Back in the Saddle: Manatees, Frozen Pipes, NOLA, & More

New Year’s Eve with Manatees!

We had a great, low key couple of weeks in Tampa after getting back from Costa Rica. Travis spent a week back in North Carolina with family over Christmas, my dad and I champion ate, napped, and watched movies while he was away. Very lazy and relaxing.

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This sums up Christmas perfectly.

On New Year’s Eve, Travis and I woke up at about 4:45am to drive north to the Crystal River area to do an early morning swim with manatees. We booked a 7 am trip with River Ventures in Homosassa – it seemed to be a less busy location overall compared to Crystal River, and we knew that tour boats can haul up to 35 people at once to where the manatees congregate – which is in various locations in the area due to the water, which stays at about 73 degrees throughout the year. We didn’t want to be on a boat with 35 people.

We also read that manatees tend to hang in bigger groups when it’s cold out, so early morning trips make for better viewing opportunities.

As a bonus treat for waking up at such an ungodly hour, we saw the super moon set on the way. It was still pitch black when we rolled up at 6:30am, but we discovered there would only be 5 people on our tour. YAS.

Before squeezing into full body wetsuits, we watched a short intro video that explained how to not be an asshole around manatees. No yelling or being loud in general, no kicking or splashing in the water ’cause they can already hear your heartbeat from 7 damn feet away, and you can only touch a manatee if it gives you permission by approaching YOU first, with only one hand. Also, you cannot chase the manatee if it swims away and decides it is done with you. After watching the video, I decided that I would also like to be treated like a manatee.

Once we were all suited up, our guide Shana and captain Evan cruised us down the river into the sunrise. Steam lifted off the water; the temperature was about 53 degrees. We were all pretty pumped to hop into the 73-degree water.

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As soon as we made it to the swim site, two manatees approached the boat and started chewing on the ropes. I guess they like chewing on stuff with their big back molars but they are 100% vegetarian and harmless. We were the ONLY boat there! We dropped slowly and quietly into the water with pool noodles to put under our waists and proceeded to dead man float and arms-only doggy paddle all over the area.

The sun wasn’t up yet so it was a bit dark, and the water was murky because there were indeed manatees all over the place but they’d been stirring up the muck on the bottom. They surface for air somewhat frequently, so little manatee snooters were popping out of the water everywhere, 1 and 2 feet from us, but we couldn’t see them unless they were right up in our business.

If these things were anything other than completely harmless and adorable, it would probably be terrifying, because I’d be swimming along and then BAM, a 900-pound sea elephant was RIGHT under me or next to me. Sometimes they will surface under you and you just get to go for a fun full or partial out-of-water ride on its back! Most of the animals had scars on their tails and backs from boats, but apparently they have super thick hides and skin and do heal from it – our captain said that it’s not the boat propellers that will kill or hurt a manatee, it’s when a boat is going fast and hits them that will wipe one out.

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This guy had big ‘ole barnacles on its back.

We noodled around in the water for about an hour and a half – I had to throw in the towel because I was shivering and couldn’t stop. The wetsuits were great, but the main way anyone keeps warm in cold water is by swimming, and we weren’t swimming because you’re not allowed to kick or splash. But it wasn’t before one of the baby manatees came up to us and gave us a great show!

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The cutest blubbery blob I’ve ever seen.

Afterward we went to the Ellie Schiller Wildlife State Park to see birds, fish, and more manatees. Most of the animals were rehabs from injuries – we saw bald eagles, osprey, foxes, flamingoes (they stink to high heaven!), pelicans, pink spoon bills, herons, a cougar, a bobcat, gators, a hippo, the most adorable ground owl ever, and tons of snook and jack crevalle.

 

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A fishnado.

Aaaand that was the extent of our New Year’s partying – we were tired AF once we finally got home and had little to no interest in staying up late – passed out after watching the newest episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix. 😀

Tallahassee

We hit the road again on the morning of Friday, January 5th. We wanted to head straight to New Orleans but that’s a bit too far from Tampa for a single day’s drive so we stopped outside of Tallahassee in Chattahoochee at CCC’s Campground. What a great spot! It was a smaller campground amidst pine trees, quiet, not packed (love when this happens), and only $31/night.

CCC’s would have been a great place to hang out for the work week – the WiFi worked well, staff were all super friendly, the facilities were great. It was cold, though! The whole eastern seaboard got hit with bombogenesis so being in Florida we obviously couldn’t complain, but we were surprised that it dipped into freezing temps overnight.

We were warned to leave our tap running, which we did, but we also didn’t want our tanks to fill overnight since we weren’t hooked up to sewer, so we left them on a very slow drip. Apparently it wasn’t enough though, because we woke early in the morning to no running water. Our exterior water hose froze. Oops! We weren’t too worried about bursting pipes since we did have a drip going, but thanks to a couple Google searches, we learned that you can un-freeze the hose connector and regulator with a hair dryer and once you’ve done that, thaw the house out by showering with it.

I actually didn’t BRING a hair dryer on this RV trip (ain’t nobody got time for that) but the RV already had one of those funny little hotel-style hair dryers that we when we bought it that we put under the bathroom sink and left for dead. I’m now thanking our lucky stars that we left it there. It was also fortunate that our campground had lovely indoor facilities (most do, but these were particularly nice and well kept), so the showering part was easy, too.

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TaDaaaaa! Unfrozen hose.

We put the hose back on afterward just to test the lines and the water started right up again. Then, we dismantled it all and hit the road toward Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

My aunt Sue and Uncle John, veteran RVers, recommended the Hollywood Casino RV Park because it’s close-ish to New Orleans and duh, a casino (Sue is a card shark and also loves her a good casino!). It was also inexpensive at $31/night. We rolled in at about 2pm on Saturday.

Apparently RV park options in and near New Orleans aren’t plentiful and are pricey so we didn’t mind staying an hour away. This RV park was clean, well maintained, and, the best part: nearly empty. We snagged a spot on an empty side and had an entire quadrant of it to ourselves. As it was Saturday night we decided to hit the casino. I hadn’t been inside of one since going to Las Vegas half a million years ago.

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Huge props to the vehicular photobomber!

I have to admit, it was pretty disappointing, but keep in mind I’m just not a gambler to begin with. Even still, I was game to pop a squat on some slot machines just to see what would happen. My main gripe was that smoking was allowed inside the building and it smelled like every bad decision I’ve ever made between the ages of 18 and 24. Just awful.

The second floor was a non smoking floor but the geniuses who designed the place probably didn’t think about how smoke rises and it actually smelled worse up there than on the first floor. The dinner buffet was also upstairs and if you got close enough you could smell food instead of stale cigarette smoke. I played the slots for approximately 8 minutes before wondering what’s so fun about sitting on your a$$ pushing buttons over and over again.

Travis hit the poker table and I slinked (slunk?) away to drink my terrible, terrible free Zinfandel (of course I should have known it was going to be white zin when I ordered it, but I thought it was going to be RED) inside the mini arcade that had a door I could close and prevent the stench from soaking into my clothing.

I prowled the ground level one more time, looking for some other slot machines to stick a $10 into for funsies and decided that the prevailing sentiment of LED-backlit sadness that permeated the room (not to mention the smell) just wasn’t worth $10. I went back to the RV to make dinner and watch Desperately Seeking Susan on Amazon Prime (I somehow never saw this ’80s movie which blows my mind) while Travis lost $140 over the course of several hours. The house always wins, my friends.

New Orleans

Sunday morning we launched ourselves early toward New Orleans with a pretty solid day plan: coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, Ramos Gin Fizzes at the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone, oysters at the Bourbon House, a visit to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, a stop at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, and then to a jazz club or two with whatever remaining time we had in the day.

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Carousel Bar. The thing actually spins around…very slowly.

On our way into the city, a flash flood warning was issued for the entire region, including our campground, for heavy rain throughout the evening and possible floods. As you may or may not already know, we’ve had a few issues with water leaks in our RV. At this point, we’re confident that there aren’t any full blown holes or leaks, but we are also confident that the damn thing just isn’t waterproof in certain places – places we have no way of knowing 100% for sure.

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This is the happy face of someone who had beignets AND oysters for breakfast. 🤔

We decided that despite not WANTING to leave earlier than we had to (ie, early Monday morning), it probably made sense to avoid torrential downpours and head for higher (and dryer ground) sooner than later. Our full day in NOLA turned into just a couple of hours, but we achieved the first three things on our list, then beat it to our next stop outside of Houston. Them’s the breaks.

Thus marks the beginning of our Journey Across Texas. Oh, and we’ve renamed the RV from Benjamin Franklin to Murphy because it seems more appropriate.

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That Time a Tractor Had to Pull Us Up the Driveway

Because what’s RVing without a few SNAFUs?!

Our two-day drive to West Virginia was all blue skies and smooth sailing. We crashed at an Econo Lodge overnight, since there was too much stuff in the RV to make sleeping in it comfortable or restful in any way (not to mention space for the cat to stretch out, use the litter box, etc).

The first room they put us in reeked of stale cigarette smoke and four 20-something dudes next door were blasting metal (I had specifically requested a quiet location). After a room switcheroo to one that smelled lovely by comparison with no neighbors, we were off to a night of deep sleep.

Yesterday afternoon we hopped off Highway 50 and onto 14 – a small, windy road that passes intermittent grassy fields between trees, trees, and more trees. Dilapidated barns, farm equipment, and Swallowtail butterflies went by our windows.

The final piece – one that Travis over the last week or two had said he “just wasn’t worried about” yet also kept saying would be “the most stressful part” – was the gravel and grass driveway leading up to the house. From the road, you make a left turn that almost immediately veers left around a corner and up a (relatively) steepish hill – think 12%-ish for you road warriors. After that, there’s one more smaller hill then a slow grade up to the house and field across from it.

We asked Tracy, Travis’s mom, to meet in her car prior to getting to this point – we figured it made sense to have a lead car around some of the sharper turns and a lookout for the final turn onto the driveway, since it’s on a blind curve. Just before we turned she hopped out of the car to say, “This is probably your last chance to change your mind – do y’all want to get out and look at it first or just go for it?”

“Let’s just do it,” said Travis.

After checking oncoming traffic and giving us the thumbs up, we went for it.

We went slowly, since it was our first time hauling our 32-foot beast full of all our boxes up a small dirt road. We got stuck after only about 50 feet up. D’OH!

It was a combination of things – one, when you’re only going 10mph it’s hard to get the proper momentum you need to haul something up a hill – but there was just no way we were going to gun it around a curved, steeper hill. Additionally, the majority of the weight of our moving boxes was at very back of our fifth wheel – not over the tires, so the tires were spinning out on the truck and trailer.

At this point we were only 1/10 of the way up the driveway. We couldn’t move forward and at this point, due to the geometry of backing up, it wasn’t entirely clear that we would be able to reverse back down even if we wanted to. I had a mild inner meltdown – for some reason this particular scenario is one of my worst nightmares. Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with All The Things on a hot, humid day. TERROR.

Travis’s stepdad Bruce came down to assess the situation – we tried a couple little backups and re-starts but kept spinning out and at this point a couple of the trailer’s wheels were in the ditch. We talked about unloading the boxes to remove some of the weight, or moving some of the weight into the flatbed of the truck.

At this point I decided to get the cat out of the truck with all her stuffs and up into the house, so I hauled her heavy ass up the hill and threw her in the bathroom while Tracy went to get the tractor. That’s right.

By the time I got back down the hill, Bruce was on the tractor, which was roped up in front of the truck, ready to help haul our heavy RV ass up the hill. Now when I think “tractor,” I think of those beefy John Deere tractors from my childhood days in the corn fields of Idaho. I about laughed out loud when I saw this setup, wondering just how on earth would this work, but hoping hard AF that it would.

And it did. And my terror subsided and I am so eternally grateful for Tracy and Bruce for saving our bacon. The good news is we only have to do this once, and it’s done. And, for your viewing pleasure – here’s a video of The Tractor That Saved the Day. BEAST MODE!

 

We Did It!

We left our home in Red Hook, Brooklyn today.

The last few weeks have absolutely flown by. Thank you to all our loved ones who spent time with us these last several weeks – we have some damn fine friends in our lives!

As we  took our final pass up Van Brunt Street, I asked Travis how he felt. He was sad, I was in an in-between state of disbelief and excitement. Monkey, champ that she is, yowled as we carried her down the stairs and into the truck, but once she was deposited into her back seat screen box, she settled down and has been sleeping and chattering as per usual. I’m writing this blog post in the truck, we currently just passed Rocky Gap State Park in Maryland.

The mysterious case of the disappearing suitcase

The weirdest thing happened before we left – we didn’t have much to pack up this morning. The mattress, one bag of fridge stuff, our laundry bin the cat, and our bags. My carry on suitcase was one of them. I didn’t put much in there, just some clothes and my bath kit/toiletries. I remember zipping it up this morning. I literally don’t remember carrying it down or putting it in the truck or the RV. I don’t know what made Travis mention it about a half an hour after we had left, but as everything we had left was put into the RV in two trips, I figured it had to be in there.

The more I thought about it, the more I had no recollection of moving it beyond seeing it this morning.

I made Travis stop so I could check; sure enough, it wasn’t in the RV. I called our landlord who was kind enough to check our apartment and the curb – this was probably 45 minutes after we left – then called our friend upstairs and he walked down the entire street back to where our RV was parked and didn’t see it.

I’m completely stumped. The only thing I can think is that I left it on the sidewalk while placing other things, forgot to throw it in the truck bed that first run, then someone nicked it. It was 6:30 am on a Saturday morning so even that seems unlikely.

In any case, we’ve both gone over and over what could have happened – fortunately nothing irreplaceable was in there. I’ve already replaced the important bits on Amazon and was able to find the dress I was sad to lose on eBay for $25. Hot damn I love the internet.

Okay anyway, I’ll let you know if we ever solve the mystery but I’m not holding my breath – and I hope whoever finds my bag enjoys the motley selection of crappy tank tops, old underwear, and travel size toiletries. Score for you!

Here’s our plan so far:

Today we’re making our way to West Virginia. It’s probably about a 10 hour drive, but we’re breaking it up so our first voyage can be slow and relaxed…and so kitty can have breaks.

Once there we will put our boxes in storage with Travis’s mom and stepdad, who live on a lovely little hilltop in rural West Virginia, and we’ve decided to stay there for a month. It’s scenic, has beautiful sunsets, lots of fireflies, and all the peace and quiet you can handle. AKA a great place to decompress from NYC!

Originally we thought we might spend the last two weeks of August in Virginia’s Shenandoah  Valley, but prices for RV parks the last couple of weeks or the month are relatively out of control, so we’re going to stay put until Labor Day weekend, when we’ll head to the D.C. area for my dear friends Tanya and Scott’s wedding in Alexandria, VA.

From there we’ll head north and probably make our way toward Maine. We’d like to traipse around in Maine and Vermont through September and October, then make our way south as the temperature goes down.

My dad lives in Tampa, FL so our goal is to make it there by Thanksgiving. Maybe we’ll do Christmas in Key West.

After that we’ll make our way west. 🌅