High Adventures in the Back Country

I must apologize for my lack of communications this year. But, we have been in remote places mostly and the cell phone service has been very spotty. Some days, I have the ability to get and read basic e-mails for a brief period and other days, no service at all. It is actually worse than when we were aboard the boat! Then we understood that, if a long ways offshore, we would be out of communication but once anchored at most islands, we were on-line again. Now that we are in the USA, you would think cell towers would be everywhere. Not so! If we are close to a major highway or large town, we have excellent service. But if not, we are incommunicado!


We did spent the allowed 8 days at DuPuis Water Management Area (with no power) and discovered a serious problem with our house batteries. They were less than a year old and were dead! Even though we ran the generator daily to try to charge them, they were getting insufficient charging from the on-board system. The systems monitor showed us that all was perfect with the battery. But, when Murray checked the batteries with his volt meter, they were down to 10 volts. Dead! As we weren’t far from Stuart, we drove there and purchased a battery charger, hoping this would solve the problem.


From DuPuis, we moved on to another WMA free site at Hickory Hammock, near the top of Lake Okachobee, on Jan 10th. This campground was lovely and shaded but again had no services. Running the generator and using the battery charger seemed to be helping our batteries though. Amazingly, we met up with friends here, sailors from Green Cove Springs Marina. We shared a game of bocce with them one lovely morning. Luckily it was warmer at this time as the shower was unheated and outdoors! Murray enjoyed the access to free firewood and kept the fire burning during most of the 5 days we stayed. The only negative happening was the visit to our site by a large snake, a cottonmouth. Yikes! I hadn’t seen it and it was within a few feet of me. We were told that they are very aggressive and venomous snakes. I was loath to walk far from the camper after that.


The batteries had not come back at all and the decision as made to replace them. This time we bought Trojan T105’s 6 volt golf cart batteries, as they are deep cycle, heavy-duty batteries that tolerate discharging and re-charging better than automotive ones. Minor McGyver techniques were used to install the new batteries as Murray lamented his lack of proper tools. The job was done as we spent two nights at Highland Hammock State Park. It is a very old park and we appreciated the displays and museum but not the campsites. The sites were very small with no privacy whatsoever. But, I did manage to get laundry done –yeah!


Perhaps we have a masochistic trait, as we went to Tampa for the RV Super Show again and spent one night freezing in the parking lot. The cabin temperature was 41F in the morning! Thank goodness for quilts! The show was disappointing for us as we had hoped to find suppliers of gear there ie battery monitors, solar panels, flooring, etc. We did manage to get information about our Onan generator and Murray hopes to be able to solve the propane leak once we are home. Also we were able to purchase some higher lumen led lights for under the cupboards in the galley and over the stove. It is always better to see clearly when handling knives and hot food.


From Tampa, we headed to Silver Lake State Forest Park, not a free site as my app had indicated. Now cost us $30 for one night. But we needed to plug in for some heat as again, the temperatures were hitting the freezing point or below.


The same reason brought us to Silver Springs State Park for the next 2 days. It is a lovely park and we would have enjoyed it more on nicer days. But, again, I managed to get laundry done! Yahoo! Pete and Lani stopped by for a visit one morning and we all went out for breakfast. So great to see them again!

The park has quite a museum, which is never open when we are there, and a recreation of a Florida cracker village. We visited the village before departure and found it very interesting.


But, this month has been getting expensive. It was time for another free site. I found one in the Ocala National Forest and we drove in this narrow sand road for four miles before we saw the sign for Davenport Landing. A truck followed us into the entrance and pulled up beside us when we stopped. They were locals who were going fishing and wanted to warn us that sometimes locals go there to do drugs etc. We continued down the road to a clearing – the campsites. All but one site was occupied. Occupied by people living in their vans. It was a bunch of homeless! I wanted to turn around but Murray said, “They look friendly”. He got out and chatted with one fellow for a bit. Although I wasn’t 100% sure about this, we parked and set up camp. They did turn out to be nice people and we spent two nights there before moving on.


The cold weather was persisting so we took a chance and headed to Manatee Springs State Park without reservations. Luckily, we got a site for 2 nights! This is a lovely park with many trees and sites are well separated. Each evening, 5 or 6 deer visited us and we saw several Pileated Woodpeckers as well.


Our next stop was Stephen Foster Cultural Center and State Park, also without reservations. It is a beautiful park with museums dedicated to teaching us about the music and life of Stephen Foster. The Florida state song is Old Folks at Home, written by Stephen Foster. He might be more familiar to you as the writer of Way Down Upon The Suwannee River. And the Suwanee River runs through the nearby town and through the campground. There was also a craft village there, which we very much enjoyed. Artisans displayed their wares and told you of their craft. The blacksmith was especially interesting. As we chatted with him, he made us a drive hook that was used to hang gear in barns. It can be driven into the wood with just a tap of a hammer and holds a lot of weight. Most of the artisans were volunteers who spend several months here at this campground.


At the RV show, we had been given a voucher for a free two-night stay at the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Camp. I had made reservations and we checked in at the park. It was huge! After spending some time, we noted that most campers brought golf carts with them to get around. There was a restaurant with nightly entertainment but I wasn’t keen to walk that far and return in the dark. But, I did manage to do laundry again although most of the machines were non-functioning or already in use.


After re-stocking the larder at Piggly-Wiggly in Bristol, we headed into the Apalachicola National Forest. Here the sites are not free but are affordable at $10 per night or $15 per night with electricity. Camel Lake Campground was lovely! There were only 10 sites but great washrooms and showers and the camp host is super. Bobby delivered us some firewood for only a donation to his favourite charity. Although we only could stay two nights this time, we would definitely come back.


Back in November last year, I made reservations at St Andrews State Park in Panama City, with arrangements to meet up with long-time friends, Fred & Cindy Meyer. We arrived there on Jan 30th and stayed for 4 nights. Fred was our tour guide and drove us all around as they had visited this area many times. We went to check out the shops of Old Town St Andrews, visited the restaurants with the best deals and shared many meals together. I even tried oysters, broiled with cheese and garlic. Yum! On our last day, Fred drove us all the way to the town of Apalachicola were we again managed to find a great restaurant for some more seafood. More little shops beckoned and we strolled the streets despite the cold.


We waved and hugged goodbye and headed off to a nearby WalMart for the night. It was time once again to get the budget back into better shape. I made reservations for 2 weeks at Camel Lake!


When we arrived back at Camel Lake, it had been the object of a prescribed burn. Most vegetation was gone and the privacy between sites had vanished with the fire. Luckily there had been rain and most of the fires were out and the smoke gone. These burns take place in the National Forests every few years. The purpose is to remove the underbrush and this helps curtail fires by removing much of the fuel needed for them to spread. Camel Lake hadn’t been burned for 5 years and thus was quite overgrown.


Pete and Lani Tufts met us there for a few days and we enjoyed some time in their company. They have big plans for this year – heading to Alaska! It will take quite a few months and many miles!


When we left Camel Lake, we headed to Florida River Island Park, a free site I found on AllStays. With the amount of rain recently, we were concerned about flooding in the area but the campsite was fine. There were 10 sites only, with no power or water. When we arrived, there was one other rig parked. They left on Monday morning and we were alone. Although we had reservations for a week, we left on Wednesday, hoping to meet up with Pete and Lani again. They were at Wright Lake campground, another National Forest park. When we arrived, they had already departed. But, it seemed like a nice spot with washrooms and showers, so we paid up for 5 nights @ $10 per night. Again, no power was provided although there was water on each site. After a few days, we headed into Apalachicola for laundry and supplies. Wow! We had cell service for the first time in a week or more! I checked e-mails and made some calls while the laundry dried. There was time for a seafood lunch, a tour of a museum and some supplies at the local grocery before we hit the road back to the camp.


Murray had been monitoring our battery situation and they are still not getting enough charging. We need to run the generator an hour in the morning and evening rather than just an hour in the evening. Better yet, we need to plug into electricity for a few days. So, to that end, we headed out after our five-day stay. To where, you ask? Well, as we had no cell service, we had no idea.


After a stop in Apalachicola for propane, we headed east on the coastal highway. My AllStays app showed two possible campgrounds within reasonable distance and within our price range. The first was full but we found a spot at the Myron B Hodge City Park in Sopchoppy. For $15 per night, we have power and water and there are toilets and showers available. We are staying here for 5 nights and then will head north of Crawfordville to re-supply and meet up with our friend, Linda. She is driving home from a vacation in Ft Meyers and will spend a few days with us.


After that, who knows? Until we get solar panels on the roof, we need to book sites with electricity more often. There are some Corps of Engineers Parks on the Florida/Georgia border that look interesting. Perhaps we will spend some time there and then think about turning our nose north.

Meanwhile, there are signs of spring here. Soon coming to a town near you!




Until then, hugs from

Murray & Heather