Beach Art

IMG_4890Bob is a guy who has to have a project. If he doesn’t have something to do, it is miserable for him and for me. So when the weather report showed a couple of cold and rainy weeks coming, I panicked. What is Bob going to do for two weeks? He is not an indoor-type of guy and he does not often sit down and read a book (where he and I differ, I devour books!)  The thought of two weeks holed up in the fifth wheel with Bob and his TV shows blaring was not making me happy. I worried about it as we went for our early morning walk. We were discussing ideas of things for him to do when we tripped over a piece of driftwood. Bob picked it up and looked at it. We both at the same time said: “Wow, that looks like a Dorado fish!” We laughed and he put it under his arm as we walked along, continuing to talk about what project Bob could do in cold weather. Bob looked at me and said that he thought one thing he could do is paint the driftwood. “Paint the driftwood?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, “I think it would be neat.” So the next trip to Panama City we bought some acrylic paints and paint brushes. He came home and found some pictures of Dorado fish and went to work. It came out fabulous! So that’s how it started. Now whenever we walk we are looking for driftwood that looks like something other than a piece of wood. It has also led to “field trips” to search for wood. On cold and rainy days Bob gets out all his paints and he is happy for hours. And I’m happy! Here’s some of his driftwood art:

 “Nessie” the Loch Ness Monster:

Dragon

Wiley Rabbit:

Rabbit

Dog (or something, we’re not exactly sure!):

Dog

EL EEL:

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Mr. Fish:

Fish

Mr. Frog on a log (this is really tiny and his first “commissioned piece. Our friend found it on the beach and asked him to paint it for her!):

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Silly Fish:

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And my favorite: Alligator With An Attitude. We found this piece of driftwood on St. Vincent’s Island:

Alligator driftwood

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Indian Pass, Florida

Indian Pass CampgroundIndian Pass Campground near Port St. Joe, Florida, is in an area also known as The Forgotten Coast. The Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce registered the name as a trademark in the early 1990’s. The reason is because compared to the rest of Florida, the coastline that stretches from Mexico Beach on the Gulf of Mexico to St. Marks on Aplachee Bay is relatively quiet and undeveloped. In between the boundaries lie Simmons Bayou, Cape San Blas, Indian Pass, and the quaint city of Apalachicola which lies on the banks of the Apalachicola River.  Continuing east is Eastpoint, St.George Island, Carrabelle, Lanark Village, St.James Island, St.Teresa Island and Alligator Point. St. Marks Lighthouse and nature preserve is the easternmost place on the Forgotten Coast. All these little towns and beaches are uncrowded and picturesque. The nearest major city is Tallahassee, about 90 miles northeast of Apalachicola, and Panama City (home of Tyndall Air Force Base) is about 60 miles to the northwest.

IMG_4119The first thing I was told when we found Indian Pass Campground five years ago was: “The only rules here are: there are NO rules!” That sounded pretty good to us so we stayed for a couple of months. And then we came back, year after year. And so have most of the others who are here. It is one of the few campgrounds where one can have a campfire on the beach, run their dogs without a leash (most Florida beaches don’t even allow dogs!), drive their golf cart or vehicle (with a permit) on the beach; or for that matter, camp right on the beach. I watch pelicans dive, dolphin play, egrets, herons, loons, ibis, while I sip my coffee in the morning or sip my wine in the evening. Every once in a while a Bald Eagle flies overhead. At night, the Night Heron leave their perches around the campground and head out for whatever they do in the dark. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Bob and BoatBob keeps busy fishing from the shore, checking his crab traps or heading out in his little “port-a-bote” to his favorite fishing hole. The Raw Bar is just up the road, so when we get a hankering for oysters, we head there. Or, we buy a bushel of oysters at 13-Mile directly from the oyster men and bring them back to the campsite and shuck them there. The “Shrimp Lady” comes through once a week with fresh shrimp that we buy from the back of her truck. Occasionally we head out to town (Port St. Joe or Apalachicola) for fresh veggies and to stock up on liquor; and every couple of weeks we head to Panama City to get our Walmart fix,  but other than that, we have no need to leave!

View from our campsite.

View from our campsite.

Lake DeGray, Arkansas

Sunset at Lake DeGray

Sunset at Lake DeGray

I am going to give another “shout out” for Arkansas. LakeDeGray is a US Army Corps of Engineer project. There are six class A campgrounds with a total of 428 campsites. Corps camping also includes 2 class B campgrounds and a primitive camping area. DeGray Lake Resort State Park is located on the north shore and offers in addition to camping a newly renovated 96 room lodge and restaurant, an 18 hole golf course, tennis, and horseback riding. Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 is located along the eastern shore of the lake. Dedicated in April, 1994, the scenic byway runs for about 237 miles and has long been recognized as one of the most scenic drives in America.

Fishing pole in boatIt is a beautiful and a non-crowded lake. We had previously checked out most all the Corps campgrounds on a motorcycle ride, but found for our tastes the Alpine Ridge Campground to be our favorite. There are 49 campsites. Many are first-come-first-serve (non-reservable) and are on the water. The good news is that it is not that crowded so should you arrive on a weekday you more than likely would not have any problem getting an unreserved spot. You can reserve sites online, which is what we did and then switched to a water front site when we got there. Each site has privacy and lots of shade. If you have your senior pass (62+) the Core campsites are only $6 to $9/night, depending if you are on the water or not. (If you don’t have the Senior Pass it’s $12/$18.) They have electrical hookups. They do not have water hookups, but fresh water can be easily filled at the dump station on the way in. Water stations are situated throughout the campground for jug filling.

The lake has a shoreline of 247 miles and the reservoir covers 13,400 acres. The fishing is suppose to be great (although Bob and I did not even get a nibble, but that’s pretty normal). Their website touts that it offers “Arkansas’ finest fishing for hybrid stripped bass and great angling for walleye, crappie, bream and catfish.” During the warm months people water-ski, sail, snorkel, kayak, as well as just boat for pleasure. They even scuba dive on the lake. Even on a busy weekend you hardly see another boat. There are lots of fingers of shoreline as well as little islands where you can boat out to, unload you stuff and play for the day.

 If you ever get to Arkansas, you absolutely have to check this lake out!

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Porta-Bote (or Fold-A-Boat)

Porta-bote in action

Porta-bote in action

The RV lifestyle is not going to work unless we can get out on the water. Problem is how to bring all the toys with you when hauling a fifth-wheel. We absolutely have to bring the Harley, and we absolutely have to have a boat. Bob is researching a swivel-trailer that hooks into the frame of the fifth-wheel so we can pull the motorcycle. But pulling a boat in addition to the Harley? Not going to work.

We remembered a funny little boat we saw a few years ago while we were camping in Florida. It is called a Porta-Bote, or Fold-A-Boat. It folds up flat and is the size of a surfboard. We watched the fellow unload and then unfold it. Within a very short time he had it ready to put in the water. We watched in disbelief as he pulled it to the water, put his motor on the mount and then head off down the water. The boat looked sturdy and was moving at an impressive pace. Wow, we thought. We need to check into that thing!

When the boat came back at the end of the day, Bob headed over and quizzed him as to what the heck it was. What a find. The fellow sang high praises. He said that it is made of high impact polypropylene which is an engineered resin originally developed for use in the aerospace field. It is so hard it is resistant to sharp rocks and/or collisions; impervious to sand, salt, and acid. He said it is virtually indestructible as well as being very light weight. He gave us the information we needed to do our research. We soon found that they don’t come on the resale market very often. We kept looking and were excited when we finally found one on Craig’s List last year. It belonged to a widow in Arkansas. She and her husband had only used it a couple of times before he passed away. It is 12’ foot long. (24” wide and 3” thick when folded).  Just what we had decided we wanted as the 8′ and the 10′ seemed to us to be a bit too small and the 14′ too long.

Indian Pass Sunset

Indian Pass Sunset

We took it with us last year to Indian Pass, Florida where we spent the winter. It worked perfectly. We were able to load it on the truck for transport when we had the motor home, but since buying the fifth-wheel we have been in a quandary wondering how the heck we were going to haul it.  The company sells RV mounts so one can put it on the side of the vehicle; or on the roof, but they are $329 (often on sale for $199). Bob was also reluctant to drill holes in the trailer, although if need be he would have done so. Some people load it on top, but even though it folds into the size of a surf board, we hated the idea of driving down the road, not being able to see it and wondering if it blew off or not. It is 12’ long, so we did not think we would be able to get it in the trailer, just because of angles. But…yeah! We were pleasantly surprised when we tried it as it fits easily and lays on the floor without being in the way at all. Problem solved.

Bob and Finnean fishing

Bob and Finnean fishing

It is a great little boat. Despite the flexible floor, it feels very sturdy. Even Finnean (our Westie) feels very safe and secure riding in it. We have a 6 hp motor on it, and although it works fine, we are thinking that a 9 hp would be better. It’s great for fishing. We are thinking about buying the bow ladder that the company sells so we can jump in when we want to go for a swim.

Unfolding it and getting it out on the water takes less than 20 minutes. Here’s how we do it:

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs

Hot Springs

Arkansas? Where? What’s Arkansas? That’s what my friends from California ask. Even the Weather Channel tends to ignore Arkansas. All the states surrounding Arkansas have their names identified on the weather map; but Arkansas’ name is sadly missing. And then I am noticing that the travel blogs either miss Arkansas altogether or they make a brief stop in Little Rock (maybe because the Weather Channel notes it on their map?) I feel a calling! I have to educate everyone that will listen about this beautiful state; Hot Springs in particular.

When we first moved here, four years ago, I was told that Arkansas is the only state that has borders with five other states: Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana. I was told that Arkansas (being in the middle of course) was left undeveloped and natural (the state  logo is: The Natural State) so that the bordering states would have a place to come to for hunting, fishing, golfing, boating, and relaxing, which is why there is so little industry here. Whether that is true or not, I cannot tell you; but I do know that there are very few places in the United States where one can drive for hours and see only a handful of cars. You can get anywhere in the state without having to get on a major highway.

Lake Catherine

Lake Catherine

There are many beautiful and interesting places in Arkansas, one really can’t go wrong almost anywhere you visit. The beauty of Hot Springs is that there are so many wonderful state and federal campgrounds within a few miles of downtown: Gulpa Gorge Campground, Lake Catherine, Lake Ouachita (my favorite), Lake DeGray State Park, and Brady Mountain (Army Coors of Engineers). I am not big on private campgrounds, mainly because of the expense, but if you are interested in rock hunting, Coleman Crystal Ron’s Mine has a campground charging $12/night, or $300 a month. You can walk to the mine to hunt for crystals from your campsite!

Thermal waters

Thermal waters

Hot Springs itself is actually a national park. (Something not told to the tourist but important to know is that in the downtown area, one side of the street [the side with all the bath houses] is National Park, and the opposing side is city. The reason this is important to know is that if you are going to get a speeding ticket, make sure you are on the city side, as the National Park side’s fines are double.) A colloquial name for Hot Springs is “The Spa City.” Hot Springs gets its name from the naturally thermal spring waters found there. There are wonderful walking trails that take you up above the town by the thermal waters.

Bath House Row

Bath House Row

A must is to spend a day at one of the bath houses. Before doing so, take the tour at The National Park Bath House. They do a wonderful  as well as entertaining job of educating you on the history of the bath houses. My favorite spa is Quapaw Bath House, mainly because it is one of only two that use the actual waters from the springs. You can pop in just to sit in the shared thermal pool for only $18. The water has been Carbon-dated at 4,000 years old and is high in silica, calcium, magnesium, free carbon dioxide, bicarbonate and sulfate. It has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. Of course there are private baths and a whole range of spa packages.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens is just one of the must see’s. It is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the Natural State. The botanical garden is on a 210 acre peninsula  and is the University of Arkansas. It doesn’t matter what time of the year one visits, it is spectacular as well as magical. Christmas time is especially sensational.

The downtown area has the Gangster Museum, a Wax Museum, the historical Arlington Hotel where Al Capone stayed, restaurants and shops. Our favorite spot is the Ohio Club, which is reported to be the hangout of Al Capone. It is just a fun, happening place!

As far as Hot Springs Village, CBS News aired an interview with the vice president from RealtyTrac regarding a recent study on: “The Top Cities for Boomers to Lead the Good Life.” Hot Springs Village was rated the number 3 place to retire in the United States. 

The criteria used was:

  1.  Places that have a high percentage of retirees already and that have established themselves as retirement hot spots.
  2.  Not only must they be good places to live, but must have markets with price appreciation and also a good rental investment, so that those who are not ready to retire now can buy a house, rent it out and make money in the interim.
Hot Springs Village

Hot Springs Village

And, Chicago’s: Golf Chicago TV had a segment on Hot Springs Village. The introduction was to stay tuned to hear about a little-known golf mecca in Arkansas (and the word Arkansas was said with a distinct “oh my gosh, Arkansas?” tone). They touted the nine golf courses, 13 lakes, and beautiful walking trails as a must see. (Have to watch the intro, then scroll forward to 17:48 to see the segment on the Village.)

 Hopefully I have whetted your interest in visiting Hot Springs. It really is a great spot to visit. (I don’t know why the Weather Channel doesn’t put it on their map???)

 

Should We Go Fulltime or Not?

Port-A-Bote on shore

Port-A-Bote on shore

This year while in Florida the discussion of whether to live fulltime in the RV became pretty serious.  Between the fishing, sightseeing, beach walking, shelling, boating (we have a Porta-Bote [portable folding boat] that folds up to the size of a surfboard and works great), sunsets and sunrises, it is just darn relaxing and fun. The knowledge that we are not getting any younger and if we want to do this, we should get going is in the forefront of most discussions. Here’s just some of the debate that drives us both crazy:

Downside: The biggest problem for both of us is that we love Arkansas; Hot Springs Village in particular! We have lots of friends, a great church, Bob has a lucrative handyman business, nine beautiful and affordable golf courses to play within 10 to 15 minutes of the house, beautiful lakes to boat on (we have friends with boats so we don’t need one of our own anymore!), and fabulous motorcycling roads. How can we give all this up?

Upside:  We could rent out the house, buy a lot nearby and use it as a home base for four months during the year, so we would still maintain our friendships. If we rented the house out, we could use that as income in addition to our pensions. Financially, we would probably be much better off.

Downside:  I like to write and read. I need to have a spot that I can have my computer and files and privacy without the blaring noise of the television, which Bob loves to have going even when he is not watching the darn thing!

Upside:  Bob is usually always in motion and either fishing or doing a project outside, which leaves me plenty of time to write and read. We both love each other’s company and if we could combine golf with traveling, it would be fun.

Downside: We need a bigger coach. We need more slides. In fact, we need as many slides as we can get. And, we need more storage space. This coach, even though it is bigger than the 29 footer, does not have much storage. (Can’t even put my pots and pans away!) And, the few drawers it has are very narrow. We have made the decision that a fifth wheel is what we want if we do decide to go full time. So now we need a bigger truck too!

Upside:  We need a new truck anyway.  Our little pickup truck has 123,000 miles on it.

Downside:  Do I really want to do all my laundry in laundry mats???

Upside:  We will buy ALL new underwear and towels as I do not want to be folding “holey” underwear and ratty towels in front of other people. And, hard to admit, but I actually enjoy my laundry mat time. I put all the wash in at once, sit and read or go for coffee. Then I fold it while visiting with someone, and head back to the camp. Done for the week.

DownsideWe have great friends here, what if we end up in a situation where we don’t get along with the people? I love my peace and quiet, what if we end up in an RV park with annoying barking dogs?

Upside: That’s one of the easier ones; we can drive away.

Downside: We have a Harley motorcycle that we are not ready to give up yet. How in the world can we pull that and a fifth-wheel?

Upside:  Bob found a trailer design that actually hooks into the back of a fifth wheel and becomes a part of the trailer. It is a little pricey, so he is thinking of fabricating it himself. (Obviously that will lend itself to a blog on its own!)

Downside:  The cost of fuel. It does not seem to be getting any cheaper.

Upside:  After doing a lot of reading and talking to people, seems that when traveling fuel costs are averaging $125 to $175 a day. Most people say that the cost averages out if you stay in one spot for a month or so before moving on. I would want to do that anyway.

Questions:  Will we get bored after awhile? Should we stay in one spot for two or three months at a time?  Or should we move every month? Every couple of weeks? Should we join an RV Club and go from park to park? What mail service should we use?

Conversation ongoing…..input welcomed!!!

 

Sold the Sea Breeze

We sold the Sea Breeze on E-Bay. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of calls we got. In fact, in the last seconds there was a bidding war and we ended up selling her for $12,000. We had used it for two years and sold it for a profit. Felt pretty good about that.

Pulled out the old carpet and installed bamboo hardwood floors.

Pulled out the old carpet and installed bamboo hardwood floors.

Bob found the Scenic Cruiser sitting in a RV Repair lot in Hot Springs, Arkansas (where we now live.) It had been for sale for over a year. It was pretty obvious when we looked at it why there was not a lot of interest. It had a leak under the sink and the floor had rotted out. Plus, it had sat for quite a while and the moldy smell was overwhelming. I started to run, but Bob was interested. He is very much the “handyman” and replacing the floor was not a concern to him. He was concerned with the motor and electronics. When he pushed the button for the slide to go out, we both could not believe our eyes as it looked like a dance hall compared to our old motorhome. He spent a lot of time looking it over and decided he could replace the floor and fix whatever was causing the problem under the sink. The rest of it was just a matter of scrubbing as the diesel engine, generator, refrigerator, freezer and electronics all were in good shape. He made a low-ball offer and the owners took it.

Finished floor.

Finished floor.

We spent the next couple of months pulling out the old carpet, fixing the leak under the sink (turned out to be the charcoal filter under the sink that had leaked, causing black, mucky stuff to ooze out and ruin the floor), and installed hardwood bamboo floors throughout the entire coach. We took the handles off all the cabinets, cleaned them up and sprayed them black. Also redid the light fixtures. It looked pretty darn nice when we got done and did not cost much money, just labor on our part.

We spent two months living in our “new” coach on the beach in Florida. We loved it and we met a lot of people who were either living full time in their rigs or living for several months in it. We left for home continuing the talk about whether we should try going twenty-four/seven or not. Seemed like the thing to do when we were in Florida, but kept kicking around the pros and cons all year.

Camped on the beach in Florida.

Camped on the beach in Florida.

We are just now returning from our second winter in Florida. This time we spent three months. Again, we loved it and the idea of going full time is a constant conversation. But, even though the Scenic Cruiser is roomy “people-wise”, it has no storage space. If we are going to go full-time, or on extended trips again, I need more storage space