Friday, January 28, 2011 (Fort Pickens, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola, FL)

With the time change, we were up bright and early this morning enjoying the sunshine as it streamed through our windows. After our usual leisurely start to the day, we did our exercises and then both headed to the bathhouse for showers. Again, this campground has water and electrical hook-ups but no since we are not sure how long we are going to stay here, we figured we had better not fill up the holding tanks too quickly.

One of the main things Steve wanted to do while here in Pensacola is to get the tires on the truck rotated as well as the tire stems adjusted so he can get the pressure sensors on them. He also would like to get all the tires (both truck and trailer) filled with nitrogen...instead of air. Nitrogen is supposed to extend the life of the tires. So after researching commercial tire places, we headed out to find the two locations he was interested in.

But before that, we decided to take a drive through Pensacola Beach and towards the other end of the island....
This is a rather  unique "home"...
Here are some BP workers checking/cleaning the beach...

As we headed into Pensacola...another huge bridge! This one has warning signs at the start advising everyone to ensure they have enough fuel before crossing. It crosses a huge inlet.

We arrived at the first address to find the business was no longer there so we carried onto the second address. We had a little trouble finding it and once we did, Steve spoke to the fellow there and found that they do not do what we were after. He suggested another company...which happened to be the original business we were looking for...apparently they had moved...gee, it would be nice if they had updated their website!

GCR Truck Tire Service would be able to rotate our tires but not the nitrogen. Apparently the commercial truck business hasn’t quite embraced the benefits of nitrogen in the tires and is slow on the uptake. They suggested that any of the TA truck stops would likely be able to do it.

Somewhat disappointed in the outcome, Steve drove to the Super Walmart that was just a short distance further down the highway....and was even more disappointed to have to go shopping....until he found 24 packs of Budweiser on for $14.88!!! The best price to date on special has been $18.75. His beer of choice lately has been Yuengling Traditional Lager. Yuengling holds the American brewing industry record for the longest continuously operated brewery....178 years. For that price it was back to Bud.

We left Walmart after doing a major always gets expensive when you have the basics to stock up on...especially vitamins...they are expensive down here too!

I don't know if it is very clear from this picture but the white sand was blowing across the road and looked just like snow...

Once home, we unloaded the groceries we decided to sit outside with a cocktail and catch what was left of the late afternoon sunshine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the sun went down and it got a little chillier out so we headed inside.

After dinner, we settled in front of the fireplace and watched TV....oops...we had planned on going for an after dinner walk around the campground...oh well....

Thursday, January 27, 2011 (Travel Day from St. George Island to Fort Pickens, Pensacola, FL)

We were on the road just after 9:30 this morning. It started off as a bright, sunny day but a high cloud covering soon took over. But it was still a lovely day for travel.

At first Serena wanted us to head north and take Interstate 10 west but I coaxed her into letting us take Highway 98 west instead. The route took us along the coast but for a good part of it, we couldn’t see the water...instead we were teased with signs telling us to turn left to the beach areas. The area from Panama City Beach to Destin through to Gulf Breeze is dotted with community after community along the coastline. Panama City Beach (which is different from Panama City) and Destin look like major tourist areas and must be absolutely hopping in the summer months. These areas will definitely be on our list of areas to explore the next time we are in the area!

At one point we thought something was wrong with Serena...she said that we would be arriving at our destination in 5 minutes but we still had over 40 miles to go. What the heck was going on? We were stymied...then I wondered...did we go through a time zone change? Sure enough after checking the road atlas map that showed all of the time zones, we had gained an hour as we headed west. Obviously Serena was much smarter than us! Too funny!

One thing Steve and I have both commented on are all the bridges they have down here in the States. When we were going through the Beaufort and Savannah areas, there were huge bridges over salt marshes connecting all of the offshore islands. There was a huge bridge over to St. George Island and then across the inlet over to Apalachicola. And now...another one over to Pensacola Beach and the Gulf Island National Seashore to Fort Pickens.

The water is a beautiful shade of bluey-green...

WOW! The beach is just beautiful! The sand is so white!

We were really surprised by the population on the island...I thought the whole island was a national park. Pensacola Beach is obviously the `go to` place in the summer time. Luxury homes, high-rise condo buildings and townhouse complexes along with all the shops and restaurants greet you as you enter the island.

We followed Fort Pickens Road to the right that goes west along the long narrow island. We paid the $8 park entrance fee (good for 7 days) and continued on for what seemed miles and miles before we finally came to Loop A of the campground. It was a smaller loop and was quite treed...apparently it had not been hit as hard by "the hurricane" (Katrina, I think) as the rest of the campground. During the winter season, the campground only has self-registration where you go through, pick your site and then pay at the kiosk. After checking out the sites in loop A, we continued onto the main or bigger part of the campground (loops B, C, D and E). We were not particularly impressed with any of those sites...oh well, we have to pick one. We decided against loop A even though the sites are larger, opting for a less treed site in loop C so that we had full sunshine all day. All the sites in the campground have been newly paved but why they could not have added a couple of extra feet is beyond us...there is plenty of room. We chose site C33 and after manoeuvring back into it, we got all set up. We had no problem getting a satellite signal and it also looks like I may have a better internet signal too...YAY!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 (St. George Island State Park, FL)

Today marks our 7th month anniversary...we started this adventure 7 months ago today and have traveled 14,926 kms (that’s 9328.75 miles for our American friends)! I still have to pinch myself to believe we are really doing this!

Well after all the rain we had yesterday, the sunshine was a welcome sight this morning! Time to get outside and enjoy it! We were on the beach just before 10:00 a.m. to start a lovely walk along the beach. We had a long walk along the beach and then cut through the sand dunes (walking around the dunes, not’re not allowed to walk on the dunes) to a closed road and walked back with a view of the other side of the island. By the time we got back to the truck we had had a great 70 minute walk. Exercise along with great views....

After our walk we drove into the town of St. George and parked at the Lighthouse Visitor’s Center. The ‘Cape St. George Light’ is the fourth construction of the historic lighthouse. The first was built in 1833, with reconstructions in 1848, 1852 and 2008. Although the lighthouse had been built 500 yards inland from the water’s edge, by the 1990’s the beachfront between the lighthouse and the Gulf of Mexico had eroded down to less than a few hundred feet. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Opal in 1995, with powerful tidal surges that washed the lighthouse from its foundation, it began to lean at a precarious 7.5 degree angle. The door was boarded up with plywood, and the iron staircase which had been ripped from the walls by the surge was removed. The community rallied in support of their beacon and The Cape St. George Lighthouse Society raised funds to “Save the Light”. The delicate rescue operation involved digging sand from one side of the light's base with a backhoe, and the 400-ton tower gradually settled back onto a vertical position.  Unfortunately, subsequent years saw continued erosion, and by the spring of 2004 the lighthouse was completely surrounded by thrashing Gulf waters.  The historic lighthouse collapsed around noon on Friday, October 21, 2005.  The fourth Cape St. George Light was completed in December of 2008 using many of the salvaged bricks which had been carefully cleaned by the volunteers. Original pieces of the iron lantern room were preserved as artifacts and used as patterns to reconstruct the graceful birdcage enclosure that once housed the lens.

After learning all about the lighthouse, we asked the lady at the Visitor’s Centre if she could recommend a good seafood restaurant for lunch. Of course, she was not allowed to give her recommendation but she did give us a couple of options. We chose The Blue Parrot which is a funky little place right on the oceanfront. We decided to try sitting outside and it wasn’t too bad sitting in the sun, out of the wind. You can tell this place would be very popular in the heat of the summer months!  The owner stopped by our table for a chat.  He asked where we were from and when we told him he said that he had flown into Vancouver many time as he used to be a pilot for FedEx. Unfortunately, the Popcorn Shrimp basket Steve had and the Bay Scallops basket I had were “so-so”. They had been battered and deep-fried and weighed heavily on my stomach for the rest of the day. Oh well, the location was great!

After a drive through the rest of St. George...which appear to be mainly vacation rentals...we decided to drive off the island to the historic town of Apalachicola. We wandered around the streets there for a bit, took a few pictures and then headed back to St. George Island and our campground.

We are leaving St. George Island tomorrow...continuing our travels west towards Pensacola.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 (St. George Island State Park, FL)

Well, the order of the day today was rain...rain...and more rain! Needless to say we had a very leisurely day...inside. I spent a good part of the day working on the travel blog. Uploading the pictures on a very sporadic internet signal took absolutely forever! It was a good project for this rainy day. Steve spent his time reading and watching TV.

At about 2:45 we determined that it wasn’t raining anymore so decided to go out for a walk. We took our umbrellas with us...good thing because the break in the showers didn’t last long. We had a good hike along the east slough trail but there were no maps of the trail so we really didn’t know how far or where it went. So about a half hour into our walk we decided to turn around and go back. We returned home a little wet but it had been great getting out for a good walk. We took a few pictures along the way....

We later discovered that the slough is actually an inlet that opens up into Apalachicola Bay. For further information on the park...

The forecast is for sunshine tomorrow so we are looking forward to getting out and exploring the area.

By the way, seven months ago today was our last day of work...amazing!

Monday, January 24, 2011 (Travel from Crystal River to St. George Island State Park, Florida)

I got up at about 6:00 this morning and went right into the shower. We had a good 4 to 5 hour drive ahead of us today and we wanted to get an early start. As it turned out, it was just before 9:30 by the time we got all packed up and were heading out of the park gates.

It was a beautiful sunny day again today...perfect day for driving. We had an uneventful drive heading north along the coastal highway...that really isn’t all that close to the water. But the coast has a lot of marshy areas along with rivers, canals and small islands so I guess it’s kind of hard to have the highway too close. It was at Perry, Florida when we veered west onto highway 98 when we finally got closer to the water...and about an hour from our destination before we actually had great views of the Gulf of Mexico.

This is a picture of a bridge going over an inlet...

As we were driving along the coast, we noticed a huge billow of smoke rising off what I figured was St. George Island. Here is a picture that shows it in the background...we had stopped for a stretch break at a little town called Carrabelle..
Here is another picture along the coast...
As we turned off the highway onto the bridge that crosses over to the island, we knew for sure that the smoke was coming from the area of the State Park...hmmm...hope a campfire didn’t get out of hand! The bridge across to the island is about 4 miles long and as you enter the island there is a big lighthouse...we’ll have to check that out sometime while we are exploring the island. We continued east along this very narrow island to the entrance to the State Park. While registering, we asked the Ranger what all the smoke was...apparently they were doing a controlled burn. Well okay, then. We continued another 4 miles to the actual campground.

Site 44 was okay but a little narrow...and the fire pit was situated so that if you backed your trailer right into the site, it would be way too close to actually have a fire. Luckily the site is long enough for us to be able to leave space at the back of the 5th wheel and still be able to park the truck sideways in front.

We got all set up and even managed to get a satellite signal...unfortunately, the internet signal using my rocket stick isn`t the best...rather sporadic. So we`ll have to see if I`m able to actually upload pictures and keep our travel blog up to date.

Once all finished, Steve called me to go for a walk to the end of the campground. He had taken pictures of the smoke that was getting awfully close and had actually heard the roar of the burning brush. So we headed off with camera in hand. Well, to our surprise, they had burned right up to the very edge of the campground.  They had gotten this close...on purpose! Quite a few campers had gathered and were taking pictures...too bad we had missed the actual flames!

On the way back to our site, we checked out the bathhouse—there were 2 of them in this 60 site campground but one was closed for renovations. Once back we sat outside for a bit inviting Marilyn from next door over to join us. Her husband, Jim had gone fishing with friend. They are from Illinois and are in their big Class A motorhome on a month’s getaway from the cold northern weather.

After a bit, we retreated was time for a gourmet dinner of KD and wieners! Well, at least I had a salad with mine! After some good Monday night TV shows...Yay, no was bedtime

Sunday, January 23, 2011 (An Airboat Ride, Crystal River, FL)

As predicted, it was pretty darn chilly out this morning but the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky! As I pulled on my long-johns, I said to Steve...”there is something inherently wrong about wearing long-johns when you’re in Florida!”

After gathering our gloves, toques and coats, we left at about 10:15 for the 20 (or so) minute drive to River Safaris in Homosassa Springs. The business is housed in a very unique looking building...very funky. After getting the truck parked in the large lot behind the building, we headed in to register and pay for our tour. We had been hoping for another couple to want to take the longer 2 hour, 4-person minimum tour but there had been no takers so we took the 1 ½ hour trip out through the canals and islands...but not quite all the way out to the Gulf. There are lots of island along the coastline.

We got all bundled up in our extra layers and also decided to put on our rain pants...we figured they would make a good windbreak. We were ready and waiting down by the boat just before 11:00 when Captain Tommy arrived. He gave us ear protection to wear...the engine is pretty loud...and told us where the life jackets were stored “in the unlikely event we need them”. He gave us a bit of a description of some of the things we would be seeing and also said that there were strict speed limits he had to adhere to as we navigate through the initial canals. Then we were off!

One of the first things we saw was a small island with a lighthouse on it and a bunch of spider monkeys...
Then herons nesting...
There are some beautiful homes along the waterway...

Once we were through the populated areas of the canal...well...away we went! Too much fun! He sped along whizzing back and forth navigating through the canals. I felt like I was on a ride in an amusement park...Steve thinks he was trying to scare the S*?T out of us! At one point he hit bottom...that was a little scary. The air boats don’t steer like a regular boat.....they skid in the turns. As you can see in the pictures it felt like we were heading for shore every time he turned and at times we were skimming over the mud....holy crap I hope he knows what he’s doing!! He later explained to us that the tide seemed unusually low today.

He stopped a couple of times along the way to give a bit of a description of the area and answer our questions.

Then we saw some this picture they are scaring up the first I thought they were fighting...

Unfortunately before we knew it, we were heading back in...that had been a quick hour and a half! We had had a great time...well worth the $35 each that it cost!!
This is a picture of River Safaris and Gulf Charters

After checking out the gift shop and taking a few more pictures, we were off. The area we are in is Historic Homosassa so we drove a little further down the road to check it out. Not much really we turned around and went back to an area we had driven through on the way to the tour this morning. We stopped at the Old Sugar Mill ruins and took pictures...

The sugar mill was built in 1849 by David Levy Yulee.  During the Civil War he supplied the Confederates with sugar, syrup and molasses.  Federal raiders burned the Yulee home May 29, 1864, but the mill and plantation escaped destruction.

We made a few stops on the way home and by the time we were back, it was late afternoon...that had been a fast day! We decided to sit outside and enjoy happy hour in the sunshine. A few minutes later, our neighbours returned home and came over to introduce themselves and we invited them to join us. Fred went in to mix drinks while Bettyann set up chairs. We had a nice visit with them...they are fellow Canadians from Port Perry, Ontario and winter down here in their motorhome. Both are “techies” and teach computer classes here at the park. He retired about 7 years ago after 30 odd years working for IBM Canada and she worked in some sort of network support.

Before we knew it the sun had gone down behind the trees and it was getting pretty darn chilly out so we called it an evening and headed inside. After dinner, we settled into our usual evening in front of the fireplace watching TV.

Saturday, January 22, 2011 (Rock Crusher Canyon RV Park, Crystal River, FL)

It was a beautiful sunny day today...but windy and cool. We had our usual slow start to the, coffee...and one more coffee, followed by exercises, showers and breakfast.

Steve called River Safaris & Gulf Charters to make reservations for an airboat ride..."Our most exciting tour! A fast paced and surprisingly different way to see the backwater areas and the Gulf of Mexico". So tomorrow we will be taking an airboat tour...stay tuned for tomorrow’s journal entry for the details!

I stripped the bedding off the bed and gathered all the dirty laundry and headed down to the laundry room while Steve worked on installing the replacement brake module in the truck. He soon had it in and working...Yay!

In between trips back and forth to the laundry room, I was researching State parks in the Panhandle area. We are leaving Monday so I thought I had better figure out where we are headed to. I had it narrowed down to either St. George Island State Park or St. Joseph State Park...both are just east of Panama City and about a 4 to 5 hour drive from here. We have a lot of miles to cover to get back to B.C. by April so we figured it was about time we had a good days drive...rather than the short distances we have been doing lately. After calling both parks to find out if we would be able to fit into their sites, I chose St. George Island. The fellow I spoke to there seemed much more knowledgeable about his park and was very helpful. The fellow at St. Joseph State Park was not particularly helpful and didn’t seem to know much about the park he worked in. So after talking to them, I then had to go on-line and reserve through the ‘ReserveAmerica’ website. We are booked in for 3 nights starting Monday.

While I was doing all this, Steve went to the UPS store to ship the old brake module back to Hensley. We will get a credit back on our Visa card for returning it...and Ron (the rep.) said that he would try to compensate us a bit for the $95 Suncoast RV had charged us for installing the new one and then having to put the old one back in when the new one didn`t work.

Steve also started with the install of the tire monitoring system. After programming the I.D. location for the pressure/temp sensors for the truck numbered 1 thru 6 to the monitor it was time to mount them on the valve stems. And of course the metal valve stems on the front wheels aren`t centered so the sensors don`t fit! Okay then.....we will go to plan B. Steve wants to fill the tires with nitrogen because it helps to extend the life of the tires. Apparently the tires will suffer less pressure loss and changes in pressure from temperature like they do with air. It`s also time to have the tires rotated. That way we can have the valve stems adjusted to fit the pressure sensors. We also have to change the valve stems on the trailer tires to metal from rubber as recommended by the tire pressure monitoring manufacturer.

With all the "work" done for the day, we decided to go for a good power walk around the campground. I took a few more pictures....see what I mean by all the "drainage basins''...

This is one of the hills we have to walk up on our daily's really quite steep....

When we got back we thought we would sit outside in the sunshine but it wasn`t long before we headed inside...the wind was just nasty and cold. The forecast is for temps to dip down to 25F tonight. I think we are going to be in for a cold boat ride tomorrow...guess we`d better get out the long-johns and bundle up!