Learning to drive our new motor home


TestDrive

The test drive!

Red Bay, Alabama is the home of Tiffin Motorhomes. Every owner seems to try to visit at least once in their RVs lifetime. It’s hard to believe we are here, now (May 19, 2015).

After years of dreaming of owning a Class A Motorhome, Bill finally talked Debbie into owning one.  Actually, it didn’t take much after living in our 30′ Xlite Cougar 5th wheel for nearly two years. It actually suited us and we hated to trade up as it was so easy to maneuver and we found out we could get into any Florida State Park we wanted.  That was a huge goal for us, to start staying in state and national parks.

For whatever reason, it took until this past March to finally try the state parks. And we were hooked. But then, we also realized we needed a little more comfort (king sized bed for his 6’2″ length – how did he sleep in a short queen bed for so long?); wanted a bigger refrigerator since we eat most meals at home; and finally, wanted a washer and dryer.  Having our own will help us manage our time better.  Generally we are on the go once we get settled in our site. Of an evening, is when laundry can easily be done.  It’s no fun being out in the dark with the bugs, or if there are only one or two washers/dryers, it can be very hard to do.  We love this lifestyle and have learned to go with the flow so I (Debbie) made the best of it!

Bill has driven about anything a non CDL driver can drive. He was a Snap-on Tool Dealer for a few years, so he regularly drove that big rig. He drove my step dad’s Class A once a short distance. He was not intimidated. But Debbie on the other hand, said if he wants her to help drive, her limit was an arbitrary 35′ model.

After looking at many motorhomes and more importantly, talking to owners, we settled on a few brands we would consider. We decided we had to buy used as we didn’t want to pay top dollar and see it loose $10,000s as you drove it off the lot. Since Bill is very handy, we felt we could handle a few issues. And then, even brand new ones come with issues.  In the running were the brands: Tiffin, Newmar, and Fleetwood. But the model we liked the most, the Tiffin Phaeton 40′ QTH seemed to have everything we really wanted at the price point we were willing to pay.  It recently has also been the most popular selling model for two years running. So long story short, the day after we sold our 5th wheel, we got busy searching for ours and found it the next day. Not that we hadn’t already been searching….for months actually. But until we sold ours, anything we found was simply enjoyed as “window shopping.”

Cloudy

Driving away from the owner’s home.

We detailed the drama up to the actual purchase here. And there was drama until we drove it away from the seller. That is a very sad story and one we will regret to our dying day, unless we can reconcile with the seller. Let us suffice it to say, buying and selling a home is very stressful on all accounts. And at our ages…we all have aging parents, new grand babies and our own health concerns thrown into the mix.

So finally on May 14, after a tense seven days of waiting for the financing to be finalized (we will never recommend Essex Credit, a division of Bank of the West as a place to go for full timers who do not own a home), also buying a new car, and visiting Debbie’s mom for a surprise Mother’s Day weekend (and her dear husband we both love as our “step-dad” – he’s in the battle for his life), we drove away in our new motor home.

Bill did test drive it for about 20 miles and they gave us a few briefings which were more than generous, but we didn’t have that final briefing like how do you turn on the navigation system, how do you work cruise control, and to check to make sure the washer/dryer worked. It was represented to us that everything worked. The only issue was the dreaded “diamond shield” that has made many an elegant coach look old and ready for the dump. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as we have seen and Bill feels confident he’ll get it off, buff it up and it will look as good as they day it went out in the world “for sale.”

We just drove a few miles to a campground near the seller’s home. Everything seemed to work ok on the way there, but there wasn’t any challenge, like rain. As we settled in, we began to discover a few things didn’t work, such as the washing machine. And our list began to grow and by the time we arrived here, we had 19 things on the list!

We had decided we were going to take it back to the factory for a good going over (to make sure any recall matters had been taken care of).  Our travel plans included going to see Bill’s mom, brother and family in Illinois by May 21, 2015 (so we felt the clock ticking daily). Red Bay is only a five & 1/2 hour drive from their home, so we planned to take it there, check in (there is a 4 to 6 week wait and it’s first come first serve), drop it off in a nearby campground while we wait our “turn.”

Storm

Storm near Birmingham, AL

As many other full – timers, we all seem to say we prefer only going about 200 to 250 miles for an ideal travel day. We plotted it out, first stop Suwannee River State Park, Live Oak, FL (243 miles) and then to Walnut Creek RV Park, Troy Alabama (223 miles) and then to Red Bay (261 miles) for a total of 721 miles. This seemed reasonable. What we hadn’t counted on was the heavy traffic, the GPS not working in the Rig (Bill was spoiled with the fabulous navigation system in our Ford Truck) and then rain….and the wipers not working properly!  Bill said this entire trip has been a “white knuckle” experience. So much for me (Debbie) ever wanting to drive it!

The next blog will tell about what to do once you arrive in Red Bay and how this experience is. We’ve heard great stories about it….but just from our initial arrival here, there is a lot you don’t know until you get here. And it seems like no one wants to tell you about it! Let’s just say, it’s been an adventure of it’s own!

Here are our reviews on the Campendium RV Park Reviews of the parks we stayed in as we learned to drive, with Debbie following in our new car, with a photo of each site:

Site 40

Sonrise Palms Christian Rally & RV Park – Had to back in. The owner helped and gave us some good tips

Sonrise Palms Christian Rally & RV Park

Site9

Suwannee River State Park – a bit of a challenge to back in but we did it!

 

IMG_5410

Walnut Creek RV Park – third time is a charm. Easy pull through site!

Walnut Creek RV Park

So this scripture can illustrate how our trip went….There were moments of little faith, but in the end, it worked out!

 “He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ “ 

Matthew 17:20

Up next, a series on what Red Bay is all about for Tiffin Owners!

This isn’t how we prefer to travel….


Our current spacious site

We already wrote about our “ideal travel day“. Since we recently traveled a few days that weren’t our ideal, we thought we would share about it.

Life on the road as a full time RVer is exciting, addicting, full of adventure, just a great way to live and be active everyday. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? But life still goes on and then we got one of those dreaded phone calls….

On March 22, 2015, we were in our seventh Florida State Park, Little Talbot Island, Jacksonville. While we’ve visited here a few other times (and Bill lived in Jacksonville before marriage), we never camped on the island.  We imagined four action packed and full days, but the weather didn’t cooperate. So we slowed down and just enjoyed the beach with long walks, dressed warmly and dreamed about our next adventure.

That plan was to finally visit Wilmington, NC. It has many beaches there and we wonder if it might be THE place we would eventually settle in.  And then on that date, Debbie received that dreaded phone call, Cancer. Oh no, another loved one afflicted. We’ve both lost our dads to cancer.  What is it with this disease? We hated the phone call, and now we had a bit of a dilemma. When we left our daughter’s home in early January, we promised her we would return on April 1, which was just a week and a few days away. What could we do back home we wondered? We were praying, but what else could we do?

As the day to head north came, March 25, we still didn’t know where to stay in Wilmington, and now we see for a reason….We decided to head back down south. As it turned out, we actually were needed….please pray for our family as we begin another dreaded cancer journey.

After being with Debbie’s family for that week, it was time to head back to our daughter’s home.  She understandably knew we couldn’t keep the April 1 date, but she was anxious for our arrival (she always has repairs/remodeling things for her dad). And we were both compelled to get there as soon as possible because it had been a full three months since we had seen our only grandchild. And he is the reason we started our adventure travels, so we at least have to come see him every few months!

As former work-a-holics, we are really trying to take life slow and easy. And that means, our ideal travel day is around 250 miles and we like to keep it to around four to five hours driving time. While we prefer to stay any one place a week, we could only get in most of the Florida State Parks four days since we made last minute reservations.  It was also the month of “Spring Breaks” for every school district and college in Florida and within a state or two of Florida!

On March 31, we sadly headed back up north, and decided to break our “rules” of travel. We decided to travel as fast as we could and get there by April 2, just a day late. We guess us work-a-holics are also compulsive promise keepers.  So that meant, we would stay one night at two different campgrounds for the 870 plus miles and 14 hours of driving time. As members of Passport America, we could find inexpensive campgrounds near I-95. Little did we realize March 31, a Tuesday, was probably one of the biggest travel days in Florida as all the snowbirds are heading north.

Our first stop was 287 miles and it should have been about a five hour drive. With all the traffic, it was a six hour trip. We decided to try Walkabout Camp & RV Park, just seven miles north of the Georgia/Florida State line. We had actually tried to stay here one other time and I (Debbie) was glad they were fully booked due to a “rally” of some sort. It was unimpressive…at least that day. But  now it was really an ideal location and we ended up being very pleased. For me, Debbie, being able to actually walk about and get in a two mile walk is my ideal. Guess now we know where the name came from. It looked small and uninviting the first time we stopped in. It was actually a little bigger and it has some nature trails. So we couldn’t manage 2 miles, we got close. What also really helps any campground is that initial friendly and welcoming check in! And this park is managed by the owner who was happy to oblige! Click here for our review which includes pictures.

The next leg of our trip included a bit of a traffic nightmare. Bill likes to calculate our travel by using the 250 mile rule, which would be around Florence, SC. There was bridge repair work being done on I-95 north bound for about 45 days, which meant the already narrow two lane highway would merge into one lane near the bridge repairs. And this was a minimum of an hour delay, or the detour which was 30 miles and would add at least an hour to the trip.  Bill wanted to stop before the detour, but Debbie really wanted to press on.  But since Bill was the driver and Debbie likes to maintain a peaceful relationship :-}, she bit her tongue and tried to make the best of it.

We had stayed here once before, the Swamp Fox Campground, Florence, SC for one night, 1/7-8/2015. This was the day of the great polar vortex, or was it the second or third one. No matter how many, our pipes did freeze, but fortunately, no damage was done. We really didn’t spend any time there as we had traveled 353 miles (and over seven hours) from Fredericksburg.  But this time, we only drove a little over 250 miles in about four hours. That’s an ideal drive!  We arrived early enough to do laundry and Debbie managed to get in a 1.3 mile walk. To read about this campground, click here for our review, which also includes pictures.

As it turned out, on April 2, 2015, a Thursday, there was no traffic delay since there was no construction! It appears to us, the best travel day is on Thursdays and this date proved it. We had an aggressive drive, 342 miles and over five hours, BUT we made fantastic time! We arrived at 2:00 pm.

We were nervous about the campground, R & D Family Campground in Milford, VA, but our concerns were unfounded. Our campsite was level and we were hooked up and ready to go pick our grandson up from daycare in record time! We had a grand reunion with him and he even spent the night with us….he revived us after a long but smooth day of travel. Click here for our review of this campground.

Colin catching us up on the past three months!

 So even though this was not the ideal way to travel, the reward at the end of the push was well worth it! He gave us both a big smile, tight hug and kissed our cheeks!

Little Talbot Island State Park, 3/21-25/2015


Miles of beach

Miles of beach

Our experiment is over, seven Florida State Parks in about a month’s time. And it was hugely successful, well, sort of. All but one were in the Florida Panhandle. Since we love the beach, we had to finish up at one close to the beaches of Florida. And this State Park has way more to offer than we can ever hope to enjoy.

We came mainly for the solitude and beach walks. It’s best to look at the official website for a little about this unique and very diverse State Park: “With more than five miles of beautiful, white sandy beaches, Little Talbot Island is one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands in Northeast Florida. Maritime forests, desert-like dunes and undisturbed salt marshes on the western side of the island allow for hours of nature study and relaxation. The diverse habitats in the park host a wealth of wildlife for viewing, including river otters, marsh rabbits, bobcats and a variety of native and migratory birds.”

Seagulls

Seagulls

How I wish I was a birder because this is an excellent location for it:  “You can see buntings, and its hammocks are good for migratory songbirds in season. At trail’s end on the north point, loafing Black Skimmers and terns are common. Large numbers of Piping, Wilson’s and an occasional Snowy Plover feed in winter on 5 miles of pristine beach. Other beach birds include seven sandpiper species, four plover species, Red Knots, Dunlins, Marbled Godwits and occasionally Long-billed Curlews.” I tried to get some good photos, but it was too windy and overcast. But the seagulls were out in full force!

As well as for fishermen, more from the official website, in excepts: “With literally miles of beach, Little Talbot is a surf fishing paradise.” “Surrounding surf and tidal streams present excellent fishing for bluefish, striped bass, redfish, flounder, mullet and sheepshead.”  “Pick up a copy of the local edition of Fishing Connection at the Ranger Station to get the inside scoop on nearby angling.”

“The coastal salt marsh on the ‘back’ side of the island offers superb light tackle angling. From tailing redfish to bottom hugging flounder, ambushing trout to hard pulling black drum, you are sure to find something to ‘stretch your string.’ Bait fish like mud minnows and finger mullet may be caught using a cast net in the shallows. Shrimp, fiddler crabs and artificial lures are also popular options. For a real experience, try a guided fly fishing or flounder gigging trip.”

“Other popular park activities include hiking, kayaking, beach combing, surfing and picnicking….A campground is located along the eastern salt marshes of Myrtle Creek. Kayak rentals and guided paddle tours are available at Kayak Amelia, (904) 251-0016.” Another opportunity to try to kayak, but again, the weather didn’t cooperate.

As campers, we were welcomed “to visit all seven of the parks which collectively comprise Talbot Islands State Parks: Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, Amelia Island State Park, Fort George Island Cultural State Park, Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park, Big Talbot Island State Park and George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park.” Oh so much to do and see and so little time! This was our third visit here and we had no idea what all was available – not until we became registered campers did we learn all this.

The weather for this stay on the island was less than optimal. While our site was very private, it was narrow and began to feel like a “rain forest.” Because it rained on and off during our stay. BUT we didn’t let that ruin our fun, much. And that’s what we love about living in a recreational vehicle. We just can’t let the weather spoil things for us. 

Soon after we set up, we set out to explore the campground. While we walked 1.52 miles, it included a .8 mile nature loop. We learned so much about the area on this loop, as it is full of interpretive signs that provide information about the natural surroundings: live-oak hammock, rolling dunes, salt marsh, Myrtle Creek, open vista of the sea islands and shorebirds, red cedar, resurrection fern, rushes. Some people see Great Blue Herons, Ospreys, Opossums, bobcats, raccoons and fiddler crabs. It was so dreary, we think we were the only “animals” out there! Here are some pictures of our site and this fabulous little enchanted nature trail:

We had a lot of rain our first night. But it seemed to clear up enough for us to head to the beach. But looks like our beach chairs, umbrella and suits will stay at the camper.  (I wore jeans and a flannel shirt.)  Our first full day here, we took a walk to the north end of the island. It was a great 4.7 mile walk to the northern end of the island. We could see Amelia Island in the far off distance! A few pictures of this walk:

Our last long beach walk was at the southern end where we can now say we have walked the entire Atlantic Ocean side of Little Talbot Island. This was our third time to walk this beach, first time in January 2014, second time in January 2015 and now March 2015. Here is a slide show:

We’ve enjoyed great beach walks, enjoyed the campground and ended by eating at Safe Harbor Seafood Market, a fresh seafood market in Mayport, by the Naval Air Station. We don’t eat out much when we travel, we prefer our “kitchen” and Bill prefers his own cooking! But he doesn’t cook seafood much….so it was a real treat.

There is not much else to report other than we were hit with some challenging family news while here. We appreciate prayers for Debbie’s step dad and mom. We are thankful for their great faith and for family, friends and a strong church support system to help carry them through these challenges. And we are so grateful for the Easter Season as we had little reminders of our most holy holiday!

We’d like to share details about the campground in our review on Campendium campground review site.

Ochlockonee River State Park 3/14-17/2015


IMG_3674This is our 5th Florida State Park in three weeks and we have two more to go before we begin heading up north to spend time with our grandson. 

We’re not sure why we didn’t try camping in state parks before. Long time camping friends of ours always camped in State Parks and highly recommended it. Why did it take us so long? Well, we thought we always had to have “full hook-ups” whereas most state parks only have water and electric. We learned through other bloggers you can go anywhere from 3 -5 days in a camper like ours without a sewer hook-up. We’ve now learned we can go 5 days. 

 We have been loving the experience and have selected all these state parks based upon recommendations of other bloggers.  But when we arrived here, Bill asked, “who recommended this place?” Oh, my, we had the hardest time getting to our site (narrow, dirt/sandy road with lots of trees) and then backing into it (trees and sandy site). And then we were swarmed by “No See Ums” (biting midges, biting gnats or sand flies). In addition, the trip here was not that smooth – bad situation at a Flying Jay where a regular car, not towing anything, decided to tie up one of the two RV gas lanes (and it busy was for RVers). We lost about 20 minutes there and we were somewhat in a hurry since we had plans to meet up with friends in Sopchoppy, Florida. We rarely have such plans as we never know what issue we may be confronted with on our journeys.

Sopchoppy River

The river at the Sopchoppy City Park

Once we finally got set up, we ate a quick dinner, then charged down to the Sopchoppy City Park to meet our friends. That took our minds off of what we thought was going to be a bad camping experience. At the park, we were also swarmed by no-see-ums. Our friends assured us their season is short, they don’t like hot weather or breezes. After being bit about 20 times, they seemed to have left the area. Now after staying here 3 days, this place has grown on us and we’ve decided we will return. 

 We did learn a lesson from this state park. From now on, we need to read as many reviews as we can find and learn as much as before show up at a State Campground. It would be helpful to know the campsite layouts, which is not entirely possible on the “Reserve America” site. We’ve e started taking pictures of the actual campground sites for future use and we are loading them into Campendium, a new “RV Parks and unique Camping Locations” website. And we are talking to more people in these campgrounds who tend to know which ones are the best! 

In a recent blog, we said we don’t like to travel on Sundays and we did all we could to avoid it again. So while we traveled here on Saturday, Sunday we had to change our site (from 29 to 27). And we planned to attend church with our friends who live here.  The husband is the Pastor.  After meeting  up with them late Saturday afternoon, we broke the news to them, our ability to attend church depended on whether the people in site 27 had left in time for us to move over. And we had to move by 1:00. When we went to bed, site 27 was still empty. When we woke up, we were happy to see the site was still empty. The Park Ranger told us we could move over Sunday when the lot was vacant! We were up early enough we were able to do it and made it to church on time. And this time, it was more of a drive through site, so no issues….except we were so anxious to move, set up and make sure we could hook up the electric ok that we forgot to make sure we could open our slides without hitting a tree….or in this case, the water hook up. We didn’t discover it until we were already unhitched and the clock was ticking….Well, it all worked out great and if you want to read more about our time with this amazing couple, I blogged about our time with them here, on my (Debbie’s) personal site. 

Back to our long weekend here:  We were here too short of a time.  We took a walk at the downtown Sopchoppy City Park (those pictures on the personal blog site), and then 3.4 miles on Monday around the campground and Ochlockonee State park. Here are these few pictures of one of the prettiest weather days we’ve had in months!

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After tAmericaPasshat walk, we drove about 40 minutes to the Saint Mark’s Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center where Bill could finally buy his “America the Beautiful” lifetime pass (you must be 62, so now you know how old young he is). This has been a dream since he was told about it in May last year when we went to the Shenandoah National Park. What a treat it was! The lady who sold it to him was 91 years old! I had to take a picture. She was a sweet heart…and she reminded us of Bill’s mom, who turns 94 tomorrow!

With this pass for only $10, he can enter “2000 Federal Recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. A pass covers entrance and standard amenity fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to 4 adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 and under are admitted free.”

We then drove around the park and saw how many great trails there are and so many birds! Now we know we must return to this area. So much to see, so little time! Here is our review of the campground, which includes pictures of our campsite.

Next, we’re off to Torreya State Park, then Little Talbot Island in Jacksonville, Florida. And then, heading up to see our precious grandson!

Heading out for a stroller ride around the neighborhood today, as I was writing this blog!

Heading out for a stroller ride around the neighborhood today, as I was writing this blog!