Trip to Indiana – Achieving a Major Milestone

Moving from Kentucky north through Indiana with two stops. The area in red ink is Elkhart and Goshen Indiana which are important for RV repairs and upgrades.

We moved on from Kentucky for two Indiana stops. First time I towed the RV around or through two major cities on the same move day, those being Louisville and Indianapolis. After 10,088 miles of towing this big rig, I’m starting to feel comfortable with traffic and lane changes in big cities. The keys to big city highways are knowing what lane to be in for exits before you leave on the trip, travel between 10 am and 2 pm and to some degree, on Sundays. Although it seems to me that anymore Sunday traffic is busy in the afternoon. As a side note, it also seems the campgrounds start to fill up on Thursday evening rather than Friday afternoons. So now we plan our travel days to public campgrounds, such as state parks, accordingly. You don’t want to arrive when the rest of the herd is showing up.

We have camped in Indiana before, so it’s not on the list of new states visited. Our first stop was just north of Indianapolis at the White River Campground located in Cicero Indiana. We exited off Interstate 69 North onto Indiana Highway 37 that’s easy to navigate. If you are traveling, especially in a larger RV, I want you to stop reading and write down this campground on your list of possible visits. Not only is it a great County Park but it is within striking distance (130 miles) of Goshen and Elkhart Indiana where 80% of all RVs are built. We would notice dozens of new RVs headed southbound, presumably being delivered from the factories. If I had not booked our camping spots on this spring trip weeks in advance, I would have made our next stop Affinity RV Group in Goshen for some routine maintenance. Oh well, we scheduled a stop at our fifth wheel brand’s service center for later this year in Mississippi. Those of you planning to travel fulltime in an RV will appreciate ideas as to where to get quick and reliable service while on the road. It’s a big deal. I phoned Infinity to verify what rigs they work on. They work on all brands, to include where the customer pays or has an extended warranty. They provide factory paid warranty work for Keystone, Heartland and Forrest River. They do have a spot for campers to park if they are there more than one day, but space is limited. So if they must have you back the next day to finish the work, you might be referred to a local campground. At the time of this posting Infinity is booking appointments for September (three months from now) or later. When I called, the phone was answered on the second ring. Anyone else have a special place to get RV service while traveling?

White River Campground – Cicero Indiana

We stayed in site 18 at White River Campground, a full hookup that backs up to a gentle river where it was common to see kayaks and canoes. The campground can refer you to a service that will transport you to a put-in point.
The county dismantled two historic bridges and relocated them to the White River Campground/park area. Walk over the bridge to a trail.
The town is connected to a city lake that is part of the river system. We spent time driving into the countryside to check out rural Indiana communities. Some will appreciate a good place to buy meat which is the small Cicero Market. Get the smoked pork chops!

Some time ago I commented about using Google Earth to measure campground roads and camping spots that might be visible through the trees when viewed on the computer. Well, I conducted a test while at White River Campground. I found the measurement tool in Google Earth to be surprisingly accurate. Our site measured 50′ deep and the road in front was 22′, both when using a measuring tape and the Google Earth tool. We hung the back of the RV about five foot off the pad to gain a little more room to park the truck.

Taylor Center of Natural History at Strawtown Koteewi Park

I’ll have to wrap up the report about visiting this part of Indiana to save room for the next stop. Especially as I still want to describe how Karen and I achieved a major milestone where we have embraced the lifestyle.

This Cicero area county park consists of several plots of land that you can ride a bike or drive between. We were lucky to have spent a good hour talking to a retired history teacher who worked at a replica American Indian Village. Once you have seen one old Indian artifact then they all seem the same at the next museum. But not in this case as it got my attention when the teacher described Indiana Native American history. Darn if I can’t recall his name. Older guy that looks young because he is a runner. Look for him at the Strawtown Koteewi Park – you won’t miss him. We talked about how the county combined land from different owners to establish the large park, to include an inland lake. We talked about excavation of at least one Indian Village on the same ground. We talked about the little old lady who lived in the house across the street from the Taylor Center of Natural History and how she rode her lawnmower over to the center for visits before she passed away. She described to the teacher of growing up in the area and the fun things they did on the property as children, which are now memories that will be lost in time unless the stories are told. We visited the original settler cemetery on the backside of the property. The older lady’s 1920’s bicycle is still located in a resorted 1800’s barn on the property and now owned by the county.

There were only two other visitors at the Indian Village, one had a dog and the other did not mind if we let them off leash. Wyatt had a hard time catching his new friend. The dogs ran until they were tired and found a shade tree as we kept them out of the structures.
Very interesting – a mockup of a pit where archaeologists dug when excavating the village. Replica artifacts are imbedded in the concrete walls, depicting where they were found.
This is a photo of a late 1800’s barn, the one where the old lady’s 1920’s bike was left. She was married to the kid on the right. The next photo is the same barn but restored. The little old lady (Mrs. Morris) told the museum folks they painted the shutters the wrong color.

Hello Warsaw Indiana – Located 40 Miles South of Elkhart – We Arrive to a Different Attitude of Where We Are in Life.

We stayed over a holiday at Pike Lake Campground which is owned by the City of Warsaw Indiana alongside a small lake and nearby city park. They actually have large pike and walleye in the lake. I thought about getting a five day out-of-state fishing license and using the kayak but we were to busy relaxing. Yes, sometimes you don’t get a lot done when you are visiting with the neighbors. Or drinking a beer at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday, sitting outside looking at what passes by and wondering what everyone is doing back at your old workplace:)

This was not the type of RV camping spot we necessarily look for. In the center of a larger community, down roads flanked by residential streets where locals wonder over to the city park to stare at all the RVs at the campsite. But they dare not enter because park management are ex-fulltime RVers and don’t tolerate anything but making sure the campers have a good visit. By the way, if you go here, let Camp Host Linda give you hand signals while backing the RV if she insists. The spots are laid out in a way not common to most campers with the driver’s side within feet of the next camper. Our particular pull-through spot required the RV straddling the sewer connection where I climbed underneath to attached the poop shoot (sewer hose). Sessional campers rent spaces for the spring and summer. Our dirt/gravel/grass spot in the sun turned out to be fine. A few months ago we would have had been disappointed with the accommodations, calling the place a parking lot. But something happened, maybe because we spent a couple weeks away from the RV while in Nashville or maybe because we are finally embracing the lifestyle after 21 months of living it. Although we began to really appreciate where we were at while parked on the high plains of Kansas last year. When I wrote the following comments about what we were feeling:

“It is now apparent this lifestyle is not just about driving around! You can not experience these landscapes in a museum! Envision cresting a hill which opens to a landscape, painted by God, where you can see over what appears 10 miles in the distance. Imagine stepping outside your home to just sit in the lawn chair, surrounded by the same landscape but up close. Sitting on a hillside overlooking prairie grass, singing birds flanked by a gentle lake that stands out from a background of rolling hills. Just sit there and hear nothing but nature in a cool breeze under a massive blue sky. There is no time for worries because the mere experience of this takes your mind away with all your senses occupied just to take in the beauty of the moment.”

This is no way described our current camping spot. The comments while in Kansas do not describe the feelings we had once we arrived at Pike Lake Campground in Indiana months later. Between now and then the hassles of living this lifestyle were somewhat overshadowing the good parts. Maybe trying to negotiate issues around the pandemic created roadblocks to finally letting it all go and embracing the lifestyle. Maybe, finally as a couple, having our individual expectations come to a crossroad and merge into one thought happened to arrive at this juncture. I know from experience others who will take to the road will not get this far along. They will burn-out in the first few months. Their plan to spend a year traveling will be a battle, or not, which will lead to giving up before they also embrace (surrender) to the lifestyle, making whatever adjustments are necessary or at least opening ones eyes to the good parts while minimizing the hassles.

I write long posts, longer than you know because I go back and cut a lot out. Not this time. Many blogs and YouTube video I have used for research over the past eight years don’t bother to totally explain concepts. I think some just use words like embracing the lifestyle and think the reader/viewer will eventually figure it out on their own. At times I thought others were just being lazy when they did not bother to explain something in detail. Writing is much harder than recording a video. Because you have to think about every sentence you type so as not to confuse the reader. There just is not enough space in a short article that will keep a readers attention long enough to “over explain” the point the writer is trying to pass along. I write in detail, as do others, because somehow it feels rewarding to put it in print and we feel a sense of responsibility to get the entire story out.

Permit me to paint a picture of what “embracing the lifestyle” means to Karen and me after the two of us discussed it. This is our story as we arrived at Pike Lake:

Just another stop on our way to a final destination. We were happy to have a weekend spot over a holiday. We could see the campers parked close together, many separated by mowed weeds. I was just glade not to have missed any turns or hit any parked cars. Time to once again setup our camping spot and plan for the next. That’s what this eight day stay was to be in our minds. But not so!

We were hit by sudden and unexpected thoughts, stepping out of our now leveled and ready to live in RV with power and water attached to the campground supply. Time to walk around and check out our surroundings. We might have been 15 feet from the RV when we noticed the ancient cemetery on a nearby hillside. We enjoy exploring the lives and markers of those buried. Around the corner, to our surprise was a half mile boardwalk through a wetland habitat. Down the path from our home is a small residential lake – with boat docks and a pile of kayaks management says we are free to use, just stop by for a key to the lock. Overlooking the lake are two comfortable porch swings from which we could watch a mother Swan leading her young. What fine details the experienced camp hosts have considered to include telling us to make sure and come by Saturday at the camp shelter for a holiday breakfast. Locals, with their rigs parked for a few months on sessional lots, even wondered how the heck we found the place. Parked next to us are Fred and Stephanie. Fulltimers for years who are in town for a longer stay with family. Their dog is the camp mascot.

None of this was expected! As we walked down the path of the boardwalk Karen and me were thinking the same at the time. This is wonderful. Who cares about where we parked the RV or what it took to get here. We were a notch above happy. We had embraced the lifestyle for what it offers. It no longer is so much about what we left behind and comparing that against our current situation. Yes, we know there will be challenges ahead. There always is no matter where you call home. I anticipate those challenges will be few and far between. The hassles will be quickly overcome and will not overshadow the unexpected joys of this lifestyle – once one has sincerely embraced it.

The Photos from Pike Lake Campground, Warsaw Indiana

Fred and Stephanie’s wonderful Keystone Montana. This is their yard. When you park campers close together on the driver’s side, back to back, it opens up the yard between the next camper. If you guys are reading this blog – thank you for the friendship and the camping spot suggestions on our future trips. We might see you in Texas for winter someday!
Maybe this is a sign Karen was embracing the lifestyle. She finally is making the place her own and had me install spice racks. Na – Stephanie gave them to her.

Tour of Historic Cemetery and Boardwalk Through a Wetland

Oakwood Cemetery, Warsaw Indiana. Just a walk up the hill from the campground. This is the Civil War Circle. I’ve never seen so many dead Yankees in one place since we left Andersonville Prison Camp. 17,000 town people and many soldiers are buried here.
Black squirrels running everywhere. Did not seem to be afraid of the camera.
Tommy Hubler, Section 2 of the cemetery. The youngest person to serve in the military during the civil war for the longest period. He was said to have been at 26 battlefields. Joined when he was nine years of age.
The trees are changing. We know we are getting closer to Michigan.

We are currently parked near Howell Michigan visiting family. We will be heading north from here.

I’d like to ask for prayers for my blogger friends, Dee and Jim. He is suffering from a brain tumor. She is moving closer to family while he is in treatment at a nearby hospital. Dee – I’m thinking about you guys everyday. Click here for her post titled Life Can Take a Turn Fast. That way you will have more information for your prayers.

Only a few friends knew my wife Karen was on a ventilator, nearly dead, the year before we were to leave on our fulltime journey. I never wrote about it because it was too personal. God is great. Karen woke and here we are now. Prayers work. So say one for Jim and Dee.

Kentucky – Our 18th State to Visit

Cave City Kentucky – Near Mammoth Cave National Park is about 80 miles north of Nashville off Interstate 65

We made it back from our two week stay near Kansas City Missouri, having left our RV in storage in Nashville Tennessee. We stayed the night in a motel then hitched up our 5th wheel the next morning, heading out to Cave City Kentucky which is a couple miles outside the main entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Before I get to far into the story regarding our visit to Kentucky I want to pass along how important it was to Karen and I having returned home to our RV. We really enjoyed the time we had with family back in Missouri and wondered what it would be like returning to the RV for the first time having left it behind. Well – we agreed the RV still felt like home and was the place we wanted to be more than anywhere. We are both happy in this lifestyle. I hope to remember to tell you the story in the next post of how we talking about embracing this lifestyle and what that really means. These are pivotal moments I want to share, especially with those planning for a future in an RV or experiencing the ups and downs of their first year or two on the road. More on this next time…..

It is worth noting our trip to Kentucky actually included the drive back from Kansas City Missouri. We took the US 60 route out of Springfield Missouri eastbound through the Ozark Mountains, having stopped to visit family overnight along the way. Paducah Kentucky was our first destination with zero plans to stop for a visit. I wanted to drive over a couple bridges a friend wrote about. You can read his remarks here at On the Road of Retirement Blog back in July of 2020. Yes, call me silly or whatever to make a destination out of driving over a rural bridge. We have time and 80 extra miles on a trip seems like nothing. The map of the United States gets a lot smaller in this lifestyle. I wanted to know what the horrifying experience was all about as described by a 10 year veteran driving a big motorhome.

These were a couple of nasty bridges that wanted to eat the side of our truck. Glad we were not towing the RV. And even more happy to find there did not appear to be many diverting to this route with the closure of the I-40 bridge in Memphis. I have no idea why we did not find a debree field of mirrors on the roadway and metal crash marks on the railing. The scenery beyond the bridges was amazing at this crossing of two major rivers. There is an alternative route over Interstate 57 to Interstate 24 which I might have taken had we been towing. You learn that adding a few miles for better roads is just part of the deal. Besides, we find some of the most interesting campgrounds by taking the longer way around.

Two bridges heading from Missouri to Paduka Kentucky via US 60 to US 62. These are very long and narrow bridges.
Google Earth View – Those truck mirrors are right on the line. No way was I going to take a picture while driving. You learn naturally what the center of the road feels like when towing a big trailer and just concentrate on keeping it there. I’m guessing our mirrors where less than a foot away from a semi that passed us on this bridge.
Google Earth view of trucks passing. Google Earth is your friend – look at it from a street view over major rivers.
And this is what John posted on his blog. Construction on the bridge. From prior experience I known in the view ahead is a temporary traffic light used when the lanes are reduced to one. Each end has a red or green light and you hope the other guy is paying attention. If you stay on the road long enough you will learn how to judge traffic patterns and things to look out for. John – for some reason my comment on your blog asking to share the photo never showed up so you never had a chance to tell me its okay to use the photo. If you want to sue me, I’ll be in about five states in as many months, good luck getting me served with the court date 🙂

It was a good idea to cut the days drive to 80 miles after hitching up the RV in storage. Wish we would have booked the first campground for a week to get rested up. We had only four nights stay to explore Cave City Kentucky which is the home of the worlds longest cave called Mammoth Cave. The cave is one of only 21 sites in the United States that is a World Heritage Site. Frankly, it’s hard to impress me with a cave as there are so many back in our old home state. Glad I took one of the 15 different tours. Karen stayed home with the dog and intended to take a horseback ride later. Cave City is an easy stop off I-65 for all you folks coming back after winter down south. No need to just get a quick park for an overnight stop when you can extend for two nights and see the sites. Just like you can do in Huntsville Alabama where I reported about the Space Center. Both were on the route towards our goals in Michigan.

There is a wonderful museum inside the visitors center where you will learn literally everything you would want to know about caves. Millions of years ago the planet consisted of one continent. What is now Kentucky 330 million years ago was a warm, shallow ocean. Calcium-rich remains of tiny plants and animals drifted to the bottom and formed what is now the cave’s limestone. Eventually the water would recede. The lands of Kentucky were uplifted by seismic activity with a layer of sandstone on top and the more water soluble limestone below forming the hills. Over time a river would erode downward and eventually form channels through the cave. Water would flow down in other places through sinkholes that formed above. Ancient man used reeds collected from near the river that burned for up to 45 minutes inside the cave. They packed bundles in as they explored the cave system. There were burn marks on the cave ceiling where reeds had been thrown to illuminate the cave from above.

The visitors center is in the center and the yellow lines are the 400 plus mile cave. Geologists believe there can be another 600 miles yet to be explored. If you want to visit a natural feature that is the largest in the world then visit Mammoth Cave.

It’s difficult to get any photos inside the cave when flash photography is not permitted. My tour began with a long walk down a paved path (later you have to walk back up hill) then down 65 steps into the cave at its historic visitors entrance. This cave has be actively toured for hundreds of years. I noticed a signature painted on a wall inside dated 1832. I had told a ranger the cave even impressed this Missouri boy. He told me that signature I was looking at belonged to a man who owned a cave in Hannibal Missouri. He came through, was impressed and traded that Missouri cave to another. The cave in Hannibal is the Mark Twain Cave where we have camped.

My tour was self-guided with rangers posted along the three miles who would answer questions. The staff is highly educated and appreciated questions, some of which lead to 15 minutes of discussion. If you think of a cave as being a tree with branches, my tour would be the trunk of the cave. I was greatly impressed with the height and depth of features. When asked what was the most important feature in this one of 15 different tours, the ranger said that would be knowing there would not have been a United States without this cave. The story goes on that during the War of 1812 the British blockaded the United States to prevent, among other products, the importation of gunpowder. This cave had deposits of saltpeter which is an additive used to make gunpowder. The wood assemblies, to include wood pipes, remain in their exact locations today inside the cave. Large mounds of dirt are scattered alongside the paved walking surfaces of the cave. These piles are the remnants of what was mined in the cave. I later read saltpeter deposits were also found at the time in the Ozark Mountains. During the War of 1812 Kentucky was a state and Missouri was still part of the Louisiana Purchase Territories. So I guess Missouri and Kentucky both were instrumental in winning the war through mining saltpeter deposits.

Even more interesting were scratches on the cave walls where ancient man scraped off deposits of gypsum for unknown purposes. I was also impressed with a couple stone buildings at the end of one large corridor. They were what is left from an experiment where people infected with tuberculosis where part of a study to see if cave living would cure them. Most died and the experiment ended. The buildings were left behind. In fact there are many items lying about in the cave, in their original locations where it is unlawful to move them. I learned after 50 years items left in the cave become part of the historical features, forever to remain where they were dropped.

Trail towards the historic cave entrance
Stairs down into the cave
Old stone building in back of cave used for medical experiment. Folks living here would ask cave visitors for news outside the cave
Yes, its hard to see, so was it when I took the photo. These are part of the remaining early 1800’s saltpeter mining operation. After about 30 minutes inside the huge cave my night vision kicked in and things were easier to see. I should have worn a patch over one eye for an hour before I entered. Closing one eye at night is an old army trick to maintain night vision when flairs are shot up in the air for temporary illumination.
Photo outside the visitors center. This is the historic entrance. This is just one of several tours you can take. So plan a multi day series of tours if you are into caving. There are other caves around town as well. Book your tour online before arrival as they get busy.
RV parking outside the visitors center in their huge lot.
Wait a minute…. I had to ask why there was a photo of sharks inside the visitors center. Remember this area was an ocean with a limestone bottom. Ancient species of shark teeth where found inside the cave. And yes, they found human remains to include where an American Indian was crushed beneath a rock ledge while presumably mining for minerals.

We camped at Singing Hills Campground in a long pull-through with full hookups. It’s a wonderful smaller campground.

Singing Hills Campround
Typical view of Kentucky Hills – This one is on the way to the campground. There are many things to do in Cave City. We should have stayed a week.
What the heck – Walmart has a liquor store across the lot from their main store. Campground brochure says this was a dry county. Nope, that changed in 2016. We brought our own beer just in case

Weeks ago, Karen ordered items to decorate our fifth wheel. After almost two years, she has finally come up with the desire or ideas to make the place more ours. She is replacing the 4×7 rug, added colorful covers on the dining chairs and had photos, taken during our trips, framed. She had everything shipped to our daughter’s house in Kansas City. This included a 3″ foam topper for the bed bought through the My Pillow Company. Two free pillows came with it which we both like. Our original mattress was an upgraded model but after 18 months it started to sag in the middle. So far so good with the new topper. We like it and will let you know how it holds up.

One of the photos Karen had framed from our trip photos. I’m still worried the extra 3M Command Strips might damage the wall paper. Friend says just heat them a little with a blow dryer before removal.

As you recall we had just come back from Kansas City Missouri for court. I had met with Dee, a retired KC Police Officer who works for the Clay County Prosecutor in Liberty MO, who handled my travel expenses. What a small world. Camped next to us at Singing Hills was a retired cop from Kansas City. We knew the same people. She is best friends with Dee whose husband welded together the generator storage area on the back of her camper. I’m terrible at getting photos of friends, new and old, at campgrounds. Donna was the retired officers name (actually as I recall she was a commander at North Patrol as I thought I recognized her from years ago) Anyway, Karen cooked us a wonderful spaghetti dinner as the three of us enjoyed sitting around the picnic table telling stories and talking about Donna’s first trip as a solo fulltimer. Donna, if you are reading this – you have the right attitude for making it in this lifestyle. I’ll tell the story to others how every evening you moved your diesel truck to the parking area near the office. That way you would not wake fellow campers when you left for the early morning outings. You and your dog, Murphy will meet many wonderful people. Travel safe. See ya next time….

We are currently camped in Warsaw Indiana through the holiday.

We Left the RV in Nashville Tennessee to Take a Two Week Side Trip

Vacation – defined as an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling. Wow, stop and think about that sentence from the perspective of a fulltime RVer. The original title of this article began with We are Taking a Vacation. I decided to change the title after further review. The intent is to describe the process we went through when leaving the RV behind and taking a quick out of town trip. Also, offer a suggestion should you need a break from RVing.

Do your best not to find, infer, or attribute some additional meaning or different interpretation based on what is presented. I’m in a good mood and feel like having some fun when writing. We have no plans to leave the road.

At this point in the blog post, I should insert a “read more line.” You would have to click on the words to continue. That way I can can come back later and check for errors before some have a chance to read them. I just figured that trick out a few months ago. I might also delete half of what I’ve written but you will never know.

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Huntsville Alabama – Home of Rocket Scientists and Wonderful Landscape

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” – Neil Armstrong July 1969

Tranquility Base is the landing site on the moon where during July 1969 Apollo 11 crewmembers Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin landed their lunar module named Eagle while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins remained in orbit waiting for their return. The three had launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bolted on top of the now famous Saturn five rocket. Designed and assembled in Alabama pictured above as seen from near our campsite.

Michael Collins died yesterday 4/28/21. I read about it hours after posting this blog. I never remembered his name as being someone on the Apollo 11 mission. Now I’ll never forget it.

Mans journey to the moon would begin years before those famous words were uttered to the control room at Houston Texas. I’ll have to take you back to the end of World War II in this blog post and work forward to our visit in the Appalachians region of Huntsville Alabama. Don’t worry, I’ll come up with a way to pass along the info in a condensed version. As well as include some RV tips, in this case, Karen and I spending time apart touring places of interest.

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Twenty Nine Days in Alabama – Been There Before…

Can’t say we started out in 2021 thinking we would spend so much time in Alabama but we have. Adding last years three week stay during the pandemic in the Tuscumbia area with this past winters two month stay in Gulf Shores, this brings our total to nearly four months having lived in the state of Alabama.

During this post I’ll pass along what we found near Alexander City to Double Springs Alabama. I am saving our visit to “Rocket City” Huntsville Alabama for the next post.
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Two Weeks in Georgia

On March 15, 2021 we moved form Florida to Georgia which became our 17th state to visit in an RV. We are following the spring weather north as well as the pollen. Boy can tall pine trees put off clouds of pollen when the wind blows! Our first of two stops was Wanee Lake Golf and RV Park in Ashburn Georgia. Never stayed on a golf course before. Unfortunately neither of us play golf but we do love the spring colors spread out over the wonderful landscape. The neighbor was catching bass out of the parks large pond (no fishing license required) but we never had the time to try our luck as we had other places to tour. Management is low key and fun to be around at this park. There was no problem walking the dog anywhere along the nine hole golf course.

View of the first tee about 35 yards behind our parking spot. Green fees with a cart seemed to me to be reasonable. The park is remodeling their common areas to include the bar. Pool was open but the water was cold and in need of cleaning.

We were close to Plains Georgia but decided not to make the day trip to town and see if President Jimmy Carter was handy for a visit. Along with just enjoying the weather outside the RV we made the trip to explore a couple Civil War areas. Number one on our list would be the most deadliest ground in the Civil War. The ground was not Gettysburg with its combined death total of 7,863 nor Spotsylvania with its 4,192 solders killed in battle. The deadly ground we walked had been home to 45,000 union soldiers of which more than 13,000 lost their lives within an area 1,620 feet long and 779 feet wide, or about 26.5 acres in total ground. This is the prisoner of war camp known as Andersonville.

Andersonville Georgia National Historic Site is also the home of the National POW Museum. The visitors center, designed to look like guard towers, was closed inside due to the virus thing but a ranger came out to greet us.

The most famous execution following the Civil War was the hanging of Confederate Major Henry Wirz, Commander at the prison in Andersonville (a.k.a Camp Sumter). Sentenced to death for inhuman treatment to include intentionally withholding food from the prisoners. Although reportedly 15% of confederate prisoners died in union camps while up to 20% of union solders passed away from various things such as disease, Andersonville was the worst of the worst during its 13 months of operation. You can do the math – that’s about 1,000 prisoners dieing every month.

I have two other stops to report regarding our time in Georgia but believe it worth most of this blog post in an attempt to describe the emotional experience at Andersonville. As a visual aid I will include current photos of the prison grounds against historic photos.

A walk behind the current POW Museum reveals the grounds of the old prison. Scattered in a small area are monuments buildt by individual states and associations memorializing soldiers from their states that died. This includes loyal union soldiers from the once confederate State of Tennessee. Of special note, please notice how the ground slopes down into a creek valley and then back up the other side.
Here is one monument that shows 104 union soldiers from my home state of Missouri are buried at Andersonville. More about one of those soldiers later in this post.
This is a view down and up the hill towards the monuments behind the museum building. I have drawn a red line around what was once the outline of the 15′ wood stockade walls. The white posts outline the wall. In clear view is a ditch or marshy area which consisted of creek water trickling though the camp from which prisoners were expected to drink, wash and defecate nearby. Also shown in the photo is a small building just below the recreated stockade wall. This building is the Providence Spring memorial.
Historic photo of prisoners living uphill from the creek that ran through the center of the camp.
One day a miracle occurred at the camp. Water shot up from the ground in the form of a fresh water spring. Before, prisoners were having to wait for rain in order to trap drinking water as the small creek that ran through the camp was contaminated. Years later surviving prisoners met at the spot of the spring.

Just inside the main walls of the camp was a no-mans area marked by a small wood fence known as the kill line. Confederate guards manned towers overlooking the prison from what they called a pigeon-roost. Some of those towers were manned by young boys who were given time off for every prisoner they shot who happened to hang a body part past the line.

In red ink is the kill line. Drift here and be instantly shot.
I make a habit of asking park rangers or museum guides what is the most unique thing to see. In this case the ranger said most miss the single white marker near the center of the camp. This is where the ‘raiders’ where hung. The raiders where a group of union soldiers that took advantage of new arrivals to the prison. Watch the movie Andersonville which I found to be accurate based on what I learned.

Early during the Civil War it was common to have a prisoner exchange after a battle. Later, the exchange policy ended to include all negotiations whereby Andersonville prisoners expected to be traded for confederate prisoners. Towards the end of the war union troops were in the area, to include Atlanta to the northeast. Andersonville was vacated but later prisoners were moved back in once the union army did not show up to take the camp. The prison had been constructed in February of 1864 and would have been empty after General Lee surrendered in May of 1865.

On the worst days over 100 prisoners died within the camp. If you follow a narrow road away from camp it leads to a cemetery. Fortunately a list of names for those that died was kept. Can you imagine what it would have been like to see those 100 plus dead removed from the camp each day. At first they buried them somewhat spread apart but later they were placed shoulder to shoulder in a trench. Here is what that looked like in the next historic photo.

Here are a few of the graves. I have marked 100 graves in my photo with a yellow dot to signify one days worth of burials.

As Karen and I walked among the dead there was no way of not recognizing that beneath every single step we took, buried shoulder to shoulder were the victims of this prison. I thought how dare anyone in this nation today think a state should secede from the union. These soldiers had names and a family.

Above is death #4169. I stopped and returned to the truck at grave 12,000 something, having just walked down a single row. All I knew about death #4169 was a name JNO. Nelson of Missouri. I put on my detectives hat, having decided to spend no more than two hours finding out about JNO. This is Private John Nelson of Company A, 29th Infantry Regiment of Missouri. He died from “diarrhea” on 7-28-64 in Andersonville. His company originally formed in or near St. Louis Missouri (maybe in Cape Girardeau MO August 9, or September 5 1862). By December 1863 his company would have been fighting under General Sherman’s army around Atlanta Georgia located 150 miles to the north of the prison. John was 19 years of age when he died. I have called my sister Deanna to see if she can help find more information as she has a Acensistry.com account. I’d like to know about John’s family.

Just a sample of the Andersonville graves that line both sides of the road. Located in another section of the area is a modern national grave yard.

Our next day trip was to the Jefferson Davis Historic Site which is run by the Georgia State Parks. The visitors center was open. Davis was the president of the Confederate States and fled Richmond later to be captured at this location. He was held for two years and released. The park grounds were in full spring bloom.

I asked the museum director what was the most unique artifact to which he pointed to a uniform jacket saying there were only 10 of them in existence. This is a small site with a walking trail and marker of where Jefferson was captured.

From Wanee Lake Golf and RV Park we moved 180 miles north to the area of West Point Georgia, located south of Lagrange. We camped for a week backed up to a Corp. of Engineer Lake at R. Shaefer Heard Campground. We booked a wonderful spot where we were able to get the kayak out and our dog Wyatt took his first lesson learning to ride without jumping overboard. A friend asked how we were able to find spots in Corp of Engineer parks as they had trouble finding any with empty spaces. We are willing to divert off our original route for miles if necessary, especially if the park is not close to any large metropolitan areas or within access off a nearby US highway. I suppose that often our route planning has a lot to do with driving between parks rather than just sticking to whatever highway is shortest between our ultimate destinations. Spring moves about 100 miles a week. So yet again we find ourselves experiencing the changing colors and climate.

Getting close to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains
R. Shaefer Heard COE Spot 113

We were in northwest Alabama during the start of the pandemic last year where we met a guy we called Slim. He was constructing a solar energy site at the time and Karen watched his dog during the day. What a small world this trip became. As we were approaching the Lagrange Georgia area Karen’s phone rang. We had not talked to Slim for a long, long time. He asked how we were doing and what part of the country we were in. Little did we know we were now 30 miles from his house. We enjoyed the day at Slim’s where he offered a full hookup RV spot on his property for the next time we are in the area.

Unfortunately the multi-million dollar US Infantry Museum outside Columbus Georgia was closed. It’s federally operated and yet again we found a federal site not open due to the virus thing. We also passed on a visit to the Tuskegee Airfield (home of WW2 Tuskegee Airmen) as the main museum was closed because of the virus. Yep, the airfield museum is run by the National Park Service.

We have made our way to a wonderful national forest in Alabama and will be moving to Tennessee on April 14. You can follow us on RVillage.com

P.S. – I have scheduled my Covid vaccine through Walgreens in Alabama. Nothing on theirs or state website says I can’t get it in Alabama if I live in Texas. Last week I could find no place close with the one shot version. Checking again this week I found a next day appointment.

St. Augustine Florida – Spring and Summer Plans

February 15, 2021 through March 15, 2021 – Our month in the Florida sun.

Who knew Florida would become one of the only states in the country to avoid the recent snow and ice storms experienced even in extreme southern Texas. We had decided to spend the month in Florida rather than southern Texas, figuring many snowbirds would not be traveling this year to the popular state which we found to be the case after talking with others at the four Florida locations we camped at beginning the first of February. I tried four months in advance to book Florida state park sites that would accommodate our 35′ fifth wheel with no luck. Thankfully we found great alternatives to include a one month stay at Stagecoach RV Park just outside St. Augustine and within a short distance to the beaches along the Atlantic coast. I had added the campground to a list of places to visit after reading about it in an Escapees Forum and the Wheelingit Blog in 2016. A fellow RV friend who we have never met, Dee, also wrote about their stay in the area on the Tumbleweed Blog. According to my spreadsheet they stayed at St. John’s RV Park. Guess keeping that spreadsheet during the years of planning for and dreaming of travel paid off yet again.

Our site at Stagecoach RV Park – St. Augustine Florida where spring plants started to bloom in February.

We enjoyed our time so much at the campground that we have booked a two month stay for next year in advance. Something we have never done before, not wanting to lock ourselves in to anything. All the campground required was a $100 deposit which is partially refundable if we change our minds. Park management said we got lucky in that many of the usual campers who spend the winter here did not show and hence did not have a chance to schedule spots for the next season. We booked the last spot available for next winters two month stay. Yes, we know northern Florida can get cold in December/January but cold is a relative thing. Also we discovered Florida sun is not like what we know from the Midwest.

We met wonderful people at Stagecoach, one couple in particular were Ray and Charlotte from the Traverse City Michigan area who will be camping near us again next year. We will be heading north this summer over the upper peninsula of Michigan and hope to swing by their town for a visit. Our dog Wyatt wore himself out playing with Ray and Charlotte’s puppy Dixie. I wonder if their dog has been sleeping more since we left the park on March 15? Wyatt was exhausted.

Dave Foster, a former co-worker from Kansas City, was touring the area at spring break. I had a wonderful dinner with he and his family overlooking the bay at St. Augustine. Bill and Sharon Weiler of Merritt Island Florida braved the Interstate 95 traffic during bike week in Daytona to drive up for the day. I consider all dear friends I hope to know for the remainder of my life.

I have not been keeping notes so will most likely forget many details of our time in St. Augustine. I certainly did not forget the spring rain. There was evidence of past heavy rains upon our arrival which I noted in the dried mud areas of our camping spot. That’s something to lookout for before deciding where to park the trailer wheels. We used our plastic leveling blocks for stepping stones.

Using plastic leveling blocks for stepping stones through the water. We have always left a trash can outside, other than in bear country, but seldom put anything with food odors in it. Now and then I’ll spray the inside with bleach water which seems to keep even the camp cats away.
Look what showed up near us for a couple days. The Long Long Trailer with modern air conditioning. I’ll bet these people are the talk of every park they visit.

Because of scheduling conflicts where I might have to be back in Kansas City for short visits in April and May, we decided this was not the best year to head up the coast north from St. Augustine for stops, particularly in mountain areas. I don’t like to fly so we will be setting up near Nashville Tennessee for at least one driving trip to Kansas City and, God forbid, maybe even having to fly out of Birmingham Alabama for another KC trip. Birmingham has an international airport compared to Montgomery Alabama’s smaller regional airport where I’d have to fly on a smaller jet. Our spring 2021 trip planning is starting to take shape with the destination being Michigan. For summer we are considering if it’s worth the distance to travel to Glacier National Park from north Michigan or cut straight over to Yellowstone National Park.

Our 2021 spring travel plans are starting to take shape. We book major destinations first and fill in the rest, somethings a week or two before traveling.

There are unique places to visit in St. Augustine which might not be part of the main events. I found a phone app where St. Johns County government provides information, to include directions, for the many beaches. We enjoyed North Shore with its shells and the whiter sands of Crescent Beach, south of St. Augustine. All the area beaches are dog friendly other than the state park.

I could not figure out a way to quickly summarize everything we did during the month in the nation’s oldest continuously occupied city, having been founded by the Spanish 50 years before the British arrived at Jamestown. There is something for everyone in St. Augustine and surrounding area, especially if you enjoy dinning experiences, colonial history, shopping or just hanging out on miles of wave soaked beaches.

Traffic was fairly busy even this time of year. Interstate 95 is a heavily traveled road. They shut it down in one direction three times in two weeks for crashes or vehicle fires. Fortunately Florida State Highway 16 runs from the campground area directly to the main roads in St. Augustine. It took only one trip into town to get the lay of the land which is something we have gotten much better at. For some reason, new places just don’t seem so foreign any longer. We even learn the backroads within a few days. I suppose GPS helps. Also, as we drive a dually truck available parking is something to be more aware of in a tourist town. St. Augustine is part of a chain of towns along the coast and we learned where the congested parts are as well as available public parking. If you want to visit the oldest parts of town, where the roads are narrow, the city provides a covered parking garage if you can’t find a spot along a street. Hint – there is a parking lot near the gym west of the parking garage entrance for larger vehicles to include Class C’s and smaller trailers. During a visit I parked the truck there and walked a few blocks. Many of the attractions in town also offer all day parking if you pay for a tour. The Fountain of Youth and Ripley’s Believe or Not are two places easy to get into with good parking.

We ended up doing tourist stuff on average twice a week. Our first activity had to be a tour of the town on the Red Train which has been in continues operation since the 50’s. Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe or Not loved the town and built his first museum here. They later bought the train which is a one hour tour and is dog friendly. You cannot get off the train and back on like you can with the local trolley for a day, but the train is half the cost and their guides are very knowledgably with local history. The Ripley’s museum, where we began the train tour has several outside attractions to include beautiful gardens and an ancient redwood tree hollowed out into a home.

We learned about the ancient history of the city as well as how its growth progressed. I was fascinated about how they have been finding old settler grave yards during building remodels and road construction. Apparently it was no big thing to bury people under buildings to include Catholic churches. The old city is a mixture of several groups of people to include of course Spanish and American Indians. Pirates and British came in an attempt to conquer the fort and burn the town. The large masonry fort along the shore line of the bay is well known. The Red Train Tour guide noted how it was constructed out of basically crushed shell and sand which was mined locally. It’s pulled from the ground as a soft material and dried for a year or more before being shaped into blogs for building. The British came down from South Carolina into Spanish held Florida and were never successful at defeating the fort at St. Augustine which is technically a sand castle:)

Henry Flagler (1830-1913) was a founder of Standard Oil and a huge developer of the Atlantic coast in Florida. Locals know the name well but I had never heard of him. Flagler fell in love with what the 1500’s town of St. Augustine had to offer and bought up land. The college bearing his name is beautiful. It was interesting to learn that one way he acquired land was to offer to build a congregation an expensive church. All they had to do was provide land and he handled the rest. The buildings of St. Augustine are true marvels. There are multiple locations known for being the oldest in the United States scattered in the area.

There is a place on the north side of town I’ll bet not many really know about. I found the place after viewing a local resident’s YouTube video. I feel incredibly fortunate to travel and experience other’s lives and learn from them. We all know about Black History Month. Traveling in the south really adds to a better view and even perhaps for the first time, a better understanding of the pain experienced by slaves in this country. Standing on that hillside overlooking the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Natchez Mississippi, where one of several concentration camps existed after the end of the Civil War, was emotional for me. Having read up and stayed in the area of General Grant’s campaign in the west and policy of handling freed slaves was important as well.

I have and continue to make a concentrated effort to better understand the plight of black slavery. Intellectually I know slavery was not a new concept when established in the British and Spanish colonies of America. And certainly was not a topic avoided during a Spanish history class in college. Karen and I walked just a tiny potion of the trail where once enslaved people escaped from the British colonies in South Carolina to free Spanish territory in the then capital city of St. Augustine Florida. Spain, as well as Britain for that matter, had a shortage of troops to defend their territory. They recruited American Indians and free blacks to populate their military ranks. In Spain anyone could be enslaved despite the color of their skin. A concept handed down through Roman times. But in Spain there were pathways to freedom.

Located about two miles north of St. Augustine was an old Indian village which became the first line of defense for Spain against the British empire beginning in South Carolina. Fort Mose (pronounced moh-say) was established in 1738 and again discovered during a 1986 archeological dig. The 24 acre site is now a state park with a visitors center. The photo above is a boardwalk out to a salt marsh which was once dry land. Off in the distance are two mounds of trees with one being the location of the first Fort Mose and the second being the fort when it was rebuilt after Britain burnt the first while attacking Spanish Florida trying to recover their escaped slaves. The Spanish King offered a place to live free among a community to include once black slaves in exchange for becoming a Catholic and serving in the militia. Karen and I got lucky when greeted by the current Historic Site Director at the visitors center and volunteers working outside. We also learned from the workcamper who had their RV parked nearby while working for Florida State Parks.

There was a lot to discover beyond the history of slavery such as what portions of Florida landmass had been uncovered during the ice age. The visitors center is unique in that positioned at various stations are circles on the floor in front of photos. When you stand in the circle a voice of a Fort Mose resident comes over the speaker describing who they are, why and how they came to Fort Mose. The location was the destination of the first under-ground railroad leading from the south and is the site of the first legally sanctioned free black community in what is now the United States. One will discover many other “first locations” within the city of St. Augustine as well.

Interesting map of Florida sea levels and predictions. As I view Google Earth I’ve been fascinated by the outline of topography below the water.
In this clump of trees was the second Fort Mose. You need rubber boots to get there now. Due to modifications of the waterways the area is now a marshland. Citizens of Fort Mose lived free, raising a family, crops and building homes in the area. During one British assault, residents fled to the stronger fort in St. Augustine just two miles to the south.

So what became of Fort Mose residents? We learned during early Florida travels about the area passing between Spanish, British and finally United States hands. Eventually the Spanish would leave Florida for Cuba, taking the occupants of Fort Mose with them. The historical society has been researching the descendants of Cuba linking families back to Fort Mose.

There are plenty of quick stops of interest in or near St. Augustine, especially if you take a month to live here. Never knew the World Pro Golf Hall of Fame was here. There is beach access and a nature trail with Florida vegetation growing from ancient sand dunes at Anastasia State Park where secluded campsites are found even for big rigs. Shopping, shopping, shopping if you wish is in town as well as outside town. Stagecoach RV Park was located directly across the highway from Camping World and a huge outlet mall. I told Karen I thought the Florida sun burned my eyes through my cheap sunglasses after the first beach. So I called my friend Dave Foster, an expert of many things, for recommendations. Karen and I both have new sunglasses which we ordered from Govx.com. She decided on Ray-Bans and I went with Maui Jim model Kanaio Coast both having thin glass lenses.

St. George Street is a big attraction within the old part of St. Augustine. I had ice cream then walked over to met friends for a meal. As a side note, I’ve been keeping track of which states might offer Covid vaccinations for out-of-state travelers. Might be June before we are stopped long enough for the two shot version. I’ll be looking for the one shot vaccine in the weeks ahead. Spring break started just as we were leaving St. Augustine.
Cool photo angle with the World Golf Hall of Fame blocking the sun for the shot. There is a wonderful and expensive paved walking trail around the huge outdoor mall that is dog friendly. We did not go inside to see the exhibits but did find several signatures I recognized imbedded on the walking path. Bill Murry has a restaurant located here called Caddy Shack with inside or outside dinning.
Anastasia State Park Nature Trail. We also walked down the area where the material was mined for construction of the fort at St. Augustine. The area was flooded by recent rain and the photos I was able to take really did not show much.
Sign at entrance to trail at Anastasia State Park.

And finally, the original location where the Spanish landed from which the city of St. Augustine would rise. Today it is known as the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and worth the price of admission. Around 2,400 B.C. Native Americans, known as the Timucua occupied the region and spread out through central Florida. In 1513 Ponce de Leon comes ashore from Spain. He named the area La Florida (new Florida) having sighted the land during the Spanish Festival of Flowers at Easter time. In 1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded the city of St. Augustine at the Timucua village. In 1587 the first Catholic mission was built. In 1934 workers discover human bones while digging on the park property. The University of Florida and Smithsonian Institution excavated the bones of 90 Native American which are the earliest known remains of Christian burial of indigenous people in what is now the United States.

Why is this current day park named Fountain of Youth? Because the Spanish were used to treating their water supply with alcohol so they did not become ill from drinking it. A well was discovered at the site, and still remains there today where Natives were seen drinking and not getting sick. Other than the taste of sulfur, the water was fine when I, Karen and later Wyatt at the dog bowl drank from it. We bought a bottle to take to family in Michigan as well. If you visit the park don’t forget to step outside the main gate onto Magnolia Street which is arguably one of the most scenic tree lined streets in this country.

This is how to build a dug-out. The historian was fascinating. I asked about Spanish travels in Florida, especially while also move through Mexico and Texas. He remined me the Spanish get their urge to explore from ancient Phoenician culture.

We are currently parked in southwest Georgia on a golf course of all places. We will be in Kansas City on 5/3 and then Howell Michigan on 6/6/21.

Ocala Florida

We made our way to Ocala Florida for a three night stay at Wilderness RV Resort. The purpose of the visit was to tour Silver Springs State Park and the Ocala National Forrest.

I’m not sure I can recommend staying at Wilderness RV Resort until after you have read the reviews and understand the spots for short-term stays can be hard to pull into due to the narrowness of the roads. We managed to get into a blind-side back-in with the help of the park manager who was an expert at giving directions. The park amenities were exceptional but as usual we did not have time to use them. Other than the wonderful, partially shaded dog yard. Nice to be in 70 degree weather for sure.

Our spot at Wilderness RV Resort. Street was narrow for a back-in. I had to use the neighbors driveway and came 4″ from his fifth wheel. Making things more complicated was having to hit the narrow concrete pad without running the tires off it into the wet soil. No way a 40′ rig could get in here. There is an easier section of the park for long-term stays. Read the reviews.

I had no idea Ocala Florida was so popular for horse ranches as we noticed a few on the way in. Silver Springs State Park is right out of town and a great place to spend the day. The park was the home to 20 movies to include six Tarzans, Creature from the Black Lagoon, James Bond movie Moonraker and episodes of TV show Sea Hunt. During the early years, the site was more of an amusement park. Monkeys were brought in but no one knew the breed could swim and now they live wild in the area. Later the state bought the park and converted it into more of a nature area. The Silver Spring is huge and creates a running river where you can kayak, although we did not have time to do so.

In 1872 a boy discovered people wanted to tour the river and spring so he cut out the bottom of his boat and used glass so they could see the bottom. The glass boat tours survived and are still the most popular attraction. Near this area in 1834 Seminole Indians met to discuss being removed to Indian territory out west. They decided not to go without a fight being lead by Chief Osceola. There are many towns named after him around the country. At the time, some Americans were upset with the treatment of Seminoles and other tribes. An army general had asked to meet with Osceola in peace. It was a trick and Osceola was taken captive and moved to a fort in South Carolina where he died. Apparently this was big news back then when towns were forming and looking for a name. There is an Osceola Missouri which sparked by interest in the origin of the name.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour. Worth the price for sure.
This bad boy stayed away from the boat. The boat guide claims you can tell the overall length of the gator based upon the distance from the midpoint between its eyes to the nostrils. In this case he guessed nine inches so the gator would be 9′ in total length.
Red arrow points at one of several springs that feed the river. As seen through glass in boat.
The day we were at Silver Springs State Park the Sheriff’s Office dive team was training. I sent their Sgt. this photo taken from under the glass bottom boat.

We sure did enjoy the beautiful walk through nature as well as the gardens along the river. Bring your canoe or kayak. There is an easy put-in point with the river winding through the Florida forrest. We did not get a chance to see the wild monkey’s which were reported to be about two miles from the park at the time.

We have moved on to a monthly stay in St. Augustine Florida at the Stagecoach RV Park. For the first time ever, we have pre-scheduled a second stop at a campground. We will be back to St. Augustine in late December of 2021. More on that in the next blog post.

Final Results 2020 RV Living Expenses and Financial Decisions

I was finally able to complete an analysis of our 2020 RV living expenses after staying home during the rainy days. If you are building your budget there are a few words of caution and planning to pass along. If you are looking for a quick figure without reading the remainder of this post then we spent $48,754 before taxes last year which is $4,062 a month. After taxes the annual expense was about $45,502 or $3,791 a month. We no longer pay state income tax as we domiciled in Texas which has no state income tax. I treat planning for taxes as important as living expenses and income. We had extra income last year for various reasons which I put into retirement savings for tax purposes and a little in our extra travel budget for emergencies or special circumstances. Our budget however did not include placing any income in savings.

I apologize if I’m repeating anything from a prior post. If you have been following this blog for a while then you know our style of RV travel. For those that have not followed the blog I’ll summarize a few points below with our top six expense items.

Introduction

We were debt free before we started on the road and remain that way. We sold our home and most of our possessions using part of the proceeds to pay a portion of our new fifth wheel cost. We saved a sizable amount from our home sale in a taxable account. Fortunately, our home sold for more than I expected, thanks to Karen’s foresight in pricing it. We both agreed with the amount we have saved for our next “home” after RV travel. We budgeted $500 extra per month more than our actual income for our first year of travel and that money remains in an account having not been spent. We saved that extra travel money before I left fulltime employment as well as established an account to equip our RV and truck to include some upgrades. We still have money in that account as well despite replacing our truck the first year on the road. After more thought, I will get around to posting about replacing the truck along with my list of other “bad” stuff that might make you want to stop living in an RV.

Some will obviously spend more or less based on their own goals and available income or savings. I kept a part-time job doing bookwork and estimating for a construction company. The part-time job prevents us from having to use retirement savings to support our monthly expenses. The job does not take away from our RV travel experience as I work about 12 hours a week with control over when I work those hours. That said, I still consider us to be on a fixed income as the job is on a salary which is combined with my pension income and Karen’s social security which she took at age 62. I left fulltime employment at 56, feeling it was not worth staying longer for a better pension at 62 or 65. I had not kept a detailed budget in decades, always seeming to have enough income to support our standard of living. Going to a fixed income required I keep a budget which I’ll do again for 2021. If we don’t change our lifestyle after another year I’ll probably stop keeping a budget. I’ll bet a top concern for most when making a decision to leave a fulltime job or if they can afford to travel in an RV will be health insurance!

Perhaps just like you, we drafted our first budget based on projected income and then researched the average budget of several other RVers. Here is a link to my first research with references. Another good resource are Lee and Tracy Perkins at Camper Chronicles Blog. Or buy their e-book for $5 or paperback for honest and complete information about the lifestyle. I’m not paid a reward for referring them….

Top Budget Categories by Percentage of Budget

Groceries 25% of Expenses: We spent about $1,000 a month on groceries, having started out thinking we would only spend $600. Yes we are cooking at home more with the pandemic. We also have invited folks over for diner and enjoy hosting family cookouts. We also discovered the wonderful variations for shopping to include excellent, although sometimes expensive, stores in the 16 states we have traveled. This budget includes beer and wine! Almost forgot, this includes the dog’s food and treats.

Camping Fees 20% of Expenses: We started out thinking we would spend $787 a month or $25 a night when we actually spent $828 or $27 a night. We don’t travel on “vacation” away from the RV such as going to Europe. Our RV is 34’11” long and 13′ tall where we can still find spaces in state and Corp of Engineer parks where the camping rates are sometimes more reasonable. We don’t mind spending a week or a month in one spot for the discounts, especially if the place is a destination spot such as the Black Hills of South Dakota or where we are now in St. Augustine Florida. Our budget/income does not prevent us from traveling to places we want to visit. We don’t own any of the major discount RV club memberships such as Thousand Trails. Nor have we workcamped for a free spot, utilities or laundry. We do pay annual dues for: Escapees which handles our mail service, Passport America for 50% off campsites which we rarely use unless the parks are on our travel route, we still have a Good Sam’s membership which we first got for the half off RV shows. None of the discount RV travel services we have are usable for weekly or monthly stays which are already cheaper than the daily rates. I’m finding that generally using the military veteran discount or senior discount at parks easily could replace Good Sam’s or any other 10% off discount club. So far, we do not boondock or stay places for free while traveling such as Walmart parking lots. Sometimes we stay longer at camping spots that exceed our nightly budget but often find the fuel savings by not traveling offset at least a portion of the extra camping cost.

Taxes and Insurance is 11% of our Expenses: This category excludes health insurance and other medical costs. It does include about $271 a month in federal income tax and $216 a month for truck and RV insurance (fulltime RV living coverage) which includes roadside assistance. The category also includes truck and RV registration renewals which were $276 for the year in Polk County Texas.

Extras are 10% of Expenses: I don’t track every dollar we spend so this category includes whatever is unaccounted for. And if you travel with a spouse it’s a good idea to have money each of you can spend without having to report it for the budget results. We have a bank account with Bank of America which is linked to a Merrill account for investing. We are preferred members because of our balance and therefore they refund all ATM fees regardless of where we use the ATM. We also travel with a little cash for cases where the RV park requires it or we want some quick spending money.

Medical Insurance and Expenses were 7% of the Expenses: A portion of the year included both using a high deductible Obamacare policy. Eight months later Karen was elidable for Medicare which is $243 a month with supplemental plans. I still use Obamacare which costs me $24 a month. We have money set aside in a health savings account to cover the deductibles in case of a medical emergency. Neither of us have any on-going medical needs. We don’t have eye or dental insurance. The current 2021 budget amount is higher than last year at $388 a month total. Also, our plans are not eligible for health savings account deposits but we can still use what is in the existing account. This category includes doctor visit fees and prescriptions.

Fuel for the Truck is 6% of our Expenses: Yup, 2020 had some low fuel prices. I think we traveled as much as we wanted despite the pandemic. Our average monthly expense was $228 a month. The 2020 budget was $550 a month which I lowered to $414 a month in the 2021 budget. By the way, as of today we have traveled 8,516 miles in our RV. I keep track for scheduled maintenance. Our big powerful truck overall averages 14 to 15 miles per gallon. Ten when towing. This category includes diesel exhaust fluid (D.E.F.) which I’ll estimate to cost about two cents a mile depending on towing conditions and D.E.F. prices.

We do not own a second vehicle but I could see that in our future if we stay on the road long-term. Karen does not drive the truck which restricts her movement. This can be an issue and I’ll presume a reason others eventually purchased a second vehicle. Especially when parked for months in an area. Years ago, RV Dreams did a study on the cost for a second vehicle versus driving a big truck everywhere. They claim savings from not driving the truck everywhere offsets the operating costs of their Jeep. They also wrote getting a second vehicle was their number one or two best decision. Of course their travel style may be different from ours. Personally I would think it difficult to have someone follow you all over the country in the second vehicle, pay an extra fee to park it at a campsite or even having room in a normal RV camping spot for the second vehicle. All this may be a reason some tend to get the second vehicle after first spending years on the road. Others park it wherever they end up spending the most time and then drive it back and forth on shorter camping trips from home base. When the spouse does not drive big trucks might also be a reason to get a motorhome and tow something smaller behind it. We are thinking about renting a car at times for Karen.

And Equal at about 3% each of our Expenses: Eating out (average $139 a month), Entertainment (averaged $96 a month during the pandemic) and RV/Truck maintenance (averaged $139 a month). We have a heavy 2019 fifth wheel and 2019 diesel dually truck which have required no expensive repairs. Our budget includes all the lubricants and spare parts it takes to keep a rig maintained. Having a new puppy and the virus thing sometimes prevents us from eating out, although we are discovering outside dining. Fortunately what we like for entertainment happens to be less expensive. We will spend on tours in scenic places, shows and fun activities we may never get back to in our travels.

I’ll also mention our monthly expenses for phone and TV entertainment is 1.6% of our budget. We do not have satellite TV nor miss it. My job pays for my cell phone. We have a hotspot for cell data and the Winegard on top of the RV does a good job of picking up campground WIFI signals when available. We stream with Amazon Prime and have a larger DVD collection or take advantage of campground libraries. We spent weeks on the high plains of Kansas with no local television reception and a slim data connection. I’ll bet most spend more per month than we do in this category which is why I mention it.

2021 Planned Expenses

First and foremost, I don’t plan to ever let finances be an issue when we are on the road. There is just too much else that can go wrong without making things harder. Sometimes you just have to throw money at a problem to fix it which can including booking that expensive camping spot near a great place because you can’t find anything less expensive. I am also not the type to worry about saving ten cents a gallon on fuel by finding inconvenient places to refuel.

After a complete review of our expenses for 2020 I’m anticipating they will be higher in 2021 and not just because the pandemic is letting up. So right now I’m expecting to spend $49,716 for the year or $4,143 a month before taxes. As the year progresses we may be able to cut some costs. Knowing where we spend the most money is a good place to consider paying more attention.

What We Have Spent So Far Furnishing and Upgrading Our Home

As a side note, unrelated to monthly expenses, I thought I’d share what we have spent in the last two years upgrading and furnishing our RV. So far we have spent $6,048. I’ve got a spread sheet of what we spent the money on. If you want a copy email me at mseneker@hotmail.com. I also have another $7,700 listed in that spread sheet for dream upgrades such as improved suspension and tires, satellite dish (doubt we will get that), bikes and bike rack, disc brakes and more. Best guess is we will only spend another $600 unless we decide to stay on the road for a much longer period, for a grand total of $6,648.

I broke down upgrades and furnishings into priorities with one being stuff we needed to get started or were adding the first year and four being dream world items. As time went on during our early months of travel I moved a lot of priority one items to priority two, thinking we should wait and see.

Don’t buy anything you can avoid buying when you first get started! You will be tempted for sure.

Arriving in Florida

We arrived in Florida on February 2nd, making it the 16th state we have visited in our RV over the past 18 months or so. Karen and I count a state as having been visited if we spend at least one night in our RV within the state. Our anticipated six week stop in Florida began with a two night stay at Triple C Campground located near Chattahoochee Florida. Then we traveled just 127 miles to Mayo Florida where we spent a week with friends from Washington State along the Suwanee River. Since then we have moved another 121 miles to the Ocala Florida area which I’ll describe in a future post.

Goodbye to the less than warm winter temperatures of southern Alabama. Our first route in Florida would be east on I-10 from Gulf Shores Alabama, south on Florida 53 to US 27. All good roads with moderate traffic. Even around the State Capital in Tallahassee Florida the weekday speed limits were not reduced. Cedar Key was a day trip without the RV.

I recommend Triple C Campground as a great overnight stop or for a longer stay while traveling across I-10, about 30 minutes west of Tallahassee. We met a few snowbirds at the campground which is very easy to get to from the interstate yet there is minimal road noise within the wooded country setting. Locals say it can still get “cold” here in the winter.

Our spot at Triple C Campground located about one mile from I-10. Sites are a little close and we saw much longer rigs come and go. Swimming pool and okay WIFI. Cell towers across the street!

Our introduction to Florida history began at Lake Seminole which the Chattahoochee River flows into from the north. The lake drains into the Apalachicola River from the damn. One side of the Lake is in Georgia. Along the Florida bank of the the Apalachicola is the Chattahoochee City Park with its well done yet short walking tour. Our dog Wyatt had to settle with swimming in the Apalachicola as we cared not to make the drive up to the actual Chattahoochee. After the photos I may bore a few with a short history lesson which builds upon images of two monuments. The town of Chattahoochee looked a little economically depressed to me and we found no reason to stop for a walk downtown. Wish the dog had not been with us as I really wanted to try one of the local side street restaurants featuring homecooked meals.

Last of the seven Indian mounds built in the Fort Walton period (1450-1650). They were residential mounds, not burial or ceremonial mounds.
Apalachicola River down stream from the Lake Seminole Damn shown at the top of the photo. In the center is the old 1930’s bridge which was not demolished when replaced by a new bridge. At the nearby boat launch, local fishermen said they had not seen any gators in the area.

And Now the Short Unqualified History Lesson

Having lived in the Midwest most of my life, I find Florida history to be fascinating. What draws me to the area, other than winter warmth, is a chance to get to know the states colonial history and the interesting landscape. You are never more than 60 miles from an ocean in this third most populous state of the nation which has the most shoreline. Unexpectedly, we came upon a dozen monuments scattered near the Chattahoochee City Park tying the history to portions of the remaining British Empire in North America before and during the War of 1812. I knew Florida had been a Spanish territory, Florida being the Spanish word for full of flowers or flowery. My quest to further understand the history would have to include the Spanish portion which drove me deeper into the Indian peoples history in the area. Then going back even further between 28 to 34 million years, Don’t worry, I’m not about to try and get all the details in this post 🙂 Adding too many details could lead to making unwanted historical errors and having to read too many books for research.

As I drafted the portion of the blog post to cover Florida history around the time before and after the War of 1812, it became apparent I could not do it justice. I gave up on a comprehensive history and decided just to write about what I found immediately interesting, especially in light of our travels throughout the southern states. There just was too much going on in different parts of Florida. I can see reading a book on the War of 1812 as well as the periods during the Seminole Wars is in my future.

So, millions of years ago continents were floating around banging into one another or breaking apart. Florida was in the middle of a continent which broke apart with a landmass emerging as Florida in the shape of a its current peninsula. Glaciers held much of the earths water about 2.58 million years ago. The sea level dropped, causing the state to surface with a landmass about twice as large as it is today! As the glaciers began to melt Florida lost landmass, becoming warmer and holding more fresh water. About 14,000 years ago, with lower sea levels native people moved in finding and living around fresh water in the form of sinkholes and limestone basins. People lived in large villages and, among other places, atop earthwork mounds. Hmm, as we have now moved on in our travels to the Ocala Florida area, these spring feed rivers, originating from aquafers and sinkholes are making more sense.

Spain explored the area in about 1513, typically bringing infectious germs with them which killed off much of the native people. Some say the Portuguese were here earlier. Eventually English settlers came down to this part of Florida from the British colonies and there was a lot of fighting. At some point the French would capture Spanish settlements as well. Spain traded Florida territory to Great Britain for Cuba by 1763. Then North American British colonies declared independence in 1776 which was not popular in British portions of Florida where they were not as effected by the British B.S. such as taxes and policies. The Spanish were indirectly allied with France during the American Revolution. The war ended and Florida returned to Spanish control with typical arguments over boundaries to include northern Florida. I’m still finding it a bit confusing, but the state appears to have been divided into east and west. Oh well, more to study later… Skipping on to the period around the War of 1812, sometimes called the second American Revolution. Britain had kept forts in the United States as they were pissed off the United States had not made good on all their treaty promises such as paying loyal British people for seized property. The War of 1812 erupted in June and ended in 1815. During which time the United State’s White House was burned in retaliation for an American attack in the City of York, Ontario Canada in 1813 (neat side note).

Now, as we discovered in that small riverside park in Chattahoochee Florida, there were British solders and their Indian friends, which resulted in fighting between the Americans, British and Seminole Indians. Americans had continued to move into West Florida from up north. Skipping further ahead, President Madison claimed West Florida was part of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain sided with Great Britain during the War of 1812. Eventually, and sometime later, Major General Andrew Jackson was dispatched to the area of Chattahoochee to dispatch the British and Indian forces. Having also been earlier successful in New Orleans during the War of 1812. I made a mental note to study up on the Seminole Wars around the period of 1817-1818. After Jackson came in, Spain decided that Florida was a burden and gave up control to the United States with a treaty effective in 1821. In 1822 Florida became a United States territory with the merger of East Florida and West Florida and established a capital in Tallahassee which was conveniently located between the East Florida capital of St Augustine and West Florida capital of Pensacola. Hmm… that explains why Tallahassee is located way up north in the Florida panhandle. As settlement of the land by Americans increased, pressure to remove the Indians increased. There were more disagreements with Seminole chiefs and in 1835 the U.S Army arrived to enforce treaties which perhaps the Seminoles never agreed too and lead to the Second Seminole War. In 1845 Florida became the 27th state of the United States. Almost half the state’s population were enslaved African Americans working plantations between the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers. “In the 1850’s the federal government decided to convince the remaining Seminoles to emigrate”. Those are not my word’s, they are what I read. The Third Seminole War lasted three years and ended with them moving to Indian Territory with a small number remaining in the Everglades. I also understand other Florida tribes were effected by President Andrew Jacksons earlier 1830’s Indian Removal Act and trail of tears. And the history goes on with Florida joining the Confederacy during the Civil War. I’m out of breath and will stop there.

And Now Back to Our RV Travels

I’m starting to see a side benefit of our travels around the country is helping to tie all the history together in a way I found not possible to achieve just by reading books or internet surfing. Our next move was to Mayo Florida to spend time with friends we got to know in Gulf Shores, Mark and Patty. We met at the Suwannee River Rendezvous RV Resort. We discovered this is another snowbird hangout where people stay long-term to escape the northern winter. You will find many from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the east coast states in parks around here. We also found a lot of weekenders from the surrounding area. Karen and I both agreed we could spend a month here, especially to take advantage of river kayaking. Wyatt got a chance to quickly swim at the kayak takeout point located in the park. Quickly because he will not calm down when he sees water and I thought it looked like a good area for gators to be hanging out.

The park includes one of the several fresh water springs present in the area. In this part of the country their springs bubble up out of the ground at constant 70 degree temperatures rather from hillside caves like I know in Missouri at 55 degrees. Convict Springs is named after the prisoners that used to stop here for a rest. Unfortunately there was no swimming in the springs which are attached to the main river channel via a stream which had backed up and flooded the spring. The park had many other amenities to include a heated pool and open hot tub. And unique areas such as a five section dog park that must be two acres in total size. The owner raises homing pigeons and one can beat on which one returns first every Saturday. We did not eat at the onsite restaurant but enjoyed the bike trails on the expansive property. There are state parks in the area however even an attempt to plan four months ahead found no state parks having open spots for our size rig.

Convict Spring flooded where it attaches via a short stream to the main Suwannee River channel
On one occasion, this dude was flying around the campground and gave me a wave from his seat in the front of the plane.

We enjoyed our time with Mark and Patty the most. While the girls stayed at home, Mark and I made a 90 minute drive to where the Suwanee River dumps into the Gulf of Mexico near Cedar Key Florida. The small island community was beautiful, especially in mid-70 weather and sunshine. We rented a golf cart, drove around and enjoying lunch overlooking the ocean. This is a home for local fisherman with access on the back side of the island were we found their boats. We also found the factory where they take the days catch and were able to purchase seafood that came in that morning. Turns out shrimps does taste different when its fresh! Can’t find that in Missouri.

Mark from Washington State – Friend, tour guide, lunch partner and gladly taught me how to buy and prepare fresh seafood
2004 photo of Cedar Keys Florida

Sorry to hear family in Missouri and Michigan are going through weeks of Canadian weather. If it helps, Karen tells me Missouri was colder than Michigan today. Don’t worry, we are wearing our sunscreen down here and dreadfully living with shorter periods of rain – darn it.