earlier than she was ready for, because we crossed into Eastern Time yesterday), and Adam, Emma, and I all climbed into the 72 degree water at the headwaters of the spring for a morning snorkel. I can recommend this practice. There’s nothing like a swim in the morning to start off a great day. Of course, a wetsuit makes the water a lot more pleasant.

Perhaps having a serene feeling helped me deal with what came next. Just a few miles from the campground, our brake controller stopped working. I touched the brakes and that reassuring tug from the trailer wasn’t there. Then I stepped harder on the brakes and felt the trailer pushing against us as we drifted to a stop at the red light.

Those of you who have followed this blog can probably appreciate my feeling when I realized, in traffic, that we had once again lost our brakes. This time it was not on a downhill ramp in the rain, but the feeling of “omygodherewegoagain” certainly was overwhelming all the same. I flashed back to the last time, in Oregon, when the brake actuator suddenly died, and how we ended up waiting for days for a replacement unit to be shipped in, and then dealt with brake bleeding aggravation for days afterward.

We radioed Adam and Susan, who were behind us, and pulled over in the next available dirt lot for an inspection. I checked all the obvious culprits: trailer umbilical connection, corrosion on the contacts, fluid level on the actuator, wire connections to the actuator, fuses, but everything was fine. So I called up Actibrake’s tech support and asked for help, fearing the worst. Being Friday, I could just see us parked at the nearest campground for the next four days awaiting a replacement unit again.

Fortunately, Mike Adamietz of Active Technologies was a real pro, and very calm. (I was trying not to get really upset, but I’m sure some of my stress leaked through the phone.) He ran through the troubleshooting checklist, but I had checked everything on it already, except the last item. The unit was making a light “thump” sound every few seconds for a minute or two after we stopped. Mike recognized this as a possible low-voltage condition and asked me to check the trailer ground wire.

I had never looked at our ground wire, even though it is located out in the open in front of the trailer. This is the ground for everything in the trailer’s 12v system. Since the other 12-volt appliances in the trailer worked fine, I had not considered it, but it turns out that the actuator pulls a hefty 15-20 amps, and so a corroded ground can affect it before anything else appears awry.

Sure enough, simply by removing the ground wire, brushing it briefly with copper wool, and replacing it, the problem was solved. I can’t begin to describe my relief. I was also grateful to have a pair of supportive friends behind us (along with the ever-supportive family), and glad that Mike was right there to help us over the phone. So with that, we proceeded down the road to Tampa, with that reassuring disc braking feeling once again.

The ground wire is such an easy maintenance item and so important that Eleanor and I shot an instructional video on it, and posted it on the Airstream Life media community. You can see it here.

83 Responses to “Manatee Springs State Park, Chiefland FL”

  1. Danine Says:

    My cousin, Shannon, who is spending 6 months on the road in a pop-up is at Manatee Springs right now, too! She has two dogs and I think she’s driving a Ford Escape with Virginia tags!

  2. Jim Breitinger Says:

    Florida! Holy smoke Airstreamlife Man.

    You’ve gone a long way.

    I was in Tucson yesterday and today for the Arizona Board of Regents meeting. It was an empty town without you guys.

  3. Wymer Says:

    Just missed you. I was three miles down river at Yellow Jacket Campground with my A/S for a week. We kayaked up to Manatee on Tuesday. It was a great trip. We returned home to Central Florida on Wednesday. Where & when will you land in Orlando? Would love to meet up with you all.

    Alice W.

  4. jay and Cherie Guerin (Antique Pedalers) Says:


    I notice you haven’t mentioned greasing and servicing your wheel bearings lately. I bring this up as on our way back to Cheyenne from our winter in Arizona we stopped in at the Salt Lake City dealer to have ours attended to. The AS is 18 months old, now, with 11,200 miles. The tech who did the servicing said the seals were just starting to leak, but there was no wear to the bearings and timing was about right to do the servicing. He noted that if we were to do a lot of hot summer driving then servicing at about 6,000 miles would be needed.

    So how about a narrative on your experience with bearing maintenance.

  5. Rich Says:

    Hi Jay and Cherie.

    I checked our maintenance records and found we had the bearings re-packed at Airstream last September, when we also had the axles aligned. That was after about 15k miles. The previous re-pack was when we had the disc brakes installed in early 2006, about 20k miles earlier.

    We plan to have wheel bearing service done annually, which for us this year will be about 10-12k miles.

    — Rich