St. Andrews State Park
Panama City Beach, FL
Hoo Betty – it’s cold here.
I came to Florida to stop shivering in the cold, and got no relief today. After last night’s storm, it took all day to warm up to only 49 degrees. I actually wore my big parka – hood up with mittens – to walk the dog this morning. Shadow was in a lively spry mood, so the day was spent taking lots of walks, with me wearing multiple sweaters and the dog happily trotting in the chilly wind.
Between the lagoon (where the campground is located) and the beach is an area called Gator Lake. It’s a brackish pond that’s home to large white egrets, blue herons, googly-eyed frogs and a good population of alligators.
I stood some time on the visitor boardwalk checking for gator-like movement in the pond before I was brave enough to venture out on the nature trail. Hearing a quick rustle in the margin, I stood still until a small gator about two feet long revealed itself. He looked puny and unlikely to attack, but I did give him a wide margin.
I’d been looking forward to a swell seafood dinner all week – had my mouth set for scallops – so tonight I perused several restaurants up on the main drag, Thomas Drive. Couldn’t find a scallop in town. But there’s lots of fried shrimp and “market price” oysters, which turned out to be about a buck apiece.
I ended up at a little dive called Scampy’s and had their signature dish which was mealy shrimp on top of overcooked angel hair pasta. Disappointing. But the key lime pie was fresh, local and sublime.
Speaking of fresh and local, in the booth behind me sat a couple of goofy gay guys, gelled hair and inked up and talking really loud. I heard one of them say:
“That’s like asking me what the color of number nine smells like.”
It was such a stoner thing to say and I laughed out loud, which of course made them even louder and more outrageous. Dinner and a show. It was the best part of the evening.
Panama City Beach, FL
A nasty storm swept in last night, bringing rain and cold weather to the Panhandle. I stayed in all morning drinking chicory coffee and reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time. So in homage to J. D. Salinger, I will write these next few paragraphs in a mockery of his peculiar style, some plagiarizing included…
The Catcher in the Rain
“If you really want to hear about it, I’ll tell you what it’s like here and all, even though you’ve probably looked at the goddamn pictures already. I mean I would have, if you want to know the truth. Look at the pictures, and all that. Just to see if I might like the article it or not, although I probably would be bored reading it. But I would look at the goddamn pictures first.
Anyway, there’s these two old ladies camped next door to me. They’re in a crummy tent, I mean it’s nice and all but it’s a crummy tent that flaps in the wind, and it’s been very windy here. They tried to give my dog some pancakes yesterday, the two old ladies. Goddamn pancakes. Wrapped in some leftover aluminum foil, like it’s ready for the garbage but instead they tried to feed it to my goddamn dog. So I said to them, “Don’t feed the dog.” And even though I said it nice and all, I just wanted them to go back to their goddamn crummy tent. Boy, I really did.
I sort of felt bad later like, with those two old ladies sitting in a crummy tent that flaps all day in the lousy wind. I kept worrying about them. With the rain and all that crap. I don’t know why. Probably because the goddamn wind was really howling, and I was thinking this would be a bad time to be camping in a goddamn crummy tent.”
(Thanks, Salinger – that was fun copying your style!)
I cruised around town a couple of rainy hours in the afternoon. It’s a good-sized beach town with all the requisite ocean view condos, ticky-tacky tee shirt shops, tattoo parlors, drinking establishments, scooter rentals, and beach clubs. Love it.
Panama City Beach also retains large neighborhoods of Old Florida homes – low bungalows with shuttered windows, often painted in bright colors and usually sporting a boat in the yard. It gives the area a nice homey feel – lived in and well loved.
A long pier is on the Gulf side of town. It was too chilly and wet to advance very far, so I took a few quick snapshots at the entrance and hustled back to the warmth of the rental car.
I was looking forward to a good-sized splurge on a seafood supper tonight, but the second wave of the storm hit just as I prepared to drive out of the campground. The wind is howling across the lagoon, the motorhome started rocking and swaying a bit, and I decided that staying put was the wisest choice.
And I am a little worried about the old ladies camped in the tent next to me.
St. Andrews State Park
Panama City Beach
I am loving this state park. It’s deliciously dark at night, a spray of stars overhead and a glow on the lagoon from the lights across the bay. At night the tree frogs chortle and chip from the palm trees and the campground settles down to quiet.
The cab curtains are open to enjoy the waterside view, and dawn broke with a golden glow. I took an early morning walk and watched the herons stretch from their slumber. Two dolphins glided noiselessly by within 10 feet of shore.
This would be a perfect park to ride the motorcycle, but it has been left at home. It’s a two person job to load and unload it from the carrier rack, and not an easy task I can press on a stranger to help me. I’ve been looking for an alternative rack or trailer that I could load by myself, but the prices are in the thousands.
So I rented a car from Enterprise. It’s a cheap and fast, and they met me at the park entrance this morning.
Then off for a long day at the beach. It was splendidly sunny, beautifully breezy, and barely occupied in the lull before Spring break begins. Heaven.
This is what I came to Florida for – and this beach was worth the drive.
St. Andrews State Park
Panama City Beach, FL
Last night’s camp by the swampy lake was a bit creepy. I was the only guest for the evening, excluding the opossums, and as soon as the fog lifted at daybreak I was outta there.
Next came a two-hour drive through Alabama’s back roads. Yesterday I speculated what was behind all the pine trees along the interstate, and today I found out: more pine trees. And a scattering of hard-scrabble farms.
Florala was the biggest town I drove through, situated on the state line. I remember Florala from 30 years ago being a charming and bustling little town. But time has not been kind to this country burg, and downtown seemed desolate and depressed for a Monday morning.
A bunch of endless driving miles later I started seeing signs for the Beaches, and I perked up at the prospect of being back among the living.
The sun was glorious and temperature in the 70’s as I rolled into St. Andrews State Park, at the tip of Panama City Beach peninsula. I took a slow drive around the park and stopped to admire the pristine dunes and the sugar-white sand.
The campground is located on the lagoon side of the peninsula, and I’m parked right on the water’s edge. Campers are bustling about, nearly every site is full, and I had a few friendly conversations with my neighbors already. Shadow and I are are relaxed and at ease tonight. Quite a change from last night’s Deliverance creep camp.
Dash Cam Highlights
I spent the day driving the length of Alabama, and can confidently report there’s nothing to see from the highway. The interstate is neatly hemmed in by a wide margin of pine trees. On all sides. From north to south.
In Kentucky and Tennessee, it’s possible to be a passive Peeping Tom. The landscape is wide open to peer into little villages and hollers, and down on a lazy creek or comely pond as you cruise by at 65 mph. Homestead farms line the sides of the interstate, and you can squeeze a guess at people’s lives from the clapboard houses, double wide trailers, and prim little brick homes. Each has an antique barn a few steps away, with old boards peeling julienne-style and galvanized roofs sporting crimson splotches of rust. You can catch a glimpse of lopsided swing sets, puttering tractors, and cattle wandering home. It all sets the mood.
But here in Alabama the margins are thick and wooded. There’s hardly a peek at what’s behind the ever-present pines, Could be a cotton field or a golf course or a space shuttle landing strip. You just don’t know. All that’s visible in a day’s drive is an endless corridor of asphalt and trees. So it’s hard to get a sense of the place.
The day provided only two good diversions. First at the Peach Tower where I stopped for an in-coach sandwich lunch. Peach and fruit stands were situated on the side roads, but alas it’s the wrong season and all were closed for winter.
The second side trip was on the way to Sweet Home Alabama campground. It’s 25 miles off the highway, down a couple of lakeside roads so remote that the GPS gave up. I was a little apprehensive about this place when I arrived – the campground office is also the bait shop and I seemed to be the only guest this evening.
But owner, Tom, was pleasant and generously guided my backing-in efforts. He was also a great help when an outside bin jammed up. The bin holds the power cords and water hose, items I would definitely like to use tonight. The water hose had shifted in transit and the metal end wedged between the sidewall and the bin lock. Tom’s shim loosened the snag, and I was a happy camper again.
I’m sure there’s plenty of good reasons that Alabama is considered the Heart of Dixie, but regrettably I didn’t see anything heartfelt or charming from the highway today. Perhaps I’ll get a better feel for the state tomorrow.
Dash Cam Highlights
This morning my horoscope read –
“You’re ready for a fearless and freewheeling adventure.”
So I threw the dog in the motorhome, kissed the hubby goodbye, and pointed the nose cone south.
I felt that little tingle of excitement that always rises at the start of a new journey. The sun was shining, skies pale blue, and a wispy half-moon hung low in the morning. It was promising to be a beautiful day, and I knew I’d find myself bored and stiff from the drive later in the afternoon, so I relished the moment.
Tim has been called up for jury duty, so rather than go adventuring with me, he’ll be performing his civic duty in the stuffy Hall of Justice and get paid a whopping $12.50 a day for his trouble. I believe that will cover about an hour of downtown parking and two miles worth of gas.
As I left town the winter grass was the color of shredded wheat at the bottom of a breakfast bowl, and just as soggy after months of snow and ice. A couple hours later, traveling a chippy 61 miles per hour – hey, I’m driving a house here, it’s built for comfort not for speed! – I passed a series of little towns and attractions who make their living off tourism crumbs that fall from Mammoth Cave National Park.
Signs announced exits for Horse Cave, Cave City, Lost River Cave, and Kentucky Down Under – which astonishingly isn’t a cavern tour at all, but a zoo filled with animals from Australia. Go figure.
Further down the road is Bowling Green where the Corvette plant churns out swanky sports cars. This is also the home of The Corvette Museum, recently in the news because a giant sinkhole opened up under the showroom and swallowed about a dozen prized and irreplaceable Corvettes. Pictures from the site looked like a gargantuan toddler had thrown all his toy cars in a giant toilet, added some rocks and gravel from the backyard and held down the flush handle. Cars lay jumbled and crunched in a hole of such immense size that the bottom couldn’t be found. I’m sure many a serious car collector shed a tear and then scrabbled to his own garage to check the floor for cracks.
So naturally I had to stop by and see the mess. Sure enough, there were stern looking contractors in hard hats shuffling around the rim of the hole, just barely visible from outside the iconic bright yellow dome where I stood with a couple of other gawkers.
The directors of the Corvette Museum have vowed stoically to carry on, and will rebuild the showroom – get this – in the exact same location! I can only imagine how this decision was made…
Say, Earl, what do you think we should do now?
Geez, Bob, why don’t we toss in a couple metric tons of concrete and lay some rebar on top. That should do it, don’t ya think?
Great idea, Earl! Cos’ there’s nothing wrong with the big yellow dome.
I guarantee if you talked to any farmer in these parts he’d tell you sinkholes don’t scab over and heal themselves. They only go two directions – wider and deeper. And usually a hundred feet away a couple of new holes open up and start gobbling up the landscape like country cousins.
While I was standing in front of the Visitor Center pondering all this, a woman came up and requested a picture of the dog. Our Siberian Husky attracts a lot of attention, so this was nothing new. But Shadow, in an uncanny sense of timing, began twirling around on the end of the leash preparing to make a large deposit on the pristine sidewalk. I scuttled him over to some rose bushes just in the nick of time and heard the faint click of a camera behind me. I’m sure she’ll be very proud of that picture when she gets home.
The dog and I beat a hasty retreat, not just because we had despoiled the landscaping, but also it crossed my mind that another sinkhole could easily peril the parking lot and the motorhome might be swallowed whole.
We cruised uneventfully through Nashville and then the remainder of Tennessee, stopping for an occasional stretch of the legs and to photograph the colorful redneck population. It wasn’t until we reached Alabama that I finally spotted the first true green grass, a good sign that warmer climes are ahead.
Tonight we are resting in Point Mallard, a swell and pleasingly priced campground near Decatur. Supper has been enjoyed and the Olympics are playing on a crystal local channel. Time to tuck in.
Dash Cam Highlights:
It’s Valentine’s Day, and nothing says Love like sweet new electronics!
As the Sochi Olympics play in the background, I’ve been on a jag of watching those crazy Russian dash cam videos on YouTube. Check out Vodka Video – lots of wild fender benders and possibly the world’s worst drivers. They slide, they slip, drive way too fast, never use the brakes, and have spectacular smashes and near-misses. Hilarious to watch – no one gets hurt – but some fancy cars get banged up. And the drivers seem pretty calm about it all. Must happen a lot.
Seems like most folks in Russia have these tiny video cameras in their cars. Mounted on the windshield, the high-def digital cameras turn on automatically and record your whole drive. How great would that be when we’re touring around in the coach!
So that was Tim’s gift for Valentines – dash cam DOD LS300W. We took it on a test drive tonight – in freezing rain on a dark-dark night, a true test of any camera. The picture quality was better than I hoped for, even under those extreme conditions, and should be truly splendid on a sunny day.
Here’s our tame video from the new dash cam (no smash incurred):
We’re hoping to capture some good video of the countryside as we travel around this year. And also hoping to avoid any crazy drivers!
I’m trying hard to remember the 60’s.
Degrees, that is!
It’s been a wicked winter. Interminable. Tenacious and Endless. As I pull on another sweater and stare out frosted windows at ice and snow that refuses to melt, my thoughts take flight to warmer climes.
I’m checking the maps for the shortest route to the beach. Any beach. Where the sun is glinting on sand and surf instead of upon icicles and salted roads. Watching beach webcams is now my daily entertainment. Here’s one of my favorites…
The motorhome is currently in the shop for service. We like to beat the spring rush and get the RV ready to roll in February, before everyone else wakes up from a long winter nap.
RV maintenance can be pricey – more than servicing a car because there’s so many other components like slide-outs, appliances, and 100 miles of electrical wiring.
We do fix all the simple stuff ourselves, especially if it’s mechanical – I’m pretty brave about taking things apart and fiddling around. But the big electrical and hydraulic systems are another matter. These are complicated (and expensive) components which are beyond my Poke & Hope abilities.
Such as the inverter LCD panel which has been fitful since we bought the coach. It’s the only way to turn on the inverter, and it has deteriorated to a point where it works only 1 out of every 10 times.
What’s an inverter? Simple answer is it allows us to use the electrical outlets when we’re not plugged into power. It converts (inverts) power from the three big DC coach batteries to AC outlet juice. So if I’m stopped at a rest area or stuck in an Epic Traffic Jam and want to turn on the TV, use the toaster, or blow dry my hair (hah!) the inverter comes into play.
There was evidence the previous owner had replaced the inverter LCD panel – it must have been fritzy for him, too. So we ordered a new one. And then another. And then two more. Went through four new panels in all, with a fifth waiting in the closet. Obviously there’s an underlying problem. But each time I brought it to the dealer for inspection, it was the 1 in 10 times it was working. Of course.
This time the dealer finally pulled the inverter out from underneath the dinette and shipped it back to the factory. Yep, bad circuit board. Not something I could have fiddle-fixed, even though I tried gamely for about a year.
Next week the coach will be ready to roll.
And I may not be able to resist the call of the beach!
Hear the Call of the Beach:
Courtesy: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service