Catching up on chores

Saturday January 30th 2016

Life in my RV home is not all tourist adventures like yesterday’s visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Today’s blog entry describes a rather boring day. However, it is in sunny Florida, rather than winter in New Hampshire. I’m not complaining.
The first order of business was grocery shopping. This is proving to be a bit of an adventure out here on the road. When you live in one area for a long time you develop patterns for when you shop, where you shop and what you buy at each place. On the road its pure guess work.
I’ve identified two possible store brands in the area. Publix is a Florida based grocery store chain that is all over the place. It seems to be somewhat of a high end chain, but it has its quirks. The selection of products with store brands is confusing. I can’t find a store brand for items I would buy generic, but can find mostly store brands for items I’d normally buy by name; ice cream.
The other common grocery choice is Super Walmart. There are several within easy driving distance. I find Walmart good for common packaged foods like cereal, canned vegetables and pastas. They seem to be the same price here as in the northeast. I don’t buy meat or produce at Walmart. I just don’t like the selection.
I need to find a farm stand or farmers market to buy fruit and vegetables. None of the stores, I’ve been in so far have good choices at good prices. Why do I find Oranges from California in the supermarket, but none from Florida?
I’m sure there are other places to buy food. I just haven’t found them yet. Hopefully it will happen before I leave the area at the end of March. That’s where the adventure comes in.
When I got back to the RV from the morning shopping, I still had two more chores to complete. Dumping the holding tanks and doing the laundry.
Dumping the tanks is simple once you’re hooked up. Step 1; check that all connections are still tight. Step 2; Pull the valve handle on the Blank (toilet) tank and let it drain. Step 3; Close the blank tank valve and open the gray tank until it drains. Fifteen to twenty minutes later the task is complete for another week.


Fifteen feet or so of sewer slinky

The laundry facility is about 200 yards up the road in a 10×12 foot metal utility shed. It has 4 washing machines and 6 dryers. I can do a load of laundry for $2, one dollar for the washer and one for the dryer. This is incredible cheap compared to some of the places that charge $3 for washing and a dollar for each 10 minutes of drying. Even so, I don’t regret not getting a motorhome with a washer/dryer.

A Day with the Animals

Friday January 29th 2016

Today was a beautiful sunny day with highs in the mid 60s. The Florida natives are complaining it is to cold. After two days of rain, I’m not complaining. I spent the day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


Animal Kingdom Tree of Life

The park has change quite a bit since I was last there at the end of 2008. The area off to the left as you enter used to host the Lion King Show and the Camp Mini-Mickey character viewing area. It is now a closed construction area for the new Avitar Land. This new attraction is scheduled to open in 2017.
The Africa area of the park has also been updated. The Lion King show is now located in this area and an additional market area has been added. The Kilimanjaro Safari, which departs from this area, has also be enhanced.
The safari used to pretend to chase poachers. This lame story line has been abandon. In its place is a longer route for the safari and new animal encounter areas. For example, I believe the wild dogs and warthog areas are new.
Another change being made to the park is the addition of a night time River show. A large seating area and other theme elements are being constructed near the theater for Finding Nemo – The Musical. The River of Lights show is scheduled to debut late this spring. More information on the River of Lights can be found in this Disney Video.
I had a good time seeing the animals, watching the shows and taking the safari. I could have done without riding the Dinosaur Attraction. It isn’t much more than a bouncy, twisty, ride on a mechanical bucking jeep. Another minute or two and I’d have had a good case of motion sickness.

I need to go back on a warmer day when some of the heat sensitive animals may be out. None of the outside tropical birds or lizards were available for viewing. The down side is that when it’s warmer the crowds will be bigger. Oh well …

Rain Rain and more Rain

Thursday January 28th 2016

Today was another foggy, rainy, drizzly day.   For the first time since I moved into my RV home, I didn’t open the motorhome door all day. Thank goodness for TV and the Internet.
The current crop of RVs, my RV home included, come well populated with flat screen TVs. I have three; one in the bedroom, one in the Living Area and a third for viewing outside under the awning. This floor plan could also have a second TV in the Living area over the dashboard, but I prefer the storage. The signal for these TVs can come from an Over the Air Antenna (OTA), a Cable TV hook-up or a Satellite dish. This campground doesn’t have cable so I’m down to two sources, OTA and DirecTV Satellite. My DirecTV comes via a big honking Winegard Trav’ler dish on the roof of the motorhome.


The main living area TV

At this location, south of Orlando and East of Tampa, I have over 80 channel options of OTA TV. Many of these are duplicates of the new crop of “designer” networks like Bounce, Grit or Cozi. These provide plenty of options for benign noise while doing other things.
When I want to dedicate time to watching television, I need to be a little more selective. That’s where satellite TV comes in to play. I can usually find something more engrossing like an original series on USA, or another episode of House Hunters on HGTV.

After spending today vegetating, tomorrow looks to be packed full with another visit to Disney World. This time I’m heading to the Animal Kingdom Park.

Rainy Day Blogging

Wednesday January 27th 2016

Today was a rainy day caused by another El Nino cold front. The rain started overnight and continued off and on all day. This storm has not been as severe as some of the previous storms but it is producing more rain.
Other than a trip to the local Publix supermarket for a few food items, most of today was dedicated to catching up on this blog. I am now up to date and will be making every attempt to blog daily going forward. Some entries will be content full with lots of pictures. Others will be short and not so sweet like this one. Either way the entries will serve to inform my readers what’s going on and provide me with a record of events should I go back and read these ramblings about my journey on the Rambling Road Trip.

Manatee Viewing

Tuesday January 26th 2016

Today I took a road trip down US 17 to the southwest. I had a general goal of checking out the area then cutting over toward the gulf coast and visiting the Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Area. I had thoughts of intersecting the Tamiami Trail (US 41) in Bradenton but actually arrived north of the Manatee River just north of Bradenton. It was interesting that the citrus groves in the middle of the state seem to end at the Manatee county line. I wonder if that is a true assessment and if so why.


Each of the items in the water that look like floating junk is actually a Manatee.

The Manatee viewing area at the Tampa Electric Company in Apollo Beach Fl is an area setup by the power company to view the Manatees and other aquatic life that live in the warm water of the out flow from the power plan cooling systems. Today I counted over thirty noses or backs of Manatees out in the water. I know there were even more than that below the surface of the nearly 80 degree water.

There is a long walkway along the cooling canal out through a mangrove into a gulf backwater area. I was able to see many species of fish underwater and jumping out of the water. As much as I tried, getting a picture was not possible. The jumping may have been caused by the shark that gave its presence away with the classic dorsal fin above the water view.

This area is very enjoyable and I’m sure I’ll be back to check up on the Manatees.

Visiting EPCOT

Monday January 25th 2016

This is the first entry in the daily blog series. I will be making my best attempt to post a blog every day.

Last week I purchased an annual pass to the Disney World parks. I plan to use it during the next few months to see each of the parks in detail at my pace. In the past, I’ve visited all the parks but usually in a “quick we’ve got 3 days lets go” fashion. The annual pass allows me to go to a park for a few hours any day I want and I get free parking. The current single day tickets are around a 100 dollars per park depending on which park your talking about. Parking is $20 a day.
My last visit to Disney World was at Christmas time in 2008. I started my re-exploration of Disney World with a visit to EPCOT last Wednesday and another today. I plan to make several other visits to EPCOT during the Flower and Garden festival in March. This blog entry will document the two visits.


Spaceship Earth at the Entrance to EPCOT

One general observation about EPCOT is that it needs a pick me up. All of the holiday decorations have been taken down and the flowers for the upcoming festival have not been brought in yet. Several attractions including Soaring are being refurbished. The only truly new attraction since my last visit, the Frozen inspired ride at the Norway pavilion is not yet open.

The Spaceship Earth ride, Living with the Land, Journey into Imagination with Figment, The Seas with Nemo and Friends and Ellen’s Energy Adventure were all pretty much what I remember. The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros at the Mexico pavilion is different/new since I last visited. I enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away.

The audio animatronic show at the American pavilion was interesting but not for the right reasons. I don’t know when it was last updated. I know it has been several visits since I last saw the show. My view is that it is an overly simplified version of American history that comes across as a propaganda film. I truly wonder what people from other countries think about this show. Other countries have movies showing off their attractions and landscape with a little bit of culture thrown in. This show talks about the American dream, our political system, our “great” progress with race relations both Native American and African American. I just found it embarrassing not patriotic.

While I waited for the 9PM Illuminations show, I toured many of the gift shops and country dedicated shops looking at many things I like to have, but not at the prices demanded. One jacket that looked very ordinary except for its bright orange color was over $500 in the Norway pavilion.
The Illuminations show hasn’t changed. It still has good pyrotechnics at the beginning and end with a lot of slow periods in the middle where images are projected on a globe. A good fireworks display while not as thematic would be more entertaining.

Overall, I still enjoy EPCOT and will be back for more rides and viewing.  I just wish it got a little more love from the Disney planners and builders. Given that they are finishing up enhancements to the Animal Kingdom park this year and starting on changes to Hollywood Studios, my guess is significant changes to EPCOT won’t happen until 2018 at the earliest.  I just hope they do get around to it.

January in Florida

January started with another trip back to New Hampshire. Once again I flew non-stop out of Orlando. The trip north was uneventful but the return had to contend with a snow storm during the departure in Manchester. It wasn’t anything major but it accomplished two things. It gave me my winter weather fix to remind me why I want to be in Florida and it delayed my return by an hour or so.
Winter weather in Florida has arrived. The unseasonable warm weather of December has changed to normal weather for an El Nino year. Cold fronts crossing the state from southwest to northeast bring strong to sever thunderstorms with the potential for tornadoes every few days. After each front passes the temperatures are low, flirting with records and just before the next front they are above normal. On the rainy days I pretty much hunker down and watch TV only venturing out to buy groceries or other supplies.
I made a couple of road trips south of Orlando on route 27 checking out the area. I have been looking for road side locations that sell fruit and produce. In previous visits to the area, I remember these to be quite common, but I havn’t really found any so far. I’ve been buying my fruits and vegetables at the supermarket or Walmart. They aren’t very cheap.
Also, right after my return from New Hampshire, I spent a couple of days at the Tampa RV Super Show. This is a huge RV show that has lots of RV to browse and lots of vendors to by RV related products. I went looking for items from the vendors to enhance my RV experience. I need to buy things like a tire pressure monitor and a Electrical Management System. Now that I’ve seen the items, I will buy them mail order.

I am going to consider this blog caught up. I will be providing as close to a daily blog as I can going forward.

December in Florida

Once I made it to Florida, my first order of business was to find a place to stay until the end of March when it would be warm enough to venture back up north. I was looking for a reasonably priced site that would allow me to see the various areas of Florida coast to coast from about Ocala to Lake Okeechobee. I spent Saturday morning on the computer and the phone checking with places on the Gulf coast. Most of those places were booked for the 4 months I wanted. Following the links on the internet for other parks related to the gulf coast parks I stumbled onto parks in the central area of Florida around Orlando. Surprisingly, these parks had availability and were less expensive than the parks on the gulf coast.
Saturday afternoon, I drove around the area south of Orlando checking out the parks in the area. I narrowed down my choices and made a couple of phone calls. Monday morning I moved to Rainbow Chase RV Resort in Davenport Fl for 4 months. It is a nice older park with a mixture of Park models, trailers, 5th wheels and motorhomes. The people seem nice and friendly and I soon got settled onto my site.


Winter home at Rainbow Chase RV Resort

The remainder of the week was spent exploring the area. The grocery store is less than a mile away. There is a Walmart a few miles in each of four directions. Camping World is a straight shot up the road in Kissimmee.  All of these places were needed for supplies and provisions to make my winter nest comfortable.
The week following my settling in at Rainbow Chase, I flew back to New Hampshire. I had a non-stop flight on Southwest out of Orlando International Airport. Getting through security was a long disorganized mob scene, but the flight was uneventful. I spent a week in New Hampshire getting things done on the house and addressing other issues, I returned to Florida the weekend before Christmas with lots of tourists and kids ready for Disney World.
Getting ready for the holidays, I bought a little fake Christmas tree at Walmart and decorated it with some of the bird ornaments I have. It isn’t much to look at but it does set the spirit of the season.


A little Christmas tree for my RV home

During the time leading up to the holiday, I went to Disney Springs. This is the new name for Downtown Disney; the entertainment, shopping and dinning complex part of Disney World. The place is undergoing a major expansion with easily a third of it still in the construction phase. I was looking for holiday decorations, but found mostly wall to wall people. It was decorated but the volume of people made it underwhelming.
I used the Disney transportation system from Disney Springs to tour some of the hotels and the Fort Wilderness campground. My goal was to see the decorations, particularly by the campers at the campground.


Christmas Tree at Disney’s Grand Floridian hotel


Confection Christmas sculpture at Disney’s Contemporary hotel


Decorated camp site at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

The December weather in Florida was unusually warm. Most days were in the high 80s with normal highs in the lower 70s. Given this heat wave, I got it into my head to go to the beach on Christmas day. I drove about 60 miles over to Cocoa Beach to dip my toes in the surf. Once I satisfied that whim, I spent an hour or so watching the kite boarders and sail boarders on the banana river. It was a day spent the way I would like many days in my future travels to follow.


Cocoa Beach looking north

Before the new year arrived and the holiday decorations came down, I took one more trip to Disney to tour the decoration at the hotels. This time I concentrated on the hotels behind EPCOT.

I finished the month and the year watching the ball drop on TV. I continue to have a positive outlook on the lifestyle I have chosen.

South to Florida

I had hoped to have everything sold or otherwise disposed of by the end of October so I could begin my full time adventure in earnest. As of the end of November, I was only half way to that goal. My mothers house had been sold, but my New Hampshire house and other assets remained to be liquidated. I was tired of waiting. It was time to get on the road and deal with the house etal. as I best I could. My new “plan” was to go to Florida for the winter with a sub-plan to come back to New Hampshire a time or two to work on getting the things done.
On November 30th I departed Normandy Farms Campground in Foxborough MA heading south. I was trying to stay ahead of the weather. One possible track of the storm coming up the coast would bring the first snow fall to the area. I made it to the KOA in Jonestown PA after dark. It was a complicated day with a minor mechanical issue, traffic and rainy weather at the end.
The mechanical issue was right at the beginning of the journey. I put the power drivers side window down to work the gate at the campground exit only to find it unable to close. I continued to try and get it closed as I slowly made my way back toward the main roads with no success. Finally, I stopped in a shopping center to work on the issue. Holding the trim open, pulling on the glass and pushing the power button proved successful after a few minutes of activity. Now I only had to remember not to put it down to far at the various toll booths I needed to pass through.
The second day of travel was much shorter. I only traveled to the Americamps RV resort just north of Richmond VA. I stopped early at this campground after yesterday’s long travel day. I have stopped at this campground many times before. It has plenty of easily accessed pull through sites.
The next morning when I was getting ready to depart, a new mechanical issue came up. The slide out rooms and the leveling jacks wouldn’t work. Until I could get them to work I wasn’t going anywhere. While I considered my options, I went to the free breakfast at the campground rec-hall and asked around to see if any other campers had ideas. The consensus was call the factory.
Once I finished my waffle and coffee I returned to the RV and looked up the number for Tiffin’s highly rated technical service. I soon had a technician on the phone working me through various checks to attempt to diagnose the source of the electrical problem preventing the slides from working. Holding the phone to one ear, I contorted my body into various positions under the dash checking wires and fuses. Finally, after about 30 minutes of checking this and that, pulling out and replacing one perfectly good fuse produced success. The Tiffin service had lived up to its reputation and saved the day. Why the problem occurred and what really fixed it is still a mystery, but the slides and jacks worked.
My mechanical issue was fixed, but I wasn’t ready to travel. I was emotionally drained and my back hurt from all the contorting. I decided to spend another night at Americamps. When I went to the office to extend my stay, they had me move to another site. The one I was on was reserved for a member of a camping group scheduled in that night. I wonder what they would have done if my mechanical issue had prevented me from moving on?
The next day, Thursday, I got underway with out issue. My goal was to get as far south as I could. By about 3PM, I was ready to stop. I chose the Point South KOA in South Carolina . I have stayed at this KOA before, so I knew what I was getting. This was the first night that was dry and not terribly cold. I was clearly getting into warmer territory.
I still wasn’t sure where I was going to end up in Florida. On Friday, I stopped at the FL visitors center, got my teaspoon size cup of orange juice and collected brochures. I departed the welcome center with a goal of spending the weekend at the Orlando Southwest KOA. It is located in the middle of the state and would make a good location to conduct my search for a location for the next few months. In the mid afternoon after seemingly endless construction and traffic on Interstate 4 I arrived at the KOA for my first night in Florida. My trip south was complete.

Fall in New England

I had many things that needed to be completed before I could fully commit to living full time in my RV home. Those things required that I be in southern New England, but the choices of where to stay were limited.   I couldn’t go “home” to my house since the motorhome wouldn’t fit comfortably in the yard.
In New England, campgrounds start shutting down for the winter in the middle of October. By December first, very few campgrounds are open. With this limitation in mind, I set out to find a place or places to stay that were in easy travel distance of my house in southern New Hampshire and my mother’s house in Worcester Massachusetts.
The closest I could find to my house in NH was the Boston Minuteman Campground in Littleton MA. This campground closed on the 18 of October, but I spent a week there filling the RV with all of the stuff I had staged in my basement in NH. I really like this campground, it’s not to far from I-495 and has good Wifi and cable TV.


My RV home at Boston Minuteman Campground

The remaining weeks in October were spent down on the Cape Cod canal at Bourne Scenic Park. This is a park I enjoy staying at for the activities provided by the canal. You can walk or bike ride on the 7 miles of service roads on either side of the canal while watching the boat traffic in the canal. They don’t have sewer hook-ups so two weeks was about right to test my holding tank capacity. As it turned out I did fine. I only filled the gray (non-toilet) tank to about two thirds and the black (toilet) tank much less. A third week, with a little care, would be do able.


Exterior view with awning deployed at Bourne Scenic Park

By the beginning of November, my choices of campgrounds was very limited. I booked a month at Normandy Farms Campground in Foxborough, MA. This is a very nice resort level campground that I had heard many good things about, but had never stayed at. It proved to be a good location provided I planned around the New England Patriots home games. The campground not only fills during the home games, but getting to and from the campground around game traffic is challenging.


My RV home at Normandy Farms Campgrounds

The month of November was relatively mild compared to recent years.  We didn’t have an ice or snow storm like we had last year.  I needed to run the gas furnace to keep the motorhome above freezing over night a few times, but most days I got away with using a small electric heater.  If I didn’t run heat overnight, it was not unusual for the inside temperature to be in the 40s when I got up in the  morning.

By the end of November it was getting to cold to continue in New England, the sale of my mothers house had been completed, I’d had a new heating system installed in my New Hampshire house, and I was ready to get out of the cold.   I had pushed my luck as far as I was prepared to; as far as the weather goes.