Well that didn’t take long. We were home for a few weeks and it’s time to prepare the van for another trip. This time we’re heading out to NC’s Outer Banks or OBX. After being in the Winnebago Travato 59K for 3 months during our last trip to Florida we thought we’d like to make a few changes or mods to the van before heading out again.
So we proceeded to remove the microwave and put a cabinet in its place, remove the roof basket and bag and replace it with a Thule cargo box, change the color of our refrigerator from silver to black and we added chalkboard inserts to the pedestal at the sliding door so we could doodle out little messages. And since so many asked how we really plan trips we also documented how we use RV Trip Wizard to plan our trips and how we used it to plan this 3-week trip to the OBX.
Ask anyone who has ridden a horse and they’ll tell you the horse gets a boost of energy when you make that turn to head towards the barn. The old timers call it smelling the barn. When you are a nomad traveling in a camper van but still have a home and nearby family you can get to “smelling the barn” after a long trip away from home. That’s what happened to us while we were in Pensacola, Florida.
We had planned to stay in Florida for another 3 weeks and just meander back home. But, a conversation with each of our granddaughters set the wheels in motion to get back home… now! So that’s what you’ll see on this video. An old couple trying to decide if we should rush home or stay out a few more weeks. In the end, grandchildren and those pains of missing your family win out for us every time… so we made a quick stop in Destin, FL to meet up with fellow Travato owners and drove… and drove… and drove… our longest driving day in the Winnebago Travato yet. We made it all the way back to Anderson, SC that first day and then after a fun stop at Tony’s Ice Cream in Gastonia, NC we made it back to our sticks and bricks home in North Wilkesboro, NC. Happy to be home… happy to be with family again… happy to have real internet connectivity again… and well…. just happy.
For those of you who watched every one of our 2019 Florida Adventure videos we are so grateful. We never felt alone while we were out here traveling. We always felt so connected to so many of you who were following along as we learned what living in a little van was like for a not-so-young couple like us. And speaking of family, many of you have become our family as well. In fact I’m betting we chat or talk with some of you more than our real family and we just feel so lucky to have you be part of our journeys. The support you give us is never, ever taken for granted and is much, much appreciated.
Until the next journey begins, in just a few short weeks, we leave you with the visual image of “Smelling The Barn”. That feeling of just needing to be home right now for some unknown reason. When you get that feeling we urge you to give in to it and head back to that place that you call home. Whether it’s just where you grew up and you park your van or RV in a family member’s driveway or you still have a home that houses all your prized memories and possessions. Each of these will eventually call you… tap you on the shoulder… and get you to “smelling the barn”. We say find that burst of energy that gives you and drive, drive, drive like we did. You can always head back out again when the feeling subsides… just like we’re getting ready to do now.
Pensacola, Florida… about as far west in Florida as you can go. We know that because we had picked it as the place we’d turn the steering wheel right and head back towards NC. We finally made it there after meandering around Florida for nearly 3 months. After a beautiful but sad 4-hour drive we arrived to the place we knew would be further west… but we didn’t think about it being further north than we had been and that change along with this year’s famous cold front brought on cold temps that chased us out of shorts and back into long pants, sweatshirts and even our coats. The drive was sad because it took right across the section of the state that was devastated by hurricane Michael last year. We were not prepared for the miles and miles of nothingness that exists out on the interstate now… nothingness like hardly any trees anymore. They’re mostly all gone, especially on the hillsides. Like boats on land 100s of feet from where the water is now. And homes and business impacted but not giving up… many rebuilding as we drove by… many piling up trees, shingles and debris at the road 20-30 feet high. It was a sight we should have been prepared for but we were not… but how can you prepare yourself for that kind of scene.
But as we crossed the bridge and neared Pensacola the palm trees, shrubs, landscape, houses and businesses started to appear again with many not even touched by the hurricane. Part of us wanted to turn around and go back and help. Part of us was glad there was still a coast to visit at all. We were both tired from a long day of driving, well 4-5 hours is our max, so we got our van all set up and hunkered down for the night… for a long, cold night as it turned out.
But that cold weather didn’t keep us from enjoying the Pensacola area. Like almost every area we visit we had done some research to decide on what major things we wanted to do. We knew we wanted some long awaited beach time, but with temps in the 40s that may not happen. We also knew we wanted to see the lighthouse and although we did the research to know all about it’s history we failed to do the research to help with directions to view it.
You’d think it would be relatively easy to find a freaking lighthouse wouldn’t you? It sticks up hundreds of feet in the air and it’s made to be seen… for miles. Well the lighthouse at Pensacola is not that hard to find… that is if you know you have to go on the Naval Base to get there. While Maggie wasn’t allowed to go up the lighthouse she was allowed on the beach and man that girl loves being in the sand and running, running, running. In fact, like us, she seems to love everything there is about exploring these new areas in our van. Her life is simple… sleep, eat, pee, smell, sleep a little more and play when the time is right. It’s a formula that maybe we all should try to stick to if our finances and situations give us the chance to do that.
So what is up with all the big spiders we keep running in to? This time while we were… wait.. let me back up and tell you how we got here. After spending one night at Suwannee River State Park in a tight spot beside of a bunch of loud kids, we were excited to pull into Ochlanockee River State Park to find that we had the most private and best spot in the park! Yeah!
We got setup quickly and went out for a hike… nothing new for us. After a mile or so Maggie was hot and panting so we took her back to the A/C coolness of the van and set out to go for a longer hike. Along the way we found lots to look at, including huge pine cones. So Lynn proceeds to pick one up and hold it out to show me how “pretty” it is. It’s about that time that I hear her say “OH CRAP! SPIDER!” and she throws the pine cone down. The huge brown spider crawls out of his little pine cone house and just looks at us. Freaks us out… especially Lynn. She had that thing in her hand and it’s a wonder she didn’t get bitten.
Oh yeah… and white (albino) squirrels. Who knew that was really a thing. The park ranger told us about them… you see we always talk to the ranger at every park we arrive at if it’s possible… just to get the inside information and any safety precautions, and we suggest that you do the same thing because you would be surprised at what you can learn from talking with someone who loves their job and lives their job in the outdoors like that. So anyway, the albino squirrels… we saw them. White as a snow. Pretty cool too. After seeing the spider we counted those as our reward for hiking.
This was one of the most quiet and peaceful parks we visited while in Florida. Granted it is literally out in the middle of nowhere but it was perfect for us and just what we needed after our last very noisy campsite the night before. I guess they all can’t be perfect but this one was for sure!
What campsite you get is really just the luck of the draw. You may end up beside of someone who plays music outside just so his dogs inside don’t bark all the time. Or you may end up beside the guy who just lets his dogs bark 24 hours a day. Or… you could end up beside a tent full of kids… playing stupid loud games… all day long! That’s what happened to us at Suwannee River State Park.
This stop at what we thought was going to be a peaceful stay at the Suwannee River had the chance to be terrible. Our site was pretty cramped but that was OK. But when a family with what seemed like 13 kids set up a tent in the site beside of us things got… well.. noisy. Even still we made the most of it. Our Travato 59K camper van has a loud air conditioner and we used that and the awesome hikes to drown out the noise and never once had to say “Get Off My Dirt”. Now, there was a day when Owen would have been “that old man”. You know the one. Grumpy, ill, gruff get-off-my-grass old man! Especially when they proceeded to setup games on their picnic table and decided since we were inside, hiding from all the noise, they could just use our picnic table too, even though it was inches from our bug room! But instead of being “that grumpy old man” or “that cranky old lady” we turned it into something else. You see, we take our grandchildren camping all the time and we always want the experience to be one that makes them want to get out in nature even more. So, we did our best to make those 13 kids, who has 13 kids anymore anyway but that’s another question… we hiked with them and talked to them and did our best to be the opposite of grumpy with them. And hopefully our attitude about their loud fun helped make it a great camping experience. But, I’ve got to say, we’ve never loved our super loud air conditioner more than we did on this night.
The river… well the river was just awesome! Flowing water with lots of hiking and wildlife. And the wild Day Lillies were in bloom! What’s not to like?
Did you know that one of the state parks in Florida actually used to be a little gambling town? Or that a river actually disappears underground for 3 miles right in the park? We didn’t either until we stayed there in our Winnebago Travato 59K camper van. We are loving being retired and living this “No Man-Bun, No Bikini” style of Van Life!
There are so many things we did not know about Florida. For instance we thought the Santa Fe River was in Texas. Well, it is actually… but there’s a Santa Fe River in Florida too and it one-ups the Texas river by pulling a disappearing act. It was so cool to hike out to the place where a river actually disappears underground. The swirling water, logs, turtles and other wildlife at the mouth of the cave was mesmerizing.
And we didn’t have a clue about the cool history of the state park known as O’Leno. O’Leno actually stands for Old or Ole Leno. It was shortened to O’Leno as time went on. But it actually started out as a town that made the gambling game of Keno famous and got it’s original name from that… Keno. We often think that our current society is the only one that insists on things being politically correct but when they could not get the name of Keno registered for a post office in 1876 they just changed the name of the town to Leno, kind of like the guy who misspelled his girlfriend’s name on the water tower and just changed girlfriends. We also did not know that this is the oldest of all the Florida state parks! We thought it was going to be just a stop over on the way to something we thought was going to be cool. It turned out to be the cool stop on the way to something that might have been overhyped.
As you travel up the Gulf side of Florida there’s a lot to love. The beaches, the food, the weather… wow, the list goes on and on and on. Our first stop after leaving Mary’s Fish Camp was Homosassa, Florida where we ate lunch right on the water while observing the cute monkeys on Monkey Island.
Then it was off to spend 3 nights at Shell Mound Campground in Cedar Key, FL. What a gem of a small campground. You pull in, find an open spot and go pay the very nice attendant $20 per night you plan to stay. Each site has water and 50amp power and there’s a free dump site as well. The campground provided the backdrop for some of the most amazing sunsets we’ve experienced.
There’s so much to do and love in this little quant drinking town with a clamming problem. They are known for their fresh as it gets clams and seafood and we found their claim to be true. We went out to eat twice during our 3-night stay and both times we went to Steamers on the water. The first night was so good we went back again on our last night!
You will find the town to be like many say old Florida towns used to be. Old, unique buildings full of local shops that range from marine supplies to handmade jewelry. Maggie was welcome in almost all of the stores we visited. On the “Go-Back” scale of 1-5 it is a 5!
Area: Cedar Key, Florida
Campground: Shell Mound Campground ($20 per night waterfront)
Lessons Learned: Natives’s resourceful use of shell life created food, tools, shelter and lodging
Fun Fact: We loved eating at Steamers Restaurant so much that we went back a second time! Best clam chowder ever for us, best coconut shrimp ever too!