A Year On The Road – The Final Maps

Back in Orlando again, it’s time to tot up the final mileage and trace our entire route (in 2 maps) around the US. We reached West Glacier, Montana, at our furthest distance from Orlando at almost 2,700 miles away, albeit we reached there via a distinctly circuitous route that involved fully 12 states!

The first 7 months saw us take in by far the biggest ‘chunk’ of our year-long route, including side-trips into Colorado and Southern California by car, as well as parts of Northern Arizona and New Mexico

The “return journey” from there was also far from a straight line, taking in another 10 states before completing what was essentially a giant circle of the Midwest, the North, South West and Southern states. For much of the last 5 months we were close to the Gulf of Mexico before coming back into Florida via Pensacola and the Panhandle area, where we were definitely able to relax a bit (albeit keeping more than one eye on staying out of the way of some seriously stormy weather).

The final five months took us from the heart of New Mexico down to the far south-western corner of Texas, then right around the Gulf of Mexico via Galveston, New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulf Shores

So, with no further ado and a bit of a fanfare – “Ta RA!!!!!” – our final mileage comes to, wait for it…35,186 miles since we left home on May 14, 2023. In our RV, Fati, we traveled a total distance of 9,846 miles, while in our trusty little Ford Fiesta, Nippy, we added a whopping additional 25,840.

Somehow, we’re all still in one piece, albeit Fati has been in for several repairs and 2 full services, while Nippy is heading for a fourth service today and has needed new tires, windshield wipers and two air filters (!). Needless to say, we are immensely proud of our Ford-engined Winnebago RV, as well as our little Fiesta, and they both now deserve a good rest.

Finally back in Florida, we spent a quiet week in a beautiful little RV campground in Milton in the Panhandle before turning south for the last leg of the year-long trip

Will we have more travels to report anytime soon? The debate is now on at Chez Veness! We DO have a fair bit of work to catch up on first, but there is already talk of an East Coast RV tour, as well as a possible trip out West to the areas we missed this time, namely Washington, Oregon and Northern California, as well as more of Colorado.

So, stay tuned for further travel bulletins, and, if you have liked and enjoyed our blogs, please leave us a comment and be sure to check out our YouTube channel for a series of snapshot videos of the trip on this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP5dY0TcznDGkOY8BQUkpQg

Bye for now…!

Enter The Jungle

When is a campground only 29 miles away from your previous location but a million miles away from harsh reality? When it’s The Hideaway Retreat in Navarre, Florida, an oasis of magnolia trees, white sand beach, and the blue, blue, blue of the ocean.

Okay, so maybe it’s on the Santa Rosa Sound, not the ocean, but the effect is the same. A self-proclaimed “shabby chic” retreat that offers rare shade in the Sunshine State, the Hideaway scared us at first for its close-together trees, then proved to be far more straightforward than we imagined, and a gem of a place we’ll return to if we ever get the chance.

When you live in an RV, every noise matters. We know all of our noises, from the occasional hum of the fridge as it tries to freeze everything solid to the gentle click of the light switches and the metal “pop” as the slides or the jacks settle in during cold weather. But the muffled thumping we kept hearing eluded us. What the hell was it?

This isn’t the source of the thumping noise. It’s a squirrel (clinging to the sawed-off part of the trunk) that swore at us for a full five minutes because we were parked so close to its tree. We eventually came to an agreement, and he/she moved on.

It drove us to distraction until we asked one of the staff and they told us it was testing that takes place at the Hurlburt Air Force Base Special Operations Command’s training grounds, just across the Sound. They’re blowing things up, but don’t worry; after a while you won’t hear it anymore. Which was (partly) true. It was simply one of those background noises that makes RVers (okay, us) wonder if something on their rig is eager to meet a mobile mechanic and will cost many, many hard-earned dollars.

The strip of land at the far side of the Sound is the training grounds. It looks far in the photo, but it’s not, really.

That problem solved, Simon had never seen the movie The Truman Show, but was aware Seaside, Florida, not far away, was the setting for the fictional town of Seahaven, so we had a drive along the coast the next day with that town as our goal. When we arrived, we couldn’t escape the feeling that it was very much like the formerly-Disney-owned town of Celebration, which some say looks like a Normal Rockwell painting and others say is more along the lines of The Stepford Wives.

Row after row of condos and single-family homes, and nearly all of them were painted white.

This is a single family home. And it isn’t even the biggest along the shoreline in this area.

Unfair movie comparisons aside, Seaside clearly has money. It also has a lot of community amenities, including an intriguing area featuring permanent kiosks and food trucks that would have been perfect for lunch.

But we’d already eaten, having stopped at Beach Camp Brewpub, not realizing Seaside was so close. Still, Simon had a huge bowl of gumbo and a beer, Susan went for a cup of Brunswick Stew and iced tea, and we split sides of cheese grits and collard greens, all of which were delicious. Simon being Simon, Sticky Toffee Bread Pudding rounded off a fine meal.

Thick and rich and scarfable!

Trio of deliciousness!
Yes, yes, yes! But more caramel sauce, please.

The next day we had hiking and a boat tour on our radar, for a bit of exercise and the chance to get out on the water. Arcadia Mill has a three-quarter-mile-long, dog-friendly boardwalk through what was once antebellum Florida’s first water-powered industrial complex. Very little remains of that logging endeavor, other than a few ruins of retaining walls, but it’s a gorgeous walk through the forest, with peaceful streams running languidly across our path. True balm for the soul.

Venomous snakes, bears, slippery boardwalks, and 24-hour surveillance. This should be fun!

Why do we love views like this one so much? Perfection!

We started the adventure with a little picnic of sandwiches, carrots, and fruit, then did the full loop, with Ruthie making the trek in her wagon.

After consulting her vet about the more advanced laryngeal paralysis our pup is experiencing, walks are now out of the question for her, but she seems to appreciate getting around comfortably when the path isn’t too bumpy.

Who’s a beautiful girl? YOU ARE!

The boat tour? Well, that didn’t really work out. Simon wanted to “drop by” and find out more about it, but when we arrived it was someone’s house. No one came out when we pulled into the driveway. It all got very awkward, with shades of our horrible coffee debacle in Leiter, Wyoming, so we backed out and agreed we’d better call first.

While we couldn’t go boating (renting is cost-prohibitive here), we did take time to head down to the Destin marina for a view of the famous Crab Island. It was once a real “island” in the North Channel, but much of it washed away, and now it’s a massive sand bar with four-foot-deep water, making it an ideal spot for boaters who want to chill out or party.

A tiny, tiny portion of the “island.”

We could see it well from the marina, but had an even better view as we crossed over the William T. Marler Bridge (Highway 98). It was jam-packed on that sunny Friday afternoon, with weather in the high 80s, and we imagine it’s shoulder-to-shoulder and boat-to-boat in high summer.

Those with a keen eye will have noticed the floating tiki huts. During busy times, mobile food and drink boats (not you, alcohol) putter out to the island and offer their wares. This little shaved ice and ice cream boat was just coming back to the mainland for refills.

But possibly the best thing we did in Navarre was hang out near the beach at our campground, eating ice cream, having a drink, and watching through our binoculars as boats went by. Only a few times during this trip have we just kicked back and acted like real campers. We could get used to it.

We Are Absolutely Not Going Anywhere

Simon: Let’s go to Milton as our first week in Florida. There’s nothing nearby to tempt us away from the campground, and we can push through the work we need to get done so we can enjoy our final stops.
Susan: Perfect. If I can count on that, I’ll fill up the fridge and plan for all our meals at home.
Simon: You can count on it.
Also Simon (first full day at campground): Let’s do a loop around East Bay and down to the coast today and visit Pensacola tomorrow! YAY! GO, GO, GO!!!

The man just can’t. But our thoughts are starting to focus on our return home and the major decisions we’ll be facing once we’re back, so we agreed to two days exploring, and the rest of the time in the rig getting a jump on preparations for summer’s onslaught.

With a view like this, why leave?

If you have other things to do, here’s the short version: We pretty much did nothing, other than two short excursions. For the longer version, read on.

Resting scowl-face!

When we checked in at Avalon Landing RV Park, we were offered an upgrade to a water site for $30 ($4.28 a night), and while we weren’t quite sure we wanted the extra fee, we agreed, and it was a decision that really paid off. Birds swooping and diving, mullet jumping, people fishing from the bridge; absolute viewing perfection from inside the rig while we worked, and from outside with our pre-dinner drinks.

We spent the first day “at home” getting laundry, shopping, and a little bit of work done, then set out for a loop around the bay the next day. When we reached the Gulf, we both had a little catch in our breath, seeing the wonderfully familiar blue of the water. Florida, in our opinion, has the most beautiful ocean water in the country (well, around the country, really), with its deep blues and bright blues that are even more radiant against the Panhandle’s superb white-sand beaches.

The next day we drove south, then turned west along the single road through Gulf Islands National Seashore, which we had first encountered ‘way back in Mississippi. Little dune-ettes – tiny by Lake Michigan standards – stretched the full length, with the occasional peek at the sea on one side, and the East Bay on the other. A gentle day, yes, but we felt the full impact of being so close to the end of our adventure.

Next up was Pensacola, with its pretty downtown balconies reminiscent of New Orleans, and an up-close (-ish) view of Captain America, an off-shore support vessel that helps install and decommission things like drilling rigs and wind farms. The ship was just paying a visit, and its home port is Pascagoula, Mississippi.

A historical marker at Palafox Pier, where the ship is anchored, recalls a darker time. Pensacola’s history of importing enslaved Africans is long, dating back to the mid-1500s. First the Spanish, then the English, shipped human “cargo” to the area, presumably landing at or near what is now the pier. It also recalls the people who escaped enslavement and hid out in Pensacola’s relative remoteness. Their ancestors, the sign indicates, helped shape the character of the city.

Why is this marker important? Because it (and others like it, specifically in St. Augustine, Florida) counters the history we were taught in school, that slavery began in Virginia in the mid-1600s. St. Augustine saw its first slaves in the early 1500s. These markers are so easy to overlook, but we’ve been surprised at how much they’ve inspired us to learn more about things we didn’t know, or thought we knew.

The rest of our time was spent working, putting “decisions” in motion, and enjoying our gorgeous view. We’ll have one more beach destination, two more short moves, and then a very special finale to what has been a mind-expanding trip.