Travel to Moore Haven FL

Wednesday February 28th 2018

I got one more walk around the campground in before packing up for my move south to the Army Corp of Engineers Ortona South Campground in Moore Haven, FL. On the walk I caught sight of a disturbance in the otherwise placid lake surface. It was well off shore but looked like a log was moving across the water under its own power. I took a picture and cropped it to confirm my assumption that I was watching an alligator. So I’ve satisfied my first gator of the year milestone.

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Hard to see, but that’s an alligator swimming in the lake at Lake Louisa State Park.

My travel day began with my departure from Lake Louisa State Park at 10:30 and ended 140 miles later around 2:30 in the afternoon. The biggest challenge on the drive was finding a suitable gas station. The first one I tried was too busy for the narrow confines I needed to maneuver around. I continued straight through and out the other side. The next station I had already scoped out on Monday. It worked out fine from a navigation point of view. From a cost perspective it could have been better. I made two credit card passes at $75 each for a total of just over sixty gallons. I didn’t swipe the card again to add the remaining few gallons needed for a full tank. Using the card twice in a row at the same pump trips a fraud alert now and then. I can only imagine the alarms that would go off for three swipes in a row.

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Site 4 at the Ortona South campground.

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View of the canal out my front window.

Most of today’s route was south on US 27 through citrus groves, ranch land and strip malls. In the strip mall sections it was a steady progressing of traffic lights. Since I have a longer stopping distance than the average car, I don’t come all the way up to the speed limit between lights. The cars go a little crazy getting around the RV with a lot of very quick lane changes. Somewhere on the trip south my refrigerator door popped open. Luckily it didn’t make a mess. Only a couple of containers ended up on the floor and they didn’t open. This is the first time I’ve had any issues with the frig opening. Either I didn’t have it tightly closed, or the twisting motion of the RV at the first gas station caused some serious pressure.

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Ortona Dam on the Caloosahatchee canal.

I’ll be at this campground for ten nights. It is located on the levee that forms the south bank of the Caloosahatchee canal. The canal is part of the waterway across the Florida peninsula. It connects Lake Okeechobee with the Caloosahatchee River which empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Fort Meyers. The Ortona Dam and Lock are located in front of the campground. The boat traffic and the wildlife should keep me entertained during my stay.

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Raccoon in the drainage canal.

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Otter on the bank of the canal.

On this evenings walk I met the local raccoon and a pair of otters. They were foraging and fishing in a drainage canal that empties into the main canal near my campsite. From what I’m told by my fellow campers, there are several otters that keep people entertained when the alligators aren’t around. Tonight I didn’t see any gators.

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Sunset

Pirates vs Braves Spring Training Game

Tuesday February 27th 2018

A cold front passed through the area last night. It was eight to ten degres cooler today with the wind out of the north rather than the south. Even so, it was still a beautiful day with higher than normal temperatures.

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Grounds crew getting the field ready for play.

I went to a spring training baseball game at Champions Field in the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility at Disney World. The Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the home team Atlanta Braves. This is the penultimate year for the Braves spring training at Disney. They will be moving to North Point FL in 2020 to be located closer to more of the Florida based teams. The Tigers in Lakeland are the closest team at thirty five miles followed by the Yankees at seventy five. Most of the teams are much further away.

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First pitch thrown with the help of Donald Duck.

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Closeup of Donald Duck during the first pitch. Only at Disney!

It was a good afternoon at the ballpark, but it wasn’t that good a game. I’m not sure I knew any of the players. Most of the jersey numbers were in the eighties and nineties. That’s a sure sign they aren’t on the Major League roster. Both teams used a different pitcher every inning after the second. Some of them had a hard time getting the ball over the plate. Whenever the Pirates scored in the top of the inning the Braves matched them in the their half. The game ended in a nine inning tie.

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Saw several of these “Mini” vans. They are a ride share operated for Disney by Lyft.

After the game I drove to the Disney Springs entertainment and shopping district to checkout the changes. There are still construction walls all over the place. They are just in different places than during my last visit in December of 2016. The West Side section is getting most of the attention now. The old Disney Quest building has been taken down to make way for a new NBA Experience in 2020. At the other end of the Springs the World of Disney Store in the Market Place area is getting “re-imagined”.

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The Balloon ride was grounded today because of the wind.

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The passengers in this amphibi-car had it riding low in the water.

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Nice old boats are part of the ambiance at the Boathouse restaurant.

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Newly updated riverboat now called the Paddlefish restaurant.

I only did a quick walk through the Springs and a boat ride back to the other end. I will probably be back in this area in April. Back at the state park this evening I’m getting ready to move tomorrow. I’ll be traveling another one hundred and fifty miles south into the middle of the state. My destination is an Army Corp of Engineers campground on the waterway from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Meyers. It is in the middle of nowhere, so I may or may not have cell phone and internet access. If I don’t, the blog will be delayed tomorrow.

Relaxing at Lake Louisa State Park

Monday February 26th 2018

It was a beautiful warm day in central Florida. Some locations in the area experienced record high temperatures in the high 80s. I got rather obsessed with the cloud patterns this afternoon. Most of the pictures in this blog entry are of the sky.

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Interesting cloud formations

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Threatening clouds. All we got were a few sprinkles.

Most of my day was spent enjoying the State Park. I walked through the campground and out to each of the lakes (big ponds) that border the campground. I didn’t see very many wild creatures, but heard owls and frogs. A circling turkey vulture and a squirrel or two were the extent of the visible wildlife. On the domestic animal front lots of people were walking dogs and one little mutt was getting pushed around in a stroller. I spent a couple of hours just watching the water in the lake.

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The lakes are full of water lily plants.

During the middle of the day I left the state park to see what’s changed in the area. This is familiar territory. I spent the winter of 2015 in Davenport, just south of here. I was last in this area in the fall of 2016. The first reminder was just how heavy the traffic is with all the snowbirds in the area. There was always several cars backed up at each stop light. Most of the cars were from northern states. In between the traffic lights it was a combination of drag race and dodgem without any real contact that I saw.

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Cyprus trees along the edge of the lake.

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Part of a full arc rainbow to the east as the sunset in the west.

The road in front of the park was under construction in September of 2016. It is still under construction. It looks like it is very close to finished. I don’t understand why it takes so long. Both lanes of traffic are currently sharing the northbound side. Getting out of the park can be a long wait for a break in the traffic.

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Sunset over Dixie Lake

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I drove south about ten miles looking for major changes and to confirm my intent to return to the area for a month or two next winter. New housing developments have filled in some of the open areas and more development is getting underway. Near Interstate 4 there is a huge new warehouse that is labeled “Walmart.com”. The facility seems to be dedicated to Walmart’s online efforts. There were a few other new construction efforts that remained unidentified. Overall I didn’t confirm or dismiss my idea of spending time in the area next winter.

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Sunset behind my RV.

With Walmart in mind, I stopped to do some shopping for groceries and a few other things. Walmarts in this area do a good job reminding you of the location. The entire front of the store near the registers are full of Disney merchandise. I didn’t buy any. Other than sunscreen everything I bought was in the grocery category.

Travel to Lake Louisa State Park

Sunday February 25th 2018

Today started a little slower than yesterday. Nobody was knocking at my door to say goodbye before I managed to get out of bed. Instead I slept until around 8AM before complicating my own morning. There was a little mishap in the coffee brewing process. I use a single cup drip coffee maker for my morning coffee. It’s usually very simple; add a scoop of coffee, a mug of water, put the mug under the drip and turn it on. Guess what happens when you forget to put the mug under the drip. Luckily I keep the coffee maker on a tray with a half inch lip. The entire mug of coffee was in the tray.

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Site 14 at Lake Louisa State Park.

We are in the middle of an abnormally high temperature spell in Florida. The last couple of days have been in the mid 80s with high humidity. I got packed up this morning before it got too bad, but setting up later in the day was uncomfortable. I think it is more of a conditioning issue. I haven’t been in 80 plus degree temperatures since early December in Las Vegas and I haven’t been in heat and humidity since sometime last summer.

Today’s travel wasn’t particularly long, but traffic was heavy. Most of the trip was down interstate 75. There was a continuous line of trucks and RVs in the right lane. Which wouldn’t be a problem if all of us wanted to travel at the same speed. Instead a creative game of hopscotch resulted. When you add in plenty of car traffic dodging in and around everybody it becomes a challenge to drive. At least once I had to hit the brakes to avoid a car entering the highway that things merge means “get out of my way I coming in.” In lighter traffic I could have moved over a lane.

The last fifteen miles was on US 27. It had a different set of problems. You just get up toward the speed limit and there is another traffic light. Once again my brakes got more use than I’d like. It was nothing dramatic, just hard enough stops that things move around in the rig.

I arrived at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont FL around 1PM. I’ll be here until Wednesday. Getting situated on the site required disconnecting the car and backing the motorhome into the site. That’s pretty normal. The complication was there wasn’t a good place to disconnect the car and parking off the sloping part of the site took a few extra maneuvers. My RV home is parked at the very back to the site, but it is well separated from my neighbors. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much distance to the next site.

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Sunset over Dixie Lake.

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Travel Day to Lake City Florida

Saturday February 24th 2018

I got an early start to the day. One of my neighbors knocked on my door at 7AM to say good-bye. I don’t know if I was awake. The noise he was making while he prepared to leave had woken me earlier and I’d turned on my bedroom TV. I do know I hadn’t gotten out of bed yet.

I had breakfast and picked up the inside before switching to work on the outside. The early start had me out of sync so I was being very deliberate. I didn’t want to forget any of tasks necessary to safely get underway. By the time I was ready to leave shortly before 10AM there were only about twenty rigs left in the field.

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Wide open road. Interstate 10 on the Florida pan handle.

It was a long travel day. I had a little less than 275 miles to travel. My stop for gas early in the trip took longer than usual. The pump was very slow. It took more than a half an hour to maneuver to the pump and add 43.5 gallons to the tank. The next complication to the travel day was psychological. I lost an hour when I returned to the eastern time zone. Looking at the time after that made me think I’d been on the road longer.

The last complication to the travel day was a wrong turn. I’ve been to this campground several times before so I wasn’t as prepared as I normally would be. I got off Interstate 10 one exit too early. It amounted to a fifteen to twenty mile trip around a very big block. The road was narrow with ditches on both sides and no parking lots to turn around in. I found a route heading back to Interstate 75 before I found a place to turn around. Hence, the big block I traveled.

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Site 46 at the Lake City Campground.

Once I got inland it was a nice travel day. The sun was out and the temperature was in the low eighties. The road across the Florida pan handle is over gently rolling hills with mature trees lining the sides. It was a windy day but in this type of terrain it doesn’t have the impact it does in the wide open west. You only feel the full impact of the wind when you are passing big openings in the forest.

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Some of my new neighbors. I don’t think these “guys” will be knocking on my door tomorrow morning.

I arrived at the Lake City Campground shortly before 4PM Eastern Standard Time. It was less than five hours elapsed time, but it seemed like I’d been on the road for longer. I haven’t fully setup camp since I’m moving on in the morning. Tomorrow will be a shorter travel day of only about a hundred and fifty miles.

Final Day of the Rally

Friday February 23rd 2018

It was very foggy and damp overnight. The fog lifted into a dense cloud cover most of the day. I thought it was likely to start raining at any minute. Near the end of the day the sun made an attempt to break through, but it hadn’t won the battle by night fall. The temperature peaked at seventy five during the day. The dampness and breeze made it seem cooler.

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Sun trying to come out late in the otherwise cloudy day.

This was the last day of the Passport America Home Again Mega Rally. It was a lightly scheduled day. One seminar on Fire Safety and the doggie parade were the high points on the morning schedule. This afternoon the closing event was an Ice Cream social. Many people left today. My neighbor got an early start. They packed up and pulled out around 7:30. I think they started departure preparations around 6AM. Others departed at various times all day. The last few of today’s departures pulled out after the Ice Cream around four. I’d guess a third of the attendees have departed.

I leave in the morning. I’m going to travel further than I’d like. Not willing to take a chance on finding a place without a reservation, I’ve made one in Lake City Florida. It’s about 265 miles east. It is a location that I’ve stopped at before that I was pretty certain would have openings. It was my planned fallback position. Two other places east of Tallahassee at around 175 to 200 miles didn’t have any openings. I’ll spend the night in Lake City then travel south to Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont for three nights before moving another 140 miles south for ten days. I am moving back into Baseball Spring Training game watching mode.

Overall I liked this rally. Its size and pace was about right. It provided an outlet for social interaction when I wanted and was big enough that I could dissolve into the background when needed. I also didn’t see any major chapter or clique bias in the participants. That’s often a problem at big rallies. Getting three meals with entertainment was a nice relief from my own cooking too.

Rally day 3 and more travel planning

Thursday February 22nd 2018

The early morning fog lifted to some sun, but it didn’t last long. The middle part of the day was heavily cloud covered. Toward the end of the day the clouds gave way to a sunny conclusion. Overall the temperature got into the mid seventies.

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View of all the rigs at the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds for the Passport America Mega Rally. I still haven’t heard a count for the number of RVs. I did my own count and came up with 110.

My day started with coffee in the rally assembly hall. I sat in on a seminar on recording your RV travels in video. It really was a commercial for a dash camera that has been packaged and marketed as an RV specific camera. The presenter was providing some good information along with his sales pitch. Most, if not all, of the information was not new for me. While I never really caught him providing incorrect information, occasionally it was an overly simple answer. I’m not sure if the response was adapted to his audience or if it reflect his depth of understanding. I’ve considered getting and using a dash camera to document my travels so I was very interested. In the end, I believe I can get as good a camera for less from Amazon. It just won’t be branded and slightly tailored for RVs.

I spent the middle part of the day hanging around my RV home doing some more research and travel planning. It started with investigating Saturday night’s stop. I have close to four hundred miles to travel to arrive at my Sunday reservation in Clermont Florida. Leaving a rally like this may take extra time Saturday morning. I also loose an hour transitioning back into the Eastern Time Zone. With those factors in mind, I want to travel less than two hundred miles. I’m looking at places just east of Tallahassee. I’ve found a couple of options. I’ll lock one in tomorrow.

After Saturday, I have reservations through the fifth of April. I want to spend most of April in Florida. The question I haven’t answered yet is do I head for the southern part of the state or spend some time in the Orlando area. It’s an Everglades vs. Disney battle. Reservations in the south are not a problem. It will already be too hot for some down there. The central Florida area is more complicated. I’ll have to stay in a resort style campground that has high rates for the Spring break crowds. There are sites available but at premium prices.

Once I leave Florida the last week in April, I have a good idea of my travel route, just not a lot of reservations yet. Two of the campgrounds I’ve scoped out in the northern states don’t take short term reservations until March 1st when they open for the year. My research has focused on where to go after the Escapees Escapade in the middle of Missouri the last week in May. I’m currently leaning on turning south toward Branson MO and Arkansas.

My only real accomplishment reservations wise was in January of next year. I book another three weeks in January. I now have the second half of December 2018 and all of January 2019 reserved. Need I repeat, I hate this planning and early commitment aspect of this life style.

This evening I joined the rest of the rally participants for the final dinner. This was a shrimp boil. It was supposed to be “moderately spiced”. Something went wrong. It was hot. My lips were numb after eating the corn on the cob. The entertainment that followed was by Debbie Owen and Tony T. They sang songs from the 50s through 80s of varying jandra. I thought they were better than the group the first night, but not as overall entertaining as Brent Burns last night.