Friday, January 24, 2014

Montgomery, AL

We were excited to leave Florida and head north to explore a different state: Alabama. First stop, Montgomery!

Montgomery was one big shopping mall. Every where you looked there were stores. Pretty much everything you could do there (minus the historical stuff) you can do any where else. We hardly saw any small businesses. It seemed the city was filled with only "corporate America" style businesses.

As always after a long day, we were excited to get to our campsite. Our GPS, it seemed, was not too excited. It took us past the RV park a couple of times before we finally saw the place! The Woods RV Park and Campground was tucked away behind a gas station, Burger King, KFC, and Arby's. We were literally in their back yard! The campground itself was very clean and very well-maintained. The staff was super friendly, and once again we were enjoying cable. 

Unfortunately the weather was awful during our three night stay in Montgomery. It was very cold and windy. At night, the wind chill made the temperature drop to about twelve degrees Fahrenheit. The harsh weather kept us from enjoying some historical things in the area like the Civil War Walking Tour.

After such a short stay it was time to hit the road again. We needed to continue our journey for The Voice audition in Nashville, TN. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DeFuniak Springs, FL

We were very excited to get out of the wild of Lamont, FL and head to our next stop, DeFuniak Springs, FL. DeFuniak Springs was an average town; it was nothing special. We only stayed there for three nights. Our brake light came on as we were driving into town. A brake light will concern any full-time RV'er. We decided right away to get the brake problem taken care of. 

It cost us three hundred dollars to get a mobile mechanic (we found through Coach Net) to come out and change our master solenoid. While Josh was overseeing the work being done on the RV, I took the dogs to a quaint gazebo area in the park. The park was about a two hundred foot valley leveled out into three different sections. We stayed on the top level. The gazebo area and fishing dock were on the bottom level. There wasn't a bad spot for the view anywhere in the park. It also turned out to be a great time to practice for my audition for The Voice. I decided to take to social media and posted three audition song videos for my friends and family to choose from. See my next post to find out which song won the vote!

Juniper Lake RV Resort was a beautiful place to stay. The owner, Donna, had started the park with her late husband and two dogs. She was very sweet and very blunt about what was going on in the park. Certain parts of the bathroom were being replaced and the laundry room was in repair while we were there. The park is connected to a neighborhood. Josh and I took advantage by walking a two mile loop every day while we were there.  The best part about staying there was the free cable. We actually got more than sixty channels, which was a great way to pass the time. We watched Duck Dynasty and Honey Booboo for the first time. 

As we made our way out of town, we stopped by the local Walmart for our weekly shopping list. One of the items we picked up was temporary window paint. 

It was a great way to market myself online! I got a dozen views and a couple comments on my YouTube page telling me where they saw the RV. I was overwhelmed by the support I got from complete strangers! Yet they had taken the time to look up my video and listen to ME SING! I couldn't believe it! It made me realize the true motive for my dream: to move someone with my gift of singing.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lamont, FL

After two days of very little sleep, we couldn't wait to get to Lamont, set up camp, and relax. It was a longer drive then we expected. We stayed at the Ecofina River Resort. It's almost in the middle of no where. Driving in, we passed nothing but swamps and the occasional gas station about every ten miles. Most of the roads had weight limits - something we've never had to worry about before. We go really excited when we turned off the the state highway onto the he final stretch of road that would lead us to our final destination. Too bad it was an extra five miles down the road at thirty-five MPH. 

A sign at the office.

We arrived just before the office closed. Even though we were planning on staying a full week, we had to pay daily because the park was having trouble with their power. The owner kindly directed us to a site where there hadn't been power troubles, and we didn't have any problems at all with the electricity the entire week we stayed there. Ecofina River Resort was a gated park with one side for permanent residents and another side for monthly, weekly, and daily residents. Nearly all the spots were filled on the side we were staying. We soon learned though that most of the campers were empty. People pay monthly fees for their RV to just sit there. For once ever campsite had a fire pit. We were finally getting the chance to enjoy roasting hot dogs over an open flame near our RV. There were also two lakes in the park. I was cute to watch the turtles sunbathe on the draining grate. From where our RV was parked, we were about twenty feet away from the lake and forty feet away from a swamp where alligators, bears, and wild pigs dwell. We felt relieved to have our shotgun.

The view from our campsite. The building is the office and clubhouse. There are those turtles I told you about!

There were only two other people staying at the park at the time. So many empty RV's made the place seem like ghost town. The next day, the park owner had electricians come out to fix the sites that weren't getting any power. After they left, music started playing from an empty RV parked across from us. At first it didn't bother us, because it filled the eerie silence. Pretty soon we realized it was one CD being played over and over again from speakers on the outside of the RV. It was a classic rock CD. The tracks made it seem like it was bought at a gas station. Eventually we complained about it to the park owner. They said that the owner of the RV hadn't been there in about three months and had no idea why the music was playing. The park got permission from them to go inside their RV and turn it off. The silence returned, but this time it was embraced.

The lake is so close! It starts where the tall reeds are.
We took the motorcycle out to get more groceries. The closest gas station (or any open business for that matter) was a quick eight mile ride down the road. We truly felt isolated because we didn't pass any buildings the whole way there. Not even a house. We had left behind civilization at least thirty miles back.

Roasting hot dogs. Yum!

One night while we were watching Netflix (the park had AMAZING WiFi), Josh asked me to mute the TV. We could faintly hear an animal sniffing around the back windows of our RV. Any animal that can reach that high had to be a bear. We waited about thirty minutes and went outside to let our dogs out. We could hear a loud banging on the exit gate over and over. The bear was trying to get out of the park! We rushed the girls inside and stayed there for the rest of the night. Sure enough the next day we found bear tracks around our RV and near the exit gate. 

The clearest track we could see.
During the one week we stayed there, a really bad storm came through. The sky had to have dumped about five inches of rain in one night. The Weather Channel had given our area a flood advisory. In the middle of the swamp was a huge river (the Ecofina River), and its levels were going to rise about five feet, putting surrounding areas in danger. We were shocked to come outside and see at least one inch deep rushing water. The lake kept coming in and soon it was twelve feet away. The rushing water beneath our RV had come up over our tires and was touching the rim. Before it got that bad, Josh went outside to film a video of the weather and check on the status of the flooding lake. He heard a hiss ten feet beside him and shined his flashlight over to where the sound came from. He saw three alligators slip into the lake; they were scared off by the light. After that I was ready to stay inside for the rest of the night. By the next day, everything was a huge puddle, but the water level had gone down to a tolerable level. 

We learned a lot in Lamont about being around wildlife and in a terrible storm. We even tried to go fishing in the lake, but we didn't have much luck with our artificial bait. And after Josh saw alligators in both of the lakes, I was too scared to spend a lengthy amount of time near them. A father and son arrived near the end of the week in a pop-up camper. It's a family tradition for them to come out to his secluded camp and go hunting. If you're not a hunter or a fisherman, you'll struggle to find things to do at Ecofina River Resort. We still had a great time, but I don't think this place is on our list for great parks. It was time to continue our journey to The Voice auditions in Nashville, TN.

Some pictures of driving in and around Lamont

This is pretty much all you see for miles

Crazy right?!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Decatur, AL and Nashville, TN

We were thankful to continue heading north. Hopefully we would escape the cold, windy weather! On our way to Decatur we passed a brown historical sign reading "Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament - Next Exit." We decided to be spontaneous and check it out. About twenty miles away from the bustle of the city, through rolling farm hills, we found it! White picket fences lead our way to a beautiful castle and Vatican-esque plaza. There was a church, gift shop, Nativity Scene, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, and an entire building dedicated to the now Saint John Paul II and the teachings and history of the Eucharist. We didn't get to go on the tour, but we enjoyed praying together and walking around. We knew we had to get back on the road soon, but it was nice to take a moment to be with our heavenly Father.

Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

Point Mallard RV Campground is a part of a huge complex of fun things to do. A track, soccer field, ice complex, indoor/outdoor tennis courts, batting cages, chapel, water park, golf course, driving range, bike trail, and RV park are all collectively Point Mallard. Their RV park was the largest park we have ever been to! They also have a pretty big section for tent camping only. Basic amenities were included minus cable. We even had curbside trash pick up multiple times throughout the day. The office and camp store was well stocked. The host couple was nice enough to explain how to connect to the park's WiFi. A host couple is a couple who is staying in the park for at least three months. They help with park maintenance, and other campers are encouraged to see the host couple for any issues that come up after office hours. Josh and I have considered doing this!

The Voice audition in Nashville, TN

After weeks of planning, we decided to rent a car and drive from Decatur to Nashville for The Voice audition. It was awesome and a bit strange to drive a car again after months driving the RV! When we arrived at the Nashville City Music Center the line wrapped around the entire block! There was a bike show in town so we were thoroughly entertained while we took an hour or so to walk around the block. Longest walk ever! By the time we got to the door, I had to say goodbye to Josh and continue the rest of the journey without him. I wasn't alone though! I met two awesome chicks in line: Tammie and Dominique! We stuck together through the entire process. We distracted ourselves with conversations about past auditions and our dreams of becoming a singer.  I didn't make it, but I am so proud I gave it my best! The Voice's audition process is much less stressful than American Idol or X Factor. I only had to wait in line for one day and not two. All of the singers were very respectful of each other. It was nice not having to deal with all the crazy people that come out for American Idol. Josh met one of the girls who made it through the audition to the next round.  We got the RV because getting on these shows is like winning the lottery, and we are just going to keep "buying those tickets"!

The next day we decided to take the motorcycle out and ride around the town. Decatur is a quaint city filled with neighborhoods and restaurants. The only place in town to watch Superbowl XLVIII was at a Chile's. We were hoping for a small business to go to like in Wilmington, NC, but this made it clear that Point Mallard Campground is pretty much the best thing the town has to offer. We ended up having a pretty good night though. We ate way too much and enjoyed the game and commercials. 

While we were staying at Point Mallard, we met a very sweet couple from Texas who was staying in a fifth wheel across from us. Every day we walked the dogs, we gawked at their rig in amazement. It was the first RV we ever saw with a telescoping slide out. We knocked on their door one evening, and they graciously invited us in. I had a fun time bonding with the wife while Josh talked RV logistics with the husband. We enjoyed swapping stories about our travels with them. It was the first time we met another couple we got along with and liked since we've had the RV. 

After staying in Decatur for three weeks, we were ready to continue our journey. The weather had different plans for us though! We found out that Decatur was going to get snow. The temperature was already below freezing for the past week. Our sewer hose and tanks froze. We couldn't even get the RV to start on most days. Since we realized we needed to prolong our stay, we decided to take advantage of our surroundings and walk to the ice complex. Josh had never been ice skating before, and I had only been once in New York City. Surprisingly, there were a lot of families at the rink that day. The prices were so reasonable, we ate lunch there too. You can tell from the pictures and videos we had a blast! Later that night it snowed. It snowed for four days straight. It was a lot of fun playing in the snow. The dogs also got to wear their Ruffwear boots in the snow for the first time!

After a month long stay in Decatur, it was time to start heading to South Florida to visit some of my family. We hit the road and started the drive to Opelika, AL. Check out two new YouTube videos I filmed during our stay!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jacksonville, FL

We drove through Jacksonville a week or so earlier on our way to St. Augustine. There was construction on the interstate. Narrow lanes, no shoulders, and shifting lanes all led to white knuckle driving that we absolutely wanted to avoid this time. Luckily our GPS has a "Least Use of Freeways" option that came in handy. We were doing fine until we got into downtown Jacksonville. The GPS took us all over the area with turns every half mile or so. We kept laughing about it and wished we had a dash camera to document our journey down the rabbit hole. It was time to go over a bridge, but it was closed due to construction. We turned off the GPS and drove around the bridge as best we could. Eventually we felt lost so we turned the GPS back on, but it led us to a tunnel that had a nine foot clearance. Once again it was time to use our common sense of direction and turn off the GPS. We found ourselves driving through the ghetto and really bad parts of town. We passed tons of businesses with tall, barbed wire fences, run down houses, and a restaurant called Hip Hop Fish N Chicken. We were blown away by it all. A simple one hour drive turned into a four hour expedition.

A Truck using blinds for the cab. We've never seen that before!
Finally we made it to our destination: the Pecan Park RV Resort. This park is definitely the most well put together park we have ever been to. The paved roads and sites in such a large space made it look like a little suburban neighborhood. It was perfect if you can get over the deafening roar of commercial airplanes flying over your head every hour or so.

Downtown Jacksonville
Our neighbors on our right were a married couple in their late twenty's with five kids. It was the first time we met someone RV'ing full time who was within our age group. She got pregnant at sixteen. Her and her boyfriend decided to get married and have been together ever since. We never got to meet her husband. He worked with his dad running their own paving company. In fact, his parents had a camper parked across the street. Josh and I could be wrong, but everything about them screamed American Gypsy. We had just finished an entire season of TLC's "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding" on Netflix. If we hadn't watched the show, we probably wouldn't have thought anything of it. Of course we never asked and they never said anything about it, so our suspicions were never clarified. 

By the time eight o'clock rolled around that evening, it was time to feed the dogs and find a place to walk them. Right next to the park is an open field where they hold a weekly flea market. As we were walking we saw a group of people hanging out under a carport that had one wall, two buildings (more like sheds), and music playing. We had come across a little "hole in the wall" bar/restaurant. The waitress was extremely happy to have us there and took no time at all to introduce us to the owner Phil. He told us how he started a fenced in gator pond there for him and his friends to hang out and drink. Eventually, his friend talked him into getting a keg or two and starting his own bar. The Tiki Island Tap House has been open since April 2013. They have beer pong tournaments, karaoke, live bands, mud wrestling, car washes, mud truck shows, and delicious pulled pork BBQ. What was once a fun hangout for a couple of friends quickly grew into a small community of fun-lovers. I think the funniest moments of the night were when Phil would randomly walk around setting hamburger buns on the tables. Some patrons would laugh and say, "No thanks Phil. I'm not hungry," even though they knew the bread was for the fish. We would stand out on the viewing dock, break up the bread, and throw it out to the fish hoping to see one of the six alligators. It was too cold for any of them to come out unfortunately. There were a ton of fish though! It was fun to see large catfish nibble.

After talking for awhile and explaining our life in the RV, travels, and goals, they "just had to hear me sing." Fifteen minutes later and a quick run to the RV for my guitar, they had two mic stands and a chair set up for me. What I thought was only going to be a couple of songs quickly escalated into a two hour concert. It seemed everyone wanted to film me, talk about music (the Hick-Hop genre was a popular topic), and listen to me play and sing. I guess you could say it was my first gig! I made a promise to Phil that I would come back and play for at his bar when I got famous. We met a lot of colorful people that night and made a bunch of memories Josh and I won't forget anytime soon. We developed a lot of inside jokes from that night! We went to bed way too late (or early depending on how you look at it) and squeezed in as much sleep as we could before Grandpa's funeral the next day. 

When the alarm went off the next day, it was tough for both of us to get out of bed. Lucky for Josh, I had enough motivation for the both of us. I let him sleep in while I got most of everything ready. I immediately snapped into our morning routine. We needed to get ready for the funeral, take down camp, drive thirty minutes to the Ramada, get a room, put the dogs in the room, and get a ride with my dad to the church...all in about three hours. 

 Morning Routine/Getting Ready for the Road:
  1. Feed the dogs and take them out
  2. Eat breakfast
  3. Take a shower (we have to shower at least thirty minutes apart to have hot water for both of us)
  4. Sweep out the RV
  5. Dump the grey water tank (water that drains into the sinks and shower) and the black water tank (everything that is in the toilet)
  6. Fill up our fresh water tank using our RV water filter
  7. Pull the awning in
  8. Transfer our laundry, guitars, and bass from the cab to the bed in the back
  9. Lock up our 20 gauge Mossburg shotgun and put it in the back as well
  10. Put the dogs in the kennel and turn everything off
  11. Unplug our shore power cord from the site
  12. Take our blinder off the front of the cab
  13. Plug in our GPS and we're ready to go!
At the Tiki Island Tap House. Behind me is the gator pond.
We made it to the hotel with thirty minutes to spare. After figuring out where our room was, we had to break down the kennels and bring them up to the room. It was too hot and humid that day to leave the dogs in the RV while we went to the funeral. The service was held at The Church of our Savior Episcopal Church. It's a beautiful church that sits right along the St. John River. It's such a beautiful, peaceful place; it's truly ideal for a house of God. The service was beautiful. I hope it offered other family members and friends as much peace and closure as it did for me. 

The church view.
After attending a reception the church held, the family went out for lunch where we were able to catch up and talk about Grandpa. My mom flew in for the service. While Josh took a nap, Mom and I went bowling after lunch, and we had a blast! She had an early flight the next day, so she had to go back to her hotel. Josh and I got changed and met my dad, uncle Charlie, and his lifelong best friend Greg at the hotel bar. My uncle Charlie picked the hotel because he knew Ralphie May was performing at the Comedy Zone that night. Unfortunately both of the shows were sold out for the night. Josh and I asked the desk before the second show if they had any seats available and sure enough they did. With every laugh, our sorrows went away.

Uncle Charlie and I

Daddy and I

After a quick breakfast and we said our goodbyes, it was time to pack up the RV and head to Lamont, FL! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

San Mateo, FL

When we arrived in San Mateo, FL the pouring rain had finally cleared. Two of the seasonal residents were very nice and helped us back into our site and showed us around the park. We plugged in, pulled our awning out, relaxed!

The next day we got to look at the place and it was fantastic! Lynch's Landing RV park is about a quarter mile down a dirt gravel road. There's about fifty plus sites and the owner and his wife lives in a nice river side house at the end of the road. They were very friendly. At the end of the road is a laundry room and lounge area equipped with a microwave, flat screen TV, freezer, couches, and large bay windows. Next to the building is a dock on the St. John River. The view alone is so breathtakingly beautiful. We felt so blessed to be able to step outside our RV and see this massive river. The park was very boat friendly. They had a field for storage and a boat access ramp. During the spring and summer, manatees will come right onto the boat loading zone and near the docks. Of course they get their regular traffic of alligators, even naming a few of them that keep showing up!

It was here on New Year's Eve I got the devastating news that my grandfather on my Dad's side had passed away. Nana, his wife, had passed a year and half earlier and he just wanted to be with Nana. I thought I had more time with him. Josh and I were planning on coming down to South Florida for a get-together that was planned in mid-January as a surprise. Instead the get-together would be happening at his funeral in Jacksonville, FL. The owner of the RV park understood completely and let us stay the extra week at a discounted rate. I know that Grandpa wouldn't want us to be sad, because he is now in Paradise reunite with Nana. So we got excited for my favorite holiday.

The view from our RV. The owner's house is on the left. The boat loading zone is next to it. The laundry room and lounge area is straight ahead. To the right of that is the dock.

For New Year's the residents of "Broke Ass Ally" (a nickname the permanent residents gave the little lane diverting from the main strip of road that is the park) had a New Year's party. There had to have been about twenty of us there. Everyone brought food and drink and sat by the fire enjoying music and the stars. We enjoyed grilled oysters (not Josh's favorite but certainly mine), pigs in a blanket, deviled eggs, homemade country ham biscuits, sausages, finger sandwiches, and much more! Josh and I gathered around the campfire and immersed ourselves into the conversation. Although everyone there was over the age of forty-five, we found ourselves thoroughly entertained talking about families, RV's, and past trips and experiences. After feeling so welcomed we finally felt (mostly me since I seem to get stage fright more than I like to admit) comfortable enough to bust out the guitars to play for them. Although my song vocabulary isn't large enough to take requests, I still got a round of applause after each song. As the night got later, the group started to dissipate but we were in luck! The owners had just came back from a dinner and joined our circle around the fire. With only six of us left, I still sang songs and talked about my upcoming audition for The Voice. We had a great time. At five minutes to midnight, we headed back to our house on wheels to watch the ball drop and ring in 2014. After hearing several gun shots at the stroke of midnight we decided to each shoot a target shot from our shotgun. We couldn't think of a better way to spend New Year's Eve.

Tight spot!

It poured rain on New Year's Day so we lounged around and watched about 6 Netflix movies. It was fun to marathon movies all day.

January 4th was Josh's birthday. There isn't much to do in San Mateo but they have an awesome saloon called the Cheyenne Saloon. It is the oldest bar in the county being built in the early 1900's. It is a place with "Biker Parking Only", a restaurant, bar, pool tables, and a petition being passed around to Florida residents to legalize marijuana in the state. For the first time we felt right at home when we pulled into the parking lot and followed the signs for the motorcycle parking. It made us feel like true bikers. We enjoyed their hand-breaded freshly caught shrimp. Their ceilings, rafters, walls, and even some spots on the floor were covered with one dollar bills. All of the bills were personalized with jokes, signatures, dates, websites, facts (anything really) from patrons. Some of the signatures dated back to the 1950's. Josh joked with owner about it being a great retirement fund. After some chit chat and grabbing some burgers ATW (all the way), we headed back home.

Great gas prices!
I decided to take advantage of the beautiful scenery and film a YouTube video. Josh said he got nervous while we was filming me because I kept stepping closer and closer to the edge; he thought I was going to fall into the river. What a video that would have been! I couldn't have picked a better time to film because fifteen minutes after we were done, it started raining. And it didn't stop raining for a couple of days.

Soon after that it was time for us to say goodbye to our little community and head to Jacksonville, FL. Everyone waved us goodbye as we drove off to our next adventure.