Finding our Florida Home (May 5 – 17, 2023)

When we purchased our lot in Jasper, TN in May 2022, we had expected to have our new custom home under construction by this time.  However, as we started the process, we quickly began to realize the many hassles and high costs of trying to build our dream home.  In January 2023, we decided to list the property for sale and explore the resale market for a home that would be readily available.

While we spent the winter of 2023 in Texas, we made plans to travel to Florida in the spring to explore multiple communities to see if any of them met our needs.  Jan’s requirement was a house with a pool, while Phil required a community with pickleball.

On Friday, May 5th, we drove 255 miles to Vernon, FL, 40 miles north of Panama City Beach.  We spent three nights at Holmes Creek Camping & RV Park.  This was a fairly new, family-run RV park with a goat farm next door.  Many of the planned amenities had not yet been constructed, although they had everything we needed.

On Saturday, we drove to the Panama City Beach area and toured the 55+ community of Latitude Margaritaville Watersound with a real estate agent, Mark Oberg.  After receiving an overview of the development’s growth plans and amenities, we walked through several of the model homes.  Since the development was so new, there were no resale opportunities at the moment.  We selected a preferred model and met with the sales rep.  We learned that the timeline would be quite lengthy.  It would be about a year before we would be offered an available lot, then home construction (with a pool) would take about 18 months.  There was no cost to put our names on the waiting list, so we did so and then headed out to explore the surrounding area.  We drove westward along the Gulf, from Panama City Beach to Seagrove Beach.  The drive confirmed our realtor’s comments about the tremendous amount of construction taking place in the area.  Although we were impressed with what we saw, the 2.5-year wait to have a house built made this location a longshot.

After a relaxing Sunday, we were back on the road on Monday.  We drove 295 miles to Ocala, FL, where we spent three nights at Ocala Sun RV Resort.  We had checked out this campground in the winter of 2021 and it had been quite full.  It was considerably less crowded in May 2023 and we had a 75-foot pull-through site that was more than adequate for us.

On Tuesday, we took the truck to the Dodge dealer for repair.  The “check engine” light, which had been reset twice in Texas, had come back on during our drive to Florida.  After another round of diagnostic testing, it was determined that we needed two parts, a Nitrous Oxide Sensor and a CPD Controller. 

While the truck was in the shop, we met with a realtor, Robyn Wagner, who gave us an in-depth tour of two large 55+ communities, On Top of the World and Del Webb Sone Creek.  Robyn had previously lived at On Top of the World but was now living at Stone Creek, although she did a pretty good job of hiding her bias.  On Top of the World, with over 10,000 homes, had tremendous amenities but seemed too big for our comfort and, besides, had no resale pool homes available.  Stone Creek was smaller but, with 3,600 homes, is still the largest Del Webb community.  They had very nice amenities and were building more.  We toured three pool homes which provided plenty of diversity.  The first house was, at over 3,000 square feet, much more than we needed, but had a ton of upgrades and a wonderful view overlooking the golf course.  The price was more than we hoped to pay, of course, but it was very tempting.  The next house was too small and was easily rejected.  The third house met all of our needs and was priced appropriately, but, after seeing the first house, was hard to get excited about.  We met briefly with a sales agent for the development and discussed the possibility of building a new house.  While there some lots currently available, the timeline to get a house and pool constructed was longer than we hoped for.

On Wednesday, we went out exploring on our own.  First, we drove to Inverness and drove by several pool homes on large lots.  They were nice homes but lacked the community amenities we were looking for.  We had lunch at Stumpknockers in Inverness, then headed off to check out eight pool homes in The Villages.  Although we could only do a drive-by on six of these homes, realtors were holding open houses at the other two.  One of them had a great view of the golf course from the pool, and we were tempted.  However, since we were leaving town the next day, we chose not to make a rash decision.

On Thursday, we drove 135 miles to Bradenton, FL, where we stayed for six nights at the Bradenton / Hunsader Farms KOA Holiday.  This KOA was on the grounds of a working farm and included a large produce market, U-pick fields, and a petting zoo.  The downside of being on a farm was that the flies were terrible.  We spent a significant amount of time squatting flies, especially at meal time.

We had come to this area to explore Lakewood Ranch, the hottest-selling planned community in the country for the past two years.  Lakewood Ranch consists of over 20 diverse communities.  Unlike The Villages, only the Del Webb and Cresswind communities were 55+.  We had arranged to be shown around by a local broker, Kathy McKinnon. Del Webb was completely sold out and had no resale pool home listings, so we skipped that community.  Cresswind also had no resale listings but was still doing new construction.  We toured the models and the amenities, and were impressed with both.  However, the costs for a new build were significantly higher than Stone Creek in Ocala.

Next, Kathy had us tour Del Webb Bay View in Parrish, north of Bradenton.  Like Cresswind, they had no resale listings.  The amenities were very nice, but although the cost of new construction was less than at Cresswind, it was still quite a bit higher than Stone Creek.     

Kathy had previously sent us some listings for a couple of pool homes in Del Webb Cypress Falls, in North Port, FL, but we had initially decided were weren’t interested in being 40 miles south of Sarasota.  However, with time to kill, we decided to take a look on Saturday.  When we met Kathy in North Port, we learned that one of the resale pool homes had gone under contract the previous day.  Although the remaining house was somewhat smaller than we wanted, the house had everything we needed and had a nice water view from the pool area.  As we were walking around the outside, we struck up a conversation with the next-door neighbor, who was extremely friendly and informative.  We walked away from the home thinking that it was a serious contender.

Kathy had us stop by the sales office to ask if we could get a tour of the Amenity Center.  In the course of the conversation with Kim Moore, the sales agent, we learned that the development was just about sold out and that they were selling the two remaining model homes.  We toured the larger of the models and found it to be beautifully decorated.  Kim told us that there had been a previous buyer for this model, but they had had to back out two days earlier.  As a result, the builder was very motivated to sell it and was offering a substantial discount.  In addition, we learned that, since there would be no more models built, all the furniture was available for purchase at a price that was unbelievably low.  Since we have been living in an RV for 7-1/2 years, finding a fully furnished home with unused, high-quality furniture, would solve a huge challenge for us. 

We then took a tour of the Amenity Center.  Since this community only has 790 homes, the amenities were somewhat less than at the larger locations, but they were plenty adequate for our needs, including the required pickleball courts.  We decided we should explore the neighborhood and the surrounding area on our own, to see if it was somewhere we would like to live.  After driving the neighborhood, we returned to the model and took pictures from every conceivable angle.  We then drove to dinner at Twisted Fork, a very energetic restaurant.  Along the way, we passed plenty of retail, medical and services within a short drive of the Del Webb community.  After dinner, we drove south through Port Charlotte and turned for home when we reached Punta Gorda.

On Sunday, despite being Mother’s Day, we met Kathy at Cypress Falls at noon and spent the next two hours going over the purchase agreement with Kim.  It was the builder’s contract form, so there wasn’t much opportunity to change the terms, but we were able to negotiate some changes.  Since we needed time to discuss things, and since both Kathy and Kim had Mother’s Day dates with their children, we left without signing the agreement.  On our way back to the campground, we stopped in Lakewood Ranch’s downtown and strolled the streets.  We stopped for appetizers at a Mexican restaurant.

The rest of Sunday and all day Monday was spent reviewing the contract. There were numerous phone calls and text messages before we were satisfied with the wording of the addendums. We signed the purchase agreement electronically around 10 pm. Monday night. We both had trouble sleeping and finally got out of bed at 3 am. Although Jan was able to get back to sleep after about an hour, Phil stayed awake for a couple of hours, filling out applications. We submitted the non-refundable deposit money on Tuesday and felt fully committed to being homeowners again.

After numerous stressful days, we decided to spend Tuesday afternoon at the Siesta Key beach.  This beach was ranked as the best beach in the United States in two recent years.  The sand was very white and soft.  The walk from the parking lot to the water was quite long and the soft sand made it a real workout.  We spent a couple of hours strolling up and down the beach.  Despite being a Tuesday in May, the beach was rather crowded.  We know it would be much more crowded in peak season.

Back to Kerrville (March 28 – April 4, 2023)

On Tuesday, March 28th, we left Tropical Trails and drove 122 miles to Kingsville, TX, where we spent two nights at Nature’s Own RV Park.  Although the drive was fairly short, it was rather tiring.  In addition to having not driven any distance in two months, we also had to contend with periods of heavy rain and high winds.

On Wednesday, we toured King Ranch.  We had stayed in Kingsville twice before but those stays had not been on days when King Ranch tours had been offered. Although highway road construction made it difficult for the GPS to lead us to the ranch’s Visitor Center, we made it in time to watch most of the pre-tour video regarding the ranch.  We then boarded a tour bus and our guide, Peggy, took us for a two-hour tour of the ranch.  Peggy, now age 71, had worked on the ranch as a teenager, so she was able to provide a perspective of the ranch from both 50+ years ago and now.

King Ranch is the largest ranch in the United States.  With 825,000 acres in South Texas, it is larger than the state of Rhode Island.   The ranch consists of four large sections, called divisions, in portions of six counties.  King Ranch also owns 90,000 acres in Florida that are used to raise oranges, sugar and sod.  The company is privately owned, with family members controlling 51% of the shares.

Richard King was born in New York City in 1824 to Irish immigrants.  He was indentured to a jeweler at age 10 but ran away after two years.  He stowed away on a steamship and, upon discovery, became the captain’s cabin boy.  Over the years, he was trained as a seaman and became a river pilot.  In 1850, King and three partners formed a transport business, running steamers up the Rio Grande.  Having been raised by sailors, King was a foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking, womanizer until 1850, when he fell for Henrietta, the 17-year-old daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and had to spend the next four years convincing her, and her father, that he had changed his ways.  In 1852, King saw the land that would become the first part of King Ranch.  He and a partner purchased 15,500 acres for $300 in a desolate area between Mexico and Texas.  During the Civil War, Capt. King transported Confederate cotton to Mexico and was hunted by Union soldiers.

When Richard King died in 1885, Henrietta made Robert Kleberg, King’s legal advisor, full-time manager of the ranch.  Kleberg married King’s only daughter, Alice, the following year.  Henrietta’s death in 1925 brought about many complications, due to high estate taxes and the start of the Great Depression.  Despite owning over 1 million acres of land, the ranch was left $3 million in debt.  A long-term lease for oil and gas rights with Humble Oil (later Exxon) kept the ranch afloat.

The foundation stock of King Ranch was the longhorn.  Even today, they have 400 head of purebred longhorn.  In 1872, King bought several Brahman bulls, which were adapted to the South Texas climate, and these were crossbred with Shorthorns to produce the Santa Gertrudis cattle, the first American-produced beef breed recognized by the USDA.  While continuing to develop its cattle operations, centered on the Santa Gertrudis breed, the Ranch began to both breed and race quarter horses and thoroughbreds.  In 1946, a King Ranch horse, Assault, won the Triple Crown.  King Ranch also entered the timber industry and real estate business in 1967.  In 1999, the Ford Motor Company began using the King Ranch brand on its vehicles.

Throughout the tour, we were able to see lots of recently-born calves and foals.  Although this part of South Texas averages only 20 inches of rain each year, it has been in a four-year drought.  We learned from Peggy that wild turkey hens will refuse to mate during droughts.  As a result, the wild turkey toms have become frustrated and are desperately strutting their stuff to try to attract a hen.  The only time we left the tour bus was at the former weavers’ cottage, where they used to make woolen blankets.  In the cottage, we learned about branding and the many brands that have been used at King Ranch.

On Thursday, we drove 235 miles to Kerrville, TX, where we will spend a month at Buckhorn Lake Resort.  We visited Fredericksburg on Friday and restocked our supply of candied jalapeños and raspberry chipotle sauce.

Moab, UT (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, 2021)

Our older son, Jason, joined us for the week.  His flight into Montrose, CO arrived shortly before 10 am on Friday, September 24th, which enabled us to pick him up and return to our rig in time to check-out by 11 am.  We then drove 198 miles to Moab, UT where we spent the week at OK RV Park.  As we reached downtown Moab, an apparent watermain break forced us to take a long detour through the back streets.  Although the detour was poorly marked, Phil kept following a semi and it led us to where we needed to go.

The months of May through October are the peak tourist season for the five Utah national parks.  The National Park Service advises visitors to either arrive before 8 am or after 3 pm, or risk being turned away for 3-5 hours.  Since we’re not early morning people, we chose to visit the parks later in the day.

Rather than fight the crowds at the national parks on a Saturday, we opted to spend the day at Dead Horse Point State Park.  This relatively small state park is on a plateau that is surrounded by vast canyons and leads to a sharp point.  According to legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa.  Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land onto the point.  The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by steep cliffs.  The cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and, for reasons unknown, left the other horses to die of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

After stopping at the Visitor Center, we drove on to Dead Horse Point Overlook.  We then hiked the 3-mile West Rim Trail back to the Visitor Center.  After eating lunch at the Visitor Center, Phil and Jason hiked 2-miles on the East Rim Trail back to Dead Horse Point Overlook to get our car.

After leaving the park, we drove back toward Moab and decided to look for the location where the final scene of the film “Thelma and Louise” had been filmed.  Google provided various directions but we took the one that appeared the most detailed.  We drove along a road that had steep cliffs on one side and the Colorado River on the other.  We came to an unpaved road and continued on despite the feeling that this was probably a bad idea.  As the road became more rugged, we kept going “just past the next curve” and “just over the next hill.”  Finally, we decided we really needed a 4-wheel-drive vehicle if we were going to go any farther and, very carefully, turned around.  On the return, we stopped to watch some rock climbers who were attempting to scale the steep cliffs.

On Sunday, we waited until 3 pm for the crowds to clear out before visiting Arches National Park.  We drove non-stop along the scenic drive to reach the parking area at Wolfe Ranch and were able find one of the few open spots.  We then hiked the 3-mile out-and-back trail to Delicate Arch, the iconic feature of Arches National Park.  This hike involved climbing 480 feet up a steep slickrock slope.  Just before reaching Delicate Arch, the trail followed a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards.  This hike was quite strenuous but we took it slowly.  The view at Delicate Arch was fabulous and made the effort worthwhile.  The arch is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide, but seems much larger.

After descending from Delicate Arch, we drove a mile farther up the road to a couple of other Delicate Arch overlooks.  These provided a view from the opposite site of the arch, across a canyon.

The sun was setting as we left the national park.  We stopped at Balanced Rock for some photos.

On Monday afternoon, we visited Canyonland National Park.  Canyonland consists of four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  We limited our visit to Island in the Sky, the district closest to Moab and the most visited district.  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove to Grand View Point and hiked a two-mile out-and-back trail along the rim of the canyon.

We next headed to Mesa Arch.  A half-mile loop trail took us to this natural stone arch that frames spectacular views of the La Sal Mountains, Buck Canyon, Washer Woman Arch and Monster Tower.

Our next stop was at Green River Overlook, with its views of high plateaus and the Green River.

Our final stop for the day was at Upheaval Dome.  We hiked a half-mile to the first overlook.  Upheaval Dome is a crater in which the rock layers are fractured and tilted, forming a circular depression more than two miles wide. There is disagreement as to the cause but recent findings support the belief that it was caused by a violent meteorite impact.

On Tuesday, we took a day off from hiking.  Jan and Jason went exploring downtown Moab while Phil gave our rig a long-overdue bath.

On Wednesday, we attempted to visit Arches National Park at 1:30 pm but were greeted by a sign that said “Park Full – Return in 3-5 hours.”  Instead of returning home, we drove a few miles away and did the 3-mile hike to the Corona and Bowtie Arches.  The trail crosses wide expanses of slickrock pavement.  A couple of slickrock sections have metal safety cables to use as handrails as well a steel ladder bolted into the rock on one steep step.  We reached Bowtie Arch first.  This pothole arch formed when a pothole above, usually filled with water, eroded down into the cave below.  We then came to the massive Corona Arch, measuring 140 feet across and 105 feet high.

After finishing this hike, we returned to Arches National Park at 4:30 pm and had no trouble getting in.  We drove to the windows section of the park.  As we drove past the towering peaks, it was fun to imagine what the shapes resemble.  We spotted one rock that all three of us thought looked like a baby. We walked along a short path to Double Arch.  The larger of these twin arches has a span of 144 feet – the third largest in the park – and a height of 112 feet – the highest in the park. 

From the same parking lot, we then hiked to the North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.

Thursday was our final full day in Moab so we arose early and arrived at Arches National Park at 6:45 am.  Sunrise wasn’t until 7:13 am so we drove to the northernmost end of the scenic highway while the sun rose.  We then walked a short path to the Skyline Arch.  Along the path, we spotted seven deer grazing on the brush. Their greenish coats made them difficult to spot within the foliage.

We then drove to Sand Dune Arch and hiked .3-mile through deep sand to a secluded arch tucked among sandstone fins.

From the same parking area, we then hiked .6-mile to Broken Arch.  After scrambling up the rock face of Broken Arch, we continued on another .8-mile to Tapestry Arch, before hiking back the way we had come.

On next stop was at Balanced Rock.  We walked a .3-mile loop around the base of this fragile, picturesque rock formation.

Our final stop was at Courthouse Towers Viewpoint.  We hiked a portion of the Park Avenue Trail along the canyon floor, providing close up views of massive fins, balanced rocks and lofty monoliths. 

The Road to Being Repaired (July 30 – August 17, 2021)

On Friday, July 3oth, we left Montello, WI and began our journey to Knoxville, TN for our August 3rd service appointment at RVs for Less.  Our first day took us 255 miles to Secor, IL (near Champaign) where we spent the night at Hickory Hill Campground.  Since we were only overnighting, we decided to keep hitched but ended up making multiple adjustments to get level.  It started drizzling as we prepared to leave on Saturday morning and we drove through rain for much of the 298-mile trip to North Bend, OH.  With the time zone change, it was after 4:30 pm by the time we arrived at Indian Springs Campground, where we had planned to spend two nights. 

However, after getting set up, Phil checked his emails and found that he had one from Karen Burson, owner of RVs for Less.  She informed Phil that they were going to reschedule our service appointment until August 24th, three weeks later.  Karen had just learned that her daughter, Amber, had scheduled us for the week that General Manager Ken Rife was going to be on vacation.  Phil had called Ken in early July about our hydraulic leak and leg issues.  Ken had told Phil that he would be on vacation the week of August 3rd but that his staff would be able to take care of us.  Ken had instructed Phil to send Amber a list of our service needs and she would get us scheduled.  Phil sent the list to Amber, with a copy to Ken, on July 9th and Amber replied that she had scheduled us for August 3rd.

Phil responded to Karen that the delay was unacceptable, since we had cancelled several reservations and backtracked from Wisconsin to make the August 3rd appointment.  Although Karen stuck to her decision that we shouldn’t come when Ken was gone, she did agree to get us worked in on August 10th.  Although we were still very unhappy, a one-week delay is better than three weeks.

The next challenge was to find reservations for the extra week, especially with early August being a peak vacation time.  We were able to book two more nights at Indian Springs Campground, to give us time to explore our options and we also had no problem pushing off our August 2nd reservation in Heiskell, TN for a week.  We were able to book Wednesday and Thursday nights at Grand Ole RV Resort.  However, when we tried to find reservations for the weekend, we couldn’t find any vacancies anywhere in central Tennessee.  Finally, we found a site at the KOA Nashville North despite their website previously showing no sites available.  Although the rate of nearly $90 per night for Friday and Saturday nights is higher than we have ever paid (and the KOA Nashville North definitely doesn’t warrant such a rate), we were just happy to have some place to park.

On Tuesday, August 3rd, we visited the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY.  This replica of Noah’s ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world, standing 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet wide.  Although they acknowledge the need to take a lot of artistic license with the design and furnishings, due to limited details in the Bible, it is nonetheless an impressive creation. The three decks of the ark are filled with exhibits that are designed to answer questions and skepticism about Noah’s ark and the biblical flood. 

After we’d explored the ground floor and the first deck, we were both starving so we headed to Emzara’s for a huge buffet lunch.  We then needed to walk off our lunch by visiting the animals in the Ararat Ridge Zoo.  We especially enjoyed watching a two-toed sloth that was more active than its reputation.

We next returned to the ark and completed the second and third decks.  On the way out of the park, we attended a portion of a gospel music concert.

On Wednesday, we drove 267 miles to Goodlettsville, TN.  The first 90 miles were slow due to delays caused by road construction.  After getting set up at Grand Ole RV Resort for two nights, Jason arrived with a carload of Amazon purchases we had had shipped to his house.  We watched a female musician perform for a while, then headed to O’Charley’s for dinner. Jason joined us again for dinner on Thursday and Phil grilled us some steelhead trout.

On Friday, we had to make our 4-mile move to the Nashville North KOA.  Since the posted check-in time wasn’t until 2 pm, we stayed at Grand Ole’ RV Resort until their checkout time at 11 am.  Nothing was said when we arrived at the KOA at 11:07 am.

We really didn’t do much during our three days at the KOA.  Jason was able to join us every evening.  Unfortunately, Phil developed a fever of 101.1 degrees shortly after dinner on Saturday.  Phil’s fever broke overnight and his temperature was closer to normal for most of Sunday.

We had learned that the scarcity of available campsites in the Nashville area was partially due to the Music City Grand Prix being held that weekend.  140,000 race fans were expected to attend the three-day event.  Rather than pay over $80 a ticket and sit outside in 90+ degree temps, we opted to watch the race on TV from our air-conditioned living room.  It was interesting to watch Indy cars race through the streets of downtown Nashville. 

Unfortunately, Phil’s fever returned late Sunday afternoon, hitting 101.9 degrees.  This was to become a pattern over the coming days.

On Monday morning, Phil’s temperature was somewhat lower and he felt well enough to make our 205-mile drive to Heiskell, TN.  We made it safely to our site at Raccoon Valley Campground and were able to relax for a while before Phil’s temperature shot up to 102.6.

 Once again, Phil’s temperature had dropped to a non-fever level by Monday morning so we were able to make the 20-mile drive to our dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville.  We were pleased to get immediate attention to our list of repair items, unlike most of our future visits. 

We managed to get some lunch at O’Charley’s, make a Sam’s Club run, and return home before Phil’s temperature starting climbing again.  This time, it peaked at 104.0 degrees.  After four days of increasingly high evening temps, we decided to get some medical attention. 

Phil scheduled the first available appointment for a COVID test, at 10:15 am on Wednesday morning, at a Knoxville Urgent Care.  Although we had an oil change scheduled at 1 pm at the Knoxville Mazda dealer, we figured there should be plenty of time for both.  We were almost wrong!  Phil had requested a COVID test just to be safe, despite having been vaccinated and the fever being the only real COVID symptom.  This test was advertised as having 15-minute results but, apparently, that depends on when they start the clock.  While he was waiting, Phil tried postponing the oil change but was told that the next opening was over a week away.  Finally, at 11:45, the PA entered the exam room with the expected negative COVID test result.  After asking a number of questions, she prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic and Phil exited at 12:15 pm.  Under their COVID protocol, non-patients were not allowed in the waiting room.  Given the temperature being in the 90s, Jan had needed to find shelter for most of the over-2-hour wait at a nearby Starbucks.  We managed to pick up Phil’s prescription at the nearby Walgreens and make the 30-minute drive to the Mazda dealer, arriving right at 1 pm.

Continuing the trend, the oil change took longer than predicted.  During our wait, Jan discovered that Knoxville has a large used book store not far from the dealer, so that became our next stop.  The store, McKay’s Knoxville, was amazing and we both found a lot of books to buy. 

Phil took his first of 10 daily antibiotic pills.  However, the warnings of potential side effects were rather sobering.  The most common appears to be tendon swelling or snapping, especially for those over 60.  The warning also advised users to consider whether the risk of this injury was potentially worse than the illness you were trying to treat.  Very comforting!

The fever did return, as usual, that afternoon but was not quite as high as the previous day.  We were hopeful that we were finally turning the corner.

On Thursday, August 12th, we were told that we would need to be out of our rig for about four hours so the dealer could repair our issues with our hydraulic lines and our front legs.  The plan was that this would complete the list of needed repairs and we could expect to be back on the road by Friday morning.

Since we hadn’t anticipated our stop at McKay’s Knoxville on Wednesday, we had had no books to exchange.  We remedied this with a return visit on Thursday when we used exchange credits on a few additional books.  We now both have more than enough books to last us through the year.

With stops at a couple of additional retailers and lunch at Panera, we had managed to kill the four hours.  As we returned to the RV dealership, our rig was being moved back into position.  Although we found a few minor issues than needed to be addressed that afternoon, it clearly looked like we were really going to be out of there on Friday morning, in record time.

Phil’s fever returned again Thursday evening but, again, was slightly better than before.  Phil spent much of Thursday evening working our travel plans, with a goal of reconnecting with our original itinerary in South Dakota.

Since we had anticipated a much longer stay, Jan had booked a hair appointment for Friday morning.  While Jan headed to her appointment, Phil booked us a campground for Friday night, refueled the truck at Sam’s Club, and did some grocery shopping at Walmart.  We were both working around a schedule of hitting the road around noon.

The first sign of trouble came when Phil received several text messages from Ken Rife, the GM at RVs for Less.  He learned that, when Ken had contacted our vehicle service contract company for reimbursement, they had balked at the size of the bill and decided they need to inspect the work themselves.  However, they wouldn’t be able to do so until Monday; Tuesday at the latest.  Although an additional three-day delay took another bite out of summer travel plans, the benefit of the delay was that it would buy Phil more time to recover.

Phil’s temperature reached 101.0 on Friday night but broke overnight.  He woke up soaking wet but his temperature was down to 96.0.  It never went back above 98.2 the rest of the weekend.  Phil continued to take the remaining antibiotics but we were optimistic that the mystery illness had passed.

On Monday, August 16th, the CoachNet rep came to RVs for Less to inspect the work that had been done.  Per Ken Rife, the rep had no knowledge of RVs and simply took a lot of pictures.  He was unable to provide an authorization for the bill until he had a chance to review it with his supervisor.  Rather than hold us up any longer, Karen told us Monday afternoon that we were free to leave.  We made plans to get on the road early Tuesday morning.  The remnants of Hurricane Fred were forecasted to hit the Knoxville area all day Tuesday so we stayed hooked up Monday night.  We were rather unlevel all night, which made it difficult to walk around in our rig.  We hit the road early on Tuesday morning in a light drizzle.

Maine 2020 – Part 2 (August 16 – September 18, 2020)

We began our second month at Timberland Acres RV Park with a 4-mile hike of the Penny’s Preserve via Peter’s Brook Trail in Blue Hill, ME.  The hike took us through the forest, past an old quarry and along a brook with a small waterfall.  The preserve contains many interlaced trails and, although there were trail maps throughout our route, we still managed to get turned around at one point.

After a rainy Tuesday, we were back to hiking on Wednesday, August 19th.  We hiked the 4-mile Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain Loop.  We had hiked this loop with Jason in 2019 but the summits had been socked in with fog.  We had much nicer weather this time and the views from the summits were beautiful.  Although rated as moderate difficulty, this was a more challenging hike than we had done together this year.  There were lots of boulders to climb up and down.

On Thursday, we hiked a 3-mile loop that included the Beech Mountain, Beech South Ridge and Valley trails.  We had hiked this loop in 2019 but, this time, we took a more direct, but steeper, route to the fire tower at the top of Beech Mountain.

On Friday, we hiked the 4-mile Acadia Mountain and Man O’ War Trail loop.  We had done this loop going counter-clockwise in 2019 but, this year, we did it clockwise.  We really don’t know which direction is more difficult but either way is a real challenge.  Going clockwise, we had a steep ascent to the summit but had the benefit of lots of staircases built out of rocks.  Descending was equally steep and required lots of rock scrambling, many times where it was difficult to find footings on the rocks.  We were really tested by this hike but enjoyed the challenge and the views.

On Saturday, we took it easier and hiked a couple of trails on nature preserves owned by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy.  Both preserves were in nearby Ellsworth, ME.  The first trail was the Jordan Homestead, a 1.2-mile loop along the Union River which was near low tide.  We spotted a bald eagle in a tree by the river.  The second trail was the Indian Point Preserve, a .9-mile out-and-back path that was also along the Union River.

On Sunday, August 23rd, we took a day off from hiking and did a road trip to a couple of small coastal towns south of us.  The first was Castine, a town with a population of approximately 1,400, on Penobscot Bay.  Castine is full of history.  It was first settled in 1613, seven years before Plymouth Rock, and its strategic location has been occupied by the British, French, Dutch and Americans.  It contains many beautiful old homes and inns on tree-lined streets.  We visited the wharf and strolled through the quaint downtown shopping district.  Castine is home to the Maine Maritime Academy, one of the top 4-year public colleges in the U.S., that graduates officers and engineers for the U.S. Merchant Marines.  We watched first year midshipmen march around town and viewed their 500-foot training ship, the TS State of Maine.  We then visited the ruins of Fort George, a garrison that was built by the British in 1779 and was the final post surrendered by the British at the end of the Revolutionary War.  We also visited the Dyne Head lighthouse, built in 1828 but now decommissioned and a private residence.

Our next stop was Stonington, on the southern tip of the island known as Deer Isle.  Stonington, with a population of approximately 1,000, was once almost entirely devoted to fishing but is now home to many artists.  Despite the near collapse of the fishing industry, Stonington remains the largest lobster port in Maine.  We strolled along the wharf and walked along Main Street.

On Monday, we hiked the steep Razorback Trail to the summit of Mansell Mountain, an 879’ elevation change in less than a mile.  We then descended via the equally steep Mansell Mountain Trail.  Both ways were very challenging and involved climbing the rocks.  We were exhausted after this 4-mile hike.

Overnight rain and dense fog kept us off the hiking trails on Tuesday.  The weather improved during the afternoon but Phil’s 4 pm pickleball gathering was washed out almost immediately when a severe storm approached.  Phil managed to get back to our trailer just as lightening struck and a hailstorm commenced, along with strong winds.  Jan got some good photos of the storm as it moved over our campground.

On Wednesday, we returned to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.2-mile Triad Trail Loop.  Although there were few views of the vista from the Triad summit, the trail took us through a thick forest with lush, green moss all around us.

The weather had cooled off considerably.  The daytime highs were now in the upper-60s to low-70s and the nighttime lows were in the 50s.  In addition to having great sleeping weather, our morning hikes were much more comfortable.

On Thursday, August 27th, we hiked the 3.5-mile Kebo Mountain Loop, which consists of the Hemlock, Stratheden and Kebo Mountain trails.  We had started this hike one evening when Jason was visiting but had quit due to darkness.

On Friday, we drove two hours northeast to Lubec, ME, the easternmost point in the U.S.  Pre-COVID, we had intended to camp in Lubec this summer, as we had in 2019, but we cancelled those plans when the Canadian border was closed. Our first stop on the drive was in Cutler, ME where we hiked the Cutler Coastal Trail.  This was one of our favorite hikes last year, with magnificent views from the rocky cliffs high above the Gulf of Maine.  We had hiked 4 miles in 2019 but, this time, we opted to go farther down the coast and then return via the inland trail.  The weather was perfect for hiking, with a strong breeze coming off the bay, and the views were outstanding.  However, the extended route ended up being a 9.5-mile hike, our longest yet.  It was quite different than walking 9.5 miles down a road.  In addition to the ever-present rocks and tree roots that make Maine trails a challenge, we had a seemingly endless number of steep climbs and descents along the coast.  Including over an hour spent enjoying the views, the entire hike lasted six hours.  We were exhausted by the time we arrived back at the parking area, but were proud that we had managed to complete the challenge.

One of the main reasons Jan had had for making the drive to Lubec was to shop at Monica’s Chocolates.  Jan had visited Monica’s last year and is convinced that her candy, made with Peruvian chocolate, is the best in the world.  Our long hike had put us in danger of not reaching the shop until after she closed at 6 pm.  Fortunately, light traffic enabled us to arrive in time.  COVID restrictions limited entry to the shop to three people at a time so we had to wait while another group went ahead of us.  Once we got in, we quickly made our selections and headed to dinner on Water Street.  The major attraction for Lubec is its proximity to Campobello Island, FDR’s summer home.  Although Campobello is just across a short bridge from Lubec, it is in Canada and, with the border closed, is off-limits this summer for US tourists.  As a result, Lubec’s downtown district looked rather dead.  Our first choice for dinner was closed for 2020 so, instead, we chose to eat at the Water St. Tavern.  We both ordered scallops and enjoyed watching seals play in the bay outside our window.  The sun was setting as we began our two-hour drive home.

Saturday was a lazy day.  Between tired muscles from the previous day’s activities and heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Laura, we stayed indoors all day.

On Sunday, we drove to Orland, ME and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Great Pond Mountain trail.  This trail was one of many in the 4,500-acre tract managed by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.  Although the hike was rated as “easy,” it included a 639’ elevation rise in a little over a mile.  The views from the summit were awesome, with forests and water for as far as we could see.

On Monday, we scaled South Bubble Mountain in a 4.1-mile loop.  The hike began with an easy stroll along the east side of Jordan Pond.  Then we ascended the steep South Bubble Trail, which included lots of rock scrambling and a couple of climbs up sheer cliffs.  When we did this hike in 2019, Jan got assistance from a couple of strangers to get up the cliffs.  This time, although she still thought it was scary, she managed to make the climb with no outside assistance.  After reaching the South Bubble summit, we had our breakfast at Bubble Rock, a huge boulder that appears to be balancing on the edge of a steep cliff.  We then continued our hike on the Bubbles Divide and Jordan Pond Carry trails, before returning again on the east side of Jordan Pond. 

We spent Tuesday, September 1st, hiking the Ocean Path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff and back.  We had done parts of this trail a couple of times earlier in the summer but, this time, we walked all the way to the end, resulting in a 4.4-mile round-trip.  It was a beautiful day, with just the right temperature and a cool breeze off the water.  Despite it being a weekday, there were lots of fellow hikers on the path.

On Wednesday, we returned to Blue Hill, ME and hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Post Office Trail.  As the name suggests, the trail goes through the woods to the Blue Hill Post Office and back again.  This trail connects to one leg of the Blue Hill Mountain Loop that we had hiked three weeks earlier.

During the six years we lived in the Chicago area, we generally had a Friday night date night at a Chicago-style pizza restaurant.  In the later years, our favorite was Lou Malnati’s.  This week, we received an Internet offer to get a Lou Malnati pizza for 10% off.  Although it was still exorbitant, we decided to splurge.  The pizza arrived on dry ice on Wednesday and we had it for dinner.  It was every bit as good as we remembered.

We had also signed up through Merrill Lynch for a virtual wine tasting webinar for that evening.  Merrill Lynch had mailed us a bottle of red wine but we weren’t supposed to remove the cover until the end of the webinar.  Laura Maniec Fiorvanti, a Master Sommelier, presented a lecture via Webex on how to identify wines by taste.  It was quite interesting, although most of our wine purchases come in a box so we obviously don’t have the most demanding palettes.  After doing the blind tasting, we learned that we had been sampling a Pinot Noir. 

On Thursday, we drove to Winter Haven on the Schoodic Peninsula and hiked the Buck Cove Mountain Trail.  The trailhead is at the back of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Wood campground, which is closed due to COVID.  As a result, we had to walk nearly a mile from the day pass parking area to the trailhead before commencing the trail.  We ended up hiking 7 miles out-and-back to the summit of Buck Cove Mountain.  The hike was OK but lacked many scenic viewpoints and the summit was only an elevation of 224’.

We took a break from hiking on Friday and, instead, spent the afternoon in Bar Harbor.  We strolled through a lot of shops and bought a few souvenirs.  We sat and did some people-watching at Bar Harbor Beerworks where we stopped for drinks and some lobster, artichoke and spinach dip. 

On Saturday, we hiked 5 miles on the out-and-back Maple Spring Trail.  This was a beautiful trail that ran along a stream most of the way.  Much of the hike involved walking on rocks so it was slow-going at times.  We took a short detour near the end of the trail to climb to the summit of Gilmore Peak, where there was a 180-degree panoramic vista.  Then, we continued up the Maple Spring Trail until we came to the Maple Spring.  Although the spring was not very active, the views on the way up were spectacular panoramas.  When we returned to the campground, we spent part of the afternoon watching a large charity corn hole tournament from our site.

On Sunday, we drove to the area near Seal Harbor.  We first stopped at the Cooksey Drive Overlook and climbed out on cliffs high above the water.  We then went to Hunter Beach Cove and hiked the 1.5-mile loop that included the short Hunter Beach and Hunter Cliffs trails.  The Hunter Beach trail took us down to a rocky beach where we sat and watched the waves.  We spotted a large porcupine along this trail.  The Hunter Cliffs trail rose from the beach and took us along the cliffs above the cove.

On Monday, we hiked the 5.1-mile Meadowbrook Forest Loop in Ellsworth, ME.  The trail consists of a wide service road through the forest and across a couple of streams.  It looked like it must be ideal for snowmobiling, but was only so-so for hiking.  There was a sign at the trailhead saying that the loop was currently impassible due to road/bridge repairs.  Fortunately, since it was Labor Day, we were able to walk through the construction zone.  We only saw one other person on the trail.

On Tuesday, we drove to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.2-mile out-and-back Asticou and Jordan Pond Path.  It was a nice walk in the woods and we had the entire trail to ourselves.

Jan had signed up for an American Kidney Fund fundraiser that involved her committing to hiking at least 37 miles in the month of September.  The number ‘37’ was significant in that it represented the 37 million Americans who suffer from kidney disease.  Jan had set a goal to raise $200 and, thanks to the generosity of our friends and family, she had reached this goal.  As of the morning of Wednesday, September 9th, Jan only lacked 3.8 miles to reach her 37-mile goal for the month.  Wanting to achieve the goal, we hiked the 6-mile Long Pond and Great Notch Trails.  The first two miles of this loop were on a fairly easy path that ran along the west bank of Long Pond.  Then, the trail turned uphill until we reached the Great Notch summit, followed by a sharp descent back to the lake.

For dinner, we had whole lobsters at Lunt’s Lobster Pound.  Although we had had several lobster rolls during our time in Maine, these were our first whole lobsters this summer.

On Thursday, we were unable to find an open parking space at the first two trails we tried so we ended up hiking the 1.7-mile Jesup and Hemlock Loop.  On Friday, we drove an hour to Deer Isle and hiked the 3.5-mile Barred Island Preserve Trail.  We first hiked through the woods for an hour, then arrived at the island exactly at low tide.  Barred Island is only accessible by foot within a 3-hour window centered on low tide.  We walked across the sandbar and spent the next hour walking the circumference of the island, having to find our footing rock by rock.  The views of the ocean were beautiful under the bright blue sky.

On Saturday, we stayed closer to home and hiked the 2.1-mile Woodlawn Park Loop in Ellsworth.  The loop took us through woods that are part of the 180-acre Woodlawn Museum estate, also known as the Black Mansion.  On Sunday, we drove to Mariaville, ME and hiked the 2.5-mile Mariaville Falls trail.  This trail took us through the woods, across a stream and along the Union River.  Part of the trail required walking along a ledge high above the river.

On Monday, we returned to Acadia and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Beachcroft Path to the summit of Champlain Mountain.  The first half of the 951′ ascent was mostly on large, flat rocks that had been neatly arranged to form the path and staircases.  It is hard to imagine the effort that went into constructing that part of the trail.  The second half of the ascent required scrambling over large boulders and climbing up granite faces.  The hike provided beautiful views the whole way up and the scenery from the summit was truly amazing.  For dinner, we returned to Bar Harbor and ate at the Side Street Café.

Tuesday’s hike was our 50th since arriving in Trenton, ME two months earlier.   We did the 3-mile Beech Cliffs and Canada Cliffs Loop.  Although not exceptionally long, the steep climb to the summit of Beech Cliffs made it memorable.  It began with numerous switchbacks and stone stairs that rose quickly up the mountainside.  Then we reached the part of the trail that was so steep that we needed to climb up four iron ladders that were bolted into the rock face.  The first ladder had ten rungs, while the second had eighteen.  The final two ladders were about as long and were positioned one after the other, with a platform in between.  Once we reached the top of each ladder, we had to grab onto steel cables to pull ourselves up.  After scaling the fourth ladder, we reached the top of Beech Cliffs and were able to enjoy beautiful views of Echo Lake.  The return trip was down the Canada Cliffs Trail, which was easier than the first trail but by no means easy. 

Brownsville – Month 3 (March 12 – April 14, 2020)

On Thursday, March 12th, we began our final month at Tropical Trails with a boat outing. A group of eleven from Tropical Trails met at the Dishmans’ condo on South Padre Island. Hill Dishman had his own boat and had borrowed one from a neighbor. Although windy, it was a beautiful day for a boat ride. The activity for the afternoon included a poker crawl in which we picked up a paying card at each stop and the person ending up with the best poker hand would win the pot. Our stops were at Parrot Eyes Restaurant and Bar, Longboard Bar & Grill, Driftwood Landing and Laguna Bob’s. Phil had the best hand through the first three stops, then fell into third place on the fourth card drawn. Fortunately, the ‘4’ he was dealt as his fifth card gave him two pairs and he ended up with the best hand, earning $40 from the pot.

On Friday a large group from Tropical Trails took a 2 ½-hour tram tour at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The park, which encompasses over 97,000 acres, was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds. We had visited the park a couple of years before but had not taken the tram tour. The tram ride enabled us to see much more of the refuge than we had seen before. Unfortunately the speakers in our car were not working so we were unable to hear much of what the tour guide was saying. One of the highlights was seeing a small rattlesnake slithering next to our stopped tram.

That evening we had an ice cream social, followed by two games of LCR. Phil won one of the games, earning $4.50 in winnings.  A lucky couple of days!

On Sunday afternoon, Jan participated in the beanbag toss tournament.  We later met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Longboard Bar & Grill and listened to Shake & Bake perform. We then headed to Pier 19 for dinner.

Tuesday, March 17th, was St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrated with a Happy Hour on the patio at Tropical Trails. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts joined us for the get-together.

On Wednesday evening, we had a fish fry at Tropical Trails. Hill Dishman fried up a lot of trout that he had caught on his boat. Everyone else brought a side dish.

On Thursday we headed over to Winter Haven and had a belated St. Patrick’s Day feast with the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and some of their neighbors. We enjoyed lots of corned beef and cabbage. With the current shortage of toilet paper, Tom and Roxi should have thought twice before letting Beth use their bathroom.

Beth trying to make off with the Rykal’s TP

By Friday, the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic really began to impact our activities. The city of Brownsville closed the schools and imposed a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. (not that that affected us). Restaurants were restricted to take-out. South Padre Island implemented restrictions on gatherings and closed restaurants and bars.  Phil went to H-E-B for groceries and had to stand in a long line to get in the store. Once inside, he found many of the shelves were empty. Toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, eggs and canned goods were unavailable, both in the stores and online.

At Tropical Trails, life was getting increasingly boring. In addition to many of the campers having already departed, some of the remaining campers decided they would self-isolate. This left the campground, which had already been fairly vacant all winter, seem almost like a ghost town. Even when we did see other people, there was very little interaction. There were only four people playing pickleball on Friday and, by Saturday, this had dropped to just Phil and Beth Petruska.

On Saturday afternoon, we finally got around to flying the kite we had purchased when Jason was visiting. Since the kite was only rated for up to 18 mph winds, we had not had many opportunities to fly it earlier. It was quite easy to assemble and flew quite well. The wind was somewhat stronger on Sunday and we flew the kite again. This time Phil relaxed in one of our lawn chairs while the kite soared very high. He may have been testing the limits of the string as the kite was really pulling very hard.

The boredom continued the following week as the pandemic’s spread and resulting stock market drop dominated the news. In addition to the usual strong winds, we had several days with highs in the 90s. Our only interaction with our fellow campers came from a distance. Beth decided not to play pickleball anymore due to COVID-19 concerns, but Phil did manage to arrange to play singles with Hill Dishman a couple of days. Jan made several trips to the fitness center to run on the treadmill. We managed to ride our bikes on occasions when the wind died down somewhat.  On two evenings, we ventured up to the Amenity Center to play shuffleboard and dip our feet in the spa. One night we actually went swimming in the pool for the first time this winter, but spent most of our time relaxing in the spa.

Jan relaxing by the spa

Hill came by on Monday and gave us some of the fish he had caught. We grilled Cajun red fish on the half shell for dinner on Tuesday.

We rarely left the campground, except for occasional trips to the grocery stores. Phil got up early on Tuesday and went to Wal-Mart for their once-a-week Senior Hour at 6 a.m. He got in line at 5:30 and was glad he had arrived early. By 6 a.m. the line was quite long. Although he was able to buy eggs, paper towels and disinfectants (which are in short supply), many of the shelves were empty. We received notice from the campground office that the H-E-B in Port Isabel had been well-stocked and without lines on Thursday. With nothing else to do, we headed there on Friday to see if we could find the things that had been unavailable at Wal-Mart. We did have to stay in line outside for about 10 minutes but, once inside, we were able to find most of our desired groceries.

One of the greatest shortages during the pandemic was toilet paper, with people hoarding it as panic set in. After checking the Sam’s Club website repeatedly for several days, Phil was able to order toilet paper. His only option was to get a 36-roll pack, which should last us a long time. When it arrived on March 31st, it was such a big deal that we had to post it on Facebook. The post resulted in 69 likes and 45 comments. Facebook became a popular means for people to try to find humor in the face of the pandemic. Leslie, one of our Tropical Trails friends, posted a video showing how to make a mask out of boxer shorts and, of course, Phil had to try it. The things people do when they have too much spare time on their hands!

During the remaining two weeks at Tropical Trails, our days largely fell into a routine. Although Phil played pickleball with Hill several mornings each week and we rode our bikes when the wind permitted, most of our days were spent sitting in our trailer. We both killed a lot of time playing on our phones, Phil did a lot of reading, and Jan worked on Diamond Dots and cleaning house. We did visit the pool several evenings, where we largely had the place to ourselves. About the only times we left the campground were for trips to the grocery store. While it was not the camping experience we had hoped for, we were very grateful to have a place where it was so easy to self-quarantine. In a campground with over 300 sites, we were down to 14 RVs on the property by the final two weeks (even at the peak this winter, there had never been more than about 35). We were also grateful that none of our friends and family contracted the coronavirus during these weeks.

We had planned to leave Tropical Trails on April 12th, Easter Sunday. In anticipation of the trip, Phil checked the truck’s tire pressures two days before. After being unable to get any pressure reading on one of the dually tires, he discovered that the tire had a huge tear in the belts. He was able to order a new tire but it wouldn’t arrive until Monday. This caused us to delay our departure for two days. This was actually fortuitous since the weather on Easter was terrible. The temperature hit a high of 103 degrees (blowing away the previous record of 95) and the winds were very strong, with gusts exceeding 40 mph. In addition, since April 12th was our 17th wedding anniversary, we were able to enjoy a relaxing day. Phil grilled some T-bones for dinner and then we headed to the pool.

On Monday, Phil took the truck to Discount Tire to get the new tire installed. Due to short staffing caused by COVID-19, he had to sit in the parking lot for two hours before getting to pull the truck into the service bay. We got up early on Tuesday and we thought we were ready to leave at 8:30 am. One of the last duties is to fold up the steps but, this time, one of the steps would not budge. We tried dousing it with WD-40 but that had no effect. Hill drove by and offered us some help. He had a couple of his guys work on the step and, after much effort, they managed to get it to fold up so we could depart. Our departure was delayed by an hour but we were just happy to be able to go.