Camping Adventure: Tenting across the USA

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Day 1:

Here we go. Finally, we are setting off on our tenting adventure. I’m so excited, I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. We pulled out a little after 9:30 a.m. Being a family of five, it takes awhile to get us all bathed and out the door. We also did two loads of laundry and cleaned the Beast, so our RV home is nice and tidy when we get back to it.

Along the way, we stopped at Carroll’s Sausage and Country Store in Ashburn, Georgia. An old fashioned gem, it sells everything from jars of pickled peaches to pecan rolls to thick slabs of peppered bacon. Happy to get out of the car and stretch our legs, we meandered through the store checking out its various offerings. Splurging, we couldn’t resist picking up a pound of their thick peppered bacon and some seven pepper snack sticks. Storing the bacon in our ice chest, we broke into the savory pepper sticks as we got back on the road.

The first night, we stayed at McKinney Campground along Lake Allatoona in Acworth, Georgia. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful camp for our first night.

Pulling in as the sun was setting, we rushed to get camp set up. Trying to figure out our brand new tent was a calamity of errors – we couldn’t find the directions, we find the directions, we didn’t have enough poles, we find the missing poles, and finally success. Our tent is standing. We have a place to sleep for the night. Thankfully, the rest of our camp set up went off without a hitch.

Exhausted after a long day’s drive, we were soon ready for bed. Wanting to watch the fireworks light up the night sky while fighting the suffocating heat of the Georgia summer, we decided to leave the rain roof off our tent. A foolish and reckless decision resulting in a wet soggy morning. Early the next morning, the sky opened up releasing the rains. Scrambling, we packed as fast as we could and headed to the showers. Fortunately, the rains let up, so before heading out I could grabbed some pictures of the breath taking lake.

Day 2 and Day 3:

Getting back to nature is tough. It takes a lot of work to live this way. I don’t think I fully realized how much work this trip would be. I have been a bit spoiled in my Beast.

Shaking off the sogginess of our morning misadventure, we are soon crooning along to my daughter’s eclectic musical tastes. A little Bowie, a little Reba, a little Def Leppard.

Driving through Tennessee and Kentucky, we are awed by their sheer beauty. Tennessee’s trees and mountains and Kentucky’s corn fields are a sight to behold. We’ve spent some time in Tennessee, but have only ever driven through Kentucky. Making plans to come back and explore both in greater depth, we keep moving.

Pulling into Johnston City, Illinois, we are once again shaking hands with the clock. The sun set long ago forcing us to set up camp in the dark. Thankfully, we remembered how to set up the tent, this time we included the rain roof.

Tired and still needing to dry out our gear, we decide to stay in Johnston City for two days instead of one. This would give us a chance to do laundry, reorganize our gear, and just relax a little. Little did we know, what lay ahead.

Checking the weather on Tuesday night, we were supposed to have mainly clear skies with only a 30% chance of rain fall. Not too bad. We could see the clouds begin moving in Wednesday morning as we ate our delicious peppered bacon and some eggs for our breakfast. Smarter this time around, we had everything tucked away inside the car or the tent. The rain wasn’t supposed to stick around, so we weren’t too worried about it. Ducking into the tent as the rain began to fall, I checked the weather again to see when it was supposed to stop. The weather channel had since upgraded the occasional afternoon rain to a full day of severe thunderstorms. Hunkered down in our tent, we were once again at the mercy of the weather.

Thankfully, our tent held up with only a few minor leaks. The storms broke long enough for us to do laundry and for us to cook some dinner. We won’t be able to dry out, like we’d hoped – maybe at our next stop, we’ll find sunny skies….image

 

 

 

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Unlimited Possibilities

 

 

imageWe have nothing to do, nowhere to go. The empty afternoon offers unlimited possibilities. The day beckons to us, inviting us to explore. Hopping in the car, we set off to find an adventure.

A slight breeze offers relief against the powerful Florida sun, making the afternoon pleasantly comfortable. Munching on our packed lunch beneath a picnic shelter, we’ve decided to spend today at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa, Florida. The park promises to fill our empty afternoon with beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife.

Taking advantage of the complimentary boat ride, we glide along Pepper Creek in a pontoon boat. Listening to the Park Ranger’s informative introduction, I take in the beauty of the park. It is breathtaking.

Purchased in 1940, this fifty acre park has actually been a popular attraction since the early 1900s, when trains would stop allowing passengers to enjoy the view of Homosassa Spring. Over the years this beautiful natural park was used to house trained exotic animals that were used on television shows and in movies.  However, animal education, understanding, and compassion have since changed how the park manages captive wildlife. A participant in Manatee rescue and rehabilitation, the park has helped rescue and rehabilitate more than forty injured manatees in the span of thirty years.

Exploring the park, we saw manatees swimming, stunning wildlife at the zoo, met an artist, rode a pontoon boat, and learned little something about animal rescue and rehabilitation.

What started out as an empty afternoon ended in a beautiful adventure.

 

Daily Prompt

Perfection in a Bowl

 

 

PhoRarely captured, perfection is fleeting. Few and far between, perfect moments leave a lasting impression.

It has been nearly ten years, but I remember the afternoon perfectly. It was soggy. Rain had surged in making for a wet, damp day. This was nothing new or unexpected. Washington State averages 147 days of rainfall a year.

Josh and I were work friends. We were as tight as any two work friends could be. It had been a crazy day, and we were in need of a break. Grabbing lunch was the perfect opportunity. Josh wanted Pho. He was coming down with a cold, and hoped the soup would help ward off his cold before it really set in. I’d never heard of Pho, but I was up for an adventure.

As luck would have it, the restaurant wasn’t too far from work. Walking through the door, we were greeted by delicious aromas. Sitting down, we were served tea and water as we looked over the menu.

Knowing what he wanted, Josh put his menu aside. Looking over the selections, I felt my apprehensions grow. I was starving, but nothing captured my attention. Seeing my struggle, Josh urged me to just have what he was getting. He assured me I would love it. Nodding in agreement, I warned him it had better be good. I was starving. He laughed, and told me not to worry. He ordered us each a bowl of chicken Pho and an appetizer of spring rolls to share.

The spring rolls came first. The translucent paper thin skin of the roll showcased large plump shrimp, glass noodles, and slivers of cabbage. They were delicious. Although, I must admit I didn’t care for the peanut sauce accompanying them. It was too sweet for my liking. Preferring a little spice, I dipped mine in a little Sriracha sauce. While we ate our spring rolls, the waiter brought us a platter of Pho garnishments: lime wedges, fresh jalapeno slices, bean sprouts, and Thai basil. The rest of our lunch took no time at all, and soon the waiter set before us two large bowls brimming with a scrumptious broth, meaty hunks of chicken, and rice noodles.

Unsure of what to do, I watched my friend. Adding the garnishments to his soup, Josh told me everyone has their own preferences for Pho. This being my first time, I thought it best if I simply try it his way. Copying him, I squeeze one of the limes releasing the juice into my broth, float two fresh jalapeno slices into my soup,  before topping it off with several bean sprouts. He warns me that the jalapeno’s will heat up my soup. Not as brave as him, I forgo the chopsticks. Only on our lunch break, I didn’t want to slop Pho down the front of my suit.

Spooning up a bit of broth, I took my first taste and find perfection. Perfection in a bowl of Pho.

Daily Prompt

Seeking Solitude

TypeWriter ImageThe outside world looms larger than life. The television blares. People talk and laugh. A car alarm sounds off. A dog barks.It is in moments like these when I struggle. All, I want is a moment of quiet where I can become lost within my own mind, focus on my thoughts, and capture the story running through the recesses of my mind.

Quieting my exterior, I immerse myself in my writing. Pounding away at the keyboard, I have somehow effectively managed to remove myself from the life happening around me.

It’s time. I am ready to converse and laugh, but the silence is deafening. My world is quiet. Everyone around me seems to be submersed in their own activities. Restless, I prowl about. Like a precocious two year old, I want to throw a fit and harass my family into paying attention to me.

It’s a fine line to walk. As a traveler and a writer, I have a need to experience life. I have a need to – feel the wind on my face,  experience the stifling muggy heat of Virginia, smell the dank mustiness of an earthy farm, hear the story of the woman who works at the five and dime store, suffer through the agony of defeat, wade in the waves crashing against the pristine white shores of the sandy Florida beaches, laugh until I cry, navigate my way along the hustling city streets of New York, and to be overwhelmed with gratitude. I have a need to do it all, to see it all, to experience it all.

I’ve had enough. Bursting at the seams, I’m ready to implode. My body needs rest and my mind needs relief. Armed with my laptop, I squire away. I’ll be better once I spend the next few hours, days, or possibly weeks pounding away at the keyboard.

Daily Prompt

 

 

Juneau, Alaska: A Photo Essay

Nestled along the Gastineau Channel at the base of glaciers and mountains, Juneau is a remote town that can only be reached by boat or plane. Reminiscent of the old mining town it once was, Juneau flourishes in the summer months, but basically shuts down during the winter. Armed with a camera, I spent time exploring Juneau’s unbound beauty.

 

Daily Prompt

 

 

 

 

U.S.A Traveling Tips and Tricks

 

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I’ve been on the road for a year, but people still don’t understand. I’m often questioned by people in my old life. Why? How? Their looks of confusion and sometimes derision are both amusing and annoying. They can’t seem to understand why or how I could give up my old life to live this way, but that is okay. They don’t need to. My journey is not theirs. However, for those of you who share my interest in living this way, I’d like to share with you a few things, I’ve learned along the way.

  • This is a life not a vacation. 
    • Before deciding to take this step, I read everything I could on the subject of full time travel. Like a sponge, I absorbed information and advice from all directions. It was one of these articles, in particular, that resonated with me. It was about a powerful executive married couple who gave up their stationary lives to travel the world. However, in less than a year, they were broke and working ‘menial’ jobs, so they could eat and have a place to sleep at night. Instead of living within their means, they blew through their money on extravagant activities, four star hotels, and elaborate meals. Bemoaning their new lives, they warned people in the article not to do what they did. No, they weren’t warning people not to blow through their money as if there’s no tomorrow, they were warning people not to become full time travelers. This couple’s irresponsibility served me well. I continuously remind myself this is my life, not a vacation. It is important to budget accordingly. It also made me question myself on my dedication to do what was necessary to live this life. Would I be willing to stop traveling if needed to re enter the workforce, and take on ‘menial’ jobs (as they put it) to build up my travel fund if needed? The answer came only too easily. Unequivocally “YES.” There is no shame in a hard honest day’s work. I’ve done it before, and I’d gladly do it again to be able to be a full time traveler.
  • Cutting costs from the very beginning, we did everything we could to eliminate extravagant monthly bills that would prevent us from traveling.
    • Shopping around, we found a second-hand RV within our means. Paying cash for it up front, we bought it outright. Working together, we invested hard work and sweat equity into it to making it a comfortable, accommodating home that is distinctly ours. By doing this, we were able to increase the value of our RV while saving ourselves from having costly monthly payments.
    • Debt can be destructive to freedom. We avoid credit cards. If we can’t afford to pay cash for what we need, we simply do without.
  • We rarely eat out. Cooking at home is economical, healthier, and simply tastes better.
  • We avoid buying snacks or drinks from convenience stores when filling up our vehicle with diesel. It is an expensive convenience, we do without.
  • We are a family of five which can become expensive very quickly when traveling and sightseeing.
    • Fortunately, the United States has a wealth of free and low cost fun, entertaining, and educational attractions and activities. Doing my homework ahead of time, I google each state we travel in, and notate what is available.
    • I keep my eyes peeled for discounts, coupons, and offers that may make sightseeing more affordable and accessible.
      • The America the Beautiful: National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is one such amazing deal. For a low yearly cost, this pass provides entrance or access to more than two thousand Federal Recreation Parks and Sites through out the United States. It is definitely a great deal, and has saved my family a ton of money.  Find a Federal Park
    • Get off the beaten path. I love big cities, but small towns have their own distinct charm. Explore what is out there.
    • For those attractions that may be more expensive, we simply do as other families do. We save until we have the money to go. Disneyworld may be the happiest place on Earth, but it is definitely not the most affordable.
  • Campgrounds and RV parks are often spendy. Boondocking is a great way to combat this expense.
    • Wal-Mart’s, Home Depot, and Lowes are usually pretty accommodating if you park at the far end of their parking lots. However, I always call and speak with a manager to receive permission beforehand. There are some cities whose ordinances forbid boondocking.
    • Free Campsite Interactive Map is another wonderful tool, I frequently use. This interactive map is a great way to locate various free and low cost campsites in any area you happen to be in. Providing reviews and coordinates, this map is easy to use.
  • Always be safe. 
    • Trust your instincts. image
    • Do NOT catalog where you’ve been on a map you adhere to the side of your RV. This is a dangerous practice. By doing this you are notifying everyone that you are a full time traveler who has everything you own in your RV (electronics, jewelry, and personal documents). While it is fun to document and record your adventures, just keep it to the inside of your RV.
    • Invest in a weather radio. These radios will alert you to storms along the way that you may not be aware of. There is nothing worse than driving into something you could easily have avoided.
    • Joining AAA is a travel service that is well worth the money. If you have a breakdown on the road, help is only a phone call away.
  • Be friendly and meet the locals. They often know about the best places to go, to shop, and to eat (when you decide to splurge).

I’ve only been on the road for a year, but I can’t imagine going back to my old life. Why would I? This is the life, literally. I may have had a large home with four bedrooms, two and a half bath, but I was never there to enjoy any of it. 70, 80, 100 hour work weeks were the norm. I saw my family in passing on my way to work or my way to bed. Now, I live simply but the rewards are far greater.

 

 

 

A Small Town Festival

watermelonI’m a collector – a collector of experiences, not possessions. For me, there is nothing better. As a traveler, I’m always looking for opportunities to add to my collection. In every small town, big city, and state we visit, I keep my eyes peeled for anything that promises to be interesting: events, museums, workshops, parks, exhibits, fairs, trails, galleries, festivals, beaches, and the like.

You never know when opportunity will present itself, but you must always be ready. Recently, I had such an opportunity.

On a quiet Saturday morning, we were headed to the store to restock our groceries when we came across a festival. No wonder the small town was so quiet, everyone in town seemed to be here. There is no time like the present to seize the day. Groceries were quickly forgotten as we pulled into a designated parking lot. Setting off to enjoy the local festivities we were presented with a question – How much watermelon can you eat? You can test your stomach’s holding capacity for the pink meat of this sweet fruit at the Watermelon Festival in Chiefland, Florida. Held annually on the first Saturday in June, this small town festival has something for everyone.

Festival goers can try their skill at the Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest, watch the floats in the Watermelon Parade, and enjoy intelligent, beautiful, young women square off against one another in hopes to win a scholarship at the Watermelon Pageant.

Children race from activity to activity. Some gravitate towards the giant wading pool with inflatable ride-on toys. Splashing about, they enjoy the cool water against the stifling heat. Others forego the water to jump on the bounce house.

Artists and craftsmen lay out their wares trying to entice customers into shelling out their hard-earned cash for items they just can’t resist.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial than watermelon, you’re in luck. Food vendors are prepared to offer you the finest foods…gator, gyros, cracklins, snow cones, kettle corn, sandwiches, sausages, lemonades, and so much more.

How much watermelon can you eat? It is a question, anyone can easily answer at Chiefland’s Watermelon Festival.

However, it is a question I could’ve answered even if I hadn’t attended this event. None. I don’t actually like watermelon. Weird, I know. There is just something about the fruit, I’ve never cared for. My family all adore watermelon, and have never been able to understand my distaste for it. Nevertheless, I had fun adding the 62nd annual Watermelon Festival to my collection of experiences.

Watermelon Festival Information