Thursday, November 16, 2017

What we did on our monthly vacation

November 16, 2017--Some people claim that when you are retired, you no longer take vacations; you travel. Not so for Jim and me. We are so busy at home, with various projects (fun and not-so-fun) that we take vacations to get away from it all, just like we did when we were working. (Actually, I never had the opportunity to take real vacations when I was a single parent, so our retirement vacations are infinitely better!)

A few months ago when we bought our RUV (recreational utility vehicle) "Thor," one of the caveats we made was to travel at least once a month. These short breaks from routine would be taken mostly in Florida, and the most economical way for seniors to camp in Florida is to make use of our state's superior state park system. (Senior residents get to camp at half price, which is usually about $12 a night. Can't beat that rate.)

This week we camped for four nights at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a 22,000 natural wilderness. Entering the preserve is like going back in time, to old Florida, with its rich biodiversity of both flora and fauna, including huge live oaks decorated with Spanish moss, long-leaf pine trees, golden flowers, alligators, all sorts of birds, deer, bison, wild horses...and of course the prairie.

The prairie seems endless. It is rich in its biodiversity. We did not see its wild horses, alligators, or bison, but the prairie is home to all of those animals, and many more.

When we first saw the prairie, I could have sworn we were back in Illinois. It is so unFlorida-like!

The state park is located about 10 miles outside of Gainesville, in Micanopy, a quaint small town that has survived and thrived as an antiques center. Because the shops don't open until 11 a.m. and the local museum doesn't open until 1 p.m., we meandered around the town. Many of the houses were large, old structures, nicely restored and maintained.

The Huffington Post claims that Micanopy is one of the 12 "cutest towns" in the United States. 

Our wanderings on the outskirts of the town led us to a park dedicated to the area's Native Americans. One section of the park was fenced in to protect burial mounds. We were lured to a building marked "museum" but were disappointed to find that it was locked up and apparently no longer used. In fact, the entire park seemed to be rather neglected. One interesting thing we found, however, was a large bat house on its premises. It wasn't as large as the bat houses in an RV park in the Suwannee River area, but it could host a lot of bats.

A large bat house in the Native American park in Micanopy.
I had never been to Gainesville, the home of the University of Florida, so we drove into the city. UF is about the size of Indiana University. It would appear that the town grew around the university, which is very spread out. As we drove through the campus on city streets, a large banner announced a 100-year celebration of the Florida State Museum of Natural History, which is manned by UF personnel and located on campus. What a treat! No entry fees, and several of the exhibit areas abutted  the laboratories of "real" paleontologists, who gladly allowed visitors to interrupt their meticulous fossil-cleaning to answer questions.

Today we drove out to the Dudley Farm Historic State Park, a working farm, whose website description says it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is "an authentic working farm" that shows the evolution of Florida farming from the 1850's to the mid-1940-s "through three generations of the Dudley family." The farm has 18 buildings, including the family farmhouse with its original furnishings. It even has a functional cane syrup complex. Today, the workers were making cane syrup, just as it had been made 150 years ago.

One of the farm's mules

The homestead at Dudley Farm

One reason we chose Payne Prairie State Park was because of its lake and the possibility of fishing for bass, bream, and other species. The park recently completed a very nice fishing pier. Since we are not yet able to haul our kayaks on our new car (we need roof racks), we were glad to have the pier available.

We fished and fed the little critters a great buffet each evening, but the only thing we caught was fun.

Until next time (which will be soon),

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Monday, November 13, 2017

A Roguish tow

November 13, 2017--Some RVers never tow a car. I guess they either do without a vehicle or they rent/lease a car when they get to their destination. Jim and I have left our car at home only one time, a few months after we started RVing. We had gone to a Good Sam Rally, where we learned two things:

  • We are not rally people. 
  • We never wanted to be without our car again. Being confined to a campground can be, well, confining.
There are two ways to tow an auto: flat-towing (all four wheels on the ground) or dolly-towing (two--or less often, four-wheels off the ground). Each type of towing has its advantages; each has its disadvantages. 

The primary advantage of flat-towing is that hooking and unhooking the car are quick and easy procedures. The biggest disadvantage is that if you trade cars, you need to invest in a new base plate for the new vehicle. (The base plate is attached to the frame of the car and is the "thing" to which the hitch attaches.)

The primary advantage of dolly-towing is that you invest in the dolly one time and can tow virtually any front-wheel-drive car on it. The main disadvantage is that you have to stow the dolly when you are in the RV park and/or storage area. 

When we bought our first RV, we had a car that was not towable. Instead of buying a dolly then, we traded our car for one that could be towed. Jim installed the base plate on the HHR we purchased, and when we decided we wanted a larger car, he did the same for the Ford Edge. 
Towing a car on a dolly requires attaching straps and chains to the undercarriage. 

The Rogue is almost ready. 

We recently decided we wanted to get a new car with all of the latest safety features, and we also decided that we would buy a dolly so that we could make our car-buying decision from a full range of cars that met our criteria instead of only those that could be towed. We opted to buy a 2017 Nissan Rogue. 

We purchased an excellent pre-owned dolly for a good price in anticipation of our new-car purchase. After watching the videos demonstrating how to use the dolly several times the last couple of days, this morning Jim set up the dolly; I inched the car up the ramps; and he strapped the wheels down. The procedure admittedly took longer than hitching our old car to the RV, but it was not bad. I am sure it will get easier each time we take a trip.

When we got to the state park where we are camping, we were able to unhitch in an overflow parking area, where we left the dolly (locked, and chained to a tree). We could have stowed it in our camping spot, but this was easier. As for stowing it when we have the RV in storage...not a problem. Jim just backs the RV over the tongue of the dolly. No one can steal it and it takes up no additional room.

Hindsight is always 100%. If we were buying our first RV today, we would buy a dolly, no question about it. 

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Saturday, November 11, 2017

How many cars can you buy in one week?

Most people—if they wanted to buy a car—would buy one. Not us. We bought three. That’s right. Three. Here is how it happened.

Almost five years ago, we purchased our 2011 Ford Edge as a certified pre-owned vehicle with about 25,000 miles on it. In its day, the Edge was an almost top-of-the-line car, with leather interior, power seats, MyFordSync navigation and radio system, and lots of other options. We chose the Edge because it could be equipped to be towed flat on the ground behind our RV.

The Edge had 78,000 miles on it, but was fully functional and highly dependable. However, Jim and I are getting older, and we decided we wanted to buy a new(er) SUV that would come equipped with all the latest safety equipment, including adaptive cruise control, which allows you to follow the car ahead at a safe distance and even stops automatically to avoid a rear-end collision. We also decided that instead of buying a car that could be flat-towed, we would buy a vehicle that could be towed with its front wheels on a trailer dolly. The other requirement we had: The car we had to be capable of towing our small bass boat.

After carefully researching SUVs, I narrowed our choices to a half-dozen cars, all 2017 models. At the top of the list were the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CRV-EX, both of which came with the desired safety equipment as standard. We leaned toward the RAV4, because they also came with luggage rails, whereas we would have to pay extra for the rails on the CRV.

On October 30, we spent about six hours in a local Toyota dealership, initially looking at and driving various models of the RAV4, which comes in 11 different trim packages with progressively more expensive price tags. We found the model we wanted, but could not come to terms with the dealer. We were ready to walk, when the sales manager offered a certified pre-owned 2017 with low mileage and all the safety features and options we wanted, at a price we could agree on. We bought it and said we would pick it up at 2 p.m. October 31.

I don’t know what is wrong with that dealership. The first day (trying to get our business), they fawned over us and even bought us lunch. The day we arrived to finish the paperwork, they did not even offer us a bottle of water. And they did not have the paperwork ready. It took four hours to finish signing the paperwork.

The next day, November 1, Jim and I started to learn how to use each of the car’s many features, by applying what we were reading in the owner’s manual hands-on to the car. When we got to the section on how to tow a trailer, we read an astonishing sentence: The RAV4 SE that we bought was incapable of towing! Every other RAV4 model could tow, but not the one we bought. (The disqualification had something to do with the SE’s suspension system.)
The next day we headed back to the dealership.

In Florida, there is no cooling-off period for car buyers. Technically, Toyota did not have to give us back our Edge. But, we believed that to provide a positive customer experience, the dealer would accommodate us. After all, we had told everyone we were working with that we needed to be able to tow our small bass boat and they assured us we could. We were misled, although I do not think it was deliberate on their part. I believe it was sheer ignorance because Toyota hides that information quite well.

To our astonishment, the dealer said it could not give us back our car! They had no other car that met our budget and needs, so after several hours of haggling, I said, “Just sell our car back to us, work the numbers, and make us whole!” A person, who we assumed was the general manager (he was not) finally said he would that. However, when (after another hour), a sales manager presented the paperwork, it was going to cost us $5,000 to get our old car back! You don’t have to be very imaginative to know how we reacted to that! Disgusted, we told them we would rather spend $5,000 on an attorney. We left.

We drove home in our unwanted 2017 RAV4. The next morning I wrote letters to two top Toyota executives. I also found the general manager’s e-mail address on the dealership’s team page and e-mailed him a copy of the complaint letter, which pointed fingers at Toyota for inadequate consumer information and the dealership for a terrible customer experience. I asked to be made whole.
Thirty minutes after I e-mailed the GM, we got a phone call from the sales manager, asking us to return so that we could get all of our money and our old car back. We gave them adequate time to prepare all the paperwork, but would you believe that we were still made to wait about four hours to complete the transaction? In the end, we “bought” our second card in four days, the second car being our old one, the Ford Edge.

We were still determined to buy another, safer, car, and decided to test drive some other models. One of those was the Nissan Rogue SL. We found a helpful sales agent, who told us that in the middle of the 2017 model year, the Rogue SL with the platinum trim package (much nicer than the RAV4’s), offered all of the safety features we wanted, plus options we desired. A test drive, some civilized negotiating, and another test drive convinced us that the Rogue was the car we wanted to buy. It was car No. 3.

Three cars in less than one week. I really don't recommend doing this, especially the way we got it done. But if you are in the market for a new car, you might learn something from our car-buying experience:
  • Research. That we did, very thoroughly. We were as well prepared as we could be when we started to test drive vehicles.
  • Walk out. We visited a number of dealerships. The Toyota dealer did not give us good vibes when we entered. Too many sales people ready to pounce. Too much activity. Too much chaos. And the sales staff kept trying to interest us in more experience models instead of listening to our wants and needs. We should have walked out, as we had at other dealerships.
  • Persist. Escalate a problem to the highest level, if necessary. And if you feel mistreated, put your concerns in writing to specific executives at the corporate level, with a copy to the general manager. Doing this has rarely failed to get me results. This time was no exception.

We are pleased with our purchase, and are looking forward to towing our new car on its dolly behind our little RV “Thor”. In fact, we are going to do that next week.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What the sea giveth, it taketh away

Catch and release is a good policy, if you are not a fish eater, or if the fish you catch are protected. But the catch and release that we experienced today...well, that's a different story.

Before I tell you what happened, let me tell you where we are--Gamble Rogers State Park in Flagler Beach, Fla. This state park is rather unique: a section sits directly on the beach, with another (larger) section on the intracoastal waterway. Getting an RV spot on the beach is all but impossible. It is even hard to snatch one on the intracoastal, but we managed to get three consecutive days. Our plan was to fish from our kayaks one day and to surf fish another day.

The weather did not cooperate. We got here Sunday. The ocean was an angry dark green of crashing waves. The intracoastal likewise was rough. It was windy, hot, and overcast and rainy Sunday and Monday. But the weatherman promised that Tuesday afternoon would be sunny and pleasant. It was.

So today we headed out to fish--not in our kayaks, nor in the state park. Yesterday we drove around Flagler and found a wonderful park with fishing off a long walkway along mangroves, leading to the intracoastal. We also found more convenient areas to surf fish along highway A1A.

So, after consulting the tide charts (for best fishing times), we dipped our lines in the intracoastal and caught five fish! Unfortunately, they were all teeny-tiny catfish, too small to keep. But we did catch five!

After lunch (at a made-from-scratch vegetarian cafe we discovered), we set up our surf-fishing gear on the beach a couple miles from the state park. Jim promptly caught two small(er) white fish. He decided they were too small to keep, and he released them. (Mistake. They were OK to keep.) We decided to keep anything else we caught, so our bucket soon became home to two more fish--one Jim caught, one I caught.

I went up to the car for something. When I returned, Jim was laughing. "It's either laugh or cry," he said. It turns out that while he was tending his line, the bucket holding our two fish got caught in the surf. It turned over and the two fish that were going to be part of our dinner got a reprieve.

It was a wonderful day, and we quickly caught two more fish. In they went into the blue bucket. A while later, Jim said we should freshen the water in the bucket. We did, but he left the bucket too close to the surf--again. And again our dinner swam away.

What the sea giveth, it taketh away.

Despite our inadvertent catch and release and the soaking each of us took when we fell into the surf as we cast our lines (incidentally, we were not wearing swim suits), we had a great time.

The leftovers we had for dinner were good, too.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Thursday, October 12, 2017


October 12, 2017--This trip was a bust, if we were counting on fishing (and catching), because the only fishing we did was yesterday in a little creek in a city park in Blountstown, Fla. But we had a great trip, nevertheless.

Today we visited the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement, which was founded in 1989. Similar to Connor Prairie Farm in Fisher, Ind. (outside of Indianapolis), the Pioneer Settlement shows off buildings and crafts from life in Florida Panhandle from the 1820s to the 1940s. We had a personal guided tour.
One of the cabins in the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement
The gentleman who took us around to the 18 historical building that were originally located through the region and relocated to the village was a native to the area. He personally knew some of the families who had lived in or worked in the buildings. For instance, one of the buildings was the doctor's office. He said that his mother used to take him to the doctor who practiced in that building. Cost of a visit was $2. The doctor practiced in the building until the mid 1900s.

Next weekend, the town of Blountstown will be celebrating Goat Days. Concurrent with the goat celebrations will be Pioneer Day, when there will be demonstrations in each of the buildings. Apparently, the organization offers classes in basket weaving, blacksmithing, jelly making, woodstove and fireplace cooking, and sugarcane syrup making.

We like history and museums. Living museums like this one are especially fun.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Lazy days, little fishing

When we decided to take a short shake-down trip, we looked at the various state parks that were within a couple hours' drive of Jacksonville. Our first choice was Gamble Rogers State Park in Flagler Beach. It is a unique park, with camping both on the ocean as well as on the intracoastal. Unfortunately, because of its uniqueness, it is in high demand, especially for campsites on the ocean. We were not able to secure a campsite for this week at Gamble Rogers, but we will be staying there in two weeks. We are looking forward to it.

Torreya State Park had vacancies, and that was how we were came to camp here. According to the park literature, there is supposed to be fishing and boating/kayaking. However...

Fishing apparently is available if you are willing to hike, toting all your fishing gear, down (and then back up) the bluffs to the Apalachicola River. Hiking is not my forte, especially since copperheads are very prevalent in the forests here. Warning signs about the snakes are posted throughout the camping area. I don't like any snakes, especially poisonous ones that are difficult to see in the fallen leaves.

Jim talked with the ranger this morning about kayaking. Yes, he told Jim, there is a small boat ramp, in another area of the park. However, it is very remote, is not policed by the rangers, and is known as a place where ruffians hang out. Your car, your kayaks, and your well being may not be safe. We decided to pass on kayaking/fishing there.

With park kayaking and fishing out of the question, to while away our time, we drove to the nearest civilization, which is about 12 miles from here. You first pass through Bristol, Fla., (about five miles away) which is in the eastern time zone, cross the river, and enter Blountstown, Fla., which is in the central time zone. The fact that you cross into a different time zone is significant, because when we left the campground, we thought we would drive into Blountstown and have lunch. We had to wait a while to eat; restaurants don't start serving lunch until at least 11 a.m.

As we drove around this small town, we found an unexpected gem: the M&B Locomotive and Depot Museum, free to tour (donations accepted). There we found all types of memorabilia about the town and the railroad. The real prize, however, was the volunteer docent, who gave us history and answered our questions about where we could fish.

Jim operating the last locomotive to run on the M&B RR line in Blountstown, Fla.

He told us we would be able to launch our kayaks on either the Apalachicola or the Chipola rivers. He said he fishes the Chipola, where his house is located, but he calls it the "no fish" river. "You can see the fish," he said, "but they never bite!"

After our museum trip (and with plenty of time before restaurants opened), we continued our tour of Blountstown, where we found a large city park with an area called Pioneer Village. The village wasn't open today, but we will go back tomorrow.
The fishing hole we dipped our lines in at Blountstown
Within the park we also found a creek with two fishing piers, so we decided to dip our lines. On Jim's first or second cast, he attracted the attention of what appeared to be a large bass. However, that attention was all we got for our hour's worth of fishing. It was fun, though.

There is no doubt that this is a very beautiful, rural area of Florida. It is not at all what we northerners think of Florida--nary a palm tree in sight. Lots of pines and cypress and other species, though. And rolling countryside with bluffs overlooking the rivers.

As far as this state park? We are relaxing and enjoying the time away from home, but we won't come back here. Too many parks in Florida where we can do things we want to do. Just saying, not complaining.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant Rover,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Our shakedown trip

We bought Thor (yes, we named our Thor Axis, "Thor") a month ago, but we had not yet had the opportunity to use it because of our recent hurricane), until now. We were able to snarf a three-day stay at one of our state parks Torreya State Park, which is located about 30 miles west of Tallahassee. (It is surprisingly difficult to get into Florida's state parks. We like them, though, because as senior Florida citizens, we get a 50% discount on camping.)

This park is rather unique: It boasts high bluffs that overlook the Apalachicola River. According to the park's description, there is supposed to be a small boat access to the river, where we should be able to fish. We cannot affirm this description, because although we put into our campsite before 3 p.m. today, we have yet to see a ranger, who should be able to give us directions to the boat ramp. We have found that rangers seem to come and go; there don't seem to be any set hours when rangers are available. Hopefully we will get information tomorrow.

So...what have we learned so far about our new 2016 Thor Axis, which is only 27 feet long? 

Let me explain that Junior was a 40-foot behemoth of a motorhome, which provided us with living space equivalent to a New York apartment, plus a huge amount of "basement" storage. It took us more than a week to sort through all of the stuff we had stored in Junior. It was like downsizing from a 2,000 square foot house to a one-bedroom apartment. 

Deciding what had to "go" and what could "stay" was difficult. Finding places to stow the stuff we decided we absolutely had to have was, to say the least, challenging. 

But, we did it. And today/tonight were the first tests to our decision to downsize. 

On the whole, I would say we made the right decision. Yes, it is much more crowded. It will get some getting used to the tiny kitchen area and even the tinier 6 cubic foot refrigerator. The fridge works well, but it is small. I suspect I will rely on cooking and freezing food in advance of any planned trip in order to minimize cooking. (Of course, that presents another challenge, since the freezer is also miniscule!)

The bathroom is also very small. We will try the shower tonight, since it is raining outside and we don't want to walk down to the shower house. (This campground has electricity and water, but no sewer, so it will be navy showers tonight.) Its worst feature, however, is the toilet. It sits so high that your feet virtually dangle when you sit on the pot! Jim put a footrest in front of the toilet. It think it will work out OK. 

Jim misses driving his big rig. He says that driving this 27-foot motor coach is like driving a truck. That makes sense, since it is a truck. This RUV (recreational utility vehicle) has an F450 engine (gas). It doesn't have the pep that Junior had. It also does not have the luxuries that Junior (a 2005 Country Coach) had. For example, Junior's seats had power controls; these seats are manual. The seats are also not as comfortable--at least mine isn't. I need a footrest to sit comfortably.

We also noticed that although the seats are supposed to swivel, it is virtually impossible to turn the driver's seat all the way around. The steering wheel gets in the way of the swivel. Whoever designed the cabin certainly did not try to use the design. 

Oh...I have to tell you about the one misadventure we had today. No, it did not have anything to do with electrical problems, which were common in Junior. It has to do with getting locked out.

Yep. As we were getting set up, somehow I (it was probably me) inadvertently pushed the doorlock as I was opening the door. The deadbolt also was opened, and I could not close the door. Jim discovered that the deadbolt was tripped. He undid it then closed the door. 

Ahhh...the door locked. And of course, the keys were inside. Jim finally managed to pick the lock and we got it. The lesson we learned: Keep the extra set of keys in the car. And always use the deadbolt. It was pretty scary finding out how easy it is to pick the lock.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,