Friday, May 6, 2016

We drove from California to Florida

It's funny to say that taking a month to drive from California to Florida was a whirlwind adventure. But, with only being able to travel 2-3 days a week and trying to keep our distances to 200-250 miles each day, it ended up being an EPIC! 11-stop tour. Here was the plan:
Dateland, AZ
Our whiteboard plan
  1. Start near San Diego (in Jamul) and drive to Dateland, AZ
  2. From Dateland to Tucson, AZ
  3. Get into New Mexico and stop in Lordsburg
  4. Go to the other end of NM and stop at Las Cruces
  5. Drop down into Texas to Van Horn
  6. Stop for a visit to the Caverns of Sonora
  7. Visit with a buddy in Austin
  8. Visit with another buddy in Spring (near Houston)
  9. Make a work stop in Lafayette, Louisana
  10. Stop somewhere between Lafayette and Lake City, FL
  11. Catch up with Fulltime Family friends in Lake City
And then from there, we rallied with the Fulltime Families organization in Tampa, but that's a blog post for another day.

Like all good plans for us, it was constantly in flux as it was planned, as we started, and until we actually got to Lake City. We had some new experiences and some long driving nights (as we skipped stop #10 and pushed on to our friends in Lake City).

Dateland, AZ - Oasis RV Park at Aztec Hills, 4 nights

This was a great little park and a bit of an oddball as they don't have a website. Yes, this legitimately threw me for a loop. I almost passed it, but the reviews said it was decent and we were just looking for a place for 4 nights (Tues-Sat). I'm glad we stopped- the people were all super friendly. They even invited us to a bonfire for New Year's Eve (though, it wrapped up quite a bit before midnight at like 10pm!). I think, on average, most of the people there could have been our grandparents or even great grandparents.

It was a well kept little park. And it was really nice to take a walk out into the desert. We were able to get up close and personal with a huge cactus where we did the tourist thing and took photos with it! I did let my stereotype-thinking of Arizona get the best of me and took the kids up to the advertised "heated pool" only to find it was closed for the winter!

More than one person told me that when you stop in Dateland, that we absolutely had to try a "date shake" and that it was a delicacy unlike any other. We did, and it was unlike anything else- kind of eww. BUT, we also got a cactus shake and that was pretty good.
We did not take the Mexico exit
Whoops! The pool isn't open!
Our site
This hat was a gift from another RVer, he got to use it for the first time
Group bonfire
R/C in the desert
Checking out cacti
Exploring the desert
A real HUGE catcus! Just like the movies!

Tucson, AZ - winery in Elgin, 1 night

This was our first foray into staying at a Harvest Hosts location. All told, it was a beautiful stop but super cold and 30 miles off of the highway. We also didn't quite know what we were in for and our "free" night of a Harvest Host stay ended up costing about $42 which is likely more expensive than whatever dive of a RV park we would have stayed at much closer to the highway.

The winery staff was super friendly and welcoming to us as HH RVers. The server that did our tastings interacted with the kids and didn't snub down their noses at us having kids. After everyone went home, we went for a walk, and drove the R/C truck around for a while.

BUT, I had huge battery issues getting through the night. With the longer stay (overnights are usually late arrivals for us) and cold weather, I depleted my battery and had to switch to a truck battery; thank God I have 2 batteries in the truck!
Sonoita Vineyard (HH)
Our purchase for the night
Another view of the building and camper
Battery tricks to get through the night
Icy cold morning
It's good to be the driver, she manned the gate

Lordsburg, NM - KOA, 2 nights

On our way, we stopped at the western equivalent of South of the Border. A place that had billboards for a hundred+ miles leading up to it. All advertising "The Thing". After so many signs, my family is stopping. It was a touristy truck stop with a "museum" of questionable authenticity. But, the price was right $1-2 for each of us. We laughed as we went through it, so it was worth it. Plus, they had a Dairy Queen!

Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of KOAs. This one was decently kept and had a nice level pull through for us. We flopped back and forth on staying 1 or 2 nights here. The 2nd night was ultimately supposed to be a Harvest Hosts location, but after the battery debacle the night before at the winery, I decided that a stay at the KOA was more prudent. Good thing, too- it was cold and ugly!

There wasn't much to say about the KOA. It was well kept and clean. The bathrooms were a little outdated, but nothing offensive. It was just expensive.

The Thing?
Our site at the KOA
This is how windy it was- this stuff slide that far before tipping
My helper when I was dealing with the leak

Las Cruces, NM - Hacienda RV Resort, 4 nights

This place was very pretty. The welcome center/office was very reminiscent of a nice hotel. We had a very highly groomed pull through lot. The only real issue is that it wasn't quite long enough and we had to sort of squeeze the truck onto the site. I would happily go back here.

What I'm mad about is that we had a view of White Sands National Monument and didn't quite realize how close it was. PLUS, the weather was wet, cold, and kind of crappy. White Sands is on my bucket list and it makes me sad to know how close we were and didn't go!
The excitement for the week was the arrival of our new Berkey Water Filter.

This is what happens when you forget to raise the steps and move the camper to level it
It's so pretty! I can see me
The Berkey's home
The team is hard at work
A box never stops being fun
Playing in the box!
Setting up the weather radio
Our site at Hacienda RV Resort
Mountains + White Sands in the distance

Van Horn, TX - Desert Willow, 1 night

Desert Willow gets the prize for being our cheapest not-free stay anywhere (it's an Escapees park). It was in what was all but an abandoned town. We tried to walk to the pharmacy, but found that it was just a sign and some unrelated stores which were also closed for good. It was kind of depressing, but it had electric and sewer (water was turned off, for the season maybe?).
On the way, we stopped for fuel at a truck stop and found that it was fairly not busy so we went ahead and got weights. This gives us a good snapshot of where we're at (maxed out truck [12,340 lbs.] and a little over on the camper [16,840 lbs.]).

Our lunch stop view
Driving into the mountains
US Border Patrol stop
Van Horn, TX and stayed at Desert Willow RV park. This was a surprise gem and only $13.50/night with our Escapees membership.
The pharmacy that wasn't a pharmacy
Yeah, it was cold!
Truck and Camper Weights

Sonora, TX - Caverns of Sonora, 2 nights

I was a little excited to find this gem and moreso that it fell inline with our planned drive and stopping points. The spots were water + electric only with no sewer. They were a little tight for our 42' fifth wheel and I actually parked the truck up in the parking lot. And finally, when I plugged into the 50amp plug on the pedestal, my EMS didn't allow power into the camper and gave an error code. Chalk one up to being properly equipped to handle bad campground power!

Otherwise, the staff was very friendly. They had a deer feeder out so we could watch deer come and go as they pleased. And the actual cavern tour was very neat. Unlike most caves, these caverns were a sweltering 70-80 degrees with very high humidity!

The warm/cold cycles took its toll in the same spot, only on the cold line vs. the hot line. Oh and, discipline is the same in the camper as home!
Our site was pretty cozy, but it was good enough for 2 nights.
I wanna see your peacock!
Walking up hill.
Stalactites and stalagmites
Family picture inside of the Caverns of Sonora
Yet another water leak, on the cold this time
The water leak evidence
Bare butt timeout

Austin, TX - Oak Forest, 5 nights

My buddy Austin moved to Austin and he doesn't think that's weird. But then again, Austin's (the city) motto is "Keep Austin Weird", so maybe it's all in the plan. We had some great visits with Austin and had some really wonderful food and one, not so wonderful, drink- Big Red. Austin played a great tour guide. Thanks!
I love a woman who drives + tows
Because I get to do this!
Terrible "buddy" site facing our neighbor
Playground fun
Instant buddies
These things are AWESOME at keeping your cup cabinet under control
Proof of the awesomeness of the Ikea Hofta, they stay like this for travel.
Some Wii time
Still buddies
The kitchen @ The Salt Lick
Graffiti Park at Castle Hill
Graffiti Park at Castle Hill
FTF = Fulltime Families. REPRESENTING!
The duo
Fifth wheel and truck
Austin and I
More of the artwork
RV There Yet?

Spring, TX - Rayford Crossing, 2 nights

Moving on, we headed to Spring, TX where my friend Burdell moved. On the way, we passed one of the true Texas classics, a Buc-ee's. Since we had heard so much about them, we had to stop.

We had dinner at his spectacularly beautiful place. He fed us some fantastic bar-be-que from a local join and we sat and enjoyed each other's company for the night. These are some of the greatest visits as I have very few pictures- it means that we were in the moment of friendship and the camera was forgotten.
Love posing with statues of animal mascots
Spicy fudge... I'm not so sure about that
This was about 1/2 of the store- the convenience store side
Our pull through spot
The pool was gorgeous
Walking my box to the dumpster

Breaux Bridge, LA - Pioneer Acadian Village, 4 nights

Breaux Bridge is just outside of Lafayette and my work has an office there. I took the opportunity to meet people that I've worked with for quite a long while but have never actually met. There was some hilarious discussion over the pronunciation of "Breaux Bridge" - the woman who checked me in called it "Bo Bridge" but my coworkers tell me that's a terrible accent and that it's really "Bro Bridge". Either way, turning "eaux" to "o" is dumb, and you can quote me on that!

Again with the eating, one coworker took me under his wing and showed me some of the local eateries for lunches. I ate some things that I could never have thought to cook, but man, were they good! And, a stop to Lafayette wouldn't be complete without going to a drive-through daiquiri place; only we didn't drive up, we went inside for drinks and hanging out for a while. Good stuff, though- apparently "strawberry" is NOT the only flavor of daiquiri.
Tile work in highway restroom
Playground at highway rest stop
CGI building in downtown Lafayette
Daniel, Lafayette guide + coworker
Lunch was catfish, cornbread dressing, brocoli salad, rice + beans
CGI office
Campsite without the rain, looks a bit better
Playing with the baby
Drive Through Daiquiris
Mandie's jewelry cabinet- Command Hooks

Lake City, FL - Lake City RV Resort, 8 nights

That website is terrible, look at the old one for Oaks N Pines which is what it used to be called. We didn't plan on making it to Lake City straight from Lafayette. The last thing that I did in Louisiana was let us run completely out of propane again (yes, this is time #8 or so, but who is counting?!). We stopped at a U-Haul store to get the tanks filled. Mandie checked that we should have a clear shot and not get trapped. What Google Maps didn't show us was that the exit to the parking lot was steep- steep enough that I smashed my rear electric stabilizers and had pieces dragging as I drove down the road. We stopped at the first chance we could- a truck stop, but it was around 3 traffic circles.

As you can see from our original plan, we didn't intend to drive the almost a 600 mile drive in one shot. It is the type of distance that we had been breaking into 2 legs. The problem is that our RV park options were pretty slim pickings AND we were in snowbird territory, so what was open was full. A few years ago, we stopped and stayed overnight at the Camping World in Tallahassee, but when we drove around there were new signs saying the spots were for service guests only. We didn't get a warm cushy feeling from it, so we headed on down the road. We drove around another park late at night; a twisty little thing only to get to the office and find a sign that said "no vacancies". That piece of information would have been useful before getting deep into the park as I'm pretty sure I nicked a tree branch on my skylight and broke it.

Oh well, it wasn't the first time we driven 600 miles. We got to Lake City between 1 and 2am and found an easy pull through spot. We parked and realized that we had just pulled up next to our friends, the Churches!

Wanting a more friendly and "in yo face" setup, we pulled into our pull-through backwards so that our doors faced each other. It was pretty nice to be camping with friends again. We played games, ate meals, drank, and even shot some pool at the campground pool table. It was a wonderful week of friendship.
Tony the tiger
Removing parts to get back on the road
Reading at night
It was pretty dark
Battery testing with a hydrometer
Cards Against Humanity
Yep, this is it.
Welp, that's all the wine.
Turned our camper around for some up-close and lovin' time.
Vacuum hose holder for our central vac
Karen kicks ass, up on top like a boss
Riding to our geocache
We found it!
Hanging out in the rec. center
Temporarily sealing the skylight
Doing the domicile ("residency" thing for Florida)

In perspective, this was right during the major bilzzard back home. Here's what our house looked like!
In comparison, this is our house at the same time


And with that, our trek across the country was done. We stayed with the Churches for a week and had a great time. Together we moved down to Lazy Days in Tampa for the lead up to the Fulltime Families rally.

I will say, for long distance moves- I think my family would have been happier with fewer but longer driving days. Maybe make a few 500 mile days and really cover some ground since we didn't stop to smell the roses any way.

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