Lower Michigan (May 27 – June 15, 2021)

On Thursday, May 27th, we got an early start and drove 190 miles from Elkhart, IN to Ludington, MI where we spent five nights at Poncho’s Pond RV Park.  We set up in a light drizzle but managed to get finished before the heavier rain began.  The campground was very attractive and our site was on the edge of a large pond.  However, our pad was quite narrow and not long enough to accommodate all our vehicles.  Since the campground rules prohibited parking on the grass, we needed to remove the bikes and bike rack so our car wouldn’t be sticking out into the road.

The weather for the entire Memorial Day weekend was quite cool.  The highs for our first three days never got above 60 degrees and Memorial Day itself was only slightly warmer. On Saturday, we drove to Ludington State Park on the edge of Lake Michigan.  We hiked 4.5-miles out-and-back on the Lighthouse Trail.  The trail first took us to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1867 after 12 ships had wrecked in the area in 1855.  On our return, we climbed the dunes at the site of a shipwreck and the former site of a station of the U.S. Life-Saving Service.  Unfortunately, there were no remains to be seen.

That evening we drove to the edge of Lake Michigan and watched the sunset.

On Sunday, we returned to Ludington State Park and hiked the 2.5-mile Lost Lake and Island Loop Trail.  This loop trail took us around the circumference of Lost Lake, with us hiking along Hamlin Lake on the return.

Monday was Memorial Day.  We returned to Ludington State Park for the third day and hiked the 2.3-mile Skyline Trail.  The middle of this loop hike involved climbing over 200 stairs to the top of a sand dune that provided a view of Lake Michigan.  The trail ended at the Hamlin Dam which feeds the Sable River.

We then drove back into Ludington and hiked along the Ludington North breakwater to a lighthouse, a distance of one-half mile in each direction.  We were glad the waves were not as strong as we had observed in previous days and we managed to walk the breakwater without getting wet,

On Tuesday, June 1st, we moved northerly to Traverse City, MI.  With only an 82-mile drive from Ludington and check-in not allowed until 2 pm, we had a leisurely morning and departed at 12:30.  Although our starting and ending points were both on US-31, the GPS took us on a rather circuitous route.  We arrived at Holiday Park Campground at 2:30 for our weeklong stay and found that our area of the campground was largely devoid of other campers.  We expect that to change on the weekend.

On Wednesday, we drove to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Lake Michigan and the giant dunes were formed 14,000 years ago when the glaciers receded.  Over time, forests have developed in much of the area.  After a brief stop at the Visitors Center, we drove the 7-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and got out to explore at several of the stops.  One of the stops provided a 450-foot steep climb down a dune to Lake Michigan.  There was a warning sign stating that a rescue from the slope would cost $3,000 so we just watched from an overlook as some of the younger, and more adventurous, climbers took the challenge.

Our next stop was at the Dune Climb.  We struggled in deep sand to get up the massive dunes and managed to get a view of Lake Michigan in the distance.  We decided not to attempt the entire Dune Climb Trail, which would have entailed walking four miles in the deep sand. 

After a stop in Glen Arbor for some ice cream treats, we hiked the 2.9-mile Good Harbor Bay Trail.  This loop trail took us through thick forests and a swamp.

On Thursday, we drove to Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, MI.  This state park is one of the largest in Lower Michigan.  It is named for its 49 acres of old-growth pine forest, some of the last remaining in the state.  After exploring the displays at the Visitor Center, we walked along a path through the old-growth forest.  We stopped at the Chapel in the Pines, built in 1953.

We then toured the Logging Museum, with its depiction of the state’s 19th-century logging era, when Michigan led the nation in sawed lumber production.

We then did a scenic drive on dirt roads that wound through the forest.  After the drive, we hiked the 3.3-mile Ausable River Foot Trail.

On Friday, we started our day at the Blue Vase Book Exchange in Interlochen, MI.  This bookstore operates with a unique business model, selling used books, DVDs, games, and vinyl records.  In addition to selling books online, they allow customers to bring in their gently loved books and exchange them for different ones.  Generally, they give one half the store value in credit that can be used to buy books from their very large inventory.  We took in ten books we had finished and left with ten new-to-us books.

Next, we drove to downtown Traverse City and spent time exploring the East Front Street shopping district.  We stopped for lunch at a collection of food trucks.  After checking our a few stores, we wandered down to the marina on West Grand Traverse Bay.  Before leaving downtown, we stopped at the Grand Traverse Pie Company and bought a peach pie.  Our final stop of the day was at Walgreens, where Phil got his second dose of the Shingrix vaccine.

On Saturday, we visited The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, on the grounds of the former Traverse City State Hospital (previously known as the Northern Michigan Asylum).  After visiting several of the shops, we took a two-hour guided tour of the hospital.  Our tour guide, Vanessa, had grown up at the facility as the son (then named Ben) of the hospital’s Superintendent and as a part-time employee in the Maintenance department.  She shared a lot of amusing and sad stories about life at the hospital and her interactions with the patients and staff.  We learned a lot about the history of the hospital and its approach to dealing with mental health issues.  Our tour included visits into the former chapel (now a reception hall), one of the unrenovated buildings and a walk through the brick steam tunnel built in 1883.

Construction of the Northern Michigan Asylum began in 1882. In spite of a time of hand tools and mule power, the immense task of constructing the huge hospital took less than three years to complete. By November of 1885, it received its first patients. The main structure (Building 50) was almost one quarter mile long, with over 300,000 square feet, and employed central heat and electric lights. With a rudimentary understanding of germ theory, a state-of-the-art ventilation system was designed that would use large fans to force air through underground tunnels, into the basement and up flues in the building. Almost immediately after completion of the original building, there was demand for additional patient rooms. Standalone cottages were constructed to serve the increasing patient population. 

The Northern Michigan Asylum was built more than six decades before the use of the first psychiatric drugs. Founding Superintendent Dr. Munson believed in the Quakers’ moral treatment movement. Central to this belief was Dr. Munson’s philosophy that “Beauty is Therapy.” If patients were surrounded by a beautiful environment, from the architecture to the campus grounds, their emotional and mental state would be uplifted. Dr. Munson made an effort to ensure that patients felt at home, rather than trapped in an unfamiliar place. Each patient room had a window and view to the outside. This let in an abundance of natural light and allowed every patient the opportunity to enjoy a view of the campus.  Use of physical restraints was forbidden, except for the most extreme patient situations. Meals at the hospital were served in dining rooms on fine china, atop white linen tablecloths. Fresh flowers and plants decorated dining tables and resting areas. Artwork and inspirational sayings adorned the walls of the wide hallways.

By 1966, the hospital population hit its peak with 3,600 patients and 800 employees.  However, as the patient population dropped in the 1970s-1990s, some of the buildings were shuttered or demolished.  The state and community debated the preservation or demolition of the facility.  In 2002, the Minervini Group LLC acquired a 36-acre parcel and renovation began.  Today, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons contains offices, residential lofts, a senior living facility, and numerous shopping and dining establishments.  Numerous events are held on the grounds throughout the year.  Renovation of the outbuildings is still a work in progress.

Following our tour, we had a late lunch at the Red Spire Brunch House in the lower level of the former hospital.

On Sunday, we headed to the farmers’ market in Interlochen.  Although there were a lot of vendors, it must have been too early in the year for vegetables and we left empty-handed.  However, we did stop at the Blue Vase Book Exchange again and left with another ten books.  We should now have enough reading material to last us quite a while.

On Tuesday, June 8th, we drove 120 miles to Mackinaw City, MI where we will spend a week at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.  We had expected to take I-75 most of the way but the GPS had a different idea.  We drove almost the entire trip on US-31, which took us along Lake Michigan and by a number of beautiful lakes.  It was a longer trip, timewise, but definitely more picturesque.  Our campsite was a large pull-through with plenty of privacy.  Although not on the water, we could see Lake Huron a short distance from our site.  A beach with a clear view of the Mackinac Bridge was only a short walk away from us. 

Unfortunately, halfway through the trip, Phil’s truck started giving him a message of “DEF System Service – See Dealer.”  DEF is the acronym for Diesel Exhaust Fluid and can create a serious problem for a diesel truck.  If unresolved, the truck will be limited to driving at 5 mph.  In fact, as Phil continued to drive, the truck messages began to display more ominous messages, beginning with “5 mph in 150 miles” and counting down from there.  Upon arriving at our campsite, Phil found that the closest RAM dealer was in Cheboygan, 14 miles away.  We drove the truck to the dealer and hope the issue can be resolved within a few days.  We were fortunate that the issue arose when we were still close to a large town.

After leaving Cheboygan, we explored downtown Mackinaw City.  We selected Noona Lisa’s Italian Ristorante for dinner.

On Wednesday, we drove to Wilderness State Park and hiked the North Country Trail Sturgeon Bay South Loop.  When we arrived in the parking lot at the trail’s geo-coordinates, we only found one trailhead and began down that trail.  After a mile, Phil checked our progress against the Alltrails app and discovered we had headed north when we were supposed to go south.  We backtracked and discovered the correct trailhead was across the road from the parking area.  The first half of the hike wasn’t really a trail at all.  Instead, it was a pleasant stroll alone the shore of Sturgeon Bay.  The return portion of the loop involved many fairly steep ascents and descents.  It was rated as moderate difficulty and reminded us of the moderate trails we had hiked in Maine. We ended the hike with a total of 7.6 miles.

On Thursday, we took the Star Link Ferry to Mackinac Island.  Our ferry was one of the few that included a route under the Mackinac Bridge.  The trip to Mackinac Island took about 40 minutes. 

Mackinac Island was first settled by Europeans in 1670.  The island was owned by the French, British and Americans over the next 150 years.  In the 1820s, the island was the center of a large fur trade.  By the late 1830s, commercial fishing was the primary industry.  Following the Civil War, the island became a popular tourist destination. Mackinac National Park was created in 1875 as America’s second national park, just three years after Yellowstone.  In 1895, the Federal government transferred the national park to the state of Michigan.  Three years later, the first automobile appeared on Mackinac Island, frightening horses and threatening the island’s carriage trade economy.  After receiving a petition from the tour operators, the village council quickly banned “horseless carriages.”  To this day, no motor vehicles are allowed on the island.  Tourists and residents alike must rely entirely on horse-drawn carriages and bicycles to get around on the island. 

Upon arrival, we strolled down Main Street and purchased some fudge at Murdick Fudge.  We continued our stroll along the bay, before stopping at the Grand Hotel.  This beautiful hotel was built in 1887 and still demands huge room rates.  In fact, we were charged $10 a piece simply to tour the hotel and grounds. 

After leaving the hotel, we strolled along Market Street.  Lilac bushes were everywhere and were in full bloom.  Their aroma helped to offset the ever-present scent of horse droppings.  We then returned to Main Street for lunch and, after checking the menus at numerous restaurants, we dined at Horn’s Gaslight Bar.  Following lunch, we visited a lot of shops on Main Street.  By mid-afternoon, the weather had gotten quite cool, with strong winds and a temperature of 62 degrees.  Phil gave into the chill and purchased a sweatshirt.  We also picked up another chunk of fudge at Murdick’s.  After some additional sightseeing and a brief stop in the Sainte Anne Church, we boarded the 5 pm ferry for our return to Mackinaw City.  There was still a lot we hadn’t see on the island but we decided to make a return trip later in our stay.

Friday was a rainy and dreary day so we stayed indoors most of the day.  At 5 pm, Phil finally heard from the service manager at the Dodge dealer that the truck was ready to be picked up.  Since the service department was closing and we were only 15 miles away, Phil asked the service manager to just put the key in the truck’s console and leave the truck unlocked.  However, when we arrived in Cheboygan, the truck was locked.  After dinner, Phil located the spare key and we returned to the dealership to retrieve the truck.

On Saturday, we explored downtown Mackinaw City.  As we arrived, we discovered a large event happening in the local park.  We later learned that the 1st annual Mackinaw City Motorcycle Rally was being held this weekend.  There were well over 1,000 motorcycles in town and bikers were everywhere we went.  Our first stop was at Michilimackanac (Mackinaw’s original name) State Park.  This was Michigan’s second state park and is home to two historic sites, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Colonial Michilimackinac.  The park provides a great view of Mackinac Bridge, where the motorcycle rally had scheduled a parade over and back.  Unfortunately, due to a fatal motorcycle accident, traffic across the bridge was backed up for hours.  Due to the gridlock of bridge traffic, we were unable to get across town to see the McGulpin Point Lighthouse.

Our next stop was the Mackinac Bridge Museum, which is on the second floor of Mama Mia’s Pizzeria.  In addition to lots of artifacts from the bridge construction in 1954-1957, we watched videotaped interviews with ironworkers who had worked on the project.  The Mackinac Bridge is part of Interstate-75 and connects the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan.  The bridge is five miles long and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.  The bridge, known as “Big Mac” or “Mighty Mac,” is designed to withstand crushing ice and winds up to 150 mph.

After visiting a few downtown shops, we stopped at Dixie Saloon for a not-so-healthy mid-afternoon snack of fried cheese curds.

On the Road to Michigan (May 10 – 27, 2021)

On Monday, May 10th, we left Kerrville, TX and began our trip northward.  We drove 211 miles and spent the night at the I-35 RV Park in Elm Mott, TX (near Waco).  The weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms and very heavy rainfall to begin Tuesday morning so we got an early start.  Fortunately, the storm held off until we completed our 265-mile drive to the Shady Pines RV Park in Texarkana, TN.  We managed to get set up and settled safely indoors when the heavy rains came.

After a stormy Tuesday evening, Wednesday was a lovely day.  We decided to stop at Bringle Lake Park to get some exercise.  Although we hadn’t prepared to hike the full 7-mile loop wilderness trail around the lake, we did walk 2.2 miles in one direction and then returned the way we had come.  The rain had left the trail swampy in places but we were able to skirt the worst of it and didn’t get too muddy.  Part of the trail had been designated Gnomington Forest.  In this section, there were numerous little doors at the bottom of trees.  We looked into some of these doors but did not spot any gnomes.

On Thursday, we drove 235 miles to Delta Ridge RV Park in Forrest City, AR.  On Friday, we drove 273 miles to Nashville, TN where we spent eight days at Seven Points COE Campground.  We had learned a few days earlier that the I-40 bridge we had planned to take across the Mississippi River at Memphis was closed.  A bridge inspector had discovered a large crack in the bridge and this section of I-40 was likely to be closed for months.  Our next-best option was to take the smaller I-55 bridge, despite the anticipated bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles leading to the bridge.  The owner of the Delta Ridge campground suggested an alternative route that took us through West Memphis, AR and allowed us to join I-55 much closer to the bridge, thus missing much of the tie-up.  We still had a bit of a delay but managed to arrive at Seven Points by 3:30 pm. 

On Saturday, May 15th, we picked up Jason and went to watch the Nashville Sounds play the Memphis Redbirds.  The Nashville Sounds are now the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.  We were surprised to learn that Christian Yelich was starting in left field for the Sounds.  Yelich is a two-time National League batting champion, the 2018 NL MVP and the 2019 NL MVP runner-up.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with the Sounds, before he returns to the Brewers.  We had great seats, on the club level close to home plate.  The beginning of the game was rather slow, with the pitchers for both teams struggling with control issues, and remained scoreless (and the Sounds hitless) through seven innings.  After that, the game got quite exciting and there were some spectacular defensive plays.  Memphis scored two runs in the top of the eighth but the Sounds got three in the bottom of the inning. Memphis tied the game in the ninth after the Nashville pitcher hit three batters.  The Sounds finally won the game with a two-out hit in the bottom of the tenth.  The game had lasted for 4.5 hours and many of the spectators around us had already left, but we stuck it out and were rewarded with a great ending.

On Sunday, Jan had lunch with her friends, Sheila and Michelle, and Sheila’s daughter, Ashley.

On Monday, we went to Franklin to the Mazda dealer for an oil change and to Discount Tire to get one of the tires inspected.  The tire had developed a slow leak over the previous few days.  The service tech found a nail in the tire and was able to patch it.  On Tuesday evening, we got together with Lizzi and her roommate, Amanda, for dinner at Las Palma.

On Friday, Jason took the day off from work and we had quite an adventure.  Our first stop was in East Nashville at Three Daughters Bakery.  We each had a 100-layer donut, which was flaky like a croissant but quite filling.  We then headed to the Regal Opry Mills where we watched the movie “Dream Horse.”  The film was based on a true story of a small-town bartender in Wales who convinces her neighbors to chip in to help breed a race horse, Dream.  The investment pays off as Dream becomes very successful and becomes a beacon of hope for the struggling community.  Our next stop was at Game Terminal, a warehouse in South Nashville with one of the largest selections of arcade games and pinball machines in the USA.  The arcade games were all free and the pinball machines cost $1 a game.  In addition, there was a large outdoor area with games such as cornhole, shuffleboard, ping pong and giant Connect Four.  Our final stop of the day was dinner at Gino’s East, one of our favorite pizza chains from our days in the Chicago area.  The weather was ideal for dining outside so we sat on the patio and enjoyed a deep-dish sausage patty pizza.

On Saturday, May 22nd, it was time to travel again.  We drove 260 miles to Nineveh, IN where we spent the night at the Johnson County Park Campground.  The office was closed when we arrived but the host met us and led us to our site.  The assigned site was a back-in but, when Phil asked for a pull-through, the host led us to a new site that looked like we were parking on a road.  Despite having taken us in the wrong direction so our hookups were on the wrong side, the site was adequate for one night and level enough so that we didn’t have to unhitch.

On Sunday, we drove 200 miles to Elkhart, IN where we spent four nights at Elkhart Campground. On Monday, we were hosted for dinner by Phil’s sister, Barb Anderson, and her husband, Dan.  We were joined by Phil’s niece, Emily Hall, her husband, Cody, and their one-year-old son, Wyatt.

On Tuesday morning, we drove to the DRV factory in Howe, IN to pick up some parts for our RV.  Although we were eventually able to get all five parts, it took considerably longer than expected.  The computer went down at the moment Phil arrived at the warehouse.  This, combined with the fact that their operation really wasn’t set up to have customers pick up parts in person, led to a lengthy wait.  When Phil finally received the parts, he discovered that one of the parts was not what he had requested and this led to a further delay.

When we finally got our parts, we headed to the flea market in Shipshewana.  With nearly 700 booths, this flea market claims to be the biggest in the Midwest.  It was a warm day but strong winds made it more tolerable, even if the winds did create havoc for many of the vendors.  We made a lot of purchases, largely of things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them.  After completing the circuit of booths, we headed across the parking lot to Yoder’s Meat and Cheese.  We loaded our cart with lots of fresh meat, cheese curds and other groceries. 

On Wednesday, we had dinner with Barb and Dan Anderson at Davinci’s Italian Family Restaurant.  The food was very good and the portions were so large that each couple was able to share an entrée.

Kerrville, TX Again (April 10 – May 10, 2021)

On Saturday, April 10th, we left Johnson City and drove 67 miles to Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville, TX.  This is at least our eighth stay at Buckhorn Lake Resort.  The purpose of our return was to take care of our annual doctor appointments and await warmer weather before beginning our travels north. Although it’s a very nice campground and Kerrville’s a nice town, we’ve pretty much exhausted the available attractions.

Shortly after getting set up, we drove to Walgreens and Jan got her COVID vaccination.  Jan was glad to be able to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine so she didn’t have to worry about scheduling a second injection. 

Phil attempted to play pickleball most mornings but, with some poor weather and the departure of many of the winter regulars, there were a lot of mornings when he was unable to play.  Jan walked every morning, often opting for the Louise Hays Park in town rather than having to make multiple laps around the campground.  Phil joined her on days with no pickleball.  We often spotted deer in the park who were relatively unfazed by the passerbys.

Monday, April 12th, was our 18th wedding anniversary.  We celebrated with dinner at Rails, Kerrville’s top-rated restaurant.

On Wednesday, we went to Bandera and had dinner at the 11st Street Cowboy Bar.  We took our own steak and Phil grilled it over one of the large pits.  We purchased sides of baked potato and salad.  We sat by the dance floor and spent the evening watching experienced country dancers demonstrate their skills.  We had hoped to have an opportunity to use our newly-learned line dancing moves but we were disappointed.  The only line dancing opportunity came when the band went on break and, even then, few people got up to line dance.  Phil did line dance to Copperhead Road but the few dancers all appeared to be on a different beat.  Later that evening, Phil attempted to Google local line dancing venues but saw comments such as “Texans don’t line dance” and “like disco, the line dancing craze died in the 1990’s.”

On Saturday, we went to the Fredericksburg Trade Days.  This is a massive flea market that is held for three days on the third weekend of each month.  We strolled around for a couple of hours and made a couple of purchases.  If there in truth in the saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” we saw lots of potential treasures for someone else.

On Wednesday, April 28th, Jan flew from San Antonio to Nashville to attend the wedding of Evan Gaskin, son of Sheila and David Gaskin, on May 1st.  After dropping Jan off at the San Antonio airport, Phil returned to our RV and sat through an evening of wild weather.  The forecast included a tornado watch and the threat of large hail.  Fortunately, the worst of the severe weather passed to both the east and west of Kerrville.  The town of Hondo, 50 miles due south of Kerrville, was hit with 80-110 mph winds and softball-sized hail that did a great deal of damage.  This was one of three hailstorms over Texas and Oklahoma that inflicted at least $1 billion damage combined.  Although spared any damage, we did experience very heavy rain that continued for most of the next 24 hours.

On Saturday, May 8th, we drove to Fredericksburg. We wanted to stock up on some of our favorite sauces from Rustlin’ Bob’s before we leave the area on Monday. Rustlin’ Bob’s is one of those stores where you can stroll up and down the aisles and sample the various products on crackers and pretzels.  We had last visited Rustlin’ Bob’s in June 2020 and, due to COVID, the store had been locked down and shopping had consisted of calling in our order and picking it up at the register.  This time, we were happy to see that life at Rustlin’ Bob’s had returned to normal and we were able to graze to our hearts’ content.

After leaving Rustlin’ Bob’s, we strolled down Main Street and visited a few more stores.  We then decided to drive to Luckenbach and listen to some live music.  We arrived in time to listen to a set of country and gospel songs by Weldon Henson and his band.  Weldon’s six-year-old daughter, Brea, joined in the performance and soloed and sang backup on a number of songs.

On the Road to Kerrville (April 1-10, 2021)

After waving goodbye to Phil’s fellow pickleball players, we departed our three-month home at Sunkissed Village and began our 10-day journey to Kerrville, TX.  Our first day consisted of a 294-mile drive, almost entirely on interstate highways.  After having been stationary for three months, the drive was rather tiring but uneventful.  We spent two nights at Outback Springs RV Resort in Bonifay, FL.  The weather turned significantly cooler, with daytime highs in the low-60’s and nighttime lows in the upper-30s.

On Friday, April 2nd, we drove 75 miles to Destin and spent a couple of hours exploring the Destin Harbor Boardwalk.  We strolled past lots of yachts and charter fishing boats.  We watched as the fishing boat crews cleaned their catches and threw the scraps to the awaiting pelicans.  When we grew hungry, we decided to stop for lunch at Brotula’s Seafood House. 

After lunch, we left Destin and drove about an hour along the Gulf to Panama City.  We parked at one of the beach access points and then strolled about 2 miles up and down the shore.  Although it was windy and cool, the bright sun made for a beautiful day.

On Saturday, we drove 286 miles to Mandeville, LA where we spent three nights at Fontainebleau State Park.  We had stayed at this state park several years earlier.  For that stay, we had gotten one of the very few full-hookup sites but it had been very challenging to get into and out of the C-shaped pull-through.  We had discovered some other pull-through sites that, at that time, appeared much easier to access but lacked a sewer hookup.  For this year’s stay. Phil selected one of these sites without a sewer hookup.  Although pulling into this year’s pull-through site was easier than the previous stay, getting to our site was no fun at all.  It was Easter weekend and the campground was mobbed.  In addition to having the campground full, there appeared to be many visitors.  Vehicles were parked everywhere and kids seemed oblivious to the traffic.  This made it very difficult to get up and down the roads.  To make matters worse, the park ranger had failed to tell Phil which road to take to have the hookups on the right side.  When we finally got within eyeshot of our site, Phil realized that he was going to have to get turned around.  This necessitated driving through the crowded streets again and making a couple of sharp turns.  One of the turns had us nearly going into a ditch and required having a kind Boy Scout leader move his van (twice!) so Phil could swing our rig wide enough to miss the ditch.  Jan was in the Mazda behind him and was able to watch the close calls and keep Phil informed over the cell phone.  We were happy to finally get set up in our site and, despite it being somewhat of a muddy mess, it was good enough for a few days. Unfortunately, we subsequently discovered that a board we rubbed up against while getting around the ditch damaged some of the fiberglass on our rig and it will need to be repaired.

On Easter Sunday, we drove across the 24-mile-long Mandeville Causeway into New Orleans.  Phil had booked parking in a garage near the French Quarter.  After parking our car on the 4th level, we didn’t see any elevator so we walked down a stairway that was dirty and somewhat scary.  When we reached ground level, Phil realized he had forgotten his mask so he had to return to the car.  The stairway we had come down did not open from the outside so Phil had to find another way.  His first attempt was another staircase but it went up about four levels before coming to a dead end.  After returning down those stairs, he decided to walk up one of the ramps.  Unfortunately, this ramp went all the way to the 7th floor, with no access to the lower floors.  Phil finally found the elevator and was able to get back to our car and then rejoin Jan on the ground level.

Fortunately, the parking garage was only a short distance from Evangeline, the restaurant where Jan had gotten us reservations for brunch.  Jan had learned that Easter brunch is a New Orleans tradition and had had to contact many restaurants before finding an opening at Evangeline.  We requested a seat in the courtyard and, with an umbrella over our table, the setting was ideal.  The food was delicious and the servers made sure that our Bottomless Mimosas remained bottomless.

After brunch, we went for a long walk through the French Quarter.  It was early afternoon on Easter and the French Quarter was appropriately sedate.  After we both achieved our 10,000 steps for the day, we splurged by ordering beignets at Café Du Monde.  These French doughnuts are coated with tons of powdered sugar, making for a messy but tasty treat.

In the fall of 2020, we had been experiencing a problem with our DirecTV signal freezing up.  We had called DirecTV several times for technical support but they had been unable to resolve the issue.  We really needed a service call but, because our account address is our Livingston, TX mailing address, DirecTV will only send a technician to us if we are in Livingston.  Since we had cable service at Sunkissed Village, we had suspended our DirecTV service for three months.  When we restored our DirecTV service at the end of March, we had technical issues and had to reset the connection to two of our TVs.  Somehow, this cleared up the problems we had been having.  Since we really had no other reason to return to Livingston, we cancelled our Livingston campground reservation (and service call) and altered our travel plans.

On Tuesday, April 6th, we drove 268 miles to Beaumont, TX where we spent the night at Hidden Lake RV Park.  This campground was quite a distance from town but was beautifully maintained.

On Wednesday, we drove 290 miles to Johnson City, TX where we spent three nights at Miller Creek RV Resort.  The drive took us along I-10 through the middle of Houston but, fortunately, we timed it so that we hit the city around 10:30 a.m. so it wasn’t too bad.  All but the last 60 miles were on I-10 and they went pretty smoothly, despite being boring.  However, the last part of the trip took us through a number of small towns and was more challenging.  Finding the campground was also a bit of a challenge and we were exhausted by the time we arrived.  The campground was about six miles south of Johnson City but was very comfortable and tidy.  We decided to go out for dinner but found that almost all of the local restaurants were closed in the evening.  We finally settled on El Agave Mexican Restaurant.  The food was only so-so but we were very hungry and just glad to have something to eat.

On Thursday, Phil took the Mazda and the truck to a local tire dealer to get our Texas vehicle inspections.  Texas law had allowed us to renew our registrations without inspections since we were out-of-state at the time but we were required to get the inspections done within three days of re-entering the state. We then drove into Johnson City and visited the boyhood home of Lyndon B. Johnson.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, the Visitors Center was closed and there were no tours of the home.  We were limited to walking around the grounds and peaking in through the windows.  LBJ’s parents had bought the home in 1913.  It was from the East porch of this house that Lyndon launched his first congressional campaign in 1937.

We then walked down a path to the Johnson Settlement where LBJ’s paternal grandparents had lived in a dogtrot cabin from 1867 – 1872.  We also viewed buildings that had been owned by other Johnson kin in the late 1800s, then spent some time communicating with a pair of Texas longhorns.

On Friday, we drove to Stonewall, TX and visited the LBJ Ranch unit of the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.  We began by visiting the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm.  This is an authentic working farm, where park interpreters dress in period costumes, demonstrating the lifestyles of a typical German Hill Country farm between 1915 and 1918.

We then drove across the Pedernales River and did a self-guided tour of the LBJ ranch.  Our first stop was at Junction School, a one-room school where four-year-old Lyndon began his formal education.  President Johnson returned to this schoolhouse in 1965 to sign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which redefined the Federal government’s role in America’s schools.

Next, we visited the nearby Johnson Family Cemetery where LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson were laid to rest, alongside generations of Johnsons.  Then, we walked around the site where LBJ was born in 1908.  The house was reconstructed in 1964 to closely resemble the original house and was used by the President as a guest house.  We also visited the farmhouse of Sam, Sr. and Eliza Johnson, LBJ’s grandparents.  We had seen their earlier home in the Johnson Settlement on Thursday.

The rest of the drive took us through huge pastures that were part of the LBJ Ranch.  Although it seemed like a large property, we learned that this was only one of nine of LBJ’s ranches and was not the largest. The drive ended at the ranch house which, during the Johnson Presidency, had been known as the Texas White House.  The Johnsons had purchased the house in 1951 and it was home for President and Lady Bird Johnson until their deaths in 1973 and 2007.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, tours of the house had been discontinued.

There is an airstrip nearby and we got to see a Lockheed Jetstar assigned to the White House fleet.  Since the airstrip could not support the weight of Air Force One, President Johnson used this smaller plane to travel to and from the ranch.  LBJ referred to it as “Air Force One-Half.”

That evening, we drove to Austin and had dinner at Hopdaddy Burger Bar with Caleb and Brittany Dickerson, Katie Schlegel and Michael Totty.  This was not your ordinary burger place.  We used our cell phones to order and pay for our meals, without ever leaving the table.  We each had a gourmet burger and we shared huge orders of Parmesan Truffle Fries and Hot Honey & Sage Sweet Potato Fries.  After dinner, we returned to the Dickersons’ abode and played a game of Mexican Train, before making the drive back to Johnson City.

Winter in Florida – Month 3 (March 1 – 31, 2021)

On Thursday, March 4th, we went to The Whispering Oaks Blues Fest at Whispering Oaks Winery in Oxford, FL.  Over the next three hours, we enjoyed three outstanding musical groups as they performed the blues.  First was Steve Arvey; then Memphis Lightning; and finally, Alex Lopez and The Xpress.  We sat at a table with a couple who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and who had lived in The Villages for 10 years.  We enjoyed flights of Whispering Oaks wines and dined on BBQ flatbread.

At the end of the evening, all three headliners appeared on stage together for an incredible jam session. We managed to capture most of it on video.

On Saturday evening, we had a mini-reunion with several friends from our Winter 2020 stay at Tropical Trails in Brownsville, TX.  Leslie Verhaeghe was in town visiting her stepmother, Diane.  We met Leslie and Diane, as well as Kenny and Becky Swisher, in Lake Panasoffkee for dinner at Catfish Johnny’s.  The food was very good and reasonably priced.  It was nice to get together once again with friends from a previous stop along our RV journeys. 

On Sunday, we went to Silver Springs State Park.  We began our day with a 90-minute cruise on a glass bottom boat along the Silver River.  The glass bottom boats showcase the crystal-clear springs and underwater life that inhabits Silver Springs.  Above the surface, we also viewed turtles, alligators, a manatee and a wide variety of birds.  The boat’s captain provided us with lots of information about the wildlife and the history of the river.

One of the stories we heard related to wild monkeys that live in the park.  In 1938, a tour boat operator attempted to create a tourist attraction by releasing six rhesus macaques, a monkey native to south and southeast Asia, on a small island.  Unbeknownst to the tour boat operator, rhesus macaques are strong swimmers and they escaped into the woods.  Replacement moneys were bought in but they also escaped the island.  The population has grown over the years and there are now hundreds of these monkeys in the park.  We did not see any monkeys on our boat cruise.  However, after lunch from a food truck and some exploration of the main part of the park, we headed over to another section and hiked the River Loop Trail.  As we walked along the river, we noticed some boaters on the river pointing to monkeys.  As we watched, we were able to see several of these monkeys frolicking on the opposite bank of the river.

On Wednesday, March 10th, we met Barb and Bobby Sanders for lunch at OakWood Express Smokehouse & Grill in Wildwood, FL.  We first met Barb and Bobby on our trip to Alaska in the summer of 2018.  It was great to catch up with these friends after all that time.

On Tuesday, March 16th, Phil was finally able to get his permanent crown installed.  He had gotten a temporary on February 11th but getting the permanent crown from the lab was delayed a couple of weeks by the freezing weather in Texas.

On Thursday, we addressed a minor leak that had been seeping from the base of our toilet.  Although the procedure Phil had watched on YouTube looked fairly easy, it didn’t turn out that way.  The first of the two nuts holding down the toilet came off easily.  However, the nut on the side between the toilet and the wall was rusted and very difficult to see, much less remove.  After we finally got the toilet out and had cleaned up the nastiness, replacing the seal and reinstalling the toilet was fairly easy. 

That evening, we drove to the Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages to enjoy the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.  We wandered around the square and watched several of the entertainers and checked out some of the booths.  We then managed to find seating in the center of the square and watched the musicians performing Irish songs.

On Saturday, March 20th, Phil participated in another pickleball tournament.  Unlike the earlier tournament, he was paired with strong partners and won all six games.  However, another camper (Mark) also won all six games.  As a result, Phil and Mark had to play a tiebreaker game.  Two of the other top finishers drew numbers to see who would play as their partners.  Phil ended up with Nick as his partner, while Mark was paired with John.  After jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, Phil and Nick then fell behind 10-11.  Fortunately, pickleball requires you to win by two and Phil and Nick fought back to win 13-11.  Phil won a $20 Publix gift card.

On Sunday, we drove to Hernando, FL and toured the villages of Citrus Hills.  Our visit began with a tour of Citrus County, taking us throughout Inverness and Crystal River.  We then visited the recreational facilities in Citrus Hills, before having lunch at the Grill.  These facilities were beautiful, with a resort-like feel to them.  This development seemed a lot less chaotic than what we’d observed in The Villages, FL.  After lunch, we visited several model homes and viewed some available lots.  Although we were very impressed with Citrus Hills, we are not yet ready to settle down and aren’t convinced yet that Florida is where we want to live long-term.

On Monday evening, we had dinner with Jeri and Jim Mahan at Eaton’s Beach Sandbar and Grill.  Jan ordered Shrimp & Grits and Phil had Shrimp Creole.  On Tuesday, we drove to a Catholic church in The Villages for Phil to get his second dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine.  Many people have experienced serious side effects from their second dose but, fortunately, Phil’s only side effect was some tenderness at the injection site.

Although we had already tentatively made reservations to return to Sunkissed Village RV Resort in the winter of 2022, we continued to explore other options.  Jan discovered a brand-new RV resort in Webster, FL that is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2021.  After Phil’s vaccination, we visited Oak Alley RV Resort.  Phase One of the resort has 311 sites and there are plans for another 259 sites.  With the exception of 13 pull-through sites, all of the sites are on grass.  There are 12 very nice pickleball courts and a pickleball pro on staff.  The clubhouse is very large and the pool area (not yet completed) looks like it will be quite nice.  One of the biggest draws to this campground is that they are offering 50% on all reservations booked by mid-October 2021.  This brought the cost of a 4-month stay down to $1,750, plus sales tax.  Also surprising is that this rate includes electricity.  We selected site #131, near the clubhouse, and went into the office to book our stay for December 2021 through March 2022.  Although Webster, FL is out in the boonies, we couldn’t pass up this incredible deal.  Later that afternoon, our friends Dave and Jo Peterson also booked reservations at Oak Alley.

On Friday, March 26th, we drove to Ormand Beach on the Atlantic coast.  The drive took 1.5 hours each way but this was the only time we got to see the ocean during our three-month stay in Florida.  After having lunch at Panera, we parked at the Andy Romano Beachfront Park and walked 3 miles up and down the beach.  It was a beautiful day, with a temperature of about 80 degrees.  The water was too cold to even consider swimming but it felt really good to wade along the water’s edge.  The beach was littered with a ton of jelly fish.  The big ones were easy to spot but the smaller ones required a lot of attention to avoid stepping on them.  After our walk, we went to the Beach Bucket Bar & Grill and, after a half-hour wait, got a table overlooking the beach.  We enjoyed a couple of Blue Moons and an order of onion rings before beginning our drive home.  That evening, we gathered at the pool with our friends for three hours of entertainment hosted by deejay K.C. Webb.

Winter in Florida – Month 2 (February 1 – 28, 2021)

As we entered month two of our stay in Summerfield, FL, we had settled into a regular routine that included walking, tai chi and yoga for Jan and pickleball for Phil.  We both continued to attend weekly beginner line dancing classes.  Although we still struggled to remember what steps go with each dance, they were becoming more familiar to us.

We continued to explore various RV parks in the area for possible stays next winter for us and/or our friends.  On February 5th, our travels brought us back to Inverness and we stopped for a late lunch at Stumpknockers.  We ate indoors and enjoyed the décor on the walls.  That evening, we attended a fireside social at the campground but it was rained out within the first 15 minutes.  The following night, we went to the community center and listened to the Beachbillies Band.  Jan practiced her line dancing skills with some of the other campers.

Jason arrived in Orlando on Saturday, February 13th for a weeklong visit.  Although it was rainy many of the days, it was definitely better than in Nashville, where they had extremely cold and snowy weather.  On Sunday, we drove to The Villages and attended a crafts fair at the Spanish Springs Town Square.  After visiting the many booths, we relaxed in the square and listened to live music.  We then drove through numerous neighborhoods to show Jason what The Villages was all about.

On Tuesday, we drove to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  COVID had forced the closure of the visitor center, boats, reptile house and the underwater observatory, as well as cancellation of the educational programs.  Despite this, there was plenty for us to see.  We spent several hours on the Wildlife Walk.  We saw several manatees and massive schools of fish gathered around the bridge and in the spring.  In addition, we strolled the boardwalk and were able to see numerous species of mammals and birds in their natural habitats.  Most of these animals had been rescued and are no longer able to survive in the wild.  This included a hippo, gray wolf, foxes, a black bear, alligators, as well as eagles, owls, flamingos and many other types of birds.

On Thursday, February 18th, we drove two hours to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island.  We began by visiting the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which had covered 126 million miles of space travel.  After looking at numerous exhibits related to the space shuttle program, we did the Shuttle Launch Experience.  This attraction is a flight simulator on par with what astronauts experienced in training.  After riders are belted into their seats, the platform rises and seat rumblers and shakers rattle riders through the turbulent main engine start, the firing of the solid rocket boosters and then their separation over the next six minutes.  Air bags in each seat sink and rise to capture the sensation of the 17,500-mph liftoff of a NASA shuttle.

Our next stop was at the IMAX theater where we watched the 3D movie, Journey to Space, and learned about designing space vessels for travel to Mars.  We then went to Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted, where we learned more about future missions to Mars.

We next went through Heroes & Legends, which focused on the astronauts of the early space programs.  We then walked through the Rocket Garden, containing rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. 

We had selected Thursday for our visit since that was the day the Perseverance rover was scheduled to land on Mars.  Perseverance had been launched in July 2020 for its six-month journey to Mars and 2-year mission on the planet.  Our final stop of the day was at the Atlantis North Lawn where we sat on the grass and watched the NASA TV live-stream on a large projection screen.  We were able to observe the Mission Control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and listen to the live commentary as the rover approached and successfully landed on Mars.  Watching the excitement of the JPL personnel during those critical last few minutes was quite captivating.  Seeing the first pictures from the landing site was memorable.

For dinner, we stopped at the Island Waterfront Bar and Grill on Merritt Island.  We sat on the patio which provided us with views of the river.  We each had a different type of fish but were all very satisfied with our meals.

On Saturday, it was time for Jason to return home so we drove back to Orlando.  We stopped for a dinner of made-to-order burgers at Mooyah.

On Tuesday, February 23rd, Phil was able to get his first dose of the COVID vaccine at a community college in Sumter County.  He had registered in January but, since Florida had subsequently announced that only Florida residents would be eligible for the vaccinations, he was surprised to get an appointment.  Phil took his US passport as identification to the drive-through vaccination site but no questions about residency were asked.  He has an appointment for the second dose on March 23rd.

On Friday, we were sitting outside when a blast of wind blew through our site, interrupting an otherwise still afternoon.  Both of our screens were ripped out of the ground by the wind and blown skyward.  The screens had been anchored into the ground by bungee cords and tent pegs.  As the screens strained against the winds, the bungee cords stretched until they pulled the tent pegs out of the ground and rocketed the tent pegs into the air.  Most of the tent pegs were discovered on the opposite side of our rig and a couple of bungee cords had to be retrieved from our rooftop.  Our neighbor’s awnings and frames were badly damaged so we considered ourselves fortunate.  The whole event only lasted a few seconds and appeared to be isolated to our area.  We mentioned the wind gust to others in the campground and nobody else seemed to have experienced the excitement.

Later that afternoon, we attended the Strawberry Festival at Brownwood Paddock Square in The Villages.  The Festival began at 4 pm and, when we arrived at about 4:20 pm, we had to cruise around the huge parking lots quite a while until we found a parking spot.  We first ate dinner at City Fire American Oven, then wandered around and visited some of the many booths.  We made a couple of purchases, including some Plant City strawberries.  We then watched the Paul Bunyon lumberjack show.  Finally, we retrieved our chairs from our car and found a spot to watch the live entertainment in the square.  Since there was a 45-minute wait to get a seat in the square, we set up our chairs outside and kept moving closer as people left.  We got back to the campground around 8 pm and were able to listen for an hour  to the band, Darkhorse, who were performing poolside.

On Saturday, February 27th, Phil participated in a Pickleball round-robin tournament.  Each of the 20 participants played six games with a different partner.  After a very poor start with a newbie partner in the first game, Phil did OK the rest of the day.

Winter in Florida – Month 1 (December 31, 2020 – January 31, 2021)

On December 31, 2020, we left Gulf State Park and began our trip to our home for Winter 2021.  We drove 283 miles and spent the night at Deerfield Inn and Madison Campground in Madison, FL.  This was not a campground where we would have normally stayed but we were only overnighting and the Passport America rate of $25 was hard to pass up.  Our neighbor was quite chatty.  We learned that he had been in his spot for 1 ½ years and it looked it.  He has been diagnosed at two VA Hospitals as having a non-treatable cerebral aneurysm.  He gave us each a crocheted cross that his wife makes for their neighbors.  We were exhausted from our first drive in seven weeks and, despite it being New Year’s Eve, we were in bed by 10 pm Eastern time (only 9 pm in the Central time zone where we began our day).

On New Year’s Day 2021, we drove 148 miles to Summerfield, FL where we had reserved a site at Sunkissed RV Resort for three months.  The campground, which is only in its second year, is very nice.  Our pull-through site is quite long and on pavers.  There is adequate room between us and our neighbors.  Relatively light winds enabled us to use our awning screens for the first time, after having bought them from a former DRV owner three years ago.

Upon check-in, we were provided a schedule of activities that had the potential to keep us quite busy.  In our first week, we attended a welcome coffee, a bar-b-que and a beginning line dancing class.  Phil played pickleball most mornings, while Jan walked around the campground and attended tai chi and beginner yoga classes.

Our campground is only five miles from the master-planned community known as The Villages.  The Villages, with a population of 123,000, consists of 64 neighborhoods in several counties.  Sumter County has the highest median age in the country, averaging age 67.  At least 80 percent of the homes within The Villages are required to house a resident of age 55 or older.  Family and friends under the age of 19 are not permitted to stay for longer than 30 days.  The Villages are consistently ranked among the nation’s most popular active adult communities.  The neighborhoods are all linked by golf cart paths and shopping centers that all have designated parking for golf carts.  There are three old-fashioned town squares, with lots of restaurants, shopping and nightly free entertainment at each.  On Sunday, we visited the Brownwood Paddock Square and dined outside at World of Beer.  One of the things that amused us was the gas station designed just for golf carts. 

On Saturday, January 9th, we did a road trip north of Ocala.  Ocala has been deemed the “horse capital of the world.”  After driving past tract after tract of horse properties, our first stop was in the picturesque town of McIntosh, FL.  The streets of this small Victorian town, with a population of 490, are lined with a canopy of century-old live oak trees clothed in Spanish moss.  Our next stop was in Micanopy, FL.  Micanopy was the first town founded after Spain relinquished Florida to the United States in 1821.  With a population of 669, Micanopy is primarily known for its authentic rustic storefronts and many antique shops.  Like McIntosh, the streets are lined by huge live oak trees.  We spent time visiting many of these shops and contributed to the local economy by making some purchases (but no antiques).

We then continued on to Cross Creek, FL and had a late lunch at The Yearling Restaurant.  We both had catfish and it was extremely fresh and flaky.

After lunch, we drove less than a mile to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park.  We took a very informative guided tour of the M.K. Rawling’s farmhouse and learned a lot about her life.  Rawling had found limited success as a romance writer prior to purchasing an orange orchard in Cross Creek in 1928.  She began writing short stories based on her experiences at the new locale and received encouragement from a prominent editor at Scribner’s Magazine.  Her first novel, South Moon Under, became the runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize.  Her third novel, The Yearling, earned her the Pulitzer and international acclaim.  The movie based on this novel was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.  When the Whippoorwill, a collection of short stories, preceded Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery.  Rawling’s last book, The Sojourner, was published in 1953, shortly before her death.  The property was bequeathed to the University of Florida and is now a Florida state historical park.  Nearly all of the original furnishings are on display in the house. 

On Sunday, we visited the Market of Marion.  This enormous flea market has over 1,100 booths with more than 400 dealers.  We wandered up and down all of the aisles and made a few purchases. 

On Thursday, January 14th, we drove to Tampa and attended the Florida RV SuperShow at the Florida State Fairgrounds.  We had attended this huge RV show several years ago, prior to buying our RV.  This year’s show included over 850 RVs that were available to walk through.  We mostly focused on the high-end fifth wheels, but also explored other types of RVs and park models.  This included a $2.4 million Prevost motorcoach in which Jan enjoyed sitting behind the wheel.  We also strolled through the two large exhibit halls and talked to many of the over 450 vendors who represented campgrounds, RV after-market suppliers, etc.  We loaded our bag with lots of brochures and made several purchases.  Although the admission ticket was good for two days, we were worn out after five hours of wandering around with masks on.

On Saturday night, we went to the clubhouse and listened to the Blackwater Bayou Band.  The band was originally supposed to perform outdoors but cool weather moved them indoors.  Although the acoustics in the clubhouse weren’t ideal, we enjoyed the show.  COVID restrictions limit attendees to four people at a table but we were lucky to be able to sit with our friends, Kenny and Becky Swisher, who we had met last winter at Tropical Trails. 

The balance of January was largely uneventful.  Phil played pickleball most mornings.  Jan continued with her tai chi and yoga classes, along with walks around the campground.  She began to walk with some of the other ladies in the park, making this exercise more interesting.  We continued to attend the weekly beginner line dancing classes and extended our lessons by following YouTube videos in our living room.  Unfortunately, the lack of space made line dancing in the RV somewhat challenging.  We also got together with Kenny and Becky a couple of Sunday afternoons for shuffleboard.

We continued to explore The Villages and the surrounding area.  We even toured a couple of pool homes in The Villages.  Although we really liked one of them, we decided we’re not yet ready to settle down and aren’t sure we want to live in Florida fulltime.  We rented a documentary on The Villages, titled “Some Kind of Heaven.”  It followed four individuals who had had a difficult time adjusting to life there.  In all fairness, these people were quite dysfunctional and would have had issues regardless of where they lived.

After weeks of weighing our options, we finally decided to return to Florida next winter, rather than camp in Arizona.  Once we reached this conclusion, Phil spent several days planning a route that would have us back in Gulf Shores, AL in November 2021 and somewhere in Florida beginning in December 2021.  Since the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts, and Laurie Tamas had already decided to winter in Florida, and the Petersons were open to it, the challenge was to find an RV park that met each family’s needs.  We checked out several RV parks in the area but, to date, have not found one that works for all.  Todd Ehlenfeldt mentioned that he had been watching Preservation Point in Inverness, FL.  Based on their website, Preservation Point is a pre-development RV park that is supposed to be opening in mid-2021.  Jan called to set up an appointment with the sales office but their mailbox was full.  On Friday, January 29th, we decided to drive to Inverness to check it out.  Upon arriving at the address, we found no sales office or even a driveway.  We did some brief exploration of downtown Inverness and then headed to nearby Dunnellon, where we ate an early dinner at Stumpknockers.

On Sunday, we went for our first hike in several months.  We hiked a 6-mile loop in the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross-Florida Greenway, starting at the 49th Avenue Trailhead.  The greenway contains many trails which are designated specifically for bike, horse or foot traffic.  The first half of the hike was on a foot trail that was nicely blazed and somewhat hilly, a rarity for Florida.  In fact, we heard a teenaged boy calling to his mother in mock surprise, “Look, a Florida hill!”  The turnaround point of the hike was at the land bridge spanning I-75.  The return portion of the loop was on a horse trail that was quite sandy.  This trail was not well marked and, despite checking with the Alltrails GPS map frequently, we found ourselves off the trail several times.  Fortunately, we only encountered one group of three riders.