"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Little Change in Plans

Sunset over The Great Outdoors

We had planned on leaving Titusville and The Great Outdoors Resort on Feb. 25th and heading for the west coast of Florida, but that was not how it worked out.  We discovered a couple of weeks ago that we had a problem with one of our slides, and decided to get the work done here where we were familiar with the local RV service shop. This required us finding a new spot at the resort, as our nice one here will have new tenants on Mar. 1. So tomorrow we move to a different section of the resort. We'll miss our lovely neighborhood, but feel pretty sure the next one will be good too.

Here are a few views of the site we've been in:

From the other side:

And from the back:

We'll be here until Mar. 25  so we can get the monthly rate again. There's plenty to do for another month, in addition to the repairs. I've been taking the tai chi and yoga classes, and riding the nature trail on my bike everyday. We will try to have a few beach days before we leave, and hope to get over to Leu Gardens in Orlando.  After that we hope to spend just a little time over on the west coast before we start heading north.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Airboat Thrills

I've avoided these for years.  No, not alligators. Well yes, alligators of course, but I mean airboats.

The environmentalist are all over this kind of sightseeing and recreational boating, and not in a good way. The internet has many heated forums where environmentalists and local airboaters are blasting each other about the damages airboats do vs. their rights to use them. It seems evident that airboats are part of the local culture that I was talking about in my last post. Gator and hog hunting too! 

So, in the spirit of most everything I do in my life right now, I decided I needed to experience it for myself rather than passing judgement without first hand knowledge. 

Midway Airboat Rides is located just a few miles west from The Great Outdoors RV Resort, where the St. Johns River crosses Rt. 50.  Funny, both places claim to be nature loving and cater to people who want to experience nature first hand, and both probably do their fair share of damage to the environment. Oh dear, and here I am supporting both. This kind of thinking just gets me down.

Pulling into Midway, the first thing we saw was this roseate spoonbill in the river. He wasn't as shy as others we've encountered, so we were able to get a good photo. Yes, he's probably used to the noise. 

Greeting us, well sort of, at the front door of the establishment was "Pork Chop" a large Vietnamese potbellied pig who lives where ever he wants to I guess.  

We were scheduled to leave at 2:30 for a one hour ride along the St. Johns River. While we waited we browsed through their little shop at souvenirs and caged birds and reptiles.  The place is all about animal encounters, and it's trying hard to come off as environmentally sensitive, with hand painted nature murals and "Love Mother Earth" emblazoned across the side of the building. Okay.

There were five boats docked in back, and we wondered which one would be ours, but then two pulled in let off their passengers and we got on one of those - the yellow one below.  They are powered by the same kind of engine that a Corvette has, and unlike a Corvette, they have stadium style seating so everyone can see.

Everyone wears very nice noise-cancelling headsets with microphones so you can ask the guide questions and hear what he is saying over the noise of the boats. Yes, big noise. 

The landscape is flat, and the part of the river we rode runs through conservation land, marshes, a very large cattle ranch and a cypress swamp. I'm not clear how much of the land we saw was a preserve, but from what our guide said, I would guess that most of it was. Don't know how the cattle ranch fits in there.  Perhaps they graze on the conservation land. Hmmmm. How does that work?

Here you can see the cattle and the alligators co-existing. They don't seem to bother each other - just mind their own business.  Most of the alligators we saw were not bothered by us either. 

The cypress swamp was the prettiest part of the ride. 

Our guide took us in and turned off the engine so we could take off our headsets and enjoy the quiet for awhile.  The line on the trees about four feet up is the highwater mark from the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Fay in 2008.

We may have seen more birds that we've seen anywhere else, including nesting great blue herons, little blue and tricolor herons, several kinds of egrets, roseate spoonbills, black and white ibis, black necked stilts, pelicans, kingfishers, bald eagles, hawks, and.......... a crested caracara! (A life bird for both of us that we have been looking for since arriving in the area.) There were many little birds too that we couldn't focus on because we were going too fast. The birds were spooked sometimes when we drove by, and sometimes not. The river is rich in fish, said our guide, and so draws the birds and the gators. 

When we arrived back at the dock we got the opportunity to hold a baby alligator, and we couldn't turn that down!

You'll notice that his mouth was rubber banded shut while we were handling him, thank you. This guy felt soft on the bottom and hard on the top - a little like a snake, but more complicated than a snake because of all the body parts.  

So, I'm not sure how I feel about the airboats. It was fun, and we saw a lot more of the back country than we would have on our own. I don't think I'm going to go out and buy one any time soon. And I'll probably not be doing it again. I just wanted to know what it was like, and now I know. The noise is obnoxious, so I hope they don't become more popular. I'm glad they are regulated in the national park lands. But I'm not ready to go out and fight against their use by locals. And I sure hope no one tries to prohibit RVs and RV parks. So, live and let live, including the noisy boats and little beasts, as best we can.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Central Florida: Cultural Vacuum or Wildlife Wonderland?

About thirty (really?) years ago I lived in central Florida for a couple of years. It was initially shocking - the heat, the humidity and the rain were unlike anything I had ever experienced living in the northeast. Gradually I came to tolerate the weather and appreciate the wildlife, and missed it when I moved back north. But I didn't miss what felt to me like a complete lack of cultural stimulation of any sort. Of course there was Disney World and the attendant sprawl, but that felt artificial - it didn't count as culture. I lived in a small town northwest of Orlando, in the middle of the orange groves. There was nothing around but a golf course and a few depressed little towns nearby. At least nothing I could see at the time.

I assumed that it had all changed, and expected coastal and central Florida to be a different kind of wasteland now - one of malls, fast food, mega-tourist attractions and condos. But I have been pleasantly surprised. Yes, the area around Orlando has spread out and eaten up more of the agricultural and wild wetlands surrounding it. But beyond Orlando, at least in the area east and north of it, there still seems to be a lot of undeveloped and preserved land. There also seems to be an effort to preserve and redevelop the wetlands. I've even heard the area called central Florida's everglades.

Titusville, east of Orlando, where we are staying now, appears to have suffered a serious slowdown due at least in part, to the reduction in NASA's Kennedy Space Center programs.  So it's a sleepy, depressed and old fashioned little city.  But I kind of like it. It has national, state, county and town wildlife preserves and parks in every direction; a few of them, like on Merritt Island, are some of the best in the country.

I'm still not seeing much of cultural interest, unless you count the Space Center, but I can't really judge the area based on Titusville and the wilderness between here and Orlando, can I?  I guess I'm thinking about a cultural richness that grows out of the lives and work of local people, like we saw in Louisiana and South Carolina. I can't get a sense of who the local people are, or were, and what they did, or made, or even ate.

We visited Winter Park one day, and just as it was 30 years ago, it's very classy, prosperous and culturally rich. But even more impressive to me was Blue Springs State Park, near Orange City, with the best manatee sanctuary ever! Again, wildlife really seems to thrive here, even though it must be only a shadow of its former wonder.  So I guess that's why most of my blogs have been about the local wildlife - perhaps they are the most influential local inhabitants. I sure know who they are, what they do and what they eat! (or I can find out)

A broad headed skink at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary.

An orchard orbweaver spider at the Enchanted Forest.

An epiphyte in the Enchanted Forest.

A Carolina green anole in the Enchanted Forest.

Mom and baby manatee at Blue Springs State Park.

Young manatee at Blue Springs.

A green heron at Ritch Grissom.

A tricolor heron (rear) and a snowy egret at Ritch Grissom.

A limpkin at Ritch Grissom.

White ibis and snowy egret at Merritt Island National Wildlife Preserve.

As I close this blog out for today, I'm listening to the calls of sandhill cranes outside our RV. This is why I love living this life in Florida, the wildlife wonderland.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Washington Oaks Garden State Park: Florida

Yesterday I spent the day with my good friend Ande, who I know from my work life. She has been living and working here in Florida for awhile and is just about to leave for another big adventure somewhere yet to be determined. Anyway, I was lucky enough to catch her before she left and spend a lovely day at the Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.

About half of Washington Oaks used to be a private garden, and was donated to the state of Florida by Louise and Owen Young. The half of the park west of Rt. 1A has shaded formal gardens with roses and citrus trees, and trails through jungle-like forest called coastal hammock. Ande and I walked there before we had a nice seafood lunch nearby.

On the other side of 1A there is beach and coastal scrub - habitat of the gopher tortoise. 
This is a first for me!

On the beach there were plenty of peeps and dippers. 

I am not experienced with these kinds of birds, so I'm embarrassed to even make a stab at identifying them.  I'm going to tentatively say the one above is a sanderling with its winter plumage.  And this next one looks a lot like a dunlin, but they aren't found here in Florida, I don't think. So maybe it's a red knot?  It's bigger than the sanderling.

If anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you.


The beach here is unusual. It's rocky, but not like west coast or Maine rocks. This rock is called coquina, and is made up mostly of shells.  We recently came across it at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, which is made completely of coquina.

The rock erodes to create pot holes of various sizes and shapes. 


It all makes for easy and safe climbing and exploring, 
looking down into the holes to see what's living there. 

Here you can get a good peek at the tiny shells that make up the coquina.

And here you can see the different layers of sand and shell, and how their composition has changed over time. 

The erosion makes some cool shapes in the rock. Folks around here use coquina with interesting holes in it for landscaping accents.

Some of the holes are still tide pools. I didn't see as much flora and fauna in the tide pools as you might see in the Pacific.  Mostly limpets.

But I did find these pink barnacles that look like tiny rose buds. 

The coquina down by the water is covered in what looks like moss or short sea grass or sea weed.  I imagine this vegetation and animal life is part of what has made the different colored layers you can see in the dry potholes.

The rock closer to the water is submerged daily in the tides, that are eroding it right now. That means you can watch the action that created all the potholes ages ago in the rock higher up on the beach. It's like traveling back in time just by walking down to the water. 

Over the past 20 months we've seen a lot of places in the USA, and I'm still amazed at how the world keeps revealing new views, new life forms, new geography and geology, new people.  It's just the infinite unfolding of Life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wheels and Tires Rodeo

Readers who may be unfamiliar with full-time RV life may look at this blog and think that all we do is go from one glorious location to the next grand adventure. It's true, we do that, but interspersed is a surprising amount of mundane chores, maintenance, and repairs necessary to keep our home on the road. Most of the chores are universal, like laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills, cooking, cleaning house, washing the car and walking the dog. Some are more unique to RV life, like route planning, emptying the black and grey tanks, refilling propane tanks and climbing on top of the rig to wash the roof and the solar panels.

We've also had our share of minor repairs and other bothers that have required some sweat and ingenuity, mostly from Rick. I just chip in with an occasional bright idea.  (Here's a little fix I made on the drill-like tool we use to lower the spare tire. I added the tennis ball to make it easier to hold and add pressure as needed without slippage. Brilliant, if I do say so myself.)

Since we've been here at The Great Outdoors, in Titusville, FL, we've been attending to some long needed repairs and other kinds of critical problems that just recently came to our attention.

First, we had a small insulated window that fogged up about eight months ago, that we've been trying to replace since then. It was covered by our original warranty, so DRV (that's the company that made our Mobile Suite fifth wheel trailer) sent us a replacement window, but not quickly. We missed opportunities to replace it earlier, and finally got it taken care of at Eagles Pride RV Repair right here at The Great Outdoors. A very nice repairman came right to our site and popped out the old window (shattered glass all over the place - oops) and popped in the new one with just a little problem. It seems that the rivets that hold the window in are not accessible without removing or cutting out the wood trim from the inside of the window (who engineered that?) - a big deal that he didn't have the right tools for. So he said he'd come back first thing on Monday with the right tools.  Monday came, the morning passing, and no repairman. But in the meantime Rick put his mind to it and came up with the perfect solution. Cable ties! It would be a little too complicated to explain just how, but here are a few pictures. The two skinny black lines are the cable ties threaded through the rivet holes, with the excess ends still on.

Here the excess is cut off, leaving just the snug little loops holding the window in place.

And here's how it looks with the screen back in. Perfect!

This is not the first time he's used cable ties to solve repair problems. They are an indispensable tool to have around, and I highly recommend them to anyone who is traveling without them. Better than duct tape in many situations. We like electrical tape too.

Now, the "Wheels and Tires Rodeo," as Rick dubbed it. We've had trouble with our tires' valve stems since the beginning, resulting in a few surprise flats while parked at campgrounds (thank goodness), and occasional low pressure. Several months ago Rick talked with Tredit Tire, the supplier of the tires to DRV, and they sent us new heavy duty brass valves to replace all five of our old leaky ones, at no cost to us. So this week Rick changed out every tire, taking them off one by one, wrangling them into the back of the Subaru and driving them to a tire shop in Cocoa Beach to replace the valves. Now let me just say, these are not your everyday tires - they are massive compared to those you know from your car.  Now this is all taken care of and we hope we'll have no more trouble with air loss.  Thank you cowboy Rick.

AND, while emptying our tanks at our last location I noticed that one of our tires was dramatically worn on the two inside treads. This sent us into problem solving mode again.

This kind of uneven tire wear is usually an indication of an alignment problem. After much research and many phone calls to DRV, Lippert (who makes the axles), our extended warranty company and several repair shops, Rick made an appointment at Josam in Orlando, who seem to be THE pros for this kind of work. Field trip!

Josam assessed our axles and discovered that ALL our wheels and axles were wonky. Their hypothesis for the cause is that Lippert makes these axles in a standard manner, to be used on many kinds of vehicles: trucks, busses, RVs, and they are supposed to be adjusted for each vehicle, which fifth wheel manufacturers evidently don't do.

Josam adjusted both axles, with a unique heating and cooling process, and now the camber and toe on all the wheels are correct. I know there was more to it, but I'm not versed in vehicle mechanics language. Josam suggested we have them checked annually and have them realigned as necessary.  And, of course, we needed to buy a new humongous tire to replace the worn one.  Cha-ching. Well we're lucky we didn't need to replace more, and that we found out about the problem before there was more damage done. None of it was covered by our extended warranty by the way - "Normal wear and tear."  Well that's what this post is all about after all.