Sunday, November 11, 2018

Over the Bridge into Largo Time

After four days of fun at the Pleasure-Way Rally we headed north for a visit with mom and dad. On the way we pulled into the Manatee County rest area where we made lunch with a good view of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The rest areas around the bridge offer lots of good water views. Kite surfing is a popular and fun-to-watch activity along the north shore.
We usually park the van in the parking lot at Mom's church because regulations at the condo don't allow  RV's or motorcycles. This time there was a big event at church so we parked at the condo. Discretely backing into a space at the back of the parking lot we didn't take any more room than many of the trucks and big SUV's owned by residents. Someone did come out and ask about the van, but they weren't complaining–they wanted a tour!
Staying with mom, we are only a short walk from dad's memory care facility. It is always sad to see how Alzheimer's has changed our very creative father into someone who needs help to complete a puzzle made for children. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for him.

Bikes made the five day visit more fun than usual. We got out every day and enjoyed looking for birds and alligators at local parks.

We'll be back here for Christmas in no time.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

2018 Sarasota Pleasure-Way Rally

For the third year in a row we are attending the Pleasure-Way Rally at the Sun-N-Fun RV Resort in Sarasota, Florida. Here's our summary of the four day event.

Welcome Reception
Wine, Beer, Soft Drinks, and hors d'oeuvres awaited. Multiple drawings for prizes allowed people to get to know each other. Winners had to introduce themselves prior to picking a prize from a large assortment provided by Pleasure-Way. The tie dyed anniversary t-shirt was very popular.

Here's the obligatory group photo. The hall we used for seminars had a stage which really helped make everyone visible. Once again thanks are due to Beth for arranging everyone so I could click the shutter.

Every day had at least one seminar.

Truma provided a detailed talk on how to maintain their AquaGo on-demand water heaters prior to a Q&A session.
Phil Nickel followed up with procedures for taking care of the older water heater systems.

Phil also ran a full seminar on Maintaining Your Pleasure-Way. As usual, Phil took names and visited any motorhome where owners wanted help or advice specific to their unit. Phil is a huge asset to Pleasure-Way and is why many of us have purchased multiple motorhomes from the company.

David then spent the rest of the day helping owners at their rigs and meeting demand for the Truma cleaning tablets.

Betty Lemley demonstrated microwave and convection cooking to a bring-your-own-chair crowd at her site.

Mercedes-Benz sent two representatives to give a briefing on the new plant in South Carolina along with the latest safety and convenience features that will eventually be available in 2019 models. A Q&A session provided owners with the current thinking on biodiesel, idle times, and service intervals. These guys were extremely helpful last year when we had problems with our Sprinter, following up with us to make sure everything was resolved.

The seminar hall was a little walk from the campground, but Harold  provided colorful transportation to anyone who asked.

Roger and Agathe flew in from Montreal to install their Rolef screen systems for owners that didn't yet have these. Rolef provides the factory option screens for current Pleasure-Way models.

We love our side door and back screens so much we purchased a pair of their slip-over front door window screens. They even have a zip-up privacy layer on the inside.

Roger demonstrated the proper method of rolling up the screens; roll up from the inside so there isn't any stress on the zippers.

2019 Motorhomes
Shane Coffey returned this year with new Pleasure-Way motorhomes from RV World. He and Chuck Kellogg from Pleasure-Way were busy showing of the latest features all four days of the rally.

At least one current owner upgraded to a 2019 and more than a few visitors to Sun-N-Fun were exposed to the brand.

Food and Fun
Sun-N-Fun opened their restaurant a week early just for us. Brunch and dinner was available every day and Pleasure-Way even sponsored one of the dinners. Bobbi, our PW Club East president, memorialized the "Branson Rooster Incident" by presenting Phil with a Rooster T-Shirt and a custom stitched Rooster hat made by Dwayne Stewart.

Lee Schmidt (left) and Bobbi Bergstrom

Within Sun-N-Fun, there are miles of roads and sidewalks to walk or bicycle. A small lake has a path all the way around with appropriate warnings for alligators though we didn't see any. Tennis, pickleball, basketball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, swimming, a water slide, lawn bowling and an indoor fitness center were all available to help work off our meals. Scenery isn't anything special, but it is fun to see what motorhomes are visiting.

The vast majority of sites are occupied by "park models," which are really miniature mobile homes. Local regulations don't allow for full-time inhabitation, so owners have to leave for at least three months every year.

Looking to get out of the campground for a bit, we bicycled to The Celery Fields and the Audubon Nature Center. Here's the view from the top looking at Sun-N-Fun on the horizon. It isn't a former landfill (Mount Trashmore?), but a hill made from the earth obtained when scooping out flood control and water quality management ponds. There is also a Big Cat Habitat that we didn't visit though we heard a few roars from the top of the hill.

A visitor's center staffed by volunteers offered help on bird identification and good spots to bird watch. A boardwalk across the street extends into the wetlands where we saw a few waterbirds in the midday sun. Morning or evening would be the times to find more birds.

For a reading or wi-fi fix, the local library is just down Fruitville Road. This unique book sculpture out front casts quotes on the ground whenever the Florida sun is shining.

Another field trip, this time with friends, was for lunch at a huge amish buffet restaurant.  We learned that the ladies had an ulterior motive when we ended up at an adjacent quilt shop after lunch.

The time eventually came for everyone to bid goodbye on Sunday morning. Phil's better half joined us for breakfast before they headed off for a well deserved vacation.

Watching vans roll out, we noticed how many maps were posted on windows. Pleasure-Way owners don't let any grass grow under their tires.

We are looking forward to meeting up again in Big Timber Montana next Spring.

For lots more photos, click through to the 2018 Sarasota Album.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Cracker Trail

After a breakfast of cereal (without blueberries) at the blueberry farm we headed south to Sarasota. The fastest route would have been I4 west to I75 South, but fastest isn't much fun. We decided on route 27 down the middle of the state. The tallest attraction on the highway was the Citrus Tower in Clermont. Built in 1956, it stands 226 feet tall and offers an elevator ride and observation deck for $6 per person. Once offering an expansive view of citrus groves, the view is now of subdivisions. As we moved south of the tower, development finally gave way to citrus orchards and cattle ranches.

Reaching Zolfo Springs around noon, we stopped at the Cracker Trail Museum and Village. The museum receptionist was getting ready to close for lunch, but let us look around for 5 minutes without charging us the $2 admission. She said we should come back for the Antique Tractors & Steam Engine Show.
A few native american artifacts and lots of local history is on display under glass cases and on the walls.
Outside, a 1914 Baldwin 2-6-2 locomotive has been on static display since 1967.

We have a Baldwin 2-6-0 Mogul on our garden railway at home that is very similar to this, so I took some detail photos.
A few buildings are preserved, including this old post office...
and this "Cracker Style" cabin.

The park also has camping and a little animal refuge. Sites are between $15 and $23 per night with discounts for longer stays. A few rigs were camped in the full service sites, but primitive sites were only populated by vultures and feral cats. The animal refuge wasn't open, so we didn't check it out.

After eating lunch in the van we started on the final leg to Sarasota. In less than an hour and with more than a little trepidation we drove the last mile down Fruitville Road to Sun-N-Fun. Both of us breathed better after passing the site of last year's mechanical breakdown without incident. For those that don't know, our parking brake cable and rear wiring harness wrapped around the drive shaft of our Sprinter just before entering the park last year! With a new front wheel drive vehicle we understood that couldn't happen, but we were nervous anyway. Check our next post for more on the Pleasure-Way Rally.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Friends and Blueberries

Walked down to the St John's river at Blue Springs State Park again before we left. This fisherman looked like he was totally relaxed as he drifted by the Cypress Trees.

Leaving the river behind, we headed southwest to Lake Dora.

Art & Joyce Duser, along with their two cats welcomed us to Mount Dora. We met Art & Joyce in the Durham Sail & Power Squadron and kept our boats in the same marina. We enjoyed going out to lunch and catching up with them. In addition to boating, Art and I share an interest in trains. He is reading The Railway Detective series by Edward Marston. I like series where you can get to know a character. With fifteen books so far, I'll look for these at our library.
Like so many places in Florida, there are covenants in the neighborhood that don't allow RV's to park overnight. Fortunately, we found a Harvest Hosts location on the other side of the lake!
Brennan at Far Reach Ranch welcomed us and apologized for not having their RV spots built yet. He directed us to a parking lot for a rental home overlooking a natural area. I don't know of any Harvest Hosts that have special built camping spots, so they may be the first. The ranch is a U-pick Blueberry Farm with lots of wild acreage and are branching out into swamp buggy tours, archery, and even yoga classes.

We were excited about restocking our blueberry supply, but they didn't have any frozen ones packaged in less than 20 pound bags. Unfortunately, that wasn't going to work in our tiny van freezer. We did buy some blueberry jam and blueberry salsa. This would be a great stop in the spring when we could pick fresh berries.
Asking if we liked old cars, the young lady that we paid for our goodies took us into a back area that housed a beautiful collection of restored vintage automobiles. I had to take a photo of this Lincoln for my uncle who still goes to his Lincoln dealership every day and is well into his eighth decade.

We were invited to walk the property, but warned to beware of snakes and alligators because it is Florida. We made dinner in the van and enjoyed the sunset and subsequent temperature drop as we settled in for a quiet night.

We really enjoy the Harvest Hosts program and signed up for another year. If you are interested in joining, click here for a discount code:
Harvest Hosts

Monday, November 5, 2018

Blue Springs

Heading south from Beaufort, SC we stopped at the new Georgia welcome center. Beth shared a box of chocolates with an old friend on a park bench.
Blue Spring State Park in Orange, Florida was our destination for the night. We had heard that it is a wonderful place to see Manatees. The ranger that checked us in said we were about a month too early for the winter influx of these homely looking mammals, but we might see one of the year-round residents.
Access to the river is well developed with stairs into the crystal clear water. Though we didn't see any manatees, there were turtles, prehistoric looking gar, and lots of fat plecostomus catfish that may had outgrown hobbyists aquariums.

Other visitors snapped our photo on the steps. Either I'm shrinking or Beth is getting taller.
This boardwalk provides good views of the "spring run."
The "spring run" meets the St Johns river at the end of the park. House boats and fishing boats passed the entrance to the park.
Walking back up the run, we found two snorkelers exploring the source of the spring. Blue Spring provides 165 million gallons of water every day. Manatees are attracted to the 72 degree water in winter months. Swimming is not allowed once the manatees arrive. You can rent yellow tubes and float 1/8 of a mile from here down to the swimming entrance.
Good sized sandy sites, separated by scrub and trees, with electricity were $27. The high temperature was 80 degrees, so we didn't even need to plug in.
Overlooking the spring run, the Thursby House has been restored. Built in 1872, it greeted steamers of tourists escaping to the warmth of Florida. The first floor has been restored to reflect the 1872-1887 period and is open for tours.

Modern bath houses had clean showers and laundry facilities.

A sign board out front offered photos of snakes to help visitors identify which need to be avoided.

Covered pontoon boats offer multiple cruises per day along the St Johns river.

Walking back along the boardwalk we saw a volunteer pointing out one of the three resident manatees to a couple in a kayak. If you find the float between the two kayaks, the shadow underneath is a manatee.

We put this park on our list to revisit later in the season.

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