Rest and Relaxation Day at Lake Manatee State Park

Tuesday March 2nd 2021

I finally got to sleep in this morning. After yesterday’s early start and stress filled travel day, it was really necessary. The reported morning fog was already gone by 9AM when I got my day started. It turned into a mostly sunny warm day with a high temperature in the mid 80s. The normal temperature at this time of year in this area is the mid seventies. The rest of the week is forecast to be closer to normal.

Clouds and sun above Lake Manatee.

Most of my day was dedicated to rest and relaxation. I walked to the day use area and the boat launch a couple of times. One of the resident gopher tortoises didn’t appreciate my presence. It ran across the path and into the woods faster than I though a tortoise could move. Once it was in the relative safety of the brush it froze in the shadows and watched me. I can only guess that its hole in the ground home was near by.

Gopher Tortoise

Walking around the campground I detected a difference in the residents from my last visit in January. The sites are now occupied by travelers. In January most of the sites were occupied by Florida residents. Today I saw RVs from as far away as California and Washington state. Very few sites were occupied by RVs with Florida plates. That tracks with yesterday’s observations on my travel down Interstate 75. There were many RVs on the road from northern states. Tourism is still reported to be down, but I think there are plenty of brave, pandemic weary or unconcerned travelers around. The viral surges in November and December kept many people home, but cold weather and snow along with a lower COVID positivity rate and vaccines seem to allow people to justify coming down here.

Travel Back to Lake Manatee State Park

Monday March 1st 2021

The night ended early with the arrival of a heavy rain shower just before sunrise. I was out of bed at 6AM to close the windows and didn’t really get back to sleep before I needed to be up and moving. Two things were behind the early start. Today was a longer travel day and it was also time to book another two week stay for next winter.

This morning at 8AM the eleven month Florida State Park reservation window open for stays starting the last three days of January and the first day of February. The short month of February creates a real focus on the first of March. The good news is there are more sites available, the bad news is there are more people trying to book the sites. The first site I tried to book was unavailable when I clicked the mouse as the clock turned to 8AM. Someone else was quicker on the mouse click than I was. I was successful on the second site I tried. It pays to have a prioritized list of potential sites.

Getting my holding tanks dumped and everything ready to travel was a little more complicated this morning because of the rain. The storms were over, but everything was wet. I don’t know if it was the rain or some other combination of events that caused this mornings one significant hiccup. When I went to pull in the two slide rooms nothing happened. This problem occurred once before in my first year on the road. That time I called the factory for assistance. They worked with me to check various things and somehow it magically started to work. Today the magic happened again. The problem has something to do with the interlock that requires the keys to be in the on position and the parking brake set. I played around with turning the vehicle on and off, releasing and resetting the parking break and generally wiggling wires under the dash. One of those things did the trick. I got the slides in and the jacks up in time to meet my planned departure time. At 10:20AM I pulled out of the Starke Florida KOA.

Site 14 at Lake Manatee State Park

The journey south was not without a few challenges. The morning rain was not over it the area I was traveling through. I encountered a few showers. The gas station I stopped at just before getting on the interstate was filled with puddles. Once I was on Interstate 75 the only problems were heavy traffic and an annoying head wind. It took two hands on the wheel and extra concentration.

I was backing into my site at Lake Manatee State Park west of Bradenton Florida just after 2PM. I am on the same site I departed seven weeks ago. Not much has changed. This area is south of the weather front that brought the rain this morning. The temperature was in the high eighties with lots of humidity this afternoon. It is only forecast to drop to about seventy tonight. The rain is do here later tomorrow.

Last Day in Starke FL

Sunday February 28th 2021

It was another above average weather day. The temperature peaked in the upper eighties under a mostly sunny sky. Unfortunately, it is also getting more humid. Showers are a possibility tonight into tomorrow. Just in time for my next travel day.

Blossom of the day.

Today is my last full day in Starke Florida. The last week has been a break from my series of two week stays in Florida State Parks. The trend resumes tomorrow with my return to the Bradenton Florida area. When I made the reservations eleven months ago the plan was to be back in the baseball Spring Training area to attend a few games. With the pandemic that isn’t going to happen. Most of the spring training venues are selling up to twenty five percent of their tickets, but only in groups of two, four or six. Previous year season ticket holders get first choice so there aren’t a lot of options available. I don’t think I would be comfortable attending anyway.

This campground didn’t empty out this morning as much as I expected for the end of the weekend. Many of the RVs that came in Friday are still here. Unlike other days last week many new arrivals came in this afternoon and evening. I think the park is close to full again tonight. Most of the new arrivals are from northern states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. It may be with the COVID numbers down and many seniors having been vaccinated that people are hitting the road for a little warm weather vacation.

I have most of the outside packing tasks done and the inside ones that don’t impact sleeping and breakfast completed as well. Unlike most of my last few moves that were short distances allowing for later departures, tomorrow is a long travel day. I have about two hundred miles to travel, so I want to be on the road by 10 or 10:30.

Do Nothing Saturday

Saturday February 27th 2021

This morning’s fog wasn’t nearly as impressive as Friday. It wasn’t as dense and it was gone about the same time the sun broke the horizon. Today was labeled as partly cloudy by the meteorologists. I guess that equates to the clouds block the sun once in a while during the day. The temperature peaked in the upper eighties. It was a very nice day.

One of the local residents watching over the campground.
Blossom of the day.

I didn’t have anything planned for today, so it turned into a real do nothing kind of day. With the exception of two walks around the campground, I pretty much sat around my RV home all day. I did a little reading, a little TV watching and I even caught a nap this afternoon. With so little activity and the nap I’ll probably end of watching
TV half the night and will have to force myself to get up at a reasonable hour Sunday morning.

First full moon that hasn’t been blocked by the weather in several months.

An Area Touring Day

Friday February 26th 2021

The day began with dense fog. When the fog dissipates sometimes we say “the fog lifted” and other times we say “the fog burned off”. Today was a “burned off” day. It went from dense fog, to fog near the ground with sunshine above, to no fog at all within a few minutes. Blue sky with a few clouds and high temperatures above eighty followed the burn off.

I was out of bed earlier than normal this morning, but consumed all of the extra time and more during a very leisurely breakfast. While sipping my coffee and eating my toast I caught up on some of my internet reading. There is one thing about using the internet for news and information; it is never ending. Eventually I moved away from the table and got ready for a day of touring.

Haze of the daily humidity over the St Johns river.

Every time I stay at this campground I go in search of parks or trails in the area to explore. So far I haven’t found any place of interest within thirty miles or so. Today I ended up thirty miles to the east on the west bank of the St. Johns river. I’m familiar with area. It is nice to sit and watch the river, but today there didn’t seem to be any activity in sight just lots of open water.

Most of the boats in this little marina are from northern ports.

When I returned to the campground this afternoon a lot had changed. Many new RVs have arrived for the weekend. It looks like the park will be full. Many of the RVs that have been abandoned all week had people swarming around this evening. I think many of the RVs are weekend and vacation escapes for people who live and work in the Jacksonville area. This park is about the right distance from the city.

Looking Ahead

Thursday February 25th 2021

This campground seems to have more than the usual number of work campers. There is always someone running around in a KOA golf cart or doing some form of work around the campground. The problem is they get started early. Every morning I’ve been here some form of power equipment has greeted the start of the day. This morning I think it was a pressure washer around 8AM.

Somehow this palm adds the right amount of tropical flair to the campground.

I’ve noticed similar work camper activity at this park in the past, but there may have been an added reason this time. On my walk around the park I spotted a fifth wheel trailer fully painted in KOA advertisements on one of the sites. Later in the day the couple from that KOA were walking around the park with a clipboard in hand. I suspect they were one of the teams that tours all of the KOA franchise locations to inspect or rate the facilities. Every year franchises try to win awards from the corporation.

Today I got back into summer travel planning mode. I’ve been dragging my feet trying to anticipate how quickly I will be able to get a COVID vaccination. I want to get it done before I leave Florida. This morning at a news conference in Jacksonville, the governor indicated that the eligibility pool will be expanding in March to people of lower ages. They seem to be planning on dropping the age requirement by five to ten years at a time and adding in some significant occupations like teachers. So I should be able to get on a list by April.

The clouds in the sky looked more like smoke signals.

With all that in mind I started to plan my escape to the north. My first priority was booking the Memorial day holiday weekend. The other days in April and May don’t represent a problem provided I stay in commercial parks. The weekends are all booked in the state parks. I’ll be just north of Jacksonville over the line in Georgia for the week leading up to and the Memorial day holiday weekend. I’ll leave a gap in my plans during the first part of June in case I need to continue to hover in Florida. The plan is to head up the east coast into South Carolina before veering northwest toward the mountains. How far north I go is to be determined. I want to be in Tennessee in September and the beginning of October. Florida can wait until after hurricane season this year.

On this day last year I left my four month winter hibernation in Las Vegas with most of the year planned and reserved. Within three weeks all of the those plans were falling apart because of the pandemic. This year, with the exception of holiday weekends, I’m only going to plan about a month ahead. It will probably mean more moving with fewer longer term stays and thus a more expensive travel year. The two week planned Florida state park hopping will resume in November.

A Day Filled with Ordinary Things

Wednesday February 24th 2021

Today was a routine day in the life type of day. It wasn’t really blog entry worthy. Even the pictures I took today are routine and uninspired. You need days like this to catch up on little things and generally recharge.

Azalea blossom.

The day began as a cool morning. The temperature was in the forties. It slowly climbed into the upper seventies by afternoon. My activity level slowly increased with the temperature. My inside chore list included a little cleaning and an attempt to fix the latch on my refrigerator. The screw hole in the plastic refrigerator trim that holds the latch has stripped. I’ve got a less than permanent solution in place for now. The real solution will be to move the latch a half an inch or so and drill new holes. I wasn’t ready for that complex a task today even if the hardest part might have been digging the drill out of my basement storage compartment.

I did take one walk around the campground. Not much has changes since yesterdays walk. The park has a number of azalea bushes that show signs of the roller coaster winter. They have a few open blossoms, but most are either gone by or still in the bud stage. I think the few very warm days followed by a night or two of very cold temperatures have really confused the plants. I think this is just about the right time of year for the azalea bushes in northern Florida to be in full bloom.

Here comes the moon.

Looking for the sunset this evening all I found was the moon high in the sky. The full moon is still a couple of nights away, but it already looks brilliant in the darkening night sky. The last two or three full moons have been obscured by the bad weather in this area. I hope the weather cooperates for this one.

Getting Settled In Stark

Tuesday February 23rd 2021

Today was a nice sunny day. The temperature reached a comfortable seventy degrees with only a light breeze from time to time. For a change the forecast calls for a long stretch of nice weather. The temperature will climb into the eighties without any significant chance of rain until the middle of next week.

This was a travel recovery day. Even though I traveled less than forty miles yesterday, I still had all the stress and activity associated with packing up, travel and setup. The actual driving yesterday was easy, but the rest was as complicated as usual. This morning I finished up the arrival tasks by taking the bicycle and towing gear off the car. The rest of the day was a relax and get reacquainted with the layout of this campground kind of day.

Some of the local residents stopped by to say hello.

I was last here two years ago. The park seems to be just as full as I remember. The pandemic doesn’t seem to have impacted the occupancy. Walking around the park I was trying to get a sense for any change in the type of occupants, but it seems to be very similar. The mix of long term to short term seems to be similar. The license plates on the RVs are from many different states. The only obvious missing origins are the Canadians. All winter long I’ve only seen two Canadian plates. The boarder both ways remains closed to non essential travel, but I believe you can self declare essential. However, mandatory quarantine requirements are increase every day.

Another nice change is the traffic on US route 301 in front of the campground. It used to be very noisy at all hours. A bypass route around the community of Stark has been opened. Most of the people passing through on their way north or south now bypass the downtown area. You also don’t have to wait fifteen minutes to find a break in the traffic before pulling out of the campground driveway. The heavy train traffic hasn’t changed, but for some reason I enjoy that.

Travel Day to Stark Florida

Monday February 22nd 2021

Today was a short travel day. The move was only about thirty five miles to Stark FL. For the first time in 14 weeks I’m not in a public campground. When I was booking campgrounds last winter, I didn’t have any luck for this last week in February. I’ll be back in state parks next week. This week I’m at the KOA in Stark Florida. I’ve stayed here several times in the past.

Slightly out of focus picture of site 35 at the Stark FL KOA.

When I got up this morning it was a warm and sunny day. The temperature climbed quickly to the upper seventies and it was very humid. With only a short distance to travel, I took my time getting ready to travel. I pulled out of my site at roughly 12:30. By the time I got through dumping the holding tanks and hooking up the car for towing it was 1:15 as I left Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

My route north routed through part of the city of Gainesville. The city traffic was a little heavy, but once I was clear of Gainesville it lightened up significantly. I arrived at the KOA in Stark at 2PM, just before the latest cold front arrived in the area. I managed to get setup before the rain started. Compared to the last few cold fronts, this rain storm was nothing. It lasted less than an hour and didn’t include any lightening. The good news is it dropped the temperature and humidity to comfortable levels.

I’ll be here until next Monday. It is a nice campground, but there isn’t a lot to do here or in the immediate area. I may be doing a bit of driving to find things of interest.

Last Day at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Sunday February 21st 2021

It was a big turnover day at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Most of the campsites nearby were empty by the 1PM checkout time. My immediate neighbor must have bought an extra day, because they departed around 3PM and the site is still empty tonight. Many weekend campers at state parks use that approach so they have some time to enjoy the park on Sunday.

Today was my last full day at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. It was a nice, mostly sunny, day with a high temperature around seventy. Many people seem to share my view about the quality of the day. Coming back into the park after filling the gas tank in my car there was a long line at the rangers station. When I stopped at the visitor’s center parking lot to climb the prairie observation tower, the parking lot was full. I had to loop through the lot a couple of times before I got a spot. It wasn’t worth the effort all I saw from the observation deck was grass on the prairie and lots of masked people on the tower.

I got in a couple of walks to the day use area at Lake Wauburg and did some packing for tomorrow’s travel day. In between the walks I also did some cooking and eating as well as watching the NASCAR race form Daytona. My last walk to the lake was at sunset.