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Travels with BoBo

Our RV Adventures

In 1962 John Steinbeck wrote Travels with Charley,  the story of his drivearound the US

accompanied by his poodle Charley.   Travels with BoBo is our homage and travelog.  

Julia's RV Journal.  Chapter 1  Florida Panhandle   March 11-16, 2019  

         When I was young we spent summers in Westhampton Beach. All my friends parents had old cars in their garages that were taken out just for use in the summer. For example Bebe Beers family had a real woody station wagon. My mother had a bright blue Lasalle cabriolet. 

         In 1980 when I moved to East Hampton it occurred to me that people would enjoy that summer car experience. The only trouble was that everyone rented a summer house so they did not own a garage and an old car for use in summer only was not an option. Well I thought it would be a great idea to buy some old convertibles and rent them to summer people. In 1976 America stopped making convertible cars because they were supposed to be unsafe. Older convertibles from the 1960’s and 1970’s were available so I bought a small fleet and started Classic Convertibles. That idea was just about as crazy as it sounds. Lucky for me my husband is a very handy fellow and he was able to help me with all my mechanical problems. And that, to make a very long complicated story short, is how my husband got into the antique/classic car business. 

         One of the advantages of being in the classic car business is that you have to travel all over the country going to auctions, concours d’elegance, club meets, rallies, and all sorts of interesting events. 

         In January of 2019 we went to Scottsdale Arizona to the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction which is the largest and most spectacular of its kind. While we were out west we decided to visit Mesa Recreational World where the Mesa company sells the RV’s that they design. We found just what we were looking for in the C Class RV design which is on a Ford 350 chassis and is not too big. I was very busy saying how I could drive this or that, how I needed whatever, and I did not need whatever else and so on and so on and so on. I feel sure that under his regulation cowboy hat the salesman was rolling his eyes mucho times. Jim wisely suggested that we should rent before we buy. So, Jim looked into RV rentals in Ft Myers near where we live in Naples Florida, and I looked into visiting the Florida panhandle in an RV.

         I have to admit that it was not my idea to keep a journal. When Jim and I returned from our RV trip around Florida my friend Janet asked if I had a journal. NO, I said, how foolish of me. Especially because during my travels around America in the 1960’s I had kept a journal and recorded all sorts of interesting things. 

         Besides losing the possibility of recording interesting things, Jim and I had trouble remembering how many miles we had driven on each day. In the 1960’s I wrote down how many miles, what I spent on gas, usually $3.00, what I spent on lodging, usually $4.00 or free if I camped, and other items. Now a few days late I am working on the journal.

         So on Monday March 11 Jim went up to Fort Myers to rent a C Class RV. The one we rented was on a Ford 350 chassis and the total length was 23 feet. Longer would have been hard for me to drive. There are two bucket seats in the front cab for driver and passenger and enough room between them to walk into the back where the living area of the camper is located. Above the cab is an area with a mattress that can be used for sleeping if you do not mind a ladder and no head room. 

In the body of the RV is a dining booth barely big enough for four people, (it converts to a bed) a kitchenette with a gas stove and refrigerator/freezer, a sink and a microwave. At the back is the bathroom which has a toilet, sink with medicine cabinet and a shower. Next to that is the bed area which has a full size bed you access from one corner of the foot of the bed. In other words you crawl into the bed area. I did not realize how old I was until I had to crawl into that bed area a few times.  

         Jim picked up the unit and drove it to 1811 Princess which is our home in Naples. Then we loaded it all up with all the things we thought we would need. I had been assembling things for weeks. Most important was our own Mr. Coffee machine so we could make coffee in the same way we do every morning. I thought I had everything we needed. Sheets, towels, our own pillows, plastic and paper utensils, real cutting knives, etc. etc. 

We headed north on I75 at 1:30. I did not realize how lucky it was that the RV park in Cedar Key, where we were really headed, could not take us until Tuesday. We barely made it to Ocala. The only good thing is that Sam’s club was right next to the RV park so we were able to buy discount gas. We suspect the rental company did not give us a full tank. 

         This first RV park was just what you would expect next to I75 and Sam’s club. But, we were very relieved to stop since we were exhausted. Jim from driving on the highway in this unstable RV unit and me from worrying about it. We realized we were very inexperienced. The people parked next to us were from Alaska. Very friendly and interesting. We learned immediately that the whole RV thing is very much a friendly club consisting of pleasant people from all over the darn place. Our inexperience showed again when I went off to the bathroom while Jim talked with the Alaskans. When I got back he asked me for the RV key. “I don’t have it!!” It was locked inside. So, by luck the window was open and we could pry off the screen and hoist me up through the window to unlock the unit. Another thing learned. We also learned that two old people could not sleep in the sort of full size bed that you had to crawl into that was parked next to NOISY I75. After a crumby night’s sleep we planned to make our first breakfast of oatmeal in the microwave and coffee in our Mr. Coffee. Except, I had forgotten the coffee filters. Don’t ask me how this can happen. I worked over the assembled items for weeks. All the while making coffee every morning with my Mr. Coffee and my COFFEE FILTERS. Anyway, I made cowboy coffee by putting coffee grounds in the hot water. Jim was polite as always. 

         Off to Cedar key on “local roads” sometimes one surface away from gravel top. How great. We passed horse farms and cattle farms that appeared to have Angus cattle, but no identifying sign. Also there seemed to be a couple of Long Horn and Brahmin here and there but no identifying signs. When I traveled in Iowa in the 1960’s there were signs identifying all the breeds of corn, cattle, wheat, and so on. We passed peanut farms which we identified because the owner had his name on his sign, for example, “So and So’s Peanut Farm.” Would that I had photographed those signs, or at least written down the name.

         The park in Cedar Key was actually on the mainland about 5 miles from the islands. What a nice place! Quiet, clean, well-organized, friendly of course, and with a very nice shower house. Thank Heavens!.  We headed off to Cedar Key to go to the Museum and have dinner. Well, it was Tuesday and the Museum was closed both Tuesday and Wednesday. Don’t ask me how I missed that with all the internet exploring I did. Never mind, we read all the street signs about the pencil wood that was exported from the area. We walked around the cute streets filled with very funky semi Victorian cottages and wonderful bay views. We had a beer at Island Hotel and Restaurant which has never been remodeled in 90 years. How Great. We thought about eating there but we wanted to eat on the water so we figured we would have to forfeit good food for the view. We were wrong. Remember, this is the Big Bend country. You cannot avoid good shrimp. Wonderful.  So we ate on the pier on a porch over-looking the water with a great view of the bay. We had plastic table cloths and a delicious very fresh shrimp dinner. Along the pier were quite a few souvenir and t shirt shops and I definitely had to do some shopping. Then back to the very comfortable RV park were we opened up the dining booth which converts to a bed and I had my own bed that did not require “enter by crawl at your own risk.”

         The next morning we had real coffee, thanks to a previous filter stop at the Walmart. Also a very good shower. We could shower in our RV but a large shower that did not use our precious water was a big plus.  We began to think that two days would have been nice, but the RV Park did not have a reservation and it turned out to be lucky that we did not drive further our first day. Also, driving through the interesting countryside on small roads was much better done in the daylight. 

         Wednesday came and off to Perry, a small “city” which was half way to Carrabelle in the Panhandle . We did not have time to stop in Perry’s “historic downtown area” but we know it is there for next time. Carrabelle is on the first section of the Panhandle which is just east of Mexico Beach where Hurricane Michael made a direct hit. You could see damage but not obliteration such as was seen on TV in the Mexico Beach area. We were told by other RV people that the path of damage was clear from Mexico Beach north to Marianna.

      Carrabelle is what we were hoping to find in the Panhandle. Forest, lots of beautiful bay and Gulf views and some houses, although many were damaged. In the village there were some small condo developments and an IGA. No shopping centers. No high rise buildings. We had a reservation at the HOHUM RV park which was directly on the Gulf and we were told the edge of their parking lot was also the edge of the beach. And indeed it was. Furthermore we were able to get an RV site directly on this amazing edge. Probably the best site in the park since it did not have a parking site to it’s west so we had an amazing view. We do not know how we got this. I can tell  you they were very annoyed when this amazing site did not persuade us to stay forever. We might have were it not for the fact that I had figured out in advance every element of our trip, except for the coffee filters. It became very clear to us that on future RV trips we should stay for a least two nights if not three when we were at a destination point. The shoulder of I75 did not count as a destination point. 

         One of the destination points was in Winter Park on Thursday where I arranged a visit with the niece of my friend Richard. Richard had passed away a few years ago. I had met Stephanie when she was 13 and I was dating Richard. Richard was a most unique and fascinating person, and his family members were all living in awe of him. The only sensible person in the family was Stephanie. I ended up keeping in touch with her for the next 45 years but I did not see her again until The Cheesecake Factory in Winter Park.  My husband was always very liberal about my staying friends with Richard and when Richard was living with Jean Di Florio we all became friends and spent many happy times together. And so to lunch with Stephanie at The Cheesecake Factory in Winter Park. What a lot of memories and different views of the same circumstances. All those wonderful memories could fill a book. 

         Amazing serendipity led us to the very famous Sebring Race Track. When I was planning the RV trip I thought we should pass by the track on Friday just to take a look. It is located in the middle of Florida just north of Lake Okeechobee.  Lo and behold when I looked up the dates I found that the largest most important event of the year was taking place at Sebring on the weekend that I thought we might drive by. Actually it was a 5 day event. Furthermore people brought their RV campers and parked at the track for the whole time. So, we bought RV parking and tickets for Saturday on the internet. After leaving Stephanie we drove south to Sebring via Arcadia. Our roommate Sonja kindly offered to meet us there and take our dogs, Bobolitza and Lillianna, home with her.  Dogs are not allowed in the race track area. Had we been more experienced we would have realized that we could have parked in the free parking field outside the track area where there are no regulations. We could have left the  four legged girls in the RV and walked into the track area via the back gate. As I say, had we been more experienced all this might have worked. 

         But what did work is that we dropped them with Sonja and headed for the Track. When we got there the whole world was already there and race cars were tearing madly and noisily around the track. When we went through the gate we asked the traffic directors where the RV parking was located. They must have thought we were mad. There was not a single square foot of space anywhere and people were walking all over the place, except on the track itself where cars were speeding around the 3.7 mile course at well over 100 miles per hour. 

         And so we inched our way around a maze of hot dog stands, make shift viewing stands, family compounds smoking all sorts of food in huge cookers, and tents galore. Some of tents were for two people to sleep in, some tents for 10 people to eat in, some tents for 5 people to watch the cars under without burning up in the sun. Not an inch was vacant. Eventually we passed what appeared to be a vacant parking spot directly next to the track. We had to assume it belonged to somebody since it was such a superb spot. All of the spots that were being “saved” had trash cans or highway department cones, or crime scene tapes all over them. After about half an hour of driving around we passed the spot again and it was still vacant and not taped off. This spot was right next to the track with a make shift viewing stand to the left of it. Well, we decided to back in and wait for the owner to come back and throw us out. Just as we did this a lady name Patricia ran over and began talking at us like mad. She and her family had been coming here for 20 years, they owned the make shift viewing stand (which she said we could use), they had more children coming on the weekend and they had not paid for their cars but clearly there was still plenty of room to park, this was turn 3-4 which was a great location, and so on and so  on. We were surprised to say the least. Finally after much discussion it become clear that we were in a reserved parking spot and the owner had not yet shown up to claim it. The event was already 4 days old with only one day to go so we assumed said owner must know somebody who was racing on Saturday or owned a car that was racing Saturday and only wanted to be there that day. Oh well, we decided to wait for him and explain that we were idiots who had never done this before and we were leaving his space ASAP.  From that time on we did not dare to leave the RV unattended incase said owner arrived when we were gone. We gave Patricia our cell phone so she could call us if a problem arose and we could not be found. Most of the time one of us stayed with the RV. This was not a great hardship since the cars were driving directly past us and we had Patricia’s make shift viewing stand to climb up on. It was two stories high. 

         We tried desperately to find a restaurant at the track. We did find several huge tents with buffet dinner set up. However, since there was no way to buy a ticket and the tents were filled with drivers and pit crew we decided the buffets were not meant for us. Finally we bought a Gyro sandwich and I had an ice cream sundae. We decided to try spending the night in our spot and hope for the best. The racing continued until midnight so there was plenty of action. Finally we fell dead asleep after midnight. SCREECH. SCREECH. SCREECH. It is 3:30 am and what is going on???? Jim very wisely manages to figure out that our Carbon Monoxide alarm is going off because the RV unit next to us is running their generator which is sending it’s carbon monoxide exhaust directly into our window. We closed all our windows. Finally we decide to turn on our generator which will allow us to run our RV air conditioning and turn on the RV engine which will allow us to run the front cab air conditioning. We thought about leaving the park but somebody had arrived during the night and parked a pickup truck and two golf carts in front of us so we were locked into our stolen space. The real owner???? Jim’s activity finally cleans out the air and stops the ringing. Jim then crawls back into his bed and passes out. After a while I decide that I had better turn off the engine before I poison the entire neighborhood with yet more Carbon Monoxide. So, at 4:30 I turn off the engine and collapse. When we wake up, and we do wake up, all is well. It happens to be raining so the racing has not started at 8am and so we were able to sleep until 9. 

         So now it is Saturday and we assume the real owner of our space may arrive to see his car, or his driver friend, or whatever. So we guard the area carefully and only leave one at a time. During my time off I rode the tram system all around the whole park. I learned many things that would have been useful beforehand. Like where the outside parking field was located, not such a long walk, and where the so-called restaurant was located. Really it was a glorified snack bar called the Snack Café.

         Originally we thought we would stay for all the races on Saturday but due to the rain delay and our truncated nights’ sleep we were ready to decamp. Around 3 we abandoned our spot and headed for the exit. 

Monday     Ocala         273 miles  $83.00 gas RV park $48.00

Tuesday   Cedar Key      68 miles RV park $48.00

Wednesday  HOHUM    177 miles RV park 44.00

Thursday  Lost Lake  278 miles  gas 97.00 RV Park 55.00

Friday        Sebring      183 miles gas $100  Sebring Park $245

Saturday Home   116 miles           gas  $65.50


JULIA SHELLY  Chapter 2  The RV Adventure Advances!

Since March of 2019 when we rented a C Class RV and made a trip to the Florida Panhandle we have been thinking a lot about RVs. It did not seem wise to run out and buy one. It seemed we should rent a few more times to get a better idea of what we needed. The problem is that several of the uses we have for an RV are not compatible with renting. For example we would like to tow Jim’s race car to the race track and then spend the night at the track in the camper. You cannot rent an RV which allows you to tow. We also would like to drive ourselves and our dogs from East Hampton to Florida. There are very, very few one way rentals in RVs. Then there is the question of what exact sort of RV would we like to own. 

           We began to narrow down the features that we needed. First, and perhaps most important, was that it needed to be able to tow 5000lbs. Then it needed propane and a generator. If we camp at the track there are no hook-ups. In a regular campground, like KOA, you hook up to the electric and the water, and usually there is cable for TV and internet. But you cannot do that at the track. Then we wanted to have twin beds for more comfortable sleeping. A small kitchen and bathroom was a necessity. We also wanted as much storage as possible. Then, the vehicle has to be small enough for Julia to drive. Jim can drive anything. Julia wanted something more like a minivan or an SUV. As we looked around we found that the Mercedes Sprinter chassis was used by many RV conversion companies to create their camper. Ford and Dodge are also used but the Sprinter, being a diesel, had a 5000lb tow capacity. So we started to look at the Sprinter based models. There are many. We liked one of the models built by Winnebago. Winnebago is a company that builds many models of camping unit. To make a very long story short we found a model we liked at a dealer about 4 hours from East Hampton in upstate NY and it had been reduced because it was a yearend sale. It was last years’ model and the reduction in price was huge. We felt we would be foolish not to go and see it. As I said, long story short we decided to buy it. 

         The dealer was dreadful. The salesman was a nightmare. Not that he was a pushy salesman, he did NOTHING AT ALL.  All the same we bought it. 

          As it happens we had to go to Cooperstown, NY to a wedding, about 2 hours from the RV dealer. We decided to pick up the RV and continue driving to Cooperstown (by the way the Baseball Hall of Fame is located there) to the hotel for the wedding. However, we had a special plan and so we left a day early. The reason we left a day early was in order to CAMP OUT at least one night in our new RV. And where should we go, WOODSTOCK of course. We missed it by 50 years but it seemed like an opportunity of sorts. 

              Picking up the RV was a nightmare worse than the non-salesman. They were giving us an orientation class in using the vehicle but the generator blew out and OFF went the whole electric system. They had to call the experts at Winnebago, three mechanics were working on it, blah, blah, blah. Finally they got it running but the dealership was closing so we had to drive off with no orientation lesson. 

Thank heavens we arrived before dark at the RV park in Woodstock. I had brought along some music so Jim put on Janis who was yelling “take a little piece of my heart” which is just how we felt. The major problem is that the only place the speakers worked was outside in the picnic area. Shut that off I said, I don’t think there is anybody in this park old enough to remember this stuff, plus it is dinnertime. We decided to go to the Woodstock diner for dinner. When we got back we crawled into our sleeping bags exhausted. Jim is studying the TV remote when “clank, clatter,!!” and Jim’s glasses have disappeared. Finally we figure out they have fallen into the pit next to the bed that leads to the trunk in the back of the RV. By chance I had brought along some wire hangers, one of which turned out to be broken. So, we used the broken hanger and our “handy dandy all-purpose camper flashlight”, to fish out the glasses from the pit. Then we fell asleep double exhausted.

              Now it is 3am and Grace Slick is complaining that “the pills that mother gives you don’t do anything at all”. So, I say to myself, there are some old people here. WRONG. I realize that the TV is still on and some company is using WHITE RABBIT as back-round music in their advertising on the TV. I try to get the remote from Jim who is snoring. “Give that to me I am watching TV” Jim screams in his usual 3am rant. Then, “clank, clatter!!” OH SHIT the remote has fallen into the pit. No hope of getting it out with a broken wire hanger. Luckily it did not fall all the way down to the trunk and a small hand was able to fish it out. OK, that is it, turn off the TV and fall asleep. 

              Off to Cooperstown and the hotel reservation. It is very nice to have a small RV that can park in almost any parking lot. We were happy to be in a hotel room. The baseball Museum is really fun. We highly recommend it to anyone, even those not really interested in baseball. 

              The wedding was a huge success. Everyone was so happy. Thank heavens Jim and I were seated at the table WAY in the back NOT near the band and the dance floor. We were able to hear our cousins and catch up on all the gossip. I kept thinking, good heavens, I clearly remember being at the wedding of the parents which was 27 years ago. 

              So almost all the cousins, and every other middle aged couple we talk with, have told us they had dreamed of an RV and they were very jealous that we really got one. They want to know everything and get advice about getting one themselves. So here are a few of the things we considered and learned. 

              The least expensive and most convenient is a towable camper. They are not too big but they have everything, tiny kitchen, bathroom, queen bed, and a small dining area. At about 18-22 feet they are easy to tow behind almost any vehicle and they are not expensive. A very good used one starts at $5000. You can park in the RV camp and then drive off in your car to attend the football game or go to the Baseball Museum, or whatever you want to do. 

              The next size is a small camper van like a VW. There are several companies that convert Ford and Chevy vans to campers which are intended for two people. I understand VW will be making one again soon. They are easy to drive and have all the conveniences. They are usually made to order and not cheap. Usually $75,000 and up even used. And not much tow capacity. 

              The class B is slightly larger and this is the RV size we chose. It is usually on a Ford or Chevy chassis or the Mercedes Sprinter. The one we bought is a 24” long Mercedes Sprinter Diesel which had been converted to an RV by the Winnebago company. It is intended for two people. It is able to tow 5000lbs and is not hard to drive. It has a small bathroom, kitchen area, twin beds and a small dining area. The cost is about $95,000 to $175,000. 

              The class C is even larger. There are several different companies  that convert Ford and GMC trucks. These are good for families since they sleep 4-6 people. They have everything. Usually they have a limited tow capacity. Several companies build them. The ones we looked at in Arizona built by the LaMesa RV company started at $55,000. 

              Then there is the A class. I call them the country music coaches. They are apartments on wheels. Full kitchens and baths, often two full bedrooms, living and dining rooms, etc. My friend who owns one insists I could drive it but I am not so sure. It is the size of a Jitney bus. Most people who own an A class tow a car behind their RV. These units get about 9 miles to the gallon and perhaps 5 when they tow a  car. A good used one starts at about $155,000 and they can go up to a million. 

              An important question is the warranty. You will get two warranties on a new model. One on the vehicle (Ford, Mercedes, etc.) and one on the coach. A very popular RV coach builder named ROADTREK just went bankrupt. The warranty on a brand new model Roadtrek coach would be in jeopardy. A second hand model may have an existing warranty that was purchased from a warranty company and that would still be in force. Some used models have no warranty at all. As our friends Stanley and Mary said “don’t get discouraged, things are always going wrong with RV’s.” They are accomplished RVers. 

              I recommend renting first to see if you like the whole experience. Then you can start to investigate all the options. And talk to people who are already “RVing” since they all have plenty of opinions.  

RVing from East Hampton to Naples,  The first long trip November 2019


Julia Shelly, Chapter 3, Our first long trip!

          The very first item that I must address is the question, “is RVing safe?” The reason this has come up is that a couple from New Hampshire were RVing in Padre Island, Texas and they were murdered and their RV stolen and driven to Mexico. The crooks, also a couple, were found. That dreadful event not withstanding RVing is safe, and wonderful. The people you meet are great. All the same you must use the same caution RVing that you would use at home. You never leave your RV and forget to lock it and TAKE the key. Hide valuables. When you sleep at night lock the RV. Stay in RV  parks or in state parks. There are many places where you can just park and spend the night, like rest stops along the highway, but you want to be extra careful with these options. That said, RVing is safe and wonderful. 

          We set a date to drive the RV from East Hampton to Naples the second week of November. I cannot believe that the week we chose was a week of record braking cold all over the Midwest and Northeast of the US combined with possible snow or ice. Normally I would have postponed the trip. I do not believe in taking unnecessary chances. Unfortunately our schedule was very booked. Jim had a business class in Baltimore. Then comes Thanksgiving. Then we had planned an RV trip to Key West. Then we had planned a trip back to East Hampton. From there we were going to Pottstown where Jim hosts a Christmas party for the family on the day of Big Jim’s Birthday, December 18. It was just too busy. This situation of being much too busy is a harbinger of things to come in retirement. My father in law, Big Jim, used to say he had no time because he was retired. 

          We set off on a beautiful day and headed south through New Jersey to the Cape May/Lewes Ferry. Our RV, which we named “Shadow” is on the small side but still needs a special reservation on the ferry. It is a nice ferry but we did not get much of a dinner since the snack bar was sold out. Due to the cold weather we decided to stay in a LaQuinta in Salisbury. Good thing because it was 28 degrees. Next day we drove over the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel on our way to North Carolina. We just arrived at the Thousand Trails State Park at 4:30 when they close. Lucky the park ranger had been kind enough to telephone me to confirm our arrival. Another frigid night. Next day we head for Tennessee and Cousin Cindy’s cashmere goat farm. Sadly, no more goats. It turned out that making cashmere was very labor intensive.

Wonderful visit with Cindy. She took us to Gatlinburg which is a very busy resort town in the Smoky Mountains. I was horrified last year during the forest fires when tourists died. No wonder there were deaths. There is no way out, just small, curvy mountain roads. Beautiful as long as there is no emergency. 

          Next off to Georgia where is it still below freezing. I even had to turn on the stove to make heat at 3AM. That is a NO NO. I had to stay awake for an hour so I could make sure I shut it off.  It turned out we did not really know how to work the heat in Shadow.

          Finally to Hohum park on the Gulf Coast in Carrabelle. We were here last March and love it. We parked directly on the gulf and saw the sunrise and sunset. No wonder my friend Doreen was thinking of buying a house along the gulf coast. Her friend, also Doreen lived there. But then came Katrina and the whole area was wiped out, including the whole 9thWard in New Orleans and Doreen (the friend’s) house. So glad I discouraged the gulf coast house idea. Plus Katrina was yet another depressing example of why our nation government is not prepared for national emergencies. 

          On our way out of the panhandle we did have time to go to Sopchoppy. This town is in it’s original condition. The general store was probably opened in 1933. The store sells everything including lunch. We ate a hot lunch prepared by two middle aged ladies working on a large stove that may have been a 1954 model. The display case for the lunch selections was from 1933. We ate on wooden chairs and tables from the Salvation Army or some similar resource. It is so much fun to get off the major highways. 

          Then on to Cedar Key where we had also been before. Another place we love. Great seafood on the gulf. I was hoping to go to Suwannee (yes, that is of “Way down upon the Suwannee River) but we did not have time. Another trip!!

          Now comes the bad part. We get back to Naples right on time and it is beautiful and warm. I backed the RV into our driveway. Later that evening I did not like where I had parked so I backed up some more!!!!CRASH!!!!Right into the garage and broke the back window of Shadow. I was disgusted with myself. Getting old should not mean you get sloppy. Jim handled everything and called  glass repair and it got fixed in two days. 

          Next on the agenda is to get the heat and hot water working. Not that we need them. We are leaving for Flamingo Park in the Everglades and Key West next week. Mostly we will need AC and Bug Spray. 

Julia Shelly, Chapter 4, ON THE ROAD AGAIN  Key West December, 2019

             We are on the road again. Frankly, I do not feel that Jack Kerouac or Willie Nelson have anything on the Shellys except perhaps a certain fashion of writing skills and some musical talent. 

            Well, that was written before Covid 19. We were just able to get in the Keys trip and then….we all know what happened. We really miss all the RV plans. All the parks are closed so in order to get ourselves and the SHADOW back to NY we will have to stay at a Pilot truck stop and a State Highway Parking lot. That will probably be some time in May 2020. What an adventure of sorts. Thank heavens we have our own bathroom and our own kitchen. In the meantime I am sending you the story of our Key West trip PRE COVID.

          The 10 year plan has gone hog wild. Jack would like that. So we bought ourselves a Winnebago RV and drove with the girls from East Hampton to Naples via Jim’s cousin in Maryville, Tennessee. A two day drive took us eight. This is really fun. Once in Florida we decided to carry on the travel experiment and go to Key West. On the way we wanted to stop off and camp in the Everglades National Park at the Flamingo Marina. That park  is about as remote as normal people can go. In December the bugs are not too bad in the Everglades and it is not as crowded as Key West. 

          Off we go past Miami and into the Park. As we were driving Jim was talking to the office on the cell and we lost cell service. That service would return 24 hours later on the way out of the Park.  How great is that. When we got to the Park we found that I had rented a site without an electric. However, Jim felt we were not experienced enough to go without electric. So, luckily we were able to switch to a campsite with electric, but still, there was no Cable. Even more great. Time to read the famous book by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, “River of Grass”.  A must read, like “Silent Spring”.

          Flamingo marina is in the park and we could have gone on a boat trip if we had stayed two days. However we had a reservation on Geiger Key which we did not want to lose since they were already charging season prices. $138 and that was a bargain by comparison with other parks, but there is a reason for that. Geiger Key is 10 miles from Key West. The funky side of Key West is alive and well in Geiger Key. The marina we camped in was on the water on the south side of the key. We had a spot on the bulkhead were we could have docked our boat if we had one. If we had a boat and had headed south across the water we would hit Cuba. Most of the people in the park were living there while they worked in Key West for the season. The monthly sites are affordable living. 

The Geiger Key Marina has a fishing charter boat in the marina but the captain is apparently well known and he was booked up so Jim did not get to go fishing.  The marina has a restaurant where you could eat the fish that you had caught that day. Never mind dinner. We knew we were in the Keys because the bar at the restaurant was full at 8am. 

         Since we have a small RV we could undo our hookups from the campsite and drive to Key West. Jim found a great parking space (IN THE SHADE FOR SMALL DOGS) where we could park all day for a reasonable fee. Parking is a big problem in Key West, and especially for RVs, so we were thrilled to solve that problem. We were parked right near the “hop on hop off” tourist tram stop so we hopped on and had a great tour of the whole area.  There are lots of museums and we will have to go back to see them all. Jim went to the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum which was very interesting, or so he tells me. I went shopping and studied the Real Estate store windows. Key West has definitely gentrified. Many of the cottages are well over a million dollars. 

The tourist tram took us to an area of Key West I had never visited. It is the east end of the island which is the first area you hit when driving to Key West. Quite a bit of it is reclaimed land. We were told by the driver/guide that Jimmy Buffett got his start playing at the bars in this section of town. When we go back we will spend some beer and wings time there. 

          I think when we go back we will stay in Islamorada or Marathon. Those keys are considerably closer to the mainland and they have more choices for RV’ers. It is still very easy to drive to Key West for the day. I am told that Islamorada has very good fishing charters which we intend to try the next time we go to the Keys.  But the problem is that the RV god is the only one who knows when we will get back. Our list of RV trips is now booked up to 2022. Good heavens what kind of a number is that, 2022. 

            Needless to say when I wrote that I did not know about COVID. Nor did I know we would lose Lillianna a few weeks later. But we are thinking positive. The list of trips is now put off until 2021. 

Julia Shelly,  Chapter 5  Chokoloskee  New Year 2020

           What a great name. As with many places the name is American Indian. That is like Immokalee, Shinnecock, Manhasset, and many others. 

          Chokoloskee is an island in the Ten Thousand Islands of southern Florida. That would be the bottom of the Everglades approximately from Key Largo to Marco Island.  Many of the islands are mangrove clumps more than they are solid land. But Chokoloskee is a real island with houses, restaurants, a famous store call the Ted Smallwood store and a couple of RV parks in waterfront locations. It is reached by a causeway from Everglades City.

           On New Year 2020 we stayed at the more rustic of the two RV parks named Island Park. I must say that the view from our campsite, assuming nobody was parked at the lodge in front of us, was beautiful. Water and mangrove islands. The dock and the boat launch were right in front of us. The day we arrived the plumbing in the lodge did not work. ICK. However, there was another bath house. 

           Ted Smallwood’s store is a short walk. The store is now a museum but originally it was a fishing supply station and grocery store. I suppose there were times when the causeway was flooded so approaching by water was necessary. The store is on tall pilings to accommodate the large tides. The store sells some items made by the Miccosukee Indians. I bought a necklace. Unfortunately I did not buy a jacket. The Miccosukee are famous for sewing very colorful patchwork jackets. They are expensive. I made an offer on a terrific jacket but it was refused. Foolishly I did not just pay the asking price. They are wonderful and one of a kind. Furthermore the elderly ladies who sew them are not working anymore. Silly me. 

           Just an aside here. Kenya 1980:   This refusal to buy things that I should buy is a famous problem with me. My husband and I call it “the elephant knife” syndrome. In 1980 my husband and I were driving from Nairobi to Amboseli Park. There were few maps and no GPS in those days so we got lost. By some mistake we got to the Tanzanian border station instead of to the park. Julius Nyere had decreed that tourists could not pass from Kenya to Tanzania because they spent all their money in Kenya and only came to Tanzania for a day trip. So it was prohibited to cross the border. However, the border guards were not really interested in the decree, if they even knew about it, and there were no phones or anything so they just had to discuss us and our passage among themselves. While we were waiting at the border station a Masai man came along and offered us an elephant knife. This is a huge hand held thing that looks like a combination between a machete and a pirates’ sword. He was asking $40. Now remember, In those days there were no rules about carrying anything in your luggage all over the world. But, I said to my husband, “I am not going to carry this thing all over Africa with me. I will just buy one at the border when we are leaving.” Famous last words, I have never seen an elephant knife, or anything remotely resembling an elephant knife, again in my life.


Back to Florida 2020. 

           Before you get to Chokoloskee you will get to Everglades City. This little town has a very interesting history. It used to be the county seat of Collier County. In the 1920’s Florida ran out of money as it was building the “Tamiami Trail” which is a road from Tampa to Miami. Barron Collier had bought a great deal of land in southwest Florida around the 1920’s. It was in his interest to get the road finished so he offered to finish it himself providing Florida would create a new county and name it after him. They agreed and when the road was finished he decided he needed a county seat for his new Collier County. He decided on the village of Everglades which was about half way between Miami and the west coast of his county. He renamed the town Everglades City and started to build a capitol. He built planned boulevards and stately buildings. A resort named the Rod and Gun Club was opened and many famous people visited to hunt and fish. Then in 1960 came hurricane Donna. Most of the Ten Thousand Island area flooded, including Everglades City. Collier decided to move to Naples on the west coast of his county. It had damage from the hurricane but not as much flooding. If you go to Chokoloskee you will drive through Everglades city and see evidence of the planning. The City Hall is very prominent and you can have lunch at The Rod and Gun Club.

           We visited Chokoloskee again in early March 2020 just before COVID came to Florida. We stayed at the “Outdoor Resorts”. It is a more elegant campground than our first place and is also waterfront. The waterfront sites were all booked up but I was happy to be near the clubhouse which had several facilities and the plumbing was not backed up. We hired Louis ---- from the Native Boat Tours to take us on a boat trip. He took us to an island his family, who are Miccosukee, had once owned. It was both Mangrove swamp and firm ground. The government has bought it but the family still owns a small portion.

           Jim likes to go fishing so he took a fishing boat trip with Louis. Unfortunately they fished all day and only caught one fish. However, it was perfect for Jim and me to cook on our small grill in the campsite. There is nothing like a fresh caught fish. Jim is mostly polite when it comes to my camp cooking, or any of my cooking for that matter.  The camp cooking consists of instant dinners done in the microwave. 

Julia Shelly  Chapter 6, RVing in the time of COVID     May 2020


          So I have to thank another Janet. You may remember that Janet P got me started writing my RV journal. After the first trip she asked me if I had a journal, which I did not, and she suggested that I should start one as soon as possible. I took her advice and have been writing chapters every trip we take. 

           This time the Janet I am thanking is Janet S who asked me if I had read “Travels With Charley in search of America”. Probably I had not although I do remember when it was published. Perhaps I skimmed it. I do not remember that it started in Sag Harbor where John Steinbeck lived. As it happens he lived across the cove from my friend Janet S. The book starts with a storm, Hurricane Donna, which was September 1960. If you lived in Westhampton, as I did, you remember Donna. And if you lived in Naples, Florida you also remember it. I have friends who moved away from Naples permanently on account of Donna. But there was no Donna in May of 2020. There was COVID. 

           I feel as though Jim and I were starting our trip from Naples to East Hampton in a storm. The weather was perfect. The problem was the condition of America. We were not searching for America, but the question remained, what would we find in the midst of shutdowns and masks? Would we even be able to travel?

           We started out on a major Interstate #75  North. We did not have a storm but there were brush fires in the Everglades south of us. They did not affect our northbound route. If southwest Florida does not get rain in the springtime the brush and grasses in the Everglades get dry and it is easy to start a fire with a spark or any little thing. The fire department did have to close the road on a Miami bound section. A couple was rescued from their burning home with 10 minutes to spare. 

            In Ft Myers we saw a sign directing us to the Century Link baseball stadium to get tested for COVID. We saw a similar sign in Tampa. This testing is done while you sit in your car and the healthcare workers have a great deal of PPE. It is free. Since testing is limited the idea is to make it available in areas of the community where anyone, including the needy or uninsured, can just drive by. You cannot get it in your doctor’s office. Not bad for a red county. 

           We were heading for Georgia which was definitely opening. It is very nice to be traveling with your own bathroom and your own kitchen, not to mention bedroom.  We did have to get fuel along the way and we noticed that nobody was wearing masks anywhere near the gas station or surrounding businesses. To make sure we would have a place to spend the night we decided to go to a truck stop, Pilot Flying J, in Fort Wentworth, GA. We arrived around 11pm. It was crowded. The McDonalds, Subway, and gas station were open 24 hours. They were wearing masks and practicing social distancing. The parking lot was large and we were lucky to find a place to park. We parked next to a grassy lot. In theory this truck stop allowed RVs to park for the night. Some do not and it is wise to check their website or call before you make plans. Most of the trucks park next to each other  in big lines. Since the drivers sleep in their trucks they leave their ventilation on all night and it is noisy. I was able to sleep but Jim was bothered. 

           We headed off the next morning with no trouble. In general Jim and I do not like the GPS in Mercedes. Probably we just do not know how to operate it. Anyway, we get taken on the strangest routes. In this case we were going to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The GPS gave us the normal route, but it also gave us an alternative. It was a very odd route with several zigzags. However, it ended up going on a route, #17,  that is known to be beautiful and on which we had never driven. We decided to forgo the zigzags and just pick up the route on the most direct access road which was #64. Well we have to thank the GPS. We drove through lovely farmland. Then we arrived at the Great Dismal Swamp. Sooooo famous and I did not even know it was there. That name “Great Dismal Swamp” came from a surveyor in the 1720’s named William Byrd who was working in the area. I can only assume he had not seen many swamps since it is my thought that they all could be described as “dismal”. Because they consist of forested wetlands they have a very spooky atmosphere. But the area by the route #17 where we were driving was not dismal. The State Park rest stop is just lovely in spite of showing  signs of being a swamp. We did not have much time to look around and the rest stop/park was closed by Covid. We decided we must go back in better times.

           We love taking the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel partly because it avoids the Washington and Baltimore area and partly because it is beautiful. Since we are both children of sea captains we like the view and the experience. On the northern side of the bridge is an RV camp site called Sunset Beach. Thank heavens they had just opened the day before we arrived. They were about half full. In better times and in summer it is hard to get a site. They also rent luxury tents and one bedroom beach cottages. Everyone was being careful but not necessarily using masks. 

           The trip up the Delmarva peninsula (that is Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) can be slow but the roads are improving. Many chicken breeders operate alongside the traditional farms. Or sometimes they are just part of the traditional farms. There are big factories for processing the chickens. These are major agribusinesses like Tyson.  When you get to the north end of the peninsula you find  the New Jersey Turnpike. With the RV to consider we are always figuring out a way through the NYC area and out to East Hampton. You have to be careful for height restrictions and Parkway restrictions. 

           Many too many New Yorkers have come out to the East Hampton area to escape the city. The driving is tense and tempers are short. Not like Naples which was calmer. But it was very nice to have cool nights.

           One good thing about being in East Hampton is that we could invite my niece to come out to stay with us. She had been in quarantine in her family’s Manhattan apartment since being sent home from her college. Her college is St Andrews in Scotland. The rest of her family was in upstate NY. 

           Things were opening up bit by bit so she was able to take a bus. Since we have two sections of our house she was able stay in the rear and we could “social distance”. 

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