Gut-Check Tour – Let’s Review!

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

I finally had a chance to sit down at the computer and review all of our data from our 16-day Gut-Check Tour, and thought I’d share some of the interesting statistics.

For those of you who are new to the blog, we travel in a 24′ Class C RV which Andy drives, and I follow behind in our 2004 Toyota Tacoma Prerunner with a camper shell. We also travel with two cats.

We left Tupelo on Saturday, April 7, and returned on Sunday, April 22. I don’t have the actual miles traveled on either vehicle, but according to Google maps, the route for our trip covered 933 miles. This would be the miles that the RV covered ONLY, and would not include the miles that we drove in the Tacoma for side trips.

Here are some of the numbers for what we spent:

Campsite Fees (including taxes, miscellaneous fees)

We stayed at five different sites on our travels, and were able to get discounts at four of them. Our total campsite fees were $382.96, which were broken down as follows:

Gasoline

We started our trip with over three-quarters tank of gas in the RV, but we haven’t refilled the tank since we returned. Therefore, these figures don’t accurately reflect the amount of gas that we used for the trip, but only shows what we spent while traveling. The total amount spent was $316.42:

  • For the RV – Two stops, $184.40 for 74.6 gallons, average price $2.47/gallon. (On the second stop, the pump cut off at $100, so we didn’t actually completely fill the tank, and that has prevented me from calculating our MPG until the next fill-up.)
  • For the Tacoma – $132.02 for 51.97 gallons, average price $2.54/gallon

Attractions and Entertainment

We really enjoy our sight-seeing excursions, but we didn’t try to go somewhere or do something every day. We’re perfectly happy reading a good book, walking on the beach or taking hikes, which are free. But we also enjoy learning about new places and their history, so we allowed time and budget for exploring. In addition to the list below, we also spent $24 playing the penny slot machines in Biloxi, Mississippi, but we won more than we spent, plus we got free drinks, so that was more of an investment, right? The total for attractions and entertainment was $85:

Food and Drinks

One of the best things about RV life is having access to a full kitchen for all your meals. We eat a primarily whole-foods, plant-based  diet, which means a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, oats and other whole grains, big salads, beans and legumes, and nuts/seeds. We do splurge occasionally, especially on Sunday mornings when we have Pillsbury cinnamon rolls baked in our convection microwave oven, and we did eat out a few times when we were sight-seeing during the day, but most of our meals were in the RV.

Total food cost was $341.03, broken down as follows:

  • Groceries – $181.36, including stocking up on the day before we left.
  • Wine – $21.99
  • Dining out – $137.68, includes four meals plus two treats (Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice cream in Biloxi, and beignets and sno-balls in Panama City Beach)

Other Miscellaneous

We picked up a few new items for the RV, most of which will be used after this trip, but I’m throwing them on this report anyway:

  • Consumables (dishwashing liquid, cleaning supplies, toilet paper) – $9.92
  • Equipment (step-stool for accessing the over-cab area, windshield mount for iPhone) – $48.89
  • Furnishings (shoe organizer, matching towels to cover dinette cushions to protect from cat hair) – $23.65

Adding It All Up

And that brings our total spending on our trip to $1,207.87. I don’t think that’s too bad for a 16-day vacation for two people and two cats!

What We Learned

While this was a vacation, the main purpose of the trip was to give ourselves a gut-check, to make sure that we can be happy living in and out of a small RV for an extended amount of time, without having a concrete plan or schedule of where we’re going to be for the next week or two. We needed to see if we could function without getting on each others’ nerves too much, and if we could deal with the inevitable stress that comes when things don’t go exactly as planned–things break, campsites are not as advertised, weather gets nasty, cats want to be fed EVERY MORNING at 5AM. Just the little things in life.

And I think we came through with flying colors! This trip only reinforced our decision to follow our dream of twenty-five years and pursue full-time travel while living in an RV. We feel like we’ve done our homework and due diligence, and that we’re making an informed decision concerning how we want to live our golden years. We’ve saved money all our working lives, and we’ve invested in vehicles and equipment that will serve us well in the future. We’ve educated and tested ourselves, and now we’re both excited and anxious to get this show on the road, literally!

On this trip, we got lots of experience at finding enough wireless signal to enable us to use the internet to research campgrounds and parks where we wanted to stay. We got more experience at managing our gray and black tank capacity when staying at a site with no sewer hookups. (I wish we had done more dry camping, but we’ll save that for another day.)

We tried some new recipes for the Instant Pot, we found places to refill our drinking water jugs, we verified that we can stock enough fresh leafy green vegetables in our small refrigerator to make our huge salads, and we confirmed that we can easily stick to our WFPB diet while living on the road.

We also discovered that there are some gorgeous city parks (specifically Bonita Reservoir Park in Meridian, Mississippi and Johnny Henderson Family Park in Enterprise, Alabama) that make wonderful spots to stop for lunch on travel days, providing a place to rest and revitalize while getting a good home-prepared meal.

Finally, we confirmed what we expected, that once we go full-time we will want to stay put for more than just two-three days at a time. Not only are moving days more stressful for everyone, including the kitties, it’s also more expensive to move more often due to fuel costs. The beauty of full-time RV life is having the flexibility to park your house in a different place on a different day. In the future, when we find a spot we like, we intend to stay as long as we’re comfortable there, or until we hit the time limit for the site.

What’s Next?

We will definitely be moving forward with our plan to become full-time RVers. We’re not ready yet to publicly announce anything as concrete as a date, but we’re already in the process of downsizing and getting rid of our “stuff”. We’ll be ready to give more details in the next 60 days, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, we’ll be taking a few short trips locally, since that’s what fits into my work schedule for the time being. We have a few maintenance items to take care of on/in the RV – fixing the drawer that won’t close all the way, replacing the stabilizers that got bent up in Alabama, implementing some storage/organization solutions in the bathroom, etc.

But, yeah, we’ve definitely stirred up our nomad blood, so the rest of this year is going to be EPIC!

Gut-Check Tour – Day 16, Back to Sticks and Bricks

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Sunday, April 22, 2018 – Tupelo, Mississippi

Well, we’re back at our sticks and bricks home, and already I can feel the stress piling up. The difference is so stark.

We started off the morning at The Woods RV Park and Campground in Montgomery, Alabama after spending our third night there. We had our usual Sunday morning RV breakfast of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls and coffee, and then got busy preparing to hit the road.

As usual, I handled the inside of the RV, including putting fresh linens on the bed so it will be ready for our next trip. I really hate changing the sheets on that bed–it’s hard to do when you can’t walk around the sides of the mattress, and you’re trying to smooth out the sheets while you’re kneeling on top of them. Andy took care of things on the outside–dumping the tanks, unhooking the utilities, etc.

We pulled out of the campground just shortly after 10AM, and headed north toward Birmingham. The forecast had called for rain, but fortunately it was just overcast when we were preparing to break camp. The drive up I-65 was fine, and we only stopped once so I could put gas in the truck.

We drove straight through Birmingham and hit I-22 West toward Tupelo, and only then did it start raining. There is almost nowhere to stop and park on the side of the road on I-22, so we wound up pulling into a Love’s Truck Stop near Jasper for lunch. We parked in the back lot, in the middle of the big rigs, and had our chopped salad, chips and salsa, and other odds and ends that we wanted to nibble on. We used the restrooms in Love’s and I got a cup of coffee, and then we were on the road again.

It rained pretty heavily on us all the way in to Tupelo, and when we pulled up to the house it was still pouring down. We crated the kitties so make sure we got them in the house safely (didn’t want them to squirm away from us in the rain), and then we only unloaded things that we might need tonight or tomorrow morning. It was just raining too hard to totally unload Lizzy.

We’re home, safe and sound! #rvlife #lifeisgood

A post shared by Suzanne Hight (@suzanne.hight) on

We took Lizzy back to the storage lot and plugged her in so the food in the fridge will be fine. Andy will drive her back to the house tomorrow since the rain should be ended by then, and  he’ll finish the unloading and do the final cleanup then.

The dreary, cold rain was a perfect metaphor for how I felt now that our trip was over.

I logged in to my work email and took a good look at my schedule for the next few days. I’m going to be driving all over North Mississippi from one small town to another, so I had to take care of getting a rental car reservation and getting my schedule organized. No such thing as easing back into work on this job. I can feel the stress in my neck and shoulders just thinking about it.

Since we didn’t have groceries in the house and it was so cold and rainy outside, we decided to just order a pizza for delivery. I ordered from Papa John’s using the iPhone app, and was told that it would take 29-39 minutes to arrive. An hour later it wasn’t here, and I had not received the usual email receipt from Papa John’s, although their app showed the order had been placed, and I had received an email from my credit card provider showing the charge. I called Papa Johns, and they said that it was on the way and should be here any minute. Fifteen minutes later, still no pizza, so I called again. This time, they asked if I wanted to speak to the GM, and I said “Sure”, and then they hung up on me. I called right back, and as I was speaking to the person who answered the phone, the pizza delivery gal showed up in the driveway.

I still had the GM on the phone when I answered the door, and I’m sure they could hear my conversation with the delivery gal. I asked her how long the pizza had been out of the oven and she said she didn’t know. I asked her if it was still hot, and she said yes, but said we could check it. Andy checked it and said it was only slightly warm. She offered to void the charge, and I said that was fine. Anyway, we warmed up the pizza in the microwave.

As depressing as this afternoon and evening have been, I have to say that this was the best two weeks of vacation that I’ve ever had.  And yes, I’m totally ready to move forward toward full-time RVing as quickly as possible. Andy agrees, so it’s a green light.

After a couple of days of getting back in our normal groove, we’ll sit down and map out the next steps. We have a few maintenance items to take care on Lizzy–replace the bent stabilizers, fix/replace the non-working taillight, fix the pantry drawer correctly, track down the source of the drip in the vent hood. Then there are really major things like selling the house and the car. But now that we’ve had a taste of the lifestyle that lies ahead of us, we can’t wait to get started!

Gut-Check Tour – Day 15

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Saturday, April 21, 2018 – The Woods RV Park & Campground, Montgomery, Alabama

This was another one of those days when you just know that you’re where you’re supposed to be at just the right time.

We started the morning with some coffee and refrigerator oats, then we both got showers in the rig. For some reason, this morning it dawned on me just how bad it might be if one of the cats jumped up on the kitchen or bathroom sink and bumped the water faucet while we were gone. The holding tank would quickly fill up and start flooding the RV, and no one would be here to stop it. I mentioned it to Andy, so before we left to go sight-seeing, he turned off the water at the faucet outside. This will now become SOP (standard operating procedure).

Our first stop on our tour today was the Rosa Parks Museum and Library, but first we had to find a parking place. The only public parking we saw that wasn’t metered was a lot that charged $10 for the day. It was covered parking, so we took it, as it was almost directly across the street from the museum.

The Rosa Parks Museum and Library is part of Troy University and is located on the very corner where Rosa was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus to a white person. There are two main parts to the museum, but we only toured one, the main exhibit dealing with her arrest and the resulting bus boycott (we also toured a temporary exhibit of artwork while we waited for the main tour to start at 11 AM).

The tour was more of an “experience” than anything else. It started with a short movie that introduced the social reality of 1955 Montgomery, setting the stage for what happened. The movie was shown in a small room on three overhead screens. The walls of the room were covered with pictures and descriptions of the main characters in the boycott.

As soon as the movie ended, two double doors opened to the next room and we walked through to find a reproduction of the bus that Rosa was riding. They had it set up so it seemed as though we were standing on the sidewalk looking into the windows of the bus. Inside the bus, the scenes were projected (like a movie through the bus windows) showing Rosa entering the bus and getting seated, then the bus pulled to the next stop and more people boarded, looking for seats. Another stop later, white people were grumbling to the driver because they were having to stand, and then the driver stopped and told Rosa and the three other black people in her row to move.

It was a powerful experience because of not only the truth of the story itself, but also the way it was presented. It really put us right in the scene, as if we were witnessing it as it happened. The scene continued until Rosa was arrested and led off the bus, and then we moved to the next exhibit that replicated the Holt church where mass meetings were held to organize the boycott. They had actual recordings of the speakers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the congregation singing in the meetings–very powerful.

From there we moved into the next room where they presented the timeline of the boycotts and how they worked. They talked about the car pools, about how the white employers would provide transportation for their black maids and employees, and how the white power structure tried everything in their power to break the boycott.

I learned so much that I didn’t know about this particular part of the Civil Rights movement, and the day was just getting started!

We left the museum about 12:30 PM, and my plan was to go to Touch of Soul Cafe for lunch, but we found it closed (even though their website said they were open on Saturday). Right next door was the D’Roads Cafe, which I had read good things about, so we decided to go there. From the outside, it looks like a decrepit storefront, but inside it’s beautiful. There were just a few other people there, and the waitress told us  we could sit anywhere. Our only complaint was that it was really cold, so Andy had to go back to the truck to get his jacket.

The server showed us the day’s menu written on a small whiteboard (it changes daily based on what’s in season). It all looked and sounded good but wasn’t vegan, but at the bottom of the board was written “Vegan, vegetarian and paleo options available.” I asked the server about those options and she said she would have the chef come out to discuss them with us.

The chef came to our table a few minutes later. She was a short Latina (Cuban?) woman wearing a tan drivers hat, and she was so helpful. She talked about the different vegetables she could prepare. We asked her if she could fix fried sweet plantains, and she smiled a huge smile and said “Of course!”. Then she asked if we were picky eaters, and we said “No, as long as it’s not meat.” She said, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna fix you something beautiful!”

And she did! A little later the server came back with two plates of different vegetables, seasoned slightly spicy, with lots of onion. There was also a small cornbread-type bun, split almost like a pita pocket, that was stuffed with fresh spinach–it was scrumptious. And a little later, the chef came out with the fried plantains, done perfectly.

After our meal, she came back and talked with us for a bit about our RV life, and how she also wants to travel by RV after her daughter gets out of school in a few years. She gave us her business card and told us to keep in touch. Janett Malparlida, thanks again for a wonderful experience at D’Road Cafe!

After lunch, our next stop was the Freedom Rides Museum, located in the old Greyhound Bus station a few blocks away. When we entered the museum, we were greeted immediately by the receptionist, who told us that there two actual Freedom Riders visiting today. She introduced us to Al and Kredelle Petway, brother and sister, who were part of the Freedom Riders movement in 1961. They were in town because Kredelle is participating in a panel discussion about the Freedom Riders tonight, so they had stopped by the museum to visit.

It just so happened that a small group of students and their teacher from Georgia also showed up at the museum at the same time, so they set up an impromptu question-and-answer session where we could all learn about their experiences. Al and Kredelle, along with their father, didn’t ride a bus (I mistakenly thought the Freedom Riders were all on buses). They actually flew on a commercial flight from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested upon arrival (other Freedom Riders also took trains).

I knew vaguely about the bus bombing, and about the mob violence in Anniston, Birmingham and Montgomery when the buses would pull in. But I didn’t realize that Jackson became the focus of the movement when it became apparent that it was too dangerous for all of them to try to continue to New Orleans. Over 300 people were arrested and held in Jackson jails and Parchman Penitentiary. Their treatment was horrendous. It sickens me to think about it.

We felt so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to meet Al and Kredelle. They were so gracious and generous with their stories and experiences, and the young students especially were enthralled. I know I’ll never be the same because of today.

After we left the museum we walked around downtown some more, looking at the architecture. There are some beautiful old buildings in Montgomery, including the First Baptist Church and the First Presbyterian Church buildings. There’s a wonderful fountain in a traffic circle from where you can see the State Capitol building up the street.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of downtown Montgomery, but we started feeling a few sprinkles and decided we had better get back to the RV since we had left windows and vents open. We got home and set up our lawn chairs on our “porch” and enjoyed the afternoon–I eventually came inside and took a short nap.

We ate leftover Spaghetti Puttanesca for dinner, did a little route planning for tomorrow and called it a night.

I checked my work schedule for next week, and sure enough, Julie has me booked up with travel on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so there won’t be any re-entry recovery time. It’s going to be a huge shock to the system, going back to work next week. 😦

Gut-Check Tour – Day 14

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Friday, April 20, 2018 – The Woods RV Park & Campground, Montgomery, Alabama

Today was just a day for staying around home, getting some chores done and taking care of some maintenance items.

I spent my early morning working on some bill-paying and bookkeeping, as well as blog entries. After Andy woke up I did some house-cleaning.

While I was making the bed this morning, I noticed that the vent cover on the fan over the bed had a lot of mildew on it. I told Andy that I would get up on the roof and clean it as soon as the wind settled down a little bit. He decided to tackle it himself, so he gathered the cleaning wipes and paper towels and headed to the roof. He did get it pretty clean, but of course the paper towels and wipes were blowing off the roof, so he had to walk around the park picking up his trash when he finished.

He also decided to try and fix the pantry drawer that wouldn’t shut all the way. He did get it to close but it’s still just a little bit wonky and he says he will probably just replace the slider hardware when we get back home. For now we’re leaving the drawer empty in case the extra weight might damage it further. We have what few grocery items we have left stored in bags.

We both did some walking around the campgrounds for some exercise, and were surprised to find a herd of cows grazing in the pasture right next to the campground. Such a bucolic scene!

Cows!

We also explored the small lake at the back of the campground, and it seems like it would be a perfect place for smaller rigs to boondock or for tent campers to set up.

Lake at The Woods RV Park

We had a big salad and some black beans for lunch, and then decided to go out for dinner. I did some research to find out what vegan options there are in Montgomery, and there aren’t many. I found a Thai restaurant, Noodle Cafe in northeast Montgomery that looked good, so we tried that. It’s about a 15-minute drive from the campground, mostly on freeway, and it’s located in a nice strip center.

I had the pad thai with tofu, and Andy had the fried rice with tofu/no egg/extra pineapple. Both dishes were very good. We planned to order mango sticky rice for dessert, but were told that they had run out–all too typical for Thai restaurants in our experience. Don’t put it on the menu if you aren’t going to have it!!

The campground really filled up last night with lots of big rigs pulling in. It seems like every rig parked near us has at least one dog, and so Maggie and Molly are spending a lot of time at the screen door and the windows making sure they know who’s in charge around here.

Tomorrow is our last full day on the road–so sad! I’m hoping to visit some of the important Civil Rights memorials here in Montgomery, depending on what’s open on Saturdays.

Gut-Check Tour – Day 13

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Thursday, April 19, 2018, The Woods RV Park and Campground, Montgomery, Alabama

It’s moving day again, and we’ve arrived at the last campsite of our journey.

I got up fairly early this morning and fixed some refrigerator oats for our breakfast, giving them time to let the chia seeds gel while I updated my journal. We had breakfast and cleaned up the dishes, then I went to get a shower. This time I used the showers in the newer ADA restrooms. These are cleaner and roomier than the ones in the older bathhouse, but only the handheld shower head really worked. The shower head that was fixed higher on the wall was just barely spitting water. Regardless, I got a good hot shower and felt refreshed for the day.

I started getting the inside of the RV cleaned up and ready to move while Andy got his shower, and then he got things ready to go on the outside. This time we did not have any of the issues we had on the last move–he remembered to raise the stabilizers before moving Lizzy off the leveling blocks, and he made sure to disconnect all the hoses and fittings and put them away.

We pulled out just a little after 10:30, but had to stop at the dump station on the way out to empty the tanks. Then we were on our way. I hated to leave Falling Waters State Park, it was such a beautiful spot!

We headed north from Florida into Alabama, and made our lunch stop at Johnny Henderson Family Park in Enterprise, Alabama. This is a beautiful city park that has numerous baseball and softball fields, a lake with swans and a walking bridge, several playgrounds and a splash pad for kids, and a walking track that goes around the lake.

We got a parking spot near the restrooms and had our lunch of salad and pinto beans. It was a beautiful sunny, breezy day with low humidity, so we opened the windows and the door and were completely comfortable without the air conditioner.

After lunch we took a walk around the park on their walking track, and could not get over how gorgeous it was. This was one of the most beautiful city parks I’ve ever been to, and would love to be able to walk here every day.

After our walk we got back on the road. Andy needed to stop for gas for Lizzy, and Apple Maps wasn’t really cooperating with either of us, but we finally got to a gas station where he pumped $100 worth of gas before the pump shut off (37.894 gallons @ $2.639). He doesn’t think she was completely filled up, but it was close enough.

We came into Montgomery from the southeast side, and the part we drove through did not appear to be the best part of the city, although we haven’t seen the rest of it for comparison yet. We got to the RV park just before 4:00 PM, got checked in and assigned to site #205. It’s a typical RV park, with gravel pads, full hookups, and no shade. It’s near the freeway so there’s the background noise of traffic but it’s not that noticeable inside the RV. There’s a small lake at the rear of the property but it’s not visible from our site. They have three washers and three dryers at $1.50 a load. And, they have GREAT Wi-fi!

After we got hooked up and settled in, we relaxed on our front porch for a bit with some wine and snacks, and then I cooked dinner. I made Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca with Chickpeas and Artichoke Hearts, one of my favorite one-pot dishes. I didn’t have any capers to go in it, so we just spritzed it with lemon juice on the plate. It was a good, warm, filling meal, and there’s enough leftovers for our last night here.

The evening was cool and breezy. We tried taking a walk around the park after sundown but it was uncomfortably cold and windy so we only made one loop. We spent the rest of the evening listening to music and reading. There’s nothing I love better than getting into bed with those speakers right over my head playing some good music, and reading a good book until I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s so relaxing!

There’s a lot to see here in Montgomery related to the Civil Rights movement, and I’m hoping that we can do some exploring tomorrow. This is the city where Rosa Parks inspired the bus boycott, where Martin Luther King, Jr. pastored as a young man, and where the Freedom Riders made history. There’s also the first capitol building of the Confederacy which doesn’t interest me at all. Oh, and there’s the Hank Williams museum and memorial. That’s enough to get us out of the RV for a bit.

I’m sad that this trip is almost over! But it has been amazing, and has given me a small taste of what our future life will be like. It will be AWESOME!!

Gut-Check Tour – Day 12

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 – Falling Waters State Park, Chipley, Florida

What an awesome day!

We started out enjoying a beautiful sunrise in our shady campsite, while having a big plate of fruit and some coffee.

After cleaning up the breakfast dishes and getting dressed, we walked down to the waterfall. I had been there yesterday, but Andy had not gone with me. It was a nice stroll, and such a beautiful setting–I could spend hours just sitting down there listening to the water cascade off the lip of the sinkhole.

We came back to the campsite and rested on our front porch for awhile, and then we had our lunch of chopped salad and black beans. Then it was time for another exploring trip.

We wanted to to visit Panama City Beach since neither of us had been there. Before we left, I checked TripAdvisor.com to see what sites and experiences in the area that others had recommended. One that caught our eye was David’s Sno-Balls, a local shop that makes New Orleans-style beignets and sno-balls, as well as po-boys and other things. We are suckers for beignets, and Andy loves shaved ice desserts, so we decided to make David’s our first stop.

It took us about an hour to get there from the campground. It was an interesting drive through the north Florida countryside and the Pine Log State Forest. We made it to David’s around 1:30 and had an order of a dozen “baby beignets” (regular beignets cut into quarters and then fried), followed by a Dreamsicle sno-ball stuffed with vanilla soft-serve ice cream. It was a totally decadent stop, but worth it.

We left there and drove a couple blocks south to the main beach drag, and were fortunate enough to find free public parking at Half-Hitch MB Miller Pier. We wound up walking about a mile down the beach and then a mile back. It was a gorgeous day, the beaches were not crowded but there were plenty of people there having fun and enjoying the sunshine and just-right breezes. By the time we finished our walk we were wishing we had come prepared to get in the water and spend more time on the beach–and we’re not really “beach people”. It was THAT enjoyable.

My only complaint about PCB is that there aren’t enough (any?) public restrooms available, at least on the part of the beach where we were. We were lucky enough to find a condominium with an unlocked gate to their pool area, and the ladies restroom was unlocked–otherwise we might have had to leave the beach to look for a McDonald’s.

After our beach stroll, we drove further west for several miles, then turned north, stopped for gas, and then headed back to the campground, arriving here about 4:45 PM. We had left the windows open and the fans on in the RV for the kitties, and they were just fine in the shade of all these trees.

We relaxed awhile and then we fixed black bean burgers and chips for dinner before calling it a night. It was another one of those days that makes me even more anxious to start our full-timing lifestyle. The freedom to go new places, see more things, live with a minimum agenda–it’s something that I look forward to and can’t wait to get started!

Tomorrow, sadly, it’s time to leave this beautiful campsite and head north, back toward the sticks and bricks. We’ll be staying in Montgomery for a few days in an RV park with full hookups, and I’m hoping to find some interesting things to see in the area. There’s a rich history of civil rights struggle in Montgomery, and I’d like to check out some of the exhibits or museums associated with that.

Onward bound!

Gut-Check Tour – Day 11

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 – Falling Waters State Park, Chipley, Florida

Today was pretty laid-back. We didn’t do anything exciting, but that’s a nice kind of day as well.

I spent some time in the morning working on creating Google Maps of our route so I can start publishing these daily accounts as blog posts. Trying to figure out Google Maps is a challenge, so I felt good when I got the maps done.

I fixed us some oatmeal for breakfast, then we both got showers at the bathhouse. The facilities are certainly not five-star caliber, but the water was hot and plentiful, and the place was clean. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait for a shower, as there was no one else in the bathroom.

Andy fixed us a big salad for lunch, and I made the cashew dressing and heated up some pinto beans to go with it.

After lunch we drove into the nearby town of Chipley to visit Walmart for groceries and to refill our four drinking water containers. Since we eat so many fresh fruits and vegetables, and our refrigerator is small, we need to restock fairly often.

I knew that most Walmarts have good complimentary wi-fi in their stores, so I had brought along my laptop. After we finished shopping, we pulled the truck around to the back of the store, parking close to the wall, accessed the wi-fi, and from there I was able to research and book us a place to stay after we leave our current location. I’ve learned a lot from watching various nomads’ YouTube channels! LOL

After we got back from town and put the groceries away, I decided to take a walk to the crown jewel of this state park, the waterfall. According to the information I could find online, it’s a 1.1 mile round trip hike (walk), so it didn’t seem that it would be too bad, but Andy didn’t feel like it was something he wanted to tackle. So I did the walk myself, and it was beautiful!

The trail starts from here in the campground, just a couple of sites away from ours. The first part is downhill on hard-packed sand with steps cut into the hill using landscape timbers. There’s a boardwalk section at the bottom of the hill that crosses a wet area full of ferns, and then you emerge from the trees onto the beach and swimming area of the small lake. There are some nice bathrooms there along with a picnic area. There’s also a sign saying that there are alligators in the area.

Crossing the beach, the trail continues on a concrete sidewalk, before turning into boardwalk for the remainder of the walk. And not just any boardwalk–it’s NICE boardwalk with railings and the occasional covered bench for rest and reflection. Along the way there’s a plugged oil well from when there was an unsuccessful drilling attempt (they seem to be inordinately proud of this failure), and not far past the oil well is the waterfall.

The boardwalk turns into steps that descend into a sinkhole, and the waterfall cascades over the lip of the sinkhole into a cave 75 feet below. We were lucky that we had all that rain come through on Saturday night because the waterfall only runs like this after there’s been a good rain. It’s not a huge amount of water, but it’s really beautiful, and the air is nice and cool standing on the observation point halfway down into the sinkhole.

I took some pictures and video and showed them to Andy when I got back, and I told him how easy the hike was, so he’s going to go with me to revisit it tomorrow.

We spent some time reading on our front porch, and then I prepared hobo packs for Andy to cook for dinner. I used onion, small yellow potatoes, peppers (red, yellow and green), garlic, and sliced Morningstar Farm Breakfast “Sausage” (veggie) links. (We usually use Tofurkey Italian Sausage, but Walmart didn’t have those.) I added a generous shake of Mrs. Dash Southwest seasoning and wrapped everything up into big foil packages, one for each of us. Andy cooked them on the grill for an hour and they were delicious! This was the first time we had used the Morningstar Farm sausages, but they weren’t bad, and it’s good to know they work as an alternative to the Tofurkey brand.

After cleaning up the dinner dishes (not many since we cooked in foil packets), we enjoyed the evening sounds of birdsong while reading and chatting, and turned in around 9:00 PM.

It’s interesting that we have not even attempted to use the television or watch a DVD the entire time we’ve been on this trip. We both prefer to read, and the television just seems like an invasion of chaos when you’re parked in such a beautiful peaceful space. I don’t miss the TV at all.

Gut-Check Tour – Day 10

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Monday, April 16, 2018 – Falling Waters State Park, Chipley, Florida

This was easily our most challenging day on the road yet.

We started off the day preparing to check out of the Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV Park in Summerland, Alabama. Their checkout time is 11:30 AM, which is earlier than most of the places we’ve stayed, but we didn’t anticipate any problem meeting that deadline.

We had a problem with the bottom drawer under the stove, the one we use to store our groceries. It didn’t want to shut all the way, so Andy decided to try to fix it. After unloading the drawer, it took us awhile to figure out how to get the drawer off the sliders. Then Andy spent over an hour and a half trying to figure out how to fix the problem. By 10:15, it still wasn’t fixed, it stuck out further than ever, and we only had an hour to get ready to leave.

I bagged up the groceries and put them on the bed, and I started getting the inside ready to leave while Andy worked on the outside. I made a quick batch of hummus for lunch, and then cleaned up the breakfast dishes. By about 11:00 we were almost ready, and I walked the trash down to the dumpster. When I came back, Andy had already moved the rig off the leveling blocks.

I got in the rig and helped him set up his new windshield mount for his iPhone so he could use it for navigation instead of the Garmin, and I got him connected to Spotify for his Paul Thorn fix. Finally we were ready to go, and I left the rig and got in the Tacoma to leave. Suddenly Andy appeared at my window and told me he had screwed up the stabilizers.

It turns out he had forgotten to raise the stabilizers when he moved the rig off the leveling blocks. They had dug up the ground and gotten bent and twisted when he had backed up. So he tried moving the rig forward, which helped straighten them back up, but they are still somewhat bent. He was able to raise them with some effort, but will likely need to be replaced.

So we were finally able to pull out of our campsite right at 11:30. I was following the rig in the truck, and as we were about to turn onto the highway, I noticed that our brass water spigot was still attached to the city water inlet on the side of the rig. I radioed Andy to let him know, so he stopped and removed it.

We drove a little over an hour on Highway 90 and then I-10 to our first stop, the Santa Rosa County Rest Stop in Florida (mile marker 30). We cut up some veggies to go with the hummus I had fixed earlier, and we had a nice lunch in the rig as it was a little too windy and cool to eat outside. The rest stop was nice, if a  little noisy from the big rigs parked around us. There was a walking path around the perimeter of the property which we took advantage of to stretch our legs.

The second part of the drive was pretty non-eventful. Molly rode under the passenger seat, while Maggie rode in Andy’s lap. We got to Falling Waters State Park near Chipley, Florida around 4:30 PM. Andy pulled up to the gate and got instructions from the ranger. He pulled ahead and left for the campsite while I waited for the ranger to finish a phone call so she could give me the permit tag to hang in the truck. By the time I got to our campsite (#17) Andy was nowhere to be found. He had missed the turn into the camping area. I tried raising him on the walkie talkie but could not, so I turned around to go look for him. I met him coming into the camping area, and then turned around and followed him back in.

We got set up in our campsite (electric/water but no sewer) after using every leveling block we have on board, including the wooden ones that Marty (previous owner) had left us. Andy was even able to get the stabilizers lowered to the ground with some effort and choice words. He met our next door neighbors who seem nice–they have a new-to-them Class B Aspect that they are just getting acquainted with.

Finally we were set up and able to enjoy the surroundings. Our campsite is very wooded and rustic. It’s on the side of the tallest hill in Florida (372 feet) so our cell reception is poor. The bathhouse is decent, with toilets and two showers in each bathroom. They even have a dishwashing station for tent campers (haven’t seen one of those since we camped in Big Bend National Park years ago).

While Andy relaxed on our front porch, I took a walk to the end of the road where we came in, and found that cellphone reception is actually really fast at the top of the hill. We enjoyed our front porch until dinnertime, when I fixed baked sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli/carrots for our evening meal.

We were pretty tired and turned in early. The campground is full but very peaceful.

So we have a couple of maintenance items to take care of–trying to get the pantry drawer to close and replacing the bent stabilizers. Andy was pretty discouraged after such a rough day, but this is not anything we can’t handle, and it’s the type of thing we’re going to encounter on the road when we go full-time. That is the point of this two-week gutcheck cruise, to make sure that both we and the rig are cut out for this lifestyle. We’re learning a lot, sometimes from our mistakes, but we’re definitely enjoying the lifestyle. Today we learned that even when we have a time crunch, it is imperative that we take the time to check EVERYTHING before we move the rig. Checklists are helpful, but only if they are followed.

I haven’t yet made any reservations for our last stop, which will be Thursday-Saturday nights. Most likely it will be in the Montgomery area at an RV park, since the state parks are pretty much booked on the weekends. Andy is not inclined to boondock for three nights. But I need to get some better cellphone service so I can do my research. That will be my task for tomorrow.

Gut-Check Tour – Day 9

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Sunday, April 15, 2018 – Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV Park, Summerland, Alabama

We survived the rainstorm of the previous night without any lasting damage that we can find. I did find some water in the overhead compartment in the little bin under the window. I think it was due to condensation dripping from the window as I could not find any moisture on the walls or ceiling. We’ve had water in this area before and it’s always been when there was condensation on the windows. Once again, we’ll need to keep an eye on it.

The drip that was coming from the vent hood over the stove stopped during the night when the rain stopped. I guess that could have been condensation inside the vent pipe dripping back onto the counter, but we’ll see. It was still kind of warm outside when that drip started, so the vent pipe may not have been cool enough to cause condensation.

Since it’s Sunday, I fixed cinnamon rolls for breakfast, which is our RVing tradition. After breakfast I took a 35-minute walk around the park. The weather was clear, breezy and cool, with temperatures in the 50’s during my walk.

We decided to do some exploring in Fairhope and Mobile. I found a restaurant on Happy Cow, the Sunflower Cafe in Fairhope, and one reviewer said they had vegan Reubens. That’s Andy’s favorite sandwich, so we decided to go there, and then go to tour the USS Alabama in Mobile.

We found the Sunflower Cafe in a small strip center. It’s a cute place, but unfortunately on Sunday they have a special brunch menu, and the Reuben was not on the menu. We went with the vegan breakfast burrito which came with roasted potatoes, fruit salad and a vegan muffin. It was delicious, probably much better than the Reuben would have been. We also had their blueberry iced tea which was also very good.

After finishing our meal, we drove to Mobile to visit the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. I had no idea it was so large. It cost us $13 each to take the tour (we got the senior rate, regular rate is $16), and the tour included the battleship, the submarine USS Drum, and all the aircraft on the premises.

We spent about two hours just inside the battleship USS Alabama. It was fascinating! They had the tour divided into three separate routes, Yellow, Red and Green, so you could concentrate on a particular area if you were limited in time. Of course, we did all three routes. We climbed stairs, we crawled into gun turrets, Andy tried out one of the bunks, we did everything possible on that ship.

Touring the USS Alabama, learning about Navy life during WWII. @silverlap

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Next we toured the USS Drum, a submarine that is dry-docked next to the Alabama. That was a cool tour as well, as we got to climb up into the conning tower. Definitely tight quarters!

By then we were both pretty tired and it was 4:30. We didn’t get to look at all the aircraft that they have parked around the property, but you can’t get inside those anyway. But we had a great time, and definitely recommend anyone with an interest in history visit this site. By the way, the park is totally privately funded with no tax payer support. I find that both interesting and sad.

We got back home about 5:30 and had a dinner of leftover Wild Rodeo salad, brown rice salad, and I made a fruit salad to go with it. I’m exhausted and going to bed early. Tomorrow is moving day, so I need to rest up for the drive.

Gut-Check Tour – Day 8

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Saturday, April 14, 2018 – Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV Park, Summerdale, Alabama

Today started out slow with coffee and oatmeal, along with a shower in the rig. This was the first time we’ve used our own shower since we’ve been on this trip, but the two shower rooms they have available here in this park weren’t all that inviting.

After getting all cleaned up and presentable, we drove into Fairhope to Walmart to do a little shopping for groceries and supplies. We bought a few things to furnish the rig:

  • Three light brown towels to cover the dinette benches, replacing the mismatched blankets
  • A shoe organizer to go over the bathroom door
  • Shower curtain hooks (Andy’s plan was to hang the laundry bag from the shower curtain rod where it connects to the wall. The hooks he bought were cheap and wouldn’t work.)
  • A step-stool to make it easier to move things around in the loft, especially on the side by the door. I’m concerned that if we continue to use the back of the dinette as a step-stool it will eventually loosen it from the wall.

We also bought some groceries and got gas for the truck while we were there.

We enjoyed the 15-minute-each-way drive to and from Walmart, although we didn’t really get into Fairhope. When we got back to the rig, we put away all the groceries and then had a lunch of leftovers–Wild Rodeo salad with quinoa, brown rice salad, and the last of the f@cking curry (that’s how it’s spelled in the cookbook, not my spelling!).

After cleaning up the dishes from lunch we loaded up the dirty laundry and drove over to the park clubhouse to the laundry facility. The machines were $1.25 each, so it cost us a total of $7.50 to do three loads. Fortunately no one was there when we got there so we were able to start all three loads at the same time. Other people arrived after we got started, and they had to wait for our loads to finish. But it was nice to be able to do all the laundry simultaneously rather than sequentially.

It’s laundry day after one week on the road. #rvlife #reallife #lifeisgood

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Before going to the laundry room, I started a pot of soup in the Instant Pot, using the slow cooker feature. I wasn’t sure the soup would be ready in time for dinner at 5:30, and sure enough, it wasn’t. I tried using the Saute function to just cook it normally, but that was too hot and the soup was boiling too fast. So in the end I wound up just pressure cooking it for four minutes and then using the quick release method. Next time, I’ll just skip the whole slow cooking method and go straight to pressure cooking. The soup was good though, we ate the whole pot.

The forecast for the evening was for severe storms, and we were under a tornado watch until 2:00 AM Sunday morning, as well as a flash flood watch. The radar looked ominous with a huge line of bright red moving from west to east. We sat at the dining table and watched the lightning in the west as it got closer and closer. The rain started about 9:15 PM and it came down hard, especially with the wind blowing 30-40 MPH.

Lizzy held up well and didn’t seem to rock with the wind. The only problem we found was a slow drip coming in from the vent hood over the stove. It was soaking the countertop behind the stove and sink. We put a plastic bowl under the drip to catch the water and went to bed.

The electricity blinked off and on, but there were no extended outages.

Maggie and Molly both handled the storm really well. There was one particularly loud clap of thunder that sounded very close by, and we all jumped, but the kitties seemed to shake it off just fine.

Not sure what we’re going to do tomorrow. We were planning to go hear Kyle Brady (Drivin’ and Vibin’) play at a local restaurant, but I checked the restaurant’s webpage to see what time he was playing and they don’t show him on the schedule for this weekend. So we may just do some sight-seeing, depending on what mood strikes us. 🙂

I’m still having a great time, and feel so glad we’re pursuing this lifestyle. I’m starting to understand how people like Caravan Carolyn can totally lose track of what day it is. If I didn’t have to be back to my job on the 23rd, I wouldn’t look at the calendar at all. We’re learning to compromise and deal with the small space, and we’re finding new ways to organize things. I’m trying to let go of my need to “do something”, but it’s hard.

I’m really struggling with whether or not to pursue all the photography and videography projects that I anticipated doing on the road. It just seems like such a hassle to pull out a camera, tripod, gimbal, etc., and try to record something when I ought to be just looking at it and experiencing it. And then there’s the editing that needs to be done.

I don’t want to give up on it yet, not until we actually go full-time and I don’t have these time constraints in the back of my mind. The scenery that I really want to record is all out west anyway. But right now I’m just not that motivated to become a YouTuber.