When yesterday’s post ended, we had just made it to Florida. It was three long days on the road, and the only one who was happier about getting to a campsite than me was Frank!
I used to think that the nicest thing about having the Nutshell was how easy it is to set up camp and then how easy it is to break camp at the end of our stay. It’s certainly a world of difference from when we were in a tent! But I’ve since come to appreciate another benefit – we can set up in campsites that the bigger RVs are unable to use. We’ve seen that benefit now a few times here in Florida.
The first campground we stayed at was Peace River RV Campground, in Wauchula, about an hour due east of Sarasota. I can’t tell you how many orange groves we passed once we got off Interstate 75 and started driving County Roads. One right after the other. And Wauchula is smack dab in the middle of orange grove country.
The campground is located right on the banks of Peace River. One thing I noticed as we were driving through the property to pick out our campsite – all the signs along the river that warn people about the alligators. That was enough for me. No way was I going to camp anywhere near where Frank might wind up getting loose and becoming an hors d’oeuvre for some gator!
Away from the river, there was a whole section of older campsites that looked like they were part of the original campground. Where the section by the river was row after row of RVs lined up right next to each other, other section was more like a state park. These were smaller sites interspersed among trees and quite a ways from the river. And there was no way any of those bigger RVs were going to fit in these sites.
Frank and I found a nice little place close to the bathrooms and laundry. We set up camp where we were looking at trees more than buildings and that was really nice. We enjoyed a fairly uneventful New Year’s Eve with very few fireworks in the distance.
Now I like to pretty much keep by myself at these parks. I’ll take Frank for a walk here in there, but for the most part, I enjoy just sitting in the camp chair under the canopy while watching people go by. There’s just one thing about that approach – Frank is a people magnet! People see him and immediately come over and want to say “Hello” to the friendly little beagle. And he’s more than happy to oblige them! Someone comes over and his tail starts wagging and he starts grinning. That’s typically how we wind up meeting folks at camps nowadays. I certainly can’t be counted on to walk over and make introductions most of the time.
There was a Puerto Rican family that were camping in the site next to ours. They had two little boys and a little girl, and all of them just loved Frank! They would come over in the afternoon and just sitting pet Frank, who was in seventh heaven! When their mother found out that it was just him and me, there were three or four nights in a row when she sent her son over with a big plate of food for me. I brought over a bag of oranges for the family the next day to thank her and she immediately started telling me what “we” were going to have that night. I tried to explain to her that I had food for supper, that I was appreciative, but like the women at the Lake Conroe Park, she wouldn’t hear anything of it! So4 a few nights, I was treated to some delicious Spanish cooking.
I was disappointed when they bugged out – they lived in Massachusetts and the father worked for the roads department. They called him and said he had to cut his vacation short because they were expecting some big storms so they were gone in a flash.
I made a couple of other friends here as well. Tim and his wife were living here full time while he was looking for work. He would stop by most evenings and shoot the breeze. He introduced me to another fellow named Michael. As it turns out, Michael was from New England, and was traveling the East Coast setting up his labyrinth at fairs and festivals. That wasn’t the last time I would run into Michael.
Then there was Gerald! Gerald was in his early eighties and lost his wife about a year earlier. Like me, he had a background in defense – me, having been an executive in a defense electronics company when I was younger; and Gerald, having worked in the Pentagon on computer systems. We hit it off and had some good conversations.
The one thing that got me was that it was still cold! I don’t know why, but I thought I was leaving the cold weather behind us in Texas. That simply wasn’t the case. Frank and I spent most mornings and evenings wrapped up in our comforters, sitting in the chair while talking to Tim or Gerald.
By the way, I finally got a chance to “pay forward” a blessing that was long overdue. Back when we first started out, I found myself at a gas station early one morning with no cash and a debit card that wasn’t working because I hadn’t told my credit union that I would be traveling in Texas (I later discovered they had some fairly significant fraud protection procedures in place, one of which was that “you can’t travel in Texas without letting us know if you want to use your debit card!”) There, another gentleman put $20 of gas in my car, with the specific instruction that I should “pay it forward”!
So a year-and-a-half later, after looking for different opportunities to do just that a different gas stations along the way, I finally got the chance! Frank and I were buying ice and bottled water edit quick stop down the road from the camp. A young man in front of me was having trouble with his debit card. He swore that money in the account but the card just wasn’t working and he didn’t know why!
I asked him what pump he was at and when he told me, I looked at the cashier and said, “$20 on pump four and I’ll pay for it.
The kid, Hector, thanked me profusely and wanted to know my address where he could send and wanted to know my address where he could repay me. I left and told him that his repayment would be that he had to listen to an old man tell him a story that ended with four words – “Now it’s your turn.”
Here’s hoping that if he hasn’t already, Hector will be telling someone his own version of the story that ends in the same four words!
We stayed at Peace River for two weeks before moving on. Our next campground was Three Flags RV Resort, in Wildwood. Now this is the first Thousand Trails place we stayed at that was billed as a resort. And it had a much different feel to it then the other places we had stayed at once we left Dallas. It looks more like a mobile home park for RVs. The streets were all curbed and paved and we were lined up like sardines! We didn’t get to pick our campsite out either – it was assigned before we got there. As it turns out, it was one of the few small sites, but it was right next to the laundromat!
Now there are good things and bad things about being right next to the laundromat. The vents opened up right on our campsite and we were treated to just about every flowery scent you can imagine most mornings. That was the good thing. By the way, you might think the other good thing is that you can just walk over and put a load in. I never even used it! Tried to, but it was so damn expensive I wound up going to the laundromat in town and saved a few bucks … $3 per load to wash? And another $3 to dry? Are you freaking kidding me?
The downside of being right next to the laundromat was that I got to hear all the campground gossip that I didn’t want to hear! Evidently, the vast number of women in the place thought that Margie was a slut! LOL
(Coincidentally, who do you think showed up the next day with a, “What a cute little beagle! I could just eat you up”? All I can say is that Margie was a hoot!)
There were plenty of dogs for Frank to play with here. A couple of regulars would stop by with their dogs to visit with Frank on their walks, and I would reciprocate when I was taking Frank out. But the funniest experience was when Frank finally met one of his own – a beagle pup named “Roscoe,” who couldn’t have been more than 9 months old. Frank looked at him with this quizzical expression on his face. Then, it was almost as if he realized, “Hey! This is one of MY tribe!” He started dancing around this little pup all excited. And while Roscoe wanted to play, I think he was a bit overwhelmed by how excited Frank had become, so he tried to hang back a little. I think that was the most excited I’ve seen Frank since we ran into that basset hound up in Pennsylvania last May.
The folks in this campground were definitely the stereotypical “snowbirds”! There was bingo two nights a week, mahjong on Thursdays, a shuffleboard court across the street from us and plenty of other amenities designed to appeal to seniors. And within the first two days of arriving, all our neighbors stopped by to make sure I knew which restaurants had the best early dinner specials.
It warmed up a bit here, but we were treated to another wonderful element of Florida weather – the first weekend there brought a tornado alert! Tornadoes actually touched down to the north and south of our campground, within eight miles! For a brief time, Frank and I had to go into the basement of the activity center across the street. Fortunately, there was no damage to the campground, just a few small tree branches on the roads here and there.
I stay pretty close to the weather and have done so ever since we started out. So I was aware that we had some pretty big storms heading our way. Earlier that afternoon, I anchored down the canopy nice and tight with some extra bungee cords attached to the front and back of the trailer. The outer leg got anchored to a second stake using some cable. We then pulled the car up sideways across the front opening of the canopy and installed the second insert so that rain would have a tough time blowing into our little living area.
I was pretty sure that would hold up well to any storms or high winds. I wasn’t expecting to have to deal with tornadoes, though. So I was a little anxious about that. But like I said earlier, everything turned out just fine.
Out of all the Thousand Trails places we’ve stayed at, this one was my least favorite. So I was definitely ready to move on when our three weeks was up. But part of that was because of the anticipation over our next stop.
Last year, I joined an association of teardrop trailer owners. The Tearjerkers! I’m not wild about the name, I’ll be honest. But I love the idea of meeting other people that share a common interest.
Frank and I broke camp early on Groundhog’s Day and headed east to the Atlantic coastline and Tomoka State Park, just south of Ormond Beach, and the site of our first Tearjerker Jamboree!
The campground itself was fantastic! It reminded me a lot of the campground at Goose Island State Park near Rockport, TX, another of my favorite places we’ve stayed at. Lots of trees! Lots of scrub around the campsites, all of which are set up for a true camping “experience”. Plus, you had that smell of salt air to wake up to in the morning!
There had to be over 30 other teardrop campers in the park that weekend. They ranged from the fancy ones with all the luxuries you can imagine … to smaller ones like mine … and all different varieties of home-built trailers!
We met most of the owners at breakfast on Saturday morning. I had indirectly corresponded with the folks of the Florida Chapter through the Tearjerker website. Each chapter has its own section, with different subject threads. I got a kick out of the fact that when introducing ourselves at breakfast, I would basically say, “Hello, my name is Jeff,” then pause to get everyone else’s names and shake hands. I’d then introduce Frank. That’s how everyone knew me! One guy shouted out, “Frank! Okay, you’re the guy traveling around with Frank!”
We know who the star of this little road show is, don’t we? : o)
On Saturday night, we had a potluck dinner, along with a silent auction benefiting a young girl in the area with a serious medical condition. It was very cool to see these people all coming together and raising funds to help what for the most part was a complete stranger! Good people!!! I really enjoyed meeting everyone and even came out of the weekend with some new Facebook friends.
At the end of the weekend, we headed back to the central part of the state, and the Orlando RV Resort. I didn’t really know what to expect here. I knew it was close to Disney World and Epcot Center, so I figured it was going to be a relatively large campground to accommodate tourists. I had no idea!
This campground has more than 800 sites along with two large activity centers, an Olympic swimming pool, a small theater where they host concerts and movies, and just about every other amenity you can think of!
Fortunately, the layout was similar to Peace River in that it had an older section the larger RVs couldn’t easily navigate. Frank and I had a wonderful camp site, in among some trees and scrub the right across the street from the bathrooms. It turned out to be a very relaxing three weeks.
If Frank could speak, I’d wager that he would tell you this was his favorite campground! First off, they had their own dog park. He and I went down there most days and it gave him his first real opportunity to spend a lot of time off leash. The only downside was that not many of the other dog owners brought their buddies down to play. There were only a few occasions where Frank d company.
It was here that Frank had his second encounter with one of his tribe. Two, actually – a young woman would roller skate by every morning for the first week of our stay, being towed by two young beagles. Frank had the same reaction to them that he did to the beagle pup at the other campground. We were both disappointed that their stay ed ours by only a week. But they did get together a couple of times and everybody had fun
We didn’t have many visitors here, either. Michael, who I met at Peace River, happened to be there when we arrived. But he was only staying there for another day before leaving. There was another young fellow we met named Rick. His wife was a photographer and they toured the country based on her assignments, with him homeschooling their kids. The fellow behind me was retired Navy and would come over most afternoons to shoot the breeze.
The only problem I’ve had is that when someone sits down to shoot the breeze, it seems like all anyone wants to talk about nowadays is politics. Now most of you who know me also know that I’m quite political. I’ve been known to let loose with a Facebook rant or two. Or ten! But I’ve worked real hard to keep politics out of the campground. In some cases, I’ve actually had to say, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t talk politics!” for the most part, everyone’s pretty cool with that. As it turns out though, this retired Navy guy couldn’t let it go.
“How come, no politics? Don’t you care about what’s going on in this country?”
I explained to him that part of the reason for setting out on this vagabond journey was to reestablish my faith in mankind. That I had engaged in too many internet arguments and it left a bad taste in my mouth. And that what I had discovered was that when you just go out and meet people, politics really don’t matter! What matters is that you are friendly, helpful, and supportive of whoever else you need on the road. From there, I’d rather get to know the person I was talking to than who they voted for in the last election!
You know what his response was?
“So who’d you vote for then?”
“Terry Francona. I thought he did a hell of a job in both the Red Sox and Indians locker rooms and if he could bring all those guys together, I’d like to see what he could do bringing together a divided Congress!”
The guy just grinned, let out a big guffaw, and never mentioned politics again!
So now, here we are, two weeks after leaving Orlando and back at the first Florida campground we stayed at – Peace River. Michael was here when we arrived and I have to say I really enjoyed his company! We had some great conversations and discovered that we have similar outlooks on life. I enjoyed getting a better understanding of what he was doing with the labyrinth, introducing them to people as a way towards meditation and prayer. Michael, I don’t know when we will next hook up, but I have a feeling our paths will cross again at some point down the road.
Tim was still here and would spend a few evenings stopping by to talk and pet Frank. And for the last week, I’ve had a couple of guys in a tent right behind me. It started out a bit rocky – I asked them to turn down their blaring TV at around 9 p.m. and one of the fellows wasn’t too keen on the suggestion. I bitched about it on a Facebook post and one of my dear friends, Dale, reminded me that positive energy works much better than negative. One thing she said was, “Whether you believe in a higher power or not, the visualizing and positive energy that is thrown out to your surroundings can actually cause movement in a positive way.”
What happened after that? Let me share my Facebook post from the next morning …
After receiving a much-needed reminder from Dale, I spent some time in meditation and prayer yesterday afternoon. Thought about harmony … about how much Frank and I have experienced on our journey, seeing the harmony of nature and how many times we’ve been part of good times with friends and strangers along the way. I expressed quiet gratitude for that. And then let it go.
Before dinner, one of the guys came by last night and said that he was sorry for being an ass the night before. That he had some stuff he was dealing with, got drunk and that he knows he is a lousy drunk.
I basically told him, “been there, done that,” as far as having stuff to deal with. And that I’ve lashed out at people without even the benefit of having an excuse like drinking too much. I told him, “Apology accepted,” and I hope he knew that I wasn’t trying to be an ass, either. Which he did.
Later on after dark, he hollered out, “Hey, big man! The TV’s not too loud for you, is it?” I told him that it wasn’t, and then I really appreciated him asking! (Evidently, I now have a new nickname! LOL)
Now, for those of you not inclined to believe in a higher power (whether it’s God, Allah, Spirit Mother, or whatever you want to call the Force that binds us all together), I recognize it could be coincidence, the fact that he just felt bad and had enough self-respect to apologize, that he might have overheard a friendly conversation I had yesterday afternoon with another camper that stopped by and decided I was a decent enough guy. It could be a myriad of things like that.
I’d like to believe that because I sought to align myself with a greater sense of harmony, that said Higher Power took it to the next level and allowed me to experience Harmony on a grander scale!
I’m grateful for that. Just wish I would have started out with that in mind instead of letting myself get so pissed off … and then needing the reminder from Dale before I got myself back under control. Thank you Dale! God bless you for providing the kick in the ass I needed! LOL
Last night, they invited me over to share some burgers and beer. I brought some potato salad. Suffice it to say that an enjoyable time was had by all! They leave tomorrow. And we’re parting on very good terms!
I’m going to leave off here. Tomorrow, I’ll post about the rest of our plans for 2017. The only comment I’ll make in advance is that it’s incredibly freeing when you realize that an itinerary is only a mental construct! t just because you spent a bunch of time putting together a year’s worth of plans, it doesn’t mean they can’t be changed.
Tune in tomorrow.